The taxi went up the hill, passed the lighted square, then on into the dark, still climbing, then levelled out onto a dark street behind St. Etienne du Mont, went smoothly down the asphalt, passed the trees and the standing bus at the Place de la Contrescarpe, then turned onto the cobbles of the Rue Mouffetard. There were lighted bars and late open shops on each side of the street. We were sitting apart and we jolted close together going down the old street. Brett’s hat was off. Her head was back. I saw her face in the lights from the open shops, then it was dark, then I saw her face clearly as we came out on the Avenue des Gobelins. The street was torn up and men were working on the car-tracks by the light of acetylene flares. Brett’s face was white and the long line of her neck showed in the bright light of the flares. The street was dark again and I kissed her. Our lips were tight together and then she turned away and pressed against the corner of the seat, as far away as she could get. Her head was down.
“Don’t touch me,” she said. “Please don’t touch me.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t stand it.”
“You mustn’t. You must know. I can’t stand it, that’s all. Oh, darling, please understand!”
“Don’t you love me?”
“Love you? I simply turn all to jelly when you touch me.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do about it?”
She was sitting up now. My arm was around her and she was leaning back against me, and we were quite calm. She was looking into my eyes with that way she had of looking that made you wonder whether she really saw out of her own eyes. They would look on and on after every one else’s eyes in the world would have stopped looking. She looked as though there were nothing on earth she would not look at like that, and really she was afraid of so many things.
“And there’s not a damn thing we could do,” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t want to go through that hell again.”
“We’d better keep away from each other.”
“But, darling, I have to see you. It isn’t all that you know.”
“No, but it always gets to be.”
“That’s my fault. Don’t we pay for all the things we do, though?”
She had been looking into my eyes all the time. Her eyes had different depths, sometimes they seemed perfectly flat. Now you could see all the way into them.
“When I think of the hell I’ve put chaps through. I’m paying for it all now.”
“Don’t talk like a fool,” I said. “Besides, what happened to me is supposed to be funny. I never think about it.”
“Oh, no. I’ll lay you don’t.”
“Well, let’s shut up about it.”
“I laughed about it too, myself, once.” She wasn’t looking at me. “A friend of my brother’s came home that way from Mons. It seemed like a hell of a joke. Chaps never know anything, do they?”
“No,” I said. “Nobody ever knows anything.”
I was pretty well through with the subject. At one time or another I had probably considered it from most of its various angles, including the one that certain injuries or imperfections are a subject of merriment while remaining quite serious for the person possessing them.
“It’s funny,” I said. “It’s very funny. And it’s a lot of fun, too, to be in love.”
“Do you think so?” her eyes looked flat again.
“I don’t mean fun that way. In a way it’s an enjoyable feeling.”
“No,” she said. “I think it’s hell on earth.”
“It’s good to see each other.”
“No. I don’t think it is.”
“Don’t you want to?”
“I have to.”
We were sitting now like two strangers. On the right was the Parc Montsouris. The restaurant where they have the pool of live trout and where you can sit and look out over the park was closed and dark. The driver leaned his head around.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked. Brett turned her head away.
“Oh, go to the Select.”
“Café Select,” I told the driver. “Boulevard Montparnasse.” We drove straight down, turning around the Lion de Belfort that guards the passing Montrouge trams. Brett looked straight ahead. On the Boulevard Raspail, with the lights of Montparnasse in sight, Brett said: “Would you mind very much if I asked you to do something?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Kiss me just once more before we get there.”
When the taxi stopped I got out and paid. Brett came out putting on her hat. She gave me her hand as she stepped down. Her hand was shaky. “I say, do I look too much of a mess?” She pulled her man’s felt hat down and started in for the bar. Inside, against the bar and at tables, were most of the crowd who had been at the dance.
“Hello, you chaps,” Brett said. “I’m going to have a drink.”
“Oh, Brett! Brett!” the little Greek portrait-painter, who called himself a duke, and whom everybody called Zizi, pushed up to her. “I got something fine to tell you.”
“Hello, Zizi,” Brett said.
“I want you to meet a friend,” Zizi said. A fat man came up.
“Count Mippipopolous, meet my friend Lady Ashley.”
“How do you do?” said Brett.
“Well, does your Ladyship have a good time here in Paris?” asked Count Mippipopolous, who wore an elk’s tooth on his watch-chain.
“Rather,” said Brett.
“Paris is a fine town all right,” said the count. “But I guess you have pretty big doings yourself over in London.”
“Oh, yes,” said Brett. “Enormous.”
Braddocks called to me from a table. “Barnes,” he said, “have a drink. That girl of yours got in a frightful row.”
“Something the patronne’s daughter said. A corking row. She was rather splendid, you know. Showed her yellow card and demanded the patronne’s daughter’s too. I say it was a row.”
“What finally happened?”
“Oh, some one took her home. Not a bad-looking girl. Wonderful command of the idiom. Do stay and have a drink.”
“No,” I said. “I must shove off. Seen Cohn?”
“He went home with Frances,” Mrs. Braddock put in.
“Poor chap, he looks awfully down,” Braddocks said.
“I dare say he is,” said Mrs. Braddocks.
“I have to shove off,” I said. “Good night.”
I said good night to Brett at the bar. The count was buying champagne. “Will you take a glass of wine with us, sir?” he asked.
“No. Thanks awfully. I have to go.”
“Really going?” Brett asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve got a rotten headache.”
“I’ll see you to-morrow?”
“Come in at the office.”
“Well, where will I see you?”
“Anywhere around five o’clock.”
“Make it the other side of town then.”
“Good. I’ll be at the Crillon at five.”
“Try and be there,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Brett said. “I’ve never let you down, have I?”
“Heard from Mike?”
“Good night, sir,” said the count.
I went out onto the sidewalk and walked down toward the Boulevard St. Michel, passed the tables of the Rotonde, still crowded, looked across the street at the Dome, its tables running out to the edge of the pavement. Some one waved at me from a table, I did not see who it was and went on. I wanted to get home. The Boulevard Montparnasse was deserted. Lavigne’s was closed tight, and they were stacking the tables outside the Closerie des Lilas. I passed Ney’s statue standing among the new-leaved chestnut-trees in the arc-light. There was a faded purple wreath leaning against the base. I stopped and read the inscription: from the Bonapartist Groups, some date; I forget. He looked very fine, Marshal Ney in his top-boots, gesturing with his sword among the green new horse-chestnut leaves. My flat was just across the street, a little way down the Boulevard St. Michel.
There was a light in the concierge’s room and I knocked on the door and she gave me my mail. I wished her good night and went up-stairs. There were two letters and some papers. I looked at them under the gas-light in the dining-room. The letters were from the States. One was a bank statement. It showed a balance of $2432.60. I got out my check-book and deducted four checks drawn since the first of the month, and discovered I had a balance of $1832.60. I wrote this on the back of the statement. The other letter was a wedding announcement. Mr. and Mrs. Aloysius Kirby announce the marriage of their daughter Katherine—I knew neither the girl nor the man she was marrying. They must be circularizing the town. It was a funny name. I felt sure I could remember anybody with a name like Aloysius. It was a good Catholic name. There was a crest on the announcement. Like Zizi the Greek duke. And that count. The count was funny. Brett had a title, too. Lady Ashley. To hell with Brett. To hell with you, Lady Ashley.
I lit the lamp beside the bed, turned off the gas, and opened the wide windows. The bed was far back from the windows, and I sat with the windows open and undressed by the bed. Outside a night train, running on the street-car tracks, went by carrying vegetables to the markets. They were noisy at night when you could not sleep. Undressing, I looked at myself in the mirror of the big armoire beside the bed. That was a typically French way to furnish a room. Practical, too, I suppose. Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny. I put on my pajamas and got into bed. I had the two bull-fight papers, and I took their wrappers off. One was orange. The other yellow. They would both have the same news, so whichever I read first would spoil the other. Le Toril was the better paper, so I started to read it. I read it all the way through, including the Petite Correspondance and the Cornigrams. I blew out the lamp. Perhaps I would be able to sleep.
My head started to work. The old grievance. Well, it was a rotten way to be wounded and flying on a joke front like the Italian. In the Italian hospital we were going to form a society. It had a funny name in Italian. I wonder what became of the others, the Italians. That was in the Ospedale Maggiore in Milano, Padiglione Ponte. The next building was the Padiglione Zonda. There was a statue of Ponte, or maybe it was Zonda. That was where the liaison colonel came to visit me. That was funny. That was about the first funny thing. I was all bandaged up. But they had told him about it. Then he made that wonderful speech: “You, a foreigner, an Englishman” (any foreigner was an Englishman) “have given more than your life.” What a speech! I would like to have it illuminated to hang in the office. He never laughed. He was putting himself in my place, I guess. “Che mala fortuna! Che mala fortuna!”
I never used to realize it, I guess. I try and play it along and just not make trouble for people. Probably I never would have had any trouble if I hadn’t run into Brett when they shipped me to England. I suppose she only wanted what she couldn’t have. Well, people were that way. To hell with people. The Catholic Church had an awfully good way of handling all that. Good advice, anyway. Not to think about it. Oh, it was swell advice. Try and take it sometime. Try and take it.
I lay awake thinking and my mind jumping around. Then I couldn’t keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett and all the rest of it went away. I was thinking about Brett and my mind stopped jumping around and started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry. Then after a while it was better and I lay in bed and listened to the heavy trams go by and way down the street, and then I went to sleep.
I woke up. There was a row going on outside. I listened and I thought I recognized a voice. I put on a dressing-gown and went to the door. The concierge was talking down-stairs. She was very angry. I heard my name and called down the stairs.
“Is that you, Monsieur Barnes?” the concierge called.
“Yes. It’s me.”
“There’s a species of woman here who’s waked the whole street up. What kind of a dirty business at this time of night! She says she must see you. I’ve told her you’re asleep.”
Then I heard Brett’s voice. Half asleep I had been sure it was Georgette. I don’t know why. She could not have known my address.
“Will you send her up, please?”
Brett came up the stairs. I saw she was quite drunk. “Silly thing to do,” she said. “Make an awful row. I say, you weren’t asleep, were you?”
“What did you think I was doing?”
“Don’t know. What time is it?”
I looked at the clock. It was half-past four. “Had no idea what hour it was,” Brett said. “I say, can a chap sit down? Don’t be cross, darling. Just left the count. He brought me here.”
“What’s he like?” I was getting brandy and soda and glasses.
“Just a little,” said Brett. “Don’t try and make me drunk. The count? Oh, rather. He’s quite one of us.”
“Is he a count?”
“Here’s how. I rather think so, you know. Deserves to be, anyhow. Knows hell’s own amount about people. Don’t know where he got it all. Owns a chain of sweetshops in the States.”
She sipped at her glass.
“Think he called it a chain. Something like that. Linked them all up. Told me a little about it. Damned interesting. He’s one of us, though. Oh, quite. No doubt. One can always tell.”
She took another drink.
“How do I buck on about all this? You don’t mind, do you? He’s putting up for Zizi, you know.”
“Is Zizi really a duke, too?”
“I shouldn’t wonder. Greek, you know. Rotten painter. I rather liked the count.”
“Where did you go with him?”
“Oh, everywhere. He just brought me here now. Offered me ten thousand dollars to go to Biarritz with him. How much is that in pounds?”
“Around two thousand.”
“Lot of money. I told him I couldn’t do it. He was awfully nice about it. Told him I knew too many people in Biarritz.”
“I say, you are slow on the up-take,” she said. I had only sipped my brandy and soda. I took a long drink.
“That’s better. Very funny,” Brett said. “Then he wanted me to go to Cannes with him. Told him I knew too many people in Cannes. Monte Carlo. Told him I knew too many people in Monte Carlo. Told him I knew too many people everywhere. Quite true, too. So I asked him to bring me here.”
She looked at me, her hand on the table, her glass raised. “Don’t look like that,” she said. “Told him I was in love with you. True, too. Don’t look like that. He was damn nice about it. Wants to drive us out to dinner to-morrow night. Like to go?”
“I’d better go now.”
“Just wanted to see you. Damned silly idea. Want to get dressed and come down? He’s got the car just up the street.”
“Himself. And a chauffeur in livery. Going to drive me around and have breakfast in the Bois. Hampers. Got it all at Zelli’s. Dozen bottles of Mumms. Tempt you?”
“I have to work in the morning,” I said. “I’m too far behind you now to catch up and be any fun.”
“Don’t be an ass.”
“Can’t do it.”
“Right. Send him a tender message?”
“Good night, darling.”
“Don’t be sentimental.”
“You make me ill.”
We kissed good night and Brett shivered. “I’d better go,” she said. “Good night, darling.”
“You don’t have to go.”
We kissed again on the stairs and as I called for the cordon the concierge muttered something behind her door. I went back upstairs and from the open window watched Brett walking up the street to the big limousine drawn up to the curb under the arc-light. She got in and it started off. I turned around. On the table was an empty glass and a glass half-full of brandy and soda. I took them both out to the kitchen and poured the half-full glass down the sink. I turned off the gas in the dining-room, kicked off my slippers sitting on the bed, and got into bed. This was Brett, that I had felt like crying about. Then I thought of her walking up the street and stepping into the car, as I had last seen her, and of course in a little while I felt like hell again. It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.