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bordered upon the serious, seemed to deprive him of any means of
enlightening himself as to her real sympathies.

Several times he had suggested that some friend should join them at
dinner or at the theatre, but she opposed it with a velvety firmness. "We
are so well like this," she would say. "Why should we spoil it?" And
Bobby was delighted beyond measure.

The days passed. Bobby's original intention had been to remain in Paris
only a week, but he was fully determined to stop on as long as Madame de
Corantin accepted his companionship. If he stayed there until the end of
the War, he did not care, provided he could be with her.

About this time Bobby, waiting one evening in the hall of the hotel for
Madame de Corantin to come down to dinner, observed a familiar figure in
Staff uniform. It was Alistair Ramsey. They exchanged salutations, but
Ramsey's manner was marked by a hauteur which even Bobby, good-natured as
he was, could not fail to notice. At that moment Madame de Corantin
stepped out of the lift, and with a "See you later," to which the
other responded by a curt nod, Bobby went to meet her. As she greeted him
she stood still an instant, apparently looking at some one behind him,
and Bobby turned sharply to follow her eyes. They were fixed on Alistair
Ramsey, who was staring back at her with a look of astonishment.

The restaurant was fuller than usual, but their table was always
reserved, and Bobby (who prides himself on his taste in such matters)
looked forward to the little compliment he regularly received for
the appropriateness of his menu. But on this occasion Madame de Corantin
seemed to be oblivious of menu and of Bobby alike. She sat apparently
lost in thought, and, eating mechanically what was placed before her,
replied with monosyllables to Bobby's attempts at conversation. Then,
of a sudden, her face cleared like the sky on an April day.

"Pardon me, my friend, I fear I have been very ill-mannered. I have
received an annoying letter, and was thinking about it."

Bobby was full of concern. "Is there anything I can do?" he asked.

She looked at him with a half-smile. "Who knows? Perhaps!"

"Do tell me. You know I long to be of use to you, and there is so little
that I can do."

"But who could do more? No lonely woman could ask for a more devoted
cavalier." Her appreciative glance was nectar to Bobby. So susceptible
was he to the expression of her eyes, he would have been powerless to
resist anything they asked of him. But he had never been put to the test;
on the contrary, she had accepted with demur even the comparatively
trifling services he had been able to render her. She was most
punctilious in regard to any expense to which he was put, and insisted,
to his discomfiture, on paying her share of everything. At first they had
little quarrels about it, but Bobby had been compelled to give way to her
firm but gracious insistence.

"Tell me, my friend" - her eyes played full upon him as she spoke - "who
was that gentleman you were talking to just before dinner?"

For a moment Bobby hesitated. If there were one man in all his
acquaintance whom he would have preferred that Madame de Corantin should
not know, it was Alistair Ramsey. Bobby had known him for a good many
years. The acquaintance dated back to a period when Ramsey was a
comparatively young man of fashionable manner and appearance on
half-commission with a firm of stockbrokers. Even then he aspired to
smart society, but this social recognition involved an expenditure
considerably beyond his earning capacity. In those days Bobby had
been of no small use to him. Many were the dinners to which Ramsey had
done the inviting, he the paying, and if that gentleman of fashion was
not above accepting the lavish attentions of the man about town, whom he
regarded as quite outside his own world, still less was he averse to the
loans forthcoming at moments of embarrassment, accompanied by a thinly
veiled hint from Bobby that they were repayable only when circumstances
permitted.

Bobby was not calculating, but without any deep reflection on the subject
he knew that Ramsey was "on the make," and it was not unreasonable to
expect him to have at least a kindly feeling for an old friend when he
"arrived." In this, however, he was disappointed. Though with the rise in
his fortunes Ramsey's vanity extinguished his sense of obligation, his
pride was not equal to paying his debts. Bobby may or may not have
realized that his former friend's gratitude was of the same quality as
his honour, but in any case he showed no resentment. He was sufficiently
accustomed to the ways of the successful to take them as they were, and
to pass over those characteristics to which, after all, they partly owe
their success. Indeed, had it been a question of introducing any one but
Madame de Corantin to Ramsey, he would have ignored the latter's
insolence and ingratitude alike and conformed to his habitual rôle as
purveyor of amusement to all and sundry. For Bobby's dignity was not
great, and the secret of the kind of popularity he enjoyed was in no
small measure attributable to his own lack of self-respect. But for the
first time in his life Bobby's pride now asserted itself. At last he was
being "tried too high."

"Excuse me, madame, if before answering you I ask you why you are
interested?"

Madame de Corantin considered an instant. "I shall tell you, my friend,
but not now." She glanced round her significantly as she spoke. "The
little story is rather private, and I should not care to be overheard.
You understand?"

"Oh, please don't - please," he stammered, feeling he had been indiscreet,
but flattered all the same by the promise of her confidence. "His name is
Alistair Ramsey. I have known him a long time."

"Is he an intimate friend of yours, monsieur?"

"Well, no, I can't say intimate, but I used to know him very well."

"What is his position in London?"

Bobby thought a moment. "Do you mean his position now during the War or
generally?"

"Both."

"Well, shortly before the War he had been made a partner in an important
firm in the Stock Exchange. He is supposed to come of a good family, and
he went about a great deal. One of those sort of men ladies like - asked
out a lot, that sort of thing - good-looking, too, don't you think?"

The question was inspired by jealousy. The more Bobby thought about
Ramsey the less he liked the prospect of introducing him to Madame de
Corantin.

"I quite believe he is considered so," she replied evasively. "But you
were saying - "

"Well, it's generally believed, I dare say it isn't true, that he was
made a member of that firm through being - ahem - a great friend of the
wife of the chief partner. I don't like suggesting that sort of thing,
you know, but as you asked me - "

"Oh please go on," Madame de Corantin said, holding her chin with both
hands and leaning her elbows on the table. Her eyes were looking closely
into Bobby's, and he moved uneasily under their sustained gaze.

"Just after the War began - Oh, I forgot to mention something: he is a
very great friend of Mrs. Norman Lockyard, the wife of the Cabinet
Minister. I seem to keep on bringing in ladies, but somehow when one
talks about Alistair Ramsey one can't help it. Through Mrs. Lockyard, he
got introduced to Sir Archibald Fellowes. It wasn't very difficult, you
know; Ramsey gives little parties in his flat in Mount Street - all sorts
of people go. It's extraordinary when one thinks of it - I mean to me who
know what his life has been - but he's considered amusing. I know one
evening, a week or two ago, Lord Coleton was there, and - "

Madame de Corantin was listening attentively. "Did you say Lord Coleton?"
she asked. "Those English names are so puzzling."

"Yes," said Bobby. "Why, do you know him?"

"Oh, slightly," she answered, "but continue your story, it is so
interesting."

"Where was I? Oh, yes, let me see. Have you ever heard of Léonie Blas?"

Madame de Corantin smiled at the sudden question. "Oh yes, the chanteuse.
What has she to do with it?"

"Well, you see, Ramsey and Léonie were more or less _collés_, and
Ramsey introduced old Fellowes to her. Soon afterwards Ramsey became
Fellowes' private secretary."

"Ah!" The exclamation came through Madame de Corantin's closed lips
almost like a sigh. "And Sir Archibald is a very important personage, I
believe?"

"Important! They say he runs the whole War Office."

Madame de Corantin laughed. The sound of it rippled away joyously. It was
infectious, and Bobby laughed too.

"Anything more I can tell you?"

"Oh no, thanks. Now let us talk about other things, but I must know this
wonderful Mr. Ramsey. You will introduce him to me, won't you? Ah!" The
reason for the exclamation was evident.

Their table faced the entrance, and Madame de Corantin's seat enabled her
to see every one who entered or left the restaurant. Alistair Ramsey was
standing in the doorway, waiting for the head waiter to show him to his
table. His eyes were fixed upon Madame de Corantin's face. The look of
astonishment Bobby had noticed before had given place to one of mingled
surprise and curiosity. He had exchanged his uniform for evening dress,
and wore a flower in his buttonhole. A waiter went towards him, and he
began threading his way through the diners. Another instant, and he stood
beside Madame de Corantin's chair.

Under the compulsion of a will felt but not expressed in words, Bobby
rose as he approached, and introduced him.

"I hope you will allow me to join you after dinner?" Alistair Ramsey
asked as he bowed.

Madame de Corantin smiled affirmatively, and Bobby ground his teeth as
Ramsey proceeded to his table.

* * * * *

Madame de Corantin did not care for the chatter and casual encounters of
the public rooms of an hotel. It was her practice to retire to her own
salon after dinner, unless she were going to a theatre. After the first
two or three days of their acquaintance she had invited Bobby to join her
there, and he had been immensely flattered. He looked forward to that
moment every evening, for it seemed to him to admit a certain intimacy
which he greatly valued. But now his heart was beating with apprehension.
Would she ask Ramsey to her private apartment?

"May I tell the waiter to bring coffee upstairs?" he asked in a low tone.

"By all means," she said, "but you might order for three and leave word
for Mr. Ramsey to join us when he has finished his dinner." Her tone was
careless, and Bobby's heart turned to stone.

"Perhaps I had better tell him myself?" He tried to conceal his chagrin,
but his voice betrayed him.

Madame de Corantin turned to him gaily. "Oh, I expect he'll find his way
without that," she answered, "and I want to tell you something before he
comes."

"Come and sit here by me," she said, as they entered her apartment. "You
have been very discreet; I have noticed it from the beginning. Had it not
been for that I could not have allowed you to be with me so much.
Discretion is a great gift, Mr. Froelich."

"Oh, please don't call me 'Mr. Froelich'; couldn't you manage to say
'Bobby' at least once before Ramsey appears?"

Madame de Corantin broke into that catching laugh of hers. "Very well
then, 'Bobby,' my friend, I am going to trust to your discretion by
telling you my little story. I was once travelling on a ship going to
America - at that time I was very unhappy. I was quite alone. My husband
had recently died. I have been very lucky in my life - you are an
example."

"I?" exclaimed Bobby.

"Yes, you. Did you not arrive on the scene just when I wanted you, at
the Gare du Nord?"

"Oh yes, I see what you mean. Of course, of course; thanks awfully for
saying that."

"Well, just as you arrived then, so some one else arrived once long ago,
and I was grateful to him, as indeed I am grateful to you."

Bobby was trying to find something to say, but Madame de Corantin
continued -

"I was glad of protection going to America. It is not pleasant for a
woman to have to travel alone. I daresay some people would have
misunderstood the position. My companion on that voyage was well known.
He was a Prince of a distinguished German family. He was nothing to me. I
need hardly tell you that."

The suggestion in her last remark was not very flattering to Bobby, but
he was too much interested to notice it.

"On that same ship was travelling your friend, Mr. Ramsey. He knew the
Prince slightly, I do not know how."

"Oh, he always manages to get to know people somehow or other. That's
one of Ramsey's special gifts," Bobby remarked with as near an approach
to bitterness as he was capable of expressing.

"He used to come up and speak to the Prince when we were reclining on our
deck chairs, but my companion did not encourage him. I think, Bobby, he
was like you - a little jealous. Anyhow, towards the end of the voyage I
received a note. It was handed to me by a stewardess. It was from Mr.
Ramsey, and I handed it to the Prince. I do not exactly know what
happened, for I did not see Mr. Ramsey again, but from what the Prince
told me, he must have said something very disagreeable to Mr. Ramsey.
That is all the story."

She had hardly said the words when there was a knock on the door, and
Alistair Ramsey entered the room and stood before her, bowing. With a few
easy words the new-comer settled himself in a chair, and at the
invitation of Madame de Corantin lit a cigarette. Nothing in his attitude
or in hers suggested that they had ever seen each other before, still
less that an embarrassing episode figured in the background of their
earlier acquaintance.

Madame de Corantin led the conversation by a few casual remarks, which
were immediately taken up by Ramsey, and in a few minutes they were
talking together as people do who, though they have not met before, have
known of each other for years. Ramsey brought in the names of common
acquaintances, of places they both knew, with an easy assumption of
mutual understanding that what he had to say about them would interest
her.

As a rule his attitude in the presence of ladies was that of a man
accustomed to the recognition of his ascendency.

Perhaps this was one of the reasons of the quite peculiar hostility with
which most men regarded him, but with Madame de Corantin his manner was
deferential, and it was clear that he was doing everything in his power
to ingratiate himself.

Bobby took little part in the conversation, and Ramsey's demeanour
towards him was not such as to encourage him to do so. Ramsey had the
assurance which comes from social success, and he took no trouble to
conceal the indifference, if not contempt, with which he regarded the
other man. His manner was alternately insolent and condescending; he kept
his eyes fixed upon Madame de Corantin, ignoring Bobby's presence
completely.

Glib of speech, Ramsey had a certain gift of humour, which displayed
itself in flippant witticisms generally at the expense of others. He
undoubtedly possessed the art of provoking laughter, but there was always
malice behind his frivolity. In appearance he was elegant without being
engaging, and one felt the spitefulness of the dark eyes beneath the
abundant hair, and the hardness of his mouth showed itself even when he
laughed. An onlooker could not have failed to contrast Madame de
Corantin's two visitors, and an Englishman certainly would have done so
to the disadvantage of Ramsey.

In spite of his German name Bobby was typically English in appearance,
and no one would have supposed that of the two he was the more
cosmopolitan. As he sat now listening to the conversation his
good-natured face wore an expression of perplexity and discomfort. Bobby
was suffering the pangs of jealousy, and at every fresh sally of the
other he was watching Madame de Corantin's face to see its effect. No
wonder, he thought, that Ramsey had few friends, and yet he could not
help envying the caustic readiness of his tongue and the skill with
which he had so quickly turned the situation to his advantage.

For an hour they talked until, in some subtle and indefinable manner,
Bobby felt that Madame de Corantin desired to be left alone. He had
frequently had this experience with her; she seemed to be able to
indicate a desire without expressing it, and he rose now from his seat
and wished her good-night. Ramsey did not move, and Bobby's heart sank
within him at the prospect of leaving his rival in possession, but, as he
took Madame de Corantin's hand, she held it an instant in hers, turning
at the same time towards Ramsey.

"I am so sorry," she said to him, "that our agreeable little party must
break up, but I have many letters to write this evening, and shall look
forward to seeing you both to-morrow."

Bobby was elated as he went out of the room, closely followed by Ramsey;
indeed, reaction prompted geniality.

"I think I'll go round to Maxim's for an hour; it's quite early. Will you
join me? There are sure to be people you know there."

They were standing in the hall of the hotel.

"Thanks, it's very good of you, but I too have letters to write," Ramsey
replied, and turning coldly on his heel he left Bobby to go out alone.

Bobby strolled down the Place de la Concorde, but before he reached
Maxim's his heart misgave him; he was reviewing the events of the evening
and, though he could not justify it, his mind was full of suspicion. It
was queer her wanting to see Ramsey again after the way he had behaved.
What could have been her object? Was he really so irresistible? She had
certainly shown quite plainly that she wanted to see him, and yet she had
shown equally plainly that she didn't want him to remain with her alone.
He wondered how long Ramsey would be staying in Paris, and what effect
his presence would have on his intercourse with Madame de Corantin. Would
he be able to see as much of her or would she drop him in favour of
Ramsey. The thought tortured him, but it wormed its way more and more
into his brain. Bobby had very little confidence in his powers of
pleasing; it was a common experience of his to be thrown over in favour
of men much less attractive to women than Ramsey. It was true that
hitherto he had not much cared, and when he had been given the "go-by" he
had always reflected that there were as good fish in the sea, and so on;
but that wasn't the case now.

Thinking deeply, he had reached the entrance of Maxim's without knowing
it, but looking in, he turned away in disgust; he had no desire to face
the crowd inside, he wanted to think things over. He walked on up the
Boulevard de la Madeleine, and with every step his jealousy increased.
The suspicion rankled; he felt certain that Ramsey would somehow or other
manage to see her again before he could - why, he might even contrive to
do so that very evening. He knew that Ramsey would dare anything where
women were concerned. Very likely while he was walking up the Boulevard,
Ramsey was sitting in her room.

Finally, he could bear it no longer. Turning, he walked swiftly back to
the hotel; it was a little past eleven, too early to go to bed, too late
in a darkened and subdued Paris to do anything else. He wondered where
Ramsey was, and, going to the porter, asked him casually if he had seen
him.

No, he had not seen Monsieur Ramsey since he had gone upstairs half an
hour ago; he supposed he had gone to bed.

Had Ramsey gone to bed? The more Bobby turned it over in his mind the
stronger his suspicions grew, and then came a moment of desperation - he
must know, he could not bear the suspense. His own room was two floors
above that on which was Madame de Corantin's apartment. Declining the
lift, he walked slowly upstairs, and as though he were doing so by
mistake, directed his steps softly past the door of her salon. No one was
in the corridor, and noiselessly he approached the door. Was that a man's
voice? Yes, there was not a doubt of it. He listened again, he looked up
and down the passage, no one was in sight. He placed his head close to
the woodwork of the door; with a sense of ignominy he realized that if
there had been a keyhole he would have placed his ear to that - anything
to know - anything. Yes, he recognized Ramsey's voice distinctly; he was
there. On tiptoe he retraced his steps. Arrived at the entrance hall he
flung himself into a chair, a prey to utter wretchedness.

* * * * *

Somehow the night passed.

Towards morning, perhaps at six or seven, he fell into a heavy sleep,
completely worn out by his mental sufferings. He awoke late, and,
glancing at his watch, saw to his horror that it was already eleven
o'clock. Cursing himself as he realized that this was the hour at which
Madame de Corantin generally went out, he rang the bell. How he longed
for his trusted valet, enlisted two months back. Now he had only a hotel
servant to send on messages. When the man arrived he dispatched him
instantly to find out whether Madame de Corantin had sent him any
message, and began to dress hurriedly. The servant did not return, and in
his impatience Bobby cursed him and rang again. Another servant appeared
and was hurried off on the same errand. In this way twenty minutes
passed; Bobby was dressed and flew downstairs. Unable to disguise his
anxiety, he asked the porter if he had seen Madame de Corantin.

"Madame de Corantin left an hour ago, Monsieur."

"Left? What do you mean?"

"Yes, Monsieur, she left - left with her luggage and her
maid - everything."

Controlling himself as best he could Bobby turned away in a state of
complete dejection. He sought an out-of-the-way corner and sat down,
trying to calm himself so that he could think.

"Gone away! Gone away!" He repeated the words mechanically. What did
it all mean?

Somebody was approaching him; he looked up, a servant handed him a note.
He tore it open breathlessly.


DEAR BOBBY, MY FRIEND,

News reached me early this morning which necessitated my immediate
departure. I know, alas, that you will feel sad at not seeing me again.
Believe me, so am I, but it is unavoidable. I asked for you before I
left, but they told me at the hotel that you had not yet left your room.
I scribble this line at the station. Forgive me, my dear friend, for all
the trouble I have given you, and believe that I am very grateful. We
shall meet again some day, and meanwhile keep a kindly remembrance of
your friend

FRANCINE DE CORANTIN.


She gave no address.

Bobby read the letter again and again; he could hardly believe his eyes.
The worst thing that could possibly happen had befallen him. Where could
she have gone, and why couldn't she tell him, and oh, how could he have
been such a fool as to have gone on sleeping like a stupid log at the
moment that she was going away? He would never be able to forgive himself
for that. Was there any connection between her departure and her meeting
with Alistair Ramsey? Bobby tried to concentrate his mind on the problem,
but it baffled him.

Completely bewildered, he cross-questioned the hall porter, but he could
add nothing to what he had already said. Madame de Corantin had gone and
she had left no address and he had not the slightest idea where, nor did
he know to what station she had gone. A car had come for her, apparently
a private one, she had not ordered it at the hotel. What trains were
there leaving? Oh, there were numbers; there was one to Rouen and Havre
and also to Dieppe about that time, to Bordeaux and San Sebastian, to all
kinds of places. Bobby realized the utter hopelessness of attempting to
trace her. Wretchedly the hours passed; in the middle of the afternoon he
decided that whatever happened he would not stay another night in Paris.
The thought of it sickened him. Paris, the hotel, and everything else had
become hateful. No, he would spend that night at Dieppe, and go to London
the next day, that was all he could think of.

Back in London, Bobby's condition of misery, so far from improving,
became worse. His life, aimless enough ever since the War, seemed now
more aimless than ever. Every man he knew had something to do; he alone
was objectless and workless. More profoundly than ever he realized all
that Madame de Corantin had meant to him. Her disappearance had made his
life a blank. Had there been some glimmer of hope, however slight, of
penetrating the mystery, had there been the faintest clue to her present
whereabouts, he would have thrown himself heart and soul into the
endeavour to trace her, but he had absolutely nothing to go upon.

Weary and desolate, he haunted restaurants and hotels, in the vague


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Online LibraryStephen HudsonWar-time Silhouettes → online text (page 4 of 7)