The Closing Net/Part 2/Chapter 4
When Rosalie caught sight of me I thought she was going to keel over, but she pulled herself together, and her eyes fastened on Léontine in a hard little stare.
There was quite a group round the gate. Everybody looked at us as we came out, and somebody asked:
"The poor fellow is dead—or dying?"
"No," answered Léontine. "He is in no danger. Fortunately a priest was not needed after all." She glanced about, and her eyes fell on Rosalie's taxi and Rosalie herself standing beside it.
You are free, madame?" asked Léontine.
"Yes, madame," Rosalie answered.
Then will you take monsieur to Paris to prepare them at the maison de santé to receive our brave chauffeur? I cannot get the place on the telephone. One can never get anybody at any time on the telephone in Paris or the suburbs."
"Perfectly, madame," answered Rosalie, and stepped to crank the motor.
I lifted my hat to Léontine and walked to the taxi; and as I passed the group at the gate I heard somebody say in an undertone:
"He looks badly frightened, that prédicateur."
As soon as we were clear of the gate I put my lips to the tube.
Yes, m'sieu!"—for we had both dropped into French again.
"There's a road just below here that leads off to the right into the forest," said I. "Run in there, please. I am wounded, and must look after myself a little before we go into Paris."
"Very well," said Rosalie, and accelerated her speed. A few minutes later she slowed, then turned sharply to the right and began to creep up a little wood road. When presently it forked she took the less used of the two, which was no more than an alley cut for shooting, and presently came to a stop in a tangle of dwarf oaks and briers. Rosalie jumped down and opened the door.
"Are you badly hurt?" she asked anxiously, and in English.
"I got a bullet through my shoulder and a knife through my forearm," I answered. "The bullet wound doesn't bother, but the knife cut an artery, and I've tied it up so tight that it's giving me the devil. It will need a surgeon, I'm afraid, and I can't go to one in this soutane over a golf suit."
Rosalie knit her pretty brows and looked at me thoughtfully.
"Let's see it," says she. "I know something about wounds. I've often helped Sister Anne Marie. Let me see your arm."
The sleeve of the soutane was soaked; and, as Rosalie began to pull it off, she looked at her hands and gave a little scream. The tweed coat-sleeve was a mess; and while I was working out of it things began to grow dark again. As I began to get sensible I noticed a bandage she had put on my arm, and that the sun was rather low for so early in the afternoon, and wondered why.
"I'm glad you're awake," said she tremulously. "I was afraid you'd gone to sleep for good. You must have lost an awful lot of blood. I've been tying you up and trying to decide which was best for you—St. Lazare or a happy death."
I reached over, took her hand and kissed it several times.
"Neither," I answered. "I want life. I feel as fresh as a daisy! The first thing," I answered, "is for me to get out of these tweeds and back into my soutane. Now, if you'll kindly step over there while I crawl out of these tourist's clothes. Then we'll bury em and go to Paris. At the octroi I'll get another cab and go to where I live."
"No you won't," said Rosalie, "I'm going to take you to Sœur Anne Marie."
"Jamais de la vie!" I answered.
"See here!" said Rosalie, with a little jerk of her head. "I don't know what your name is, and you tell me you've been a crook; but you've been mighty square with me, and you are a countryman of mine and are badly hurt, and I'm not going to leave you in such a fix as this. There's bound to be a tremendous sensation over this thing, and every wounded man in Paris is apt to be overhauled. Now Sister Anne Marie and I have got a nice little apartment. So don't let's have any more nonsense!"
"But what would Sœur Anne Marie say?" I asked, rather weakly. "And what are you going to tell her?"
"Exactly what you ve told me. She's not the kind to lie to. The neighbours can think that you are a missionary who has come home ill—a relative of hers, or something of the sort. Sœur Anne Marie was once a surgical nurse in one of the hospitals, and I'd rather trust myself to her than to most surgeons."
So at last I agreed—and mighty thankfully, too, you can bet; and I managed to get out of my sporty knickerbockers and into the taxi. Rosalie made a bundle of the tweeds and promised to go to the little hotel the next day where I had been stopping and square up for me and fetch away my things. Then off we went, going in through Suresnes and the Bois, down the Champs-Elysées and across the Alexandre Trois Bridge, finally to pull up at the entrance of an impasse on the Rue Vaugirard.
"It's not much to look at from the outside," said Rosalie as I got out, "but it's not bad."
She nodded and smiled and said a few words to some of the people sitting outside their little shops, and they smiled and nodded back. It was plain enough that Rosalie was a local favourite and quite a celebrity in her quarter. I noticed, too, that the manner of a couple of women she stopped to speak to was mighty respectful. There was none of the free-and-easy cheek of the cabmen.
My arm and shoulder were quite numb now and felt as if turning to stone, and I guess I was pretty white and pinched-looking. Rosalie led the way, and I followed her into the impasse, then across a little paved court and up some dark, dilapidated stairs; but the house was clean enough, and the people we met seemed to be of a very decent class. We went to the top; then——
"Here we are," said Rosalie, and whipped out a key and opened the door. "Where are you, mother?" she called.
"I am here, deary!" came a cheerful voice from down the corridor. Rosalie turned to me.
"I will go and tell her. I won't be a minute. Go right in, Mr. ——" She paused, smiling.
"Clamart," I answered "Frank Clamart."
"Thanks. I won't be long." She gave me a nod and hurried off.
The room where she asked me to wait was a small studio, high-ceilinged, with a skylight and a long window that looked out on some fruit gardens. It is amazing the amount of cultivated ground there is behind the houses in all parts of Paris! Some of the sections between streets hold young farms.
These gardens belonged to some old mansion of the nobility, and the family had probably grown their fruit and vegetables there for several hundred years.
Rosalie's was one of those little, old-fashioned studio apartments of which there are so many in that quarter. There was nothing of bourgeois about it, for the few pieces of furniture were old and massive and pure-style, and were the sort you might expect to find in the residence of a prelate. There were some big, richly-framed pictures, which appeared to be old and valuable copies of some of the old masters—among them Murillo's "Virgin of the Conception," after the one in the Louvre; Tintoretto's "Crucifixion," and a small but very beautiful copy of Michelangelo's "Kneeling Angel." There were also some smaller paintings, two landscapes, and a "Madonna."
The most valuable article in the studio was a large and very handsome tapestry which looked to me like a genuine Gobelin, though the colours were of deeper and more neutral tints than you generally find in this manufacture. I judged that Sœur Anne Marie must have had at one time a little money, and that when the church goods were confiscated she had bought back in different sales some of the articles which had grown dear to her.
Here and there Rosalie's touch brightened the place. This was not always in keeping, but it was cheerful, and it looked as if Sœur Anne Marie tolerated the frivolous bits through her love for the girl. On an ancient piano in one corner lay a violin; and I hoped that the two played together, as I love music.
Altogether, my friend, it was not a usual situation. Here there were about to live for some days under the same roof—for I knew Sœur Anne Marie would take me in—a devout Mother Superior, who was likely enough the daughter of some old and noble family, an American girl from Wichita, Kansas, the daughter of an Irish cab-driver and the divorcée of a French count who had never so much as kissed her, she now earning a good living as the chauffeuse of a taxicab; myself, an ex-burglar and confidence man, coming there red-handed from a sincere and conscientious effort to kill an enemy, badly wounded, and feeling on the verge of physical collapse. We were an assorted trio, now, were we not?
These thoughts were going through my head to the accompaniment of a subdued but steady babble of talk from what seemed to me an interminable distance, for I had lost an awful lot of blood, and there was a humming in my ears which seemed to put other sounds way beyond. I was drowsy, too, and horribly thirsty; and all that I wanted was a long drink of water and to be allowed to sleep. I was almost sorry I had come there, since there had to be so much palaver; and then something tickled the palm of my hand. I thought it was a fly, and wriggled my fingers; but the tickling increased, and I looked down and saw a thin stream of bright red blood crawling like a wicked little snake from under the rim of the bandage. I slapped my arm—and it was wet through.
Thought I, "Here I am, bleeding to death while those women talk and talk and talk!" It would be a mean trick on Rosalie to bleed to death in her house, and I was just going to call out when the curtains parted and there came into the room the sweetest little lady, with those clear, wonderful eyes that make you feel about six years old and glad that you are still a child. Her face was very smooth, with wonderfully few wrinkles, her cheeks were a delicate pink, and her hair as silvery white as moonlight on the snow.
I couldn't see her very clearly, nor was I quite sure that she was real, as it seemed to me I'd already noticed two or three people come through those curtains—and one I thought was Tante Fi-Fi, until she smiled at me and disappeared. Besides, I'd pictured Sœur Anne Marie as big, and full of that sort of goodness that seems to say: "Here is virtue enough for myself and all hands who happen to need it; and most of you do."
Behind Sœur Anne Marie came Rosalie; and as her eyes fell on my face she gave a gasp.
"Ma Mère!" she cried. "But look!"
And then I fell asleep.
My friend, did you ever die and float round for a while in that fleecy-clouded between-world, finally to be dragged back to your troubles by the slack of your angel pants? Most people have; and the fleecy-cloud part is what most liquorists and dope-drunkards aim at, but shoot low and light in the slimy ooze, which feels like fleecy clouds up to a certain stage of the astral flight.
A wounded hero, however, who has lost a lot of red ink trying to assassinate an enemy, comes to earth easier than either the garden souse or the hot house dope; and I flittered back as lightly as M. Paulhan to find myself in a sweet, cool bed, with a sheet over me, some ruffles around the elbow of my free arm, a cool breeze wafting in the window, and a merle in a cage singing away from somewhere, while from the distance came the bad blending of shrill yelps which Paris makes, just as London makes a baritone rumble and New York a bass growl.
I was all alone in a pretty little room with chintz curtains and primrose wallpaper. There was an old armoire, an enamelled washstand, and a little ivoire table-de-nuit beside my bed, which was of enamelled iron with brass knobs. I took a look at myself, and judged that the fleecy-cloud effect might have been suggested by the cambric nighty I was in, which I strongly suspected to be a part of Rosalie's trousseau for which she had conceived a distaste. However, it was just the thing for a wounded burglar.
When I stirred there came a rustle from the next room, and there in the doorway stood Sœur Anne Marie—and Whistler could never have painted her! She was looking at me with the least bit of a smile on her lips, and there was something about her face that struck me as so familiar that for a moment I was almost startled. She saw the look, I think, for the wonderful eyes gathered me in and put me at my ease again; but I had already found out why her face or her expression—or whatever it was about her—had struck me as so familiar. It was the same look that Edith had—that "Don't be afraid; it's not so bad as you think" look. Mothers have it, I think, for their little boys.
"Rest tranquil, my son!" says she—that's the literal translation, and I don't know of anything that so expresses it.
"I do, ma Mère," I answered. "I was startled when you came in."
"And why should you be startled?"
"I took you for my other best friend. I think that all good women must have the same look. Did Rosalie tell you how I got hurt?"
"Yes. We will talk about that another time. Now try to sleep again; but, first, drink this."
She gave me one of those wonderful slushy combinations that modern doctors laugh at and that the French are so fond of. There must have been something good in it, for I felt better right off.
"Where is Madame Rosalie?" I asked.
"She is asleep. She was up all of last night, and has had no sleep to-day. Just at present Paris is full of Americans, and she is always in demand at the big hotels; but you yourself must sleep now. You have lost a great deal of blood." And after a few motherly directions she left me, drawing a curtain to keep out the glare.