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Sophy-As-She-Might-Have-Been by Edna Ferber

 

The key to the heart of Paris is love. He whose key-ring lacks that open sesame never really sees the city, even though he dwell in the shadow of the Sorbonne and comprehend the fiacre French of the Paris cabman. Some there are who craftily open the door with a skeleton key; some who ruthlessly batter the panels; some who achieve only a wax impression, which proves to be useless. There are many who travel no farther than the outer gates. You will find them staring blankly at the stone walls; and their plaint is:

“What do they find to rave about in this town?”

Sophy Gold had been eight days in Paris and she had not so much as peeked through the key-hole. In a vague way she realised that she was seeing Paris as a blind man sees the sun—feeling its warmth, conscious of its white light beating on the eyeballs, but never actually beholding its golden glory.

This was Sophy Gold's first trip to Paris, and her heart and soul and business brain were intent on buying the shrewdest possible bill of lingerie and infants' wear for her department at Schiff Brothers', Chicago; but Sophy under-estimated the powers of those three guiding parts. While heart, soul, and brain were bent dutifully and indefatigably on the lingerie and infants'-wear job they also were registering a series of kaleidoscopic outside impressions.

As she drove from her hotel to the wholesale district, and from the wholesale district to her hotel, there had flashed across her consciousness the picture of the chic little modistes' models and ouvrieres slipping out at noon to meet their lovers on the corner, to sit over their sirop or wine at some little near-by cafe, hands clasped, eyes glowing.

Stepping out of the lift to ask for her room key, she had come on the black-gowned floor clerk, deep in murmured conversation with the valet, and she had seemed not to see Sophy at all as she groped subconsciously for the key along the rows of keyboxes. She had seen the workmen in their absurdly baggy corduroy trousers and grimy shirts strolling along arm in arm with the women of their class—those untidy women with the tidy hair. Bareheaded and happy, they strolled along, a strange contrast to the glitter of the fashionable boulevard, stopping now and then to gaze wide-eyed at a million-franc necklace in a jeweller's window; then on again with a laugh and a shrug and a caress. She had seen the silent couples in the Tuileries Gardens at twilight.

Once, in the Bois de Boulogne, a slim, sallow elegant had bent for what seemed an interminable time over a white hand that was stretched from the window of a motor car. He was standing at the curb; in either greeting or parting, and his eyes were fastened on other eyes within the car even while his lips pressed the white hand.

Then one evening—Sophy reddened now at memory of it—she had turned a quiet corner and come on a boy and a girl. The girl was shabby and sixteen; the boy pale, voluble, smiling.

Evidently they were just parting. Suddenly, as she passed, the boy had caught the girl in his arms there on the street corner in the daylight, and had kissed her—not the quick, resounding smack of casual leave-taking, but a long, silent kiss that left the girl limp.

Sophy stood rooted to the spot, between horror and fascination. The boy's arm brought the girl upright and set her on her feet.

She took a long breath, straightened her hat, and ran on to rejoin her girl friend awaiting her calmly up the street. She was not even flushed; but Sophy was. Sophy was blushing hotly and burning uncomfortably, so that her eyes smarted.

Just after her late dinner on the eighth day of her Paris stay, Sophy Gold was seated in the hotel lobby. Paris thronged with American business buyers—those clever, capable, shrewd-eyed women who swarm on the city in June and strip it of its choicest flowers, from ball gowns to back combs. Sophy tried to pick them from the multitude that swept past her. It was not difficult. The women visitors to Paris in June drop easily into their proper slots.

There were the pretty American girls and their marvellously young-looking mammas, both out-Frenching the French in their efforts to look Parisian; there were rows of fat, placid, jewel-laden Argentine mothers, each with a watchful eye on her black-eyed, volcanically calm, be-powdered daughter; and there were the buyers, miraculously dressy in next week's styles in suits and hats—of the old-girl type most of them, alert, self-confident, capable.

They usually returned to their hotels at six, limping a little, dog-tired; but at sight of the brightly lighted, gay hotel foyer they would straighten up like war-horses scenting battle and achieve an effective entrance from the doorway to the lift.

In all that big, busy foyer Sophy Gold herself was the one person distinctly out of the picture. One did not know where to place her. To begin with, a woman as irrevocably, irredeemably ugly as Sophy was an anachronism in Paris. She belonged to the gargoyle period. You found yourself speculating on whether it was her mouth or her nose that made her so devastatingly plain, only to bring up at her eyes and find that they alone were enough to wreck any ambitions toward beauty. You knew before you saw it that her hair would be limp and straggling.

You sensed without a glance at them that her hands would be bony, with unlovely knuckles.

The Fates, grinning, had done all that. Her Chicago tailor and milliner had completed the work. Sophy had not been in Paris ten minutes before she noticed that they were wearing 'em long and full. Her coat was short and her skirt scant. Her hat was small. The Paris windows were full of large and graceful black velvets of the Lillian Russell school.

“May I sit here?”

Sophy looked up into the plump, pink, smiling face of one of those very women of the buyer type on whom she had speculated ten minutes before—a good-natured face with shrewd, twinkling eyes. At sight of it you forgave her her skittish white-kid-topped shoes.

“Certainly,” smiled Sophy, and moved over a bit on the little French settee.

The plump woman sat down heavily. In five minutes Sophy was conscious she was being stared at surreptitiously. In ten minutes she was uncomfortably conscious of it. In eleven minutes she turned her head suddenly and caught the stout woman's eyes fixed on her, with just the baffled, speculative expression she had expected to find in them. Sophy Gold had caught that look in many women's eyes. She smiled grimly now.

“Don't try it,” she said, “It's no use.”

The pink, plump face flushed pinker.

“Don't try—”

“Don't try to convince yourself that if I wore my hair differently, or my collar tighter, or my hat larger, it would make a difference in my looks. It wouldn't. It's hard to believe that I'm as homely as I look, but I am. I've watched women try to dress me in as many as eleven mental changes of costume before they gave me up.”

“But I didn't mean—I beg your pardon—you mustn't think—”

“Oh, that's all right! I used to struggle, but I'm used to it now. It took me a long time to realise that this was my real face and the only kind I could ever expect to have.”

The plump woman's kindly face grew kinder.

“But you're really not so—”

“Oh, yes, I am. Upholstering can't change me. There are various kinds of homely women—some who are hideous in blue maybe, but who soften up in pink. Then there's the one you read about, whose features are lighted up now and then by one of those rare, sweet smiles that make her plain face almost beautiful. But once in a while you find a woman who is ugly in any colour of the rainbow; who is ugly smiling or serious, talking or in repose, hair down low or hair done high—just plain dyed-in-the-wool, sewed-in-the-seam homely. I'm that kind. Here for a visit?”

“I'm a buyer,” said the plump woman.

“Yes; I thought so. I'm the lingerie and infants'-wear buyer for Schiff, Chicago.”

“A buyer!” The plump woman's eyes jumped uncontrollably again to Sophy Gold's scrambled features. “Well! My name's Miss Morrissey—Ella Morrissey. Millinery for Abelman's, Pittsburgh. And it's no snap this year, with the shops showing postage-stamp hats one day and cart-wheels the next. I said this morning that I envied the head of the tinware department. Been over often?”

Sophy made the shamefaced confession of the novice: “My first trip.”

The inevitable answer came:

“Your first! Really! This is my twentieth crossing. Been coming over twice a year for ten years. If there's anything I can tell you, just ask. The first buying trip to Paris is hard until you know the ropes. Of course you love this town?”

Sophy Gold sat silent a moment, hesitating. Then she turned a puzzled face toward Miss Morrissey.

“What do people mean when they say they love Paris?”

Ella Morrissey stared. Then a queer look came into her face—a pitying sort of look. The shrewd eyes softened. She groped for words.

“When I first came over here, ten years ago, I—well, it would have been easier to tell you then. I don't know—there's something about Paris—something in the atmosphere—something in the air. It—it makes you do foolish things. It makes you feel queer and light and happy. It's nothing you can put your finger on and say 'That's it!' But it's there.”

“Huh!” grunted Sophy Gold. “I suppose I could save myself a lot of trouble by saying that I feel it; but I don't. I simply don't react to this town. The only things I really like in Paris are the Tomb of Napoleon, the Seine at night, and the strawberry tart you get at Vian's. Of course the parks and boulevards are a marvel, but you can't expect me to love a town for that. I'm no landscape gardener.”

That pitying look deepened in Miss Morrissey's eyes.

“Have you been out in the evening? The restaurants! The French women! The life!”

Sophy Gold caught the pitying look and interpreted it without resentment; but there was perhaps an added acid in her tone when she spoke.

“I'm here to buy—not to play. I'm thirty years old, and it's taken me ten years to work my way up to foreign buyer. I've worked. And I wasn't handicapped any by my beauty. I've made up my mind that I'm going to buy the smoothest-moving line of French lingerie and infants' wear that Schiff Brothers ever had.”

Miss Morrissey checked her.

“But, my dear girl, haven't you been round at all?”

“Oh, a little; as much as a woman can go round alone in Paris—even a homely woman. But I've been disappointed every time. The noise drives me wild, to begin with. Not that I'm not used to noise. I am. I can stand for a town that roars, like Chicago. But this city yelps. I've been going round to the restaurants a little. At noon I always picked the restaurant I wanted, so long as I had to pay for the lunch of the commissionnaire who was with me anyway. Can you imagine any man at home letting a woman pay for his meals the way those shrimpy Frenchmen do?

“Well, the restaurants were always jammed full of Americans. The men of the party would look over the French menu in a helpless sort of way, and then they'd say: 'What do you say to a nice big steak with French-fried potatoes?' The waiter would give them a disgusted look and put in the order. They might just as well have been eating at a quick lunch place. As for the French women, every time I picked what I took to be a real Parisienne coming toward me I'd hear her say as she passed: 'Henry, I'm going over to the Galerie Lafayette. I'll meet you at the American Express at twelve. And, Henry, I think I'll need some more money.'“

Miss Ella Morrissey's twinkling eyes almost disappeared in wrinkles of laughter; but Sophy Gold was not laughing. As she talked she gazed grimly ahead at the throng that shifted and glittered and laughed and chattered all about her.

“I stopped work early one afternoon and went over across the river. Well! They may be artistic, but they all looked as though they needed a shave and a hair-cut and a square meal. And the girls!”

Ella Morrissey raised a plump, protesting palm.

“Now look here, child, Paris isn't so much a city as a state of mind. To enjoy it you've got to forget you're an American. Don't look at it from a Chicago, Illinois, viewpoint. Just try to imagine you're a mixture of Montmartre girl, Latin Quarter model and duchess from the Champs Elysees. Then you'll get it.”

“Get it!” retorted Sophy Gold. “If I could do that I wouldn't be buying lingerie and infants' wear for Schiffs'. I'd be crowding Duse and Bernhardt and Mrs. Fiske off the boards.”

Miss Morrissey sat silent and thoughtful, rubbing one fat forefinger slowly up and down her knee. Suddenly she turned.

“Don't be angry—but have you ever been in love?”

“Look at me!” replied Sophy Gold simply. Miss Morrissey reddened a little. “As head of the lingerie section I've selected trousseaus for I don't know how many Chicago brides; but I'll never have to decide whether I'll have pink or blue ribbons for my own.”

With a little impulsive gesture Ella Morrissey laid one hand on the shoulder of her new acquaintance.

“Come on up and visit me, will you? I made them give me an inside room, away from the noise. Too many people down here. Besides, I'd like to take off this armour-plate of mine and get comfortable. When a girl gets as old and fat as I am—”

“There are some letters I ought to get out,” Sophy Gold protested feebly.

“Yes; I know. We all have; but there's such a thing as overdoing this duty to the firm. You get up at six to-morrow morning and slap off those letters. They'll come easier and sound less tired.”

They made for the lift; but at its very gates:

“Hello, little girl!” cried a masculine voice; and a detaining hand was laid on Ella Morrissey's plump shoulder.

That lady recognised the voice and the greeting before she turned to face their source. Max Tack, junior partner in the firm of Tack Brothers, Lingerie and Infants' Wear, New York, held out an eager hand.

“Hello, Max!” said Miss Morrissey not too cordially. “My, aren't you dressy!”

He was undeniably dressy—not that only, but radiant with the self-confidence born of good looks, of well-fitting evening clothes, of a fresh shave, of glistening nails. Max Tack, of the hard eye and the soft smile, of the slim figure and the semi-bald head, of the flattering tongue and the business brain, bent his attention full on the very plain Miss Sophy Gold.

“Aren't you going to introduce me?” he demanded.

Miss Morrissey introduced them, buyer fashion—names, business connection, and firms.

“I knew you were Miss Gold,” began Max Tack, the honey-tongued. “Some one pointed you out to me yesterday. I've been trying to meet you ever since.”

“I hope you haven't neglected your business,” said Miss Gold without enthusiasm.

Max Tack leaned closer, his tone lowered.

“I'd neglect it any day for you. Listen, little one: aren't you going to take dinner with me some evening?”

Max Tack always called a woman “Little one.” It was part of his business formula. He was only one of the wholesalers who go to Paris yearly ostensibly to buy models, but really to pay heavy diplomatic court to those hundreds of women buyers who flock to that city in the interests of their firms. To entertain those buyers who were interested in goods such as he manufactured in America; to win their friendship; to make them feel under obligation at least to inspect his line when they came to New York—that was Max Tack's mission in Paris. He performed it admirably.

“What evening?” he said now. “How about to-morrow?” Sophy Gold shook her head. “Wednesday then? You stick to me and you'll see Paris. Thursday?”

“I'm buying my own dinners,” said Sophy Gold.

Max Tack wagged a chiding forefinger at her.

“You little rascal!” No one had ever called Sophy Gold a little rascal before. “You stingy little rascal! Won't give a poor lonesome fellow an evening's pleasure, eh! The theatre? Want to go slumming?”

He was feeling his way now, a trifle puzzled. Usually he landed a buyer at the first shot. Of course you had to use tact and discrimination. Some you took to supper and to the naughty revues.

Occasionally you found a highbrow one who preferred the opera. Had he not sat through Parsifal the week before? And nearly died! Some wanted to begin at Tod Sloan's bar and work their way up through Montmartre, ending with breakfast at the Pre Catalan. Those were the greedy ones. But this one!

“What's she stalling for—with that face?” he asked himself.

Sophy Gold was moving toward the lift, the twinkling-eyed Miss Morrissey with her.

“I'm working too hard to play. Thanks, just the same. Good-night.”

Max Tack, his face blank, stood staring up at them as the lift began to ascend.

Trazyem,” said Miss Morrissey grandly to the lift man.

“Third,” replied that linguistic person, unimpressed.

It turned out to be soothingly quiet and cool in Ella Morrissey's room. She flicked on the light and turned an admiring glance on Sophy Gold.

“Is that your usual method?”

“I haven't any method,” Miss Gold seated herself by the window. “But I've worked too hard for this job of mine to risk it by putting myself under obligations to any New York firm. It simply means that you've got to buy their goods. It isn't fair to your firm.”

Miss Morrissey was busy with hooks and eyes and strings. Her utterance was jerky but concise. At one stage of her disrobing she breathed a great sigh of relief as she flung a heavy garment from her.

“There! That's comfort! Nights like this I wish I had that back porch of our flat to sit on for just an hour. Ma has flower boxes all round it, and I bought one of those hammock couches last year. When I come home from the store summer evenings I peel and get into my old blue-and-white kimono and lie there, listening to the girl stirring the iced tea for supper, and knowing that Ma has a platter of her swell cold fish with egg sauce!” She relaxed into an armchair. “Tell me, do you always talk to men that way?”

Sophy Gold was still staring out the open window.

“They don't bother me much, as a rule.”

“Max Tack isn't a bad boy. He never wastes much time on me. I don't buy his line. Max is all business. Of course he's something of a smarty, and he does think he's the first verse and chorus of Paris-by-night; but you can't help liking him.”

“Well, I can,” said Sophy Gold, and her voice was a little bitter, “and without half trying.”

“Oh, I don't say you weren't right. I've always made it a rule to steer clear of the ax-grinders myself. There are plenty of girls who take everything they can get. I know that Max Tack is just padded with letters from old girls, beginning 'Dear Kid,' and ending, 'Yours with a world of love!' I don't believe in that kind of thing, or in accepting things. Julia Harris, who buys for three departments in our store, drives up every morning in the French car that Parmentier's gave her when she was here last year. That's bad principle and poor taste. But—Well, you're young; and there ought to be something besides business in your life.”

Sophy Gold turned her face from the window toward Miss Morrissey. It served to put a stamp of finality on what she said:

“There never will be. I don't know anything but business. It's the only thing I care about. I'll be earning my ten thousand a year pretty soon.”

“Ten thousand a year is a lot; but it isn't everything. Oh, no, it isn't. Look here, dear; nobody knows better than I how this working and being independent and earning your own good money puts the stopper on any sentiment a girl might have in her; but don't let it sour you. You lose your illusions soon enough, goodness knows! There's no use in smashing 'em out of pure meanness.”

“I don't see what illusions have got to do with Max Tack,” interrupted Sophy Gold.

Miss Morrissey laughed her fat, comfortable chuckle.

“I suppose you're right, and I guess I've been getting a lee-tle bit nosey; but I'm pretty nearly old enough to be your mother. The girls kind of come to me and I talk to 'em. I guess they've spoiled me. They—”

There came a smart rapping at the door, followed by certain giggling and swishing. Miss Morrissey smiled.

“That'll be some of 'em now. Just run and open the door, will you, like a nice little thing? I'm too beat out to move.”

The swishing swelled to a mighty rustle as the door opened. Taffeta was good this year, and the three who entered were the last in the world to leave you in ignorance of that fact. Ella Morrissey presented her new friend to the three, giving the department each represented as one would mention a title or order.

“The little plump one in black?—Ladies' and Misses' Ready-to-wear, Gates Company, Portland.... That's a pretty hat, Carrie. Get it to-day? Give me a big black velvet every time. You can wear 'em with anything, and yet they're dressy too. Just now small hats are distinctly passy.

“The handsome one who's dressed the way you always imagined the Parisiennes would dress, but don't?—Fancy Goods, Stein &Stack, San Francisco. Listen, Fan: don't go back to San Francisco with that stuff on your lips. It's all right in Paris, where all the women do it; but you know as well as I do that Morry Stein would take one look at you and then tell you to go upstairs and wash your face. Well, I'm just telling you as a friend.

“That little trick is the biggest lace buyer in the country.... No, you wouldn't, would you? Such a mite! Even if she does wear a twenty-eight blouse she's got a forty-two brain—haven't you, Belle? You didn't make a mistake with that blue crepe de chine, child. It's chic and yet it's girlish. And you can wear it on the floor, too, when you get home. It's quiet if it is stunning.”

These five, as they sat there that June evening, knew what your wife and your sister and your mother would wear on Fifth Avenue or Michigan Avenue next October. On their shrewd, unerring judgment rested the success or failure of many hundreds of feminine garments. The lace for Miss Minnesota's lingerie; the jewelled comb in Miss Colorado's hair; the hat that would grace Miss New Hampshire; the dress for Madam Delaware—all were the results of their farsighted selection. They were foragers of feminine fal-lals, and their booty would be distributed from oyster cove to orange grove.

They were marcelled and manicured within an inch of their lives. They rustled and a pleasant perfume clung about them. Their hats were so smart that they gave you a shock. Their shoes were correct. Their skirts bunched where skirts should bunch that year or lay smooth where smoothness was decreed. They looked like the essence of frivolity—until you saw their eyes; and then you noticed that that which is liquid in sheltered women's eyes was crystallised in theirs.

Sophy Gold, listening to them, felt strangely out of it and plainer than ever.

“I'm taking tango lessons, Ella,” chirped Miss Laces. “Every time I went to New York last year I sat and twiddled my thumbs while every one else was dancing. I've made up my mind I'll be in it this year.”

“You girls are wonders!” Miss Morrissey marvelled. “I can't do it any more. If I was to work as hard as I have to during the day and then run round the way you do in the evening they'd have to hold services for me at sea. I'm getting old.”

“You—old!” This from Miss Ready-to-Wear. “You're younger now than I'll ever be. Oh, Ella, I got six stunning models at Estelle Mornet's. There's a business woman for you! Her place is smart from the ground floor up—not like the shabby old junk shops the others have. And she greets you herself. The personal touch! Let me tell you, it counts in business!”

“I'd go slow on those cape blouses if I were you; I don't think they're going to take at home. They look like regular Third Avenue style to me.”

“Don't worry. I've hardly touched them.”

They talked very directly, like men, when they discussed clothes; for to them a clothes talk meant a business talk.

The telephone buzzed. The three sprang up, rustling.

“That'll be for us, Ella,” said Miss Fancy Goods. “We told the office to call us here. The boys are probably downstairs.” She answered the call, turned, nodded, smoothed her gloves and preened her laces.

Ella Morrissey, in kimonoed comfort, waved a good-bye from her armchair. “Have a good time! You all look lovely. Oh, we met Max Tack downstairs, looking like a grand duke!”

Pert Miss Laces turned at the door, giggling.

“He says the French aristocracy has nothing on him, because his grandfather was one of the original Ten Ikes of New York.”

A final crescendo of laughter, a last swishing of silks, a breath of perfume from the doorway and they were gone.

Within the room the two women sat looking at the closed door for a moment. Then Ella Morrissey turned to look at Sophy Gold just as Sophy Gold turned to look at Ella Morrissey.

“Well?” smiled Ella.

Sophy Gold smiled too—a mirthless, one-sided smile.

“I felt just like this once when I was a little girl. I went to a party, and all the other little girls had yellow curls. Maybe some of them had brown ones; but I only remember a maze of golden hair, and pink and blue sashes, and rosy cheeks, and ardent little boys, and the sureness of those little girls—their absolute faith in their power to enthrall, and in the perfection of their curls and sashes. I went home before the ice cream. And I love ice cream!”

Ella Morrissey's eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

“Then the next time you're invited to a party you wait for the ice cream, girlie.”

“Maybe I will,” said Sophy Gold.

The party came two nights later. It was such a very modest affair that one would hardly call it that—least of all Max Tack, who had spent seventy-five dollars the night before in entertaining an important prospective buyer.

On her way to her room that sultry June night Sophy had encountered the persistent Tack. Ella Morrissey, up in her room, was fathoms deep in work. It was barely eight o'clock and there was a wonderful opal sky—a June twilight sky, of which Paris makes a specialty—all grey and rose and mauve and faint orange.

“Somebody's looking mighty sweet to-night in her new Paris duds!”

Max Tack's method of approach never varied in its simplicity.

“They're not Paris—they're Chicago.”

His soul was in his eyes.

“They certainly don't look it!” Then, with a little hurt look in those same expressive features: “I suppose, after the way you threw me down hard the other night, you wouldn't come out and play somewhere, would you—if I sat up and begged and jumped through this?”

“It's too warm for most things,” Sophy faltered.

“Anywhere your little heart dictates,” interrupted Max Tack ardently. “Just name it.”

Sophy looked up.

“Well, then, I'd like to take one of those boats and go down the river to St.-Cloud. The station's just back of the Louvre. We've just time to catch the eight-fifteen boat.”

“Boat!” echoed Max Tack stupidly. Then, in revolt: “Why, say, girlie, you don't want to do that! What is there in taking an old tub and flopping down that dinky stream? Tell you what we'll do: we'll—”

“No, thanks,” said Sophy. “And it really doesn't matter. You simply asked me what I'd like to do and I told you. Thanks. Good-night.”

“Now, now!” pleaded Max Tack in a panic. “Of course we'll go. I just thought you'd rather do something fussier—that's all. I've never gone down the river; but I think that's a classy little idea—yes, I do. Now you run and get your hat and we'll jump into a taxi and—”

“You don't need to jump into a taxi; it's only two blocks. We'll walk.”

There was a little crowd down at the landing station. Max Tack noticed, with immense relief, that they were not half-bad-looking people either. He had been rather afraid of workmen in red sashes and with lime on their clothes, especially after Sophy had told him that a trip cost twenty centimes each.

“Twenty centimes! That's about four cents! Well, my gad!”

They got seats in the prow. Sophy took off her hat and turned her face gratefully to the cool breeze as they swung out into the river. The Paris of the rumbling, roaring auto buses, and the honking horns, and the shrill cries, and the mad confusion faded away. There was the palely glowing sky ahead, and on each side the black reflection of the tree-laden banks, mistily mysterious now and very lovely. There was not a ripple on the water and the Pont Alexandre III and the golden glory of the dome of the Hotel des Invalides were ahead.

“Say, this is Venice!” exclaimed Max Tack.

A soft and magic light covered the shore, the river, the sky, and a soft and magic something seemed to steal over the little boat and work its wonders. The shabby student-looking chap and his equally shabby and merry little companion, both Americans, closed the bag of fruit from which they had been munching and sat looking into each other's eyes.

The long-haired artist, who looked miraculously like pictures of Robert Louis Stevenson, smiled down at his queer, slender-legged little daughter in the curious Cubist frock; and she smiled back and snuggled up and rested her cheek on his arm. There seemed to be a deep and silent understanding between them. You knew, somehow, that the little Cubist daughter had no mother, and that the father's artist friends made much of her and that she poured tea for them prettily on special days.

The bepowdered French girl who got on at the second station sat frankly and contentedly in the embrace of her sweetheart. The stolid married couple across the way smiled and the man's arm rested on his wife's plump shoulder.

So the love boat glided down the river into the night. And the shore faded and became grey, and then black. And the lights came out and cast slender pillars of gold and green and scarlet on the water.

Max Tack's hand moved restlessly, sought Sophy's, found it, clasped it. Sophy's hand had never been clasped like that before. She did not know what to do with it, so she did nothing—which was just what she should have done.

“Warm enough?” asked Max Tack tenderly.

“Just right,” murmured Sophy.

The dream trip ended at St.-Cloud. They learned to their dismay that the boat did not return to Paris. But how to get back? They asked questions, sought direction—always a frantic struggle in Paris. Sophy, in the glare of the street light, looked uglier than ever.

“Just a minute,” said Max Tack. “I'll find a taxi.”

“Nonsense! That man said the street car passed right here, and that we should get off at the Bois. Here it is now! Come on!”

Max Tack looked about helplessly, shrugged his shoulders and gave it up.

“You certainly make a fellow hump,” he said, not without a note of admiration. “And why are you so afraid that I'll spend some money?” as he handed the conductor the tiny fare.

“I don't know—unless it's because I've had to work so hard all my life for mine.”

At Porte Maillot they took one of the flock of waiting fiacres.

“But you don't want to go home yet!” protested Max Tack.

“I—I think I should like to drive in the Bois Park—if you don't mind—that is—”

“Mind!” cried the gallant and game Max Tack.

Now Max Tack was no villain; but it never occurred to him that one might drive in the Bois with a girl and not make love to her. If he had driven with Aurora in her chariot he would have held her hand and called her tender names. So, because he was he, and because this was Paris, and because it was so dark that one could not see Sophy's extreme plainness, he took her unaccustomed hand again in his.

“This little hand was never meant for work,” he murmured.

Sophy, the acid, the tart, said nothing. The Bois Park at night is a mystery maze and lovely beyond adjectives. And the horse of that particular fiacre wore a little tinkling bell that somehow added to the charm of the night. A waterfall, unseen, tumbled and frothed near by. A turn in the winding road brought them to an open stretch, and they saw the world bathed in the light of a yellow, mellow, roguish Paris moon. And Max Tack leaned over quietly and kissed Sophy Gold on the lips.

Now Sophy Gold had never been kissed in just that way before. You would have thought she would not know what to do; but the plainest woman, as well as the loveliest, has the centuries back of her. Sophy's mother, and her mother's mother, and her mother's mother's mother had been kissed before her. So they told her to say:

“You shouldn't have done that.”

And the answer, too, was backed by the centuries:

“I know it; but I couldn't help it. Don't be angry!”

“You know,” said Sophy with a little tremulous laugh, “I'm very, very ugly—when it isn't moonlight.”

“Paris,” spake Max Tack, diplomat, “is so full of medium-lookers who think they're pretty, and of pretty ones who think they're beauties, that it sort of rests my jaw and mind to be with some one who hasn't any fake notions to feed. They're all right; but give me a woman with brains every time.” Which was a lie!

They drove home down the Bois—the cool, spacious, tree-bordered Bois—and through the Champs Elysees. Because he was an artist in his way, and because every passing fiacre revealed the same picture, Max Tack sat very near her and looked very tender and held her hand in his. It would have raised a laugh at Broadway and Forty-second. It was quite, quite sane and very comforting in Paris.

At the door of the hotel:

“I'm sailing Wednesday,” said Max Tack. “You—you won't forget me?”

“Oh, no—no!”

“You'll call me up or run into the office when you get to New York?”

“Oh, yes!”

He walked with her to the lift, said good-bye and returned to the fiacre with the tinkling bell. There was a stunned sort of look in his face. The fiacre meter registered two francs seventy. Max Tack did a lightning mental calculation. The expression on his face deepened. He looked up at the cabby—the red-faced, bottle-nosed cabby, with his absurd scarlet vest, his mustard-coloured trousers and his glazed top hat.

“Well, can you beat that? Three francs thirty for the evening's entertainment! Why—why, all she wanted was just a little love!”

To the bottle-nosed one all conversation in a foreign language meant dissatisfaction with the meter. He tapped that glass-covered contrivance impatiently with his whip. A flood of French bubbled at his lips.

“It's all right, boy! It's all right! You don't get me!” And Max Tacked pressed a five-franc piece into the outstretched palm. Then to the hotel porter: “Just grab a taxi for me, will you? These tubs make me nervous.”

Sophy, on her way to her room, hesitated, turned, then ran up the stairs to the next floor and knocked gently at Miss Morrissey's door. A moment later that lady's kimonoed figure loomed large in the doorway.

“Who is—oh, it's you! Well, I was just going to have them drag the Seine for you. Come in!”

She went back to the table. Sheets of paper, rough sketches of hat models done from memory, notes and letters lay scattered all about. Sophy leaned against the door dreamily.

“I've been working this whole mortal evening,” went on Ella Morrissey, holding up a pencil sketch and squinting at it disapprovingly over her working spectacles, “and I'm so tired that one eye's shut and the other's running on first. Where've you been, child?”

“Oh, driving!” Sophy's limp hair was a shade limper than usual, and a strand of it had become loosened and straggled untidily down over her ear. Her eyes looked large and strangely luminous. “Do you know, I love Paris!”

Ella Morrissey laid down her pencil sketch and turned slowly. She surveyed Sophy Gold, her shrewd eyes twinkling.

“That so? What made you change your mind?”

The dreamy look in Sophy's eyes deepened.

“Why—I don't know. There's something in the atmosphere—something in the air. It makes you do and say foolish things. It makes you feel queer and light and happy.”

Ella Morrissey's bright twinkle softened to a glow. She stared for another brief moment. Then she trundled over to where Sophy stood and patted her leathery cheek. “Welcome to our city!” said Miss Ella Morrissey.

 
 
 

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