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DANGEROUS DAYS by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Part 9 out of 9

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a right to this wonderful hour, at least. If he had gone to the
front, to see Graham - but then it must be rather wonderful at the
front, too. She tried to visualize it; the guns quiet, and the
strained look gone from the faces of the men, with the wonderful
feeling that as there was to-day, now there would also be to-morrow.

She felt a curious shrinking from the people she knew. For this
one day she wanted to be alone. This peace was a thing of the soul,
and of the soul alone. She knew what it would be with the people
she knew best in Paris, - hastily arranged riotous parties, a
great deal of champagne and noise, and, overlying the real sentiment,
much sentimentality. She realized, with a faint smile, that the old
Audrey would have welcomed that very gayety. She was even rather
resentful with herself for her own aloofness.

She quite forgot luncheon, and early afternoon found her on the
balcony of the Crillon Hotel, overlooking the Place de la Concorde.
Paris was truly awake by that time, and going mad. The long-quiet
fountains were playing, Poilus and American soldiers had seized
captured German cannon and were hauling them wildly about. If in
the morning the crowd had been largely khaki, now the French blue
predominated. Flags and confetti were everywhere, and every motor,
as it, pushed slowly through the crowd, carried on roof and running
board and engine hood crowds of self-invited passengers. A British
band was playing near the fountain. A line of helmets above the
mass and wild cheers revealed French cavalry riding through, and,
heralded by jeers and much applause came a procession of the
proletariat, of odds and ends, soldiers and shop-girls, mechanics
and street-sweepers and cabmen and students, carrying an effigy
of the Kaiser on a gibbet.

As the sun went down, the outlines of the rejoicing city took on
the faint mist-blue of a dream city. It softened the outlines of
the Eiffel tower to strange and fairy-like beauty and gave to the
trees in the Tuileries gardens the lack of definition of an old
engraving. And as if to remind the rejoicing of the price of their
happiness, there came limping through the crowd a procession of the
mutilees. They stumped along on wooden legs or on crutches; they
rode in wheeled chairs; they were led, who could not see. And
they smiled and cheered. None of them was whole, but every one
was a full man, for all that.

Audrey cried, shamelessly like Suzanne, but quietly. And, not for
the first time that day, she thought of Chris. She had never loved
him, but it was pitiful that he could not have lived. He had so
loved life. He would have so relished all this, the pageantry of
it, and the gayety, and the night's revelry that was to follow.
Poor Chris! He had thrown everything away, even life. The world
perhaps was better that these mutilees below had given what they
had. But Chris had gone like a pebble thrown into a lake. He had
made his tiny ripple and had vanished.

Then she remembered that she was not quite fair. Perhaps she had
never been fair to Chris. He had given all he had. He had not
lived well, but he had died well. And there was something to be
said for death. For the first time in her healthy life she
wondered about death, standing here on the Crillon balcony, with
the city gone mad with life below her. Death was quiet. It might
be rather wonderful. She thought, if Clay did not want her, that
perhaps it would be very comforting just to die and forget about

From beneath the balcony there came again, lustily the shouts of
a dozen doughboys hauling a German gun:

"Hail! hail! the gang's all here!
What the hell do we care?
What the hell do we care?
Hail, hail, the gang's all here!
What the hell do we care now?"

Then, that night, Clay came. The roistering city outside had made
of her little sitting-room a sort of sanctuary, into which came only
faintly the blasts of horns, hoarse strains of the "Marseillaise"
sung by an un-vocal people, the shuffling of myriad feet, the
occasional semi-hysterical screams of women.

"Mr. Spencer is calling," said the concierge over the telephone, in
his slow English. And suddenly a tight band snapped which had
seemed to bind Audrey's head all day. She was calm. She was
herself again. Life was very wonderful; peace was very wonderful.
The dear old world. The good old world. The kind, loving, tender
old world, which separated people that they might know the joy of
coming together again. She wanted to sing, she wanted to hang over
her balcony and teach the un-vocal French the "Marseillaise."

Yet, when she had opened the door, she could not even speak. And
Clay, too, after one long look at her, only held out his arms. It
was rather a long time, indeed, before they found any words at all.
Audrey was the first, and what she said astounded her. For she said:

"What a dreadful noise outside."

And Clay responded, with equal gravity: "Yes, isn't it!"

Then he took off his overcoat and put it down, and placed his hat
on the table, and said, very simply: "I couldn't stay away. I
tried to."

"You hadn't a chance in the world, Clay, when I was willing you to

Then there was one of those silences which come when words have
shown their absolute absurdity. It seemed a long time before he
broke it.

"I'm not young, Audrey. And I have failed once."

"It takes two to make a failure," she said dauntlessly. "I
- wouldn't let you fail again, Clay. Not if you love me."

"If I love you!" Then he was, somehow, in that grotesque position
that is only absurd to the on-looker, on his knees beside her. His
terrible self-consciousness was gone. He only knew that, somehow,
some way, he must prove to her his humility, his love, his terrible
fear of losing her again, his hope that together they might make up
for the wasted years of their lives. "I worship you," he said.

The little room was a sanctuary. The war lay behind them. Wasted
and troubled years lay behind them. Youth, first youth, was gone,
with its illusions and its dreams. But before them lay the years
of fulfilment, years of understanding. Youth demanded everything,
and was discontented that it secured less than its demands. Now
they asked but three things, work, and peace, and love. And the
greatest of these was love.

Something like that he said to her, when the first
inarticulateness had passed, and when, as is the way of a man with
the woman who loves him, he tried to lay his soul as well as his
heart at her feet. The knowledge that the years brought. That
love in youth was a plant of easy growth, springing up in many soils.
But that the love of the middle span of a man's life, whether that
love be the early love purified by fire, or a new love, sowed in
sacrifice and watered with tears, the love that was to carry a man
and a woman through to the end, the last love, was God's infinitely
precious gift. A gift to take the place of the things that had gone
with youth, of high adventure and the lilt of the singing heart.

The last gift.

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