“I—I—bought the thing because—you missed the other—” He could get no further. She smiled, showing her celebrated teeth.
“You bought the thing—hein? You must be a prince in disguise—Ambroise! And I have just lost my Prince! Perhaps—you thought—you audacious boy—”
He kept his eyes closed. She was in a corner of the room—quite empty—the other waiters were on the terrace. She weighed his appearance and smiled mysteriously; her smile, her glance, and her scarlet gowns were her dramatic assets. Then she spoke in a low voice—a contralto like the darker tones of an English horn:—
“I fancy I’ll keep your thoughtful gift—Ambroise. And now, like a good boy, get a fiacre for me!” She went away, leaving him standing in the middle of the room, a pillar of burning ice. When Joseph spoke to him he did not answer. Then they took him by the arm, and he fell over in a seizure which, asserted the practical head waiter, was caused by indigestion.
ACROSS THE STYX
It was raining on the Left Bank. The chill of a November afternoon cut its way through the doors of the Cafe La Source in the Boul’ Mich’ and made shiver the groups of young medical students who were reading or playing dominos. Ambroise Nettier, older, thinner, paler, waited carefully on his patrons. He had been in the hospital with brain fever, and after he was cured, one of the students secured him a position at this cafe in the Quartier. He had been afraid to go back to the Cafe Riche; Joseph had harshly discharged him on that terrible night; alone, without a home, without a penny, his savings gone, his life insurance hypothecated,—it had been intended for the benefit of his parents,—his clothes, his very trunk gone, and plunged in debt to his fellow-waiters, his brain had succumbed to the shock. But Ambroise was young and strong; when he left the hospital he was relieved to find that he no longer saw scarlet. He was a healed man. He had intended to seek for a place at the Cafe Cardinal, but it was too near the Cafe Riche—he might meet old acquaintances, might be asked embarrassing questions. So he gladly accepted his present opportunity.
The dulness of the day waxed with its waning. It was nearly six o’clock when the door slowly opened and Aholibah entered. She was alone. Her scarlet plumage was wet, and she was painted like a Peruvian war-god. She did not appear so brilliant a bird of paradise—or elsewhere—as at the aviary across the water. Yet her gaze was as forthright as ever. She sat on a divan between two domino parties, and was hardly noticed by the fanatics of that bony diversion. Recognizing Ambroise, she made a sign to him. It was some minutes before he could reach her table; he had other orders. When he did, she said she wanted some absinthe. He stared at her. Yes, absinthe—she had discarded iced wines. The doctor told her that cold wine was dangerous. He still stared. Then she held up the purse. It was a mere shell; all the stones save the amethyst in the mouth of the serpent were gone. She laughed shrilly. He went for the drink. She lighted a cigarette....