F. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) Smith.

The street of the two friends online

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Sapristi! She could not speak a word of
French, and, as I sat down on the worn
leather seat beside her, she clasped her little
hands in her velvet lap; but I saw by the look in
her eyes she was content, for she sighed.

"Forgive me," I said, in English; but she
shook her head, and then I halted and ventured
again, this time in the few words of Italian I
had picked up; then in German, and finally in
my easier smattering of Hungarian. Slowly
her face became radiant.

" Egen! Egen!" she exclaimed, and clapped


her hands. "Roumelie! Roumelie!" she said, in
the loveliest voice cool, and low, and gentle
- and she pointed out of the window over the
towering trees in the possible direction of her
native land.

The Taverne now blazed up in light, rapidly
the tables filled, and every furtive eye in the
room was upon us. Some of them with ill-
disguised jealousy, especially two young archi-
tects from Boston, of irreproachable Parisian
conduct, Harvard manners, and a Beacon Street
accent. But Raoul and Valdin only smiled,
and lifted their hands in congratulation. And
then an idea occurred to me, and I beckoned
to Rose Javet to join us, for I knew my little
lady of the velvet gown would be safe with
her during my absence that big, strong
blonde, with her ready wit and her heart of

"Eh bien, my old one, you're in luck! Mon
Dieu, but she is beautiful!" exclaimed Rose,
and not many women compliment another in
the same Taverne. As I started to rise, my
little lady of the velvet gown looked at me


pleadingly, so strangely, as if I were her master
and she was awaiting my bidding.

"I shall be back," I explained, in Hungarian;
"we shall dine." And after I had repeated it
slowly twice she understood, and smiled con-
tentedly, murmuring something in her own
tongue, and inclining her head in a deferential
little bow. And so I left them together, and
went in search of her language to the musty
shop of Tranchard, the old librarian, whose
stock was in continual disorder, three doors

Tranchard, who reads everything an inch from
the page, was bent over the evening paper,
scanning it microscopically by the aid of a
shadeless kerosene lamp, placed on a packing
box in the middle of two heaps of second-hand

"Eh, Monsieur Tranchard!" I cried, as I
entered. " Have you by chance among this muss
of yours a phrase book in French and Roume-

The old man looked up solemnly, and re-
moved his spectacles.


"Eh voilal Monsieur Pierre, an idea, and
at this hour! Ah, my poor Monsieur, a phrase
book in the language of Roumelie," he wheezed.
"Eh, eh ! Of Roumelie of Rou - -"

He got up stiffly, and his gaunt hands searched
along a dusty shelf packed with pamphlets.

" You have no idea, my good Tranchard," I
explained, by way of encouragement, "how
badly you can need a phrase book in French
and Roumelian when you need it."

"You are going on a voyage?" he questioned,
turning slowly from his search, and scrutinizing
me wearily over his spectacles.

14 Yes!" I cried enthusiastically. "A long
voyage, to the land called Happiness, by way of
the road of the Two Hearts. A swift road, Pere
Tranchard, for chance lends you a hand as
guide, and there is no lagging with chance, once
having grasped it. Make haste, my good Tran-
chard. Search! Search! Surely a Roume-
lian student has sold you something. Hurry,
for I start to-night!"

"Eh! Eh!" he wheezed, still regarding me
queerly, his hand still on the shelf. "When I


have one absinthe, I stop, my good Monsieur

But I let him think what he chose. I saw
that he was tugging at something thin and pink,
wedged between a dusty dozen, cinched with a

Presently he snatched it out.

"Had I not a good memory? " said he. "And
at this hour! Parbleu! Four sous to you," he
added, "since, between you and me, I believe
you are either drunk or crazy!"

"Neither, my excellent friend in need," I
replied, and wrung the hand that had searched
so diligently, and found our language, mated
so nicely side by side, in just the sentences we
should need. Indeed, there were too many -
we should never need them all. Many seemed
superfluous as I read by the glittering Taverne
lights on my way back to my little lady of the
velvet gown.

I love We love

Thou lovest You love

He loves They love

And, of course, the very words for "The lob-


ster of my uncle," and "The white wine of my

The spring weeks, filled with their delicious
warmth, went by one after another, each new
morning a joy to be alive in. Mornings that
found us together in the gardens of the Luxem-
bourg, beside the stagnant fountain of the Medi-
cis, the pink phrase book between us, her hand
in mine that exquisite little hand, that I loved
to turn over and over, to enjoy with my eyes
as one would a precious ivory. And she learned
quickly from the pink book, which, indeed, we
were never without, and which she carried for
safe-keeping in the velvet reticule in which lay
all manner of strange things the certificate
of her birth, a spool of black silk, and a needle,
to give first aid to the injured velvet gown, and
a small silver box of Oriental design, evidently
very old, studded with turquoises, and secreting
a vial of attar of roses, which she now and then
touched to the lobes of her little ears.

She told me everything, over and over again,
from the beginning; of her quick decision that


day in Philippopoli to leave him, of his ungov-
ernable temper, of her letter to her family, and
the one she left for him, sending it to his bar-
racks at the hour of his inspection of his regi-
ment, an hour when he could not follow her
and of her flight to Paris with the little money
she had so patiently saved.

"Listen, Pierre, my beloved: There is no
anger in me," she would repeat. "Thou hast
never seen me angry."

"But in thy country surely thou hast a right
to love whom thou wilt?" I declared.

"We must obey," she returned simply. "One
must serve faithfully one's master. When thou
art chosen, thou must follow. It was in one of
his books that I read of Paris, that one could be
free there, to be chosen, and be loved, not as a
slave. And so, as thou knowest, it was to the
big cafe that I had heard him tell of, that I came
first after the train, and waited and thou."

Her dark eyes filled brilliantly, but she was
smiling as she drew my cheek to her own.

"Allah is good," she whispered.

The pink book slipped and fell to the ground,


and a fat pigeon, incensed at being disturbed
from the gravel, thrashed up through the
feathery green leaves above us to quarrel with
his wife.

There is an end to all happiness. It is the
heavy price we pay, and it is called The End.
There is no torture conceived by the human
mind that can equal it, since it is filled with
hopelessness, and the intensity of its pain is
made keener by separation. The only thing
The End lacks is death. Some of us accept the
latter eagerly, since death under these conditions
seems to assume the dignity of a true friend.

My uncle had insisted on this voyage of mine
to America his reasons, his interest, a young
active man to manage his interests from afar.
At his age, he should have been content with his
chateau in Normandy, and his shooting. My
"welfare!" Bon Dieu, can they not invent?
My "career!" Ah, yes, my career what did
I care for my career? The pressure came
heavily from all sides, with that greased inge-
nuity of a combined family. It is amazing how


we crumple up and accede when one's own blood

There is no reason in it, neither would I have
crumbled up or acceded had it not been for her.

"It is the wish of thy people," she said.
"Have I not loved thee well? I will not have
it said of thee thou art not brave. Thou wilt
come back listen, Pierre back to me, for
thou art in my heart forever."

That is what she said, and we cried together
through our last dinner at the "big cafe." Yet
she was braver than I, for the one who stays
and waits is always the bravest and it was to
Rose Javet that I turned this time in my hour
of need.

"Heart! You speak of heart!" Rose is so
poor, for she is very independent, and cares for
none save her old friends.

"You will do as you promise, Rose?" I
went on, with hurried insistence, during the few
brief moments we were alone that last evening
after dinner.

'Yes, my old one," she said, and the look in her
honest blue eyes was as good as her sworn bond.


"You will see that she dresses warmly, Rose,
and not be reckless like the rest, and wear some
stupid decollete mode in winter. A good fire
at your home, the good soup at night. Here, if
you are with her, she will be well in the little
room off yours, where the sun shines."
"Yes, my little one."
"Rose, I love her."
"Yes, my little one; I know."
"There will be no one else, Rose?"
"No, my old one; there will be no one else."
And at the train which left the Gare St.
Lazare the next morning, she whom I was leav-
ing was seized with trembling, but she did not

Two years passed two years in which I did
my duty by my uncle, and in which her letters
made my exile in America all the harder, for
they were faithful, long letters, that told me of
her daily life, of all that happened in and around
the old Taverne. Letters full of the sameness
of devotion and the serious philosophy of a child.
She was still with Rose Javet, and worked for


a modiste in the Rue de Seine during the months
when the little modiste needed an extra hand;
and when the work grew slack, she fashioned
hats for her friends of the big cafe out of
nothing, a remnant, a ribbon, and generally the
same feather, which her dimpled hands knew
how to place with a chic that is a talent in

And then a day came when she decided to re-
turn to her people, for reasons that concerned the
welfare of her parents, who were getting old;
and it was thus that my little lady of the vel-
vet gown became gradually a memory, for six
months later, when I returned to Paris, she was
gone, and I understood, for she had written me
much, and not even Rose Javet could tell me

Two years passed. It was spring again, and
I stood, a stranger in a strange land, upon the
deck of an energetic little steamboat that had
picked me up at the Marguerite Island, with its
baths and its rose garden, and was now breast-
ing the moonlit tide of the Danube, zigzagging


across this fairy river to touch at the small sta-
tions on its way back to Pest.

There is a strange fascination about the
Danube in the moonlight the river in the
moonlight is purely Japanese. The air was soft
to-night the air of the Orient soft as the
water in the ancient baths of Buda, soft as the
scent of the roses I had just left; upon the
Marguerite Island one can bathe to the music
of the gypsies.

Possibly it was the scent of these roses in
spring that made me think of her. I do not
know. I only know that with a sense of lone-
liness upon the deck of the steamboat that was
now sheering away from a station with an un-
pronounceable name, a sudden desire to see her
took possession of me. This wild desire to find
her blotted out all else in my mind.

Are we not strange beings? Find her, but
where? There was not one chance in a thou-
sand, yet I dared not confess it, even to myself;
and as the steamboat drew away from Buda
and swung near the glittering lights of Pest, I
found myself searching the hidden recesses of


a worn portfolio for a folded bit of paper that
had lain there since the morning of our

It was still there, I discovered by the light
of the deck lantern, but so creased that it nearly
fell apart as I opened it and read her address
in Philippopoli. This cracked scrap of paper
now assumed an importance which I cannot de-
cribe; my whole happiness seemed to depend
upon its preservation, and I stood there drunk
with a great joy, and all the old days came back
to me. That gentle evening in spring when I
first espied her sitting in the corner of the
Grande Taverne. It all seemed as yesterday
now. I could hardly wait until the busy little
steamer touched the wharf at Pest to send a

I wrote it in the simplest French, clear and
concise, that she might not be puzzled; and,
with a dogged confidence in the charity of
Allah, sent it forth in the night, a distance of
over thirty hours by train. And all that
night the band of Toll Janczi played to me
in a smoky cafe beneath the street, for I


could not sleep. And there is comfort in a
gypsy's fiddle.

At dawn I went to bed, and when I awoke the
sun was shining, and I crossed the river to old
Buda, and tramped up an ancient road that led
to a fort close beside a little cafe with a garden,
in which I breakfasted at noon. And there,
gazing down over Buda, I killed time and the
dragging hours. The wind blew fresh, and one
was well there in the little garden, and I dared
not hope for an answer much before night.

Time and time again, I said to myself:

' There is not one chance in a thousand you

are a fool!" And a strange dread would seize

me, and then again I would take fresh


It was dusk when I left Buda and recrossed
the river a river full of the vague mystery of
doubt and hope to me now.

And there, in the telegraph office, lay my an-
swer an answer which I crumpled up from
sheer nervousness before I gained the fresh air
and broke the seal.

Ah, you do not know! You can never know


what I felt! It was as if the whole world was
singing joyously in my ears, and I felt faint.


Arrive Thursday, one o'clock.

As the hands on the clock of the big station
crawled slowly toward one, I gazed down the
empty track under the steam-filled shed with a
beating heart. Had she changed? How in-
credible it was! The chance I had taken! Do
not say you do not believe in miracles! I
seemed to be living in some strange dream, in
which the good fairy was in a few moments to
wave her jewelled wand, and cry: "Behold!"

Five minutes more but the clock was
wrong, and the train late. No one seemed to
know exactly how late.

"It came from very far," explained a swarthy
official lazily.

Hah* an hour passed. The minutes dragged
so the hands of the clock seemed to have grown
weary and stopped. One hour! One torturing
hour, in which I paced up and down. The
strain was beginning to tell on me. Ah, mon


Dieu! Then suddenly the wailing shriek of an
engine my hands grew cold. The next in-
stant the express from the Orient came rumbling
into the great shed, coughing up a cloud of steam
that rilled the shed, while out of the train poured
its passengers like hurrying phantoms in a fog.


It was she!

A trim little figure in a velvet gown, gray
with the dust of the East, and in each hand she
carried two round paper hatboxes.

"Pierre! Pierre!"

Both hatboxes fell to the ground. One rolled,
and a Hungarian gentleman ran after it, picked
it up, and set it down beside its mate; but she
did not see, for her firm little arms were about
my neck, and her lips were murmuring "Pierre,
Pierre!" against my own.

There were days when we wandered in the
soft sunlight over Buda. There were twilights
when the small steamer carried us up to the
Island of Roses, and she sat beside me on the
deck, her hand in mine, and all the world seemed


glad. There were whole days which we spent
idling along the edge of the Danube as far as

Our river here rippled with a lazy cadence
against a pebbly shore, upon which we built a
fire and breakfasted, and watched the water
mills, built on piles far out on the turquoise tide,
turning slowly as they ground the peasant
corn; and beyond them lay stretches of waving
rice beds, out of which started up now and then a
flight of wild duck. And beyond these lay the
velvety green lowlands from which rose in the
shining haze jagged peaks of amethyst and
jade. Sometimes a passing gypsy played for us.
Often a huge catfish would swirl to the surface
close to the pebbly shore.

Ah, how much she had to tell me! Of her
mother's illness; of how, before her return, she
had learned of his being ordered far out of her
country with his regiment.

She had not changed, save that she was more
beautiful a woman now, with still the eager
heart of a child, and the song of her voice was
restful. Often she counted my money, that the


modest sum might last long; and her economy
was amazing. She could invent little ways to
save that were unknown to me.

And yet again the end came, with just enough
left for her voyage back to her land and for
mine to Paris. It was a parting that would
have been unbearable had she not promised to
return to work again for the little modiste in the
Rue de Seine.

How blind is our confidence in the future!

"You are getting old." That is what I say
to myself. "You are forty -three, and you are
even poorer than in your youth, for you are
more philosophical with what you have, and,
besides, happiness is not given at your age. It
is bought. People are beginning to have a cer-
tain respect for you, which is exasperating.
Younger men now address you as * Monsieur/
If any one says * Tiens, c'est toi?' to you now,
you smile gratefully, and something out of the
past grips at your heart.

" Where are Marcelle, and Celeste, and Yvonne,
and Rose Javet? Gone! And the Grande Tav-


erne has become a brazen bazaar of nourish-
ment. Be glad if any one raps at your studio
door. You have a store of memories, but when
you recall them, it is like gazing into an empty
drawer that had once contained a precious

"You have grown neater in your appearance,
for to be slovenly at your age is to be decrepid.
You have grown firm in your prejudices, and
little things irritate you. You are getting to be
an absurd old ass. In a few years you will be
forced to wear broadcloth and a red ribbon in
your buttonhole, and people will address you
as 'Maitre,' which is worse than 'Monsieur.'

:< The devil! And you expect some one to
love you at your age?"

I looked up from my reverie out of the studio
window, over the sea of leaden roofs, glistening
under the thrash of a January rain the chim-
ney hoods whining and creaking, as if in pain,
under the buffeting onslaught of every fresh
gust. Then I seized my storm coat, hat, and
umbrella, and, turning the key in the rusty
lock of my studio door, started to join my old


friend, Delacour, across the Seine. The wind
blew the rain straight in one's face. I lowered
my umbrella, and forged ahead.

As I turned down the Rue Mazarine, on my
way to the quay, I caught sight only of the feet
of the passersby, and thus I continued down
this narrow ravine of a street, whose sidewalk
shrinks against the fronts of its ancient houses
at the very places where it should widen.

On now past the hobnailed boots of a coal
man, past the trim, high-heeled boots of a made-
moiselle, who, I discovered upon raising my
umbrella, was pretty. Past a dignified old
gentleman hurrying along the dripping walls of
the Institute shoes out of date, but neatly
brushed. Past a butcher boy, and two priests,
in shoes that might have fitted two giant grand-
mothers; past a pair of little shoes and a glimpse
of a black skirt, and I passed them with a strange
sensation. I stopped, and raised the umbrella,
for I had awkwardly touched the figure in passing.

"I demand pardon, Madame," I apologized,
and turned to raise my hat. Then my heart
for the moment seemed to stop beating.


She had stopped also, and her eyes were wide
open, and looking into mine with the stare of a
woman whose heart had also nearly stopped

A short, round little woman, with a full oval
face, no waist, and small hands gloved in lisle
thread, broken at the thumb and forefinger,
which grasped an umbrella with a leaden swan
for a handle.

Neither of us had yet uttered a word

"Pierre! Pierre!" she exclaimed faintly, in
the laboured voice of a ghost.

"C'est toi, c'est bien toi?"

And we stood there trembling, unable for
the moment to speak.

Then I took her hand in mine a hand
which did not seem alive and nodded to a
passing fiacre.

"Ten Rue des Deux Amis," 1 believe I
stammered to the grizzled coachman.

"Bien, Monsieur."

But she hesitated, even drew back, still
trembling, her foot on the muddy step, a plead-
ing look in her eyes. Then a sudden faintness


seized her, and, without a word, she entered the
stuffy fiacre, smelling of the stale cigar of the
last client, and burst into tears.

We had so much to say we could say nothing.
Now and then fragmentary sentences escaped
us as we rattled on; mostly apropos of her hat,
which was knocked askew and out of fashion
like her dear dress, the skirt of which was shiny.
Then I unbuttoned a worn mite of a glove,
stripping it gently from a small, pudgy hand,
red from housework, with two dimples in place
of one, and showing those unmistakable signs
of industry the roughened pricks of a needle.

"Listen, Pierre," she began, taking courage,
and then faltered. "It is not right that I go
there," she breathed. "It will be only for a
moment, since thou hast insisted."

"Thou shalt come, nevertheless," I remember
saying, "if it is only to welcome thee as far as
my door."

She drew close to me, shuddering as if the eye
of Allah were upon her.

"Listen, Pierre," she murmured, gripping
my hand. " I am married. I have told him all."


She was quite pale, her lips parted in a
timid smile. For some moments neither spoke.
Then she resumed nervously, her voice, little
by little, gaining courage:

" I have a great esteem for him. He is very kind.
He is one to whom I owe much. We have three
boarders a gentleman, a lady, and her son.
It keeps me very busy," she explained seriously,
"for we cannot afford to keep a servant."

I lifted the small, red hand to my lips.

"Pierre, it is pretty no longer," she said.

The windows of the fiacre shivered as we
rattled into the Rue des Deux Amis.

She drew hastily from her breast a tiny silver
watch, and glanced at it with a start.

"Four minutes to five!" she exclaimed.
"Pierre, Pierre, I cannot, even for a moment!
It is too late."

'Yes," I returned. "You are right It is
too late. Where art thou going?"

"To the Rue Jean Roubet. Pierre, thou wilt
forgive me?"

I leaned out of the window, and touched the
old cabman's arm.


*'To the Rue Jean Roubet."

"Bien, Monsieur.'"

"Tell him to stop at the corner, at the end of
the big wall of the hospital," she added ner-

"Is he ill?" I questioned anxiously.

"Ah, no! Allah be praised!" And for an
instant her face became radiant.

"Listen, Pierre. Thou must know: He is
very wise."

Again the free hand went to her breast, and
she drew forth a printed paper, unfolded it, and
pointed to a paragraph as we neared the cor-
ner of the Rue Jean Roubet.

"It is he," she murmured as I read:

Friday, at five o'clock, in room B, lecture by the Pro-
fessor Delfontaine on Anaesthesia and the Heart.

The fiacre stopped at the corner under the
great wall, cheerless and massive as that of a
prison in the rain.

"Thou must not get out," she said gently,
with a pleading look.

Then she rose, leaned forward, kissed me rev*


erently on both cheeks, squeezed past my knees^
opened the door quickly, and was gone.

It was the end, and I sat there for some mo-
ments, immovable, staring at the tears sliding
down the blurred windows of the fiacre, my
heart tingling with a strange feeling of mingled
peace and gratitude.

I never saw her again, yet the memory of her is as clear
as if it happened yesterday: as if she still stood before me
as she did that morning in Pest the velvet dress dusty from
her long journey, the two hatboxes in her hands. Only the
other evening Toupin and I were strolling before dinner in

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Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 6 of 16)