One side of the car tilted up, and the sailor was nearly pitched out. Three men at the other side had failed to free the ropes.
“Let go, corpses!” the sailor yelled at them.
The balloon jumped, as if it were drawn by some terrific impulse from the skies.
“Adieu!” called Chirac, pulling his cap off and waving it. “Adieu!”
“Bon voyage! Bon voyage!” the little crowd cheered. And then, “Vive la France!” Throats tightened, including Sophia’s.
But the top of the balloon had leaned over, destroying its pear-shape, and the whole mass swerved violently towards the wall of the station, the car swinging under it like a toy, and an anchor under the car. There was a cry of alarm. Then the great ball leaped again, and swept over the high glass roof, escaping by inches the spouting. The cheers expired instantly. ... The balloon was gone. It was spirited away as if by some furious and mighty power that had grown impatient in waiting for it. There remained for a few seconds on the collective retina of the spectators a vision of the inclined car swinging near the roof like the tail of a kite. And then nothing! Blankness! Blackness! Already the balloon was lost to sight in the vast stormy ocean of the night, a plaything of the winds. The spectators became once more aware of the dull booming of the cannonade. The balloon was already perhaps flying unseen amid the wrack over those guns.
Sophia involuntarily caught her breath. A chill sense of loneliness, of purposelessness, numbed her being.
Nobody ever saw Chirac or the old sailor again. The sea must have swallowed them. Of the sixty-five balloons that left Paris during the siege, two were not heard of. This was the first of the two. Chirac had, at any rate, not magnified the peril, though his intention was undoubtedly to magnify it.
This was the end of Sophia’s romantic adventures in France. Soon afterwards the Germans entered Paris, by mutual agreement, and made a point of seeing the Louvre, and departed, amid the silence of a city. For Sophia the conclusion of the siege meant chiefly that prices went down. Long before supplies from outside could reach Paris, the shop-windows were suddenly full of goods which had arrived from the shopkeepers alone knew where. Sophia, with the stock in her cellar, could have held out for several weeks more, and it annoyed her that she had not sold more of her good things while good things were worth gold. The signing of a treaty at Versailles reduced the value of Sophia’s two remaining hams from about five pounds apiece to the usual price of hams. However, at the end of January she found herself in possession of a capital of about eight thousand francs, all the furniture of the flat, and a reputation. She had earned it all. Nothing could destroy the structure of her beauty, but she looked worn and appreciably