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NATKA Sll

shut. "Poor little thing! Is it not terrible?
They say she will live. She is horribly disfigured
- a cripple for life. Gaby de Villiers told me
as we came in. It happened Sunday, heating
the curling irons for her mistress."

"Who is Lucille Davries?" I asked.

"A demi-mondaine. I do not know her. She
is a brute. Her boudoir is burned out. She
flew into a rage, and would have turned the poor
little thing out of doors had not the police
arrived and taken her to the hospital. Ah,
Dieu! Can you imagine such a beast? The girl
is barely seventeen an orphan. Gaby gave
me her name. She is at St. Louis, in the emer-
gency ward. It shall be that I go there to-
morrow."

She had spoken rapidly, and with such in-
tensity that the colour crept to her temples.

It was bright daylight when we left Maxim's.

"Bravo!" they shouted as the Baroness Natka
Karezoff left the room. "Bravo! Bravo!"
until her tall, handsome figure, wrapped in its
cloak of soft gray fur, disappeared within the
coupe of the one who called me Bill.



212 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

As I left them that morning, and walked back
to my studio beneath the roofs in the Rue des
Deux Amis, the streets were deserted, save by
an occasional sleepy garcon de cafe hurrying
home to bed and his family. At the corner of
the Rue Mogador, I encountered a ragpicker's
pushcart, its dingy sacks piled high and roped.
The fat haul of the night's pickings was guarded
by a girl of sixteen, strong as a terrier, and
dressed from the gutter, her dishevelled hair dull
with dust; the black dog, chained beneath the
cart, spick and span in comparison. It is a short
walk in Paris from jewels to rags. Often it is
but a step.

As I continued on past the Trinity, and so on
up Montmartre, my thoughts were on Natka
and the boy from Chicago. To be young in
Paris, good-looking, with plenty of money, and
fascinated by a woman of Natka's experience!
What more could the owner of the Nargeala
desire?

That he appreciated her good qualities as a
comrade I was certain, and yet there lurked
within him, I could see, a barrier of suspicion.



NATKA *18

This was natural. It is, moreover, racial, and
typical of nine out of ten Americans of his kind
in Paris. They are amused as long as a
woman amuses them to the point which they
have stipulated to themselves. Offer them
a really serious amour, and they fight as shy
as a close-fisted bank president refusing a
loan to a pretty widow. This is largely due
to inexperience and a meagre knowledge of
Latin women.

If he had known Natka as well as I knew her,
he would have done well to have turned the for-
tune of his youth over to her intact for safe-
keeping. She would have saved most of it for
him out of the heyday of his yachting youth, and
returned to a sou the remainder of the amount in
trust on the day of his inevitable departure for
his native land.

He, however, did not know this, and, had I
suggested it to him, would have first smiled
grimly at the idea, and, secondly, pigeonholed
me in his mind as a crook.

That Natka seriously liked him I was also con-
vinced. Fond of him, even. In love with him?



814 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

Euh! That would be putting it a little strong.
Natka had seen enough of love. What appealed
to her now was comradeship, which is more last-
ing than volatile love. Moreover, I knew she
was sincere, or she would never have known the
Nargeala or its owner.

Weeks passed. Months, and I saw nothing of
them, and heard nothing, save an announcement
in the Paris edition of a New York journal, whose
maritime news is reliable, that the Nargeala had
touched at Capri bound south.

One afternoon in May, in the Bois, she flashed
past me in her coupe, drawn by a superb pair of
Russian horses. A glimpse of her only and she
was gone. And I stood there beneath the aca-
cias, feeling none too happy over this unex-
pected and tantalizing glimpse.

Again I saw her leave the Opera Comique; but
I lost sight of her in the crowd hailing their car-
riages. Then, one night in September, I was
standing in the Gare St. Lazare, awaiting the
arrival of the Caen express, and met the Chica-
goan face to face.



NATKA 215

He was pale and haggard, and moved toward
me, picking nervously at his watch chain.

"Hello!" he stammered as we shook hands,
his hollow, sunken eyes glancing furtively about
him, with the fear in them of a cornered
owl's.

The hand on the watch chain trembled visibly.
The whistle from an engine shrieked, and he
started, jerking around on his heel from sheer
nervous depression.

" You've been ill," I ventured.

His lips tightened shakily.

"Come and have a drink," he returned gloom-
ily, his eyes for the first time meeting my own.

"I'm waiting for a train due any minute," I
said, by way of refusal. "It's a long time since
I've seen you; not since that night in Maxim's
with- -"

But I did not mention her name, not knowing
what had occurred in the meantime.

He snapped open his cigarette case, lighted a
plain Maryland, hurriedly took a long, trembling
whiff, and cast it aside, his eyes again searching
the station and the crowd streaming along the



216 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

transatlantic train that lay beside us ready for
Cherbourg.

"Excuse me," he murmured, and pulled him-
self aboard the Cherbourg express, glanced at
his hand luggage in a second-class compartment,
reappeared, and joined me.

"Sailing? "I asked.

He nodded.

"And the Nargeala? I heard she touched at
Capri."

He looked at me blankly.

" She's no longer mine," said he. Then, with
the ghost of a smile : " I'm hard hit."

For a moment he was silent, gazing at the
smouldering butt of his cigarette, his mouth
twitching.

"Say!" he blurted out. "I want you to do
me a favour. If you ever see Natka again - - I
well I want you to tell her I understood. I
want you to thank her for me for all she did for
me. I said good-bye to her this morning. She'll
understand it coming from you. I want you to
tell her I understood. Just say understood. And
thank her for what she did for me at Monte



NATKA 217

Carlo. I was a fool. I wouldn't listen to her.
They'd have got it all if it hadn't been for her.
She begged me on her knees. It's a rotten
game," he stammered hoarsely; " a rotten game."
And his eyes filled. " I wouldn't care if it wasn't
for dad. He's been hard hit in wheat he's
done for."

I slipped my arm beneath his own, and he
seemed grateful.

"You'll tell her? You won't forget?" he
pleaded as we paced before the train.

: 'You have my word," I replied. "What is
Natka's address?"

"I don't know. She's gone away," he said,
in a weary voice. "She wouldn't tell me where.
She made me promise I wouldn't try to find her."

The guard was slamming shut and locking the
compartment doors.

"En voiture!" he shouted, red with impor-
tance.

There was a backward bump and a forward
tension. He stretched out his hand, and I
grasped it as he climbed in past the knees of a
lady's maid and a valet in a steamer cap.



218 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

"Tell Natka I understood" he murmured as
he closed the door, and the express slipped away
on her journey as the headlight of the incoming
train from Caen glared into view.

All that I have described happened twelve
years ago; and, although Maxim's was still
ablaze nightly until gray dawn, the old life of
Paris had undergone a change. It had grown
less intime, and more commercial, and many of
the familiar faces of old comrades had disap-
peared.

So had Natka Karezoff; and, though my daily
life led me over the same trail through Bohemia
it had led me for years, I heard or saw nothing
of her; and gradually she became a vague mem-
ory of the past. My old haunts were now filled
with the new generation. Fashions, too, had
changed. It was an age now of the lamp-shade
hat and the aeroplane. Even Montmartre had
been affected by the epidemic of up-to-date
modernism. The French-monocled youth now
shot by, sunk in the barrel seat of his hundred
horsepower racer. The girl beside him, im-



NATKA 219

prisoned in her hobble skirt, interlarding her
French with English sporting terms. All these
were in vogue now, and the old life was
gone.

In Montmartre, close to the Place Pigalle, is
an American bar. Most of the ladies who
frequent it at midnight possess a marquise tur-
quoise ring on their manicured forefinger, and a
fox terrier on a scarlet leather leash, who is
loosed in the early morning hours to gambol over
the dusty carpet with other fox terriers he knows
but slightly; and, as fox terriers will be fox ter-
riers, is shrilled at by its owner in the lamp-
shade hat for his disobedience. And she
slides off her bar stool, and, catching him by
the scruff of the neck, proceeds to chastise
him accordingly as she had read in her dog
book.

The room to-night was less lively in its forced
gayety than usual, being the evening after the
steeplechase at Auteuil, and life to most of its
habitues seemed less worth living than ever.

I sat on the end of the row of high stools be-
fore the bar talking to Emile, the barkeeper, over



220 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

the non-appearance of that absent-minded friend
of mine, Joinville, the painter, who had stipulated
the bar a half hour past as a meeting place; and
I was still waiting with my back to the fox ter-
riers and their gossiping owners. Never wait
for Joinville, he has the memory of a moth.

As Emile drained a sweet Martini through a
tea strainer, I accidentally touched the elbow of
the woman on the stool beside me.

"Pardon, Madame," I apologized, without
turning my head.

Emile slipped the wet Martini to the third
stool, added a straw, and wiped his fat pink
hands.

As I reached for a match, my eye glanced over
the figure of the woman next to me whose elbow
I had touched. The broad-brimmed hat of
rough blue felt that hid her face was faded, out
of shape, and trimmed with two artificial roses
that had once been red. She sat with her elbows
on the bar, her body wrapped in a worn ulster,
the pocket next to me torn down at the seam. I
caught sight now of her ringless hands, and made
a mental note of her age. Then I glanced at her



NATKA 221

feet resting on the rung of the stool, and saw
that the yellow shoe next to me had been
patched.

Then, for some unaccountable awkwardness
on my part, over went the remnant of my bottle
of soda, and she tilted back away from the drip,
and turned.

"Ah, Madame!" I exclaimed. "I demand a
thousand pardons."

The smile with which she had straightway
forgiven me now faded to a swift, searching look,
and I gazed at her at her gray eyes, at her
auburn hair streaked with gray.

"Natka!"Icried.

" Mon Dieu!" she replied wonderingly.

Gradually her face became radiant, a flush
crept to her temples. She faced me, putting
out both her hands. I grasped them, and held
them trembling in my own.

"Natka!" I repeated, in my astonishment.

"Hush!" she whispered.

"Let us get out of this. I feel faint. Come!
Come now ! " she murmured.

She slipped from her stool, and, before the rest



222 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

of the room had remarked it, we were in the
street.

"Stand here in the shadow," she pleaded
faintly; and in the shadow she fell to sobbing,
while I patted the shoulder beneath the worn
ulster until she ceased crying. And when she had
stopped before the mirror of a closed cake shop,
and wiped her tear-stained face and adjusted the
faded hat, she bravely smiled.

"Come," I insisted, "and have some supper.
We must talk. To Tabarin's," I suggested,
halting as we turned dow r n the Rue Pigalle.

"No, not there," she whispered. "They
would not admit me in there." She leaned close
to me, gripping my arm, still whispering a strange,
hoarse whisper, as if she were afraid of her own
voice. "Ah, I am so glad! So very happy!"
she breathed.

Again I insisted on a restaurant. She stopped,
and said in the mysterious voice of a child sug-
gesting an adventure:

"Do you know what I should like? Some
sauerkraut," she whispered eagerly, her voice
gaming strength. "Come, I will show you."



NATKA 223

She laughed nervously.

" Oh ! Such good sauerkraut they have there.
It is not far to walk at the Lion D'Or. You
are not angry? Tell me, you are not angry? It
was not nice of me to ask. It is not far. No, no,
not a fiacre ! It is foolish to spend for that.
Your hat is old. You are poor. It is not dear,
the sauerkraut seventy -five centimes the por-
tion; and they give you plenty. And four sous
to the waiter you shall see."

And at the Lion D'Or I wrung the truth out
of her over the steaming sauerkraut. The de-
tails much of which I refuse to write. It was a
story from her lips, a simple story of kindness to
others massive in its truth, inevitable in its
end; and it was the bitter end that she now en-
dured without a murmur.

It is less hard to find a man hungry than a
woman. The Archduke Romanoff was dead;
and, when I suddenly recalled and gave a mes-
sage from the past, she "understood"; and I
feared for a moment she was again about to cry.

"You saw him? Yes, it is true what you say.
You saw him that night when he went away?"



824 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

she demanded, with all the intensity of her being.
"And he told you I would understand. I tried
so hard to make him understand to under-
stand that he must go, that he must never see
me again. Ah, my poor Dick ! My poor Dick ! "

And for the third time she hung eagerly on my
words, making me repeat slowly all that he had
said, even to his manner and the way he looked
a wreck. But I did not tell her how far his
nerves were gone, clear as the memory came
back to me now.

"You loved him," I said when she had grown
calmer; and there came a strange, broken look
in her eyes, and her tired face dropped in her
hands, her nails pressing her flushed temples.

For some moments she did not speak.

"Then one lived," she said slowly, looking
up, "and now it takes so long to die. I tried to
save him," she went on, brushing away her tears.
"That last week at Monte Carlo, I drew from
my Paris bank, I wired to Petersburg, to poor
Romanoff, that was the hardest and what I
had sent for went with his own. Ah, Dieu, it is
so cruel, so stupid that horrid gambling. It



NATKA 225

was that last night of baccarat that we quarrelled.
He was blind with anger, and out of his head.
He accused me of being a thief, for I had taken
from him fourteen hundred francs. It was well
I did; it paid his voyage home."

The two girls opposite our table in the corner
with pink plumes had gone. We were alone.
The shirt-sleeved proprietor was yawning as he
carved a ham.

It was gray dawn.

Natka glanced at the clock hanging above the
desk.

"My train will leave in an hour," she said.
'You must not wait, you are tired."

"Train! My dear old friend, and to where,
may I ask?"

She was her old self again, warmed by the
food, comforted, no doubt, by the hazard of our
meeting and our long talk of the past.

"To Argenteuil," she announced. "No? Did
I not tell you? We have had so much to say.
Yes, that is where I live Amelie and I. You
remember Amelie who was burned? " And then,
with the same mysterious, childlike eagerness,



226 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

she whispered again: "We have a little house.
Oh, very small ! Three rooms, and a roof ! " She
laughed as she described it. "And then there is
the garden for my chicks. They are adorable -
so fuzzy so little. They are a great care; but
one must live, and in winter our eggs bring three
sous apiece."

She mistook the gaze in my eyes.

"Forgive me," she said. ;< You are tired. It
will not be long now to wait for my train. You
must leave me and go to bed."

"No," I protested. "I shall leave you, and
you shall go to bed. Here is my studio key. It
is the same brown door at the head of the stairs.
You see, I have been faithful to my nest beneath
the roofs. I have not moved. There is the big
divan in the little room off the studio. Do you
remember?"

But she hesitated.

"Amelie will worn-. And, besides, it is not
right for me to disturb you."

"Nonsense!" I returned. "Vantin is at
Juvisy. He has the studio below me. He left
me his key."



NATKA 227

She hesitated no longer.

I waited until noon, entered my studio by the
back door, and rapped gently at her own. No
response.

"Natka!" I called; but the room beneath the
roofs was silent.

I turned the knob, and pushed the door ajar.
She was lying on the divan fully dressed. The
collar of the worn ulster turned up over her hair,
damp from the stupor of profound slumber, a
rug thrown over her feet. I tiptoed in and leaned
over her, listening to her regular breathing.

Poor dear! She was no longer beautiful; but
she was beautiful to me. Her small, wrinkled
leather purse lay on the table. It was indiscreet
of me; but I pressed its flat side with my thumb.
Two solitary sous grated together within.

And there I sat, and watched the Baroness
Natka Karezoff until long after one, when she
stirred, awakened with a start, rubbed her eyes,
remembered, and smiled "Bon jour"

You may hunt through Argenteuil to-day, but
you will not find her, for she lives in a comfort-



228 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

able, modest little apartment in Montmartre.
Neither the street nor the number concerns
you. Certain painters had passed the plate
- for Amelie. Natka would not have it other-
wise.




CHAPTER SEVEN
"GABY"




CHAPTER SEVEN
"GABY"

HHHE rain, this raw April morning, thrashed
* over my studio roof in the Rue des Deux
Amis and sent the chattering Parisian spar-
rows to shelter in the warm corners between the
chimney pipes that creaked and whined as their
hooded tops boxed the compass with every fresh
gust of wind. Miniature torrents gurgled in
their rushing course beneath the worn gables.
The water swept in sheets over my dust-dimmed
skylight so there was no need to draw its curtain
to screen that good little model of mine, Marie,

231



232 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

who was posing beneath it close to the stove,
in fact half her trim young figure bathed in
its rosy glow.

There had been two welcome knocks at my
studio door this dreary morning: at nine the
confident, gentle "tap-tap" of Marie's small
gloved hand, and half an hour later the rousing
thump of Vautrin's big fist that made the panel
tremble.

"Entrez!" I shouted to this lucky dog of a
painter just back from the Riviera, where for
two months he had been basking in sunshine.
His big voice broke the silence of the studio as
he entered.

"Bonjour,mon enfant!" he called to Marie.

" Bon jour, Monsieur Vautrin," returned Marie,
lifting her dark eyes with the smile of a gamine,
though she held her pose firmly.

Some of the lazy sunshine of Mentone and
Monte Carlo, of Nice and Cannes, was still in
Vautrin's bones, for he stopped halfway across
the studio floor filled his big chest with a deep
breath straightened to his full height shut
his eyes tight, and yawned without apologizing.



"GABY" 233

There is something about this irrepressible
bohemian, with his merry gray eyes, his strong
features and his hair, which is sandy and curly,
that resembles a Scotchman. His father was
French, however, and his mother English, and
both languages he speaks as easily as he laughs.

"What news, mon vieux?" he asked at the
end of the yawn, glancing at my canvas.

"Nothing of much account," said I; "a note
from Duclos wants me to do a pastel of Gaby
de Villiers for his June number of Paris en Scene.

"GabydeVilliers,eh?"

"She's at the Folies Bergeres," I continued.
"In the New Revue. She's the new beauty.
Ever seen her? Tall brunette. Was in the Re-
vue last season at the Scala; small part I believe
at the Gaiete Rochechouart the year before."

"Smaller part than that before," remarked
Vautrin dryly as he felt for his pipe in the pocket
of his paint-stained corduroy trousers. "She
used to bring my wash fact when I had
that old barrack of a studio in the Rue Lepic.
Used to keep her fete day shoes in my wood-
box; her mother was a vegetable woman and



234 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

didn't believe in luxuries. Pretty as the devil
when she was a kid. Dugay made a portrait
of her. Remember it at the Salon? Full-length
figure with a green scarf - - that was Gaby. It's
amazing how the stage reaps its beauty from the
gutter."

"Nearly all," I added absently, as I blocked
in Marie's young head and shoulders, while Vau-
trin cast his burnt match clear of my best studio
rug, and, having first carefully removed Marie's
clothes from the divan, much to that little
model's relief, for her hat was on top of them,
flung himself full length among the threadbare
pillows and declared that no one not actually
starving could work on a day like this in this
sacre light, when you could not tell the difference
between burnt umber and Vandyke brown.

"Just left Stimson at Monte Carlo," Vautrin
announced, as I chucked on a fresh shovelful of
coal and went back to my canvas.

"Who?"

"Little old Stimson you remember him
Stimson, who had the white yacht and the blue-
tiled villa at Trouville?"



"GABY" 235

"Oh, y-e-s; Stimson the fellow whose yacht
we used to paint?" I laughed.

"Same Stimson," chuckled Vautrin. "Re-
member when we used to put in the yacht and
get old what's-his-name, the jeweller on the
corner of the quay, to stick it in his window.
Then Stimson would come along and buy it.
Thought a lot of that yacht. Sort of a pet with
him. Remember ? ' '

"As if any of us could ever forget him," I
murmured, recalling a blue Monday when Stim-
son had saved me from bankruptcy by way of
the same jeweller's window. "So you saw Stim-
son, eh? How does the little old thoroughbred
look?"

"Hasn't changed a bit," continued Vautrin
with his rapid enthusiasm when anything or any-
body interests him. "Short and dapper and
polite as usual. Gray as a rat, of course. But
then he must be getting close to sixty. I tell
you, little old Stimson is one of those unassum-
ing philanthropists you take off your hat to;
and the soul of modesty with all his wealth.
Still going the pace. Told me he never had a



236 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

sick day in his life when you think what Stim-
son has lived, bought, and seen, in his quiet
way. Never had an enemy either. 'Wouldn't
have 'em,' he used to tell me when you come
to think even of the people he's helped, and I
mean by people any one he happened to come
across in distress. He's had plenty of oppor-
tunity at Monte Carlo. He's one of the old
guard down there. Remembers Monte Carlo
when it began, and the only way you could get
there was by carriage or a tub of a boat from
Nice."

Snap went a stick of charcoal, and I nodded to
Marie to rest.

" Swindled, of course," Vautrin went on. "He
expected that; bamboozled by touts, lied to by
vauriens! 'always believed in a hard-luck story,'
he used to say, and that nobody was really bad.
Lot of philosophy in that, eh? You see it's al-
most a creed with Stimson to be generous to the
needy and tolerant to the fool.

"'Haven't we all got our faults?' he used to
say. 'Why, certainly.' Never gambles him-



"GABY" 237

self. Just likes to stroll around the tables and
watch the game and is satisfied with the best
cooking in France, a light dry champagne, and
a pleasant good morning. Sort of religion with
a maltre d'hotel to take good care of Stimson.
There's something pathetic in his brightening
smile and the twinkle in his small, keen eyes when
he's pleased when any little favour that is
sincere is shown him.

" ' Well, now, wasn't that nice of them?' he'll
remark quietly when the maltre d'hotel has saved
his favourite table for him on a rush day. He's
saved a few people himself, Stimson has even
from suicide. I never knew a demi-mondaine
yet who didn't lose her "head when her last louis
was gone. You'll see the sudden terror leap
in their eyes then."

"I've seen it," I interposed as I sharpened a
fresh stick of charcoal. "It isn't a pleasant
sight. Their last louis gone, return ticket
pawned, and every mail bringing a fresh threat
over the debts they have left in Paris."

"Of course. Same hopeless old story," Vau-
trin continued. "Then Stimson would come to



238 THE STREET OF THE TWO FRIENDS

the rescue quietly behind her chair. All he'd
say in his low, punctilious voice, that always
seems to have a note of hesitancy in it through
sheer timidity, was, * Well, well, little girl' (he
called 'em all little girls, whether they were nine-


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Online LibraryF. Berkeley (Frank Berkeley) SmithThe street of the two friends → online text (page 9 of 16)