Puslapio vaizdai


The Tug of War


(Mrs. Forbes Dennis) Illustrations by Norman Price

EITHER of them had a single illusion left. General Eustace St. Clair Montrose was over fifty, and had spent his full, single-minded, and battered life in getting his own way. On the whole, he had succeeded in getting it, but he had not got anything else.

Madame Léonie Nibaud had left forty markedly behind her, and her accumulations (she had been occupied in laying up treasure for herself) had not been arranged principally with a view to heaven.

They measured the attraction which drew them together with the infallibility of repeated experience. Sex had no secrets from them, and no continuities; nevertheless, it was for both the principal diversion.

General Montrose was a tall, handsome man, with thick gray hair and eyebrows, dancing blue eyes, and a mouth like a steel trap. He had a massive chin, which he thrust out a little in argument. From his earliest youth he had fought and enjoyed fighting. All concessions that came to him without a struggle he regarded in the light of grievances. Conquest was his goal, but he always despised those who let him get there. His character was of the same consistency as a perfectly made cricket-ball, hard, light, and capable of rebounding. It was not capable of any other flexibility. He had a great many hearty tastes, but those for women, food, and flowers were predominant.

General Montrose had married young, and had alienated both his children. His wife died after a few subdued years of unequal and, on the general's part, unobservant companionship. He had been strictly faithful to his marriage tie, and nourished an obscure resentment

against it in consequence of this privation. He had, however, made up for it since.

Léonie Nibaud was less simple a spirit. There was the strain of the artist in her, but of the artist suppressed and supplanted. She had had a voice, which was a small fortune, and beauty, which was a greater one, and being a strictly practical woman, she had given up the lesser for the greater. Her experiences comprised a husband, whom she had without difficulty or hostility divorced; a fortune that permitted her seclusion to take the form of expensive hotels; and a daughter of twenty whom she had brought up in the purity ascribed to lilies. Mme. Nibaud herself, if not wholly respectable, was quite sufficiently respected.

Léonie's masseuse, her coiffeur, and her dressmaker were more intimate with her, and more necessary to her existence, than any other persons. The general's eyes, as they traveled unceasingly over her presented appearance, told of their combined success without being aware of the extent of their influence.

Léonie was not slim, and it would have · been better for her to have eaten fewer chocolates. But if her complexion was an art and her figure an increasing problem, her features were a gift of nature, and her great, provocative brown eyes, with their deep fringe of lashes, might have been thrust upon her direct from the hand of the least conscientious of the goddesses.

She used these organs without haste and without rest. They shut off from the general all the distractions of the great, light room, full of flowered tables and the delicate April sunshine of Paristhe room through which, during those black and crumbling years, all that

France knew of pleasure ran uninterruptedly and clear, with no apparent regret for the abbreviated careers of its seekers.

Léonie noticed that during the third spring the class of men had deteriorated: there were fewer young and handsome specimens. In that unending procession, the men that passed and passed, but never came again, were either, as the man before her, of high rank and mature years, or they were weedy and belated types, and they were all more dissolute. Leaves had ceased to be joyous and hopeful interludes in a soon-to-be-triumphant business. The interludes had be

come feverish reactions of panic against the oncoming certainty of horror and death. Those whom the gods loved had already received their final favor.

Léonie did not allow herself to dwell upon these disagreeable and vicarious sacrifices; but she noticed, because she was there to notice, the thinning down of quality.

Léonie was the first Frenchwoman the general had met who did not say the war was terrible or ask him when it was going to end. Nor did she put the responsibility of the next great push upon his shoulders. She refrained from any mention of the war, and when the general complimented her upon this conversational omission, Léonie shrugged her shoulders lightly.

"I am like that," she agreed, "to what does not concern me. I cannot alter the conditions of war, and as they do not involve me, they are for me the mountains in the moon."

"It is an admirable philosophy," admitted the general, "but I wish to belong to the things that do concern you. May I ask what is your attitude toward them?"

Léonie glanced speculatively across the table at him; then her curved lips bent into a slow, delicious smile.

"Rest assured, Monsieur," she murmured, "you do concern me, and you will in time find out my attitude toward you."

"I have not yet received much proof of it," ventured the general, daring her with his sparkling eyes. "I don't fail to appreciate the remarkably good lunch, or the more remarkable pleasure of your company; but if you will allow me to say

so, the additional company of the world that surrounds us takes off a little from the value of these benefits. I should have preferred to lunch with you alone."

"Monsieur is very direct," said Léonie, dropping the fringe of her long lashes. "He wishes to go fast-and far.'

"Very fast and very far," agreed the general. "You see, my leave is up tomorrow, and the pleasure of having met you is yet incomplete."

Léonie slowly raised her lashes, and their eyes met and lingered on each other. Léonie's were all tenderness, and the general's all ardor, but the element of calculation ran beneath both these appearances, as surely as after the repast set before them they would have to meet their inconspicuously presented, but relentless, bill.

Léonie made no direct response to the general's appeal. She rose slowly and said over her shoulder:

"We will take coffee in my room."

The general followed her progress across the dining-room with discreet admiration. This lovely Frenchwoman knew many things, and among them, how to walk. She had no diffidence and no aggression. She moved as one who knows that her place in the world will never be disputed.

Mme. Nibaud's private sitting-room was a bower of flowers. She had not altered the hotel furniture; she had simply drowned it. Huge bowls of sweet and purple violets covered the tables; on the mantelpiece, and hanging above the violets, were single pink roses in tall, thin glasses; and tossed high against the pale-gray walls were branches of almond-blossom.

The general glanced appreciatively at the flowers, but he wasted no time. As the door closed behind them, Léonie felt his iron hands touch her waist and her shoulders, and with a single, quick movement she was pressed against his heart.

She neither yielded to, nor resisted, his close embrace. She suffered it in a silence that was without constraint.

When he had released her for a moment, she slipped out of his hands with instant self-possession, and opened the door between her sitting-room and the room adjoining it.

"Jeanne," she said, "have the kindness to make us some coffee, and leave the door open. I like the aroma.”

Then she sat down with her back to the light, under a branch of almondblossom, and smiled at the general.

"I have my maid make my coffee," she explained quietly, "because downstairs they make something else. My friend," she added in a lower key, "you use too much audacity."

"Forgive me, if I feel," said the general, "that it was not my audacity which was too great, but the opportunity that was too small. When do you intend to enlarge it?"

"And if I do not so intend?" she asked, with delicately lifted brows.

"Then you waste my time," said the general, coldly, "and no woman, however charming, wastes my time for very long."

Léonie sighed.

"You are a man of iron,” she murmured, "so fierce, so irresistible, like your nation!"

"That is an advantage for you," urged the general; "I shall be the stronger friend."

"Pardon me, Monsieur," said Léonie; "a lover is not a friend."

"An ally, then, if you prefer it," said the general. "You are safe with me, at any rate -as long as our interests are the same."

She was silent for a moment, as if she were considering the quality of this security.

"Ah," she said at last, "but how many other women have trusted you? How many, perhaps, trust you even now-in vain? I will be perfectly frank with you, my General.

"I have been, as you know, unhappily married; in fact, for many years I have been without either protection or companionship. I lived very strictly; I brought up my daughter. At length I married her, very successfully, very perfectly. She has had nothing to regret, and happiness is between her and knowledge. Now I am alone again, and I am freer. When I have a fancy, I follow it. I have a fancy for you, but I am not in so great a hurry as you are. I count a little my costs.'

"Yes," said the general, "that is very

natural. What are they, your costs? I am willing to meet anything in reason." Léonie drew back a little, and laughed with an amused exasperation.

"Ah," she said, "I do not mean what you mean. I am not expensive. You mistake your genre. My costs are perhaps not quite so simple.

"I want an intimacy of the heart. I want, as it were, to be sure of you first; I will not say forever, but possibly for the day after to-morrow."

The general pondered for a moment, then he said slowly: "You are everything I like. I adore you. Until you let me make love to you, I cannot show you how much. I have to go now, whatever happens, but you may take it from me that I shall come back."

Jeanne came in with the coffee. She carried on the small lacquered tray two gold glasses of liqueur. Jeanne was a pretty girl, and the general liked liqueur with his coffee; but he noticed neither of these additions to his comfort: his attention was wholly fixed upon Léonie.

"Tiens," she said tranquilly, "but I leave Paris. I have for the spring and summer a little villa near the sea. You could come there, perhaps you, and what you call your A. D. C. But is it too far from your portion of the line? Non? My little villa is a few miles from Dieppe. I hope it is not too out of the way for you."

The general's eyes did not flicker, but they hardened curiously for a moment. He was not at liberty to mention where his portion of the line was likely to be, nor did he do so. He said after a moment's pause:

"I run about a good deal in my car. I might blow in your way. Let me take down your address."

It was a coincidence that the address Léonie mentioned to him was precisely six miles from where the general's division would be stationed for the next two months. They were to be pulled out of the line, rested, and thrown in again for the Battle of the Somme, and the general was one of perhaps ten others who knew the exact details of when and where this famous battle was going to take place.

"You might tell your maid," suggested the general, pocketing his address-book

with decision, "that as we now have both the coffee and the aroma, she is at liberty to shut the door."

MME. NIBAUD's villa stood high above a sea of blossoming orchards. A rampart of softly rising, far blue hills was between it and the gash across the face of France. It was a space of peace and golden fields; only occasionally, between the clear and piercing songs of the spring birds, sounded the distant steady booming of the guns.

Mon Plaisir was an achievement both of beauty and luxury. Nothing was irregular in it. Everything ministered punctually and without visible effort to the comfort and pleasure of its inhabitants. The cooking was exactly what the general liked. He always averred that he had a simple taste in cooking, but it was a simplicity which had baffled thirteen cooks in nine months. His hours were his own. In the evenings he could listen, sitting at his ease on a sweet-scented terrace, to one of the best-trained voices in Europe. During the day he had a most accomplished and perfectly attired companion always at his disposal and never in his way.

Mme. Nibaud possessed an even temper and quick wits. Her tastes were almost identical with the general's. She did not care greatly for young men. She treated Captain Pollock, the general's handsome A. D..C., with a goodnatured tolerance. Only when they were alone did this delicate indifference yield to the admiration which Captain Pollock sometimes felt was his due.

"What it must be," she said on one of these occasions, "to know the general's mind, to share his counsels, and perhaps even assist him (for I know how much he admires your intelligence) to arrive at his great decisions! I am sure there is nothing you do not know. For instance, sometimes as I look at you, I say to myself, 'Mon Dieu! This young man controls destiny! He knows where the arm of the English is to be stretched out in revenge for Verdun.' The very date is, I believe, behind your eyes."

Captain Pollock very wisely dropped these signals of the future.

"I assure you," he murmured in some

confusion, "the general tells me nothing except what concerns me, and that has more to do with where I had better buy fish than with destiny."

"Ah, the uncontrollable modesty of the Englishman!" Mme. Nibaud replied. "But I am so ignorant of war, I may easily be indiscreet. Frankly, I do not understand even the communiqués in the newspapers. One thing alone I care to know. Is the general in danger? That is the only little satisfaction of a woman which I would like sometimes to demand of you, Captain Pollock. Can you not let me know when I may feel safe about him and for how long?"

Captain Pollock referred her to the general himself; he knew rather more, after all, than where to buy fish.

Jeanne had more success with the general's chauffeur. This simple young man, chosen for the solidity of his nerves and his ability (he had had the advantage of having been reared in Billingsgate) to stand the general's language, told her precisely where the division was. She learned from his flattered responses to her interest in him where they drove daily, and even on one occasion, when they went to an important conference, that the commander-in-chief was present. He had been pointed out to Pounce, who described him, a little to Jeanne's linguistic confusion, as "a bunch of red tape."

Pounce had been particularly cautioned against mentioning any of these facts, but Jeanne's questions were always indirect; nor was he aware of the quantity of facts an indirect question can elicit from a flattered recipient whose mind is concentrated upon the possibility of favors to come.

The general himself was less awake than usual. He was very much in love; he was almost involved. Hitherto his heart had been a caravansary. Objects of his affection came and went, they even inhabited it simultaneously; but they never stayed for very long, and none of them had ever seriously interfered with his control of it. But Mme. Nibaud reigned alone; she completely satisfied him, and she was the only woman he had known since his wife's death who was absolutely disinterested. She was more than disinterested: she was


"I have a fancy for you, but I am not in so great a hurry as you are. I count a little my costs''

recklessly and passionately generous. The general daily drank priceless wines, mysteriously overlooked, and left in her cellars by her late husband, who had owned some of the best wines in France.

Léonie told the general plainly that she would give up her villa to-morrow and follow him at whatever distance the military exigencies permitted.

It was an expensive time, and she squandered money like water on his entertainment.

"What does it matter?" she said, indifferently, when he urged her to be more careful. "You take your life in your hand for France, and I, whose life is of no value, take my money, so that I may make your life, while it lasts, more bearable. Besides, never forget your life is mine."

Sometimes the general nearly believed her, and it made him feel a little uncomfortable. His life was not Léonie's; it was England's, and sometimes it occurred to him that even as a necessary recreation Léonie took up rather too much of his attention. She did not interfere with his work, but the quality of the power he had for it lacked its old intensity.

Léonie was an extremely intelligent woman about everything but war; for that she had a blank and most incurious mind.

The only information she ever wanted from the general was when he was likely to be in danger. She could not be content with his assurance that as a divisional general he virtually never was.

"Nonsense!" she would say with the only approach to sharpness he ever heard from her. "Those dreadful shells fall everywhere. When I say danger, I mean anywhere wherever it is where the men, poor brutes, fight. I want to know always when you go near what you call the line. Then I may feel safer when I know you are not there."

"When I am not with you," said the general, "I am not necessarily near any line. I am simply on duty. You must be content with that."

"How am I to know that it is not other women you go to?" she demanded one evening after dinner on the terrace. "Duty, that is a fine broad word to use; it may cover many things."

"I don't know how you are to know," replied the general, coldly, "if you won't take my word for it."

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