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- The Guest of Quesnay - 3/37 -
recollection of the evolutions performed by a Newfoundland dog that rooted under a board walk and found a hive of wild bees.
The great machine left the road for the fields on the right, reared, fell, leaped against the stone side of the culvert, apparently trying to climb it, stood straight on end, whirled backward in a half-somersault, crashed over on its side, flashed with flame and explosion, and lay hidden under a cloud of dust and smoke.
Ward's driver slammed down his accelerator, sent us spinning round the curve, and the next moment, throwing on his brakes, halted sharply at the culvert.
The fabric of the road was so torn and distorted one might have thought a steam dredge had begun work there, but the fragments of wreckage were oddly isolated and inconspicuous. The peasant's cart, tossed into a clump of weeds, rested on its side, the spokes of a rimless wheel slowly revolving on the hub uppermost. Some tools were strewn in a semi- circular trail in the dust; a pair of smashed goggles crunched beneath my foot as I sprang out of Ward's car, and a big brass lamp had fallen in the middle of the road, crumpled like waste paper. Beside it lay a gold rouge box.
The old woman had somehow saved herself--or perhaps her saint had helped her--for she was sitting in the grass by the roadside, wailing hysterically and quite unhurt. The body of a man lay in a heap beneath the stone archway, and from his clothes I guessed that he had been the driver of the white car. I say "had been" because there were reasons for needing no second glance to comprehend that the man was dead. Nevertheless, I knelt beside him and placed my hand upon his breast to see if his heart still beat. Afterward I concluded that I did this because I had seen it done upon the stage, or had read of it in stories; and even at the time I realised that it was a silly thing for me to be doing.
Ward, meanwhile, proved more practical. He was dragging a woman out of the suffocating smoke and dust that shrouded the wreck, and after a moment I went to help him carry her into the fresh air, where George put his coat under her head. Her hat had been forced forward over her face and held there by the twisting of a system of veils she wore; and we had some difficulty in unravelling this; but she was very much alive, as a series of muffled imprecations testified, leading us to conclude that her sufferings were more profoundly of rage than of pain. Finally she pushed our hands angrily aside and completed the untanglement herself, revealing the scratched and smeared face of Mariana, the dancer.
"Cornichon! Chameau! Fond du bain!" she gasped, tears of anger starting from her eyes. She tried to rise before we could help her, but dropped back with a scream.
"Oh, the pain!" she cried. "That imbecile! If he has let me break my leg! A pretty dancer I should be! I hope he is killed."
One of the singularities of motoring on the main-travelled roads near Paris is the prevalence of cars containing physicians and surgeons. Whether it be testimony to the opportunism, to the sporting proclivities, or to the prosperity of gentlemen of those professions, I do not know, but it is a fact that I have never heard of an accident (and in the season there is an accident every day) on one of these roads when a doctor in an automobile was not almost immediately a chance arrival, and fortunately our case offered no exception to this rule. Another automobile had already come up and the occupants were hastily alighting. Ward shouted to the foremost to go for a doctor.
"I am a doctor," the man answered, advancing and kneeling quickly by the dancer. "And you--you may be of help yonder."
We turned toward the ruined car where Ward's driver was shouting for us.
"What is it?" called Ward as we ran toward him.
"Monsieur," he replied, "there is some one under the tonneau here!"
The smoke had cleared a little, though a rivulet of burning gasoline ran from the wreck to a pool of flame it was feeding in the road. The front cushions and woodwork had caught fire and a couple of labourers, panting with the run across the fields, were vainly belabouring the flames with brushwood. From beneath the overturned tonneau projected the lower part of a man's leg, clad in a brown puttee and a russet shoe. Ward's driver had brought his tools; had jacked up the car as high as possible; but was still unable to release the imprisoned body.
"I have seized that foot and pulled with all my strength," he said, "and I cannot make him move one centimetre. It is necessary that as many people as possible lay hold of the car on the side away from the fire and all lift together. Yes," he added, "and very soon!"
Some carters had come from the road and one of them lay full length on the ground peering beneath the wreck. "It is the head of monsieur," explained this one; "it is the head of monsieur which is fastened under there."
"Eh, but you are wiser than Clemenceau!" said the chauffeur. "Get up, my ancient, and you there, with the brushwood, let the fire go for a moment and help, when I say the word. And you, monsieur," he turned to Ward, "if you please, will you pull with me upon the ankle here at the right moment?"
The carters, the labourers, the men from the other automobile, and I laid hold of the car together.
"Now, then, messieurs, LIFT!"
Stifled with the gasoline smoke, we obeyed. One or two hands were scorched and our eyes smarted blindingly, but we gave a mighty heave, and felt the car rising.
"Well done!" cried the chauffeur. "Well done! But a little more! The smallest fraction--HA! It is finished, messieurs!"
We staggered back, coughing and wiping our eyes. For a minute or two I could not see at all, and was busy with a handkerchief.
Ward laid his hand on my shoulder.
"Do you know who it is?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," I answered.
When I could see again, I found that I was looking almost straight down into the upturned face of Larrabee Harman, and I cannot better express what this man had come to be, and what the degradation of his life had written upon him, than by saying that the dreadful thing I looked upon now was no more horrible a sight than the face I had seen, fresh from the valet and smiling in ugly pride at the starers, as he passed the terrace of Larue on the day before the Grand Prix.
We helped to carry him to the doctor's car, and to lift the dancer into Ward's, and to get both of them out again at the hospital at Versailles, where they were taken. Then, with no need to ask each other if we should abandon our plan to breakfast in the country, we turned toward Paris, and rolled along almost to the barriers in silence.
"Did it seem to you," said George finally, "that a man so frightfully injured could have any chance of getting well?"
"No," I answered. "I thought he was dying as we carried him into the hospital."
"So did I. The top of his head seemed all crushed in--Whew!" He broke off, shivering, and wiped his brow. After a pause he added thoughtfully, "It will be a great thing for Louise."
Louise was the name of his second cousin, the girl who had done battle with all her family and then run away from them to be Larrabee Harman's wife. Remembering the stir that her application for divorce had made, I did not understand how Harman's death could benefit her, unless George had some reason to believe that he had made a will in her favour. However, the remark had been made more to himself than to me and I did not respond.
The morning papers flared once more with the name of Larrabee Harman, and we read that there was "no hope of his surviving." Ironic phrase! There was not a soul on earth that day who could have hoped for his recovery, or who--for his sake--cared two straws whether he lived or died. And the dancer had been right; one of her legs was badly broken: she would never dance again.
Evening papers reported that Harman was "lingering." He was lingering the next day. He was lingering the next week, and the end of a month saw him still "lingering." Then I went down to Capri, where--for he had been after all the merest episode to me--I was pleased to forget all about him.
A great many people keep their friends in mind by writing to them, but more do not; and Ward and I belong to the majority. After my departure from Paris I had but one missive from him, a short note, written at the request of his sister, asking me to be on the lookout for Italian earrings, to add to her collection of old jewels. So, from time to time, I sent her what I could find about Capri or in Naples, and she responded with neat little letters of acknowledgment.
Two years I stayed on Capri, eating the lotus which grows on that happy island, and painting very little--only enough, indeed, to be remembered at the Salon and not so much as knowing how kindly or unkindly they hung my pictures there. But even on Capri, people sometimes hear the call of Paris and wish to be in that unending movement: to hear the multitudinous rumble, to watch the procession from a cafe terrace and to dine at Foyot's. So there came at last a fine day when I, knowing that the horse-chestnuts were in bloom along the Champs Elysees, threw my rope-soled shoes to a beggar, packed a rusty trunk, and was off for the banks of the Seine.
My arrival--just the drive from the Gare de Lyon to my studio--was like the shock of surf on a bather's breast.
The stir and life, the cheerful energy of the streets, put stir and life and cheerful energy into me. I felt the itch to work again, to be at it, at it in earnest--to lose no hour of daylight, and to paint better than I had painted!
Paris having given me this impetus, I dared not tempt her further, nor allow the edge of my eagerness time to blunt; therefore, at the end of a fortnight, I went over into Normandy and deposited that rusty trunk of
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