The Incomplete Amorist/Book 2/Chapter XI
The dark-haired woman was still ably answering the chaff of Nini and the Germans. And her face was not the face she had shewn to Betty. Betty came quietly behind her and touched her shoulder. She leapt in her chair and turned white under the rouge.
"What the devil!—You shouldn't do that!" she said roughly; "You frightened me out of my wits."
"I'm so sorry," said Betty, who was pale too. "Come away, won't you? I want to talk to you."
"Your little friend is charming," said one of the men in thick German-French. "May I order for her a bock or a cerises?"
"Do come," she urged.
"Let's walk," she said. "What's the matter? Where's young Temple? Don't tell me he's like all the others."
"He meant to be kind," said Betty, "but he asked a lot of questions, and I don't want to know him. I like you better. Isn't there anywhere we can be quiet, and talk? I'm all alone here in Paris, and I do want help. And I'd rather you'd help me than anyone else. Can't I come home with you?"
"No you can't."
"Well then, will you come with me?—not to the hotel he told me of, but to some other—you must know of one."
"What will you do if I don't?"
"I don't know," said Betty very forlornly, "but you will, won't you. You don't know how tired I am. Come with me, and then in the morning we can talk. Do—do."
The other woman took some thirty or forty steps in silence. Then she asked abruptly:
"Have you plenty of money?"
"And you're an artist?"
"Yes—at least I'm a student."
Again the woman reflected. At last she shrugged her shoulders and laughed. "Set a thief to catch a thief," she said. "I shall make a dragon of a chaperon, I warn you. Yes, I'll come, just for this one night, but you'll have to pay the hotel bill."
"Of course," said Betty.
"This is an adventure! Where's your luggage?"
"It's at the station, but I want you to promise not to tell that Temple man a word about me. I don't want to see him again. Promise."
"Queer child. But I'll promise. Now look here: if I go into a thing at all I go into it heart and soul; so let's do the thing properly. We must have some luggage. I've got an old portmanteau knocking about. Will you wait for me somewhere while I get it?"
"I'd rather not," said Betty, remembering the Germans and Nini.
"Well then,—there'd be no harm for a few minutes. You can come with me. This is really rather a lark!"
Five minutes' walking brought the two to a dark house. The woman rang a bell; a latch clicked and a big door swung open. She grasped Betty's hand.
"Don't say a word," she said, and pulled her through.
It was very dark.
The other woman called out a name as they passed the door of the concierge, a name that was not Conway, and her hand pulled Betty up flight after flight of steep stairs. On the fifth floor she opened a door with a key, and left Betty standing at the threshold till she had lighted a lamp.
Then "Come in," she said, and shut the door and bolted it.
The room was small and smelt of white rose scent; the looking-glass had a lace drapery fastened up with crushed red roses; and there were voluminous lace and stuff curtains to bed and window.
"Sit down," said the hostess. She took off her hat and pulled the scarlet flowers from it. She washed her face till it shewed no rouge and no powder, and the brown of lashes and brows was free from the black water-paint. She raked under the bed with a faded sunshade till she found an old brown portmanteau. Her smart black and white dress was changed for a black one, of a mode passée these three years. A gray chequered golf cape and the dulled hat completed the transformation.
"How nice you look," said Betty.
The other bundled some linen and brushes into the portmanteau.
"The poor old Gladstone's very thin still," she said, and folded skirts; "we must plump it out somehow."
When the portmanteau was filled and strapped, they carried it down between them, in the dark, and got it out on to the pavement.
"I am Miss Conway now," said the woman, "and we will drive to the Hotel de Lille. I went there one Easter with my father."
With the change in her dress a change had come over Miss Conway's voice.
At the Hotel de Lille it was she who ordered the two rooms, communicating, for herself and her cousin, explained where the rest of the luggage was, and gave orders for the morning chocolate.
"This is very jolly," said Betty, when they were alone. "It's like an elopement."
"Exactly," said Miss Conway. "Good night."
"It's rather like a dream, though. I shan't wake up and find you gone, shall I?" Betty asked anxiously.
"No, no. We've all your affairs to settle in the morning."
"Mine were settled long ago. Oh, I forgot—I'm Miss Conway, at the Hotel de Lille. Yes, we'll settle my affairs in the morning, too. Good night, little girl."
"Good night, Miss Conway."
"They call me Lotty."
"My name's Betty and—look here, I can't wait till the morning." Betty clasped her hands, and seemed to be holding her courage between them. "I've come to Paris to study art, and I want you to come and live with me. I know you'd like it, and I've got heaps of money—will you?"
She spoke quickly and softly, and her face was flushed and her eyes bright.
There was a pause.
"You silly little duffer—you silly dear little duffer."
The other woman had turned away and was fingering the chains of an ormolu candlestick on the mantelpiece.
Betty put an arm over her shoulders.
"Look here," she said, "I'm not such a duffer as you think. I know people do dreadful things—but they needn't go on doing them, need they?"
"Yes, they need," said the other; "that's just it."
Her fingers were still twisting the bronze chains.
"And the women you talked about—in the Bible—they weren't kind and good, like you; they were just only horrid and not anything else. You told me to be good. Won't you let me help you? Oh, it does seem such cheek of me, but I never knew anyone before who—I don't know how to say it. But I am so sorry, and I want you to be good, just as much as you want me to. Dear, dear Lotty!"
"My name's Paula."
"Paula dear, I wish I wasn't so stupid, but I know it's not your fault, and I know you aren't like that woman with the Germans."
"I should hope not indeed," Paula was roused to flash back; "dirty little French gutter-cat."
"I've never been a bit of good to anyone," said Betty, adding her other arm and making a necklace of the two round Paula's neck, "except to Parishioners perhaps. Do let me be a bit of good to you. Don't you think I could?"
"You dear little fool!" said Paula gruffly.
"Yes, but say yes—you must! I know you want to. I've got lots of money. Kiss me, Paula."
"I won't!—Don't kiss me!—I won't have it! Go away," said the woman, clinging to Betty and returning her kisses.
"Don't cry," said Betty gently. "We shall be ever so happy. You'll see. Good night, Paula. Do you know I've never had a friend—a girl-friend, I mean?"
"For God's sake hold your tongue, and go to bed! Good night."
Betty, alone, faced at last, and for the first time, The Thought. But it had changed its dress when Miss Conway changed hers. It was no longer a Thought: it was a Resolution.
Twin-born with her plan for saving her new friend was the plan for a life that should not be life at Long Barton.
All the evening she had refused to face The Thought. But it had been shaping itself to something more definite than thought. As a Resolution, a Plan, it now unrolled itself before her. She sat in the stiff arm-chair looking straight in front of her, and she saw what she meant to do. The Thought had been wise not to insist too much on recognition. Earlier in the evening it would have seemed merely a selfish temptation. Now it was an opportunity for a good and noble act. And Betty had always wanted so much to be noble and good.
Here she was in Paris, alone. Her aunt, train-borne, was every moment further and further away. As for her step-father:
"I hate him," said Betty, "and he hates me. He only let me come to get rid of me. And what good could I do at Long Barton compared with what I can do here? Any one can do Parish work. I've got the money Aunt left for Madame Gautier. Perhaps it's stealing. But is it? The money was meant to pay to keep me in Paris to study Art. And it's not as if I were staying altogether for selfish reasons—there's Paula. I'm sure she has really a noble nature. And it's not as if I were staying because He is in Paris. Of course, that would be really wrong. But he said he was going to Vienna. I suppose his uncle delayed him, but he'll certainly go. I'm sure it's right. I've learned a lot since I left home. I'm not a child now. I'm a woman, and I must do what I think is right. You know I must, mustn't I?"
She appealed to the Inward Monitor, but it refused to be propitiated.
"It only seems not quite right because it's so unusual," she went on; "that's because I've never been anywhere or done anything. After all, it's my own life, and I have a right to live it as I like. My step-father has never written to Madame Gautier all these months. He won't now. It's only to tell him she has changed her address—he only writes to me on Sunday nights. There's just time. And I'll keep the money, and when Aunt comes back I'll tell her everything. She'll understand."
"Do you think so?" said the Inward Monitor.
"Any way," said Betty, putting her foot down on the Inward Monitor, "I'm going to do it. If it's only for Paula's sake. We'll take rooms, and I'll go to a Studio, and work hard; and I won't make friends with gentlemen I don't know, or anything silly, so there," she added defiantly. "Auntie left the money for me to study in Paris. If I tell my step-father that Madame Gautier is dead, he'll just fetch me home, and what'll become of Paula then?"
Thus and thus, ringing the changes on resolve and explanation, her thoughts ran. A clock chimed midnight.
"Is it possible," she asked herself, "that it's not twelve hours since I was at the Hotel Bête—talking to Him? Well, I shall never see him again, I suppose. How odd that I don't feel as if I cared whether I did or not. I suppose what I felt about him wasn't real. It all seems so silly now. Paula is real, and all that I mean to do for her is real. He isn't."
She prayed that night as usual, but her mind was made up, and she prayed outside a closed door.
Next morning, when her chocolate came up, she carried it into the next room, and, sitting on the edge of her new friend's bed, breakfasted there.
Paula seemed dazed when she first woke, but soon she was smiling and listening to Betty's plans.
"How young you look," said Betty, "almost as young as me."
"You don't look it—with your hair in those pretty plaits, and your nightie. You do have lovely nightgowns."
"I'll get up now," said Paula. "Look out—I nearly upset the tray."
Betty had carefully put away certain facts and labelled them: "Not to be told to anyone, even Paula." No one was to know anything about Vernon. "There is nothing to know really," she told herself. No one was to know that she was alone in Paris without the knowledge of her relations. Lots of girls came to Paris alone to study art. She was just one of these.
She found the lying wonderfully easy. It did not bring with it, either, any of the shame that lying should bring, but rather a sense of triumphant achievement, as from a difficult part played excellently.
She paid the hotel bill, and then the search for rooms began.
"We must be very economical, you know," she said, "but you won't mind that, will you? I think it will be rather fun."
"It would be awful fun," said the other. "You'll go and work at the studio, and when you come home after your work I shall have cooked the déjeûner, and we shall have it together on a little table with a nice white cloth and a bunch of flowers on it."
"Yes; and in the evening we'll go out, to concerts and things, and ride on the tops of trams. And on Sundays—what does one do on Sundays?"
"I suppose one goes to church," said Paula.
"Oh, I think not when we're working so hard all the week. We'll go into the country."
"We can take the river steamer and go to St. Cloud, or go out on the tram to Clamart—the woods there are just exactly like the woods at home. What part of England do you live in?"
"Kent," said Betty.
"My home's in Devonshire," said Paula.
It was a hard day: so many stairs to climb, so many apartments to see! And all of them either quite beyond Betty's means, or else little stuffy places, filled to choking point with the kind of furniture no one could bear to live with, and with no light, and no outlook except a blank wall a yard or two from the window.
They kept to the Montparnasse quarter, for there, Paula said, were the best ateliers for Betty. They found a little restaurant, where only art students ate, and where one could breakfast royally for about a shilling. Betty looked with interest at the faces of the students, and wondered whether she should ever know any of them. Some of them looked interesting. A few were English, and fully half American.
Then the weary hunt for rooms began again.
It was five o'clock before a concierge, unexpected amiable in face of their refusal of her rooms, asked whether they had tried Madame Bianchi's—Madame Bianchi where the atelier was, and the students' meetings on Sunday evenings,—Number 57 Boulevard Montparnasse.
They tried it. One passes through an archway into a yard where the machinery, of a great laundry pulses half the week, up some wide wooden stairs—shallow, easy stairs—and on the first floor are the two rooms. Betty drew a long breath when she saw them. They were lofty, they were airy, they were light. There was not much furniture, but what there was was good—old carved armoires, solid divans and—joy of joys—in each room a carved oak, Seventeenth Century mantelpiece eight feet high and four feet deep.
"I must have these rooms!" Betty whispered. "Oh, I could make them so pretty!"
The rent of the rooms was almost twice as much as the sum they fixed on, and Paula murmured caution.
"Its no use," said Betty. "We'll live on bread and water if you like, but we'll live on it here."
And she took the rooms.
"I'm sure we've done right," she said as they drove off to fetch her boxes: "the rooms will be like a home, you see if they aren't. And there's a piano too. And Madame Bianchi, isn't she a darling; Isn't she pretty and sweet and nice?"
"Yes," said Paula thoughtfully; "it certainly is something that you've got rooms in the house of a woman like that."
"And that ducky little kitchen! Oh, we shall have such fun, cooking our own meals! You shall get the déjeûner but I'll cook the dinner while you lie on the sofa and read novels 'like a real lady.'"
"Don't use that expression—I hate it," said Paula sharply. "But the rooms are lovely, aren't they?"
"Yes, it's a good place for you to be in—I'm sure of that," said the other, musing again.
When the boxes were unpacked, and Betty had pinned up a few prints and photographs and sketches and arranged some bright coloured Liberty scarves to cover the walls' more obvious defects—left by the removal of the last tenant's decorations—when flowers were on table and piano, the curtains drawn and the lamps lighted, the room did, indeed, look "like a home."
"We'll have dinner out to-night," said Paula, "and to-morrow we'll go marketing, and find you a studio to work at."
"Why not here?"
"That's an idea. Have you a lace collar you can lend me? This is not fit to be seen."
Betty pinned the collar on her friend.
"I believe you get prettier every minute," she said. "I must just write home and give them my address."
She fetched her embroidered blotting-book.
"It reminds one of bazaars," said Miss Conway.
57 Boulevard Montparnasse.
My dear Father:
This is our new address. Madame Gautier's tenant wanted to keep on her flat in the Rue de Vaugirard, so she has taken this one which is larger and very convenient, as it is close to many of the best studios. I think I shall like it very much. It is not decided yet where I am to study, but there is an Atelier in the House for ladies only, and I think it will be there, so that I shall not have to go out to my lessons. I will write again as soon as we are more settled. We only moved in late this afternoon, so there is a lot to do. I hope you are quite well, and that everything is going on well in the Parish. I will certainly send some sketches for the Christmas sale. Madame Gautier does not wish me to go home for Christmas; she thinks it would interrupt my work too much. There is a new girl, a Miss Conway. I like her very much. With love,
She was glad when that letter was written. It is harder to lie in writing than in speech, and the use of the dead woman's name made her shiver.
"But I won't do things by halves," she said.
"What's this?" Paula asked sharply. She had stopped in front of one of Betty's water colours.
"That? Oh, I did it ages ago—before I learned anything. Don't look at it."
"But what is it?"
"Oh, only our house at home."
"I wonder," said Paula, "why all English Vicarages are exactly alike."
"It's a Rectory," said Betty absently.
"That ought to make a difference, but it doesn't. I haven't seen an English garden for four years."
"Four years is a long time," said Betty.
"You don't know how long," said the other. "And the garden's been going on just the same all the time. It seems odd, doesn't it? Those hollyhocks—the ones at the Vicarage at home are just like them. Come, let's go to dinner!"