The Transgression of Andrew Vane/Chapter XIV
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Chapter XIV. Fate is Hard—Cash!
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- Chapter XIV. Fate is Hard—Cash!
As Andrew took his mail from the hand of Jules one afternoon, some three weeks later, his eye was caught by a packet directed in the precise script of old Mr. Sterling, and this, together with a letter in the same hand, he separated from the mass of other material, and gave his immediate attention. There had grown in him a singular craving for all that could remind him of his life at home. As he slit the envelope, a draft upon his bankers came first to his hand, and he glanced at it, with a short whistle, before laying it on the desk. It was for fifteen thousand francs.
Mr. Sterling’s letter, a model of prim penmanship, ran as follows:
“My dear Andy: I have yours of the 12th inst., and am gratified to learn that Paris is surpassing your expectations. Although it is a city not ordinarily recommended as a sojourning-place for young men, I have seen enough of the world to know that it is not the surroundings which are significant, so much as the temperament of the individual placed among them. If you were inclined to dissipation, you would manufacture, if not find, it in a one-horse prohibition town in one of the back counties of Maine: and if you were otherwise disposed, not Paris itself would be competent to prove your undoing. So I am not averse to your project of remaining until Christmas. I have great confidence in you. If you will look back, you will realize that I have not burdened you with advice since the days when it was necessary to warn you against over-indulgence in ice-cream, or send you away from the breakfast-table for a more effective application of the nail-brush. That has been because I have seen in you something which I believe to be a guarantee against your ever falling into any misdoing which would be a discredit to the name you bear. I mean the fine healthiness of mind which eschews by instinct whatever is ‘common or unclean.’ You will have your fling, as I had mine, and as it is right you should. You will learn for yourself the lessons which no one else can teach you; but I think your attitude will always be that of a gentleman. There are ways and ways of doing things — even of sowing wild oats — and among these are the way of the gentleman and the way of the fool. You have never been the latter, and I have no reason to believe you will begin now.
“Among the commonest formulas of parental advice is that which exhorts a young man never to do or say anything which a mother or sister could not hear: and this deserves, to my way of thinking, just about the amount of attention which it ordinarily receives. I know the type of man whom you have always chosen, and, in all likelihood, always will choose, as a friend: and if you will avoid doing anything which you would be ashamed to tell that kind of man, I shall be satisfied.
“As you wish to remain in Paris for some time longer, and as Paris is preëminently a city where money is a sine qua non, I am disposed not only to approve your plan, but to make it possible of execution, with a certain degree of liberality. You should know, if you do not know already, that I have made you my heir. When I am obliged to shuffle off this mortal coil, you will come into something over eighty thousand a year. There are responsibilities attached to such an income, and not the least of them is the knowledge of the social obligation which it imposes. There is nothing more deplorable than the spectacle of a young man squandering what he can’t afford to spend, unless it be that of an old one grudging what he can. While far from counselling wanton extravagance, I wish you to form those habits of generosity and open-heartedness which your position makes incumbent upon you. Repay with liberality the courtesies extended to you; and keep on the credit, rather than the debit, side of the social account. Take your share of the legitimate pleasures of life as well, paying as you go.
“To the letter of credit given you on your departure, which provided for a possible expenditure of a thousand dollars a month for the six months of your contemplated stay, I now add a draft for fifteen thousand francs (F. 15,000), to cover the additional three months during which you propose to remain. In view of this, you will not think me unreasonable in foregoing the customary remittance for a much smaller sum upon your birthday.
“That birthday is still somewhat more than three months distant, but a present which I had contemplated making you on the occasion, being already completed, I am forwarding it by this mail, with my best wishes and affection. It is a miniature of your mother — whom it is your greatest misfortune never to have known — painted, from a photograph, by Cavigny-Maupré during his recent visit to Boston: and it is appropriate that you should have it at a time when you are absent — with sincere regret, as you please me by saying — from the grim old house where you have been an unspeakable comfort to, and where awaits you an affectionate welcome from
- “Your grandfather,
- “Andrew Sterling.
- “Andrew Sterling.
- “Your grandfather,
“Andrew Sterling Vane, Esq., Paris, France.”
“Dear old man!” said Andrew to himself, with a little smile of affection, before laying the letter aside. “Dear, generous old man!” Then he turned to the package which contained the portrait of his mother.
Cavigny-Maupré had excelled himself in this the most recent in his long series of masterly miniatures. The tranquil and beautiful face of Helen Vane, as it had been before the blight of disillusion dimmed its ethereal sweetness, looked out at Andrew with serene and steadfast eyes. There was no attempt at striking colouring, no trick of effect. The artist, with the instinct which never played him false, had aimed to preserve the touch of simplicity, of girlishness, which the old photograph had given him as his cue. The result was a singularly appealing beauty, which his more ambitious productions, with all their emphatic brilliancy, utterly lacked. Before he could have analyzed the impulse which prompted him, Andrew had touched his lips to the picture, and in the act of performing this simple homage his fine eyes grew moist. For this was his mother — the pale, gentle-eyed dream-mother he had never seen, but who had given her life for his, and who, perhaps, with the searching vision of the immortals, was watching him wistfully from beyond the immeasurably distant stars!
So, at the dinner-hour, Radwalader found him — sunk deep in his chair, with his eyes half-closed, and the miniature in his hand.
“Hello!” he said. “Come in.”
“You look like a drawing by Gibson,” observed Radwalader lightly, “over the title ‘Day Dreams’ or ‘A Face from the Past,’ or something of the sort. The old, old story, eh, Vane? Mooning over the loved one’s portrait?”
“Not a bad guess,” replied Andrew, somewhat gravely, as he rose, and tendered Radwalader the picture.
“That was my mother,” he added.
“Oh, I beg your pardon!” exclaimed Radwalader, with that ready assumption of contrition wherewith he contrived so skilfully to repair his infrequent faux pas.
“No harm done,” answered Andrew. “Are you engaged for dinner? I’ve ordered a table at Armenonville, and meant to send Jules over to your place to ask you, but the time has gone faster than I thought. Gad! it’s almost seven. I have been mooning, in good earnest. Will you go?”
“With pleasure. I dropped in on the chance that you might have nothing to do.”
Radwalader laid the miniature on the table.
“It’s a very beautiful face,” he added. “I wonder if I ever saw her. It’s not impossible. I remember meeting your grandfather in Boston.”
“You’d hardly have met my mother, though. She died when I was born — twenty years ago. You’d have been quite a boy.”
“A boy well out of knickerbockers, then! You flatter me, Vane. Is it possible that you don’t know I’m tottering on the ragged edge of fifty?”
“One wouldn’t believe it, then. Come in while I brush up a bit.”
He led the way into the bedroom, and Radwalader, following, applied himself to the consumption of a cigarette. For three weeks he had been observing Andrew with a new attention. He was always quick to note symptoms, but in the present instance he found himself, to his surprise, unable to analyze them with his accustomed readiness. The change which he saw was singularly subtle, albeit as pronounced as that which a separation of years might have enabled him to perceive. It was with difficulty that he could bring himself to believe that barely a day had gone by without their meeting. It seemed impossible that Andrew had not gone and come again, passing, in the interim, through some vastly significant experience. Radwalader found him less open, while habited with a new assurance; less enthusiastic, while subject at times to an almost feverish gaiety; more alive to the minutest details of the new life which surrounded him, but with a tendency to scoff replacing his former merely boyish interest. There were times when Radwalader would have called him unqualifiedly happy; others when there was no such thing as believing him otherwise than wretched. He was thinner, smiled less than formerly, and took for granted much which had thitherto excited his eager comment, his amusement, or his dislike. Over all he wore a new reserve, a worldliness beyond his years. In all this, while there was much which Radwalader did not fully understand, there was much which he had expected, much which he had deliberately planned. His cards had long since been dealt and sorted. Now he chanced a lead.
“I was at Poissy yesterday.”
Andrew appeared in the doorway of the bathroom, diligently towelling his head. As he looked up, his eyes, so curiously like Radwalader’s own, were not less coolly non-committal than they.
“How is Mrs. Carnby?” he added.
“A good bit out of patience with you, I gather,” said Radwalader. “You’ve pretty well deserted her of late, haven’t you?”
Andrew was drying his fingers, one by one, with somewhat exaggerated attention.
“One can’t serve God and Mammon,” he observed, with that new flippancy of his. “I won’t stoop to the pettiness of fencing with you, Radwalader. You’re not blind, I take it. You must know as well as I why I don’t want to go to Poissy, and why, if I did, they wouldn’t care to have me.”
“Yes,” said the other, “I suppose I do. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be for lack of hearing you talked about. Gossip is tolerably busy with your name, these days.”
“Gossip is rarely busy with one name,” retorted Andrew dryly.
“Obviously. I didn’t mean to ignore Mademoiselle Tremonceau: as you say, a lack of candour between us would be merely petty: but I wasn’t quite sure how far you were prepared to concede me the license of a friend. These are ticklish subjects, even between intimates. I’m not inclined to meddle, but I’ve thought more than once of asking you if you thought the game worth while.”
“I make a point of not thinking about it, one way or another,” said Andrew. “Why should I? I’ve youth, health, money, the sunshine, Paris — and her. Why should I think? It’s nobody’s business but my own. Don’t be a prig, Radwalader.”
“God forbid!” ejaculated Radwalader. “I see I’ve been mistaken. I had an idea that it was somebody’s business, other than yours — very much so, in fact. Of course, if it isn’t—”
He stopped abruptly, and made a little signal of warning. An instant later Monsieur Vicot entered the room, and began to lay out Andrew’s evening dress. His presence was an effective check upon further conversation along the direct line they had been pursuing, and, as Andrew hurried through his dressing, Radwalader plunged into generalities.
In another fifteen minutes Vicot opened the apartment door for them, and, as they passed out, closed it and stepped into the salon. The first object which met his eye was the miniature of Helen Vane, lying, face downward, on the table where Radwalader had left it. He picked it up and set it, upright, on the mantel, under the brilliant light of an electric bulb. Then, idly curious, he leaned forward and stared at it.
In the soft gloom of the July evening Armenonville glittered and twinkled among the trees, and flung handfuls of shivered light on the wind-ruffled waters of the little lake. As they approached, they had a glimpse of tables brilliant with spotless napery and sheen of crystal and silver, and of heavy-headed roses leaning from tall and slender vases. Solicitous waiters, grotesquely swaddled in their aprons, were turning every wine-glass to a ruby or a topaz with the liquid light of Bourgogne or Champagne. Electric lights glowed pink in roses of crinkled silk. The Pavillon was a veritable fairy palace, as unstable, to all appearance, and as gossamer-light as the fabric of a dream swung miraculously within a luminous haze.
The table reserved for them was in an elbow of the piazza and so, a little apart from the others; and the maître d’hôtel led them toward it with an air which was hardly less impressive than a fanfare. It was his business to remember the faces of young foreigners who thundered up at midday in twenty-horse-power Panhards expressly to command a table, and incidentally to tip him a louis. Moreover, there was Radwalader — Radwalader, who knew by his first name every maître d’hôtel from Lavenue’s to the Rat Mort, and from Marguery’s to the Pavillon Bleu, called Frédéric himself “mon vieux,” and sent messages to the chef at Voisin’s or the Café Riché, informing him for whom the order was to be prepared.
Among the things which Andrew had unconsciously assimilated from Radwalader, was something very nearly equalling the latter’s instinct for ordering a dinner. It was that, even more than the louis or the Panhard, which inspired respect in the supercilious mind of the maître d’hôtel. So they had caviar, sharpening the twang of their halves of lemon with a dash of tabasco; and langouste à l’Américaine, with a hint of tarragon in the mayonnaise; venison, with a confection of ginger, marmalade, and currant jelly, which not every one gets, even for the asking, at the Pavillon d’Armenonville; a salad of split Malaga grapes and hearts of lettuce; and a Camembert cheese, taken at the flood — the which, in Camembert, is of as good omen as that in the affairs of men.
Around them the brilliantly-illuminated tables were filled with diners. The true Parisian monde, long since departed for Aix or Hombourg, had given place to the annual influx of foreigners and the lighter spirits of the half-world, men and women both. Here were minds which skidded from subject to subject with the eccentricity of water-spiders on a roadside pool. The latest comedies, the latest fashions, the latest scandals — they came and went, verbal drops sliding over the acute edge of conversation, each touched with prismatic hues of humour, irony, or cynicism. The hum of chat was a patchwork of English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Italian. Europe was talking — talking the gossip of the day — pouring it like liquid silver into the moulds of many languages, wherefrom it took the oddest forms of epigram.
Here and there, members of the American Colony were entertaining friends from the States, arrived that afternoon from Calais, Cherbourg, or Le Hâvre, with the odour of bilge-water yet in their nostrils, and the terra, misnamed firma, rocking unpleasantly under their senses. At an adjoining table, a huge American collegian, labouring heavily against the head-wind of many cocktails, addressed his waiter:
“Ziss my las’ night ’n Paruss, gassun. Jer know w’a’ I’ve done t’ Paruss? Ziss w’a’ I’ve done t’ Paruss.”
He made the gesture of one wringing a half of lemon, and casting it contemptuously aside, and looked up, proudly, for approval. Later he would be tenderly removed — “a river ark on the ocean brine.”
But these — the transient Americans — were the least significant factors in the scene. They had come to prey, and would go away to scoff. They were a grade above the herded tourists to whose understanding the Colonne Vendôme is an edifice closed for fear of suicides; but among them were women who would write books on Paris, upon the strength of three months’ residence and six letters of introduction, and men whose diligence in exhuming the most sordid evidences of metropolitan degradation would enable them to speak, thenceforward, with authority upon French depravity — the Hams, Tartuffes, and Parkhursts of their hour. Paris finds time to smile at many such. Over and around them flowed the smooth current of Parisian savoir vivre which they could not hope to understand, still less to emulate.
“I feel,” said Andrew slowly, “as if I had lived here all my life. Do you remember telling me, that day at Auteuil, that things one ordinarily disregards in America are part of one’s education in Paris? I’ve learned the truth of that. I don’t think I should be apt to mistake cerise for red, as things are now.”
“Did you ever think of the irony of these toilettes de demi-mondaine? ” asked Radwalader, looking from one to another of the superb gowns at the neighbouring tables. “You know, they’re society’s fashions of the day after to-morrow. I wonder what our dear lady of the Parc Monceau, or Mayfair, or Fifth Avenue, or Back Bay, or Nob Hill, would say if she knew the source of that trick of sleeve, or that contrast of entre-deux, which she fondly imagines was born in the mind of a Doucet for her and her alone. It came into being, my dear Vane, in a stuffy, overfurnished little apartment in one of the suburbs, as a patron of questionable merit by a charming creature with more ideas than reputation, and was first worn at the little Mathurins — or here — by Ninon Gyrianne: at a theatre where my lady would not be seen, by a woman whom she would not receive! Or, if not that, La Girofla stood sponsor for it at Deauville or Monte Carlo, and was duly complimented in the potins of Gil Bias. Quelle farce, mon Dieu!”
The two men were eating at the leisurely rate which is the most invaluable lesson Paris teaches the American. Andrew’s lips curled in a little sneer.
“It’s all a farce,” he said, “and, God knows, I’m the biggest mountebank of them all. When I look back six weeks, it’s another Andrew Vane I see — a better one.”
“But not a happier one, I fancy,” suggested Radwalader.
“Why not? Do you think, after all your experience, that Paris brings happiness? Distraction, perhaps — amusement — knowledge — but happiness? Oh no!”
He looked down, appearing to reflect, and then went on in another tone:
“I’ve been meaning to have a little talk with you, Radwalader, and what we were saying, back there at the apartment, seemed to open the way. I’m going to be pretty frank, and, on the score of friendship, I hope you’ll be the same.”
Radwalader nodded, narrowing his eyes.
“It’s about Mirabelle Tremonceau. Believe me or not as you will, it was all innocent enough at first. She was something new in my life, something entirely new. I can’t say I fell in love with her. There were reasons why that wasn’t possible at the time; but I found her beautiful, amusing, and the soul of kindness. I liked her, and — well, I drifted along from day to day, without any particular plan, one way or another. It may seem incredible that I thought her like any other girl I knew, but I did. I suppose it’s not an especially novel story — Paris and the young American.”
“Goliath and David,” commented Radwalader.
“Exactly — except that David won out, and I haven’t. I began to hear things, but, even so, I continued to like her, and to go there. I didn’t half believe what I heard, in the first place: it was all so different — the surroundings and all that — from anything I’d ever known. There wasn’t a sign of anything of the sort, as far as I could see; and I was more sorry for her than anything else, when I finally caught on. I had the kind of feeling one has for a chap that’s being overhazed at college. Everybody was damning her, and all the time she was treating me as her friend — and nothing more. I felt that it was up to me to stick up for her, and I did — even when Mrs. Carnby chimed in, and told me I was acting like a fool. You see—”
He hesitated, fingering his fork, and appearing to reflect.
“I said I’d talk straight with you,” he added, “and I will. There was only one person whose opinion made any difference to me, and I felt I could trust her all through. I dodged the question when you spoke of it, back there, but of course you were right. It was somebody’s business — Margery Palffy’s. I’d been as good as engaged to her for a year — that is, she knew and I knew — and it never dawned upon me that she was going to think anything except — well, that! You see, I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I went to her, as bold as brass, that last night when we were all at Poissy, and asked her definitely. You can imagine how I felt when she came back at me with — I don’t need to tell you what she said. It was the same old business that other people had been hinting at, but it was straight from the shoulder, and showed me that she thought I was as unworthy of her as a man could well be — as unworthy of her as I am now! It was the worst kind of a facer. It drove me mad, Radwalader — I want you to remember, all the time, that I didn’t deserve it — and I flung away from her, with every drop of my damnable pride at the boiling-point, and came back to Paris, and — to the inevitable. For three weeks I’ve been living in heaven —and in hell!”
“In heaven,” said Radwalader quietly, “because of Mirabelle; and in hell because of—”
“That’s it— because of Margery Palffy! Try to understand me. If I thought I loved her before, I know it now. If it were possible to go back — but it isn’t — it’s never possible to do that. It’s too late, that’s all there is about it.”
Radwalader smiled easily. The cards were running his way now.
“Surely, you’re not tied up as tight as that,” he said. “You’ve been a trifle hot-headed, yes; but in all you’ve told me, there’s nothing more than what a vast majority of the men you know have done, and nothing more than what a vast majority of women have forgiven and forgotten. It’s never too late to mend. Cut loose, my dear Vane — cut loose from Mirabelle, and go back to the girl you really care for. You’ll have to deny a few things, of course, and swallow some humiliation; but don’t get tragic over it. In affairs like this, the first course is humble-pie, but the pièce de résistance is invariably fatted calf!”
“Cut loose from Mirabelle,” repeated Andrew. “Cut loose from Mirabelle?”
“Obviously. There’s one infallible way, my friend.”
Radwalader raised his right hand lightly, and chafed with his thumb the tips of his first and second fingers.
“Money?” demanded Andrew.
“Of course! And you may thank your stars that you’re in a position to command it. Many a chap has gone under because he couldn’t pay the piper when the bill came in. You can; and there’s no reason under heaven why you should let this matter trouble you. Wait a moment!” — as Andrew was about to speak — “let me explain. I’m not the sort that cuts into other people’s affairs as a rule. I detest meddling, and ordinarily I don’t want to be bothered with what doesn’t concern me. But I like you, Vane — I do, heartily. I’d be more sorry than a little to see you in trouble. What’s more, I feel to a certain extent responsible, as I was the one to introduce you. Well, then — suppose you leave the whole affair to me. I know the world, and especially Paris, and more especially Mirabelle Tremonceau. Leave it in my hands. Even if she’s ugly about it, I can probably get you out, all clear, for fifteen or twenty thousand francs, where it might cost you fifty if you undertook to engineer the thing yourself. What do you say?”
“Say?” repeated Andrew, with a little, mirthless laugh, “why, simply that you don’t understand. Mirabelle wouldn’t accept money from me.”
“Oh, not money, like that,” said Radwalader, “not money out of a purse — ‘one, two, three, and two make five. I think that’s correct, madam, and thank you!’ No, I grant you — probably she wouldn’t. But a Panhard, or a deposit at her bankers’, or diamonds — that would be different.”
“No — no,” said Andrew, shaking a single finger from side to side. “You’re all wrong. You don’t get the situation at all. When a woman loves a man—”
“Love?” broke in Radwalader. “Piffle! Leave it to me, my dear sir, and in twenty-four hours I’ll prove to you that Mirabelle Tremonceau’s spelling of the word ‘love’ begins with the symbol for pounds sterling!”
“And Margery?” faltered Andrew.
“I saw Miss Palffy at Poissy,” said Radwalader. “She’s still staying there, you know. Now, if you’d told me that she loved you, I’d have believed you. She was looking wretchedly, I thought.”
He paused for a moment, to give the words their proper effect, and then played his highest card.
“Did you receive a telegram from her after you left Poissy?”
Andrew stared blankly at him, moistening his lips.
“A telegram?” he said. “A telegram?”
“I thought you didn’t,” replied Radwalader, “and told her so. It seems she sent one, and was surprised you hadn’t answered.”
“A telegram!” said Andrew again. “Do you realize what that means, Radwalader? Why, it would have made all the difference in the world! A telegram? No, of course I never received it! And I’ve been — I’ve been—”
His voice broke suddenly.
“My God! Radwalader, but fate is hard!”
“Fate, in this instance,” remarked Radwalader, “is hard — hard cash. Don’t let any false quixotism blind you to that. Vane. I’ve shown you the way out. Think it over, and when you’re ready , come to me.”
He crumpled his napkin, and rose. He had played. Now it was for Mirabelle to trump the trick.