On a day in May, not so long ago, Joan Vernon, coming out into the sunshine from her lodging in the Place de la Sorbonne, smiled a morning greeting to the statue of Auguste Comte, founder of Positivism. It would have puzzled her to explain what Positivism meant, or why it ...
On a day in May, not so long ago, Joan Vernon, coming out into the sunshine from her lodging in the Place de la Sorbonne, smiled a morning greeting to the statue of Auguste Comte, founder of Positivism. It would have puzzled her to explain what Positivism meant, or why it should be merely positive and not stoutly comparative or grandly superlative. As a teacher, therefore, Comte made no appeal. She just liked the bland look of the man, was pleased by the sleekness of his white marble. He seemed to be a friend, a counselor, strutting worthily on a pedestal labeled "Ordre et Progrès"; for Joan was an artist, not a philosopher.
Perhaps there was an underthought that she and Comte were odd fish to be at home together in that placid backwater of the Latin Quarter. Next door to the old-fashioned house in which she rented three rooms was a cabaret, a mere wreck of a wineshop, apparently cast there by the torrent of the Boule Mich, which roared a few yards away. Its luminous sign, a foaming tankard, showed gallantly by night, but was garish by day, since gas is akin to froth, to which the sun is pitiless. But the cabaret had its customers, quiet folk who gathered in the evening to gossip and drink strange beverages, whereas its nearest neighbor on the boulevard side was an empty tenement, a despondent ghost to-day, though once it had rivaled the flaunting tankard. Its frayed finery told of gay sparks extinguished. A flamboyant legend declared, "Ici on chante, on boit, on s'amuse(?)" Joan always smirked a little at that suggestive note of interrogation, which lent a world of meaning to the half-obliterated statement that Madame Lucette would appear "tous les soirs dans ses chansons d'actualités."
Nodding to Léontine, the cabaret's amazingly small maid of all work, who was always washing and never washed, Joan saw the query for the hundredth time, and, as ever, found its answer in the blistered paint and dust covered windows: Madame Lucette's last song of real life pointed a moral.
Joan's bright face did not cloud on that account. Paul Verlaine, taking the air in the Boulevard Saint Michel, had he chanced to notice the dry husk of that Cabaret Latin, might have composed a chanson on the vanity of dead cafés; but this sprightly girl had chosen her residence there chiefly because it marched with her purse. Moreover, it was admirably suited to the needs of one who for the most part gave her days to the Louvre and her evenings to the Sorbonne.
She was rather late that morning. Lest that precious hour of white light should be lost, she sped rapidly across the place, down the boulevard, and along the busy Quai des Grands Augustins. On the Pont Neuf she glanced up at another statuesque acquaintance, this time a kingly personage on horseback. She could never quite dispel the notion that Henri Quatre was ready to flirt with her. The roguish twinkle in his bronze eye was very taking, and there were not many men in Paris who could look at her in that way and win a smile in return. To be sure, it was no new thing for a Vernon to be well disposed toward Henry of Navarre; but that is ancient history, and our pretty Joan, blithely unconscious, was hurrying that morning to take an active part in redrafting the Berlin treaty.
At the corner of the bridge, where it joins the Quai du Louvre, she met a young man. Each pretended that the meeting was accidental, though, after the first glance, the best-natured recording angel ever commissioned from Paradise would have refused to believe either of them.
"What a piece of luck!" cried the young man. "Are you going to the Louvre?"
"Yes. And you?" demanded Joan, flushing prettily.
"I am killing time till the afternoon, when I play Number One for the Wanderers. To-day's match is at Bagatelle."
She laughed. "'Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee,'" she quoted.
"I don't quite follow that, Miss Vernon."
"No? Well, I'll explain another time. I must away to my copying."
"Let me come and fix your easel. Really, I have nothing else to do."
"Worse and worse! En route, alors! You can watch me at work. That must be a real pleasure to an idler."
"I am no idler," he protested.
"What? Who spoke but now of 'killing time,' 'play,' 'Number One,' and 'Bagatelle'? Really, Mr. Delgrado!"
"Oh, is that what you are driving at? But you misunderstood. Bagatelle is near the polo ground in the Bois, and, as Number One in my team, I shall have to hustle. Four stiff chukkers at polo are downright hard work, Miss Vernon. By teatime I shall be a limp rag. I promised to play nearly a month ago, and I cannot draw back now."
"Polo is a man's game, at any rate," she admitted.
"Would you care to see to-day's tie?" he asked eagerly.