The King in Yellow/The Street of the First Shell
THE STREET OF THE FIRST SHELLEdit
"Be of Good Cheer, the Sullen Month will die,
And a young Moon requite us by and by:
Look how the Old one, meagre, bent, and wan
With age and Fast, is fainting from the sky."
The room was already dark. The high roofs opposite cut off what little remained of the December daylight. The girl drew her chair nearer the window, and choosing a large needle, threaded it, knotting the thread over her fingers. Then she smoothed the baby garment across her knees, and bending, bit off the thread and drew the smaller needle from where it rested in the hem. When she had brushed away the stray threads and bits of lace, she laid it again over her knees caressingly. Then she slipped the threaded needle from her corsage and passed it through a button, but as the button spun down the thread, her hand faltered, the thread snapped, and the button rolled across the floor. She raised her head. Her eyes were fixed on a strip of waning light above the chimneys. From somewhere in the city came sounds like the distant beating of drums, and beyond, far beyond, a vague muttering, now growing, swelling, rumbling in the distance like the pounding of surf upon the rocks, now like the surf again, receding, growling, menacing. The cold had become intense, a bitter piercing cold which strained and snapped at joist and beam and turned the slush of yesterday to flint. From the street below every sound broke sharp and metallic--the clatter of sabots, the rattle of shutters or the rare sound of a human voice. The air was heavy, weighted with the black cold as with a pall. To breathe was painful, to move an effort.
In the desolate sky there was something that wearied, in the brooding clouds, something that saddened. It penetrated the freezing city cut by the freezing river, the splendid city with its towers and domes, its quays and bridges and its thousand spires. It entered the squares, it seized the avenues and the palaces, stole across bridges and crept among the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter, grey under the grey of the December sky. Sadness, utter sadness. A fine icy sleet was falling, powdering the pavement with a tiny crystalline dust. It sifted against the window-panes and drifted in heaps along the sill. The light at the window had nearly failed, and the girl bent low over her work. Presently she raised her head, brushing the curls from her eyes.
"Don't forget to clean your palette."
He said, "All right," and picking up the palette, sat down upon the floor in front of the stove. His head and shoulders were in the shadow, but the firelight fell across his knees and glimmered red on the blade of the palette-knife. Full in the firelight beside him stood a colour-box. On the lid was carved,
J. TRENT. Ecole des Beaux Arts. 1870.
This inscription was ornamented with an American and a French flag.
The sleet blew against the window-panes, covering them with stars and diamonds, then, melting from the warmer air within, ran down and froze again in fern-like traceries.
A dog whined and the patter of small paws sounded on the zinc behind the stove.
"Jack, dear, do you think Hercules is hungry?"
The patter of paws was redoubled behind the stove.
"He's whining," she continued nervously, "and if it isn't because he's hungry it is because--"
Her voice faltered. A loud humming filled the air, the windows vibrated.
"Oh, Jack," she cried, "another--" but her voice was drowned in the scream of a shell tearing through the clouds overhead.
"That is the nearest yet," she murmured.
"Oh, no," he answered cheerfully, "it probably fell way over by Montmartre," and as she did not answer, he said again with exaggerated unconcern, "They wouldn't take the trouble to fire at the Latin Quarter; anyway they haven't a battery that can hurt it."
After a while she spoke up brightly: "Jack, dear, when are you going to take me to see Monsieur West's statues?"
"I will bet," he said, throwing down his palette and walking over to the window beside her, "that Colette has been here to-day."
"Why?" she asked, opening her eyes very wide. Then, "Oh, it's too bad!--really, men are tiresome when they think they know everything! And I warn you that if Monsieur West is vain enough to imagine that Colette--"
From the north another shell came whistling and quavering through the sky, passing above them with long-drawn screech which left the windows singing.
"That," he blurted out, "was too near for comfort."
They were silent for a while, then he spoke again gaily: "Go on, Sylvia, and wither poor West;" but she only sighed, "Oh, dear, I can never seem to get used to the shells."
He sat down on the arm of the chair beside her.
Her scissors fell jingling to the floor; she tossed the unfinished frock after them, and putting both arms about his neck drew him down into her lap.
"Don't go out to-night, Jack."
He kissed her uplifted face; "You know I must; don't make it hard for me."
"But when I hear the shells and--and know you are out in the city--"
"But they all fall in Montmartre--"
"They may all fall in the Beaux Arts; you said yourself that two struck the Quai d'Orsay--"
"Jack, have pity on me! Take me with you!"
"And who will there be to get dinner?"
She rose and flung herself on the bed.
"Oh, I can't get used to it, and I know you must go, but I beg you not to be late to dinner. If you knew what I suffer! I--I--cannot help it, and you must be patient with me, dear."
He said, "It is as safe there as it is in our own house."
She watched him fill for her the alcohol lamp, and when he had lighted it and had taken his hat to go, she jumped up and clung to him in silence. After a moment he said: "Now, Sylvia, remember my courage is sustained by yours. Come, I must go!" She did not move, and he repeated: "I must go." Then she stepped back and he thought she was going to speak and waited, but she only looked at him, and, a little impatiently, he kissed her again, saying: "Don't worry, dearest."
When he had reached the last flight of stairs on his way to the street a woman hobbled out of the house-keeper's lodge waving a letter and calling: "Monsieur Jack! Monsieur Jack! this was left by Monsieur Fallowby!"
He took the letter, and leaning on the threshold of the lodge, read it:
"I believe Braith is dead broke and I'm sure Fallowby is. Braith swears he isn't, and Fallowby swears he is, so you can draw your own conclusions. I've got a scheme for a dinner, and if it works, I will let you fellows in.
"P.S.--Fallowby has shaken Hartman and his gang, thank the Lord! There is something rotten there,--or it may be he's only a miser.
"P.P.S.--I'm more desperately in love than ever, but I'm sure she does not care a straw for me."
"All right," said Trent, with a smile, to the concierge; "but tell me, how is Papa Cottard?"
The old woman shook her head and pointed to the curtained bed in the lodge.
"Père Cottard!" he cried cheerily, "how goes the wound to-day?"
He walked over to the bed and drew the curtains. An old man was lying among the tumbled sheets.
"Better?" smiled Trent.
"Better," repeated the man wearily; and, after a pause, "Have you any news, Monsieur Jack?"
"I haven't been out to-day. I will bring you any rumour I may hear, though goodness knows I've got enough of rumours," he muttered to himself. Then aloud: "Cheer up; you're looking better."
"And the sortie?"
"Oh, the sortie, that's for this week. General Trochu sent orders last night."
"It will be terrible."
"It will be sickening," thought Trent as he went not into the street and turned the corner toward the rue de Seine; "slaughter, slaughter, phew! I'm glad I'm not going."
The street was almost deserted. A few women muffled in tattered military capes crept along the frozen pavement, and a wretchedly clad gamin hovered over the sewer-hole on the corner of the Boulevard. A rope around his waist held his rags together. From the rope hung a rat, still warm and bleeding.
"There's another in there," he yelled at Trent; "I hit him but he got away."
Trent crossed the street and asked: "How much?"
"Two francs for a quarter of a fat one; that's what they give at the St. Germain Market."
A violent fit of coughing interrupted him, but he wiped his face with the palm of his hand and looked cunningly at Trent.
"Last week you could buy a rat for six francs, but," and here he swore vilely, "the rats have quit the rue de Seine and they kill them now over by the new hospital. I'll let you have this for seven francs; I can sell it for ten in the Isle St. Louis."
"You lie," said Trent, "and let me tell you that if you try to swindle anybody in this quarter the people will make short work of you and your rats."
He stood a moment eyeing the gamin, who pretended to snivel. Then he tossed him a franc, laughing. The child caught it, and thrusting it into his mouth wheeled about to the sewer-hole. For a second he crouched, motionless, alert, his eyes on the bars of the drain, then leaping forward he hurled a stone into the gutter, and Trent left him to finish a fierce grey rat that writhed squealing at the mouth of the sewer.
"Suppose Braith should come to that," he thought; "poor little chap;" and hurrying, he turned in the dirty passage des Beaux Arts and entered the third house to the left.
"Monsieur is at home," quavered the old concierge.
Home? A garret absolutely bare, save for the iron bedstead in the corner and the iron basin and pitcher on the floor.
West appeared at the door, winking with much mystery, and motioned Trent to enter. Braith, who was painting in bed to keep warm, looked up, laughed, and shook hands.
The perfunctory question was answered as usual by: "Nothing but the cannon."
Trent sat down on the bed.
"Where on earth did you get that?" he demanded, pointing to a half-finished chicken nestling in a wash-basin.
"Are you millionaires, you two? Out with it."
Braith, looking a little ashamed, began, "Oh, it's one of West's exploits," but was cut short by West, who said he would tell the story himself.
"You see, before the siege, I had a letter of introduction to a type here, a fat banker, German-American variety. You know the species, I see. Well, of course I forgot to present the letter, but this morning, judging it to be a favourable opportunity, I called on him.
"The villain lives in comfort;--fires, my boy!--fires in the ante-rooms! The Buttons finally condescends to carry my letter and card up, leaving me standing in the hallway, which I did not like, so I entered the first room I saw and nearly fainted at the sight of a banquet on a table by the fire. Down comes Buttons, very insolent. No, oh, no, his master, 'is not at home, and in fact is too busy to receive letters of introduction just now; the siege, and many business difficulties--'
"I deliver a kick to Buttons, pick up this chicken from the table, toss my card on to the empty plate, and addressing Buttons as a species of Prussian pig, march out with the honours of war."
Trent shook his head.
"I forgot to say that Hartman often dines there, and I draw my own conclusions," continued West. "Now about this chicken, half of it is for Braith and myself, and half for Colette, but of course you will help me eat my part because I'm not hungry."
"Neither am I," began Braith, but Trent, with a smile at the pinched faces before him, shook his head saying, "What nonsense! You know I'm never hungry!"
West hesitated, reddened, and then slicing off Braith's portion, but not eating any himself, said good-night, and hurried away to number 470 rue Serpente, where lived a pretty girl named Colette, orphan after Sedan, and Heaven alone knew where she got the roses in her cheeks, for the siege came hard on the poor.
"That chicken will delight her, but I really believe she's in love with West," said Trent. Then walking over to the bed: "See here, old man, no dodging, you know, how much have you left?"
The other hesitated and flushed.
"Come, old chap," insisted Trent.
Braith drew a purse from beneath his bolster, and handed it to his friend with a simplicity that touched him.
"Seven sons," he counted; "you make me tired! Why on earth don't you come to me? I take it d----d ill, Braith! How many times must I go over the same thing and explain to you that because I have money it is my duty to share it, and your duty and the duty of every American to share it with me? You can't get a cent, the city's blockaded, and the American Minister has his hands full with all the German riff-raff and deuce knows what! Why don't you act sensibly?"
"I--I will, Trent, but it's an obligation that perhaps I can never even in part repay, I'm poor and--"
"Of course you'll pay me! If I were a usurer I would take your talent for security. When you are rich and famous--"
"All right, only no more monkey business."
He slipped a dozen gold pieces into the purse, and tucking it again under the mattress smiled at Braith.
"How old are you?" he demanded.
Trent laid his hand lightly on his friend's shoulder. "I'm twenty-two, and I have the rights of a grandfather as far as you are concerned. You'll do as I say until you're twenty-one."
"The siège will be over then, I hope," said Braith, trying to laugh, but the prayer in their hearts: "How long, O Lord, how long!" was answered by the swift scream of a shell soaring among the storm-clouds of that December night.
West, standing in the doorway of a house in the rue Serpentine, was speaking angrily. He said he didn't care whether Hartman liked it or not; he was telling him, not arguing with him.
"You call yourself an American!" he sneered; "Berlin and hell are full of that kind of American. You come loafing about Colette with your pockets stuffed with white bread and beef, and a bottle of wine at thirty francs and you can't really afford to give a dollar to the American Ambulance and Public Assistance, which Braith does, and he's half starved!"
Hartman retreated to the curbstone, but West followed him, his face like a thunder-cloud. "Don't you dare to call yourself a countryman of mine," he growled,--"no,--nor an artist either! Artists don't worm themselves into the service of the Public Defence where they do nothing but feed like rats on the people's food! And I'll tell you now," he continued dropping his voice, for Hartman had started as though stung, "you might better keep away from that Alsatian Brasserie and the smug-faced thieves who haunt it. You know what they do with suspects!"
"You lie, you hound!" screamed Hartman, and flung the bottle in his hand straight at West's face. West had him by the throat in a second, and forcing him against the dead wall shook him wickedly.
"Now you listen to me," he muttered, through his clenched teeth. "You are already a suspect and--I swear--I believe you are a paid spy! It isn't my business to detect such vermin, and I don't intend to denounce you, but understand this! Colette don't like you and I can't stand you, and if I catch you in this street again I'll make it somewhat unpleasant. Get out, you sleek Prussian!"
Hartman had managed to drag a knife from his pocket, but West tore it from him and hurled him into the gutter. A gamin who had seen this burst into a peal of laughter, which rattled harshly in the silent street. Then everywhere windows were raised and rows of haggard faces appeared demanding to know why people should laugh in the starving city.
"Is it a victory?" murmured one.
"Look at that," cried West as Hartman picked himself up from the pavement, "look! you miser! look at those faces!" But Hartman gave him a look which he never forgot, and walked away without a word. Trent, who suddenly appeared at the corner, glanced curiously at West, who merely nodded toward his door saying, "Come in; Fallowby's upstairs."
"What are you doing with that knife?" demanded Fallowby, as he and Trent entered the studio.
West looked at his wounded hand, which still clutched the knife, but saying, "Cut myself by accident," tossed it into a corner and washed the blood from his fingers.
Fallowby, fat and lazy, watched him without comment, but Trent, half divining how things had turned, walked over to Fallowby smiling.
"I've a bone to pick with you!" he said.
"Where is it? I'm hungry," replied Fallowby with affected eagerness, but Trent, frowning, told him to listen.
"How much did I advance you a week ago?"
"Three hundred and eighty francs," replied the other, with a squirm of contrition.
"Where is it?"
Fallowby began a series of intricate explanations, which were soon cut short by Trent.
"I know; you blew it in;--you always blow it in. I don't care a rap what you did before the siege: I know you are rich and have a right to dispose of your money as you wish to, and I also know that, generally speaking, it is none of my business. But now it is my business, as I have to supply the funds until you get some more, which you won't until the siege is ended one way or another. I wish to share what I have, but I won't see it thrown out of the window. Oh, yes, of course I know you will reimburse me, but that isn't the question; and, anyway, it's the opinion of your friends, old man, that you will not be worse off for a little abstinence from fleshly pleasures. You are positively a freak in this famine-cursed city of skeletons!"
"I am rather stout," he admitted.
"Is it true you are out of money?" demanded Trent.
"Yes, I am," sighed the other.
"That roast sucking pig on the rue St. Honoré,--is it there yet?" continued Trent.
"Wh--at?" stammered the feeble one.
"Ah--I thought so! I caught you in ecstasy before that sucking pig at least a dozen times!"
Then laughing, he presented Fallowby with a roll of twenty franc pieces saying: "If these go for luxuries you must live on your own flesh," and went over to aid West, who sat beside the wash-basin binding up his hand.
West suffered him to tie the knot, and then said: "You remember, yesterday, when I left you and Braith to take the chicken to Colette."
"Chicken! Good heavens!" moaned Fallowby.
"Chicken," repeated West, enjoying Fallowby's grief;--"I--that is, I must explain that things are changed. Colette and I--are to be married--"
"What--what about the chicken?" groaned Fallowby.
"Shut up!" laughed Trent, and slipping his arm through West's, walked to the stairway.
"The poor little thing," said West, "just think, not a splinter of firewood for a week and wouldn't tell me because she thought I needed it for my clay figure. Whew! When I heard it I smashed that smirking clay nymph to pieces, and the rest can freeze and be hanged!" After a moment he added timidly: "Won't you call on your way down and say bon soir? It's No. 17."
"Yes," said Trent, and he went out softly closing the door behind.
He stopped on the third landing, lighted a match, scanned the numbers over the row of dingy doors, and knocked at No. 17.
"C'est toi Georges?" The door opened.
"Oh, pardon, Monsieur Jack, I thought it was Monsieur West," then blushing furiously, "Oh, I see you have heard! Oh, thank you so much for your wishes, and I'm sure we love each other very much,--and I'm dying to see Sylvia and tell her and--"
"And what?" laughed Trent.
"I am very happy," she sighed.
"He's pure gold," returned Trent, and then gaily: "I want you and George to come and dine with us to-night. It's a little treat,--you see to-morrow is Sylvia's fête. She will be nineteen. I have written to Thorne, and the Guernalecs will come with their cousin Odile. Fallowby has engaged not to bring anybody but himself."
The girl accepted shyly, charging him with loads of loving messages to Sylvia, and he said good-night.
He started up the street, walking swiftly, for it was bitter cold, and cutting across the rue de la Lune he entered the rue de Seine. The early winter night had fallen, almost without warning, but the sky was clear and myriads of stars glittered in the heavens. The bombardment had become furious--a steady rolling thunder from the Prussian cannon punctuated by the heavy shocks from Mont Valérien.
The shells streamed across the sky leaving trails like shooting stars, and now, as he turned to look back, rockets blue and red flared above the horizon from the Fort of Issy, and the Fortress of the North flamed like a bonfire.
"Good news!" a man shouted over by the Boulevard St. Germain. As if by magic the streets were filled with people,--shivering, chattering people with shrunken eyes.
"Jacques!" cried one. "The Army of the Loire!"
"Eh! mon vieux, it has come then at last! I told thee! I told thee! To-morrow--to-night--who knows?"
"Is it true? Is it a sortie?"
Some one said: "Oh, God--a sortie--and my son?" Another cried: "To the Seine? They say one can see the signals of the Army of the Loire from the Pont Neuf."
There was a child standing near Trent who kept repeating: "Mamma, Mamma, then to-morrow we may eat white bread?" and beside him, an old man swaying, stumbling, his shrivelled hands crushed to his breast, muttering as if insane.
"Could it be true? Who has heard the news? The shoemaker on the rue de Buci had it from a Mobile who had heard a Franctireur repeat it to a captain of the National Guard."
Trent followed the throng surging through the rue de Seine to the river.
Rocket after rocket clove the sky, and now, from Montmartre, the cannon clanged, and the batteries on Montparnasse joined in with a crash. The bridge was packed with people.
Trent asked: "Who has seen the signals of the Army of the Loire?"
"We are waiting for them," was the reply.
He looked toward the north. Suddenly the huge silhouette of the Arc de Triomphe sprang into black relief against the flash of a cannon. The boom of the gun rolled along the quay and the old bridge vibrated.
Again over by the Point du Jour a flash and heavy explosion shook the bridge, and then the whole eastern bastion of the fortifications blazed and crackled, sending a red flame into the sky.
"Has any one seen the signals yet?" he asked again.
"We are waiting," was the reply.
"Yes, waiting," murmured a man behind him, "waiting, sick, starved, freezing, but waiting. Is it a sortie? They go gladly. Is it to starve? They starve. They have no time to think of surrender. Are they heroes,--these Parisians? Answer me, Trent!"
The American Ambulance surgeon turned about and scanned the parapets of the bridge.
"Any news, Doctor," asked Trent mechanically.
"News?" said the doctor; "I don't know any;--I haven't time to know any. What are these people after?"
"They say that the Army of the Loire has signalled Mont Valérien."
"Poor devils." The doctor glanced about him for an instant, and then: "I'm so harried and worried that I don't know what to do. After the last sortie we had the work of fifty ambulances on our poor little corps. To-morrow there's another sortie, and I wish you fellows could come over to headquarters. We may need volunteers. How is madame?" he added abruptly.
"Well," replied Trent, "but she seems to grow more nervous every day. I ought to be with her now."
"Take care of her," said the doctor, then with a sharp look at the people: "I can't stop now--goodnight!" and he hurried away muttering, "Poor devils!"
Trent leaned over the parapet and blinked at the black river surging through the arches. Dark objects, carried swiftly on the breast of the current, struck with a grinding tearing noise against the stone piers, spun around for an instant, and hurried away into the darkness. The ice from the Marne.
As he stood staring into the water, a hand was laid on his shoulder. "Hello, Southwark!" he cried, turning around; "this is a queer place for you!"
"Trent, I have something to tell you. Don't stay here,--don't believe in the Army of the Loire:" and the attaché of the American Legation slipped his arm through Trent's and drew him toward the Louvre.
"Then it's another lie!" said Trent bitterly.
"Worse--we know at the Legation--I can't speak of it. But that's not what I have to say. Something happened this afternoon. The Alsatian Brasserie was visited and an American named Hartman has been arrested. Do you know him?"
"I know a German who calls himself an American;--his name is Hartman."
"Well, he was arrested about two hours ago. They mean to shoot him."
"Of course we at the Legation can't allow them to shoot him off-hand, but the evidence seems conclusive."
"Is he a spy?"
"Well, the papers seized in his rooms are pretty damning proofs, and besides he was caught, they say, swindling the Public Food Committee. He drew rations for fifty, how, I don't know. He claims to be an American artist here, and we have been obliged to take notice of it at the Legation. It's a nasty affair."
"To cheat the people at such a time is worse than robbing the poor-box," cried Trent angrily. "Let them shoot him!"
"He's an American citizen."
"Yes, oh yes," said the other with bitterness. "American citizenship is a precious privilege when every goggle-eyed German--" His anger choked him.
Southwark shook hands with him warmly. "It can't be helped, we must own the carrion. I am afraid you may be called upon to identify him as an American artist," he said with a ghost of a smile on his deep-lined face; and walked away through the Cours la Reine.
Trent swore silently for a moment and then drew out his watch. Seven o'clock. "Sylvia will be anxious," he thought, and hurried back to the river. The crowd still huddled shivering on the bridge, a sombre pitiful congregation, peering out into the night for the signals of the Army of the Loire: and their hearts beat time to the pounding of the guns, their eyes lighted with each flash from the bastions, and hope rose with the drifting rockets.
A black cloud hung over the fortifications. From horizon to horizon the cannon smoke stretched in wavering bands, now capping the spires and domes with cloud, now blowing in streamers and shreds along the streets, now descending from the housetops, enveloping quays, bridges, and river, in a sulphurous mist. And through the smoke pall the lightning of the cannon played, while from time to time a rift above showed a fathomless black vault set with stars.
He turned again into the rue de Seine, that sad abandoned street, with its rows of closed shutters and desolate ranks of unlighted lamps. He was a little nervous and wished once or twice for a revolver, but the slinking forms which passed him in the darkness were too weak with hunger to be dangerous, he thought, and he passed on unmolested to his doorway. But there somebody sprang at his throat. Over and over the icy pavement he rolled with his assailant, tearing at the noose about his neck, and then with a wrench sprang to his feet.
"Get up," he cried to the other.
Slowly and with great deliberation, a small gamin picked himself out of the gutter and surveyed Trent with disgust.
"That's a nice clean trick," said Trent; "a whelp of your age! You'll finish against a dead wall! Give me that cord!"
The urchin handed him the noose without a word.
Trent struck a match and looked at his assailant. It was the rat-killer of the day before.
"H'm! I thought so," he muttered.
"Tiens, c'est toi?" said the gamin tranquilly.
The impudence, the overpowering audacity of the ragamuffin took Trent's breath away.
"Do you know, you young strangler," he gasped, "that they shoot thieves of your age?"
The child turned a passionless face to Trent. "Shoot, then."
That was too much, and he turned on his heel and entered his hotel.
Groping up the unlighted stairway, he at last reached his own landing and felt about in the darkness for the door. From his studio came the sound of voices, West's hearty laugh and Fallowby's chuckle, and at last he found the knob and, pushing back the door, stood a moment confused by the light.
"Hello, Jack!" cried West, "you're a pleasant creature, inviting people to dine and letting them wait. Here's Fallowby weeping with hunger--"
"Shut up," observed the latter, "perhaps he's been out to buy a turkey."
"He's been out garroting, look at his noose!" laughed Guernalec.
"So now we know where you get your cash!" added West; "vive le coup du Père François!"
Trent shook hands with everybody and laughed at Sylvia's pale face.
"I didn't mean to be late; I stopped on the bridge a moment to watch the bombardment. Were you anxious, Sylvia?"
She smiled and murmured, "Oh, no!" but her hand dropped into his and tightened convulsively.
"To the table!" shouted Fallowby, and uttered a joyous whoop.
"Take it easy," observed Thorne, with a remnant of manners; "you are not the host, you know."
Marie Guernalec, who had been chattering with Colette, jumped up and took Thorne's arm and Monsieur Guernalec drew Odile's arm through his.
Trent, bowing gravely, offered his own arm to Colette, West took in Sylvia, and Fallowby hovered anxiously in the rear.
"You march around the table three times singing the Marseillaise," explained Sylvia, "and Monsieur Fallowby pounds on the table and beats time."
Fallowby suggested that they could sing after dinner, but his protest was drowned in the ringing chorus--
Formez vos bataillons!"
Around the room they marched singing,
with all their might, while Fallowby with very bad grace, hammered on the table, consoling himself a little with the hope that the exercise would increase his appetite. Hercules, the black and tan, fled under the bed, from which retreat he yapped and whined until dragged out by Guernalec and placed in Odile's lap.
"And now," said Trent gravely, when everybody was seated, "listen!" and he read the menu.
Beef Soup à la Siège de Paris.
Sardines à la père Lachaise.
Rôti (Red Wine).
Fresh Beef à la sortie.
Canned Beans à la chasse-pot,
Canned Peas Gravelotte,
Cold Corned Beef à la Thieis,
Stewed Prunes à la Garibaldi.
Dried prunes--White bread,
Pipes and Cigarettes.
Fallowby applauded frantically, and Sylvia served the soup.
"Isn't it delicious?" sighed Odile.
Marie Guernalec sipped her soup in rapture.
"Not at all like horse, and I don't care what they say, horse doesn't taste like beef," whispered Colette to West. Fallowby, who had finished, began to caress his chin and eye the tureen.
"Have some more, old chap?" inquired Trent.
"Monsieur Fallowby cannot have any more," announced Sylvia; "I am saving this for the concierge." Fallowby transferred his eyes to the fish.
The sardines, hot from the grille, were a great success. While the others were eating Sylvia ran downstairs with the soup for the old concierge and her husband, and when she hurried back, flushed and breathless, and had slipped into her chair with a happy smile at Trent, that young man arose, and silence fell over the table. For an instant he looked at Sylvia and thought he had never seen her so beautiful.
"You all know," he began, "that to-day is my wife's nineteenth birthday--"
Fallowby, bubbling with enthusiasm, waved his glass in circles about his head to the terror of Odile and Colette, his neighbours, and Thorne, West and Guernalec refilled their glasses three times before the storm of applause which the toast of Sylvia had provoked, subsided.
Three times the glasses were filled and emptied to Sylvia, and again to Trent, who protested.
"This is irregular," he cried, "the next toast is to the twin Republics, France and America?"
"To the Republics! To the Republics!" they cried, and the toast was drunk amid shouts of "Vive a France! Vive l'Amérique! Vive la Nation!"
Then Trent, with a smile at West, offered the toast, "To a Happy Pair!" and everybody understood, and Sylvia leaned over and kissed Colette, while Trent bowed to West.
The beef was eaten in comparative calm, but when it was finished and a portion of it set aside for the old people below, Trent cried: "Drink to Paris! May she rise from her ruins and crush the invader!" and the cheers rang out, drowning for a moment the monotonous thunder of the Prussian guns.
Pipes and cigarettes were lighted, and Trent listened an instant to the animated chatter around him, broken by ripples of laughter from the girls or the mellow chuckle of Fallowby. Then he turned to West.
"There is going to be a sortie to-night," he said. "I saw the American Ambulance surgeon just before I came in and he asked me to speak to you fellows. Any aid we can give him will not come amiss."
Then dropping his voice and speaking in English, "As for me, I shall go out with the ambulance to-morrow morning. There is of course no danger, but it's just as well to keep it from Sylvia."
West nodded. Thorne and Guernalec, who had heard, broke in and offered assistance, and Fallowby volunteered with a groan.
"All right," said Trent rapidly,--"no more now, but meet me at Ambulance headquarters to-morrow morning at eight."
Sylvia and Colette, who were becoming uneasy at the conversation in English, now demanded to know what they were talking about.
"What does a sculptor usually talk about?" cried West, with a laugh.
Odile glanced reproachfully at Thorne, her fiancé.
"You are not French, you know, and it is none of your business, this war," said Odile with much dignity.
Thorne looked meek, but West assumed an air of outraged virtue.
"It seems," he said to Fallowby, "that a fellow cannot discuss the beauties of Greek sculpture in his mother tongue, without being openly suspected."
Colette placed her hand over his mouth and turning to Sylvia, murmured, "They are horridly untruthful, these men."
"I believe the word for ambulance is the same in both languages," said Marie Guernalec saucily; "Sylvia, don't trust Monsieur Trent."
"Jack," whispered Sylvia, "promise me--"
A knock at the studio door interrupted her.
"Come in!" cried Fallowby, but Trent sprang up, and opening the door, looked out. Then with a hasty excuse to the rest, he stepped into the hall-way and closed the door.
When he returned he was grumbling.
"What is it, Jack?" cried West.
"What is it?" repeated Trent savagely; "I'll tell you what it is. I have received a dispatch from the American Minister to go at once and identify and claim, as a fellow-countryman and a brother artist, a rascally thief and a German spy!"
"Don't go," suggested Fallowby.
"If I don't they'll shoot him at once."
"Let them," growled Thorne.
"Do you fellows know who it is?"
"Hartman!" shouted West, inspired.
Sylvia sprang up deathly white, but Odile slipped her arm around her and supported her to a chair, saying calmly, "Sylvia has fainted,--it's the hot room,--bring some water."
Trent brought it at once.
Sylvia opened her eyes, and after a moment rose, and supported by Marie Guernalec and Trent, passed into the bedroom.
It was the signal for breaking up, and everybody came and shook hands with Trent, saying they hoped Sylvia would sleep it off and that it would be nothing.
When Marie Guernalec took leave of him, she avoided his eyes, but he spoke to her cordially and thanked her for her aid.
"Anything I can do, Jack?" inquired West, lingering, and then hurried downstairs to catch up with the rest.
Trent leaned over the banisters, listening to their footsteps and chatter, and then the lower door banged and the house was silent. He lingered, staring down into the blackness, biting his lips; then with an impatient movement, "I am crazy!" he muttered, and lighting a candle, went into the bedroom. Sylvia was lying on the bed. He bent over her, smoothing the curly hair on her forehead.
"Are you better, dear Sylvia?"
She did not answer, but raised her eyes to his. For an instant he met her gaze, but what he read there sent a chill to his heart and he sat down covering his face with his hands.
At last she spoke in a voice, changed and strained,--a voice which he had never heard, and he dropped his hands and listened, bolt upright in his chair.
"Jack, it has come at last. I have feared it and trembled,--ah! how often have I lain awake at night with this on my heart and prayed that I might die before you should ever know of it! For I love you, Jack, and if you go away I cannot live. I have deceived you;--it happened before I knew you, but since that first day when you found me weeping in the Luxembourg and spoke to me, Jack, I have been faithful to you in every thought and deed. I loved you from the first, and did not dare to tell you this--fearing that you would go away; and since then my love has grown--grown--and oh! I suffered!--but I dared not tell you. And now you know, but you do not know the worst. For him--now--what do I care? He was cruel--oh, so cruel!"
She hid her face in her arms.
"Must I go on? Must I tell you--can you not imagine, oh! Jack--"
He did not stir; his eyes seemed dead.
"I--I was so young, I knew nothing, and he said--said that he loved me--"
Trent rose and struck the candle with his clenched fist, and the room was dark.
The bells of St. Sulpice tolled the hour, and she started up, speaking with feverish haste,--"I must finish! When you told me you loved me--you--you asked me nothing; but then, even then, it was too late, and that other life which binds me to him, must stand for ever between you and me! For there is another whom he has claimed, and is good to. He must not die,--they cannot shoot him, for that other's sake!"
Trent sat motionless, but his thoughts ran on in an interminable whirl.
Sylvia, little Sylvia, who shared with him his student life,--who bore with him the dreary desolation of the siege without complaint,--this slender blue-eyed girl whom he was so quietly fond of, whom he teased or caressed as the whim suited, who sometimes made him the least bit impatient with her passionate devotion to him,--could this be the same Sylvia who lay weeping there in the darkness?
Then he clinched his teeth. "Let him die! Let him die!"--but then,--for Sylvia's sake, and,--for that other's sake,--Yes, he would go,--he must go,--his duty was plain before him. But Sylvia,--he could not be what he had been to her, and yet a vague terror seized him, now all was said. Trembling, he struck a light.
She lay there, her curly hair tumbled about her face, her small white hands pressed to her breast.
He could not leave her, and he could not stay. He never knew before that he loved her. She had been a mere comrade, this girl wife of his. Ah! he loved her now with all his heart and soul, and he knew it, only when it was too late. Too late? Why? Then he thought of that other one, binding her, linking her forever to the creature, who stood in danger of his life. With an oath he sprang to the door, but the door would not open,--or was it that he pressed it back,--locked it,--and flung himself on his knees beside the bed, knowing that he dared not for his life's sake leave what was his all in life.
It was four in the morning when he came out of the Prison of the Condemned with the Secretary of the American Legation. A knot of people had gathered around the American Minister's carriage, which stood in front of the prison, the horses stamping and pawing in the icy street, the coachman huddled on the box, wrapped in furs. Southwark helped the Secretary into the carriage, and shook hands with Trent, thanking him for coming.
"How the scoundrel did stare," he said; "your evidence was worse than a kick, but it saved his skin for the moment at least,--and prevented complications."
The Secretary sighed. "We have done our part. Now let them prove him a spy and we wash our hands of him. Jump in, Captain! Come along, Trent!"
"I have a word to say to Captain Southwark, I won't detain him," said Trent hastily, and dropping his voice, "Southwark, help me now. You know the story from the blackguard. You know the--the child is at his rooms. Get it, and take it to my own apartment, and if he is shot, I will provide a home for it."
"I understand," said the Captain gravely.
"Will you do this at once?"
"At once," he replied.
Their hands met in a warm clasp, and then Captain Southwark climbed into the carriage, motioning Trent to follow; but he shook his head saying, "Good-bye!" and the carriage rolled away.
He watched the carriage to the end of the street, then started toward his own quarter, but after a step or two hesitated, stopped, and finally turned away in the opposite direction. Something--perhaps it was the sight of the prisoner he had so recently confronted nauseated him. He felt the need of solitude and quiet to collect his thoughts. The events of the evening had shaken him terribly, but he would walk it off, forget, bury everything, and then go back to Sylvia. He started on swiftly, and for a time the bitter thoughts seemed to fade, but when he paused at last, breathless, under the Arc de Triomphe, the bitterness and the wretchedness of the whole thing--yes, of his whole misspent life came back with a pang. Then the face of the prisoner, stamped with the horrible grimace of fear, grew in the shadows before his eyes.
Sick at heart he wandered up and down under the great Arc, striving to occupy his mind, peering up at the sculptured cornices to read the names of the heroes and battles which he knew were engraved there, but always the ashen face of Hartman followed him, grinning with terror!--or was it terror?--was it not triumph?--At the thought he leaped like a man who feels a knife at his throat, but after a savage tramp around the square, came back again and sat down to battle with his misery.
The air was cold, but his cheeks were burning with angry shame. Shame? Why? Was it because he had married a girl whom chance had made a mother? Did he love her? Was this miserable bohemian existence, then, his end and aim in life? He turned his eyes upon the secrets of his heart, and read an evil story,--the story of the past, and he covered his face for shame, while, keeping time to the dull pain throbbing in his head, his heart beat out the story for the future. Shame and disgrace.
Roused at last from a lethargy which had begun to numb the bitterness of his thoughts, he raised his head and looked about. A sudden fog had settled in the streets; the arches of the Arc were choked with it. He would go home. A great horror of being alone seized him. But he was not alone. The fog was peopled with phantoms. All around him in the mist they moved, drifting through the arches in lengthening lines, and vanished, while from the fog others rose up, swept past and were engulfed. He was not alone, for even at his side they crowded, touched him, swarmed before him, beside him, behind him, pressed him back, seized, and bore him with them through the mist. Down a dim avenue, through lanes and alleys white with fog, they moved, and if they spoke their voices were dull as the vapour which shrouded them. At last in front, a bank of masonry and earth cut by a massive iron barred gate towered up in the fog. Slowly and more slowly they glided, shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh. Then all movement ceased. A sudden breeze stirred the fog. It wavered and eddied. Objects became more distinct. A pallor crept above the horizon, touching the edges of the watery clouds, and drew dull sparks from a thousand bayonets. Bayonets--they were everywhere, cleaving the fog or flowing beneath it in rivers of steel. High on the wall of masonry and earth a great gun loomed, and around it figures moved in silhouettes. Below, a broad torrent of bayonets swept through the iron barred gateway, out into the shadowy plain. It became lighter. Faces grew more distinct among the marching masses and he recognized one.
The figure turned its head.
Trent cried, "Is there room for me?" but the other only waved his arm in a vague adieu and was gone with the rest. Presently the cavalry began to pass, squadron on squadron, crowding out into the darkness; then many cannon, then an ambulance, then again the endless lines of bayonets. Beside him a cuirassier sat on his steaming horse, and in front, among a group of mounted officers he saw a general, with the astrakan collar of his dolman turned up about his bloodless face.
Some women were weeping near him and one was struggling to force a loaf of black bread into a soldier's haversack. The soldier tried to aid her, but the sack was fastened, and his rifle bothered him, so Trent held it, while the woman unbuttoned the sack and forced in the bread, now all wet with her tears. The rifle was not heavy. Trent found it wonderfully manageable. Was the bayonet sharp? He tried it. Then a sudden longing, a fierce, imperative desire took possession of him.
"Chouette!" cried a gamin, clinging to the barred gate, "encore toi mon vieux?"
Trent looked up, and the rat-killer laughed in his face. But when the soldier had taken the rifle again, and thanking him, ran hard to catch his battalion, he plunged into the throng about the gateway.
"Are you going?" he cried to a marine who sat in the gutter bandaging his foot.
Then a girl--a mere child--caught him by the hand and led him into the café which faced the gate. The room was crowded with soldiers, some, white and silent, sitting on the floor, others groaning on the leather-covered settees. The air was sour and suffocating.
"Choose!" said the girl with a little gesture of pity; "they can't go!"
In a heap of clothing on the floor he found a capote and képi.
She helped him buckle his knapsack, cartridge-box, and belt, and showed him how to load the chasse-pot rifle, holding it on her knees.
When he thanked her she started to her feet.
"You are a foreigner!"
"American," he said, moving toward the door, but the child barred his way.
"I am a Bretonne. My father is up there with the cannon of the marine. He will shoot you if you are a spy."
They faced each other for a moment. Then sighing, he bent over and kissed the child. "Pray for France, little one," he murmured, and she repeated with a pale smile: "For France and you, beau Monsieur."
He ran across the street and through the gateway. Once outside, he edged into line and shouldered his way along the road. A corporal passed, looked at him, repassed, and finally called an officer. "You belong to the 60th," growled the corporal looking at the number on his képi.
"We have no use for Franc-tireurs," added the officer, catching sight of his black trousers.
"I wish to volunteer in place of a comrade," said Trent, and the officer shrugged his shoulders and passed on.
Nobody paid much attention to him, one or two merely glancing at his trousers. The road was deep with slush and mud-ploughed and torn by wheels and hoofs. A soldier in front of him wrenched his foot in an icy rut and dragged himself to the edge of the embankment groaning. The plain on either side of them was grey with melting snow. Here and there behind dismantled hedge-rows stood wagons, bearing white flags with red crosses. Sometimes the driver was a priest in rusty hat and gown, sometimes a crippled Mobile. Once they passed a wagon driven by a Sister of Charity. Silent empty houses with great rents in their walls, and every window blank, huddled along the road. Further on, within the zone of danger, nothing of human habitation remained except here and there a pile of frozen bricks or a blackened cellar choked with snow.
For some time Trent had been annoyed by the man behind him, who kept treading on his heels. Convinced at last that it was intentional, he turned to remonstrate and found himself face to face with a fellow-student from the Beaux Arts. Trent stared.
"I thought you were in the hospital!"
The other shook his head, pointing to his bandaged jaw.
"I see, you can't speak. Can I do anything?"
The wounded man rummaged in his haversack and produced a crust of black bread.
"He can't eat it, his jaw is smashed, and he wants you to chew it for him," said the soldier next to him.
Trent took the crust, and grinding it in his teeth morsel by morsel, passed it back to the starving man.
From time to time mounted orderlies sped to the front, covering them with slush. It was a chilly, silent march through sodden meadows wreathed in fog. Along the railroad embankment across the ditch, another column moved parallel to their own. Trent watched it, a sombre mass, now distinct, now vague, now blotted out in a puff of fog. Once for half-an-hour he lost it, but when again it came into view, he noticed a thin line detach itself from the flank, and, bellying in the middle, swing rapidly to the west. At the same moment a prolonged crackling broke out in the fog in front. Other lines began to slough off from the column, swinging east and west, and the crackling became continuous. A battery passed at full gallop, and he drew back with his comrades to give it way. It went into action a little to the right of his battalion, and as the shot from the first rifled piece boomed through the mist, the cannon from the fortifications opened with a mighty roar. An officer galloped by shouting something which Trent did not catch, but he saw the ranks in front suddenly part company with his own, and disappear in the twilight. More officers rode up and stood beside him peering into the fog. Away in front the crackling had become one prolonged crash. It was dreary waiting. Trent chewed some bread for the man behind, who tried to swallow it, and after a while shook his head, motioning Trent to eat the rest himself. A corporal offered him a little brandy and he drank it, but when he turned around to return the flask, the corporal was lying on the ground. Alarmed, he looked at the soldier next to him, who shrugged his shoulders and opened his mouth to speak, but something struck him and he rolled over and over into the ditch below. At that moment the horse of one of the officers gave a bound and backed into the battalion, lashing out with his heels. One man was ridden down; another was kicked in the chest and hurled through the ranks. The officer sank his spurs into the horse and forced him to the front again, where he stood trembling. The cannonade seemed to draw nearer. A staff-officer, riding slowly up and down the battalion suddenly collapsed in his saddle and clung to his horse's mane. One of his boots dangled, crimsoned and dripping, from the stirrup. Then out of the mist in front men came running. The roads, the fields, the ditches were full of them, and many of them fell. For an instant he imagined he saw horsemen riding about like ghosts in the vapours beyond, and a man behind him cursed horribly, declaring he too had seen them, and that they were Uhlans; but the battalion stood inactive, and the mist fell again over the meadows.
The colonel sat heavily upon his horse, his bullet-shaped head buried in the astrakan collar of his dolman, his fat legs sticking straight out in the stirrups.
The buglers clustered about him with bugles poised, and behind him a staff-officer in a pale blue jacket smoked a cigarette and chatted with a captain of hussars. From the road in front came the sound of furious galloping and an orderly reined up beside the colonel, who motioned him to the rear without turning his head. Then on the left a confused murmur arose which ended in a shout. A hussar passed like the wind, followed by another and another, and then squadron after squadron whirled by them into the sheeted mists. At that instant the colonel reared in his saddle, the bugles clanged, and the whole battalion scrambled down the embankment, over the ditch and started across the soggy meadow. Almost at once Trent lost his cap. Something snatched it from his head, he thought it was a tree branch. A good many of his comrades rolled over in the slush and ice, and he imagined that they had slipped. One pitched right across his path and he stopped to help him up, but the man screamed when he touched him and an officer shouted, "Forward! Forward!" so he ran on again. It was a long jog through the mist, and he was often obliged to shift his rifle. When at last they lay panting behind the railroad embankment, he looked about him. He had felt the need of action, of a desperate physical struggle, of killing and crushing. He had been seized with a desire to fling himself among masses and tear right and left. He longed to fire, to use the thin sharp bayonet on his chassepot. He had not expected this. He wished to become exhausted, to struggle and cut until incapable of lifting his arm. Then he had intended to go home. He heard a man say that half the battalion had gone down in the charge, and he saw another examining a corpse under the embankment. The body, still warm, was clothed in a strange uniform, but even when he noticed the spiked helmet lying a few inches further away, he did not realize what had happened.
The colonel sat on his horse a few feet to the left, his eyes sparkling under the crimson képi. Trent heard him reply to an officer: "I can hold it, but another charge, and I won't have enough men left to sound a bugle."
"Were the Prussians here?" Trent asked of a soldier who sat wiping the blood trickling from his hair.
"Yes. The hussars cleaned them out. We caught their cross fire."
"We are supporting a battery on the embankment," said another.
Then the battalion crawled over the embankment and moved along the lines of twisted rails. Trent rolled up his trousers and tucked them into his woollen socks: but they halted again, and some of the men sat down on the dismantled railroad track. Trent looked for his wounded comrade from the Beaux Arts. He was standing in his place, very pale. The cannonade had become terrific. For a moment the mist lifted. He caught a glimpse of the first battalion motionless on the railroad track in front, of regiments on either flank, and then, as the fog settled again, the drums beat and the music of the bugles began away on the extreme left. A restless movement passed among the troops, the colonel threw up his arm, the drums rolled, and the battalion moved off through the fog. They were near the front now for the battalion was firing as it advanced. Ambulances galloped along the base of the embankment to the rear, and the hussars passed and repassed like phantoms. They were in the front at last, for all about them was movement and turmoil, while from the fog, close at hand, came cries and groans and crashing volleys. Shells fell everywhere, bursting along the embankment, splashing them with frozen slush. Trent was frightened. He began to dread the unknown, which lay there crackling and flaming in obscurity. The shock of the cannon sickened him. He could even see the fog light up with a dull orange as the thunder shook the earth. It was near, he felt certain, for the colonel shouted "Forward!" and the first battalion was hastening into it. He felt its breath, he trembled, but hurried on. A fearful discharge in front terrified him. Somewhere in the fog men were cheering, and the colonel's horse, streaming with blood plunged about in the smoke.
Another blast and shock, right in his face, almost stunned him, and he faltered. All the men to the right were down. His head swam; the fog and smoke stupefied him. He put out his hand for a support and caught something. It was the wheel of a gun-carriage, and a man sprang from behind it, aiming a blow at his head with a rammer, but stumbled back shrieking with a bayonet through his neck, and Trent knew that he had killed. Mechanically he stooped to pick up his rifle, but the bayonet was still in the man, who lay, beating with red hands against the sod. It sickened him and he leaned on the cannon. Men were fighting all around him now, and the air was foul with smoke and sweat. Somebody seized him from behind and another in front, but others in turn seized them or struck them solid blows. The click! click! click! of bayonets infuriated him, and he grasped the rammer and struck out blindly until it was shivered to pieces.
A man threw his arm around his neck and bore him to the ground, but he throttled him and raised himself on his knees. He saw a comrade seize the cannon, and fall across it with his skull crushed in; he saw the colonel tumble clean out of his saddle into the mud; then consciousness fled.
When he came to himself, he was lying on the embankment among the twisted rails. On every side huddled men who cried out and cursed and fled away into the fog, and he staggered to his feet and followed them. Once he stopped to help a comrade with a bandaged jaw, who could not speak but clung to his arm for a time and then fell dead in the freezing mire; and again he aided another, who groaned: "Trent, c'est moi--Philippe," until a sudden volley in the midst relieved him of his charge.
An icy wind swept down from the heights, cutting the fog into shreds. For an instant, with an evil leer the sun peered through the naked woods of Vincennes, sank like a blood-clot in the battery smoke, lower, lower, into the blood-soaked plain.
When midnight sounded from the belfry of St. Sulpice the gates of Paris were still choked with fragments of what had once been an army.
They entered with the night, a sullen horde, spattered with slime, faint with hunger and exhaustion. There was little disorder at first, and the throng at the gates parted silently as the troops tramped along the freezing streets. Confusion came as the hours passed. Swiftly and more swiftly, crowding squadron after squadron and battery on battery, horses plunging and caissons jolting, the remnants from the front surged through the gates, a chaos of cavalry and artillery struggling for the right of way. Close upon them stumbled the infantry; here a skeleton of a regiment marching with a desperate attempt at order, there a riotous mob of Mobiles crushing their way to the streets, then a turmoil of horsemen, cannon, troops without, officers, officers without men, then again a line of ambulances, the wheels groaning under their heavy loads.
Dumb with misery the crowd looked on.
All through the day the ambulances had been arriving, and all day long the ragged throng whimpered and shivered by the barriers. At noon the crowd was increased ten-fold, filling the squares about the gates, and swarming over the inner fortifications.
At four o'clock in the afternoon the German batteries suddenly wreathed themselves in smoke, and the shells fell fast on Montparnasse. At twenty minutes after four two projectiles struck a house in the rue de Bac, and a moment later the first shell fell in the Latin Quarter.
Braith was painting in bed when West came in very much scared.
"I wish you would come down; our house has been knocked into a cocked hat, and I'm afraid that some of the pillagers may take it into their heads to pay us a visit to-night."
Braith jumped out of bed and bundled himself into a garment which had once been an overcoat.
"Anybody hurt?" he inquired, struggling with a sleeve full of dilapidated lining.
"No. Colette is barricaded in the cellar, and the concierge ran away to the fortifications. There will be a rough gang there if the bombardment keeps up. You might help us--"
"Of course," said Braith; but it was not until they had reached the rue Serpente and had turned in the passage which led to West's cellar, that the latter cried: "Have you seen Jack Trent, to-day?"
"No," replied Braith, looking troubled, "he was not at Ambulance Headquarters."
"He stayed to take care of Sylvia, I suppose."
A bomb came crashing through the roof of a house at the end of the alley and burst in the basement, showering the street with slate and plaster. A second struck a chimney and plunged into the garden, followed by an avalanche of bricks, and another exploded with a deafening report in the next street.
They hurried along the passage to the steps which led to the cellar. Here again Braith stopped.
"Don't you think I had better run up to see if Jack and Sylvia are well entrenched? I can get back before dark."
"No. Go in and find Colette, and I'll go."
"No, no, let me go, there's no danger."
"I know it," replied West calmly; and, dragging Braith into the alley, pointed to the cellar steps. The iron door was barred.
"Colette! Colette!" he called. The door swung inward, and the girl sprang up the stairs to meet them. At that instant, Braith, glancing behind him, gave a startled cry, and pushing the two before him into the cellar, jumped down after them and slammed the iron door. A few seconds later a heavy jar from the outside shook the hinges.
"They are here," muttered West, very pale.
"That door," observed Colette calmly, "will hold for ever."
Braith examined the low iron structure, now trembling with the blows rained on it from without. West glanced anxiously at Colette, who displayed no agitation, and this comforted him.
"I don't believe they will spend much time here," said Braith; "they only rummage in cellars for spirits, I imagine."
"Unless they hear that valuables are buried there."
"But surely nothing is buried here?" exclaimed Braith uneasily.
"Unfortunately there is," growled West. "That miserly landlord of mine--"
A crash from the outside, followed by a yell, cut him short; then blow after blow shook the doors, until there came a sharp snap, a clinking of metal and a triangular bit of iron fell inwards, leaving a hole through which struggled a ray of light.
Instantly West knelt, and shoving his revolver through the aperture fired every cartridge. For a moment the alley resounded with the racket of the revolver, then absolute silence followed.
Presently a single questioning blow fell upon the door, and a moment later another and another, and then a sudden crack zigzagged across the iron plate.
"Here," said West, seizing Colette by the wrist, "you follow me, Braith!" and he ran swiftly toward a circular spot of light at the further end of the cellar. The spot of light came from a barred man-hole above. West motioned Braith to mount on his shoulders.
"Push it over. You must!"
With little effort Braith lifted the barred cover, scrambled out on his stomach, and easily raised Colette from West's shoulders.
"Quick, old chap!" cried the latter.
Braith twisted his legs around a fence-chain and leaned down again. The cellar was flooded with a yellow light, and the air reeked with the stench of petroleum torches. The iron door still held, but a whole plate of metal was gone, and now as they looked a figure came creeping through, holding a torch.
"Quick!" whispered Braith. "Jump!" and West hung dangling until Colette grasped him by the collar, and he was dragged out. Then her nerves gave way and she wept hysterically, but West threw his arm around her and led her across the gardens into the next street, where Braith, after replacing the man-hole cover and piling some stone slabs from the wall over it, rejoined them. It was almost dark. They hurried through the street, now only lighted by burning buildings, or the swift glare of the shells. They gave wide berth to the fires, but at a distance saw the flitting forms of pillagers among the débris. Sometimes they passed a female fury crazed with drink shrieking anathemas upon the world, or some slouching lout whose blackened face and hands betrayed his share in the work of destruction. At last they reached the Seine and passed the bridge, and then Braith said: "I must go back. I am not sure of Jack and Sylvia." As he spoke, he made way for a crowd which came trampling across the bridge, and along the river wall by the d'Orsay barracks. In the midst of it West caught the measured tread of a platoon. A lantern passed, a file of bayonets, then another lantern which glimmered on a deathly face behind, and Colette gasped, "Hartman!" and he was gone. They peered fearfully across the embankment, holding their breath. There was a shuffle of feet on the quay, and the gate of the barracks slammed. A lantern shone for a moment at the postern, the crowd pressed to the grille, then came the clang of the volley from the stone parade.
One by one the petroleum torches flared up along the embankment, and now the whole square was in motion. Down from the Champs Elysées and across the Place de la Concorde straggled the fragments of the battle, a company here, and a mob there. They poured in from every street followed by women and children, and a great murmur, borne on the icy wind, swept through the Arc de Triomphe and down the dark avenue,--"Perdus! perdus!"
A ragged end of a battalion was pressing past, the spectre of annihilation. West groaned. Then a figure sprang from the shadowy ranks and called West's name, and when he saw it was Trent he cried out. Trent seized him, white with terror.
West stared speechless, but Colette moaned, "Oh, Sylvia! Sylvia!--and they are shelling the Quarter!"
"Trent!" shouted Braith; but he was gone, and they could not overtake them.
The bombardment ceased as Trent crossed the Boulevard St. Germain, but the entrance to the rue de Seine was blocked by a heap of smoking bricks. Everywhere the shells had torn great holes in the pavement. The café was a wreck of splinters and glass, the book-store tottered, ripped from roof to basement, and the little bakery, long since closed, bulged outward above a mass of slate and tin.
He climbed over the steaming bricks and hurried into the rue de Tournon. On the corner a fire blazed, lighting up his own street, and on the bank wall, beneath a shattered gas lamp, a child was writing with a bit of cinder.
"HERE FELL THE FIRST SHELL."
The letters stared him in the face. The rat-killer finished and stepped back to view his work, but catching sight of Trent's bayonet, screamed and fled, and as Trent staggered across the shattered street, from holes and crannies in the ruins fierce women fled from their work of pillage, cursing him.
At first he could not find his house, for the tears blinded him, but he felt along the wall and reached the door. A lantern burned in the concierge's lodge and the old man lay dead beside it. Faint with fright he leaned a moment on his rifle, then, snatching the lantern, sprang up the stairs. He tried to call, but his tongue hardly moved. On the second floor he saw plaster on the stairway, and on the third the floor was torn and the concierge lay in a pool of blood across the landing. The next floor was his, theirs. The door hung from its hinges, the walls gaped. He crept in and sank down by the bed, and there two arms were flung around his neck, and a tear-stained face sought his own.
"O Jack! Jack! Jack!"
From the tumbled pillow beside them a child wailed.
"They brought it; it is mine," she sobbed.
"Ours," he whispered, with his arms around them both.
Then from the stairs below came Braith's anxious voice.
"Trent! Is all well?"