The Firefly of France

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
ISBN: N/A
Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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CHAPTER I

ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS

The restaurant of the Hotel St. Ives seems, as I look back on it, an odd spot to have served as stage wings for a melodrama, pure and simple. Yet a melodrama did begin there. No other word fits the case. The inns of the Middle Ages, which, I believe, reeked with trap-doors and cutthroats, pistols and poisoned daggers, offered nothing weirder than my experience, with its first scene set beneath this roof. The food there is superperfect, every luxury surrounds you, millionaires and traveling princes are your fellow-guests. Still, sooner than pass another night there, I would sleep airily in Central Park, and if I had a friend seeking New York quarters, I would guide him toward some other place.

It was pure chance that sent me to the St. Ives for the night before my steamer sailed. Closing the doors of my apartment the previous week and bidding good-bye to the servants who maintained me there in bachelor state and comfort, I had accompanied my friend Dick Forrest on a farewell yacht cruise from which I returned to find the first two hotels of my seeking packed from cellar to roof. But the third had a free room, and I took it without the ghost of a presentiment. What would or would not have happened if I had not taken it is a thing I like to speculate on.

To begin with, I should in due course have joined an ambulance section somewhere in France. I should not have gone hobbling on crutches for a painful three months or more. I should not have in my possession four shell fragments, carefully extracted by a French surgeon from my fortunately hard head. Nor should I have lived through the dreadful moment when that British officer at Gibraltar held up those papers, neatly folded and sealed and bound with bright, inappropriately cheerful red tape, and with an icy eye demanded an explanation beyond human power to afford.

All this would have been spared me. But, on the other hand, I could not now look back to that dinner on the Turin-Paris rapide. I should never have seen that little, ruined French village, with guns booming in the distance and the nearer sound of water running through tall reeds and over green stones and between great mossy trees. Indeed, my life would now be, comparatively speaking, a cheerless desert, because I should never have met the most beautiful—Well, all clouds have silver linings; some have golden ones with rainbow edges. No; I am not sorry I stopped at the St. Ives; not in the least!

At any rate, there I was at eight o'clock of a Wednesday evening in a restaurant full of the usual lights and buzz and glitter, among women in soft-hued gowns, and men in their hideous substitute for the same. Across the table sat my one-time guardian, dear old Peter Dunstan,—Dunny to me since the night when I first came to him, a very tearful, lonesome, small boy whose loneliness went away forever with his welcoming hug,—just arrived from home in Washington to eat a farewell dinner with me and to impress upon me for the hundredth time that I had better not go....