“Yes, of course! I could do nothing else. . . . I had heard enough!”
Without his father’s knowledge, and assisted by his friends, he had in a few days, wrought this wonderful transformation. As a graduate of the Ecole Centrale, he held the rank of a sub-lieutenant of the Reserve Artillery, and he had requested to be sent to the front. Good-bye to the auxiliary service! . . . Within two days, he was going to start for the war.
“You have done this!” exclaimed Chichi. “You have done this!”
Although very pale, she gazed fondly at him with her great eyes—eyes that seemed to devour him with admiration.
“Come here, my poor boy. . . . Come here, my sweet little soldier! . . . I owe you something.”
And turning her back on the maid, she asked him to come with her round the corner. It was just the same there. The cross street was just as thronged as the avenue. But what did she care for the stare of the curious! Rapturously she flung her arms around his neck, blind and insensible to everything and everybody but him.
“There. . . . There!” And she planted on his face two vehement, sonorous, aggressive kisses.
Then, trembling and shuddering, she suddenly weakened, and fumbling for her handkerchief, broke down in desperate weeping.
IN THE STUDIO
Upon opening the studio door one afternoon, Argensola stood motionless with surprise, as though rooted to the ground.
An old gentleman was greeting him with an amiable smile.
“I am the father of Julio.”
And he walked into the apartment with the confidence of a man entirely familiar with his surroundings.
By good luck, the artist was alone, and was not obliged to tear frantically from one end of the room to the other, hiding the traces of convivial company; but he was a little slow in regaining his self-control. He had heard so much about Don Marcelo and his bad temper, that he was very uncomfortable at this unexpected appearance in the studio. . . . What could the fearful man want?
His tranquillity was restored after a furtive, appraising glance. His friend’s father had aged greatly since the beginning of the war. He no longer had that air of tenacity and ill-humor that had made him unapproachable. His eyes were sparkling with childish glee; his hands were trembling slightly, and his back was bent. Argensola, who had always dodged him in the street and had thrilled with fear when sneaking up the stairway in the avenue home, now felt a sudden confidence. The transformed old man was beaming on him like a comrade, and making excuses to justify his visit.
He had wished to see his son’s home. Poor old man! He was drawn thither by the same attraction which leads the lover to lessen his solitude by haunting the places that his beloved has frequented. The letters from Julio were not enough; he needed to see his old abode, to be on familiar terms with the objects which had surrounded him, to breathe the same air, to chat with the young man who was his boon companion.