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- The Old Wives' Tale - 70/132 -
A fiddler in fancy costume plunged into the restaurant at that moment and began to play wildly. The shock of his strange advent momentarily silenced the quarrel; but soon it leaped up again, under the shelter of the noisy music,--the common, tedious, tippler's quarrel. It rose higher and higher. The fiddler looked askance at it over his fiddle. Chirac cautiously observed it. Instead of attending to the music, the festal company attended to the quarrel. Three waiters in a group watched it with an impartial sporting interest. The English voices grew more menacing.
Then suddenly the whiskered Englishman, jerking his head towards the door, said more quietly:
"Hadn't we better settle thish outside?"
"At your service!" said Gerald, rising.
The owner of the vermilion cloak lifted her eyebrows to Chirac in fatigued disgust, but she said nothing. Nor did Sophia say anything. Sophia was overcome by terror.
The swain of the cloak, dragging his coat after him across the floor, left the restaurant without offering any apology or explanation to his lady.
"Wait here for me," said Gerald defiantly to Sophia. "I shall be back in a minute."
"But, Gerald!" She put her hand on his sleeve.
He snatched his arm away. "Wait here for me, I tell you," he repeated.
The doorkeeper obsequiously opened the door to the two unsteady carousers, for whom the fiddler drew back, still playing.
Thus Sophia was left side by side with the vermilion cloak. She was quite helpless. All the pride of a married woman had abandoned her. She stood transfixed by intense shame, staring painfully at a pillar, to avoid the universal assault of eyes. She felt like an indiscreet little girl, and she looked like one. No youthful radiant beauty of features, no grace and style of a Parisian dress, no certificate of a ring, no premature initiation into the mysteries, could save her from the appearance of a raw fool whose foolishness had been her undoing. Her face changed to its reddest, and remained at that, and all the fundamental innocence of her nature, which had been overlaid by the violent experiences of her brief companionship with Gerald, rose again to the surface with that blush. Her situation drew pity from a few hearts and a careless contempt from the rest. But since once more it was a question of ces Anglais, nobody could be astonished.
Without moving her head, she twisted her eyes to the clock: half- past two. The fiddler ceased his dance and made a collection in his tasselled cap. The vermilion cloak threw a coin into the cap. Sophia stared at it moveless, until the fiddler, tired of waiting, passed to the next table and relieved her agony. She had no money at all. She set herself to watch the clock; but its fingers would not stir.
With an exclamation the lady of the cloak got up and peered out of the window, chatted with waiters, and then removed herself and her cloak to the next table, where she was received with amiable sympathy by the three lorettes, Chirac, and the other two men. The party surreptitiously examined Sophia from time to time. Then Chirac went outside with the head-waiter, returned, consulted with his friends, and finally approached Sophia. It was twenty minutes past three.
He renewed his magnificent bow. "Madame," he said carefully, "will you allow me to bring you to your hotel?"
He made no reference to Gerald, partly, doubtless, because his English was treacherous on difficult ground.
Sophia had not sufficient presence of mind to thank her saviour.
"But the bill?" she stammered. "The bill isn't paid."
He did not instantly understand her. But one of the waiters had caught the sound of a familiar word, and sprang forward with a slip of paper on a plate.
"I have no money," said Sophia, with a feeble smile.
"Je vous arrangerai ca," he said. "What name of the hotel? Meurice, is it not?"
"Hotel Meurice," said Sophia. "Yes."
He spoke to the head-waiter about the bill, which was carried away like something obscene; and on his arm, which he punctiliously offered and she could not refuse, Sophia left the scene of her ignominy. She was so distraught that she could not manage her crinoline in the doorway. No sign anywhere outside of Gerald or his foe!
He put her into an open carriage, and in five minutes they had clattered down the brilliant silence of the Rue de la Paix, through the Place Vendome into the Rue de Rivoli; and the night- porter of the hotel was at the carriage-step.
"I tell them at the restaurant where you gone," said Chirac, bare- headed under the long colonnade of the street. "If your husband is there, I tell him. Till to-morrow ...!"
His manners were more wonderful than any that Sophia had ever imagined. He might have been in the dark Tuileries on the opposite side of the street, saluting an empress, instead of taking leave of a raw little girl, who was still too disturbed even to thank him.
She fled candle in hand up the wide, many-cornered stairs; Gerald might be already in the bedroom, ... drunk! There was a chance. But the gilt-fringed bedroom was empty. She sat down at the velvet-covered table amid the shadows cast by the candle that wavered in the draught from the open window. And she set her teeth and a cold fury possessed her in the hot and languorous night. Gerald was an imbecile. That he should have allowed himself to get tipsy was bad enough, but that he should have exposed her to the horrible situation from which Chirac had extricated her, was unspeakably disgraceful. He was an imbecile. He had no common sense. With all his captivating charm, he could not be relied upon not to make himself and her ridiculous, tragically ridiculous. Compare him with Mr. Chirac! She leaned despairingly on the table. She would not undress. She would not move. She had to realize her position; she had to see it.
Folly! Folly! Fancy a commercial traveller throwing a compromising piece of paper to the daughter of his customer in the shop itself: that was the incredible folly with which their relations had begun! And his mad gesture at the pit-shaft! And his scheme for bringing her to Paris unmarried! And then to-night! Monstrous folly! Alone in the bedroom she was a wise and a disillusioned woman, wiser than any of those dolls in the restaurant.
And had she not gone to Gerald, as it were, over the dead body of her father, through lies and lies and again lies? That was how she phrased it to herself. ... Over the dead body of her father! How could such a venture succeed? How could she ever have hoped that it would succeed? In that moment she saw her acts with the terrible vision of a Hebrew prophet.
She thought of the Square and of her life there with her mother and Sophia. Never would her pride allow her to return to that life, not even if the worst happened to her that could happen. She was one of those who are prepared to pay without grumbling for what they have had.
There was a sound outside. She noticed that the dawn had begun. The door opened and disclosed Gerald.
They exchanged a searching glance, and Gerald shut the door. Gerald infected the air, but she perceived at once that he was sobered. His lip was bleeding.
"Mr. Chirac brought me home," she said.
"So it seems," said Gerald, curtly. "I asked you to wait for me. Didn't I say I should come back?"
He was adopting the injured magisterial tone of the man who is ridiculously trying to conceal from himself and others that he has recently behaved like an ass.
She resented the injustice. "I don't think you need talk like that," she said.
"Like what?" he bullied her, determined that she should be in the wrong.
And what a hard look on his pretty face!
Her prudence bade her accept the injustice. She was his. Rapt away from her own world, she was utterly dependent on his good nature.
"I knocked my chin against the damned balustrade, coming upstairs," said Gerald, gloomily.
She knew that was a lie. "Did you?" she replied kindly. "Let me bathe it."
AN AMBITION SATISFIED
She went to sleep in misery. All the glory of her new life had been eclipsed. But when she woke up, a few hours later, in the large, velvety stateliness of the bedroom for which Gerald was paying so fantastic a price per day, she was in a brighter mood, and very willing to reconsider her verdicts. Her pride induced her to put Gerald in the right and herself in the wrong, for she was too proud to admit that she had married a charming and
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