Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
DefectiveByDesign.org




BABYLON REVISITED


by


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)


Saturday Evening Post (21 February 1931)



"And where's Mr. Campbell?" Charlie asked.

"Gone to Switzerland.  Mr. Campbell's a pretty sick man, Mr.
Wales."

"I'm sorry to hear that.  And George Hardt?" Charlie inquired.

"Back in America, gone to work."

"And where is the Snow Bird?"

"He was in here last week.  Anyway, his friend, Mr. Schaeffer, is
in Paris."

Two familiar names from the long list of a year and a half ago.
Charlie scribbled an address in his notebook and tore out the page.

"If you see Mr. Schaeffer, give him this," he said.  "It's my
brother-in-law's address.  I haven't settled on a hotel yet."

He was not really disappointed to find Paris was so empty.  But the
stillness in the Ritz bar was strange and portentous.  It was not
an American bar any more--he felt polite in it, and not as if he
owned it.  It had gone back into France.  He felt the stillness
from the moment he got out of the taxi and saw the doorman, usually
in a frenzy of activity at this hour, gossiping with a chasseur by
the servants' entrance.

Passing through the corridor, he heard only a single, bored voice
in the once-clamorous women's room.  When he turned into the bar he
travelled the twenty feet of green carpet with his eyes fixed
straight ahead by old habit; and then, with his foot firmly on the
rail, he turned and surveyed the room, encountering only a single
pair of eyes that fluttered up from a newspaper in the corner.
Charlie asked for the head barman, Paul, who in the latter days of
the bull market had come to work in his own custom-built car--
disembarking, however, with due nicety at the nearest corner.  But
Paul was at his country house today and Alix giving him
information.

"No, no more," Charlie said, "I'm going slow these days."

Alix congratulated him:  "You were going pretty strong a couple of
years ago."

"I'll stick to it all right," Charlie assured him.  "I've stuck to
it for over a year and a half now."

"How do you find conditions in America?"

"I haven't been to America for months.  I'm in business in Prague,
representing a couple of concerns there.  They don't know about me
down there."

Alix smiled.

"Remember the night of George Hardt's bachelor dinner here?" said
Charlie.  "By the way, what's become of Claude Fessenden?"

Alix lowered his voice confidentially:  "He's in Paris, but he
doesn't come here any more.  Paul doesn't allow it.  He ran up a
bill of thirty thousand francs, charging all his drinks and his
lunches, and usually his dinner, for more than a year.  And when
Paul finally told him he had to pay, he gave him a bad check."

Alix shook his head sadly.

"I don't understand it, such a dandy fellow.  Now he's all bloated
up--"  He made a plump apple of his hands.

Charlie watched a group of strident queens installing themselves in
a corner.

"Nothing affects them," he thought.  "Stocks rise and fall, people
loaf or work, but they go on forever."  The place oppressed him.
He called for the dice and shook with Alix for the drink.

"Here for long, Mr. Wales?"

"I'm here for four or five days to see my little girl."

"Oh-h!  You have a little girl?"

Outside, the fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs shone smokily
through the tranquil rain.  It was late afternoon and the streets
were in movement; the bistros gleamed.  At the corner of the
Boulevard des Capucines he took a taxi.  The Place de la Concorde
moved by in pink majesty; they crossed the logical Seine, and
Charlie felt the sudden provincial quality of the Left Bank.

Charlie directed his taxi to the Avenue de l'Opera, which was out
of his way.  But he wanted to see the blue hour spread over the
magnificent façade, and imagine that the cab horns, playing
endlessly the first few bars of La Plus que Lent, were the trumpets
of the Second Empire.  They were closing the iron grill in front of
Brentano's Book-store, and people were already at dinner behind the
trim little bourgeois hedge of Duval's.  He had never eaten at a
really cheap restaurant in Paris.  Five-course dinner, four francs
fifty, eighteen cents, wine included.  For some odd reason he
wished that he had.

As they rolled on to the Left Bank and he felt its sudden
provincialism, he thought, "I spoiled this city for myself.  I
didn't realize it, but the days came along one after another, and
then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone."

He was thirty-five, and good to look at.  The Irish mobility of his
face was sobered by a deep wrinkle between his eyes.  As he rang
his brother-in-law's bell in the Rue Palatine, the wrinkle deepened
till it pulled down his brows; he felt a cramping sensation in his
belly.  From behind the maid who opened the door darted a lovely
little girl of nine who shrieked "Daddy!" and flew up, struggling
like a fish, into his arms.  She pulled his head around by one ear
and set her cheek against his.

"My old pie," he said.

"Oh, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, dads, dads, dads!"

She drew him into the salon, where the family waited, a boy and
girl his daughter's age, his sister-in-law and her husband.  He
greeted Marion with his voice pitched carefully to avoid either
feigned enthusiasm or dislike, but her response was more frankly
tepid, though she minimized her expression of unalterable distrust
by directing her regard toward his child.  The two men clasped
hands in a friendly way and Lincoln Peters rested his for a moment
on Charlie's shoulder.

The room was warm and comfortably American.  The three children
moved intimately about, playing through the yellow oblongs that led
to other rooms; the cheer of six o'clock spoke in the eager smacks
of the fire and the sounds of French activity in the kitchen.  But
Charlie did not relax; his heart sat up rigidly in his body and he
drew confidence from his daughter, who from time to time came close
to him, holding in her arms the doll he had brought.

"Really extremely well," he declared in answer to Lincoln's
question.  "There's a lot of business there that isn't moving at
all, but we're doing even better than ever.  In fact, damn well.
I'm bringing my sister over from America next month to keep house
for me.  My income last year was bigger than it was when I had
money.  You see, the Czechs--"

His boasting was for a specific purpose; but after a moment, seeing
a faint restiveness in Lincoln's eye, he changed the subject:

"Those are fine children of yours, well brought up, good manners."

"We think Honoria's a great little girl too."

Marion Peters came back from the kitchen.  She was a tall woman
with worried eyes, who had once possessed a fresh American
loveliness.  Charlie had never been sensitive to it and was always
surprised when people spoke of how pretty she had been.  From the
first there had been an instinctive antipathy between them.

"Well, how do you find Honoria?" she asked.

"Wonderful.  I was astonished how much she's grown in ten months.
All the children are looking well."

"We haven't had a doctor for a year.  How do you like being back in
Paris?"

"It seems very funny to see so few Americans around."

"I'm delighted," Marion said vehemently.  "Now at least you can go
into a store without their assuming you're a millionaire.  We've
suffered like everybody, but on the whole it's a good deal
pleasanter."

"But it was nice while it lasted," Charlie said.  "We were a sort
of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us.  In
the bar this afternoon"--he stumbled, seeing his mistake--"there
wasn't a man I knew."

She looked at him keenly.  "I should think you'd have had enough of
bars."

"I only stayed a minute.  I take one drink every afternoon, and no
more."

"Don't you want a cocktail before dinner?" Lincoln asked.

"I take only one drink every afternoon, and I've had that."

"I hope you keep to it," said Marion.

Her dislike was evident in the coldness with which she spoke, but
Charlie only smiled; he had larger plans.  Her very aggressiveness
gave him an advantage, and he knew enough to wait.  He wanted them
to initiate the discussion of what they knew had brought him to
Paris.

At dinner he couldn't decide whether Honoria was most like him or
her mother.  Fortunate if she didn't combine the traits of both
that had brought them to disaster.  A great wave of protectiveness
went over him.  He thought he knew what to do for her.  He believed
in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust
in character again as the eternally valuable element.  Everything
wore out.

He left soon after dinner, but not to go home.  He was curious to
see Paris by night with clearer and more judicious eyes than those
of other days.  He bought a strapontin for the Casino and watched
Josephine Baker go through her chocolate arabesques.

After an hour he left and strolled toward Montmartre, up the Rue
Pigalle into the Place Blanche.  The rain had stopped and there
were a few people in evening clothes disembarking from taxis in
front of cabarets, and cocottes prowling singly or in pairs, and
many Negroes.  He passed a lighted door from which issued music,
and stopped with the sense of familiarity; it was Bricktop's, where
he had parted with so many hours and so much money.  A few doors
farther on he found another ancient rendezvous and incautiously put
his head inside.  Immediately an eager orchestra burst into sound,
a pair of professional dancers leaped to their feet and a maître
d'hôtel swooped toward him, crying, "Crowd just arriving, sir!"
But he withdrew quickly.

"You have to be damn drunk," he thought.

Zelli's was closed, the bleak and sinister cheap hotels surrounding
it were dark; up in the Rue Blanche there was more light and a
local, colloquial French crowd.  The Poet's Cave had disappeared,
but the two great mouths of the Café of Heaven and the Café of Hell
still yawned--even devoured, as he watched, the meager contents of
a tourist bus--a German, a Japanese, and an American couple who
glanced at him with frightened eyes.

So much for the effort and ingenuity of Montmartre.  All the
catering to vice and waste was on an utterly childish scale, and he
suddenly realized the meaning of the word "dissipate"--to dissipate
into thin air; to make nothing out of something.  In the little
hours of the night every move from place to place was an enormous
human jump, an increase of paying for the privilege of slower and
slower motion.

He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for
playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman
for calling a cab.

But it hadn't been given for nothing.

It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an
offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most
worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember--
his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in
Vermont.

In the glare of a brasserie a woman spoke to him.  He bought her
some eggs and coffee, and then, eluding her encouraging stare, gave
her a twenty-franc note and took a taxi to his hotel.


II


He woke upon a fine fall day--football weather.  The depression of
yesterday was gone and he liked the people on the streets.  At noon
he sat opposite Honoria at Le Grand Vatel, the only restaurant he
could think of not reminiscent of champagne dinners and long
luncheons that began at two and ended in a blurred and vague
twilight.

"Now, how about vegetables?  Oughtn't you to have some vegetables?"

"Well, yes."

"Here's épinards and chou-fleur and carrots and haricots."

"I'd like chou-fleur."

"Wouldn't you like to have two vegetables?"

"I usually only have one at lunch."

The waiter was pretending to be inordinately fond of children.
"Qu'elle est mignonne la petite?  Elle parle exactement comme une
Française."

"How about dessert?  Shall we wait and see?"

The waiter disappeared.  Honoria looked at her father expectantly.

"What are we going to do?"

"First, we're going to that toy store in the Rue Saint-Honoré and
buy you anything you like.  And then we're going to the vaudeville
at the Empire."

She hesitated.  "I like it about the vaudeville, but not the toy
store."

"Why not?"

"Well, you brought me this doll."  She had it with her.  "And I've
got lots of things.  And we're not rich any more, are we?"

"We never were.  But today you are to have anything you want."

"All right," she agreed resignedly.

When there had been her mother and a French nurse he had been
inclined to be strict; now he extended himself, reached out for a
new tolerance; he must be both parents to her and not shut any of
her out of communication.

"I want to get to know you," he said gravely.  "First let me
introduce myself.  My name is Charles J. Wales, of Prague."

"Oh, daddy!" her voice cracked with laughter.

"And who are you, please?" he persisted, and she accepted a role
immediately:  "Honoria Wales, Rue Palatine, Paris."

"Married or single?"

"No, not married.  Single."

He indicated the doll.  "But I see you have a child, madame."

Unwilling to disinherit it, she took it to her heart and thought
quickly:  "Yes, I've been married, but I'm not married now.  My
husband is dead."

He went on quickly, "And the child's name?"

"Simone.  That's after my best friend at school."

"I'm very pleased that you're doing so well at school."

"I'm third this month," she boasted.  "Elsie"--that was her cousin--
"is only about eighteenth, and Richard is about at the bottom."

"You like Richard and Elsie, don't you?"

"Oh, yes.  I like Richard quite well and I like her all right."

Cautiously and casually he asked:  "And Aunt Marion and Uncle
Lincoln--which do you like best?"

"Oh, Uncle Lincoln, I guess."

He was increasingly aware of her presence.  As they came in, a
murmur of ". . . adorable" followed them, and now the people at the
next table bent all their silences upon her, staring as if she were
something no more conscious than a flower.

"Why don't I live with you?" she asked suddenly.  "Because mamma's
dead?"

"You must stay here and learn more French.  It would have been hard
for daddy to take care of you so well."

"I don't really need much taking care of any more.  I do everything
for myself."

Going out of the restaurant, a man and a woman unexpectedly hailed
him.

"Well, the old Wales!"

"Hello there, Lorraine. . . .  Dunc."

Sudden ghosts out of the past: Duncan Schaeffer, a friend from
college.  Lorraine Quarrles, a lovely, pale blonde of thirty; one
of a crowd who had helped them make months into days in the lavish
times of three years ago.

"My husband couldn't come this year," she said, in answer to his
question.  "We're poor as hell.  So he gave me two hundred a month
and told me I could do my worst on that. . . .  This your little
girl?"

"What about coming back and sitting down?" Duncan asked.

"Can't do it."  He was glad for an excuse.  As always, he felt
Lorraine's passionate, provocative attraction, but his own rhythm
was different now.

"Well, how about dinner?" she asked.

"I'm not free.  Give me your address and let me call you."

"Charlie, I believe you're sober," she said judicially.  "I
honestly believe he's sober, Dunc.  Pinch him and see if he's
sober."

Charlie indicated Honoria with his head.  They both laughed.

"What's your address?" said Duncan sceptically.

He hesitated, unwilling to give the name of his hotel.

"I'm not settled yet.  I'd better call you.  We're going to see the
vaudeville at the Empire."

"There!  That's what I want to do," Lorraine said.  "I want to see
some clowns and acrobats and jugglers.  That's just what we'll do,
Dunc."

"We've got to do an errand first," said Charlie.  "Perhaps we'll
see you there."

"All right, you snob. . . .  Good-by, beautiful little girl."

"Good-by."

Honoria bobbed politely.

Somehow, an unwelcome encounter.  They liked him because he was
functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him,
because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to
draw a certain sustenance from his strength.

At the Empire, Honoria proudly refused to sit upon her father's
folded coat.  She was already an individual with a code of her own,
and Charlie was more and more absorbed by the desire of putting a
little of himself into her before she crystallized utterly.  It was
hopeless to try to know her in so short a time.

Between the acts they came upon Duncan and Lorraine in the lobby
where the band was playing.

"Have a drink?"

"All right, but not up at the bar.  We'll take a table."

"The perfect father."

Listening abstractedly to Lorraine, Charlie watched Honoria's eyes
leave their table, and he followed them wistfully about the room,
wondering what they saw.  He met her glance and she smiled.

"I liked that lemonade," she said.

What had she said?  What had he expected?  Going home in a taxi
afterward, he pulled her over until her head rested against his
chest.

"Darling, do you ever think about your mother?"

"Yes, sometimes," she answered vaguely.

"I don't want you to forget her.  Have you got a picture of her?"

"Yes, I think so.  Anyhow, Aunt Marion has.  Why don't you want me
to forget her?"

"She loved you very much."

"I loved her too."

They were silent for a moment.

"Daddy, I want to come and live with you," she said suddenly.

His heart leaped; he had wanted it to come like this.

"Aren't you perfectly happy?"

"Yes, but I love you better than anybody.  And you love me better
than anybody, don't you, now that mummy's dead?"

"Of course I do.  But you won't always like me best, honey.  You'll
grow up and meet somebody your own age and go marry him and forget
you ever had a daddy."

"Yes, that's true," she agreed tranquilly.

He didn't go in.  He was coming back at nine o'clock and he wanted
to keep himself fresh and new for the thing he must say then.

"When you're safe inside, just show yourself in that window."

"All right.  Good-by, dads, dads, dads, dads."

He waited in the dark street until she appeared, all warm and
glowing, in the window above and kissed her fingers out into the
night.


III


They were waiting.  Marion sat behind the coffee service in a
dignified black dinner dress that just faintly suggested mourning.
Lincoln was walking up and down with the animation of one who had
already been talking.  They were as anxious as he was to get into
the question.  He opened it almost immediately:

"I suppose you know what I want to see you about--why I really came
to Paris."

Marion played with the black stars on her necklace and frowned.

"I'm awfully anxious to have a home," he continued.  "And I'm
awfully anxious to have Honoria in it.  I appreciate your taking in
Honoria for her mother's sake, but things have changed now"--he
hesitated and then continued more forcibly--"changed radically with
me, and I want to ask you to reconsider the matter.  It would be
silly for me to deny that about three years ago I was acting badly--"

Marion looked up at him with hard eyes.

"--but all that's over.  As I told you, I haven't had more than a
drink a day for over a year, and I take that drink deliberately, so
that the idea of alcohol won't get too big in my imagination.  You
see the idea?"

"No," said Marion succinctly.

"It's a sort of stunt I set myself.  It keeps the matter in
proportion."

"I get you," said Lincoln.  "You don't want to admit it's got any
attraction for you."

"Something like that.  Sometimes I forget and don't take it.  But I
try to take it.  Anyhow, I couldn't afford to drink in my position.
The people I represent are more than satisfied with what I've done,
and I'm bringing my sister over from Burlington to keep house for
me, and I want awfully to have Honoria too.  You know that even
when her mother and I weren't getting along well we never let
anything that happened touch Honoria.  I know she's fond of me and
I know I'm able to take care of her and--well, there you are.  How
do you feel about it?"

He knew that now he would have to take a beating.  It would last an
hour or two hours, and it would be difficult, but if he modulated
his inevitable resentment to the chastened attitude of the reformed
sinner, he might win his point in the end.

Keep your temper, he told himself.  You don't want to be justified.
You want Honoria.

Lincoln spoke first:  "We've been talking it over ever since we got
your letter last month.  We're happy to have Honoria here.  She's a
dear little thing, and we're glad to be able to help her, but of
course that isn't the question--"

Marion interrupted suddenly.  "How long are you going to stay
sober, Charlie?" she asked.

"Permanently, I hope."

"How can anybody count on that?"

"You know I never did drink heavily until I gave up business and
came over here with nothing to do.  Then Helen and I began to run
around with--"

"Please leave Helen out of it.  I can't bear to hear you talk about
her like that."

He stared at her grimly; he had never been certain how fond of each
other the sisters were in life.

"My drinking only lasted about a year and a half--from the time we
came over until I--collapsed."

"It was time enough."

"It was time enough," he agreed.

"My duty is entirely to Helen," she said.  "I try to think what she
would have wanted me to do.  Frankly, from the night you did that
terrible thing you haven't really existed for me.  I can't help
that.  She was my sister."

"Yes."

"When she was dying she asked me to look out for Honoria.  If you
hadn't been in a sanitarium then, it might have helped matters."

He had no answer.

"I'll never in my life be able to forget the morning when Helen
knocked at my door, soaked to the skin and shivering, and said
you'd locked her out."

Charlie gripped the sides of the chair.  This was more difficult
than he expected; he wanted to launch out into a long expostulation
and explanation, but he only said:  "The night I locked her out--"
and she interrupted, "I don't feel up to going over that again."

After a moment's silence Lincoln said:  "We're getting off the
subject.  You want Marion to set aside her legal guardianship and
give you Honoria.  I think the main point for her is whether she
has confidence in you or not."

"I don't blame Marion," Charlie said slowly, "but I think she can
have entire confidence in me.  I had a good record up to three
years ago.  Of course, it's within human possibilities I might go
wrong any time.  But if we wait much longer I'll lose Honoria's
childhood and my chance for a home."  He shook his head, "I'll
simply lose her, don't you see?"

"Yes, I see," said Lincoln.

"Why didn't you think of all this before?" Marion asked.

"I suppose I did, from time to time, but Helen and I were getting
along badly.  When I consented to the guardianship, I was flat on
my back in a sanitarium and the market had cleaned me out.  I knew
I'd acted badly, and I thought if it would bring any peace to
Helen, I'd agree to anything.  But now it's different.  I'm
functioning, I'm behaving damn well, so far as--"

"Please don't swear at me," Marion said.

He looked at her, startled.  With each remark the force of her
dislike became more and more apparent.  She had built up all her
fear of life into one wall and faced it toward him.  This trivial
reproof was possibly the result of some trouble with the cook
several hours before.  Charlie became increasingly alarmed at
leaving Honoria in this atmosphere of hostility against himself;
sooner or later it would come out, in a word here, a shake of the
head there, and some of that distrust would be irrevocably
implanted in Honoria.  But he pulled his temper down out of his
face and shut it up inside him; he had won a point, for Lincoln
realized the absurdity of Marion's remark and asked her lightly
since when she had objected to the word "damn."

"Another thing," Charlie said:  "I'm able to give her certain
advantages now.  I'm going to take a French governess to Prague
with me.  I've got a lease on a new apartment--"

He stopped, realizing that he was blundering.  They couldn't be
expected to accept with equanimity the fact that his income was
again twice as large as their own.

"I suppose you can give her more luxuries than we can," said
Marion.  "When you were throwing away money we were living along
watching every ten francs. . . .  I suppose you'll start doing it
again."

"Oh, no," he said.  "I've learned.  I worked hard for ten years,
you know--until I got lucky in the market, like so many people.
Terribly lucky.  It didn't seem any use working any more, so I
quit.  It won't happen again."

There was a long silence.  All of them felt their nerves straining,
and for the first time in a year Charlie wanted a drink.  He was
sure now that Lincoln Peters wanted him to have his child.

Marion shuddered suddenly; part of her saw that Charlie's feet were
planted on the earth now, and her own maternal feeling recognized
the naturalness of his desire; but she had lived for a long time
with a prejudice--a prejudice founded on a curious disbelief in her
sister's happiness, and which, in the shock of one terrible night,
had turned to hatred for him.  It had all happened at a point in
her life where the discouragement of ill health and adverse
circumstances made it necessary for her to believe in tangible
villainy and a tangible villain.

"I can't help what I think!" she cried out suddenly.  "How much you
were responsible for Helen's death, I don't know.  It's something
you'll have to square with your own conscience."

An electric current of agony surged through him; for a moment he
was almost on his feet, an unuttered sound echoing in his throat.
He hung on to himself for a moment, another moment.

"Hold on there," said Lincoln uncomfortably.  "I never thought you
were responsible for that."

"Helen died of heart trouble," Charlie said dully.

"Yes, heart trouble."  Marion spoke as if the phrase had another
meaning for her.

Then, in the flatness that followed her outburst, she saw him
plainly and she knew he had somehow arrived at control over the
situation.  Glancing at her husband, she found no help from him,
and as abruptly as if it were a matter of no importance, she threw
up the sponge.

"Do what you like!" she cried, springing up from her chair.  "She's
your child.  I'm not the person to stand in your way.  I think if
it were my child I'd rather see her--"  She managed to check
herself.  "You two decide it.  I can't stand this.  I'm sick.  I'm
going to bed."

She hurried from the room; after a moment Lincoln said:

"This has been a hard day for her.  You know how strongly she
feels--"  His voice was almost apologetic:  "When a woman gets an
idea in her head."

"Of course."

"It's going to be all right.  I think she sees now that you--can
provide for the child, and so we can't very well stand in your way
or Honoria's way."

"Thank you, Lincoln."

"I'd better go along and see how she is."

"I'm going."

He was still trembling when he reached the street, but a walk down
the Rue Bonaparte to the quais set him up, and as he crossed the
Seine, fresh and new by the quai lamps, he felt exultant.  But back
in his room he couldn't sleep.  The image of Helen haunted him.
Helen whom he had loved so until they had senselessly begun to
abuse each other's love, tear it into shreds.  On that terrible
February night that Marion remembered so vividly, a slow quarrel
had gone on for hours.  There was a scene at the Florida, and then
he attempted to take her home, and then she kissed young Webb at a
table; after that there was what she had hysterically said.  When
he arrived home alone he turned the key in the lock in wild anger.
How could he know she would arrive an hour later alone, that there
would be a snowstorm in which she wandered about in slippers, too
confused to find a taxi?  Then the aftermath, her escaping
pneumonia by a miracle, and all the attendant horror.  They were
"reconciled," but that was the beginning of the end, and Marion,
who had seen with her own eyes and who imagined it to be one of
many scenes from her sister's martyrdom, never forgot.

Going over it again brought Helen nearer, and in the white, soft
light that steals upon half sleep near morning he found himself
talking to her again.  She said that he was perfectly right about
Honoria and that she wanted Honoria to be with him.  She said she
was glad he was being good and doing better.  She said a lot of
other things--very friendly things--but she was in a swing in a
white dress, and swinging faster and faster all the time, so that
at the end he could not hear clearly all that she said.


IV


He woke up feeling happy.  The door of the world was open again.
He made plans, vistas, futures for Honoria and himself, but
suddenly he grew sad, remembering all the plans he and Helen had
made.  She had not planned to die.  The present was the thing--work
to do and someone to love.  But not to love too much, for he knew
the injury that a father can do to a daughter or a mother to a son
by attaching them too closely: afterward, out in the world, the
child would seek in the marriage partner the same blind tenderness
and, failing probably to find it, turn against love and life.

It was another bright, crisp day.  He called Lincoln Peters at the
bank where he worked and asked if he could count on taking Honoria
when he left for Prague.  Lincoln agreed that there was no reason
for delay.  One thing--the legal guardianship.  Marion wanted to
retain that a while longer.  She was upset by the whole matter, and
it would oil things if she felt that the situation was still in her
control for another year.  Charlie agreed, wanting only the
tangible, visible child.

Then the question of a governess.  Charlie sat in a gloomy agency
and talked to a cross Béarnaise and to a buxom Breton peasant,
neither of whom he could have endured.  There were others whom he
would see tomorrow.

He lunched with Lincoln Peters at Griffons, trying to keep down his
exultation.

"There's nothing quite like your own child," Lincoln said.  "But
you understand how Marion feels too."

"She's forgotten how hard I worked for seven years there," Charlie
said.  "She just remembers one night."

"There's another thing."  Lincoln hesitated.  "While you and Helen
were tearing around Europe throwing money away, we were just
getting along.  I didn't touch any of the prosperity because I
never got ahead enough to carry anything but my insurance.  I think
Marion felt there was some kind of injustice in it--you not even
working toward the end, and getting richer and richer."

"It went just as quick as it came," said Charlie.

"Yes, a lot of it stayed in the hands of chasseurs and saxophone
players and maîtres d'hôtel--well, the big party's over now.  I
just said that to explain Marion's feeling about those crazy years.
If you drop in about six o'clock tonight before Marion's too tired,
we'll settle the details on the spot."

Back at his hotel, Charlie found a pneumatique that had been
redirected from the Ritz bar where Charlie had left his address for
the purpose of finding a certain man.


DEAR CHARLIE:  You were so strange when we saw you the other day
that I wondered if I did something to offend you.  If so, I'm not
conscious of it.  In fact, I have thought about you too much for
the last year, and it's always been in the back of my mind that I
might see you if I came over here.  We DID have such good times
that crazy spring, like the night you and I stole the butcher's
tricycle, and the time we tried to call on the president and you
had the old derby rim and the wire cane.  Everybody seems so old
lately, but I don't feel old a bit.  Couldn't we get together some
time today for old time's sake?  I've got a vile hang-over for the
moment, but will be feeling better this afternoon and will look for
you about five in the sweat-shop at the Ritz.

                                       Always devotedly,

                                                   LORRAINE.


His first feeling was one of awe that he had actually, in his
mature years, stolen a tricycle and pedalled Lorraine all over the
Étoile between the small hours and dawn.  In retrospect it was a
nightmare.  Locking out Helen didn't fit in with any other act of
his life, but the tricycle incident did--it was one of many.  How
many weeks or months of dissipation to arrive at that condition of
utter irresponsibility?

He tried to picture how Lorraine had appeared to him then--very
attractive; Helen was unhappy about it, though she said nothing.
Yesterday, in the restaurant, Lorraine had seemed trite, blurred,
worn away.  He emphatically did not want to see her, and he was
glad Alix had not given away his hotel address.  It was a relief to
think, instead, of Honoria, to think of Sundays spent with her and
of saying good morning to her and of knowing she was there in his
house at night, drawing her breath in the darkness.

At five he took a taxi and bought presents for all the Peters--a
piquant cloth doll, a box of Roman soldiers, flowers for Marion,
big linen handkerchiefs for Lincoln.

He saw, when he arrived in the apartment, that Marion had accepted
the inevitable.  She greeted him now as though he were a
recalcitrant member of the family, rather than a menacing outsider.
Honoria had been told she was going; Charlie was glad to see that
her tact made her conceal her excessive happiness.  Only on his lap
did she whisper her delight and the question "When?" before she
slipped away with the other children.

He and Marion were alone for a minute in the room, and on an
impulse he spoke out boldly:

"Family quarrels are bitter things.  They don't go according to any
rules.  They're not like aches or wounds; they're more like splits
in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material.  I
wish you and I could be on better terms."

"Some things are hard to forget," she answered.  "It's a question
of confidence."  There was no answer to this and presently she
asked, "When do you propose to take her?"

"As soon as I can get a governess.  I hoped the day after
tomorrow."

"That's impossible.  I've got to get her things in shape.  Not
before Saturday."

He yielded.  Coming back into the room, Lincoln offered him a
drink.

"I'll take my daily whisky," he said.

It was warm here, it was a home, people together by a fire.  The
children felt very safe and important; the mother and father were
serious, watchful.  They had things to do for the children more
important than his visit here.  A spoonful of medicine was, after
all, more important than the strained relations between Marion and
himself.  They were not dull people, but they were very much in the
grip of life and circumstances.  He wondered if he couldn't do
something to get Lincoln out of his rut at the bank.

A long peal at the door-bell; the bonne à tout faire passed through
and went down the corridor.  The door opened upon another long
ring, and then voices, and the three in the salon looked up
expectantly; Lincoln moved to bring the corridor within his range
of vision, and Marion rose.  Then the maid came back along the
corridor, closely followed by the voices, which developed under the
light into Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles.

They were gay, they were hilarious, they were roaring with
laughter.  For a moment Charlie was astounded; unable to understand
how they ferreted out the Peters' address.

"Ah-h-h!"  Duncan wagged his finger roguishly at Charlie.  "Ah-h-
h!"

They both slid down another cascade of laughter.  Anxious and at a
loss, Charlie shook hands with them quickly and presented them to
Lincoln and Marion.  Marion nodded, scarcely speaking.  She had
drawn back a step toward the fire; her little girl stood beside
her, and Marion put an arm about her shoulder.

With growing annoyance at the intrusion, Charlie waited for them to
explain themselves.  After some concentration Duncan said:

"We came to invite you out to dinner.  Lorraine and I insist that
all this shishi, cagy business 'bout your address got to stop."

Charlie came closer to them, as if to force them backward down the
corridor.

"Sorry, but I can't.  Tell me where you'll be and I'll phone you in
half an hour."

This made no impression.  Lorraine sat down suddenly on the side of
a chair, and focussing her eyes on Richard, cried, "Oh, what a nice
little boy!  Come here, little boy."  Richard glanced at his
mother, but did not move.  With a perceptible shrug of her
shoulders, Lorraine turned back to Charlie:

"Come and dine.  Sure your cousins won' mine.  See you so sel'om.
Or solemn."

"I can't," said Charlie sharply.  "You two have dinner and I'll
phone you."

Her voice became suddenly unpleasant.  "All right, we'll go.  But I
remember once when you hammered on my door at four A.M.  I was
enough of a good sport to give you a drink.  Come on, Dunc."

Still in slow motion, with blurred, angry faces, with uncertain
feet, they retired along the corridor.

"Good night," Charlie said.

"Good night!" responded Lorraine emphatically.

When he went back into the salon Marion had not moved, only now her
son was standing in the circle of her other arm.  Lincoln was still
swinging Honoria back and forth like a pendulum from side to side.

"What an outrage!" Charlie broke out.  "What an absolute outrage!"
Neither of them answered.  Charlie dropped into an armchair, picked
up his drink, set it down again and said:

"People I haven't seen for two years having the colossal nerve--"

He broke off.  Marion had made the sound "Oh!" in one swift,
furious breath, turned her body from him with a jerk and left the
room.

Lincoln set down Honoria carefully.

"You children go in and start your soup," he said, and when they
obeyed, he said to Charlie:

"Marion's not well and she can't stand shocks.  That kind of people
make her really physically sick."

"I didn't tell them to come here.  They wormed your name out of
somebody.  They deliberately--"

"Well, it's too bad.  It doesn't help matters.  Excuse me a
minute."

Left alone, Charlie sat tense in his chair.  In the next room he
could hear the children eating, talking in monosyllables, already
oblivious to the scene between their elders.  He heard a murmur of
conversation from a farther room and then the ticking bell of a
telephone receiver picked up, and in a panic he moved to the other
side of the room and out of earshot.

In a minute Lincoln came back.  "Look here, Charlie.  I think we'd
better call off dinner for tonight.  Marion's in bad shape."

"Is she angry with me?"

"Sort of," he said, almost roughly.  "She's not strong and--"

"You mean she's changed her mind about Honoria?"

"She's pretty bitter right now.  I don't know.  You phone me at the
bank tomorrow."

"I wish you'd explain to her I never dreamed these people would
come here.  I'm just as sore as you are."

"I couldn't explain anything to her now."

Charlie got up.  He took his coat and hat and started down the
corridor.  Then he opened the door of the dining room and said in a
strange voice, "Good night, children."

Honoria rose and ran around the table to hug him.

"Good night, sweetheart," he said vaguely, and then trying to make
his voice more tender, trying to conciliate something, "Good night,
dear children."


V


Charlie went directly to the Ritz bar with the furious idea of
finding Lorraine and Duncan, but they were not there, and he
realized that in any case there was nothing he could do.  He had
not touched his drink at the Peters', and now he ordered a whisky-
and-soda.  Paul came over to say hello.

"It's a great change," he said sadly.  "We do about half the
business we did.  So many fellows I hear about back in the States
lost everything, maybe not in the first crash, but then in the
second.  Your friend George Hardt lost every cent, I hear.  Are you
back in the States?"

"No, I'm in business in Prague."

"I heard that you lost a lot in the crash."

"I did," and he added grimly, "but I lost everything I wanted in
the boom."

"Selling short."

"Something like that."

Again the memory of those days swept over him like a nightmare--the
people they had met travelling; then people who couldn't add a row
of figures or speak a coherent sentence.  The little man Helen had
consented to dance with at the ship's party, who had insulted her
ten feet from the table; the women and girls carried screaming with
drink or drugs out of public places--

--The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow
of twenty-nine wasn't real snow.  If you didn't want it to be snow,
you just paid some money.

He went to the phone and called the Peters' apartment; Lincoln
answered.

"I called up because this thing is on my mind.  Has Marion said
anything definite?"

"Marion's sick," Lincoln answered shortly.  "I know this thing
isn't altogether your fault, but I can't have her go to pieces
about it.  I'm afraid we'll have to let it slide for six months; I
can't take the chance of working her up to this state again."

"I see."

"I'm sorry, Charlie."

He went back to his table.  His whisky glass was empty, but he
shook his head when Alix looked at it questioningly.  There wasn't
much he could do now except send Honoria some things; he would send
her a lot of things tomorrow.  He thought rather angrily that this
was just money--he had given so many people money. . . .

"No, no more," he said to another waiter.  "What do I owe you?"

He would come back some day; they couldn't make him pay forever.
But he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now, beside that
fact.  He wasn't young any more, with a lot of nice thoughts and
dreams to have by himself.  He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't
have wanted him to be so alone.





This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia