"IT is fortunate," said Severn,
sitting up and stretching, "that we have tided over the dinner hour, for
I have nothing to offer you for supper but what may be purchased with one
The cat on his knee rose, arched
her back yawned, and looked up at him,
"What shall it be ? A roast chicken
with salad ? No ? Possibly you prefer beef? Of course,---and I shall try
an egg and some white bread. Now for the wines. Milk for you? Good. I shall
take a little water, fresh from fl~e wood," with a motion toward the bucket
in the sink.
He put on his hat and left the room.
The Cat followed to the door, and after he had closed it behind him, she
settled down, smelling at the cracks, and cocking one ear at every creak
from the crazy old building.
The door below opened and shut.
The cat looked serious, for a moment doubtful, and her ears flattened in
nervous expectation. Presently, she rose with a jerk of her tail and started
on a noiseless tour of the studio. She sneezed at a pot of turpentine,
hastily retreating to the table, which she presently mounted, and having
satisfied her curiosity Concerning a roll of red modelling wax, returned
to the door and sat down with her eyes on the crack over the threshold.
Then she lifted her voice in a thin plaint.
When Severn returned he looked grave,
but the cat, joyous and demonstrative, marched around him, rubbing her
gaunt body against his legs, driving her head enthusiastically into his
hand, and purring until her voice mounted to a squeal.
He placed a bit of meat, wrapped
in brown paper, upon the table, and with a penknife cut it into shreds.
The milk he took from a bottle which had served for medicine, and poured
it into the saucer on the hearth.
The cat crouched before it, purring
and lapping at the same time.
He cooked his egg and ate it with
a slice of bread, watching her busy with the shredded meat, and when he
had finished, and had filled and emptied a cup of water from the bucket
in the sink, he sat clown, taking lier into his fap, where she at once
curled up and began her toilet. He began to speak again, touching her caressingly
at times by way of emphasis.
"Cat, I have found out where your
mistress lives. It is not very far away;---it is here, under this same
leaky roof, but in the north wing which I had supposed was uninhabited.
My janitor tells me this. By chance, he is almost sober this evening. The
butcher on the rue de Seine, where I bought your meat, knows you, and old
Cabane the baker iden' tified you with needless sarcasm. They tell me hard
tales of your mistress which I shall not believe. They say she is idle
and vain and pleasure-loving; they say she is harebrained and reckless.
The little sculptor on the ground floor, who was buying rolls from old
Cabane, spoke to me to-night for the first time, although we have always
bowed to each other. He said she was very good and very beautiful. He has
only seen her once, and does not know her name. I thanked him;---I don't
know why I thanked him so warmly. Cabane said, "Into this cursed Street
of the Four Winds, the four winds blow all things evil." The sculptor looked
confused, but when he went out with his rolls, he said to me, "I am sure,
Monsieur, that she is as good as she is beautiful."
The cat had finished her toilet
and now, springing softly to the floor, went to the door and sniffed. He
knelt beside her, and unclasp ing the garter held it for a moment in his
hands. After a while he said: "There is a name engraved upon the silver
clasp beneath the buckle. It is a, pretty name, Sylvia Elven. Sylvia is
a woman's name, Elven is the name of a town. In Paris, in this quarter,
above all, in this Street of the Four Winds, names are worn and put away
as the fashions change with the seasons. I know the little town of Elven,
for there I met Fate face to face and Fate was unkind. But do you know
that in Elven Fate had another name, and that name was Sylvia?"
He replaced the garter and stood
up looking down at the cat crouched before the closed door.
"The name of Elven has a charm for
me. tt tells me of meadows and clear rivers. The name of Sylvia troubles
me like perfume from dead flowers."
The cat mewed.
"Yes, yes," he said soothingly,
"I will take you back. Your Sylvia is not my Sylvia; the world is wide
and Elven is not unknown. Yet in the darkness and filth of poorer Paris,
in the sad shadows of this ancient house, these names are very pleasant
He lifted her in his arms and strode
through the silent corridors to the stairs. Down five flights and into
the moonlit court, past the little sculptor's den, and then again in at
the gate of the north wing and up the worm-eaten stairs he passed, until
he came to a closed door. When he had stood knocking for a long time, something
moved behind the door; it opened and he went in. The room was dark. As
he crossed the threshold, the cat sprang from his arms into the shadows.
He listened but heard nothing. The silence was oppressive and he struck
a match. At his elbow stood a table and on the table a candle in a gilded
candlestick. This he lighted, then looked around. The chamber was vast,
the hangings heavy with embroidery. Over the fireplace towered a carved
mantel, gray with the ashes of dead fires. In a recess by the deep-set
windows stood a bed, from which the bed-clothes, soft and fine as lace,
trailed to the polished floor. He lifted the candle above his head. A handkerchief
lay at his feet. It was faintly perfumed. He turned toward the windows.
In front of them was a canapé and over it were flung, pell-mell,
a gown of silk, a heap of lace-like garments, white and delicate as spiders'
meshes, long, crumpled gloves, and, on the floor beneath, the stockings,
the little pointed shoes, and one garter of rosy silk, quaintly flowered
and fitted with a silver clasp. Wondering, he stepped forwarded and drew
the heavv curtains from the bed. For a moment the candle flared in his
hand; then his eyes met two other eyes, wide open, smiling, and the candle
flame flashed over hair heavy as gold.
She was pale, but not as white as
he; her eyes were untroubled as a child's ; but he stared, trembling from
head to foot while the candle flickered in his hand.
At last he whispered : " Sylvia,
it is I."
Again he said, "It is I."
Then, knowing that she was dead,
he kissed her on the mouth. And through the long watches of the night,
the cat purred on his knee, tightening and relaxing her padded claws, until
the sky paled above the Street of the Four Winds.