STE. MARIE HEARS OF A MYSTERY AND MEETS A DARK LADY
From Ste. Marie’s little flat, which overlooked the gardens, they drove down the quiet rue du Luxembourg, and at the Place St. Sulpice turned to the left. They crossed the Place St. Germain des Pres, where lines of home-bound working-people stood waiting for places in the electric trams, and groups of students from the Beaux Arts or from Julien’s sat under the awnings of the Deux Magots, and so, beyond that busy square, they came into the long and peaceful stretch of the Boulevard St. Germain. The warm, sweet dusk gathered round them as they went, and the evening air was fresh and aromatic in their faces. There had been a little gentle shower in the late afternoon, and roadway and pavement were still damp with it. It had wet the new-grown leaves of the chestnuts and acacias that bordered the street. The scent of that living green blended with the scent of laid dust and the fragrance of the last late-clinging chestnut blossoms; it caught up a fuller, richer burden from the overflowing front of a florist’s shop; it stole from open windows a savory whiff of cooking, a salt tang of wood smoke; and the soft little breeze—the breeze of coming summer—mixed all together and tossed them and bore them down the long, quiet street; and it was the breath of Paris, and it shall be in your nostrils and mine, a keen agony of sweetness, so long as we may live and so wide as we may wander—because we have known it and loved it—and in the end we shall go back to breathe it when we die.
The strong white horse jogged evenly along over the wooden pavement, its head down, the little bell at its neck jingling pleasantly as it went. The cocher, a torpid, purplish lump of gross flesh, pyramidal, pearlike, sat immobile in his place. The protuberant back gave him an extraordinary effect of being buttoned into his fawn-colored coat wrong side before. At intervals he jerked the reins like a large strange toy, and his strident voice said:
“He!” to the stout white horse, which paid no attention whatever. Once the beast stumbled and the pearlike lump of flesh insulted it, saying:
“He! veux tu, cochon!”
Before the War Office a little black slip of a milliner’s girl dodged under the horse’s head, saving herself and the huge box slung to her arm by a miracle of agility, and the cocher called her the most frightful names, without turning his head and in a perfunctory tone quite free from passion.
Young Hartley laughed and turned to look at his companion, but Ste. Marie sat still in his place, his hat pulled a little down over his brows and his handsome chin buried in the folds of the white silk muffler with which for some obscure reason he had swathed his neck.
“This is the first time in many years,” said the Englishman, “that I have known you to be silent for ten whole minutes. Are you ill, or are you making up little epigrams to say at the dinner-party?”