The Incomplete Amorist

Part 4 - The Other Man

E. Nesbit

Chapter 21 - The Flight


The full sunlight streamed into the room when Betty, her packing done, drew back the curtain. She looked out on the glazed roof of the laundry, the lead roof of the office, the blank wall of the new grocery establishment in the Rue de Rennes. Only a little blue sky shewed at the end of the lane, between roofs, by which the sun came in. Not a tree, not an inch of grass, in sight; only, in her room, half a dozen roses that Temple had left for her, and the white marguerite plant - tall, sturdy, a little tree almost - that Vernon had sent in from the florist's next door but two. Everything was packed. She would say good-bye to Madame Bianchi; and she would go, and leave no address, as she had promised last night.

"Why did you promise?" she asked herself. And herself replied:

"Don't you bother. We'll talk about all that when we've got away from Paris. He was quite right. You can't think here."

"You'd better tell the cabman some other station. That cat of a concierge is sure to be listening."

"Ah, right. I don't want to give him any chance of finding me, even if he did say he wanted to marry me."

A fleet lovely picture of herself in bridal smart travelling clothes arriving at the Rectory on Vernon's arm:

"Aren't you sorry you misjudged him so, Father?" Gentle accents refraining from reproach. A very pretty picture. Yes. Dismissed.

Now the carriage swaying under the mound of Betty's luggage starts for the Gare du Nord. In the Rue Notre Dame des Champs Betty opens her mouth to say, "Gare de Lyons." No: this is his street. Better cross it as quickly as may be. At the Church of St. Germain - yes.

The coachman smiles at the new order: like the concierge he scents an intrigue, whips up his horse, and swings round to the left along the prettiest of all the boulevards, between the full-leafed trees. Past Thirion's. Ah!

That thought, or pang, or nausea - Betty doesn't quite know what it is - keeps her eyes from the streets till the carriage is crossing the river. Why - there is Notre Dame! It ought to be miles away. Suppose Vernon should have been leaning out of his window when she passed across the street, seen her, divined her destination, followed her in the fleetest carriage accessible? The vision of a meeting at the station:

"Why are you going away? What have I done?" The secret of this, her great renunciation - the whole life's sacrifice to that life's idol - honor, wrung from her. A hand that would hold hers - under pretence of taking her bundle of rugs to carry. - She wished the outermost rug were less shabby! Vernon's voice.

"But I can't let you go. Why ruin two lives - nay, three? For it is you only that I - "

Dismissed.

It is very hot. Paris is the hottest place in the world. Betty is glad she brought lavender water in her bag. Wishes she had put on her other hat. This brown one is hot; and besides, if Vernon were to be at the station. Interval. Dismissed.

Betty has never before made a railway journey alone. This gives one a forlorn feeling. Suppose she has to pay excess on her luggage, or to wrangle about contraband? She has heard all about the Octroi. Is lavender water smuggling? And what can they do to you for it? Vernon would know all these things. And if he were going into the country he would be wearing that almost-white rough suit of his and the Panama hat. A rose - Madame Abel de Chatenay - would go well with that coat. Why didn't brides consult their bridegrooms before they bought their trousseaux? You should get your gowns to rhyme with your husband's suits. A dream of a dress that would be, with all the shades of Madame Abel cunningly blended. A honeymoon lasts at least a month. The roses would all be out at Long Barton by the time they walked up that moss-grown drive, and stood at the Rectory door, and she murmured in the ear of the Reverend Cecil: "Aren't you sorry you - "

Dismissed. And perforce, for the station was reached.

Betty, even in the brown hat, attracted the most attractive of the porters - also, of course, the most attractable. He thought he spoke English, and though this was not so, yet the friendly blink of his Breton-blue eyes and his encouraging smile gave to his:

"Bourron? Mais oui - dix heures vingt. Par ici, Meess. Je m'occuperai de vous. Et des bagages aussi - all right," quite the ring of one's mother tongue.

He made everything easy for Betty, found her a carriage without company ("I can cry here if I like," said the Betty that Betty liked least), arranged her small packages neatly in the rack, took her 50 centime piece as though it had been a priceless personal souvenir, and ran half the length of the platform to get a rose from another porter's button-hole. He handed it to her through the carriage window.

"Pour égayer le voyage de Meess. All right!" he smiled, and was gone.

She settled herself in the far corner, and took off her hat. The carriage was hot as any kitchen. With her teeth she drew the cork of the lavender water bottle, and with her handkerchief dabbed the perfume on forehead and ears.

"Ah, Mademoiselle - De grace!" - the voice came through the open window beside her. A train full of young soldiers was beside her train, and in the window opposite hers three boys' faces crowded to look at her. Three hands held out three handkerchiefs - not very white certainly, but -

Betty smiling reached out the bottle and poured lavender water on each outheld handkerchief.

"Ah, le bon souvenir!" said one.

"We shall think of the beauty of an angel of Mademoiselle every time we smell the perfume so delicious," said the second.

"And longer than that - oh, longer than that by all a life!" cried the third.

The train started. The honest, smiling boy faces disappeared. Instinctively she put her head out of the window to look back at them. All three threw kisses at her.

"I ought to be offended," said Betty, and instantly kissed her hand in return.

"How nice French people are!" she said as she sank back on the hot cushions.

And now there was leisure to think - real thoughts, not those broken, harassing dreamings that had buzzed about her between 57 Boulevard Montparnasse and the station. Also, as some one had suggested, one could cry.

She leaned back, eyes shut. Her next thought was:

"I have been to sleep."

She had. The train was moving out of a station labelled Fontainebleau.

"And oh, the trees!" said Betty, "the green thick trees! And the sky. You can see the sky."

Through the carriage window she drank delight from the far grandeur of green distances, the intimate beauty of green rides, green vistas, as a thirsty carter drinks beer from the cool lip of his can - a thirsty lover madness from the warm lips of his mistress.

"Oh, how good! How green and good!" she told herself over and over again till the words made a song with the rhythm of the blundering train and the humming metals.

"Bourron!"

Her station. Little, quiet, sunlit, like the station at Long Barton; a flaming broom bush and the white of May and acacia blossom beyond prim palings; no platform - a long leap to the dusty earth. The train went on, and Betty and her boxes seemed dropped suddenly at the world's end.

The air was fresh and still. A chestnut tree reared its white blossoms like the candles on a Christmas tree for giant children. The white dust of the platform sparkled like diamond dust. May trees and laburnums shone like silver and gold. And the sun was warm and the tree-shadows black on the grass. And Betty loved it all.

"Oh!" she said suddenly, "it's a year ago to-day since I met him - in the warren."

A shadow caressed and stung her. She would have liked it to wear the mask of love foregone - to have breathed plaintively of hopes defeated and a broken heart. Instead it shewed the candid face of a real homesickness, and it spoke with convincing and abominably aggravating plainness - of Long Barton.

The little hooded diligence was waiting in the hot white dust outside the station.

"But yes. - It is I who transport all the guests of Madame Chevillon," said the smiling brown-haired bonnetless woman who held the reins.

Betty climbed up beside her.

Along a straight road that tall ranks of trees guarded but did not shade, through the patchwork neatness of the little culture that makes the deep difference between peasant France and pastoral England, down a steep hill into a little white town, where vines grew out of the very street to cling against the faces of the houses and wistaria hung its mauve pendants from every arch and lintel.

The Hotel Chevillon is a white-faced house, with little unintelligent eyes of windows, burnt blind, it seems, in the sun - neat with the neatness of Provincial France.

Out shuffled an old peasant woman in short skirt, heavy shoes and big apron, her arms bared to the elbow, a saucepan in one hand, a ladle in the other. She beamed at Betty.

"I wish to see Madame Chevillon."

"You see her, ma belle et bonne," chuckled the old woman. "It is me, Madame Chevillon. You will rooms, is it not? You are artist? All who come to the Hotel are artist. Rooms? Marie shall show you the rooms, at the instant even. All the rooms - except one - that is the room of the English Artist - all that there is of most amiable, but quite mad. He wears no hat, and his brain boils in the sun. Mademoiselle can chat with him: it will prevent that she bores herself here in the Forest."

Betty disliked the picture.

"I think perhaps," she said, translating mentally as she spoke, "that I should do better to go to another hotel, if there is only one man here and he is - "

She saw days made tiresome by the dodging of a lunatic - nights made tremulous by a lunatic's yelling soliloquies.

"Ah," said Madame Chevillon comfortably, "I thought Mademoiselle was artist; and for the artists and the Spaniards the convenances exist not. But Mademoiselle is also English. They eat the convenances every day with the soup. - See then, my cherished. The English man, he is not a dangerous fool, only a beast of the good God; he has the atelier and the room at the end of the corridor. But there is, besides the Hotel, the Garden Pavilion, un appartement of two rooms, exquisite, on the first, and the garden room that opens big upon the terrace. It is there that Mademoiselle will be well!"

Betty thought so too, when she had seen the "rooms exquisite on the first" - neat, bare, well-scrubbed rooms with red-tiled floors, scanty rugs and Frenchly varnished furniture - the garden room too, with big open hearth and no furniture but wicker chairs and tables.

"Mademoiselle can eat all alone on the terrace. The English mad shall not approach. I will charge myself with that. Mademoiselle may repose herself here as on the bosom of the mother of Mademoiselle."

Betty had her déjeuner on the little stone terrace with rickety rustic railings. Below lay the garden, thick with trees.

Away among the trees to the left an arbour. She saw through the leaves the milk-white gleam of flannels, heard the chink of china and cutlery. There, no doubt, the mad Englishman was even now breakfasting. There was the width of the garden between them. She sat still till the flannel gleam had gone away among the trees. Then she went out and explored the little town. She bought a blue packet of cigarettes. Miss Voscoe had often tried to persuade her to smoke. Most of the girls did. Betty had not wanted to do it any more for that. She had had a feeling that Vernon would not like her to smoke.

And in Paris one had to be careful. But now -

"I am absolutely my own master," she said. "I am staying by myself at a hotel, exactly like a man. I shall feel more at home if I smoke. And besides, no one can see me. It's just for me. And it shows I don't care what he likes."

Lying in a long chair reading one of her Tauchnitz books and smoking, Betty felt very manly indeed.

The long afternoon wore on. The trees of the garden crowded round Betty with soft whispers in a language not known of the trees on the boulevards.

"I am very very unhappy," said Betty with a deep sigh of delight.

She went in, unpacked, arranged everything neatly. She always arranged everything neatly, but nothing ever would stay arranged. She wrote to her father, explaining that Madame Gautier had brought her and the other girls to Grez for the summer, and she gave as her address:

Chez Madame Chevillon, Pavilion du Jardin, Grez.

"I shall be very very unhappy to-morrow," said Betty that night, laying her face against the coarse cool linen of her pillow; "to-day I have been stunned - -I haven't been able to feel anything. But to-morrow."

To-morrow, she knew, would be golden and green even as to-day. But she should not care. She did not want to be happy. How could she be happy now that she had of her own free will put away the love of her life? She called and beckoned to all the thoughts that the green world shut out, and they came at her call, fluttering black wings to hide the sights and sounds of field and wood and green garden, and making their nest in her heart.

"Yes," she said, turning the hot rough pillow, "now it begins to hurt again. I knew it would."

It hurt more than she had meant it to hurt, when she beckoned those black-winged thoughts. It hurt so much that she could not sleep. She got up and leaned from the window.

She wondered where Vernon was. It was quite early. Not eleven. Lady St. Craye had called that quite early.

"He's with her, of course," said Betty, "sitting at her feet, no doubt, and looking up at her hateful eyes, and holding her horrid hand, and forgetting that he ever knew a girl named Me."

Betty dressed and went out.

She crossed the garden. It was very dark among the trees. It would be lighter in the road.

The big yard door was ajar. She pushed it softly. It creaked and let her through into the silent street. There were no lights in the hotel, no lights in any of the houses.

She stood a moment, hesitating. A door creaked inside the hotel. She took the road to the river.

"I wonder if people ever do drown themselves for love," said Betty: "he'd be sorry then."