TWENTY-FOUR hours later Selby had
completely forgotten Rue Barrée. During the week he worked with
might and main at the studio, and Saturday night found him so tired that
he went to bed before dinner and had a nightmare about a river of yellow
ochre in which he was drowning. Sunday morning, apropos of nothing at all,
he thought of Rue Barrée and ten seconds afterwards he saw her.
It was at the flower market on the marble bridge. She was examining a pot
of pansies. The gardener had evidently thrown heart and soul into the transaction,
but Rue Barrée shook her head.
It is a question whether Selby would
have stopped then and there to inspect a cabbage-rose had not Clifford
unwound for him the yarn of the previous Tuesday. It is possible that his
curiosity was piqued, for with the exception of a hen-turkey, a boy of
nineteen is the most openly curious biped alive. From twenty until death
he tries to conceal it. But, to be fair to Selby, it is also true that
the market was attractive. Under a cloudless sky the flowers were packed
and heaped along the marble bridge to the parapet. The air was soft, the
sun spun a shadowy lacework among the palms and glowed in the hearts of
a thousand roses. Spring had come,---was in full tide. The watering carts
and sprinklers, spread freshness over the Boulevard, the sparrows had become
vulgarly obtrusive and the credulous Seine angler anxiously followed his
gaudy quill, floating among the soapsuds of the lavoirs. The white-spiked
chestnuts clad in tender green, vibrated with the hum of bees. Shoddy butterflies
flaunted their winter rags among the heliotrope. There was a smell of fresh
earth in the air, an echo of the woodland brook in the ripple of the Seine,
and swallows soared and skimmed among the anchored river craft. Somewhere
in a window, a caged bird was singing its heart out to the sky.
Selby looked at the cabbage-rose
and then at the sky. Something in the song of the caged bird may have moved
him, or perhaps it was that dangerous sweetness in the air of May.
At first he was hardly conscious
that he had stopped, then he was scarcely conscious why he had stopped,
then he thought he would move on, then he thought he wouldn't, then he
looked at Rue Barrée.
The gardener said; " Mademoiselle,
this is undoubtedly a fine pot of pansies."
Rue Barrée shook her head.
The gardener smiled. She evidently
did not want the pansies. She had bought many pots of pansies there, two
or three every spring, and never argued. What did she want then? The pansies
were evidently a feeler toward a more important transaction. The gardener
rubbed his hands and gazed about him.
"These tulips are magnificent,"
he observed, "and these hyacinths---" He fell into a trance at the mere
sight of the scented thickets.
"That," murmured Rue, pointing to
a splendid rose-bush with her furled parasol, but in spite of her, her
voice trembled a little. Selby noticed it, more shame to him that he was
listening, and the gardener noticed it, and, burying his nose in the roses,
scented a bargain. Still, to do him justice, he did not add a centime to
the honest value of the plant, for after all, Rue was probably poor, and
any one could see she was charming.
"Fifty francs, Mademoiselle."
The gardener's tone was grave. Rue
felt that argument would be wasted. They both stood silent for a moment.
The gardener did not eulogize his prize,---the rose-tree was gorgeous and
any one could see it.
"I will take the pansies," said
the girl, and drew two francs from a worn purse. Then she looked up. A
teardrop stood in the way refracting the light like a diamond, but as it
rolled into a little corner by her nose, a vision of Selby replaced it,
and when a brush of the handkerchief had cleared the startled blue eyes,
Selby himself appeared, very much embarrassed. He instantly looked up into
the sky, apparently devoured with a thirst for astronomical research, and
as he continued his investigations for fully five minutes, the gardener
looked up too and so did a policeman. Then Selby looked at the tips of
his boots, the gardener looked at him and the policeman slouched on. Rue
Barrée had been gone some time.
"What," said the gardener, "may
I offer Monsieur?"
Selby never knew why, but he suddenly
began to buy flowers. The gardener was electrified. Never before had he
sold so many flowers, never at such satisfying prices, and never, never
with such absolute unanimity of opinion with a customer. But he missed
the bargaining, the arguing, the calling of Heaven to witness. The transaction
"These tulips are magnificent!"
"They are!" cried Selby, warmly.
"But alas, they are dear."
"I will take them."
"Dieu!" murmured the gardener in
a perspiration, "he's madder than most Englishmen."
"Send it with the rest"
The gardener braced himself against
the river wall.
"That splendid rose-bush," he began
"That is a beauty. I believe it
is fifty francs---" He stopped, very red. The gardener relished his confusion.
Then a sudden cool self-possession took the place of his momentary confusion
and he held the gardener with his eye, and bullied him.
"I'll take that bush. Why did not
the young lady buy it?"
Mademoiselle is not wealthy."
"How do you know?"
"Dame, I sell her many pansies;
pansies are not expensive."
"Those are the pansies she bought?"
"These Monsieur, the blue and gold."
"Then you intend to send them to
"At midday after the market."
"Take this rose-bush with them,
and"---here he glared at the gardener, "don't you dare say from whom they
came." The gardener's eyes were like saucers, but Selby, calm and victorious,
said: "Send the others to the Hôtel du Sénat, 7 rue de Tournon.
I will leave directions with the concierge."
Then he buttoned his glove with
much dignity and stalked off, but when well around the corner and hidden
from the gardener's view, the conviction that he was an idiot came home
to him in a furious blush. Ten minutes later he sat in his room in the
Hôtel du Sénat repeating with an imbecile smile: "What an
ass I am, what an ass!"
An hour later found him in the same
chair, in the same position, his hat and gloves still on, his stick in
his hand, but he was silent, apparently lost in contemplation of his boot
toes, and his smile was less imbecile and even a bit retrospective.
End of PART TWO..... GO TO PART