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NEWS OF PARIS--FIFTEEN YEARS AGO


by


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)


Furioso, Winter, 1947



"We shouldn't both be coming from the same direction," Ruth said.
"A lot of people know we're at the same hotel."

Henry Haven Dell smiled and then they both laughed.  It was a
bright morning in April and they had just turned off the Champs
Elysées toward the English Church.

"I'll walk on the other side of the street," he said, "and then
we'll meet at the door."

"No, we oughtn't even to sit together.  I'm a countess--laugh it
off but anything I do will be in that damn 'Boulevardier.'"

They stopped momentarily.

"But I hate to leave you," he said.  "You look so lovely."

"I hate to leave you too," she whispered.  "I never knew how nice
you were.  But good-bye."

Half way across the street, he stopped to a great screech of auto
horns playing Debussy.

"We're lunching," he called back.

She nodded, but continued to walk looking straight ahead on her
sidewalk.  Henry Haven Dell continued his crossing and then walked
quickly, from time to time throwing a happy glance at the figure
across the way.

--I wonder if they have telephones in churches, he thought.  After
the ceremony he would see.

He stood in a rear row, catching Ruth's eye from time to time,
teasing her.  It was a very fashionable wedding.  As the bride and
groom came down the aisle the bride caught his arm and took him
with them down the street.

"Isn't it fun," the bride said.  "And just think, Henry, I almost
married you."

Her husband laughed.

--at what, Henry thought.  I could have had her if she'd really
been the one.

Aloud he said:

"I have to telephone before the reception."

"The hotel's full of phones.  Come and stand beside me.  I want you
to be the first to know."

He got to the phone only after an hour.

"The Paris is delayed," said the Compagnie Transatlantique.  "We
can't give you an exact hour.  Not before four."

"Oh, no, Monsieur--not possibly."

Good.  In the lobby he joined a party of wedding guests and
repaired to the Ritz on the man's part of the bar.  You couldn't be
with women incessantly.

"How long will you be in Paris, Henry?"

"That's not a fair question.  I can always tell you how long I'll
be in New York or London."

He had two cocktails--each at a different table.  A little before
one when the confusion and din were at their height he went out
into the Rue Cambon.  There was not a taxi to be had--the doormen
were chasing them all the way up to the Rue de Rivoli.  One sailed
into port with a doorman on the running board but a lovely little
brunette in pale green was already waiting.

"Oh, look," begged Henry.  "You're not by any chance going near the
Bois?"

He was getting into the cab as he spoke.  His morning coat was a
sort of introduction.  She nodded.

"I'm lunching there."

"I'm Henry Dell," he said, lifting his hat.

"Oh, it's you--at last," she said eagerly.  "I'm Bessie Wing--born
Leighton.  I know all your cousins."

"Isn't this nice," he exclaimed and she agreed.

"I'm breaking my engagement at luncheon," she said.  "And I'll name
you."

"Really breaking your engagement?"

"At the Café Dauphine--from one to two."

"I'll be there--from time to time I'll look at you."

"What I want to know is--does he take me home afterward.  I'm not
Emily Posted."

On impulse he said:

"No, I do.  You may be faint or something.  I'll keep an eye on
you."

She shook her head.

"No--it wouldn't be reverend this afternoon," she said.  "But I'll
be here weeks."

"This afternoon," he said.  "You see, there's a boat coming in."

After a moment's reluctance she answered:

"I do ALMOST know you.  Leave it this way.  If you see me talk
shaking a spoon back and forth I'll meet you in front in five
minutes."

Ruth was waiting at table.  Henry talked lazily to her for ten
minutes, watching her face and the spring light upon the table.
Then with a casual glance he located Bessie Wing across the room,
deep in conversation with a man of twenty-six, his own age.

"We'll have this afternoon--and then good-bye," said Ruth.

"Not even this afternoon," he answered solemnly, "I'm meeting the
boat in an hour."

"I'm sorry, Henry.  Hasn't it been fun?"

"Lots of fun.  So much fun."  He felt sincerely sad.

"It's just as well," said Ruth with a little effort, "I have
fittings that I've postponed.  Remember me when you go to the Opera
or out to St.-Germain."

"I'll do my best to forget you."

A little later he saw the spoon waving.

"Let me go first," he said.  "I somehow couldn't bear to sit here
and see you walk off."

"All right, I'll sit here and think."

Bessie was waiting under a pear tree in front--they crammed hastily
into a taxi like escaping children.

"Was it bad?" he asked.  "I watched you.  There were tears in his
eyes."

She nodded.

"It was pretty bad."

"Why did you break it?"

"Because my first marriage was a flop.  There were so many men
around that when I married I didn't know who I loved any more.  So
there didn't seem to be any point if you know what I mean.  Why
should it have been Hershell Wing?"

"How about this other man?"

"It would have been the same way only now it would be my fault
because I know."

They sat in the cool American drawing room of her apartment and had
coffee.

"For anyone so beautiful--" he said, "there must be many times like
those.  When there isn't a man--there's just men."

"There was a man once," she said, "when I was sixteen.  He looked
like you.  He didn't love me."

Henry went and sat beside her on the fauteuil.

"That happens too," said Henry.  "Perhaps the safest way is 'Ships
that pass in the night.'"

She held back a little.

"I don't want to be old-fashioned but we don't know each other."

"Sure we do--remember--we met this morning."

She laughed.

"Sedative for a broken engagement!"

"The specific one," he said.

It was quiet in the room.  The peacocks in the draperies stirred in
the April wind.

Later they stood on her balcony arm in arm and looked over a sea of
green leaves to the Arc de Triomphe.

"Where is the phone?" he asked suddenly.  "Never mind--I know."

He went inside, picked up the phone beside her bed.

"Compagnie Générale? . . .  How about the boat train from the
Paris?"

"Oh, she has not docked in Havre yet, monsieur.  Call in several
hours.  The delay has been at Southampton."

Returning to the balcony Henry said:

"All right--let's do go to the Exposition."

"I have to, you see," she said.  "This woman, Mary Tolliver I told
you about--she's the only person I can go to with what I did at
luncheon.  She'll understand."

"Would she understand about us too?"

"She'll never know.  She's been an ideal of mine since I was
sixteen."

She was not much older than Bessie, Henry thought as they met her
in the Crillon lobby--she was a golden brown woman, very trim and
what the French call "soignée"--which means washed and something
more.  She had an American painter and an Austrian sculptor with
her and Henry gathered that they were both a little in love with
her, or else exploiting her for money--money evident in the Renault
town car that took them to the exhibition of decorative arts that
ringed the Seine.

They walked along through the show, passed the chromium rails, the
shining economy of steel that was to change the furniture of an
era.  Henry, once art editor of the Harvard Lampoon, was not
without a seeing eye but he let the painter and sculptor talk.
When they sat down for an apéritif afterwards, Bessie sat very
close to him--Mary Tolliver smiled and saw.  She looked
appraisingly at Henry.

"Have you two known each other long?" she asked.

"Years," said Henry.  "She is a sister to me.  And now I must leave
you all--after a charming afternoon."

Bessie looked at him reproachfully, started to rise with him--
controlled herself.

"I told you there was a boat," he said gently.

"Ship," she answered.

As he walked away he saw the painter move to the chair he had
vacated by her side.

The Paris was still delayed at Southampton and Henry considered
what to do.  When you have been doing nothing in a pleasant way a
long time it is difficult to fill in stray hours.  More difficult
than for one who works.  In the country he might have exercised--
here there were only faces over tables.  And there must continue to
be faces over tables.

--I am become a contemptible drone, he thought.  I must give at
least a thought to duty.

He taxied over to the left bank--to the Rue Nôtre-Dame des Champs--
to call on a child he had endowed just after the war.  A beautiful
little orphan who begged in front of the Café du Dôme, Henry had
sent her for three years to convent.  He saw her once or twice each
summer--not now for almost a year.

"Hélène is out," said a new concierge whom Henry did not know.
"How should I guess where she is?  At the Café des Lilas?  At
Lipps?"

He was faintly shocked--then faintly reassured when he found her at
Lipps, the beer place which was, at least, a step more respectable
than the Dôme or the Rotonde.  She left the two Americans with whom
she was sitting and embraced him shyly.

"What are you preparing to do, Hélène?" he demanded kindly.  "What
profession do the nuns teach you?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I shall marry," she said.  "A rich American if I can.  That young
man I just left for example--he is on the staff of the New York
Herald Tribune."

"Reporters are not rich," he reproved her, "and that one doesn't
look very promising."

"Oh, he is drunk now," said Hélène, "but at times he is all one
would desire."

Henry had been a romantic four years ago--right after the war.  He
had in no sense brought up this girl to marry or for anything else.
Yet the thought was in his mind then, What if she could continue to
be a great beauty.  And now as he looked at her he felt a surge of
jealousy toward the reporter.





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