Read CHAPTER VIII of Jason, free online book, by Justus Miles Forman, on


So on the next day these two rode forth upon their quest, and no quest was ever undertaken with a stouter courage or with a grimmer determination to succeed. To put it fancifully, they burned their tower behind them, for to one of them, at least to him who led there was no going back.

But, after all, they set forth under a cloud, and Ste. Marie took a heavy heart with him. On the evening before an odd and painful incident had befallen a singularly unfortunate incident.

It chanced that neither of the two men had a dinner engagement that evening, and so, after their old habit, they dined together. There was some wrangling over where they should go, Hartley insisting upon Armenonville or the Madrid, in the Bois, Ste. Marie objecting that these would be full of tourists so late in June, and urging the claims of some quiet place in the Quarter, where they could talk instead of listening perforce to loud music. In the end, for no particular reason, they compromised on the little Spanish restaurant in the rue Helder. They went there about eight o’clock, without dressing, for it is a very quiet place which the world does not visit, and they had a sopa de yerbas, and some langostinos, which are shrimps, and a heavenly arroz, with fowl in it, and many tender, succulent strips of red pepper. They had a salad made out of a little of everything that grows green, with the true Spanish oil, which has a tang and a bouquet unappreciated by the Philistine; and then they had a strange pastry and some cheese and green almonds. And to make then glad, they drank a bottle of old red Valdepeñas, and afterward a glass each of a special Manzanilla, upon which the restaurant very justly prides itself.

It was a simple dinner and a little stodgy for that time of the year, but the two men were hungry and sat at table, almost alone in the upper room, for a long time, saying how good everything was, and from time to time despatching the saturnine waiter, a Madrileño, for more peppers. When at last they came out into the narrow street, and thence to the thronged Boulevard des Italiens, it was nearly eleven o’clock. They stood for a little time in the shelter of a kiosk, looking down the boulevard to where the Place de l’Opera opened wide and the lights of the Cafe de la Paix shone garish in the night. And Ste. Marie said:

“There’s a street fête in Montmartre. We might drive home that way.”

“An excellent idea,” said the other man. “The fact that Montmartre lies in an opposite direction from home makes the plan all the better. And after that we might drive home through the Bois. That’s much farther in the wrong direction. Lead on!”

So they sprang into a waiting fiacre, and were dragged up the steep, stone-paved hill to the heights, where La Bohême still reigns, though the glory of Moulin Rouge has departed and the trail of the tourist is over all. They found Montmartre very much en fête. In the Place Blanche were two of the enormous and brilliantly lighted merry-go-rounds, which only Paris knows one furnished with stolid cattle, theatrical-looking horses, and Russian sleighs; the other with the ever-popular galloping pigs. When these dreadful machines were in rotation, mechanical organs, concealed somewhere in their bowels, emitted hideous brays and shrieks which mingled with the shrieks of the ladies mounted upon the galloping pigs, and together insulted a peaceful sky.

The square was filled with that extremely heterogeneous throng which the Parisian street fête gathers together, but it was, for the most part, a well-dressed throng, largely recruited from the boulevards, and it was quite determined to have a very good time in the cheerful, harmless Latin fashion. The two men got down from their fiacre and elbowed a way through the good-natured crowd to a place near the more popular of the merry-go-rounds. The machine was in rotation. Its garish lights shone and glittered, its hidden mechanical organ blared a German waltz tune, the huge, pink-varnished pigs galloped gravely up and down as the platform upon which they were mounted whirled round and round. A little group of American trippers, sight-seeing with a guide, stood near by, and one of the group, a pretty girl with red hair, demanded plaintively of the friend upon whose arm she hung: “Do you think momma would be shocked if we took a ride? Wouldn’t I love to!”

Hartley turned, laughing, from this distressed maiden to Ste. Marie. He was wondering, with mild amusement, why anybody should wish to do such a foolish thing; but Ste. Marie’s eyes were fixed upon the galloping pigs, and the eyes shone with a wistful excitement. To tell the truth, it was impossible for him to look on at any form of active amusement without thirsting to join it. A joyous and carefree lady in a blue hat, who was mounted astride upon one of the pigs, hurled a paper serpentine at him and shrieked with delight when it knocked his hat off.

“That’s the second time she has hit me with one of those things,” he said, groping about his feet for the hat. “Here, stop that boy with the basket!”

A vendor of the little rolls of paper ribbon was shouting his wares through the crowd. Ste. Marie filled his pockets with the things, and when the lady with the blue hat came round, on the next turn, lassoed her neatly about the neck and held the end of the ribbon till it broke. Then he caught a fat gentleman, who was holding himself on by his steed’s neck, in the ear, and the red-haired American girl laughed aloud.

“When the thing stops,” said Ste. Marie, “I’m going to take a ride just one ride. I haven’t ridden a pig for many years.”

Hartley jeered at him, calling him an infant, but Ste. Marie bought more serpentines, and when the platform came to a stop clambered up to it and mounted the only unoccupied pig he could find. His friend still scoffed at him and called him names, but Ste. Marie tucked his long legs round the pig’s neck and smiled back, and presently the machine began again to revolve.

At the end of the first revolution Hartley gave a shout of delight, for he saw that the lady with the blue hat had left her mount and was making her way along the platform toward where Ste. Marie sat hurling serpentines in the face of the world. By the next time round she had come to where he was, mounted astride behind him, and was holding herself with one very shapely arm round his neck, while with the other she rifled his pockets for ammunition. Ste. Marie grinned, and the public, loud in its acclaims, began to pelt the two with serpentines until they were hung with many-colored ribbons like a Christmas-tree. Even Richard Hartley was so far moved out of the self-consciousness with which his race is cursed as to buy a handful of the common missiles, and the lady in the blue hat returned his attention with skill and despatch.

But as the machine began to slacken its pace, and the hideous wail and blare of the concealed organ died mercifully down, Hartley saw that his friend’s manner had all at once altered, that he sat leaning forward away from the enthusiastic lady with the blue hat, and that the paper serpentines had dropped from his hands. Hartley thought that the rapid motion must have made him a little giddy, but presently, before the merry-go-round had quite stopped, he saw the man leap down and hurry toward him through the crowd. Ste. Marie’s face was grave and pale. He caught Hartley’s arm in his hand and turned him round, crying, in a low voice:

“Come out of this as quickly as you can! No, in the other direction. I want to get away at once!”

“What’s the matter?” Hartley demanded. “Lady in the blue hat too friendly? Well, if you’re going to play this kind of game you might as well play it.”

“Helen Benham was down there in the crowd,” said Ste. Marie. “On the opposite side from you. She was with a party of people who got out of two motor-cars to look on. They were in evening things, so they had come from dinner somewhere, I suppose. She saw me.”

“The devil!” said Hartley, under his breath. Then he gave a shout of laughter, demanding: “Well, what of it? You weren’t committing any crime, were you? There’s no harm in riding a silly pig in a silly merry-go-round. Everybody does it in these fête things.” But even as he spoke he knew how extremely unfortunate the meeting was, and the laughter went out of his voice.

“I’m afraid,” said Ste. Marie, “she won’t see the humor of it. Good God, what a thing to happen! You know well enough what she’ll think of me. At five o’clock this afternoon,” he said, bitterly, “I left her with a great many fine, high-sounding words about the quest I was to give my days and nights to for her sake. I went away from her like a knight going into battle consecrated. I tell you, there were tears in her eyes when I went. And now now, at midnight she sees me riding a galloping pig in a street fête with a girl from the boulevards sitting on the pig with me and holding me round the neck before a thousand people. What will she think of me? What but one thing can she possibly think? Oh, I know well enough! I saw her face before she turned away. And,” he cried, “I can’t even go to her and explain if there’s anything to explain, and I suppose there is not. I can’t even go to her. I’ve sworn not to see her.”

“Oh, I’ll do that,” said the other man. “I’ll explain it to her, if any explanation’s necessary. I think you’ll find that she will laugh at it.”

But Ste. Marie shook his head.

“No, she won’t,” said he.

And Hartley could say no more; for he knew Miss Benham, and he was very much afraid that she would not laugh.

They found a fiacre at the side of the square and drove home at once. They were almost entirely silent all the long way, for Ste. Marie was buried in gloom, and the Englishman, after trying once or twice to cheer him up, realized that he was best left to himself just then, and so held his tongue. But in the rue d’Assas, as Ste. Marie was getting down Hartley kept the fiacre to go on to his rooms in the Avenue de l’Observatoire he made a last attempt to lighten the man’s depression. He said:

“Don’t you be a silly ass about this! You’re making much too much of it, you know. I’ll go to her to-morrow or next day and explain, and she’ll laugh –­if she hasn’t already done so. You know,” he said, almost believing it himself, “you are paying her a dashed poor compliment in thinking she’s so dull as to misunderstand a little thing of this kind. Yes, by Jove, you are!”

Ste. Marie looked up at him, and his face, in the light of the cab lamp, showed a first faint gleam of hope.

“Do you think so?” he demanded. “Do you really think that? Maybe I am. But Oh, Lord, who would understand such an idiocy? Sacred imbecile that I am! Why was I ever born? I ask you.”

He turned abruptly, and began to ring at the door, casting a brief “Good-night” over his shoulder. And after a moment Hartley gave it up and drove away.

Above, in the long, shallow front room of his flat, with the three windows overlooking the Gardens, Ste. Marie made lights, and after much rummaging unearthed a box of cigarettes of a peculiarly delectable flavor which had been sent him by a friend in the Khedivial household. He allowed himself one or two of them now and then, usually in sorrowful moments, as an especial treat; and this seemed to him to be the moment for smoking all that were left. Surely his need had never been greater. In England he had, of course, learned to smoke a pipe, but pipe-smoking always remained with him a species of accomplishment; it never brought him the deep and ruminative peace with which it enfolds the Anglo-Saxon heart. The “vieux Jacob” of old-fashioned Parisian Bohemia inspired in him unconcealed horror, of cigars he was suspicious because, he said, most of the unpleasant people he knew smoked cigars, so he soothed his soul with cigarettes, and he was usually to be found with one between his fingers.

He lighted one of the precious Egyptians, and after a first ecstatic inhalation went across to one of the long windows, which was open, and stood there with his back to the room, his face to the peaceful, fragrant night. A sudden recollection came to him of that other night a month before when he had stood on the Pont des Invalides with his eyes upon the stars, his feet upon the ladder thereunto. His heart gave a sudden exultant leap within him when he thought how far and high he had climbed, but after the leap it shivered and stood still when this evening’s misadventure came before him.

Would she ever understand? He had no fear that Hartley would not do his best with her. Hartley was as honest and as faithful as ever a friend was in this world. He would do his best. But even then It was the girl’s inflexible nature that made the matter so dangerous. He knew that she was inflexible, and he took a curious pride in it. He admired it. So must have been those calm-eyed, ancient ladies for whom other Ste. Maries went out to do battle. It was well-nigh impossible to imagine them lowering their eyes to silly revelry. They could not stoop to such as that. It was beneath their high dignity. And it was beneath hers also. As for himself, he was a thing of patches. Here a patch of exalted chivalry a noble patch there a patch of bourgeois, childlike love of fun; here a patch of melancholic asceticism, there one of something quite the reverse. A hopeless patchwork he was. Must she not shrink from him when she knew? He could not quite imagine her understanding the wholly trivial and meaningless impulse that had prompted him to ride a galloping pig and cast paper serpentines at the assembled world.

Apart from her view of the affair, he felt no shame in it. The moment of childish gayety had been but a passing mood. It had in no way slackened his tense enthusiasm, dulled the keenness of his spirit, lowered his high flight. He knew that well enough. But he wondered if she would understand, and he could not believe it possible. The mood of exaltation in which they had parted that afternoon came to him, and then the sight of her shocked face as he had seen it in the laughing crowd in the Place Blanche.

“What must she think of me?” he cried, aloud. “What must she think of me?”

So, for an hour or more, he stood in the open window staring into the fragrant night, or tramped up and down the long room, his hands behind his back, kicking out of his way the chairs and things which impeded him, torturing himself with fears and regrets and fancies, until at last, in a calmer moment, he realized that he was working himself up into an absurd state of nerves over something which was done and could not now be helped. The man had an odd streak of fatalism in his nature that will have come of his Southern blood and it came to him now in his need. For the work upon which he was to enter with the morrow he had need of clear wits, not scattered ones; a calm judgment, not disordered nerves. So he took himself in hand, and it would have been amazing to any one unfamiliar with the abrupt changes of the Latin temperament to see how suddenly Ste. Marie became quiet and cool and master of himself.

“It is done,” he said, with a little shrug, and if his face was for a moment bitter it quickly enough became impassive. “It is done, and it cannot be undone unless Hartley can undo it. And now, revenons a nos moutons! Or, at least,” said he, looking at his watch and it was between one and two “at least, to our beds!”

So he went to bed, and, so well had he recovered from his fit of excitement, he fell asleep almost at once. But for all that the jangled nerves had their revenge. He who commonly slept like the dead, without the slightest disturbance, dreamed a strange dream. It seemed to him that he stood spent and weary in a twilight place a waste place at the foot of a high hill. At the top of the hill She sat upon a sort of throne, golden in a beam of light from heaven serene, very beautiful, the end and crown of his weary labors. His feet were set to the ascent of the height whereon she waited, but he was withheld. From the shadows at the hill’s foot a voice called to him in distress, anguish of spirit a voice he knew; but he could not say whose voice. It besought him out of utter need, and he could not turn away from it.

Then from those shadows eyes looked upon him, very great and dark eyes, and they besought him, too; he did not know what they asked, but they called to him like the low voice, and he could not turn away.

He looked to the far height, and with all his power he strove to set his feet toward it the goal of long labor and desire; but the eyes and the piteous voice held him motionless for they needed him.

From this anguish he awoke trembling. And after a long time, when he was composed, he fell asleep once more, and once more he dreamed the dream.

So morning found him pallid and unrefreshed. But by daylight he knew whose eyes had besought him, and he wondered and was a little afraid.