The key to the heart of Paris is love. He whose key-ring lacks that open sesame never really sees the city, even though he dwell in the shadow of the Sorbonne and comprehend the fiacre French of the Paris cabman. Some there are who craftily open the door with a skeleton key; some who ruthlessly batter the panels; some who achieve only a wax impression, which proves to be useless. There are many who travel no farther than the outer gates. You will find them staring blankly at the stone walls; and their plaint is:
“What do they find to rave about in this town?”
Sophy Gold had been eight days in Paris and she had not so much as peeked through the key-hole. In a vague way she realised that she was seeing Paris as a blind man sees the sun—feeling its warmth, conscious of its white light beating on the eyeballs, but never actually beholding its golden glory.
This was Sophy Gold’s first trip to Paris, and her heart and soul and business brain were intent on buying the shrewdest possible bill of lingerie and infants’ wear for her department at Schiff Brothers’, Chicago; but Sophy under-estimated the powers of those three guiding parts. While heart, soul, and brain were bent dutifully and indefatigably on the lingerie and infants’-wear job they also were registering a series of kaleidoscopic outside impressions.
As she drove from her hotel to the wholesale district, and from the wholesale district to her hotel, there had flashed across her consciousness the picture of the chic little modistes’ models and ouvrieres slipping out at noon to meet their lovers on the corner, to sit over their sirop or wine at some little near-by cafe, hands clasped, eyes glowing.
Stepping out of the lift to ask for her room key, she had come on the black-gowned floor clerk, deep in murmured conversation with the valet, and she had seemed not to see Sophy at all as she groped subconsciously for the key along the rows of keyboxes. She had seen the workmen in their absurdly baggy corduroy trousers and grimy shirts strolling along arm in arm with the women of their class—those untidy women with the tidy hair. Bareheaded and happy, they strolled along, a strange contrast to the glitter of the fashionable boulevard, stopping now and then to gaze wide-eyed at a million-franc necklace in a jeweller’s window; then on again with a laugh and a shrug and a caress. She had seen the silent couples in the Tuileries Gardens at twilight.
Once, in the Bois de Boulogne, a slim, sallow elegant had bent for what seemed an interminable time over a white hand that was stretched from the window of a motor car. He was standing at the curb; in either greeting or parting, and his eyes were fastened on other eyes within the car even while his lips pressed the white hand.
Then one evening—Sophy reddened now at memory of it—she had turned a quiet corner and come on a boy and a girl. The girl was shabby and sixteen; the boy pale, voluble, smiling.