"'Maybe,' says she; 'that's what I mean to find out. And if you'll do me a kindness,' she adds, 'you won't mind calling me Marie Luthier for the future, instead of G.o.dselle. It was my mother's name, and I've a fancy for it.'
"Well, there I left her to work out the thing for herself, having come to the conclusion she was capable of doing it; and so for another couple of weeks I merely watched. There was no doubt about his being in love with her. He had entered that Cafe at the beginning of the month with as good an opinion of himself as a man can conveniently carry without tumbling down and falling over it. Before the month was out he would sit with his head between his hands, evidently wondering why he had been born. I've seen the game played before, and I've seen it played since. A waiter has plenty of opportunities if he only makes use of them; for if it comes to a matter of figures, I suppose there's more love-making done in a month under the electric light of the restaurant than the moon sees in a year--leastways, so far as concerns what we call the civilised world.
I've seen men fooled, from boys without hair on their faces, to old men without much on their heads. I've seen it done in a way that was pretty to watch, and I've seen it done in a manner that has made me feel that given a wig and a petticoat I could do it better myself. But never have I seen it neater played than Marie played it on that young man of hers.
One day she would greet him for all the world like a tired child that at last has found its mother, and the next day respond to him in a style calculated to give you the idea of a small-sized empress in misfortune compelled to tolerate the familiarities of an anarchist. One moment she would throw him a pout that said as clearly as words: 'What a fool you are not to put your arms round me and kiss me'; and five minutes later chill him with a laugh that as good as told him he must be blind not to see that she was merely playing with him. What happened outside the Cafe--for now and then she would let him meet her of a morning in the Tuileries and walk down to the Cafe with her, and once or twice had allowed him to see her part of the way home--I cannot tell you: I only know that before strangers it was her instinct to be reserved. I take it that on such occasions his experiences were interesting; but whether they left him elated or depressed I doubt if he could have told you himself.
"But all the time Marie herself was just going from bad to worse. She had come to the Cafe a light-hearted, sweet-tempered girl; now, when she wasn't engaged in her play-acting--for that's all it was, I could see plainly enough--she would go about her work silent and miserable-looking, or if she spoke at all it would be to say something bitter. Then one morning after a holiday she had asked for, and which I had given her without any questions, she came to business more like her old self than I had seen her since the afternoon Master Tom Sleight had appeared upon the scene. All that day she went about smiling to herself; and young Flammard, presuming a bit too far maybe upon past favours, found himself sharply snubbed: it was a bit rough on him, the whole thing.
"'It's come to a head,' says I to myself; 'he has explained everything, and has managed to satisfy her. He's a cleverer chap than I took him for.'
"He didn't turn up at the Cafe that day, however, at all, and she never said a word until closing time, when she asked me to walk part of the way home with her.
"'Well,' I says, so soon as we had reached a quieter street, 'is the comedy over?'
"'No,' says she, 'so far as I'm concerned it's commenced. To tell you the truth, it's been a bit too serious up to now to please me. I'm only just beginning to enjoy myself,' and she laughed, quite her old light- hearted laugh.
"'You seem to be a bit more cheerful,' I says.
"'I'm feeling it,' says she; 'he's not as bad as I thought. We went to Versailles yesterday.'
"'Pretty place, Versailles,' says I; 'paths a bit complicated if you don't know your way among 'em.'
"'They do wind,' says she.
"'And there he told you that he loved you, and explained everything?'
"'You're quite right,' says she, 'that's just what happened. And then he kissed me for the first and last time, and now he's on his way to America.'
"'On his way to America?' says I, stopping still in the middle of the street.
"'To find his wife,' she says. 'He's pretty well ashamed of himself for not having tried to do it before. I gave him one or two hints how to set about it--he's not over smart--and I've got an idea he will discover her.' She dropped her joking manner, and gave my arm a little squeeze.
She'd have flirted with her own grandfather--that's my opinion of her.
"'He was really nice,' she continues. 'I had to keep lecturing myself, or I'd have been sorry for him. He told me it was his love for me that had shown him what a wretch he had been. He said he knew I didn't care for him two straws--and there I didn't contradict him--and that he respected me all the more for it. I can't explain to you how he worked it out, but what he meant was that I was so good myself that no one but a thoroughly good fellow could possibly have any chance with me, and that any other sort of fellow ought to be ashamed of himself for daring even to be in love with me, and that he couldn't rest until he had proved to himself that he was worthy to have loved me, and then he wasn't going to love me any more.'
"'It's a bit complicated,' says I. 'I suppose you understood it?'
"'It was perfectly plain,' says she, somewhat shortly, 'and, as I told him, made me really like him for the first time.'
"'It didn't occur to him to ask you why you had been flirting like a volcano with a chap you didn't like,' says I.
"'He didn't refer to it as flirtation,' says she. 'He regarded it as kindness to a lonely man in a strange land.'
"'I think you'll be all right,' says I. 'There's all the makings of a good husband in him--seems to be simple-minded enough, anyhow.'
"'He has a very lovable personality when you once know him,' says she.
'All sailors are apt to be thoughtless.'
"'I should try and break him of it later on,' says I.
"'Besides, she was a bit of a fool herself, going away and leaving no address,' adds she; and having reached her turning, we said good-night to one another.
"About a month pa.s.sed after that without anything happening. For the first week Marie was as merry as a kitten, but as the days went by, and no sign came, she grew restless and excited. Then one morning she came into the Cafe twice as important as she had gone out the night before, and I could see by her face that her little venture was panning out successfully. She waited till we had the Cafe to ourselves, which usually happened about mid-day, and then she took a letter out of her pocket and showed it me. It was a nice respectful letter containing sentiments that would have done honour to a churchwarden. Thanks to Marie's suggestions, for which he could never be sufficiently grateful, and which proved her to be as wise as she was good and beautiful, he had traced Mrs. Sleight, nee Mary G.o.dselle, to Quebec. From Quebec, on the death of her uncle, she had left to take a situation as waitress in a New York hotel, and he was now on his way there to continue his search. The result he would, with Miss Marie's permission, write and inform her. If he obtained happiness he would owe it all to her. She it was who had shown him his duty; there was a good deal of it, but that's what it meant.
"A week later came another letter, dated from New York this time. Mary could not be discovered anywhere; her situation she had left just two years ago, but for what or for where n.o.body seemed to know. What was to be done?
"Mam'sel Marie sat down and wrote him by return of post, and wrote him somewhat sharply--in broken English. It seemed to her he must be strangely lacking in intelligence. Mary, as he knew, spoke French as well as she did English. Such girls--especially such waitresses--he might know, were sought after on the Continent. Very possibly there were agencies in New York whose business it was to offer good Continental engagements to such young ladies. Even she herself had heard of one such--Brathwaite, in West Twenty-third Street, or maybe Twenty-fourth.
She signed her new name, Marie Luthier, and added a P.S. to the effect that a right-feeling husband who couldn't find his wife would have written in a tone less suggestive of resignation.
"That helped him considerably, that suggestion of Marie's about the agent Brathwaite. A fortnight later came a third letter. Wonderful to relate, his wife was actually in Paris, of all places in the world! She had taken a situation in the Hotel du Louvre. Master Tom expected to be in Paris almost as soon as his letter.
"'I think I'll go round to the Louvre if you can spare me for quarter of an hour,' said Marie, 'and see the manager.'
"Two days after, at one o'clock precisely, Mr. Tom Sleight walked into the Cafe. He didn't look cheerful and he didn't look sad. He had been to the 'Louvre'; Mary G.o.dselle had left there about a year ago; but he had obtained her address in Paris, and had received a letter from her that very morning. He showed it to Marie. It was short, and not well written. She would meet him in the Tuileries that evening at seven, by the Diana and the Nymph; he would know her by her wearing the onyx brooch he had given her the day before their wedding. She mentioned it was onyx, in case he had forgotten. He only stopped a few minutes, and both he and Marie spoke gravely and in low tones. He left a small case in her hands at parting; he said he hoped she would wear it in remembrance of one in whose thoughts she would always remain enshrined. I can't tell you what he meant; I only tell you what he said. He also gave me a very handsome walking-stick with a gold handle--what for, I don't know; I take it he felt like that.
"Marie asked to leave that evening at half-past six. I never saw her looking prettier. She called me into the office before she went. She wanted my advice. She had in one hand a beautiful opal brooch set in diamonds--it was what he had given her that morning--and in her other hand the one of onyx.
"'Shall I wear them both?' asked she, 'or only the one?' She was half laughing, half crying, already.
"I thought for a bit. 'I should wear the onyx to-night,' I said, 'by itself.'"
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