CHAPTER II

IT is presumably a question of mood and of temperament. There are men to whom Gerard's manner of life would be quite incomprehensible. To each his folly. They would pardon no doubt his first deviation from what is considered the moral norm, but they would describe his abandonment to happiness in Aix and in Provence as an idiocy, and they would have no words for his stupidity in walking again with open eyes into the entanglement from which circumstance had apparently freed him. The truth is that Gerard did not stop to think, could not stop indeed. Vaguely he knew that to continue in this way of life was impossible, that somewhere, some time, something would crack. But for the present he was in love and enslaved, enslaved by passion and folly, and what would happen next week or next month or next year he did not pause to consider. To Mary and the children he tried to be fair: he did not neglect them; Mary did not need deceiving: she deceived herself. Such preoccupations as he allowed himself were not concerned with the household at St. Cloud but with money. He was spending ever so much too much. He determined that this should not continue. He would stop it, if not to-day then soon. And in the meantime it was a considerable consolation to remember that he had had no period of extravagance in his youth, that he had been sobriety and respectability personified, and that, after all, he was not, not yet at least, actually embarrassing himself financially by what he was doing. In fact with regard to the present his eyes were open, and the future he refused to take into account. Things would surely come right.

Of course he was worried that his brother should have heard of his infatuation. That he should know of it was bad enough, but that he should have heard of it was worse. But perhaps it was natural that Gervase should have heard of it just because he was his brother: for other people he had no particular interest; he was just one of several thousands of Englishmen in Paris with names that meant nothing very much to people who heard them. He had not any distinctions that made it likely that he would be talked about—and at the worst there were very few people who could talk. He had long ago realised that the world that frequents Montmartre is not a big one. After all, vice has not so many votaries. One sees again and again the same people, the same men and women at Fysher's and Delmas', at the Trianon and the Abbaye, at Aix and at the races, and by now most of them would know him by sight; but they had their own preoccupations and it was certain that they would not have enough curiosity about him to inquire into his identity or to discuss his behaviour. It was a small circle, an intimate circle, and although now and again a strange Englishman drifted through it, he did not stop long enough to be dangerous.

Gervase Blundell had proved right: his brother had not gone home.

The low ceiling of the narrow, small room at the Esqueline sent back the acrid heat in waves; it was four in the morning. An undersized Italian was singing a sentimental ballad with all the airs of a favourite of grand opera to an audience that paid no attention to his efforts. Why should they indeed? He did not sing well, and his predatory eyes were already wondering to what fools he could sell the little printed sheet of his music at a price one hundredfold what it cost him. Not many fools came to the Esqueline but those that did come were fair game.

It was a strange crowd. It sat round the room in couples, drinking champagne and here and there staying its appetite with poached eggs floating in consomme. Most of the women looked as if they never went to bed, their companions as if dissipation were the business of their lives. If one wished to see this gay world as it was when it was not posturing for the amusement of the money-bringing visitor, the Esqueline was the very place. . . .

Suddenly the little Italian ceased and in place of his indifferent notes a divine voice floated into the room. "That's Sammarcagno, Gerard," Hlona said, and explained that Sammarcagno was a star of opera. The singer was amusing himself. The song was one of his own favourites and he could not resist the pleasure of startling the air with the beauty which was at his command. The room stilled—for a minute. Only one stanza would the singer give, and when it was over everyone took up his affairs, his conversation, just where he had dropped them, as if such episodes were of everyday occurrence—as indeed, in one shape or another, they were.

At one of the tables sat Fleurette Mayer with a young Frenchman. She looked sad and had moreover a bemused air. "That's ether," Illona said; " she'll finish herself one day with it."

« Elona, I don't like her."

"That's a pity, my dear: 7 like her though, and perhaps that's enough. She's a good sort when she's not fighting, and she's generous—she can afford to be, you know. Did you ever hear how she began to be rich? It's amusing. It was two years ago. We were all here and it was nearly five o'clock. Jacques Mayer was sitting over there in the corner with a crowd of boys— men, I mean "—she clapped her hand to her mouth and looked comically ashamed—" and two or three girls. Fleurette was a poor little shrimp then, pretty if you will, but very good in her air, and she and Ferrat and I were quite close: we could hear everything that was said—and it wasn't very nice, I can tell you, most of it. After a while Mayer, who was a little drunk, got up and stretched himself and said he was going home, that he was tired. 'But I won't go home alone,' he said;' isn't there some nice girl here that I don't know already who'll go home with me?' At that Ferrat nudged Fleurette and whispered: 'Quick, there's your chance! Offer yourself. But when the morning comes and he wants to give you money donlt take it: say you went with him because you liked him. Tu verras! It's young Mayer. Now quick and be careful.' Fleurette, whose air of goodness was not very serious, jumped up in a moment and ran across to Mayer—you know who the Mayers are?—and took him by the arm and looked up into his eyes. I could have laughed. She had the appearance of a young girl who had never seen a man before. 'Who's this?' Mayer said rather drunkenly;' why, it's that little girl from the other side of the room. You want to come with me? Bien. You'll do as well as another. Viens vite!' and in a minute they were gone. Well, everything came about as Ferrat had planned. Mayer produced a thousand francs, Fleurette told her, and although she hadn't a dress to her back and owed for her rent she had the intelligence to remember what Ferrat had said and refused to take them. She pretended that she had always loved him, and so on. Well, he wasn't used to girls who refused money like that, and he believed her, and afterwards he bought her a house and an automobile and he kept her and actually fell in love with her. There wasn't any secret about it. Then his family got frightened and made him marry someone in his own class quickly, but before that happened he gave her an income of thirty thousand francs a year for her life, so that he could be sure she wouldn't need for anything."

"And who's she with now? That Frenchman I mean. Is he Mayer's successor?"

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