Chapter 23
3 mins to read
882 words

Abe North was still in the Ritz bar, where he had been since nine in the morning. When he arrived seeking sanctuary the windows were open and great beams were busy at pulling up the dust from smoky carpets and cushions. Chasseurs tore through the corridors, liberated and disembodied, moving for the moment in pure space. The sit-down bar for women, across from the bar proper, seemed very small—it was hard to imagine what throngs it could accommodate in the afternoon.

The famous Paul, the concessionaire, had not arrived, but Claude, who was checking stock, broke off his work with no improper surprise to make Abe a pick-me-up. Abe sat on a bench against a wall. After two drinks he began to feel better—so much better that he mounted to the barber’s shop and was shaved. When he returned to the bar Paul had arrived—in his custom-built motor, from which he had disembarked correctly at the Boulevard des Capucines. Paul liked Abe and came over to talk.

“I was supposed to ship home this morning,” Abe said. “I mean yesterday morning, or whatever this is.”

“Why din you?” asked Paul.

Abe considered, and happened finally to a reason: “I was reading a serial in Liberty and the next installment was due here in Paris—so if I’d sailed I’d have missed it—then I never would have read it.”

“It must be a very good story.”

“It’s a terr-r-rible story.”

Paul arose chuckling and paused, leaning on the back of a chair:

“If you really want to get off, Mr. North, there are friends of yours going to-morrow on the France—Mister what is his name—and Slim Pearson. Mister—I’ll think of it—tall with a new beard.”

“Yardly,” Abe supplied.

“Mr. Yardly. They’re both going on the France.”

He was on his way to his duties but Abe tried to detain him: “If I didn’t have to go by way of Cherbourg. The baggage went that way.”

“Get your baggage in New York,” said Paul, receding.

The logic of the suggestion fitted gradually into Abe’s pitch—he grew rather enthusiastic about being cared for, or rather of prolonging his state of irresponsibility.

Other clients had meanwhile drifted in to the bar: first came a huge Dane whom Abe had somewhere encountered. The Dane took a seat across the room, and Abe guessed he would be there all the day, drinking, lunching, talking or reading newspapers. He felt a desire to out-stay him. At eleven the college boys began to step in, stepping gingerly lest they tear one another bag from bag. It was about then he had the chasseur telephone to the Divers; by the time he was in touch with them he was in touch also with other friends—and his hunch was to put them all on different phones at once—the result was somewhat general. From time to time his mind reverted to the fact that he ought to go over and get Freeman out of jail, but he shook off all facts as parts of the nightmare.

By one o’clock the bar was jammed; amidst the consequent mixture of voices the staff of waiters functioned, pinning down their clients to the facts of drink and money.

“That makes two stingers . . . and one more . . . two martinis and one . . . nothing for you, Mr. Quarterly . . . that makes three rounds. That makes seventy-five francs, Mr. Quarterly. Mr. Schaeffer said he had this—you had the last . . . I can only do what you say . . . thanks vera-much.”

In the confusion Abe had lost his seat; now he stood gently swaying and talking to some of the people with whom he had involved himself. A terrier ran a leash around his legs but Abe managed to extricate himself without upsetting and became the recipient of profuse apologies. Presently he was invited to lunch, but declined. It was almost Briglith, he explained, and there was something he had to do at Briglith. A little later, with the exquisite manners of the alcoholic that are like the manners of a prisoner or a family servant, he said good-by to an acquaintance, and turning around discovered that the bar’s great moment was over as precipitately as it had begun.

Across from him the Dane and his companions had ordered luncheon. Abe did likewise but scarcely touched it. Afterwards, he just sat, happy to live in the past. The drink made past happy things contemporary with the present, as if they were still going on, contemporary even with the future as if they were about to happen again.

At four the chasseur approached him:

“You wish to see a colored fellow of the name Jules Peterson?”

“God! How did he find me?”

“I didn’t tell him you were present.”

“Who did?” Abe fell over his glasses but recovered himself.

“Says he’s already been around to all the American bars and hotels.”

“Tell him I’m not here—” As the chasseur turned away Abe asked: “Can he come in here?”

“I’ll find out.”

Receiving the question Paul glanced over his shoulder; he shook his head, then seeing Abe he came over.

“I’m sorry; I can’t allow it.”

Abe got himself up with an effort and went out to the Rue Cambon.

Read next chapter  >>
Chapter 24
7 mins to read
1840 words
Return to Tender is the Night