"Be of Good Cheer, the Sullen Month
And a young Moon requite us by
Look how the Old one, meagre, bent,
With age and Fast, is fainting
from the sky."
THE ROOM WAS already dark. The high
roofs apposite cut off what little remained of the December daylight. The
girl drew her chair nearer the window and choosing a large needle, threaded
it, knotting the thread over her fingers. Then she smoothed the baby garment
across her knees, and bending, bit off the thread and drew the smaller
needle from where it rested in the hem. When she had brushed away the stray
threads and bits of lace, she laid it again over her knees caressingly.
Then she slipped the threaded needle from her corsage and passed it through
a button, but as the button spun down the thread, her hand faltered, the
thread snapped, and the button rolled across the floor. She raised her
head. Her eyes were fixed on a strip of waning light above the chimneys.
From somewhere in the city came sounds like the distant beating of drums,
and beyond, far beyond, a vague muttering, now growing, swelling, rumbling
in the distance like the pounding of surf upon the rocks, now like the
surf again, receding, growling, menacing. The cold had become intense,
a bitter piercing cold which strained and snapped at joist and beam and
turned the slush of yesterday to flint. From the street below every sound
broke sharp and metallic--the clatter of sabots, the rattle of shutters
or the rare sound of a human voice. The air was heavy, weighted with the
black cold as with a pall. To breathe was painful, to move an effort.
In the desolate sky there was something
that wearied, in the brooding clouds, something that saddened. It penetrated
the freezing city cut by the freezing river, the splendid city with its
towers and domes, its quays and bridges and its thousand spires. It entered
the squares, it seized the avenues and the palaces, stole across bridges
and crept among the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter, gray under the
gray of the December sky. Sadness, utter sadness. A fine icy sleet was
falling, powdering the pavement with a tiny crystalline dust. It sifted
against the window-panes and drifted in heaps along the sill. The light
at the window had nearly failed, and the girl bent low over her work. Presently
she raised her head, brushing the curls from her eyes.
"Don't forget to clean your palette."
He said, "all right," and picking
up his palette, sat down upon the floor in front of the stove. His head
and shoulders were in the shadow, but the firelight fell across his knees
and glimmered red on the blade of the palette knife. Full in the firelight
beside him stood a color-box. On the lid was carved,
École des Beaux Arts,
This inscription was ornamented
with an American and a French flag.
The sleet blew against the window-panes,
covering them with stars and diamonds, then, melting from the warmer air
within, ran down and froze again in fern-like traceries.
A dog whined and the patter of small
paws sounded on the zinc behind the stove.
"Jack, dear, do you think Hercules
The patter of paws was redoubled
behind the stove.
"He's whining," she continued nervously,
"and if it isn't because he's hungry it is because----"
Her voice faltered. A loud humming
filled the air, the windows vibrated.
"Oh, Jack," she cried, "another----"
but her voice was drowned in the scream of a shell tearing through the
"That is the nearest yet," she murmured.
"Oh, no," he answered cheerfully,
"it probably fell way over by Montmartre," and as she did not answer, he
said again with exaggerated unconcern, "They wouldn't take the trouble
to fire at the Latin Quarter; anyway they haven't a battery that can hurt
After a while she spoke up brightly.
"Jack, dear, when are you going to take me to see Monsieur West's statues?"
"I will bet," he said, throwing
down his palette and walking over to the window beside her, "that Colette
has been here today."
"Why?" she asked, opening her eyes
very wide. Then, "Oh, it's too bad!--really, men are tiresome when they
think they know everything! And I warn you that if Monsieur West is vain
enough to imagine that Colette----"
From the north another shell came
whistling and quavering through the sky, passing above them with a long-drawn
screech which left the windows singing.
"That," he blurted out, "was too
near for comfort."
They were silent for a while, then
he spoke again gayly; "Go on, Sylvia, and wither poor West;" but she only
sighed, "Oh, dear, I can never seem to get used to the shells."
He sat down on the arm of the chair
Her scissors fell jingling to the
floor; she tossed her unfinished frock after them, and putting both arms
about his neck drew him down into her lap.
"Don't go out to-night, Jack."
He kissed her uplifted face; "You
know I must; don't make it hard for me."
"But when I hear the shells and--and
know you are out in the city----"
"But they all fall in Montmartre----"
"They may all fall in the Beaux
Arts, you said yourself that two struck the Quai d'Orsay----"
"Jack have pity on me! Take me with
"And who will there be to get dinner?"
She rose and flung herself on the
"Oh, I can't get used to it and
I know you must go, but I beg you not to be late to dinner. If you knew
what I suffer! I--I cannot help it and you must be patient with me, dear."
He said, "It is as safe there as
it is in our own house."
She watched him fill the alcohol
lamp for her, and when he had lighted it and had taken his hat to go, she
jumped up and clung to him in silence. After a moment he said: "Now, Sylvia,
remember my courage is sustained by yours. Come, I must go!" She did not
move and he repeated: "I must go." Then she stepped back and he thought
she was going to speak and waited, but she only looked at him, and a little
impatiently, he kissed her again, saying: "Don't worry, dearest."
When he had reached the last flight
of stairs on his way to the street a woman hobbled out of the housekeeper's
lodge waving a letter and calling: "Monsieur Jack! Monsieur Jack! This
was left by Monsieur Fallowby!"
He took the letter, and leaning
on the threshold of the lodge, read it:
I believe Braith is dead broke and
I'm sure Fallowby is. Braith swears he isn't, and Fallowby swears he is,
so you can draw your own conclusions. I've got a scheme for dinner, and
if it works, I will let you fellows in.
"P.S.--Fallowby has shaken Hartman
and his gang, thank the Lord! There is something rotten there,--or it may
be he's only a miser."
"P.P.S.--I'm more desperately in
love than ever, but I'm sure she does not care a straw for me."
"All right," said Trent, with a
smile, to the concierge; "but tell me, how is Papa Cottard?"
The old woman shook her head and
pointed to the curtained bed in the lodge.
"Père Cottard!" he said cheerily,
"how goes the wound to-day?"
He walked over to the bed and drew
the curtains. An old man was lying among the tumbled sheets.
"Better?" smiled Trent.
"Better," repeated the man wearily;
and, after a pause; "have you any news, Monsieur Jack?"
"I haven't been out to-day. I will
bring you any rumor I may hear, though goodness knows I've got enough of
rumors," he muttered to himself. Then aloud: "Cheer up; you're looking
"And the sortie?"
"Oh, the sortie, that's for this
week. General Trochu sent orders last night."
"It will be terrible."
"It will be sickening," thought
Trent as he went out into the street and turned the corner toward the rue
de Seine; "slaughter, slaughter, phew! I'm glad I'm not going."
The street was almost deserted.
A few women muffled in tattered military capes crept along the frozen pavement,
and a wretchedly clad gamin hovered over the sewer hole on the corner of
the Boulevard. A rope around his waist held his rags together. From the
rope hung a rat, still warm and bleeding.
"There's another in there," he yelled
at Trent; "I hit him but he got away."
Trent crossed the street and asked:
"Two francs for a quarter of a fat
one; that's what they give at the St. Germain Market."
A violent fit of coughing interrupted
him, but he wiped his face with the palm of his hand and looked cunningly
"Last week you could buy a rat for
six francs, but," and here he swore vilely, "the rats have quit the rue
de Seine and they kill them now over by the new hospital. I'll let you
have this one for seven francs; I can sell it for ten in the Isle St. Louis."
"You lie," said Trent, "and let
me tell you that if you try to swindle anybody in this quarter the people
will make short work of you and your rats."
He stood for a moment eyeing the
gamin, who pretended to snivel. Then he tossed him a franc, laughing. The
child caught it, and thrusting it into his mouth wheeled about to the sewer
hole. For a second he crouched, motionless, alert, his eyes on the bars
of the drain, then leaping forward he hurled a stone into the gutter, and
Trent left him to finish a fierce gray rat that writhed squealing at the
mouth of the sewer.
"Suppose Braith should come to that,"
he thought; "poor little chap;" and hurrying, he turned in the dirty passage
des Beaux Arts and entered the third house to the left.
"Monsieur is at home," quavered
the old concierge.
Home? A garret absolutely bare,
save for the iron bedstead in the corner and the iron basin and pitcher
on the floor.
West appeared at the door, winking
with much mystery and motioned Trent to enter. Braith, who was painting
in bed to keep warm, looked up, laughed, and shook hands.
The perfunctory question was answered
as usual by: "nothing but the cannon."
Trent sat down on the bed.
"Where on earth did you get that?"
he demanded, pointing to a half-finished chicken nestling in a wash-basin.
"Are you millionaires, you two?
Out with it."
Braith, looking a little ashamed,
began. "Oh, it's one of West's exploits," but was cut short by West, who
said he would tell the story himself.
"You see, before the siege, I had
a letter of introduction to a "type" here, a fat banker, German-American
variety. You know the species, I see. Well, of course I forgot to present
the letter, but this morning, judging it to be a favorable opportunity,
I called on him.
"The villain lives in comfort,--fires,
my boy!--fires in the anterooms! The Buttons finally condescends to carry
my letter and card up, leaving me standing in the hallway, which I did
not like, so I entered the first room I saw and nearly fainted at the sight
of a banquet on a table by the fire. Down comes Buttons, very insolent.
No, oh, no, his master 'is not at home, and in fact is too busy to receive
letters of introduction just now; the siege, and many business difficulties----'
"I deliver a kick to Buttons, pick
up this chicken from the table, toss my card on to the empty plate, and
addressing Buttons as a species of Prussian pig, march out with the honors
Trent shook his head.
"I forgot to say that Hartman often
dines there, and I draw my own conclusions," continued West. "Now about
this chicken, half of it is for Braith and myself and half for Colette,
but of course you will help me eat my part because I'm not hungry."
"Neither am I," began Braith, but
Trent, with a smile at the pinched faces before him shook his head saying,
"What nonsense! You know I'm never hungry!"
West hesitated, reddened, and then
slicing off Braith's portion, but not eating any himself, said, good-night,
and hurried away to number 470 rue Serpente, where lived a pretty girl
named Colette, orphan after Sedan, and Heaven alone knew where she got
the roses in her cheeks, for the siege came hard on the poor.
"That chicken will delight her,
but I really believe she's in love with West," said Trent. Then walking
over to the bed; "See here, old man, no dodging, you know, how much have
The other hesitated and flushed.
"Come, old chap," insisted Trent.
Braith drew a purse from beneath
his bolster and handed it to his friend with a simplicity that touched
"Seven sous," he counted; "you make
me tired! Why on earth don't you come to me? I take it d--d ill, Braith!
How many times must I go over the same thing and explain to you that because
I have money it is my duty to share it, and your duty and the duty of every
American to share it with me? You can't get a cent, the city's blockaded,
and the American Minister has his hands full with all the German riff-raff
and deuce knows what! Why don't you act sensibly?"
"I--I will, Trent, but it's an obligation
that perhaps I can never even in part repay, I'm poor and----"
"Of course you'll pay me! If I were
a usurer I would take your talent for security. When you are rich and famous----"
"All right, only no more monkey
He slipped a dozen gold pieces into
the purse and tucking it again under the mattress smiled at Braith.
"How old are you?" he demanded.
Trent laid his hand lightly on his
friend's shoulder. "I'm twenty-two, and I have the rights of a grandfather
as far as you are concerned. You'll do as I say until you're twenty-one."
"The siege will be over then I hope,"
said Braith trying to laugh, but the prayer in their hearts: "How long,
O Lord, how long!" was answered by the swift scream of a shell soaring
among the storm-clouds of that December night.
End of PART ONE..... GO TO PART