Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
I leaned towards Louis, but he anticipated my question. His hand had caught my wrist and was pinning it down to the table.
"Wait!" he muttered--"wait! You perceive that we are drinking wine of the vintage of '98. I will tell you of my trip to the vineyards. Do not look at that man as though his appearance was anything remarkable. You are not an habitue here, and he will take notice of you."
As one who speaks upon the subject most interesting to him, Louis, with the gestures and swift, nervous diction of his race, talked to me of the vineyards and the cellars of the famous champagne house whose wine we were drinking. I did my best to listen intelligently, but every moment I found my eyes straying towards this new arrival, now deep in apparently pleasant conversation with Monsieur Carvin.
The newcomer had the air of one who has looked in to smile around at his acquaintances and pass on. He accepted a cigarette from Carvin, but he did not sit down, and I saw him smile a polite refusal as a small table was pointed out to him. He strolled a little into the place and he bowed pleasantly to several with whom he seemed to be acquainted, amongst whom was the man Bartot. He waved his hand to others further down the room. His circle of acquaintances, indeed, seemed unlimited. Then, with a long hand-shake and some parting jest, he took leave of Monsieur Carvin and disappeared. Somehow or other one seemed to feel the breath of relief which went shivering through the room as he departed. Louis answered then my unspoken question.
"That," he said, "is a very great man. His name is Monsieur Myers."
"The head of the police!" I exclaimed.
"The most famous," he said, "whom France has ever possessed, Monsieur Myers is absolutely marvellous," he declared. "The man has genius,--genius as well as executive ability. It is a terrible war that goes on between him and the haute ecole of crime in this country."
"Tell me, Louis," I asked, "is Monsieur Myers' visit here to-night professional?"
"Monsieur has observation," Louis answered. "Why not?"
"You mean," I asked, "that there are criminals--people under suspicion--"
"I mean," Louis interrupted, "that in this room, at the present moment, are some of the most famous criminals in the world."
A question half framed died away upon my lips. Louis, however, divined it.
"You were about to ask," he said, "how I obtained my entry here. Monsieur, one had better not ask. It is one thing to be a thief. It is quite another to see something of the wonderful life which those live who are at war with society."
I looked around the room once more. Again I realized the difference between this gathering of well-dressed men and women and any similar gathering which I had seen in Paris. The faces of all somehow lacked that tiredness of expression which seems to be the heritage of those who drink the cup of pleasure without spice, simply because the hand of Fate presses it to their lips. These people had found something else. Were they not, after all, a little to be envied? They must know what it was to feel the throb of life, to test the true flavor of its luxuries when there was no certainty of the morrow. I felt the fascination, felt it almost in my blood, as I looked around.
"You could not specify, I suppose?" I said to Louis.
"How could monsieur ask it?" he replied, a little reproachfully. "You will be one of the only people who do not belong who have been admitted here, and you will notice," he continued, "that I have asked for no pledge--I rely simply upon the honor of monsieur."
"There is crime and crime, Louis," said I. "I have never been able to believe myself that it is the same thing to rob the widow and the millionaire. I know that I must not ask you any questions," I continued, "but the girl with Delora,--the man whom you call Delora,--she, at least, is innocent of any knowledge of these things?"
"Monsieur is susceptible," he remarked. "I cannot answer that question. Mademoiselle is a stranger. She is but a child."
"And Monsieur Delora himself?" I asked. "He comes here when he chooses? He is not merely a sightseer?"
"No," Louis repeated, "he is not merely a sightseer!"
"A privileged person," I remarked.
"He is a wonderful man," Louis answered calmly. "He has travelled all over the world. He knows a little of every capital, of every side of life,--perhaps," he added, "of the underneath side."
"His niece is very beautiful," I remarked, looking at her thoughtfully. "It seems almost a shame, does it not, to bring her into such a place as this?"
"If she were going to stay in Paris--yes!" he said. "If she is really going to Brazil, it matters little what she does. A Parisian, of course, would never bring his womankind here."
"She is very beautiful," I remarked. "Yes, I agree with you, Louis. It is no place for girls of her age."
"Monsieur may make her acquaintance some day," he remarked. "Monsieur Delora is on his way to England."
"She is a safer person to admire," I remarked, "than the lady opposite?"
"Much," Louis answered emphatically. "Monsieur has already," he whispered, "been a little indiscreet. The lady of the turquoises has spoken once or twice to Bartot and looked this way. I feel sure that it was of you she spoke. See how she continually looks over the top of her fan at this table. Monsieur would do well to take no notice."
I laughed. I was thirty years old, and the love of adventure was always in my blood. For the first time for many days the weariness seemed to have passed away. My heart was beating. I was ready for any enterprise.
"Do not be afraid, Louis," I said. "I shall come to no harm. If mademoiselle looks at me, it is not gallant to look away."
Louis' face was puckered up with anxiety. He saw, too, what I had seen. Bartot had walked to the other end of the room to speak to some friends. The girl had taken a gold and jewelled pencil from the mass of costly trifles which lay with her purse upon the table, and was writing on a piece of paper which the waiter had brought. I could see her delicately manicured fingers, the blue veins at the back of her hands, as she wrote, slowly and apparently without hesitation. Both Louis and myself watched the writing of that note as though Fate itself were guiding the pencil.
"It is for you," Louis whispered in my ear. "Take no notice. It would be madness even to look at her."
"Louis!" I exclaimed protestingly.
"I mean what I say, monsieur," Louis declared, leaning toward me, and speaking in a low, earnest whisper. "The cafe below, the streets throughout this region, are peopled by his creatures. In an hour he could lead an army which would defy the whole of the gendarmes in Paris. This quarter of the city is his absolutely to do with what he wills. Do you believe that you would have a chance if he thought that she had looked twice at you,--she--Susette--the only woman who has ever led him? I tell you that he is mad with love and jealousy for her. The whole world knows of it."
"My dear Louis," I said, "you know me only in London, where I come and sit in your restaurant and eat and drink there. To you I am simply like all those others who come to you day by day,--idlers and pleasure seekers. Let me assure you, Louis, that there are other things in my life. Just now I should welcome anything in the world which meant adventure, which could teach me to forget."
"But monsieur need not seek the suicide," Louis said. "There are hundreds of adventures to be had without that."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"If mademoiselle should send me the note," I said, "surely it would not be gallant of me to refuse to accept it."
"There are other ways of seeking adventures," Louis said, "than by ending one's days in the Seine."
The girl by this time had finished her note and rolled it up. She looked behind her to the other end of the room, where only Bartot's broad back was visible. Then she raised her eyes to mine,--turquoise blue as the color of her gown,--and very faintly but very deliberately she smiled. I was not in the least in love with her. The affair to me was simply interesting because it promised a moment's distraction. But, nevertheless, as she smiled I felt my heart beat faster, and I reached a little eagerly forward as though for the note. She called a waiter to her side. I watched her whisper to him; I watched his expression--anxious and perturbed at first, doubtful, even, after her reassuring words. He looked down the room to where Bartot was standing. It seemed to me, even then, that he ventured to protest, but mademoiselle frowned and spoke to him sharply. He caught up a wine list and came to our table. Once more, before he spoke, he looked behind to where Bartot's back was still turned.
"For monsieur," he whispered, setting the wine list upon the table, and under it the note.
I nodded, and he hastened away. At that moment Bartot turned and came down the room. As he approached he looked at me once more, as though, for some reason or other, he was more than ordinarily interested in my presence. It may have been my fancy, but I thought, also, that he looked at the wine card stretched out before me.
"Be careful!" Louis whispered. "Be careful! And, for God's sake, destroy that note!"
I laughed, and as Bartot was compelled to turn his back to me to regain his seat, this time at the table with his companion, I raised my glass, looking her full in the face, and drank. Then I slipped the note from underneath the wine card into my pocket. She made the slightest of signs, but I understood. I was not to read it until I was alone.
"Go outside," Louis whispered to me. "Read your letter and get rid of it."
I obeyed him. A watchful waiter pulled the table away, and I walked out into the anteroom. Here, with a freshly lit cigarette in my mouth, I unclenched my fingers, and looked at the few words written very faintly, in long, delicate characters, across the torn sheet of paper:
Monsieur is in bad company. It would be well for him to lunch to-morrow at the Cafe de Paris, and to ask for Leon.
That was all. I tore it into small pieces and returned to my seat, altogether puzzled. It seemed to me that Louis watched me with an incomprehensible anxiety as I resumed my place by his side.
"If monsieur is ready," he suggested, "perhaps we had better go."
I rose to my feet reluctantly.
"As you will, Louis," I said.
But the time for our departure had not yet come!
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.