/ Language: English / Genre:prose_contemporary

The InvisibleBridge

Julie Orringer

Julie Orringer's astonishing first novel – eagerly awaited since the publication of her heralded best-selling short-story collection, How to Breathe Underwater ('Fiercely beautiful' – The New York Times) – is a grand love story and an epic tale of three brothers whose lives are torn apart by war. Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. As he becomes involved with the letter's recipient, his elder brother takes up medical studies in Modena, their younger brother leaves school for the stage – and Europe 's unfolding tragedy sends each of their lives into terrifying uncertainty. From the Hungarian village of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the lonely chill of Andras's garret to the enduring passion he discovers on the rue de Sévigné, from the despair of a Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labor camps and beyond, The Invisible Bridge tells the unforgettable story of brothers bound by history and love, of a marriage tested by disaster, of a Jewish family's struggle against annihilation, and of the dangerous power of art in a time of war.

Julie Orringer

The InvisibleBridge

© 2010

For the Zahav brothers

O tempora! O mores! O mekkora nagy córesz.

O the times! O the customs! O what tremendous tsuris.

– from Marsh Marigold,

a Hungarian Labor Service newspaper,

Bánhida Labor Camp, 1939

From Bulgaria thick wild cannon pounding rolls,

It strikes the mountain ridge, then hesitates and falls.

A piled-up blockage of thoughts, animals, carts, and men;

whinnying, the road rears up; the sky runs with its mane.

In this chaos of movement you’re in me, permanent,

deep in my consciousness you shine, motion forever spent

and mute, like an angel awed by death’s great carnival,

or an insect in rotted tree pith, staging its funeral.

– Miklós Radnóti, from “Picture Postcards,”

written to his wife during his death march from Heidenau, 1944

It is

as though I lay

under a low

sky and breathed

through a needle’s eye.

– W. G. Sebald

from Unrecounted

PART ONE. The Street of Schools

CHAPTER ONE. A Letter

LATER HE WOULD TELL her that their story began at the Royal Hungarian Opera House, the night before he left for Paris on the Western Europe Express. The year was 1937; the month was September, the evening unseasonably cold. His brother had insisted on taking him to the opera as a parting gift. The show was Tosca and their seats were at the top of the house. Not for them the three marble-arched doorways, the façade with its Corinthian columns and heroic entablature. Theirs was a humble side entrance with a red-faced ticket taker, a floor of scuffed wood, walls plastered with crumbling opera posters. Girls in knee-length dresses climbed the stairs arm in arm with young men in threadbare suits; pensioners argued with their white-haired wives as they shuffled up the five narrow flights. At the top, a joyful din: a refreshment salon lined with mirrors and wooden benches, the air hazy with cigarette smoke. A doorway at its far end opened onto the concert hall itself, the great electric-lit cavern of it, with its ceiling fresco of Greek immortals and its gold-scrolled tiers. Andras had never expected to see an opera here, nor would he have if Tibor hadn’t bought the tickets. But it was Tibor’s opinion that residence in Budapest must include at least one evening of Puccini at the Operaház. Now Tibor leaned over the rail to point out Admiral Horthy’s box, empty that night except for an ancient general in a hussar’s jacket. Far below, tuxedoed ushers led men and women to their seats, the men in evening dress, the women’s hair glittering with jewels.

“If only Mátyás could see this,” Andras said.

“He’ll see it, Andráska. He’ll come to Budapest when he’s got his baccalaureate, and in a year he’ll be sick to death of this place.”

Andras had to smile. He and Tibor had both moved to Budapest as soon as they graduated from gimnázium in Debrecen. They had all grown up in Konyár, a tiny village in the eastern flatlands, and to them, too, the capital city had once seemed like the center of the world. Now Tibor had plans to go to medical college in Italy, and Andras, who had lived here for only a year, was leaving for school in Paris. Until the news from the École Spéciale d’Architecture, they had all thought Tibor would be the first to go. For the past three years he’d been working as a salesclerk in a shoe store on Váci utca, saving money for his tuition and poring over his medical textbooks at night as desperately as if he were trying to save his own life. When Andras had moved in with him a year earlier, Tibor’s departure had seemed imminent. He had already passed his exams and submitted his application to the medical school at Modena. He thought it might take six months to get his acceptance and student visa. Instead the medical college had placed him on a waiting list for foreign students, and he’d been told it might be another year or two before he could matriculate.

Tibor hadn’t said a word about his own situation since Andras had learned of his scholarship, nor had he shown a trace of envy. Instead he had bought these opera tickets and helped Andras make his plans. Now, as the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to tune, Andras was visited by a private shame: Though he knew he would have been happy for Tibor if their situations had been reversed, he suspected he would have done a poor job of hiding his jealousy.

From a door at the side of the orchestra pit, a tall spindling man with hair like white flames emerged and stepped into a spotlight. The audience shouted its approval as this man made his way to the podium. He had to take three bows and raise his hands in surrender before they went quiet; then he turned to the musicians and lifted his baton. After a moment of quivering stillness, a storm of music rolled out of the brass and strings and entered Andras’s chest, filling his ribcage until he could scarcely breathe. The velvet curtain rose to reveal the interior of an Italian cathedral, its minutiae rendered in perfect and intricate detail. Stained-glass windows radiated amber and azure light, and a half-completed fresco of Mary Magdalene showed ghostly against a plaster wall. A man in striped prison garb crept into the church to hide in one of the dark chapels. A painter came in to work on the fresco, followed by a sexton bent upon making the painter tidy up his brushes and dropcloths before the next service. Then came the opera diva Tosca, the model for Mary Magdalene, her carmine skirts swirling around her ankles. Song flew up and hovered in the painted dome of the Operaház: the clarinetlike tenor of the painter Cavaradossi, the round basso of the fugitive Angelotti, the warm apricotty soprano of the fictional diva Tosca, played by the real Hungarian diva Zsuzsa Toronyi. The sound was so solid, so tangible, it seemed to Andras he could reach over the edge of the balcony and grab handfuls of it. The building itself had become an instrument, he thought: The architecture expanded the sound and completed it, amplified and contained it.

“I won’t forget this,” he whispered to his brother.

“You’d better not,” Tibor whispered back. “I expect you to take me to the opera when I visit you in Paris.”

At the intermission they drank small cups of black coffee in the refreshment salon and argued over what they’d seen. Was the painter’s refusal to betray his friend an act of selfless loyalty or self-glorifying bravado? Was his endurance of the torture that followed meant to be read as a sublimation of his sexual love for Tosca? Would Tosca herself have stabbed Scarpia if her profession hadn’t schooled her so thoroughly in the ways of melodrama? There was a bittersweet pleasure in the exchange; as a boy, Andras had spent hours listening to Tibor debate points of philosophy or sport or literature with his friends, and had pined for the day when he might say something Tibor would find witty or incisive. Now that he and Tibor had become equals, or something like equals, Andras was leaving, getting on a train to be carried hundreds of kilometers away.

“What is it?” Tibor said, his hand on Andras’s sleeve.

“Too much smoke,” Andras said, and coughed, averting his eyes from Tibor’s. He was relieved when the lights flickered to signal the end of the intermission.

After the third act, when the innumerable curtain calls were over-the dead Tosca and Cavaradossi miraculously revived, the evil Scarpia smiling sweetly as he accepted an armload of red roses-Andras and Tibor pushed toward the exit and made their way down the crowded stairs. Outside, a faint scattering of stars showed above the wash of city light. Tibor took his arm and led him toward the Andrássy side of the building, where the dress-circle and orchestra-floor patrons were spilling through the three marble arches of the grand entrance.

“I want you to have a look at the main foyer,” Tibor said. “We’ll tell the usher we left something inside.”

Andras followed him through the central doorway and into the chandelier-lit hall, where a marble stairway spread its wings toward a gallery. Men and women in evening dress descended, but Andras saw only architecture: the egg-and-dart molding along the stairway, the cross-barrel vault above, the pink Corinthian columns that supported the gallery. Miklós Ybl, a Hungarian from Székesfehérvár, had won an international competition to design the opera house; Andras’s father had given him a book of Ybl’s architectural drawings for his eighth birthday, and he had spent many long afternoons studying this space. As the departing audience flowed around him, he stared up into the vault of the ceiling, so intent upon reconciling this three-dimensional version with the line drawings in his memory that he scarcely noticed when someone paused before him and spoke. He had to blink and force himself to focus upon the person, a large dovelike woman in a sable coat, who appeared to be begging his pardon. He bowed and stepped aside to let her pass.

“No, no,” she said. “You’re just where I want you. What luck to run into you here! I would never have known how to find you.”

He struggled to recall when and where he might have met this woman. A diamond necklace glinted at her throat, and the skirt of a rose silk gown spilled from beneath her pelisse; her dark hair was arranged in a cap of close-set curls. She took his arm and led him out onto the front steps of the opera house.

“It was you at the bank the other day, wasn’t it?” she said. “You were the one with the envelope of francs.”

Now he knew her: It was Elza Hász, the wife of the bank director. Andras had seen her a few times at the great synagogue on Dohány utca, where he and Tibor went for an occasional Friday night service. The other day at the bank he’d jostled her as she crossed the lobby; she’d dropped the striped hatbox she was carrying, and he’d lost his grip on his paper folder of francs. The folder had opened, discharging the pink-and-green bills, and the money had fluttered around their feet like confetti. He’d dusted off the hatbox and handed it back to her, then watched her disappear though a door marked PRIVATE.

“You look to be my son’s age,” she said now. “And judging from your currency, I would guess you’re off to school in Paris.”

“Tomorrow afternoon,” he said.

“You must do me a great favor. My son is studying at the Beaux-Arts, and I’d like you to take a package for him. Would it be a terrible inconvenience?”

A moment passed before he could respond. To agree to take a package to someone in Paris would mean that he was truly going, that he intended to leave his brothers and his parents and his country behind and step into the vast unknown of Western Europe.

“Where does your son live?” he asked.

“The Quartier Latin, of course,” she said, and laughed. “In a painter’s garret, not in a lovely villa like our Cavaradossi. Though he tells me he has hot water and a view of the Panthéon. Ah, there’s the car!” A gray sedan pulled to the curb, and Mrs. Hász lifted her arm and signaled to the driver. “Come tomorrow before noon. Twenty-six Benczúr utca. I’ll have everything ready.” She pulled the collar of her coat closer and ran down to the car, not pausing to look back at Andras.

“Well!” Tibor said, coming out to join him on the steps. “Suppose you tell me what that was all about.”

“I’m to be an international courier. Madame Hász wants me to take a box to her son in Paris. We met at the bank the other day when I went to exchange pengő for francs.”

“And you agreed?”

“I did.”

Tibor sighed, glancing off toward the yellow streetcars passing along the boulevard. “It’s going to be awfully dull around here without you, Andráska.”

“Nonsense. I predict you’ll have a girlfriend within a week.”

“Oh, yes. Every girl goes mad for a penniless shoe clerk.”

Andras smiled. “At last, a little self-pity! I was beginning to resent you for being so generous and coolheaded.”

“Not at all. I could kill you for leaving. But what good would that do? Then neither of us would get to go abroad.” He grinned, but his eyes were grave behind his silver-rimmed spectacles. He linked arms with Andras and pulled him down the steps, humming a few bars from the overture. It was only three blocks to their building on Hársfa utca; when they reached the entry they paused for a last breath of night air before going up to the apartment. The sky above the Operaház was pale orange with reflected light, and the streetcar bells echoed from the boulevard. In the semidarkness Tibor seemed to Andras as handsome as a movie legend, his hat set at a daring angle, his white silk evening scarf thrown over one shoulder. He looked at that moment like a man ready to take up a thrilling and unconventional life, a man far better suited than Andras to step off a railway car in a foreign land and claim his place there. Then he winked and pulled the key from his pocket, and in another moment they were racing up the stairs like gimnázium boys.

Mrs. Hász lived near the Városliget, the city park with its storybook castle and its vast rococo outdoor baths. The house on Benczúr utca was an Italianate villa of creamy yellow stucco, surrounded on three sides by hidden gardens; the tops of espaliered trees rose from behind a white stone wall. Andras could make out the faint splash of a fountain, the scratch of a gardener’s rake. It struck him as an unlikely place for Jewish people to live, but at the entrance there was a mezuzah nailed to the doorframe-a silver cylinder wrapped in gold ivy. When he pressed the doorbell, a five-note chime sounded from inside. Then came the approaching click of heels on marble, and the throwing back of heavy bolts. A silver-haired housemaid opened the door and ushered him in. He stepped into a domed entrance hall with a floor of pink marble, an inlaid table, a sheaf of calla lilies in a Chinese vase.

“Madame Hász is in the sitting room,” the housemaid said.

He followed her across the entry hall and down a vaulted corridor, and they stopped just outside a doorway through which he could hear the crescendo and decrescendo of women’s voices. He couldn’t make out the words, but it was clear that there was an argument in progress: One voice climbed and peaked and dropped off; another, quieter than the first, rose and insisted and fell silent.

“Wait here a moment,” the housemaid said, and went in to announce Andras’s arrival. At the announcement the voices exchanged another brief volley, as if the argument had something to do with Andras himself. Then the housemaid reappeared and ushered Andras into a large bright room that smelled of buttered toast and flowers. On the floor were pink-and-gold Persian rugs; white damask chairs stood in conversation with a pair of salmon-colored sofas, and a low table held a bowl of yellow roses. Mrs. Hász had risen from her chair in the corner. At a writing desk near the window sat an older woman in widow’s black, her hair covered with a lace shawl. She held a wax-sealed letter, which she set atop a pile of books and pinned beneath a glass paperweight. Mrs. Hász crossed the room to meet Andras and pressed his hand in her large cold one.

“Thank you for coming,” she said. “This is my mother-in-law, the elder Mrs. Hász.” She nodded toward the woman in black. The woman was of delicate build, with a deep-lined face that Andras found lovely despite its aura of grief; her large gray eyes radiated quiet pain. He gave a bow and pronounced the formal greeting: Kezét csókolom, I kiss your hand.

The elder Mrs. Hász nodded in return. “So you’ve agreed to take a box to József,” she said. “That was very kind of you. I’m sure you have a great deal to think about already.”

“It’s no trouble at all.”

“We won’t keep you long,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “Simon is packing the last items now. I’ll ring for something to eat in the meantime. You look famished.”

“Oh, no, please don’t bother,” Andras said. In fact, the smell of toast had reminded him that he hadn’t eaten all day; but he worried that even the smallest meal in that house would require a lengthy ceremony, one whose rules were foreign to him. And he was in a hurry: His train left in three hours.

“Young men can always eat,” said the younger Mrs. Hász, calling the housemaid to her side. She gave a few instructions and sent the woman on her way.

The elder Mrs. Hász left her chair at the writing desk and beckoned Andras to sit beside her on one of the salmon-colored sofas. He sat down, worrying that his trousers would leave a mark on the silk; he would have needed a different grade of clothing altogether, it seemed to him, to pass an hour safely in that house. The elder Mrs. Hász folded her slim hands on her lap and asked Andras what he would study in Paris.

“Architecture,” Andras said.

“Indeed. So you’ll be a classmate of József’s at the Beaux-Arts, then?”

“I’ll be at the École Spéciale,” Andras said. “Not the Beaux-Arts.”

The younger Mrs. Hász settled herself on the opposite sofa. “The École Spéciale? I haven’t heard József mention it.”

“It’s rather more of a trade school than the Beaux-Arts,” Andras said. “That’s what I understand, anyway. I’ll be there on a scholarship from the Izraelita Hitközség. It was a happy accident, actually.”

“An accident?”

And Andras explained: The editor of Past and Future, the magazine where he worked, had submitted some of Andras’s cover designs for an exhibition in Paris -a show of work by young Central European artists. His covers had been selected and exhibited; a professor from the École Spéciale had seen the show and had made inquiries about Andras. The editor had told him that Andras wanted to become an architect, but that it was difficult for Jewish students to get into architecture school in Hungary: A defunct numerus clausus, which in the twenties had restricted the number of Jewish students to six percent, still haunted the admissions practices of Hungarian universities. The professor from the École Spéciale had written letters, had petitioned his admissions board to give Andras a place in the incoming class. The Budapest Jewish community association, the Izraelita Hitközség, had put up the money for tuition, room, and board. It had all happened in a matter of weeks, and at every moment it seemed as if it might fall through. But it hadn’t; he was going. His classes would begin six days from now.

“Ah,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “How fortunate! And a scholarship, too!” But at the last words she lowered her eyes, and Andras experienced the return of a feeling from his school days in Debrecen: a sudden shame, as if he’d been stripped to his underclothes. A few times he’d spent weekend afternoons at the homes of boys who lived in town, whose fathers were barristers or bankers, who didn’t have to board with poor families-boys who slept alone in their beds at night and wore ironed shirts to school and ate lunch at home every day. Some of these boys’ mothers treated him with solicitous pity, others with polite distaste. In their presence he’d felt similarly naked. Now he forced himself to look at József’s mother as he said, “Yes, it’s very lucky.”

“And where will you live in Paris?”

He rubbed his damp palms against his knees. “The Latin Quarter, I suppose.”

“But where will you stay when you arrive?”

“I imagine I’ll just ask someone where students take rooms.”

“Nonsense,” said the elder Mrs. Hász, covering his hand with her own. “You’ll go to József’s, that’s what you’ll do.”

The younger Mrs. Hász gave a cough and smoothed her hair. “We shouldn’t make commitments for József,” she said. “He may not have room for a guest.”

“Oh, Elza, you’re a terrible snob,” said the elder Mrs. Hász. “Mr. Lévi is doing a service for József. Surely József can spare a sofa for him, at least for a few days. We’ll wire him this afternoon.”

“Here are the sandwiches,” said the younger, visibly relieved by the distraction.

The housemaid wheeled a tea cart into the room. In addition to the tea service there was a glass cake stand with a stack of sandwiches so pale they looked to be made of snow. A pair of scissorlike silver tongs lay beside the pedestal, as if to suggest that sandwiches like these were not meant to be touched by human hands. The elder Mrs. Hász took up the tongs and piled sandwiches onto Andras’s plate, more than he would have dared to take for himself. When the younger Mrs. Hász herself picked up a sandwich without the aid of silverware or tongs, Andras made bold to eat one of his own. It consisted of dilled cream cheese on soft white bread from which the crusts had been cut. Paper-thin slices of yellow pepper provided the only indication that the sandwich had originated from within the borders of Hungary.

While the younger Mrs. Hász poured Andras a cup of tea, the elder went to the writing desk and withdrew a white card upon which she asked Andras to write his name and travel information. She would wire József, who would be waiting at the station in Paris. She offered him a glass pen with a gold nib so fine he was afraid to use it. He leaned over the low table and wrote the information in his blocky print, terrified that he would break the nib or drip ink onto the Persian rug. Instead he inked his fingers, a fact he apprehended only when he looked down at his final sandwich and saw that the bread was stained purple. He wondered how long it would be until Simon, whoever that was, appeared with the box for József. A sound of hammering came from far off down the hallway; he hoped it was the box being closed.

It seemed to please the elder Mrs. Hász to see that Andras had finished his sandwiches. She gave him her grief-etched smile. “This will be your first time in Paris, then.”

“Yes,” Andras said. “My first time out of the country.”

“Don’t let my grandson offend you,” she said. “He’s a sweet child once you get to know him.”

“József is a perfect gentleman,” said the younger Mrs. Hász, flushing to the roots of her close-set curls.

“It’s kind of you to wire him,” Andras said.

“Not at all,” said the elder Mrs. Hász. She wrote József’s address on another card and gave it to Andras. A moment later, a man in butler’s livery entered the sitting room with an enormous wooden crate in his arms.

“Thank you, Simon,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “You may leave it there.”

The man set the crate down on the rug and retreated. Andras glanced at the gold clock on the mantel. “Thank you for the sandwiches,” he said. “I’d better be off now.”

“Stay another moment, if you don’t mind,” said the elder Mrs. Hász. “I’d like to ask you to take one more thing.” She went to the writing desk and slid the sealed letter from beneath its paperweight.

“Excuse me, Mr. Lévi,” said the younger. She rose and crossed the room to meet her mother-in-law, and put a hand on her arm. “We’ve already discussed this.”

“I won’t repeat myself, then,” said the elder Mrs. Hász, lowering her voice. “Kindly remove your hand, Elza.”

The younger Mrs. Hász shook her head. “György would agree with me. It’s unwise.”

“My son is a good man, but he doesn’t always know what’s wise and what is not,” said the elder. She extricated her arm gently from the younger woman’s grasp, returned to the salmon-colored sofa, and handed the envelope to Andras. Written on its face was the name C. MORGENSTERN and an address in Paris.

“It’s a message for a family friend,” said the elder Mrs. Hász, her eyes steady on Andras’s. “Perhaps you’ll think me overcautious, but for certain matters I don’t trust the Hungarian post. Things can get lost, you know, or fall into the wrong hands.” She kept her gaze fixed upon him as she spoke, seeming to ask him not to question what she meant, nor what matters might be delicate enough to require this degree of caution. “If you please, I’d rather you not mention it to anyone. Particularly not to my grandson. Just buy a stamp and drop this into a mailbox once you get to Paris. You’ll be doing me a great favor.”

Andras put the letter into his breast pocket. “Easily done,” he said.

The younger Mrs. Hász stood rigid beside the writing desk, her cheeks bright beneath their patina of powder. One hand still rested on the stack of books, as though she might call the letter back across the room and have it there again. But there was nothing to be done, Andras saw; the elder Mrs. Hász had won, and the younger now had to proceed as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. She composed her expression and smoothed her gray skirt, returning to the sofa where Andras sat.

“Well,” she said, and folded her hands. “It seems we’ve concluded our business. I hope my son will be a help to you in Paris.”

“I’m certain he will,” Andras said. “Is that the box you’d like me to take?”

“It is,” said the younger Mrs. Hász, and gestured him toward it.

The wooden crate was large enough to contain a pair of picnic hampers. When Andras lifted it, he felt a deep tug in his intestines. He took a few staggering steps toward the door.

“Dear me,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “Can you manage?”

Andras ventured a mute nod.

“Oh, no. You mustn’t strain yourself.” She pressed a button in the wall and Simon reappeared a moment later. He took the box from Andras and strode out through the front door of the house. Andras followed, and the elder Mrs. Hász accompanied him to the driveway, where the long gray car was waiting. Apparently they meant to send him home in it. It was of English make, a Bentley. He wished Tibor were there to see it.

The elder Mrs. Hász put a hand on his sleeve. “Thank you for everything,” she said.

“It’s a pleasure,” Andras said, and bowed in farewell.

She pressed his arm and went inside; the door closed behind her without a sound. As the car pulled away, Andras found himself twisting backward to look at the house again. He searched the windows, unsure of what he expected to see. There was no movement, no curtain-flutter or glimpse of a face. He imagined the younger Mrs. Hász returning to the drawing room in wordless frustration, the elder retreating deeper behind that butter-colored façade, entering a room whose overstuffed furniture seemed to suffocate her, a room whose windows offered a comfortless view. He turned away and rested an arm on the box for József, and gave his Hársfa utca address for the last time.

CHAPTER TWO. The Western Europe Express

HE TOLD TIBOR about the letter, of course; he couldn’t have kept a secret like that from his brother. In their shared bedroom, Tibor took the envelope and held it up to the light. It was sealed with a clot of red wax into which the elder Mrs. Hász had pressed her monogram.

“What do you make of it?” Andras said.

“Operatic intrigues,” Tibor said, and smiled. “An old lady’s fancy, coupled with paranoia about the unreliability of the post. A former paramour, this Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. That’s what I’d bet.” He returned the letter to Andras. “Now you’re a player in their romance.”

Andras tucked the letter into a pocket of his suitcase and told himself not to forget it. Then he checked his list for the fiftieth time, and found that there was nothing left to do now but to leave for Paris. To save the taxi fare, he and Tibor borrowed a wheelbarrow from the grocer next door and wheeled Andras’s suitcase and József’s enormous box all the way to Nyugati Station. At the ticket window there was a disagreement over Andras’s passport, which apparently looked too new to be authentic; an emigration officer had to be consulted, and then a more exalted officer, and finally an über-officer in a coat peppered with gold buttons, who made a tiny mark on the edge of the passport and reprimanded the other officers for calling him away from his duties. Minutes after the matter had been settled, Andras, fumbling with his leather satchel, dropped his passport into the narrow gap between the platform and the train. A sympathetic gentleman offered his umbrella; Tibor inserted the umbrella between platform and train and slid the passport to a place where he could retrieve it.

“I’d say it looks authentic now,” Tibor said, handing it over. The passport was smudged with dirt and torn at one corner where Tibor had stabbed it with the umbrella. Andras replaced it in his pocket and they walked down the platform to the door of his third-class carriage, where a conductor in a red-and-gold cap ushered passengers aboard.

“Well,” Tibor said. “I suppose you’d better find your seat.” His eyes were damp behind his glasses, and he put a hand on Andras’s arm. “Hold on to that passport from now on.”

“I will,” Andras said, not making a move to board the train. The great city of Paris awaited; suddenly he felt lightheaded with dread.

“All aboard,” the conductor said, and gave Andras a significant look.

Tibor kissed Andras on both cheeks and drew him close for a long moment. When they were boys going off to school, their father had always put his hands on their heads and said the prayer for travel before he let them on the train; now Tibor whispered the words under his breath. May God direct your steps toward tranquility and keep you from the hands of every foe. May you be safe from all misfortune on this earth. May God grant you mercy in his eyes and in the eyes of all who see you. He kissed Andras again. “You’ll come back a worldly man,” he said. “An architect. You’ll build me a house. I’m counting on it, do you hear?”

Andras couldn’t speak. He let out a long breath and looked down at the smooth concrete of the platform, where travel stickers had adhered in multinational profusion. Germany. Italy. France. The tie to his brother felt visceral, vascular, as though they were linked at the chest; the idea of boarding a train to be taken away from him seemed as wrong as ceasing to breathe. The train whistle blew.

Tibor removed his glasses and pressed the corners of his eyes. “Enough of this,” he said. “I’ll see you before long. Now go.”

Sometime after dark, Andras found himself looking out the window at a little town where the street signs and shop signs were all in German. The train must have slipped over the border without his knowing it; while he had been asleep with a book of Petőfi poems on his lap, they had left the landlocked ovulet of Hungary and entered the larger world. He cupped his hands against the glass and looked for Austrians in the narrow lanes, but could see none; gradually the houses became smaller and farther apart, and the town dwindled into countryside. Austrian barns, shadowy in moonlight. Austrian cows. An Austrian wagon, piled with silver hay. In the far distance, against a night-blue sky, the deeper blue of mountains. He opened the window a few inches; the air outside was crisp and smelled of woodsmoke.

He had the strange sensation of not knowing who he was, of having traveled off the map of his own existence. It was the opposite of the feeling he had every time he traveled east between Budapest and Konyár to see his parents; on those trips to his own birthplace there was a sense of moving deeper into himself, toward some essential core, as if toward the rice-sized miniature at the center of the Russian nesting doll his mother kept on the windowsill in her kitchen. But who might he imagine himself to be now, this Andras Lévi on a train passing westward through Austria? Before he’d left Budapest, he had scarcely considered how ill-equipped he was for an adventure like this one, a five-year course of study at an architectural college in Paris. Vienna or Prague he might have managed; he had always gotten high marks in German, which he’d studied since the age of twelve. But it was Paris and the École Spéciale that wanted him, and now he would have to get by on his two years of half-forgotten French. He knew little more than a smattering of food names, body parts, and laudatory adjectives. Like the other boys at his school in Debrecen, he had memorized the French words for the sexual positions that appeared on a set of old photographs passed along from one generation of students to another: croupade, les ciseaux, à la grecque. The cards were so old, and had been handled so thoroughly, that the images of intertwined couples were visible only as silver ghosts, and only when the cards were held at a particular angle to the light. Beyond that, what did he know of French-or, for that matter, of France? He knew that the country bordered the Mediterranean on one side and the Atlantic on another. He knew a little about the troop movements and battles of the Great War. He knew, of course, about the great cathedrals at Reims and at Chartres; he knew about Notre-Dame, about Sacré-Coeur, about the Louvre. And that was all, give or take a fragmentary fact. In the few weeks he’d had to prepare for the trip, he’d tortured the pages of his antiquated phrase book, bought cheap at a used bookstore on Szent István körút. The book must have predated the Great War; it offered translations for phrases like Where might I hire a team of horses? and I am Hungarian but my friend is Prussian.

Last weekend when he’d gone home to Konyár say goodbye to his parents, he’d found himself confessing his fears to his father as they walked through the orchard after dinner. He hadn’t meant to say anything; between the boys and their father was the tacit understanding that as Hungarian men, they were not to show any sign of weakness, even at times of crisis. But as they passed between the apple rows, kicking through the knee-high stems of wild grass, Andras felt compelled to speak. Why, he wondered aloud, had he been singled out for recognition among all the artists in the show in Paris? How had the École Spéciale admissions board determined that he, in particular, deserved their favor? Even if his pieces had shown some special merit, who was to say he could ever produce work like that again, or, more to the point, that he’d succeed at the study of architecture, a discipline vastly different from any he’d undertaken before? At best, he told his father, he was the beneficiary of misplaced faith; at worst, a simple fraud.

His father threw his head back and laughed. “A fraud?” he said. “You, who used to read aloud to me from Miklós Ybl when you were eight years old?”

“It’s one thing to love an art and another to be good at it.”

“There was a time when men studied architecture just because it was a noble pursuit,” his father said.

“There are nobler pursuits. The medical arts, for example.”

“That’s your brother’s talent. You’ve got your own. And now you’ve got time and money to court it.”

“And what if I fail?”

“Ah! Then you’ll have a story to tell.”

Andras picked up a fallen branch from the ground and switched at the long grass. “It seems selfish,” he said. “Going off to school in Paris, and at someone else’s expense.”

“You’d be going at my expense if I could afford it, believe me. I won’t have you think of it as selfish.”

“What if you get pneumonia again this year? The lumberyard can’t run itself.”

“Why not? I’ve got the foreman and five good sawyers. And Mátyás isn’t far away if I need more help.”

“Mátyás, that little crow?” Andras shook his head. “Even if you could catch him, you’d be lucky to get any work out of him.”

“Oh, I could get work out of him,” his father said. “Though I hope I won’t have to. That scapegrace will have trouble enough graduating, with all the foolery he’s gotten into this past year. Did you know he’s joined some sort of dance troupe? He’s performing nights at a club and missing his morning classes.”

“I’ve heard all about it. All the more reason I shouldn’t be going off to school so far away. Once he moves to Budapest, someone’s got to look after him.”

“It’s not your fault you can’t go to school in Budapest,” his father said. “You’re at the mercy of your circumstances. I know something of that. But you do what you can with what you’ve got.”

Andras understood what he meant. His father had gone to the Jewish theological seminary in Prague, and might have become a rabbi if it hadn’t been for his own father’s early death; a series of tragedies had attended him through his twenties, enough to have made a weaker man surrender to despair. Since then he’d experienced a reversal of fortune so profound that everyone in the village believed he must have been particularly pitied and favored by the Almighty. But Andras knew that everything good that had come to him was the result of his own sheer stubbornness and hard work.

“It’s a blessing you’re going to Paris,” his father said. “Better to get out of this country where Jewish men have to feel second-class. I can promise you that’s not going to improve while you’re gone, though let’s hope it won’t get worse.”

Now, as Andras rode westward in the darkened railway carriage, he heard those words in his mind again; he understood that there had been another fear beneath the ones he’d spoken aloud. He found himself thinking of a newspaper story he’d read recently about a horrible thing that had happened a few weeks earlier in the Polish town of Sandomierz: In the middle of the night the windows of shops in the Jewish Quarter had been broken, and small paper-wrapped projectiles had been thrown inside. When the shop owners unwrapped the projectiles, they saw that they were the sawn-off hooves of goats. Jews’ Feet, the paper wrappings read.

Nothing like that had ever happened in Konyár; Jews and non-Jews had lived there in relative peace for centuries. But the seeds were there, Andras knew. At his primary school in Konyár, his schoolmates had called him Zsidócska, little Jew; when they’d all gone swimming, his circumcision had been a mark of shame. One time they held him down and tried to force a sliver of pork sausage between his clenched teeth. Those boys’ older brothers had tormented Tibor, and a younger set had been waiting for Mátyás when he got to school. How would those Konyár boys, now grown into men, read the news from Poland? What seemed an atrocity to him might seem to them like justice, or permission. He put his head against the cool glass of the window and stared into the unfamiliar landscape, surprised only by how much it looked like the flatland country where he had been born.

In Vienna the train stopped at a station far grander than any Andras had ever seen. The façade, ten stories high, was composed of glass panes supported by a gridwork of gilded iron; the supports were curlicued and flowered and cherubed in a design that seemed better suited to a boudoir than a train station. Andras got off the train and followed the scent of bread to a cart where a woman in a white cap was selling salt-studded pretzels. But the woman wouldn’t take his pengő or his francs. In her insistent German she tried to explain what Andras must do, pointing him toward the money-changing booth. The line at the booth snaked around a corner. Andras looked at the station clock and then at the stack of pretzels. It had been eight hours since he’d eaten the delicate sandwiches at the house on Benczúr utca.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to find the gentleman from Keleti Station, the one who had let Tibor use his umbrella to retrieve Andras’s passport. The man was dressed in a gray traveling suit and a light overcoat; the dull gold of a watch chain shone against his vest. He was barrel-chested and tall, his dark hair brushed back in waves from a high domed forehead. He carried a glossy briefcase and a copy of La Revue du Cinema.

“Let me buy you a pretzel,” he said. “I’ve got some schillings.”

“You’ve been too kind already,” Andras said.

But the man stepped forward and bought two pretzels, and they went to a nearby bench to eat. The gentleman pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from a pocket and spread it over his trouser legs.

“I like a fresh-made pretzel better than anything they serve in the dining car,” the man said. “Besides, the first-class passengers tend to be first-class bores.”

Andras nodded, eating in silence. The pretzel was still hot, the salt electric on his tongue.

“I gather you’re going on past Vienna,” the man said.

“ Paris,” Andras ventured. “I’m going there to study.”

The man turned his deep-lined eyes on Andras and scrutinized him for a long moment. “A future scientist? A man of law?”

“Architecture,” Andras said.

“Very good. A practical art.”

“And yourself?” Andras asked. “What’s your destination?”

“The same as yours,” the man said. “I run a theater in Paris, the Sarah-Bernhardt. Though it might be more correct to say the Sarah-Bernhardt runs me. Like a demanding mistress, I’m afraid. Theater: Now, there’s an impractical art.”

“Must art be practical?”

The man laughed. “No, indeed.” And then: “Do you go to the theater?”

“Not often enough.”

“You’ll have to come to the Sarah-Bernhardt, then. Present my card at the box office and tell them I sent you. Say you’re a compatriote of mine.” He extracted a card from a gold case and handed it to Andras. NOVAK Zoltán, metteur en scène, Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt.

Andras had heard of Sarah Bernhardt but knew little about her. “Did Madame Bernhardt perform there?” he asked. “Or”-more hesitantly-“does she still?”

The man folded the paper wrapper of his pretzel. “She did,” he said. “For many years. Back then it was called Théâtre de la Ville. But that was before my time. Madame Bernhardt is long dead, I’m afraid.”

“I’m an ignoramus,” Andras said.

“Not at all. You remind me of myself as a young man, off to Paris for the first time. You’ll be fine. You come from a fine family. I saw the way your brother looked out for you. Keep my card, in any case. Zoltán Novak.”

“Andras Lévi.” They shook hands, then returned to their railway cars-Novak to the first-class wagon-lit, Andras to the lesser comforts of third class.

It took him another two days to get to Paris, two days during which he had to travel through Germany, into the source of the growing dread that radiated across Europe. In Stuttgart there was a delay, a mechanical problem that had to be fixed before the train could go on. Andras was dizzy with hunger. He had no choice but to exchange a few francs for reichsmarks and find something to eat. At the exchange counter, a gap-toothed matron in a gray tunic made him sign a document affirming that he would spend all the exchanged money within the borders of Germany. He tried to enter a café near the station to buy a sandwich, but on the door there was a small sign, hand-lettered in Gothic characters, that read Jews Not Wanted. He looked through the glass door at a young girl reading a comic book behind the pastry counter. She must have been fifteen or sixteen, a white kerchief on her head, a thin gold chain at her throat. She raised her eyes and smiled at Andras. He took a step back and glanced down at the reichsmark coins in his hand-on one side an eagle with a wreathed swastika in its claws, on the other the mustachioed profile of Paul von Hindenburg-then back over his shoulder at the girl in the shop. The reichsmarks were nothing more than a few drops of blood in the country’s vast economic circulatory system, but suddenly he felt desperate to be rid of them; he didn’t want to eat the food they could buy him, even if he found a shop where Juden were not unerwünscht. Quickly, making sure no one saw what he was doing, he knelt and dropped the coins into the echoing mouth of a storm drain. Then he returned to the train without having eaten anything, and rode hungry through the final hundred kilometers of Germany. From the platform of every small-town German station, Nazi flags fluttered in the slipstream of the train. The red flag spilled from the topmost story of buildings, decorated the awnings of houses, appeared in miniature in the hands of a group of children marching in the courtyard of a school beside the tracks. By the time they crossed the border into France, Andras felt as though he’d been holding his breath for hours.

They passed through the rolling countryside and the little half-timbered villages and the interminable flat suburbs and finally the outer arrondissements of Paris itself. It was eleven o’clock at night before they reached the station. Struggling with his leather satchel, his overcoat, his portfolio, Andras made his way down the aisle of the train and out onto the platform. On the wall opposite, a mural fifty feet high showed serious young soldiers, their eyes hooded with determination, leaving to fight the Great War. On another wall hung a series of cloth banners that depicted a more recent battle-a Spanish one, Andras guessed from the soldiers’ uniforms. The overhead loudspeakers crackled with French; among the travelers on the platform, the low buzz of French and the lilt of Italian crossed the harsher cadences of German and Polish and Czech. Andras scanned the crowd for a young man in an expensive overcoat who seemed to be looking for someone. He hadn’t asked for a description or a photograph of József. It hadn’t occurred to him that they might have trouble finding each other. But an increasing number of passengers filled the platform, and Parisians ran to greet them, and József failed to appear. Amid the crush Andras caught a glimpse of Zoltán Novak; a woman in a smart hat and a fur-collared coat threw her arms around him. Novak kissed the woman and led her away from the train, and porters followed with his luggage.

Andras retrieved his own suitcase and the enormous box for József. He stood and waited as the crowd became even more dense and then began to dissipate. Still no brisk-looking young man stepped forward to conduct him into a life in Paris. He sat down on the wooden crate, suddenly lightheaded. He needed a place to sleep. He needed to eat. In a few days’ time he was supposed to appear at the École Spéciale, ready to begin his studies. He looked toward the row of doors marked SORTIE, at the lights of cars passing on the street outside. A quarter of an hour rolled by, and then another, without any sign of József Hász.

He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the heavy card on which the elder Mrs. Hász had written her grandson’s address. This was all the direction he had. For six francs Andras recruited a walrus-faced porter to help him load his luggage and József’s enormous box into a taxi. He gave the driver József’s address and they rushed off in the direction of the Quartier Latin. As they sped along, the taxi driver kept up a steady stream of jocose French, of which Andras understood not a word.

He was hardly aware of what they passed on the way to József Hász’s. Fog tumbled in billows through the light of the streetlamps, and wet leaves blew against the windows of the cab. The gold-lit buildings spun by in a rush; the streets were full of Saturday night revelers, men and women with their arms slung loosely around each other. The cab sped over a river that must have been the Seine, and for an instant Andras allowed himself to imagine that they were passing over the Danube, that he was back in Budapest, and that in a short time he’d find himself home at the apartment on Hársfa utca, where he could climb the stairs and crawl into bed with Tibor. But then the taxi stopped in front of a gray stone building and the driver climbed out to unload Andras’s luggage. Andras fumbled in his pocket for more money. The driver tipped his hat, took the francs Andras offered, and said something that sounded like the Hungarian word bocsánat, I’m sorry, but which Andras later understood to be bon chance. Then the cab pulled away, leaving Andras alone on a sidewalk of the Quartier Latin.

CHAPTER THREE. The Quartier Latin

JÓZSEF HÁSZ’S BUILDING was of sharp-edged sandstone, six stories with tall casements and ornate cast-iron balconies. From the top floor came a blast of hot jazz, cornet and piano and saxophone dueling just beyond the blazing windows. Andras went to the door to ring the bell, but the door had been propped open; in the vestibule a cluster of girls in close-fitting silk dresses stood drinking champagne and smoking violet-scented cigarettes. They gave him hardly a glance as he dragged his luggage inside and pushed it against the wall. With his heart in his throat he stepped forward to touch one of the girls on the sleeve, and she turned a coy eye toward him and raised a painted brow.

“József Hász?” he said.

The girl raised one finger and pointed toward the very top of the oval staircase. “Là-bas,” she said. “En haut.”

He dragged his luggage and the massive box into the lift, and took it as high as it would go. At the top, he stepped out into a crush of men and women, of smoke and jazz; the entirety of the Latin Quarter, it seemed, had assembled at József Hász’s. Leaving his luggage in the hall, he stepped in through the open door of the apartment and repeated the question of Hász’s name to a series of drunken revelers. After a labyrinthine tour of high-ceilinged rooms he found himself standing on a balcony with Hász himself, a tall, loose-limbed young man in a velvet smoking jacket. Hász’s large gray eyes rested on Andras’s in an expression of champagne-tinged bemusement, and he asked a question in French and raised his glass.

Andras shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s got to be Hungarian for now,” he said.

József squinted at him. “And which Hungarian are you, exactly?”

“Andras Lévi. The Hungarian from your mother’s telegram.”

“What telegram?”

“Didn’t your mother send a telegram?”

“Oh, God, that’s right! Ingrid said there was a telegram.” József put a hand on Andras’s shoulder, then leaned in through the door of the balcony and shouted, “Ingrid!”

A blond girl in a spangled leotard pushed out onto the balcony and stood with one hand on her hip. A rapid French exchange ensued, after which Ingrid produced from her bosom a folded telegram envelope. József extracted the slip, read it, looked at Andras, read it again, and fell into a paroxysm of laughter.

“You poor man!” József said. “I was supposed to meet you at the station two hours ago!”

“Yes, that was the idea.”

“You must have wanted to kill me!”

“I might still,” Andras said. His head was throbbing in time with the music, his eyes watering, his insides twisting with hunger. It was clear to him he couldn’t stay at József Hász’s, but he could hardly imagine venturing out now to find another place to spend the night.

“Well, you’ve done well enough without me so far,” József said. “Here you are at my place, where there’s enough champagne to last us all night, and plenty of whatever else you like, if you take my meaning.”

“All I need is a quiet corner to sleep in. Give me a blanket and put me anywhere.”

“I’m afraid there’s no quiet corner here,” József said. “You’ll have to have a drink instead. Ingrid will get you one. Follow me.” He pulled Andras into the apartment and placed him under the care of Ingrid, who produced what must have been the last clean champagne flute in the building and poured Andras a tall sparkling glassful. The bottle sufficed for Ingrid herself; she toasted Andras, gave him a long smoky kiss, and pulled him into the front room, where the pianist was faking his way through “Downtown Uproar” and the partygoers had just started to dance.

In the morning he woke on a sofa beneath a window, his eyes draped in a silk chemise, his head a mass of cotton wool, his shirt unbuttoned, his jacket rolled beneath his head, his left arm stinging with pins and needles. Someone had put an eiderdown over him and opened the curtains; a block of sunlight fell across his chest. He stared up at the ceiling, where the floral froth of a plaster medallion curled around the fluted brass base of a light fixture. A knot of gold branches grew downward from the base, bearing small flame-shaped bulbs. Paris, he thought, and pushed himself up on his elbows. The room was littered with party detritus and smelled of spilled champagne and wilted roses. He had a vague recollection of a prolonged tête-à-tête with Ingrid, and then of a drinking contest with József and a broad-shouldered American; after that he could remember nothing at all. His luggage and the crate for József had been dragged inside and stacked beside the fireplace. Hász himself was nowhere to be seen. Andras rolled from the sofa and wandered down the hall to a white-tiled bathroom, where he shaved at the basin and bathed in a lion-footed tub that dispensed hot water directly from the tap. Afterward he dressed in his only clean shirt and trousers and jacket. As he was searching for his shoes in the main room, he heard a key in the lock. It was Hász, carrying a pastry-shop box and a newspaper. He tossed the box on a low table and said, “Up so soon?”

“What’s that?” Andras said, eyeing the ribbon-tied box.

“The cure for your hangover.”

Andras opened the box to find half a dozen warm pastries nestled in waxed paper. Until that moment he hadn’t allowed himself to realize how desperately hungry he was. He ate one chocolate croissant and was halfway through another before he thought to offer the box to his host, who refused, laughing.

“I’ve been up for hours,” József said. “I’ve already had my breakfast and read the news. Spain ’s a wreck. France still won’t send troops. But there are two new beauty queens competing for the title of Miss Europe: the dark and lovely Mademoiselle de Los Reyes of Spain, and the mysterious Mademoiselle Betoulinsky of Russia.” He tossed the newspaper to Andras. Two sleek ice-cold beauties in white evening gowns gazed from their photographs on the front page.

“I like de Los Reyes,” Andras said. “Those lips.”

“She looks like a Nationalist,” József said. “I like the other.” He loosened his orange silk scarf and sat back on the sofa, spreading his arms across its curving back. “Look at this place,” he said. “The maid doesn’t come until tomorrow morning. I’ll have to dine out today.”

“You ought to open that box. I’m sure your mother sent you something nice for dinner.”

“That box! I forgot all about it.” He brought it from across the room and pried open the top with a butter knife. Inside were a tin of almond cookies; a tin of rugelach; a tin into which an entire Linzer torte had been packed without a millimeter to spare; a supply of woolen underclothes for the coming winter; a box of stationery with the envelopes already addressed to his parents; a list of cousins upon whom he was supposed to call; a list of things he was supposed to procure for his mother, including certain intimate ladies’ garments; a new opera glass; and a pair of shoes made for him by his shoemaker on Váci utca, whose talents, he said, were unparalleled by those of any cobbler in Paris.

“My brother works at a shoe store on Váci utca,” Andras said, and mentioned the name of the shop.

“Not the same one, I’m afraid,” József said, a hint of condescension in his tone. He cut a slice of the Linzer torte, ate it, and pronounced it perfect. “You’re a good man, Lévi, dragging this cake across Europe. How can I repay the favor?”

“You might tell me how to set up a life here,” Andras said.

“Are you sure you want to take instruction from me?” József said. “I’m a wastrel and a libertine.”

“I’m afraid I’ve got no choice,” Andras said. “You’re the only person I know in Paris.”

“Ah! Lucky you, then,” József said. As they ate slices of Linzer torte from the tin, he recommended a Jewish boardinghouse and an art-supply store and a student dining club where Andras might get cheap meals. He didn’t dine there himself, of course-generally he had his meals sent up from a restaurant on the boulevard Saint-Germain-but he had friends who did, and found it tolerable. As for the fact that Andras was enrolled at the École Spéciale and not the Beaux-Arts, it was regrettable that they wouldn’t be schoolmates but probably just as well for Andras; József was a notoriously bad influence. And now that they had solved the problem of setting up Andras’s life in Paris, didn’t he want to come out to the balcony to have a smoke and look at his new city?

Andras allowed József to lead him through the bedroom and through the high French doors. The day was cold, and the previous night’s fog had settled into a fine drizzle; the sun was a silver coin behind a scrim of cloud.

“Here you are,” József said. “The most beautiful city on earth. That dome is the Panthéon, and over there is the Sorbonne. To the left is St.-Etienne-du-Mont, and if you lean this way you can see a sliver of Notre-Dame.”

Andras rested his hands on the railing and looked out over an expanse of unfamiliar gray buildings beneath a cold curtain of mist. Chimneys crowded the rooftops like strange alien birds, and the green haze of a park hovered beyond a battalion of zinc mansards. Far off to the west, blurred by distance, the Tour Eiffel melted upward into the sky. Between himself and that landmark lay thousands of unknown streets and shops and human beings, filling a distance so vast as to make the tower look wiry and fragile against the slate-gray clouds.

“Well?” József said.

“There’s a lot of it, isn’t there?”

“Enough to keep a man busy. In fact, I’ve got to be off again in a few minutes. I’ve got a lunch appointment with a certain Mademoiselle Betoulinsky of Russia.” He winked and straightened his tie.

“Ah. You mean the girl in sequins from last night?”

“I’m afraid not,” József said, a slow smile coming to his face. “That’s another mademoiselle altogether.”

“Maybe you can spare one for me.”

“Not a chance, old boy,” József said. “I’m afraid I need them all to myself.” And he slipped through the balcony door and returned to the large front room, where he wrapped the orange silk scarf around his neck again and put on a loose jacket of smoke-colored wool. He caught up Andras’s satchel and Andras took the suitcase, and they brought everything down in the lift.

“I wish I could see you to that boardinghouse, but I’m late to meet my friend,” József said once they’d gotten everything out to the curb. “Here’s the cab fare, though. No, I insist! And come around for a drink sometime, won’t you? Let me know how you’re getting on.” He clapped Andras on the shoulder, shook his hand, and went off in the direction of the Panthéon, whistling.

Madame V, the proprietress of the boardinghouse, had a few useless words of Hungarian and plenty of unintelligible Yiddish, but no permanent place for Andras; she managed to communicate that he could spend the night on the couch in the upstairs hallway if he liked, but that he’d better go out at once to look for other lodgings. Still in a haze from the night at József’s, he ventured out into the Quartier Latin amid the artfully disheveled students with their canvas schoolbags, their portfolios, their bicycles, their stacks of political pamphlets and string-tied bakery boxes and market baskets and bouquets of flowers. Among them he felt overdressed and provincial, though his clothes were the same ones in which he had felt elegant and urban a week earlier in Budapest. On a cold bench in a dismal little plaza he combed his phrase book for the words for price, for student, for room, for how much. But it was one thing to understand that chambre à louer meant room for rent, and quite another to ring a doorbell and inquire in French about the chambre. He wandered from Saint-Michel to Saint-Germain, from the rue du Cardinal-Lemoine to the rue Clovis, re-cursing his inattentiveness in French class and making tiny notes in a tiny notebook about the locations of various chambres à louer. Before he could muster the courage to ring a single bell, he found himself utterly exhausted; sometime after dark he retreated to the boardinghouse in defeat.

That night, as he tried to find a comfortable position on the green sofa in the hallway, young men from all across Europe argued and fought and smoked and laughed and drank until long past midnight. None of the men spoke Hungarian, and none seemed to notice that there was a new man in their midst. Under different circumstances Andras might have gotten up to join them, but now he was so tired he could scarcely turn over beneath the blanket. The sofa, a spindly, ill-padded thing with wooden arms, seemed to have been designed as an instrument of torture. Once the men had gone to bed at last, rats emerged from the wainscoting to conduct their predawn scavengery; they ran the length of the hallway and stole the bread Andras had saved from dinner. The smells of decaying shoes and unwashed men and cooking grease followed him into his dreams. When he woke, sore and exhausted, he decided that one night had been enough. He would go out into the quartier that morning and inquire at the first place that advertised a room for rent.

On the rue des Écoles, near a tiny paved square with a spreading chestnut tree, he found a building with that now-familiar sign in the window: chambre à louer. He knocked on the red-painted door and crossed his arms, trying to ignore the rush of anxiety in his chest. The door swung open to reveal a short, square, heavy-browed woman, her mouth bent sideways into a scowl; on the bridge of her nose rested a pair of thick black-rimmed spectacles that made her eyes look tiny and faraway, as though they belonged to another, smaller person. Her wiry gray hair was flattened on one side, as if she had just been sleeping in a wing chair with her head on the wing. She put a fist on her hip and stared at Andras. Summoning all his courage, Andras forcefully mispronounced his need and pointed to the sign in the window.

The concierge understood. She beckoned him into a narrow tiled hall and led him up a spiral staircase with a skylight at the top. When they could go no higher, she took him down the hall to a long narrow garret with an iron bed against one wall, a crockery basin on a wooden stand, a farm table, a green wooden chair. Two dormer windows looked out onto the rue des Écoles; one of them was open, and on the windowsill sat an abandoned nest and the remnants of three blue eggs. In the fireplace there was a rusted grate, a broken toasting fork, an ancient crust of bread. The concierge shrugged and named a price. Andras searched his mind for the names of numbers, then cut the price in half. The concierge spat on the floor, stomped her feet, railed at Andras in French, and finally accepted his offer.

So it began: his life in Paris. He had an address, a brass key, a view. His view, like József’s, included the Panthéon and the pale limestone clock tower of St.-Étienne-du-Mont. Across the street was the Collège de France, and soon enough he would learn to use it as a marker for his building: 34 rue des Écoles, en face du Collège de France. Down the block was the Sorbonne. And farther away, down the boulevard Raspail, was the École Spéciale d’Architecture, where classes would begin on Monday. Once he had cleaned the room from top to bottom and unpacked his clothes into an apple crate, he counted his money and made a shopping list. He went down to the shops and bought a glass jar full of red currant jam, a box of cheap tea, a box of sugar, a mesh strainer, a bag of walnuts, a small brown crock of butter, a long baguette, and, as a single extravagance, a tiny nugget of cheese.

What a pleasure it was to fit his key to the lock, to open the door to his private room. He unloaded his groceries onto the windowsill and laid out his drawing supplies on the table. Then he sat down, sharpened a pencil with his knife, and sketched his view of the Panthéon onto a blank postal card. On its reverse he wrote his first message from Paris: Dear Tibor, I am here! I have a desperate garret; it’s everything I hoped for. On Monday I start school. Hurrah! Liberté, egalité, fraternité! With love, Andras. All he lacked was a stamp. He thought he might borrow one from the concierge; he knew there was a postbox around the corner. As he tried to picture exactly where it was, what came to mind instead was the recollection of an envelope, a wax seal, a monogram. He had forgotten the promise he’d made to the elder Mrs. Hász. Her missive to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné still waited in his suitcase. He dragged the case out from beneath the bed, half fearing that the letter would be gone, but it was there in the pocket where he’d put it, the wax seal intact. He ran downstairs to the concierge’s apartment and, with the help of his phrase book and a series of urgent gestures, begged a pair of stamps. After a search, he located the boîte aux lettres and slipped Tibor’s card inside. Then, imagining the pleasure of some silver-haired gentleman when the next day’s mail arrived, he dropped Mrs. Hász’s letter into the anonymous dark of the box.

CHAPTER FOUR. École Spéciale

TO GET TO SCHOOL he had to cross the Jardin du Luxembourg, past the elaborate Palais, past the fountain and the flowerbeds teeming with late snapdragons and marigolds. Children sailed elegant miniature boats in the fountain, and Andras thought with a kind of indignant pride of the scrapwood boats he and his brothers had sailed on the millpond in Konyár. There were green benches and close-clipped limes, a carousel with painted horses. On the far side of the park was a cluster of what looked to Andras like neat brown dollhouses; when he got closer he could hear the hum of bees. A veiled beekeeper bent toward one of the hives, waving his canister of smoke.

Andras walked down the rue de Vaugirard, with its art-supply shops and narrow cafés and secondhand bookstores, then down the wide boulevard Raspail with its stately apartment buildings. Already he felt a little more Parisian than he had when he’d first arrived. He had his apartment key on a cord around his neck, a copy of L’Oeuvre under his arm. He had knotted his scarf the way József Hász had knotted his, and he wore the strap of his leather bag slung diagonally across his chest, in the manner of the students of the Latin Quarter. His life in Budapest -the job at Past and Future, the apartment on Hársfa utca, the familiar sound of the streetcar bell-seemed to belong to another universe. With an unexpected pang of homesickness, he imagined Tibor sitting at their usual sidewalk table at their favorite café, within sight of the statue of Jókai Mór, the famous novelist who had escaped the Austrians during the 1848 revolution by disguising himself in his wife’s clothing. Farther east, in Debrecen, Mátyás would be drawing in his notebook as his classmates studied Latin declensions. And what about Andras’s parents? He must write to them tonight. He touched the silver watch in his pocket. His father had had it restored just before Andras had left; it was a fine old thing, its numbers painted in a spidery copperplate script, its hands a deep blue iridescent metal. The workings still functioned as well as they had in Andras’s grandfather’s time. Andras remembered sitting on his father’s knee and winding the watch, taking care not to tighten the spring too far; his father had done the same thing when he was a boy. And here was that same watch in Paris in 1937, a time when a person might be transported a distance of twelve hundred kilometers in a flash of days, or a telegram sent across a wire network in a matter of minutes, or a radio signal transmitted instantaneously through thin air. What a time to study architecture! The buildings he designed would be the ships in which human beings would sail toward the horizon of the twentieth century, then off the map and into the new millennium.

He found he had walked past the gates of the École Spéciale and now had to retrace his steps. Young men streamed in through a pair of tall blue doors at the center of a gray neoclassical building, the name of the school cut into the stone of its cornice. The École Spéciale d’Architecture! They had wanted him, had seen his work and chosen him, and he had come. He ran up the front steps and in through those blue doors. On the wall of the entryway was a plaque with gold bas-relief busts of two men: Emile Trélat, who had founded the school, and Gaston Trélat, who had succeeded his father as director. Emile and Gaston Trélat. Names he would always remember. He swallowed twice, smoothed his hair, and entered the registrar’s office.

The young woman behind the desk seemed a figure from a dream. Her skin was the color of dark-stained walnut, her close-cropped hair as glossy as satin. Her gaze was friendly, her dark-fringed eyes steady on his own. It didn’t occur to him to try to speak. Never before had he seen a woman so beautiful, nor had he ever encountered in real life a person of African descent. Now this gorgeous young black Frenchwoman asked him a question he couldn’t understand, and he mumbled one of his few French words-désolé-and wrote his name on a slip of paper, which he pushed across the desk. The young woman thumbed through a stack of thick envelopes in a wooden box and extracted one with his name, LÉVI, printed across the top in precise block capitals.

He thanked her in his awkward French. She told him he was welcome. He might have continued to stand there and stare if a group of students hadn’t come in at that moment, calling greetings to her and leaning over the desk to kiss her cheeks. Eh, Lucia! Ça va, bellissima? Andras slipped past the others, holding his envelope against his chest, and went out into the hall. Everyone had gathered under the glass roof of a central atrium where studio assignments had just been posted. He sat down on a low bench there and opened his envelope to find a list of classes:

COURS -PROFESSEUR

HISTOIRE D ’A RCHITECTURE -A. P ERRET

LES S TATIQUES -v. L E B OURGEOIS

ATELIER -P. V AGO

DESSINAGE -M. L ABELLE

All matter-of-fact, as though it were perfectly natural for Andras to study those subjects under the tutelage of famous architects. There was a long list of required texts and materials, and a small white card handwritten in Hungarian (by whom?) indicating that Andras, due to his scholarship status, would be permitted to purchase his books and supplies on the school’s credit at a bookstore on the boulevard Saint-Michel.

He read and reread the message, then looked around the atrium, wondering who could have been responsible for that piece of communication. The crowd of students provided no clue. None of them looked even vaguely Hungarian; they were all hopelessly, perfectly Parisian. But in one corner a trio of uncertain-looking young men stood close together and scanned the room. He could tell at a glance that they were first-year students, and the names on their folders suggested they were Jewish: ROSEN, POLANER, BEN YAKOV. He raised a hand in greeting, and they nodded, a kind of tacit recognition passing between them. The tallest of them waved him over.

Rosen was lanky, freckled, with unruly red hair and the vague beginnings of a goatee. He took Andras by the shoulder and introduced Ben Yakov, who resembled the handsome French film star Pierre Fresnay; and Polaner, small and light-boned, with a neat, close-shorn head and tapering hands. Andras greeted everyone and repeated his own name, and the young men’s conversation continued in quick French as Andras tried to pick up a thread of meaning. Rosen seemed to be the leader of the group; he led the conversation, and the others listened and responded. Polaner seemed nervous, buttoning and unbuttoning the top button of his antique-looking velvet jacket. The handsome Ben Yakov eyed a group of young women; one of them waved, and he waved in return. Then he leaned in toward Polaner and Rosen to make what could only have been a suggestive joke, and the three of them laughed. Though Andras found himself struggling to follow the men’s talk, and though they had hardly addressed him at all, he felt an acute desire to know them. When they went to look at the studio lists, he was glad to find they were all in the same group.

After a short time the students began to move out into the stone-walled courtyard, where tall trees overshadowed rows of wooden benches. One student carried a lectern to a small paved area at the front, and the others sat down on the benches. From beyond the stone courtyard walls came the rush and hum of traffic. But Andras was here inside, sitting beside three men whose names he knew; he was one of these students, and he belonged on this side of the wall. He tried to take note of the feeling, tried to imagine how he might write about it to Tibor, to Mátyás. But before he could put the words together in his mind, a door opened in the side of the building and a man strode out. He looked as though he could have been a military captain; he wore a long gray cloak lined in red, and sported a short triangular beard with wax-curled moustaches. His eyes were narrow and fierce behind rimless pince-nez. In one hand he carried a walking stick, and in the other what looked like a jagged gray rock. Any other man, it seemed to Andras, would have had to bow under the weight of the thing, but this man crossed the courtyard with his back straight and his chin set at a martial angle. He stepped up to the lectern and set the rock down upon it with a hollow thud.

“Attention,” he bellowed.

The students fell silent and came to attention, their backs straightening as if they had been pulled by invisible strings. Quietly, a tall young man in a frayed work shirt slid onto the bench beside Andras and bent his head toward Andras’s ear.

“That’s Auguste Perret,” the young man said in Hungarian. “He was my teacher, and now he’ll be yours.”

Andras looked at the young man in surprise and relief. “You’re the one who wrote the note in my packet,” he said.

“Listen,” the man said, “and I’ll translate.”

Andras listened. At the lectern, Auguste Perret lifted the jagged rock in both hands and asked a question. The question, according to Andras’s translator, was whether anyone knew what this building material was. You there, in front? Concrete, that was correct. Reinforced concrete. By the time they finished their five years at the school, all of them would know everything there was to know about reinforced concrete. Why? Because it was the future of the modern city. It would make buildings that surpassed in height and strength anything that had been built before. Height and strength, yes; and beauty. Here at the École Spéciale we were not seduced by beauty, however; leave that to the sons of privilege at that other school. That school was a gentlemen’s institution, a place where boys went to play at the art of dessinage; we at the École Spéciale were interested in real architecture, buildings that people could inhabit. If our designs were beautiful, so much the better; but let them be beautiful in a manner that belonged to the common man. We were here because we believed in architecture as a democratic art; because we believed that form and function were of equal importance; because we, the avantgarde, had shrugged off the bonds of aristocratic tradition and had begun to think for ourselves. Let anyone who wanted to build Versailles stand now and go through that gate. That other school was only three Métro stops away.

The professor paused, his arm flung toward the gate, his eyes fixed on the rows of students. “Non?” he shouted. “Pas un?”

No one moved. The professor stood statuelike before them. Andras had the sense of being a figure in a painting, paralyzed for all eternity by Perret’s challenge. People would admire the painting in museums centuries from now. Still he would be sitting on the bench, inclined slightly toward this man with the cape and the white beard, this general among architects.

“He gives this speech every year,” the Hungarian man next to Andras whispered. “Next he’ll talk about your responsibility to the students who will come after you.”

“Les étudiants qui viennent après vous,” the professor went on, and the Hungarian translated. Those students were relying upon you to study assiduously. If you did not, they, too, would fail. You would be taught by those who came before you; at the École Spéciale you would learn collaboration, because your life as an architect would involve close work with others. You might have your own vision, but without the help of your colleagues that vision wasn’t worth the paper it was drawn upon. In this school, Emile Trélat had instructed Robert Mallet-Stevens, Mallet-Stevens had instructed Fernand Fenzy, Fernand Fenzy had instructed Pierre Vago, and Pierre Vago would instruct you.

At that, the professor pointed into the audience, and the young man beside Andras stood up and made a polite bow. He strode to the front of the assembly, took his place beside Professor Perret at the lectern, and began addressing the students in French. Pierre Vago. This man who had been translating for Andras-this rumpled-looking young man in an inkstained work shirt-was the P. VAGO of Andras’s class schedule. His studio leader. His professor. A Hungarian. Andras felt suddenly faint. For the first time it seemed to him he might have a chance of surviving at the École Spéciale. He could hardly concentrate on what Pierre Vago was saying now, in his elegant, slightly accented French. Pierre Vago had indeed been the one who’d written the Hungarian note in Andras’s manila envelope. Pierre Vago, it occurred to Andras, was probably the one man responsible for his being there at all.

“Hey,” Rosen said, pulling Andras’s sleeve. “Regardes-toi.”

In the excitement, Andras’s nose had begun to bleed. Red spots glistened on his white shirt. Polaner looked at him with concern and offered a handkerchief; Ben Yakov went pale and turned away. Andras took the handkerchief and pressed it against his nose. Rosen made him tip his head back. A few people turned to see what was going on. Andras sat bleeding into the handkerchief, not caring who was looking, happier than he’d ever been in his life.

Later that day, after the assembly, after Andras’s nosebleed had stopped and he’d traded his own clean handkerchief for the one he’d bled upon, after the first meeting of the studio groups, and after he’d exchanged addresses with Rosen, Polaner, and Ben Yakov, Andras found himself in Vago’s cluttered office, sitting on a wooden stool beside the drafting table. On the walls were sketched and printed plans, black-and-white watercolors of beautiful and impossible buildings, a scale drawing of a city from high above. In one corner was a heap of paint-stained clothes; a rusted, twisted bicycle frame leaned against the wall. Vago’s bookshelves held ancient books and glossy magazines and a teakettle and a small wooden airplane and a skinny-legged junk sculpture of a girl. Vago himself leaned back in his swivel chair, his fingers laced behind his head.

“So,” he said to Andras. “Here you are, fresh from Budapest. I’m glad you came. I didn’t know if you’d be able to make it on such short notice. But I had to try. It’s barbarous, those prejudices about who can study what, and when, and how. It’s not a country for men like us.”

“But-forgive me-are you Jewish, Professor?”

“No. I’m a Catholic. Educated in Rome.” He gave his R a deep Italianate roll.

“Then why do you care, sir?”

“Shouldn’t I care?”

“Many don’t.”

Vago shrugged. “Some do.” He opened a folder on his desk. There, in full color, were reproductions of Andras’s covers for Past and Future: linoleum prints of a scribe inking a scroll, a father and his boys at synagogue, a woman lighting two slender candles. Andras saw the work now as if for the first time. The subjects seemed sentimental, the compositions obvious and childish. He couldn’t believe this was what had earned his admission to the school. He hadn’t had a chance to submit the portfolio he’d used for his applications to Hungarian architectural colleges-detailed drawings of the Parliament and the Palace, measured renderings of the interiors of churches and libraries, work he’d slaved over for hours at his desk at Past and Future. But he suspected that even those pieces would have seemed clumsy and amateurish in comparison to Vago’s work, the crisp plans and gorgeous elevations pinned to the walls.

“I’m here to learn, sir,” Andras said. “I made those prints a long time ago.”

“This is excellent work,” Vago said. “There’s a precision, an accuracy of perspective, rare in an untrained artist. You’ve got great natural skill, that’s apparent. The compositions are asymmetrical but well balanced. The themes are ancient but the lines are modern. Good qualities to bring to your work in architecture.”

Andras reached for one of the covers, the one that showed a man and boys at prayer. He’d carved the linoleum original by candlelight in the apartment on Hársfa utca. Though he hadn’t considered it at the time-and why not, when it was so clear now?-this man in the tallis was his father, the boys his brothers.

“It’s fine work,” Vago said. “I wasn’t the only one who thought so.”

“It’s not architecture,” Andras said, and handed the cover back to Vago.

“You’ll learn architecture. And in the meantime you’ll study French. There’s no other way to survive here. I can help you, but I can’t translate for you in every class. So you will come here every morning, an hour before studio, and practice your French with me.”

“Here with you, sir?”

“Yes. From now on we will speak only French. I’ll teach you all I know. And for God’s sake, you will cease to call me ‘sir,’ as if I were an army officer.” His eyes assumed a serious expression, but he twisted his mouth to the left in a French-looking moue. “L’architecture n’est pas un jeu d’enfants,” he said in a deep, resonant voice that matched exactly, both in pitch and tone, the voice of Professor Perret. “L’architecture, c’est l’art le plus sériuex de tous.”

“L’art le plus sérieux de tous,” Andras repeated in the same deep tone.

“Non, non!” Vago cried. “Only I am permitted the voice of Monsieur le Directeur. You will please speak in the manner of Andras the lowly student. My name is Andras the Lowly Student,” Vago said in French. “If you please: repeat.”

“My name is Andras the Lowly Student.”

“I shall learn to speak perfect French from Monsieur Vago.”

“I shall learn to speak perfect French from Monsieur Vago.”

“I will repeat everything he says.”

“I will repeat everything he says.”

“Though not in the voice of Monsieur le Directeur.”

“Though not in the voice of Monsieur le Directeur.”

“Let me ask you a question,” Vago said in Hungarian now, his expression earnest. “Have I done the right thing by bringing you here? Are you terribly lonely? Is this all overwhelming?”

“It is overwhelming,” Andras said. “But I find I’m strangely happy.”

“I was miserable when I first got here,” Vago said, settling back in his chair. “I came three weeks after I finished school in Rome, and started at the Beaux-Arts. That school was no place for a person of my temperament. Those first few months were awful! I hated Paris with a passion.” He looked out the office window at the chill gray afternoon. “I walked around every day, taking it all in-the Bastille and the Tuileries, the Luxembourg, Notre-Dame, the Opéra-and cursing every stick and stone of it. After a while I transferred to the École Spéciale. That was when I began to fall in love with Paris. Now I can’t imagine living anyplace else. After a time, you’ll feel that way too.”

“I’m beginning to feel that way already.”

“Just wait,” Vago said, and grinned. “It only gets worse.”

In the mornings he bought his bread at the small boulangerie near his building, and his newspaper from a stand on the corner; when he dropped his coins into the proprietor’s hand, the man would sing a throaty Merci. Back at his apartment he would eat his croissant and drink sweet tea from the empty jam jar. He would look at the photographs in the paper and try to follow the news of the Spanish Civil War, in which the Front Populaire was losing ground now against the Nationalistes. He wouldn’t allow himself to buy a Hungarian expatriate paper to fill in the blanks; the urgency of the news itself eased the effort of translation. Every day came stories of new atrocities: teenaged boys shot in ditches, elderly gentlemen bayoneted in olive orchards, villages firebombed from the air. Italy accused France of violating its own arms embargo; large shipments of Soviet munitions were reaching the Republican army. On the other side, Germany had increased the numbers of its Condor Legion to ten thousand men. Andras read the news with increasing despair, jealous at times of the young men who had run away to fight for the Republican army. Everyone was involved now, he knew; any other view was denial.

With his mind full of horrific images of the Spanish front, he would walk the leaf-littered sidewalks toward the École Spéciale, distracting himself by repeating French architectural terms: toit, fenêtre, porte, mur, corniche, balcon, balustrade, souche de cheminée. At school he learned the difference between stereobate and stylobate, base and entablature; he learned which of his professors secretly preferred the decorative to the practical, and which were adherents to Perret’s cult of reinforced concrete. With his statics class he visited the Sainte-Chapelle, where he learned how thirteenth-century engineers had discovered a way to strengthen the building using iron struts and metal supports; the supports were hidden within the framework of the stained-glass windows that spanned the height of the chapel. As morning light fell in red and blue strands through the glass, he stood at the center of the nave and experienced a kind of holy exaltation. No matter that this was a Catholic church, that its windows depicted Christ and a host of saints. What he felt had less to do with religion than with a sense of harmonious design, the perfect meeting of form and function in that structure. One long vertical space meant to suggest a path to God, or toward a deeper knowledge of the mysteries. Architects had done this, hundreds of years ago.

Pierre Vago, true to his word, tutored Andras every morning for an hour. The French he’d learned at school returned with speed, and within a month he had absorbed far more than he’d ever learned from his master at gimnázium. By mid-October the lessons were nothing more than long conversations; Vago had a talent for finding the subjects that would make Andras talk. He asked Andras about his years in Konyár and Debrecen -what he had studied, what his friends had been like, where he had lived, whom he’d loved. Andras told Vago about Éva Kereny, the girl who had kissed him in the garden of the Déri Museum in Debrecen and then spurned him coldheartedly; he told the story of his mother’s only pair of silk stockings, a Chanukah gift bought with money Andras had earned by taking on his fellow students’ drawing assignments. (The brothers had all been competing to get her the best gift; she’d reacted with such childlike joy when she’d seen the stockings that no one could dispute Andras’s victory. Later that night, Tibor sat on Andras in the yard and mashed his face into the frozen ground, exacting an older brother’s revenge.) Vago, who had no siblings of his own, seemed to like hearing about Mátyás and Tibor; he made Andras recite their histories and translate their letters into French. In particular he took an interest in Tibor’s desire to study medicine in Italy. He had known a young man in Rome whose father had been a professor of medicine at the school in Modena; he would write a few letters, he said, and would see what could be done.

Andras didn’t think much about it when he said it; he knew Vago was busy, and that the international post traveled slowly, and that the gentleman in Rome might not share Vago’s ideas about educating young Hungarian-Jewish men. But one morning Vago met Andras with a letter in hand: He had received word that Professor Turano might be able to arrange for Tibor to matriculate in January.

“My God!” Andras said. “That’s miraculous! How did you do it?”

“I correctly estimated the value of my connections,” Vago said, and smiled.

“I’ve got to wire Tibor right away. Where do I go to send a telegram?”

Vago put up a hand in caution. “I wouldn’t send word just yet,” he said. “It’s still just a possibility. We wouldn’t want to raise his hopes in vain.”

“What are the chances, do you think? What does the professor say?”

“He says he’ll have to petition the admissions board. It’s a special case.”

“You’ll tell me as soon as you hear from him?”

“Of course,” Vago said.

But he had to share the preliminary good news with someone, so he told Polaner and Rosen and Ben Yakov that night at their student dining club on the rue des Écoles. It was the same club József had recommended when Andras had arrived. For 125 francs a week they received daily dinners that relied heavily upon potatoes and beans and cabbage; they ate in an echoing underground cavern at long tables inscribed with thousands of students’ names. Andras delivered the news about Tibor in his Hungarian-accented French, struggling to be heard above the din. The others raised their glasses and wished Tibor luck.

“What a delicious irony,” Rosen said, once they’d drained their glasses. “Because he’s a Jew, he has to leave a constitutional monarchy to study medicine in a fascist dictatorship. At least he doesn’t have to join us in this fine democracy, where intelligent young men practice the right of free speech with such abandon.” He cut his eyes at Polaner, who looked down at his neat white hands.

“What’s that about?” Ben Yakov said.

“Nothing,” Polaner said.

“What happened?” asked Ben Yakov, who could not stand to be left out of gossip.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Rosen said. “On the way to school yesterday, Polaner’s portfolio handle broke. We had to stop and fix it with a bit of twine. We were late to morning lecture, as you’ll recall-that was us, coming in at half past ten. We had to sit in the back, next to that second-year, Lemarque-that blond bastard, the snide one from studio. Tell them, Polaner, what he said when we slid into the row.”

Polaner laid his spoon beside the soup bowl. “What you thought he said.”

“He said filthy Jews. I heard it, plain as day.”

Ben Yakov looked at Polaner. “Is that true?”

“I don’t know,” Polaner said. “He said something, but I didn’t hear what.”

“We both heard it. Everyone around us did.”

“You’re paranoid,” Polaner said, the delicate skin around his eyes flushing red. “People turned around because we were late, not because he’d called us filthy Jews.”

“Maybe it’s all right where you come from, but it’s not all right here,” Rosen said.

“I’m not going to talk about it.”

“Anyway, what can you do?” said Ben Yakov. “Certain people will always be idiots.”

“Teach him a lesson,” Rosen said. “That’s what.”

“No,” Polaner said. “I don’t want trouble over something that may or may not have happened. I just want to keep my head down. I want to study and get my degree. Do you understand?”

Andras did. He remembered that feeling from primary school in Konyár, the desire to become invisible. But he hadn’t anticipated that he or any of his Jewish classmates would feel it in Paris. “I understand,” he said. “Still, Lemarque shouldn’t feel”-he struggled to find the French words-“like he can get away with saying a thing like that. If he did say it, that is.”

“Lévi knows what I mean,” Rosen said. But then he lowered his chin onto his hand and stared into his soup bowl. “On the other hand, I’m not at all sure what we’re supposed to do about it. If we told someone, it would be our word against Lemarque’s. And he’s got a lot of friends among the fourth- and fifth-years.”

Polaner pushed his bowl away. “I have to get back to the studio. I’ve got a whole night’s worth of work to do.”

“Come on, Eli,” Rosen said. “Don’t be angry.”

“I’m not angry. I just don’t want trouble, that’s all.” Polaner put on his hat and slung his scarf around his neck, and they watched him make his way through the maze of tables, his shoulders curled beneath the worn velvet of his jacket.

“You believe me, don’t you?” Rosen said to Andras. “I know what I heard.”

“I believe you. But I agree there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Weren’t we talking about your brother a moment ago?” Ben Yakov said. “I liked that line of conversation better.”

“That’s right,” Rosen said. “I changed the subject, and look what happened.”

Andras shrugged. “According to Vago, it’s too early to celebrate anyway. It may not happen after all.”

“But it may,” Rosen said.

“Yes. And then, as you pointed out, he’ll go live in a fascist dictatorship. So it’s hard to know what to hope for. Every scenario is complicated.”

“ Palestine,” Rosen said. “A Jewish state. That’s what we can hope for. I hope your brother does get to study in Italy under Mussolini. Let him take his medical degree under Il Duce’s nose. Meanwhile you and Polaner and Ben Yakov and I will get ours in architecture here in Paris. And then we’ll all emigrate. Agreed?”

“I’m not a Zionist,” Andras said. “ Hungary ’s my home.”

“Not at the moment, though, is it?” Rosen said. And Andras found it impossible to argue with that.

For the next two weeks he waited for news from Modena. In statics he calculated the distribution of weight along the curved underside of the Pont au Double, hoping to find some distraction in the symmetry of equations; in drawing class he made a scaled rendering of the façade of the Gare d’Orsay, gratefully losing himself in measurements of its intricate clock faces and its line of arched doorways. In studio he kept an eye on Lemarque, who could often be seen casting inscrutable looks at Polaner, but who said nothing that could have been construed as a slur. Every morning in Vago’s office he eyed the letters on the desk, looking for one that bore an Italian postmark; day after day the letter failed to arrive.

Then one afternoon as Andras was sitting in studio, erasing feathery pencil marks from his drawing of the d’Orsay, beautiful Lucia from the front office came to the classroom with a folded note in her hand. She gave the note to the fifth-year monitor who was overseeing that session, and left without a look at any of the other students.

“Lévi,” said the monitor, a stern-eyed man with hair like an explosion of blond chaff. “You’re wanted at the private office of Le Colonel.”

All talk in the room ceased. Pencils hung midair in students’ hands. Le Colonel was the school’s nickname for Auguste Perret. All eyes turned toward Andras; Lemarque shot him a thin half smile. Andras swept his pencils into his bag, wondering what Perret could want with him. It occurred to him that Perret might be involved with Tibor’s chances in Italy; perhaps Vago had enlisted his help. Maybe he’d exerted some kind of influence with friends abroad, and now he was going to be the one to deliver the news.

Andras ran up the two flights of stairs to the corridor that housed the professors’ private offices, and paused outside Perret’s closed door. From inside he could hear Perret and Vago speaking in lowered voices. He knocked. Vago called for him to enter, and he opened the door. Inside, standing in a shaft of light near one of the long windows that overlooked the boulevard Raspail, was Professor Perret in his shirtsleeves. Vago leaned against Perret’s desk, a telegram in his hand.

“Good afternoon, Andras,” Perret said, turning from the window. He motioned for Andras to sit in a low leather chair beside the desk. Andras sat, letting his schoolbag slide to the floor. The air in Perret’s office was close and still. Unlike Vago’s office, with its profusion of drawings on the walls and its junk sculptures and its worktable overflowing with projects, Perret’s was all order and austerity. Three pencils lay parallel on the Morocco-topped desk; wooden shelves held neatly rolled plans; a crisp white model of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées stood in a glass box on a console table.

Perret cleared his throat and began. “We’ve had some disturbing news from Hungary. Rather disturbing indeed. It may be easier if Professor Vago explains it to you in Hungarian. Though I hear your French has advanced considerably.” The martial tone had dropped from his voice, and he gave Andras such a kind and regretful look that Andras’s hands went cold.

“It’s rather complicated,” Vago said, speaking in Hungarian. “Let me try to explain. I received word from my friend’s father, the professor. A place came through for your brother at the medical college in Modena.”

Vago paused. Andras held his breath and waited for him to go on.

“Professor Turano sent a letter to the Jewish organization that provides your scholarship. He wanted to see if money could be found for Tibor, too. But his request was denied, with regrets. New restrictions have been imposed this week in Hungary: As of today, no organization can send money to Jewish students abroad. Your Hitközség’s student-aid funds have been frozen by the government.”

Andras blinked at him, trying to understand what he meant.

“It’s not just a problem for Tibor,” Vago continued, looking into Andras’s eyes. “It’s also a problem for you. In short, your scholarship can no longer be paid. To be honest, my young friend, your scholarship has never been paid. Your first month’s check never arrived, so I paid your fees out of my own pocket, thinking there must have been some temporary delay.” He paused, glancing at Professor Perret, who was watching as Vago delivered the news in Hungarian. “Monsieur Perret doesn’t know where the money came from, and need not know, so please don’t betray surprise. I told him everything was fine. However, I’m not a rich man, and, though I wish I could, I can’t pay your tuition and fees another month.”

An ice floe ascended through Andras’s chest, slow and cold. His tuition could no longer be paid. His tuition had never been paid. All at once he understood Perret’s kindness and regret.

“We think you’re a bright student,” Perret said in French. “We don’t want to lose you. Can your family help?”

“My family?” Andras’s voice sounded thready and vague in the high-ceilinged room. He saw his father stacking oak planks in the lumberyard, his mother cooking potato paprikás at the stove in the outdoor kitchen. He thought of the pair of gray silk stockings, the ones he’d given her ten years earlier for Chanukah-how she’d folded them into a chaste square and stored them in their paper wrapping, and had worn them only to synagogue. “My family doesn’t have that kind of money,” he said.

“It’s a terrible thing,” Perret said. “I wish there were something we could do. Before the depression we gave out a great many scholarships, but now…” He looked out the window at the low clouds and stroked his military beard. “Your expenses are paid until the end of the month. We’ll see what we can do before then, but I’m afraid I can’t offer much hope.”

Andras translated the words in his mind: not much hope.

“As for your brother,” Vago said, “it’s a damned shame. Turano wanted very much to help him.”

He tried to shake himself from the shock that had come over him. It was important that they understand about Tibor, about the money. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “The scholarship doesn’t matter-for Tibor, I mean. He’s been putting money away for six years. He’s got to have enough for the train ticket and his first year’s tuition. I’ll cable him tonight. Can your friend’s father hold the place for him?”

“I’d imagine so,” Vago said. “I’ll write to him at once, if you think it’s possible. But perhaps your brother can help you, too, if he’s got some money put away.”

Andras shook his head. “I can’t tell him. He hasn’t saved enough for both of us.”

“I’m dreadfully sorry,” Perret said again, coming forward to shake Andras’s hand. “Professor Vago tells me you’re a resourceful young man. Perhaps you’ll find a way through this. I’ll see what I can do on our side.”

This was the first time Perret had touched him. It was as though Andras had just been told he had a terminal disease, as though the shadow of impending death had allowed Perret to dispense with formalities. He clapped Andras on the back as he led him to the door of the office. “Courage,” he said, giving Andras a salute, and turned him out into the hall.

Andras went down through the dusty yellow light of the staircase, past the classroom where his Gare d’Orsay drawing lay abandoned on the table, past the beautiful Lucia in the front office, and through the blue doors of the school he had come to think of as his own. He walked down the boulevard Raspail until he reached a post office, where he asked for a telegraph blank. On the narrow blue lines he wrote the message he’d composed on the way: POSITION SECURED FOR YOU AT MEDICAL COLLEGE MODENA, GRATIAS FRIEND OF VAGO. OBTAIN PASSPORT AND VISAS AT ONCE. HURRAH! For a moment, in a fog of self-pity, he considered omitting the HURRAH. But at the last moment he included it, paying the extra ten centimes, and then walked out onto the boulevard again. The cars continued to speed by, the afternoon light fell just as it always fell, the pedestrians on the street rushed by with their groceries and drawings and books, all the city insensible to what had just taken place in an office at the École Spéciale.

Unseeing, unthinking, he walked the narrow curve of the rue de Fleurus toward the Jardin du Luxembourg, where he found a green bench in the shade of a plane tree. The bench was within sight of the bee farm, and Andras could see the hooded beekeeper checking the layers of a hive. The beekeeper’s head and arms and legs were speckled with black bees. Slow-moving, torpid with smoke, they roamed the beekeeper’s body like cows grazing a pasture. In school, Andras had learned that there were bees who could change their nature when conditions demanded it. When a queen bee died, another bee could become the queen; that bee would shed its former life, take on a new body, a different role. Now she would lay eggs and converse about the health of the hive with her attendants. He, Andras, had been born a Jew, and had carried the mantle of that identity for twenty-two years. At eight days old he’d been circumcised. In the schoolyard he’d withstood the taunts of Christian children, and in the classroom his teachers’ disapproval when he’d had to miss school on Shabbos. On Yom Kippur he’d fasted; on Shabbos he’d gone to synagogue; at thirteen he’d read from the Torah and become a man, according to Jewish law. In Debrecen he went to the Jewish gimnázium, and after he graduated he’d taken a job at a Jewish magazine. He’d lived with Tibor in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest and had gone with him to the Dohány Street Synagogue. He’d met the ghost of Numerus Clausus, had left his home and his family to come to Paris. Even here there were men like Lemarque, and student groups that demonstrated against Jews, and more than a few anti-Semitic newspapers. And now he had this new weight to bear, this new tsuris. For a moment, as he sat on his bench at the Jardin du Luxembourg, he wondered what it would be like to leave his Jewish self behind, to shrug off the garment of his religion like a coat that had become too heavy in hot weather. He remembered standing in the Sainte-Chapelle in September, the holiness and the stillness of the place, the few lines he knew from the Latin mass drifting through his mind: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison. Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.

For a moment it seemed simple, clear: become a Christian, and not just a Christian-a Roman Catholic, like the Christians who’d imagined Notre-Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle, the Mátyás Templom and the Basilica of Szent István in Budapest. Shed his former life, take on a new history. Receive what had been withheld from him. Receive mercy.

But when he thought of the word mercy, it was the Yiddish word that came to his mind: rachmones, whose root was rechem, the Hebrew word for womb. Rachmones: a compassion as deep and as undeniable as what a mother felt for her child. He’d prayed for it every year at synagogue in Konyár on the eve of Yom Kippur. He had asked to be forgiven, had fasted, had come away at the end of Yom Kippur with a sense of having been scraped clean. Every year he’d felt the need to hold his soul to account, to forgive and be forgiven. Every year his brothers had flanked him in synagogue-Mátyás small and fierce on his left, Tibor lean and deep-voiced on his right. Beside them was their father in his familiar tallis, and behind the women’s partition, their mother-patient, forbearing, firm, her presence certain even when they could not see her. He could no sooner cease being Jewish than he could cease being a brother to his brothers, a son to his father and mother.

He stood, giving a last look to the beekeeper and his bees, and set off across the park toward home. He was thinking now not of what had happened but of what he was going to have to do next: find a job, a way of making the money it would take to stay in school. He wasn’t French, of course, but that didn’t matter; in Budapest, thousands of workers were paid under the table and no one was the wiser. Tomorrow was Saturday. Offices would be closed, but shops and restaurants would be open-bakeries, groceries, bookshops, art-supply stores, brasseries, men’s clothiers. If Tibor could work full-time in a shoe store and study his anatomy books at night, then Andras could work and go to school. By the time he had reached the rue des Écoles, he was already framing the necessary phrase in his head: I’m looking for a job. In Hungarian, Állást keresek. In French, Je cherche…je cherche… a job. He knew the word: un boulot.

CHAPTER FIVE. Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt

THAT FALL the Sarah-Bernhardt was presenting The Mother, a new play by Bertolt Brecht, at nine o’clock every night but Monday. The theater was located at the direct center of the city, in the place du Châtelet. It offered five tiers of luxurious seating and the thrilling awareness that Miss Bernhardt’s voice had filled this space, had caused that chandelier to shiver on its chain. Somewhere inside the theater was the cream-and-gilt-paneled dressing room with the gold bathtub in which the actress had reputedly bathed in champagne. On the first Saturday in November the cast had been called for an unscheduled rehearsal; Claudine Villareal-Bloch, the Mother of the title, had suffered an acute attack of vocal strain that everyone tacitly attributed to her new affair with a young Brazilian press attaché. Into these vaguely embarrassing circumstances, Madame Villareal-Bloch’s understudy had been called at the last moment to take over the part. Marcelle Gérard paced her dressing room in a fury, wondering how Claudine Villareal-Bloch could have dared to spring this trick upon her; it seemed an intentional humiliation. Madame Villareal-Bloch knew that Madame Gérard, chafed by her position as understudy, had failed to prepare. That very morning in rehearsal she’d forgotten her lines and had stammered in the most unprofessional manner. In his office down the hall, Zoltán Novak drank Scotch neat and wondered what would happen to him if the play could not go forward, if Marcelle Gérard froze onstage as she had at that morning’s rehearsal. The minister of culture himself was scheduled to attend the following night’s performance; that was how popular the new Brecht play had become, and how dire the current situation was. If public embarrassment resulted tomorrow night, the blame would fall to Novak, the Hungarian. Failure was not French.

Desperately, desperately, Zoltán Novak wanted to smoke. But he couldn’t smoke. The previous night, when he’d learned of Madame Villareal-Bloch’s illness, his wife had hidden his cigarettes, knowing he might tend toward excess; she had made him swear not to buy more, and vowed that she would sniff his clothes for smoke. As he paced his office in a state of nicotine-deprived anxiety, the production assistant came in with a list of urgent messages. The properties manager was missing a set of workers’ shovels from the third scene; should they do the scene without them, or buy new shovels? Madame Gérard’s name had been misspelled in the program for tomorrow night (Guérard, a minor mistake), and did he want the whole lot reprinted? Finally, there was a boy downstairs looking for a job. He claimed to know Monsieur, or at least that was what he seemed to be saying-his French was imperfect. What was his name? Something foreign. Lévi. Undrash.

Buy new shovels for the workers. Leave the programs as they were-too expensive to reprint. And no, he didn’t know a Lévi Undrash. Even if he did, God help him, the last thing he had for anyone right now was a job.

Andras had planned to arrive at school on Monday morning with triumphant news for Professor Vago: He had found a job, had arranged to pay his tuition, and would therefore remain at school. Instead he found himself trudging down the boulevard Raspail in twig-kicking frustration. All weekend he had scoured the Latin Quarter in search of work; he had inquired at front doors and back doors, in bakeshops and garages; he had even dared to knock on the door of a graphic design shop where a young man sat working in his shirtsleeves at a drafting table. The man had stared at Andras with a kind of bemused contempt and told him to stop in again once he’d earned his degree. Andras had walked on, hungry and chilled by rain, refusing to capitulate. He had crossed the Seine in a fog, trying to imagine who he might call upon for help; when he looked up he saw that he’d walked all the way to the place du Châtelet. It occurred to him then that he might present himself at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt and ask to see Zoltán Novak, who had, after all, invited Andras to stop by. He could go that very moment; it was half past seven, and Novak might be at the theater before the show. But at the Sarah-Bernhardt he’d been turned away-politely, regretfully, and with a great deal of rapid, sympathetic French-by a young man who claimed to have spoken directly to Novak, who hadn’t recognized Andras’s name. Andras had spent the rest of that evening and all the next day searching for work, but his luck hadn’t improved. In the end he’d found himself back at home, sitting at the table by the window, holding a telegram from his brother.

U NBELIEVABLE NEWS! T HANKS FOREVER TO YOU & V AGO. W ILL APPLY STUDENT VISA TOMORROW. M ODENA. H URRAH! T IBOR

He would have given anything to see Tibor, to tell him what had happened and hear what he thought Andras should do. But Tibor was twelve hundred kilometers away in Budapest. There was no way to ask or receive advice of that kind by telegram, and a letter would take far too long. He had, of course, told Rosen and Polaner and Ben Yakov at the student dining club that weekend; their anger on his behalf had been gratifying, their sympathy fortifying, but there was little they could do to help. In any case, they weren’t his brother; they couldn’t have Tibor’s understanding of what the scholarship meant to him, nor what its loss would mean.

At seven o’clock in the morning the École Spéciale was deserted. The studios were silent, the courtyard empty, the amphitheater an echoing void. He knew he could find a few students asleep at their desks if he looked, students who had stayed up all night drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and working on drawings or models. Sleepless nights were commonplace at the École Spéciale. There were rumors of pills that sharpened your mind and allowed you to stay up for days, for weeks. There were legends of artistic breakthroughs occurring after seventy-two waking hours. And there were tales of disastrous collapse. One studio was called l’atelier du suicide. The older students told the younger about a man who’d shot himself after his rival won the annual Prix du Amphithéâtre. In that particular studio, on the wall beside the chalkboard, you could see a blasted-out hollow in the brick. When Andras had asked Vago about the suicide, Vago said that the story had been told when he was a student, too, and that no one could confirm it. But it served its purpose as a cautionary tale.

A light was on in Vago’s office; Andras could see the yellow square of it from the courtyard. He ran up the three flights and knocked. There was a long silence before Vago opened the door; he stood before Andras in his stocking feet, rubbing his eyes with an inky thumb and forefinger. His collar was open, his hair a wild tangle. “You,” he said, in Hungarian. A small word, salted with a grain of affection. Te.

“Me,” Andras said. “Still here, for now.”

Vago ushered him into the office and motioned him to sit down on the usual stool. Then he left Andras alone for a few minutes, after which he returned looking as if he’d washed his face in hot water and scrubbed it with a rough towel. He smelled of the pumice soap that was good for getting ink off one’s hands.

“Well?” Vago said, and seated himself behind the desk.

“Tibor sends his deepest thanks. He’s applying for his visa now.”

“I’ve already written to Professor Turano.”

“Thank you,” Andras said. “Truly.”

“And how are you?”

“Not very well, as you can imagine.”

“Worried about how you’re going to pay your tuition.”

“Wouldn’t you be?”

Vago pushed back his chair and went to look out the window. After a moment he turned back and put his hands through his hair. “Listen,” he said. “I don’t feel much like teaching you French this morning. Why don’t we take a field trip instead? We’ve got a good hour and a half before studio.”

“You’re the professor,” Andras said.

Vago took his coat from its wooden peg and put it on. He pushed Andras through the door ahead of him, followed him down the stairs, and steered him through the blue front doors of the school. Out on the boulevard he fished in his pocket for change; he led Andras down the stairs of the Raspail Métro just as a train flew into the station. They rode to Motte-Picquet and transferred to the 8, then changed again at Michel-Ange Molitor. Finally, at an obscure stop called Billancourt, Vago led Andras off the train and up onto a suburban boulevard. The air was fresher here outside the city center; shopkeepers sprayed the sidewalks in preparation for the morning’s business, and window-washers polished the avenue’s glass storefronts. A line of girls in short black woolen coats stepped briskly along the sidewalk, led by a matron with a feather in her hat.

“Not far now,” Vago said. He led Andras down the boulevard and turned onto a smaller commercial street, then onto a long residential street, then onto a smaller residential street lined with gray duplexes and sturdy red-roofed houses, which yielded suddenly to a soaring white ship of an apartment building, triangular, built on a shard of land where two streets met at an acute angle. The apartments had porthole windows and deep-set balconies with sliding-glass doors, as if the building really were an ocean liner; it lanced forward through the morning behind a prow of curving windows and milk-white arcs of reinforced concrete.

“Architect?” Vago said.

“Pingusson.” A few weeks earlier they had gone to see his work in the design pavilion at the International Exposition; the fifth-year student who had been their guide had declaimed about the simplicity of Pingusson’s lines and his unconventional sense of proportion.

“That’s right,” Vago said. “One of ours-an École Spéciale man. I met him at an architecture convention in Russia five years ago, and he’s been a good friend ever since. He’s written some sharp pieces for L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui. Pieces that got people to read the magazine when it was just getting off the ground. He’s also a hell of a poker player. We’ve got a regular Saturday night game. Sometimes Professor Perret pays us a visit-he can’t play worth a damn, but he likes to talk.”

“I can imagine that,” Andras said.

“Well, now, this Saturday night, guess what the talk was about?”

Andras shrugged.

“Not a guess?”

“The Spanish Civil War.”

“No, my young friend. We talked about you. Your problem. The scholarship. Your lack of funds”. Meanwhile, Perret kept pouring champagne. A first-rate ’26 Canard-Duchêne he received as a gift from a client. Now, Georges-Henri-that’s Pingusson-he’s an uncommonly intelligent man. He’s responsible for a lot of very fine buildings here in Paris and has a houseful of awards to show for them. He’s an engineer, too, you know, not just an architect. He plays poker like a man who knows numbers. But when he drinks champagne, he’s all bravado and romance. Around midnight he threw his bankbook on the table and told Perret that if he, Perret, won the next hand, then he-Pingusson, I mean-would pitch in for your tuition and fees.

Andras stared at Vago. “What happened?”

“Perret lost, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him beat Pingusson. But the champagne had already done its work. He’s a smart one, our Perret. In the end, smarter than Pingusson.”

“What do you mean?”

“Afterward, we’re all standing on the street trying to get a cab. Perret’s sober as an owl, shaking his head. ‘Terrible shame about the Lévi boy,’ he says. ‘Tragic thing.’ And Georges-Henri, drunk on champagne-he practically goes to his knees on the sidewalk and begs Perret to let him stand you a loan. Fifty percent, he says, and not a centime less. ‘If the boy can come up with the other half,’ he says, ‘let him stay in school.’”

“You can’t be serious,” Andras said.

“I’m afraid so.”

“But he came to his senses the next morning.”

“No. Perret made him put it in writing that night. He owes Perret, in any case. The man’s done him more than a few favors.”

“And what kind of security does he want for the loan?”

“None,” Vago said. “Perret told him you were a gentleman. And that you’d earn plenty once you graduated.”

“Fifty percent,” Andras said. “Good God. From Pingusson.” He looked up again at the curving profile of the building, its soaring white prow. “Tell me you’re not joking.”

“I’m not joking. I’ve got the signed letter on my desk.”

“But that’s thousands of francs.”

“Perret convinced him you were worth helping.”

He felt his throat closing. He was not going to cry, not here on a street corner at Boulogne-Billancourt. He scuffed the sole of his shoe against the sidewalk. There had to be a way to come up with the other half. If Perret had worked magic for him, if he had made something for him out of nothing, if he considered him a gentleman, the least Andras could do was to meet the challenge of Pingusson’s loan. He would do whatever he had to do. How long had he spent looking for a job? A few days? Fourteen hours? The city of Paris was a vast place. He would find work. He had to.

There were times when a good-natured ghost seemed to inhabit the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, times when a play should have fallen apart but didn’t. On the evening of Marcelle Gérard’s début as the Mother, all had seemed poised for disaster; an hour before curtain Marcelle appeared in Novak’s office and threatened to quit. She wasn’t ready to go on, she told him. She would embarrass herself in front of her public, the critics, the minister of culture. Novak took her hands and implored her to be reasonable. He knew she could perform the role. She had been flawless in the audition. The part had gone to Claudine Villareal-Bloch only because Novak hadn’t wanted to show favoritism toward Madame Gérard. Their affair may have been long past now, but people still talked; he’d been afraid that word would get back to his wife at a time when things were already delicate between them. Marcelle understood that, of course; hadn’t they discussed it when the decision had been made? He would never have considered allowing her to go on tonight if he didn’t think she would be perfect. Her fears were normal, after all. Hadn’t Sarah Bernhardt herself overcome a paralyzing bout of stage fright in her 1879 portrayal of Phèdre? He knew without a doubt that as soon as Marcelle set foot onstage she would become Brecht’s vision of the role. She must know it too. Didn’t she? But when he’d finished, Madame Gérard had pulled her hands away and retired to her dressing room without a word, leaving Novak alone.

Perhaps it was the earnest force of his worry that called Sarah Bernhardt’s ghost out of the walls of the theater that night; perhaps it was the collective worry of the cast and crew, the lighting men, the ushers, the costumers, the janitors, the coat-check girl. Whatever the reason, by the time the nine o’ clock hour struck, Marcelle Gérard’s hesitation had vanished. The minister of culture sat in his box, tippling discreetly from a silver flask; Lady Mendl and the honorable Mrs. Reginald Fellowes were with him, Lady Mendl with peacock feathers in her hair, Daisy Fellowes resplendent in a Schiaparelli suit of jade-green silk. The war in Spain had made communist theater fashionable in France. The house was packed. The lights dimmed. And then Marcelle Gérard stepped onto the stage and spoke as if in the plum-toned voice of Sarah Bernhardt herself. From his place in the wings, Zoltán Novak watched as Madame Gérard called forth a rendition of The Mother that put Claudine Villareal-Bloch’s love-addled performances to shame. He breathed a sigh of relief so pleasurable, so deep, he was glad his wife had denied him the chest-constricting comfort of his cigarettes. With any luck, he had left his consumption behind for good. The time he’d spent back home in Budapest at the medicinal baths had flushed the blood and pain from his lungs. The play had not failed. And his theater might survive after all-who knew-despite the long red columns in its ledger books and the debts that increased persistently each week.

He found himself in such an expansive mood, once he’d received the praise of the minister of culture after the show and had passed his compliments along to the blushing, breathless Marcelle Gérard, that he accepted and drank two glasses of champagne, one after the other, there in the dressing-room hallway. Before he left, Marcelle called him into her inner sanctum and kissed him on the mouth, just once, almost chastely, as if everything were forgiven. At midnight he pushed through the stage door into a fine sharp mist. His wife would be waiting for him in the bedroom at home, her hair undone, her skin scented with lavender. But he hadn’t moved three steps in her direction before someone rushed him from behind and grabbed his arm, making him drop his briefcase. There had been a spate of muggings outside the theater of late; he was generally cautious, but tonight the champagne had made him careless. Acting upon instincts he’d developed in the war, he swung around and struck his assailant in the stomach. A dark-haired young man fell gasping to the curb. Zoltán Novak stooped to pick up the briefcase, and it was only then that he heard what the boy was gasping. Novak-úr. Novak-úr. His own name, with its Hungarian honorific. The young man’s face seemed vaguely familiar. Novak helped him to his feet and brushed some wet leaves from his sleeve. The young man touched his lower ribs gingerly.

“What were you thinking, coming up behind someone like that?” Novak said in Hungarian, trying to get a better look at the boy’s face.

“You wouldn’t see me in your office,” the young man managed to say.

“Should I have seen you?” Novak said. “Do I know you?”

“Andras Lévi,” the young man gasped.

Undrash Lévi. The boy from the train. He remembered Andras’s bewilderment in Vienna, his gratitude when Novak had bought him a pretzel. And now he’d punched the poor boy in the stomach. Novak shook his head and gave a low, rueful laugh. “Mr. Lévi,” he said. “My deepest apologies.”

“Thanks ever so much,” the young man said bitterly, still nursing his rib.

“I knocked you clear into the gutter,” Novak said in dismay.

“I’ll be all right.”

“Why don’t you walk with me awhile? I don’t live far from here.”

So they walked together and Andras told him the whole story, beginning with how he’d gotten the scholarship and lost it, and finishing with the offer from Pingusson. That was what had brought him back here. He had to try to see Novak again. He was willing to perform the meanest of jobs. He would do anything. He would black the actors’ shoes or sweep the floors or empty the ash cans. He had to start earning his fifty percent. The first payment was due in three weeks.

By that time, they’d reached Novak’s building in the rue de Sèvres. Upstairs, light radiated from behind the scrim of the bedroom curtains. The falling mist had dampened Novak’s hair and beaded on the sleeves of his overcoat; beside him, Lévi shivered in a thin jacket. Novak found himself thinking of the ledger he’d closed just before he’d gone up to see the show. There, in the accountant’s neat red lettering, were the figures that attested to the Sarah-Bernhardt’s dire state; another few losing weeks and they would have to close. On the other hand, with Marcelle Gérard in the role of the Mother, who knew what might happen? He knew what was going on in Eastern Europe, that the drying up of Andras’s funds was only a symptom of a more serious disease. In Hungary, in his youth, he’d seen brilliant Jewish boys defeated by the numerus clausus; it seemed a crime that this young man should have to bend, too, after having come all this way. The Bernhardt was not a philanthropic organization, but the boy wasn’t asking for a handout. He was looking for work. He was willing to do anything. Surely it would be in the spirit of Brecht’s play to give work to someone who wanted it. And hadn’t Sarah Bernhardt been Jewish, after all? Her mother had been a Dutch-Jewish courtesan, and of course Judaism was matrilineal. He knew. Though he had been baptized in the Catholic church and sent to Catholic schools, his own mother had been Jewish, too.

“All right, young Lévi,” he said, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Why don’t you come by the theater tomorrow afternoon?”

And Andras turned such a brilliant and grateful smile upon him that Novak felt a fleeting shock of fear. Such trust. Such hope. What the world would do to a boy like Andras Lévi, Novak didn’t want to know.

CHAPTER SIX. Work

THE MOTHER had twenty-seven actors: nine women, eighteen men. They worked six days a week, and in that time they performed seven shows. Backstage they had few moments to spare and an astonishing number of needs. Their costumes had to be mended and pressed, their lapdogs walked, their letters posted, their voices soothed with tea, their dinners ordered. Occasionally they needed the services of a dentist or a doctor. They had to run lines and take quick restorative naps. They had to cultivate their offstage romances. Two of the men were in love with two of the women, and the two beloved women each loved the wrong man. Notes flew between the enamored parties. Flowers were sent, received, destroyed; chocolates were sent and consumed.

Into this mayhem Andras descended ready to work, and the assistant stage manager set him to it at once. If Monsieur Hammond broke a shoelace, Andras was to find him another. If the bichon frisé who belonged to Madame Pillol needed to be fed, Andras was to feed him. Notes had to be transmitted between the director and the principals, between the stage manager and the assistant stage manager, between the offstage lovers. When the displaced Claudine Villareal-Bloch arrived at the theater to demand her role back, she had to be appeased with praise. (The fact was, the assistant stage manager told Andras, Villareal-Bloch had been dismissed for good; Marcelle Gérard was making a killing in the role. The Bernhardt was selling out its seats every night for the first time in five years.) It was unclear to Andras how anything had been accomplished backstage at the Sarah-Bernhardt before he was hired. By the time the performance began on his first day of work, he was too exhausted even to watch from the wings. He fell asleep on a sofa he didn’t know was needed for the second act, and was jostled awake when two stagehands hoisted it to move it onstage. He scrambled off just as the actors were leaving the stage after the first act, and found himself the recipient of countless requests for aid.

That night he stayed until long after the performance was over. Claudel, the assistant stage manager, had told him he must always remain until the last actor had gone home; that night it was Marcelle Gérard who lingered. At the end of the evening he stood outside her dressing room, waiting for her to finish talking to Zoltán Novak. He could hear the thrill in Madame Gérard’s rapid French through the dressing-room door. He liked the sound of it, and felt he wouldn’t mind if there were something he could do for her before he left for the evening. At last Monsieur Novak emerged, a look of vague trouble creasing his forehead. He seemed surprised to see Andras standing there.

“It’s midnight, my boy,” he said. “Time to go home.”

“Monsieur Claudel instructed me to stay until all the actors had gone.”

“Aha. Well done, then. And here’s something for your dinner, an advance against your first week’s pay.” Novak handed Andras a few folded bills. “Get something more substantial than a pretzel,” he said, and went off down the hall to his office, rubbing the back of his neck.

Andras unfolded the bills. Two hundred fifty francs, enough for two weeks’ dinners at the student dining club. He gave a low whistle of relief and tucked the bills into his jacket pocket.

Madame Gérard emerged from her dressing room, her broad face pale and plain without her stage makeup. She carried a brown Turkish valise, and her scarf was knotted tight as if to keep her warm during a long walk home. But Claudel had said that Madame Gérard must have a taxi, so Andras asked her to wait at the stage door while he hailed one on the quai de Gesvres. By now the autograph-seekers had all gone. Madame Gérard had signed more than a hundred autographs at the stage door after the show. Andras held her arm as she walked to the curb. He could feel that her tweed coat had worn thin at the elbow. She paused at the open door of the cab and met his eyes, her scarf framing her face. She had a wide arched brow with narrow eyebrows; her strong bones gave her a look of nobility that would have suited her in the role of a queen, but served her equally well in the role of the proletarian Mother.

“You’re new here,” she said. “What is your name?”

“Andras Lévi,” said Andras, with a slight bow.

She repeated his name twice, as if to commit it to memory. “A pleasure to meet you, Andras Lévi. Thank you for seeing about the car.” She climbed inside, drew her coat around her legs, and closed the door.

As he watched the cab make its way down the quai de Gesvres toward the Pont d’Arcole, he found himself replaying the brief script of their conversation. In his mind he heard her saying très heureux de faire votre connaissance, which meant örülök, hogy megismerhetem in Hungarian. How was it that he seemed to have heard an echo of örülök beneath her très heureux? Was everyone in Paris secretly Hungarian? He laughed aloud to think of it: all the Right Bank women in their fur coats, the theatergoers in their long cars, the jazz-loving art students in their fraying jackets, all nursing a secret hunger for paprikás and peasant bread as they ate their bouillabaisse and baguettes. As he walked across the river he felt a rising lightness at the center of his chest. He had a job. He would earn his fifty percent. New pencils lay sharp on his worktable, and it seemed not impossible that he might finish his drawings of the d’Orsay before morning.

He worked all night without pause and managed to stay awake through his morning classes. Then he fell asleep in a corner of the library and didn’t wake for hours. When he did, he found a note pinned to his lapel in Rosen’s handwriting: Meet us at the Blue Dove at 5, you lazy ass. Andras sat up and dug his knuckles into his eyes. He pulled his father’s watch from his pocket and checked the time. Four o’clock. In three hours he would have to be back at work. All he wanted was to go home to his bed. He shuffled out into the hall and went to the men’s room, where he found that his upper lip had been inked with a Clark Gable-style moustache while he slept. Leaving the moustache in place, he combed his hair with his fingers and tugged his jacket straight.

The Blue Dove Café was a good half-hour walk up the boulevard Raspail and across the Latin Quarter. Andras was the first to arrive; he took a table at the back, near the bar, and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a pot of tea. The tea came with two butter biscuits with an almond pressed into the center of each. That was why students liked the Blue Dove: It was generous. In the Latin Quarter it was a rarity to receive two biscuits with a pot of tea, much less almond biscuits. By the time he’d finished the tea and eaten the biscuits, Rosen and Polaner and Ben Yakov had arrived. They unwound their scarves and pulled chairs up to the table.

Rosen kissed Andras on both cheeks. “Gorgeous moustache,” he said.

“We thought you were dead,” said Ben Yakov. “Or at least in a coma.”

“I was nearly dead.”

“We took bets,” Ben Yakov said. “Rosen bet you’d sleep all night. I bet you’d meet us here. Polaner abstained, because he’s broke.”

Polaner blushed. Of the three of them he came from the wealthiest family, but his family’s kingdom was a garment business in Kraków and his father had no idea how much things really cost in Paris. Every month he sent Polaner not quite enough to keep him clothed and fed. Acutely aware of his growing debt to his father, Polaner couldn’t bear to ask him for more. As a child of privilege he had never worked, and seemed never to consider taking a job as a possible means to ease his situation. Instead he ordered hot water at cafés and patched his shoes with thick pasteboard left over from model-building and saved extra bread from the student dining club.

With his pocket full of bills, Andras knew it was his turn to buy everyone a drink. They all had tiny glasses of whiskey and soda, the drink of American movie stars. They cursed the Hungarian government and its attempt to remove Andras from their company, and then toasted his new role as the courier of actors’ love notes and the walker of actors’ dogs. When the whiskey-and-sodas were gone, they ordered another large pot of tea.

“Ben Yakov has an assignation tonight,” Rosen announced.

“What do you mean, an assignation?” Andras said.

“A rendezvous. A meeting. Possibly romantic in nature.”

“With whom?”

“Only with the beautiful Lucia,” Rosen said, and Ben Yakov laced his fingers and flexed them in mute glory. A hush fell over the table. They all revered Lucia, with her deep velvet voice and her skin the color of polished mahogany. At night, alone in their beds, they had all imagined her stepping out of her dress and slip, standing naked before them in their darkened rooms. By day they had been shamed by her talent in studio. She didn’t just work in the office; she was a fourth-year student, one of the best in her class, and it was rumored that Mallet-Stevens had particularly praised her work.

“Cheers to Ben Yakov,” Andras said, raising his cup.

“Cheers,” said the others. Ben Yakov raised a hand in mock modesty.

“Of course, he’ll never tell us what happens,” Rosen said. “Ben Yakov’s affairs are his own.”

“Unlike Monsieur Rosen’s,” said Ben Yakov. “Monsieur Rosen’s affairs belong to everyone. If only your ladies knew!”

“It’s the city of love,” Rosen said. “We should all be making love.” He used the vulgar word for it, baiser. “What’s wrong, Polaner? Do I offend?”

“I’m not listening,” Polaner said.

“Polaner is a gentleman,” said Ben Yakov. “Gentlemen ne baisent pas.”

“On the contrary,” said Andras. “Gentlemen are great baiseurs. I’ve just finished reading Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It’s full of gentlemen baisent.”

“I’m not sure you’re qualified to enter this conversation,” Rosen said. “At least Polaner had a petite amie back home. His Krakovian bride-to-be, isn’t that right?” He pushed Polaner’s shoulder, and Polaner blushed again; he’d mentioned a few letters from the girl, the daughter of a woolens manufacturer whom his father expected him to marry. “He’s done it all before, whether he likes to talk about it or not,” Rosen said. “But you, Andras, you’ve never done it.”

“That’s a lie,” Andras said, though it was true.

“Paris is full of girls,” Rosen said. “We should arrange an assignation for you. One of a professional nature, I mean.”

“With whose money?” Ben Yakov said.

“Didn’t artists at one time have benefactors?” Rosen said. “Where are our benefactors?” He stood and repeated the question at full volume to the room at large. A few of the other patrons raised their glasses. But there was not a prospective benefactor among them; they were all students, with their pots of tea and two biscuits, their left-leaning newspapers, their threadbare coats.

“At least I have a job,” Andras said.

“Well, save up, save up!” Rosen said. “You can’t stay a virgin forever.”

At work he ran from one task to another like a sous-chef assisting in the preparation of a twelve-course meal, each task ending just as another was beginning, all of it under the mounting pressure of time. Claudel, the assistant stage manager, was Basque and had a temper that often expressed itself in the throwing of props, which would then have to be fixed before they were needed onstage. As a result the props-master had quit, and the props had fallen into disrepair. Claudel terrorized the prompters and the stagehands, the assistant director and the wardrobe mistress; he even terrorized his own superior, the stage manager himself, Monsieur d’Aubigné, who was too afraid of Claudel’s wrath to complain to Monsieur Novak. But particularly Claudel terrorized Andras, who made a point of being close at hand. Andras knew he didn’t mean any harm. Claudel was a perfectionist, and any perfectionist would have been driven mad by the confusion of the Bernhardt backstage. Messages got lost, the masterless props lay about at random, parts of costumes were misplaced; no one ever knew how long it was until curtain or the end of intermission. It seemed a miracle that the show could be performed at all. His first week there, Andras built pigeonholes for the exchange of notes between stage manager, assistant stage manager, director, cast, and crew; he bought two cheap wall clocks and hung them in the wings; he knocked together a few rough shelves, lined up the props upon them, and marked each spot with the act and scene in which the prop was to be used. Within a few days, a sense of tranquility began to emerge backstage. Whole acts would pass without an outburst from Claudel. The stagehands commented upon the change to the stage manager, who commented upon the change to Zoltán Novak, and Novak congratulated Andras. Emboldened by his success, Andras asked for and received seventy-five francs a week to stock a table with coffee and cream and chocolate biscuits and jam and bread for everyone backstage. Soon his mailbox was stuffed with notes of gratitude.

Madame Gérard in particular seemed to have taken a special interest in Andras. She began to call upon him not only to perform her errands, but also for his company. After the show, when the rest of the actors had gone, she liked to have him sit in her dressing room and talk to her while she removed her makeup. Her démaquillage took so long that Andras came to suspect that she dreaded going home. He knew she lived alone, though he didn’t know where; he imagined a rose-colored flat papered with old show posters. She spoke little about her own life, except to tell him that he’d guessed her origins correctly: She had been born in Budapest, and her mother had taught the young Marcelle to speak both French and Hungarian. But she required Andras to speak only French to her; practice was the best way to master the language, she said. She wanted to hear about Budapest, about the job at Past and Future, about his family; he told her about Mátyás’s penchant for dancing, and about Tibor’s impending departure for Modena.

“And does Tibor speak Italian?” she asked as she rubbed cold cream into her forehead. “Has he studied the language?”

“He’ll learn it faster than I learned French. In school he won the Latin prize three years running.”

“And is he eager to leave?”

“Quite eager,” Andras said. “But he can’t go until January.”

“And what else interests him besides medicine?”

“Politics. The state of the world.”

“Well, that’s excusable in a young man. And beyond that? What does he do in his spare time? Does he have a lady friend? Will he have to leave someone behind in Budapest?”

Andras shook his head. “He works night and day. There’s no spare time.”

“Indeed,” said Madame Gérard, swiping at her cheeks with a pink velvet sponge. She turned a look of bemused inquiry upon Andras, her eyebrows raised in their narrow twin arcs. “And what about you?” she said. “You must have a little friend.”

Andras blushed profoundly. He had never discussed the subject with any adult woman, not even his mother. “Not a trace of one,” he said.

“I see,” said Madame Gérard. “Then perhaps you won’t object to a lunch invitation from a friend of mine. A Hungarian woman I know, a talented instructress of ballet, has a daughter a few years younger than you. A very handsome girl by the name of Elisabet. She’s tall, blond, brilliant in school-gets high marks in mathematics. Won some sort of city-wide math competition, poor girl. I’m certain she must speak some Hungarian, though she’s emphatically French. She might introduce you to some of her friends.”

A tall blond girl, emphatically French, who spoke Hungarian and might show him another side of Paris: He could hardly say no to that. In the back of his mind he could hear Rosen telling him he couldn’t stay a virgin forever. He found himself saying he’d be delighted to accept the invitation to lunch at the home of Marcelle Gérard’s friend. Madame Gérard wrote the name and address on the back of her own calling card.

“Sunday at noon,” she said. “I can’t be there myself, I’m afraid. I’ve already accepted another invitation. But I assure you you’ve got nothing to fear from Elisabet or her mother.” She handed him the card. “They live not far from here, in the Marais.”

He glanced at the address, wondering if the house were in the part of the Marais he had visited with his history class; then he experienced a sharp mnemonic tug and had to look again. Morgenstern, Madame Gérard had written. 39 rue de Sévigné.

“Morgenstern,” he said aloud.

“Yes. The house is at the corner of the rue d’Ormesson.” And then she seemed to notice something strange about Andras’s expression. “Is there a problem, my dear?”

He had a momentary urge to tell her about his visit to the house on Benczúr utca, about the letter he’d carried to Paris, but he remembered Mrs. Hász’s plea for discretion and recovered quickly. “It’s nothing,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had to appear in polite company, that’s all.”

“You’ll do splendidly,” said Madame Gérard. “You’re more of a gentleman than most gentlemen I know.” She stood and gave him her queenly smile, a kind of private performance of her own authority and elegance; then she drew her Chinese robe around her and retreated behind the gold-painted lindens of her dressing screen.

That night he sat on his bed and looked at the card, the address. He knew that the world of Hungarian expatriates in Paris was a finite one, and that Madame Gérard was well connected within it, but he felt nonetheless that this convergence must have some deeper meaning. He was certain his memory was correct; he hadn’t forgotten the name Morgenstern, nor the street name rue de Sévigné. It thrilled him to think he would find out if Tibor had been right when he’d guessed that the letter had been addressed to the elder Mrs. Hász’s former lover. When he arrived at the Morgensterns’, would he encounter a silver-haired gentleman-the father-in-law, perhaps, of Madame Morgenstern-who might be the mysterious C? How were the Hászes of Budapest connected with a ballet teacher in the Marais? And how would he refrain from mentioning any of this to József Hász the next time they met?

But in the days that followed, he found he had little time to think about the approaching visit to the Morgensterns’. Only a month remained before the end of the term, and in three weeks’ time there would be a critique of the students’ fall projects. His project was a model of the Gare d’Orsay, built from his measured drawing; he’d finished the plans but had yet to begin the model itself. He would have to buy materials, study topographical maps so he could build the base, make templates for the forms of the model, cut out the forms, draw the arched windows and clock faces and all the stone detailing, and assemble them into the finished piece. He spent the week in studio surrounded by his plans. At night, after work, he was consumed with preparations for a statics exam, and in the afternoons he attended a series of lectures by Perret on the ill-fated Fonthill Abbey, a nineteenth-century faux cathedral whose tower had collapsed three times due to poor design, hasty construction, and the use of shoddy materials.

By Saturday afternoon when he arrived at work, the only mystery in his mind was how he had managed to reach the day before the luncheon without having had his only white shirt laundered, and without having set aside a few francs for a gift for his hostess. After confessing the problem of his attire to Madame Gérard, he found himself in the workshop of the wardrobe mistress, Madame Courbet, who had constructed all the workers’ clothes and military uniforms required for The Mother. While the revolution unfolded onstage, Madame Courbet had turned her attention to a different struggle: She was sewing fifty tutus for a children’s dance recital that was take place at the Bernhardt that winter. Andras found her sitting amid a storm of white tulle and tiny silk flowers, her sewing machine beating its mechanical thunder at the center of that snowy cumulus. She was a sparrowlike woman past fifty, always dressed in impeccably tailored clothes; today her green wool dress was frosted with icy-looking fibers, and she held a spool of silver-white thread between her fingers. She removed her rimless spectacles to look at Andras.

“Ah, young Mr. Lévi,” she said. “And is it another complaint from Monsieur Claudel, or has someone else split a seam?” She twisted her mouth into a wry moue.

“It’s something for me, actually,” he said. “I’m afraid I need a shirt.”

“A shirt? Are you to have a walk-on in the play?”

“No,” he said, and blushed. “I need a shirt for a luncheon tomorrow.”

“I see.” She lay down the thread and crossed her arms. “That’s not my usual line.”

“I hate to disturb you when you’re already so busy.”

“Madame Gérard sent you, didn’t she.”

Andras confessed that she had.

“That woman,” said Madame Courbet. But she got up from her little chair and stood in front of Andras, looking him up and down. “I wouldn’t do this for just anyone,” she said. “You’re a good young man. They hound you to death here and pay you almost nothing, but you’ve never been short with me. Which is more than I can say for certain people.” She took a tape measure from a table and strapped a pincushion to her wrist. “Now, a gentleman’s shirt, is it? You’ll want a plain white oxford, of course. Nothing fancy.” With a few deft movements she measured Andras’s neck and shoulders and the length of his arm, then went to a wardrobe cabinet marked CHEMISES. From it she extracted a fine white shirt with a crisp collar. She showed Andras how the shirt contained a special pocket inside for a tube of fake blood; in one play, a man had to be stabbed night after night by his wife’s jealous lover, and Madame Courbet had had to make an endless supply of shirts. From a drawer marked CRVT she selected a blue silk tie decorated with partridges. “It’s an aristocrat’s tie,” she said, “a rich man’s tie done up from a scrap. Look.” She turned the tie over to show him how she’d sewn the silk remnant onto a plain cotton backing. Andras put it on along with the shirt, and she pinned the shirt for a swift alteration. At the end of the evening she gave him the finished shirt, wrapped in brown paper. “Don’t let anyone else know where you got this,” she said. “I wouldn’t want the word to get out.” But she pinched his ear affectionately as she sent him on his way.

As he was leaving, he had a sudden inspiration. He went to the grand front entrance of the theater, where Pély, the custodian, was sweeping the marble floor with his push broom. As usual, Pély had set the previous week’s flower arrangements in a row inside the front doors; in the morning they would be picked up by the florist, vases and all, and replaced with new ones. Andras tipped his cap at Pély.

“If no one’s using these flowers,” he said, “may I?”

“Of course! Take them all. Take as many as you like.”

Andras gathered a staggering armload of roses and lilies and chrysanthemums, branches with red berries, faux bluebirds on green twigs, feathery bunches of fern. He would not arrive empty-handed at the Morgensterns’ on the rue de Sévigné; no, not he.

CHAPTER SEVEN. A Luncheon

IT HAD BEEN only a few weeks since Andras had studied the architecture of the Marais with Perret’s class. They had taken a special trip to see the Hôtel de Sens, the fifteenth-century city palace with its turrets and leonine gargoyles, its confusion of rooflines, its cramped and cluttered façade. Andras had expected Perret’s lecture to be a stern critique, a disquisition on the virtues of simplicity. But the lesson had been about the strength of the building, the fine craftsmanship that had allowed it to endure. Perret moved his hand along the stonework of the front entrance, showing the students what care the masons had taken in cutting the voussoirs of the Gothic arches. As he spoke, a pair of Orthodox men had appeared on the street, leading a group of schoolboys in yarmulkes. The two groups of students had stared at each other as they passed. The boys whispered to each other, looking at Perret in his military cloak; a few lagged behind as if to hear what Perret might say next. One boy snapped a salute, and his teacher delivered a reprimand in Yiddish.

Now Andras passed behind the Hôtel de Sens, past the manicured topiary gardens and the raised beds planted with purple kale for winter. Hefting his load of flowers, he sidestepped through the traffic on the rue de Rivoli. In the Marais the streets had an inside feel, almost as if they were part of a movie set. In Cinescope and Le Film Complet, Andras had seen the miniature cities built inside cavernous sound-stages in Los Angeles; here, the pale blue winter sky seemed like the arching roof of a studio, and Andras half expected to see men and women in medieval costume moving between the buildings, trailed by megaphone-wielding directors, by cameramen with their rafts of complicated equipment. There were kosher butchers and Hebrew bookshops and synagogues, all of them with signs written in Yiddish, as though this were a different country within the city. But there was no anti-Semitic graffiti of the kind that regularly appeared in the Jewish Quarter in Budapest. Instead the walls were bare, or plastered with advertisements for soap or chocolate or cigarettes. As Andras entered the tall corridor of the rue de Sévigné, a black taxi roared past, nearly knocking him off his feet. He steadied himself, shifted his vast bouquet from one arm to the other, and checked the address on the card Madame Gérard had given him.

Across the street he could see a windowed shop front with a wooden sign cut into the form of a child ballerina, and beneath it the legend ÉCOLE DE BALLET-MME MORGENSTERN, MAÎTRESSE. He crossed the street. A set of demi-curtained windows ran along both sides of the corner building, and when he stood on his toes he could see an empty room with a floor of yellow wood. One wall was lined from end to end with mirrors; polished wooden practice barres ran along the others. A squat upright piano crouched in one corner, and beside it stood a table with an old-fashioned gramophone, its glossy black morning-glory horn catching the light. A diffuse haze of dust motes hovered in the midday silence. Some remnant of movement, of music, seemed revealed in that tourbillon of dust, as if ballet continued to exist in that room whether a class was being conducted there or not.

The building entrance was a green door set with a leaded glass window. Andras rang the bell and waited. Through the sheer panel that covered the window, he could see a stout woman descending a flight of stairs. She opened the door and put a hand on her hip, giving him an appraising look. She was red-faced, kerchiefed, with a deep smell of paprika about her, like the women who brought vegetables and goat’s milk to sell at the market in Debrecen.

“Madame Morgenstern?” he said, with hesitation; she didn’t look much like a ballet mistress.

“Hah! No,” she said in Hungarian. “Come in and close the door behind you. You’ll let in the cold.”

So he must have passed her inspection; he was glad, because the smells coming from inside were making him dizzy with hunger. He stepped into the entry, and the woman continued in a rapid stream of Hungarian as she took his coat and hat. What an enormous lot of flowers. She would see if there was a vase upstairs large enough to hold them. Lunch was nearly ready. She had prepared stuffed cabbage, and she hoped he liked it, because there was nothing else, except for spaetzle and a fruit compote and some sliced cold chicken and a walnut strudel. He should follow her upstairs. Her name was Mrs. Apfel. They climbed to the second floor, where she directed him to a front parlor decorated with worn Turkish rugs and dark furniture; she told him to wait there for Madame Morgenstern.

He sat on a gray velvet settee and took a long breath. Beneath the heady smell of stuffed cabbage there was the dry lemony tang of furniture polish and a faint scent of licorice. On a small carved table before him was a candy dish, a cut-glass nest filled with pink and lilac sugar eggs. He took an egg and ate it: anise. He straightened his tie and made sure the cotton backing wasn’t showing. After a moment he heard the click of heels in the hallway. A slim shadow moved across the wall, and a girl entered with a blue glass vase in her hands. The vase bristled with a wild profusion of flowers and branches and fake bluebirds, the daylilies beginning to darken at their edges, the roses hanging heavy on their stems. From behind this mass of fading blooms the girl looked at Andras, her dark hair brushed like a wing across her forehead.

“Thank you for the flowers,” she said in French.

As she set the vase on the sideboard, he saw she wasn’t a girl at all; her features had the sharper angles of an adult woman’s, and she held her back straight as if from decades of ballet training. But she was lithe and small, her hands like a child’s on the blue glass vase. Andras drank in a flood of embarrassment as he watched her arrange the bouquet. Why had he brought so many half-dead flowers? Why the bluebirds? Why all those branches? Why hadn’t he just bought something simple at the corner market? A dozen daisies? A sheaf of lupines? How much could it have cost? A couple of francs? The wood nymph smiled back at him over her shoulder, then came to shake his hand.

“Claire Morgenstern,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, Mr. Lévi. Madame Gérard has had many kind things to say about you.”

He took her hand, trying not to stare; she looked decades younger than he’d imagined. He’d envisioned her as a woman of Madame Gérard’s age, but this woman couldn’t have been more than thirty. She had a quiet, astonishing beauty-fine bones, a mouth like a smooth pink-skinned fruit, large intelligent gray eyes. Claire Morgenstern: So this was the C. of the letter, not some elderly gentleman who had once been Mrs. Hász’s lover. Her large gray eyes were Mrs. Hász’s eyes, the quiet grief he saw there a mirror of the expression he’d seen in the older woman’s eyes. This Claire Morgenstern had to be Mrs. Hász’s daughter. A long moment passed before Andras could speak.

“The pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he said in rushed and stilted French, knowing he’d gotten it wrong as soon as he said it. Belatedly he remembered to rise, and though he struggled for the right words, found himself continuing in the same vein. “Thank you for the invitation of me,” he stammered, and sat down again.

Madame Morgenstern took a seat beside him on a low chair. “Would you rather speak Hungarian?” she asked in Hungarian. “We can, if you like.”

He looked up at her as if from the bottom of a well. “French is fine,” he said, in Hungarian. And then in French, again, “French is fine.”

“All right, then,” she said. “You’ll have to tell me what Hungary is like these days. It’s been years since I was there, and Elisabet has never been.”

As if she’d been conjured by the mention of her name, a tall stern-looking girl entered the room, carrying a pitcher of iced tea. She was broad-shouldered like the swimmers Andras had admired at Palatinus Strand in Budapest; she gave him a look of impatient disdain as she filled his glass.

“This is my Elisabet,” said Madame Morgenstern. “Elisabet, this is Andras.”

Andras couldn’t make himself believe that this girl was Madame Morgenstern’s daughter. In Elisabet’s hands, the tea pitcher looked like a child’s toy. He drank his tea and looked from mother to daughter. Madame Morgenstern stirred her tea with a long spoon, while Elisabet, having set the pitcher on a table, threw herself into a wing chair and checked her wristwatch.

“If we don’t eat now I’ll be late for the movie,” she said. “I’m supposed to meet Marthe in an hour.”

“What movie?” Andras said, searching for a thread of conversation.

“You wouldn’t be interested,” Elisabet said. “It’s in French.”

“But I speak French,” Andras said.

Elisabet gave him a dry smile. “May-juh-pargl-Fronsay,” she said.

Madame Morgenstern closed her eyes. “Elisabet,” she said.

“What?”

“You know what.”

“I just want to go to the movies,” Elisabet said, and knocked her heels dully against the rug. Then she tilted her chin toward Andras and said, “Lovely tie.”

Andras looked down. His tie had flipped over as he’d leaned forward to take his glass of tea, and now the cotton backing faced the world, while the gold partridges flew unseen against his shirtfront. Hot with shame, he turned it around and stared into his tea.

“Lunch is served!” said the red-faced Mrs. Apfel from the doorway, pushing back her kerchief. “Come now, before the cabbage gets cold.”

There was a proper dining room, with polished wooden china cabinets and a white cloth on the table: echoes of the house on Benczúr utca, Andras thought. But there were no exsanguinated sandwiches here; the table was heavy with platters of stuffed cabbage and chicken and bowls of spaetzle, as though there were eight of them eating instead of three. Madame Morgenstern sat at the head of the table, Andras and Elisabet across from each other. Mrs. Apfel served the stuffed cabbage and spaetzle; Andras, grateful for the distraction, tucked his napkin into his collar and began to eat. Elisabet frowned at her plate. She pushed the cabbage aside and began eating the spaetzle, one tiny dumpling at a time.

“I hear you’re interested in mathematics,” Andras said, speaking to the top of Elisabet’s lowered head.

She raised her eyes. “Did my mother tell you that?”

“No, Madame Gérard did. She said you won a competition.”

“Anyone can do high-school mathematics.”

“Do you think you’ll want to study it in college?”

Elisabet shrugged. “If I go to college.”

“Darling, you can’t live on spaetzle,” Madame Morgenstern said quietly, looking at Elisabet’s plate. “You used to like stuffed cabbage.”

“It’s cruel to eat meat,” Elisabet said, and leveled her eyes at Andras. “I’ve seen how they butcher cows. They stick a knife in the neck and draw it downwards, like this, and the blood pours out. My biology class took a trip to a shochet. It’s barbaric.”

“Not really,” Andras said. “My brothers and I used to know the kosher butcher in our town. He was a friend of our father’s, and he was quite gentle with the animals.”

Elisabet watched him intently. “And can you explain to me how you gently butcher a cow?” she said. “What did he do? Pet them to death?”

“He used the traditional method,” Andras said, his tone sharper than he’d intended. “One quick cut across the neck. It couldn’t have hurt them for more than a second.”

Madame Morgenstern set her silverware down and put a napkin to her mouth as if she felt ill, and Elisabet’s expression became slyly triumphant. Mrs. Apfel stood in the doorway holding a water pitcher, waiting to see what would happen next.

“Go on,” Elisabet said. “What did he do then, after he made the cut?”

“I think we’re finished with this subject,” Andras said.

“No, please. I’d like to hear the rest, now that you’ve started.”

“Elisabet, that’s enough,” Madame Morgenstern said.

“But the conversation’s just getting interesting.”

“I said it’s enough.”

Elisabet crumpled her napkin and threw it onto the table. “I’m finished,” she said. “You can sit here with your guest and eat meat. I’m going to the cinema with Marthe.” She pushed her chair back and stood, nearly upsetting Mrs. Apfel and the water pitcher, then went off down the hall and knocked around in a distant room. A few moments later her heavy footsteps echoed on the stairs. The door of the dance studio slammed and its mullioned window jingled.

At the dining table, Madame Morgenstern lowered her forehead onto her palm. “I apologize, Monsieur Lévi,” she said.

“No, please,” he said. “It’s fine.” In fact, he wasn’t at all sorry to have been left alone with Madame Morgenstern. “Don’t be upset on my account,” he said. “That was a terrible topic of conversation. I apologize.”

“There’s no need,” Madame Morgenstern said. “Elisabet is impossible at times, that’s all. I can’t do anything with her once she’s decided she’s angry at me.”

“Why should she be angry at you?”

She gave a half smile and shrugged. “It’s complicated, I’m afraid. She’s a sixteen-year-old girl. I’m her mother. She doesn’t like me to have anything to do with her social affairs. And I mustn’t remind her that we’re Hungarian, either. She considers Hungarians an unenlightened people.”

“I’ve felt that way, too, at times,” Andras said. “I’ve spent a lot of time lately struggling to be French.”

“Your French is excellent, as it turns out.”

“No, it’s terrible. And I’m afraid I did nothing to dispel your daughter’s notion that Magyars are barbarians.”

Madame Morgenstern hid a smile behind her hand. “You were rather quick with that business about the butcher,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” Andras said, but he’d started to laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about that over lunch.”

“So you really did know the butcher in your town,” she said.

“I did. And I saw him at his work. But Elisabet was right, I’m afraid-it was awful!”

“You must have grown up-where? Somewhere in the countryside?”

“Konyár,” he said. “Near Debrecen.”

“Konyár? That’s not twenty kilometers from Kaba, where my mother was born.” A shade passed over her features and was gone.

“Your mother,” he said. “But she doesn’t live there anymore?”

“No,” Madame Morgenstern said. “She lives in Budapest.” She fell silent for a moment, then turned the conversation back to Andras’s history. “So you’re a Hajdú, too. A flatlands boy.”

“That’s right,” he said. “My father owns a lumberyard in Konyár.” So she wouldn’t talk about it, wouldn’t discuss the subject of her family. He had been on the verge of mentioning the letter-of saying I’ve met your mother-but the moment had passed now, and there was a kind of relief in the prospect of talking about Konyár. Ever since he’d arrived in Paris and had mastered enough French to answer questions about his origins, he’d been telling people he was from Budapest. What would anyone have known of Konyár? And to those who would have known, like József Hász or Pierre Vago, Konyár meant a small and backward place, a town you were lucky to have escaped. Even the name sounded ridiculous-the punchline of a bawdy joke, the sound of a jumping jack springing from a box. But he really was from Konyár, from that dirt-floored house beside the railroad tracks.

“My father’s something of a celebrity in town, to tell the truth,” Andras said.

“Indeed! What is he known for?”

“His terrible luck,” Andras said. And then, feeling suddenly brave: “Shall I tell you his story, the way they tell it at home?”

“By all means,” she said, and folded her hands in anticipation.

So he told her the story just as he’d always heard it: Before his father had owned the lumberyard, he had suffered a string of misfortunes that had earned him the nickname of Lucky Béla. His own father had fallen ill while Béla was at rabbinical school in Prague, and had died as soon as he returned home. The vineyard he inherited had succumbed to blight. His first wife had died in childbirth, along with the baby, a girl; not long after, his house had burned to the ground. All three of his brothers were killed in the Great War, and his mother had given in to grief and drowned herself in the Tisza. At thirty he was a ruined man, penniless, his family dead. For a time he lived on the charity of the Jews of Konyár, sleeping in the Orthodox shul at night and eating what they left for him. Then, at the end of a drought summer, a famous Ukrainian miracle rabbi arrived from across the border and set up temporary quarters in the shul. He studied Torah with the local men, settled disputes, officiated at weddings, granted divorces, prayed for rain, danced in the courtyard with his disciples. One morning at dawn he came upon Andras’s father sleeping in the sanctuary. He’d heard the story of this unfortunate, this man whom all the village said must be suffering from a curse; they seemed to regard him with a kind of gratitude, as if he’d drawn the attention of the evil eye away from the rest of them. The rabbi roused Béla with a benediction, and Béla looked up in speechless fear. The rabbi was a gaunt man with an ice-white beard; his eyebrows stood out from the curve of his forehead like lifted wings, his eyes dark and liquid beneath them.

“Listen to me, Béla Lévi,” the rabbi whispered in the half-light of the sanctuary. “There’s nothing wrong with you. God asks the most of those he loves best. You must fast for two days and go to the ritual bath, then accept the first offer of work you receive.”

Even if Lucky Béla had been a believer in miracles, his misfortunes would have made him a skeptic. “I’m too hungry to fast,” he said.

“Practice at hunger makes the fast easier,” the rabbi said.

“How do you know there’s not a curse on me?”

“I try not to wonder how I know. Certain things I just know.” And the rabbi made another blessing over Béla and left him alone in the sanctuary.

What more did Lucky Béla have to lose? He fasted for two days and bathed in the river at night. The next morning he wandered toward the railroad tracks, faint with hunger, and picked an apple from a stunted tree beside a white brick cottage. The proprietor of the lumberyard, an Orthodox Jew, stepped out of the cottage and asked Béla what he thought he was doing.

“I used to have a vineyard,” Béla said. “When I had a vineyard, I would have let you pick my grapes. When I had a house I would have welcomed you to my house. My wife would have given you something to eat. Now I have neither grapes nor house. I have no wife. I have no food. But I can work.”

“There’s no work for you here,” the man said, gently, “but come inside and eat.”

The man’s name was Zindel Kohn. His wife, Gitta, set bread and cheese before Lucky Béla. With Zindel and Gitta and their five small children, Lucky Béla ate; as he did, he allowed himself to imagine for the first time that the rest of his life might not be shaped by the misery of his past. He could not have imagined that this house would become his own house, that his own children would eat bread and cheese at this very table. But by the end of the afternoon he had a job: The boy who worked the mechanical saw at Zindel Kohn’s lumberyard had decided to become a disciple of the Ukrainian rabbi. He had left that morning without notice.

Six years later, when Zindel Kohn and his family moved to Debrecen, Lucky Béla took over the lumberyard. He married a black-haired girl named Flóra who bore him three sons, and by the time the oldest was ten, Béla had earned enough money to buy the lumberyard outright. He did a fine business; people in Konyár needed building materials and firewood in every season. Before long, hardly anyone in Konyár remembered that Lucky Béla’s nickname had been given in irony. The history might have been allowed to fade altogether had it not been for the return of the Ukrainian rabbi; this was at the height of the worldwide depression, just before the High Holidays. The rabbi spent an evening at Lucky Béla’s house and asked if he might tell his story in synagogue. It might help the Jews of Konyár, he said, to be reminded of what God would do for his children if they refused to capitulate to despair. Lucky Béla consented. The rabbi told the story, and the Jews of Konyár listened. Though Béla insisted his good fortune was due entirely to the generosity of others, people began to regard him as a kind of holy figure. They touched his house for good luck when they passed, and asked him to be godfather to their children. Everyone believed he had a connection to the divine.

“You must have thought so yourself as a child,” Madame Morgenstern said.

“I did! I thought he was invincible-even more so than most children think of their parents,” Andras said. “Sometimes I wish I’d never lost the illusion.”

“Ah, yes,” she said. “I understand.”

“My parents are getting older,” Andras said. “I hate to think of them alone in Konyár. My father had pneumonia last year, and couldn’t work for a month afterward.” He hadn’t spoken about this to anyone in Paris. “My younger brother’s at school a few hours away, but he’s caught up in his own life. And now my older brother’s leaving, going off to medical school in Italy.”

A shadow came to Madame Morgenstern’s features again, as if she’d experienced an inward twist of pain. “My mother’s getting older, too,” she said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her, a very long time.” She fell silent and glanced away from the table at the tall west-facing windows. The late autumn light fell in a diagonal plane across her face, illuminating the tapered curve of her mouth. “Forgive me,” she said, trying to smile; he offered his handkerchief, and she pressed it to her eyes.

He found himself fighting the impulse to touch her, to trace a line from her nape down the curve of her back. “Perhaps I’ve stayed too long,” he said.

“No, please,” she said. “You haven’t even had dessert.”

As if she’d been listening just beyond the dining-room door, Mrs. Apfel came in at that moment to serve the walnut strudel. Andras found that he had an appetite again. He was ravenous, in fact. He ate three slices of strudel and drank coffee with cream. As he did, he told Madame Morgenstern about his studies, about Professor Vago, about the trip to Boulogne-Billancourt. He found her easier to talk to than Madame Gérard. She had a way of pausing in quiet thought before she responded; she would pull her lips in pensively, and when she spoke, her voice was low and encouraging. After lunch they went back to the parlor and looked through her album of picture postcards. Her dancer friends had traveled as far as Chicago and Cairo. There was even a hand-colored postcard from Africa: three animals that looked like deer, but were slighter and more graceful, with straight upcurved horns and almond-shaped eyes. The French word for them was gazelle.

“Gazelle,” Andras said. “I’ll try to remember.”

“Yes, try,” she said, and smiled. “Next time I’ll test you.”

When the afternoon light had begun to wane, she rose and led Andras to the hallway, where his coat and hat hung on a polished stand. She gave him his things and returned his handkerchief. As she led him down the stairs she pointed out the photographs on the wall, images of students from years past: girls in ethereal clouds of tulle or sylphlike draperies of silk, young dancers under the transient spell of costumes and makeup and stage lights. Their expressions were serious, their arms as pale and nude as the branches of winter trees. He wanted to stay and look. He wondered if any of the photographs were of Madame Morgenstern herself when she was a child.

“Thank you for everything,” he said when they’d reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Please.” She put a slim hand on his arm. “I should thank you. You were very kind to stay.”

Andras flushed so deeply at the pressure of her hand that he could feel the blood beating in his temples. She opened the door and he stepped out into the chill of the afternoon. He found he couldn’t look at her to say goodbye. Next time I’ll test you. But she’d returned his handkerchief as though their paths were unlikely to cross again. He spoke his goodbye to the doorstep, to her feet in their fawn-colored shoes. Then he turned away and she closed the door behind him. Without thinking, he retraced his steps toward the river until he had reached the Pont Marie. There he paused at the edge of the bridge and brought out the handkerchief. It was still damp where she’d used it to dry her eyes. As if in a dream, he put a corner of it into his mouth and tasted the salt she’d left there.

CHAPTER EIGHT. Gare d’Orsay

THAT NIGHT HE found it impossible to sleep. He couldn’t stop reviewing every detail of his afternoon at the Morgensterns’. The shameful bouquet, and how doubly shameful it had looked when she’d carried it into the parlor in the blue glass vase. The moment when he’d realized that she must be the elder Mrs. Hász’s daughter, and how it had flustered him to discover it-how he’d said The pleasure to make your acquaintance and Thank you for the invitation of me. How she’d held her back straight as though she were always dancing, until the moment at the table after Elisabet had gone-the way her back had curved then, showing the linked pearls of her spine, and how he’d wanted to touch her. The way she’d listened as he’d told his father’s story. The close heat of her shoulder as she sat beside him on the sofa in the parlor, paging through the album of picture postcards. The moment at the door when she’d rested her hand on his arm. He tried to re-create an image of her in his mind-the dark sweep of hair across her brow, the gray eyes that seemed too large for her face, the clean line of her jaw, the mouth that drew in upon itself as she considered what he’d said-but he couldn’t make the disparate elements add up to an image of her. He saw her again as she turned to smile at him over her shoulder, girlish and wise at the same time. But what was he thinking, what could he be thinking? What an absurdity for him to think this way about a woman like Claire Morgenstern-he, Andras, a twenty-two-year-old student who lived in an unheated room and drank tea from a jam jar because he couldn’t afford coffee or a coffee cup. And yet she hadn’t sent him away, she’d kept talking to him, he’d made her laugh, she’d accepted his handkerchief, she’d touched his arm in a confiding and intimate manner.

For hours he rolled over and over in bed, trying to put her out of his mind. When the sky outside his window filled with a deep gray-blue light, he wanted to cry. All night he’d lain awake, and soon he would have to get up and go to class and then to work, where Madame Gérard would want to hear about the visit. It was Monday morning, the beginning of a new week. The night was over. The only thing he could do was to get out of bed and write the letter he had to write, the one he had to mail before he went to school that morning. He took an old piece of sketch paper and began a draft:

Dear Mme Morgenstern,

Thank you for the

For the what? For the very pleasant afternoon? How flat it would sound. How much that would make it seem like any ordinary afternoon. Whatever else it had been, it hadn’t been that. What was he supposed to write? He wanted to express his gratitude for Madame Morgenstern’s hospitality; that was certain. But underneath he wanted to send a coded message, to convey what he had felt and what he felt now-that a kind of electrical conduit had opened between them and ran between them still; that he’d taken her at her word when she’d suggested they might see each other again. He scratched out the lines he’d written and started again.

Dear Madame Morgenstern,

As absurd as it sounds, I’ve been thinking of you since we parted. I want to take you into my arms, tell you a million things, ask you a million questions. I want to touch your throat and unbutton the pearl button at your neck.

And then what? What would he do, given the chance? For one brief delirious moment he thought of those old photographs that depicted the elaborate sexual positions, the silver images of entwined couples visible only when the cards were held at an angle to the light. He remembered standing in the changing room near the gymnastics hall with four other boys, each of them hunched over and holding a card, their gym shorts around their ankles, each in solitary agony as the silver couples flashed into and out of view. His card had shown a woman lying on a settee, her legs raised in a sharp V. She wore a Victorian-style gown that revealed her arms and shoulders and had fallen away from her legs entirely, leaving them bare as they strained toward the ceiling. A man bent over her, doing what even the Victorians did.

Flushed with shame and desire, he scratched out the lines again to begin another draft. He dipped his pen and wiped off the excess ink.

Dear Madame Morgenstern,

Thank you for your hospitality and for the pleasure of your company. My own accommodations are too poor to allow me to return your invitation, but if I may be of service to you in some other way, I hope you will not hesitate to call upon me. In the meantime I shall retain the hope that we will meet again.

Yours sincerely,

ANDRAS LÉVI

He read and reread the draft, wondering if he should try to write in French instead of Hungarian; finally he decided he was likely to make an imbecillic error in French. He wrote a fair copy on a sheet of thin white paper, which he folded in half and sealed into an envelope before he could begin to reexamine every line. Then he mailed the letter at the same blue box where he’d posted the letter from her mother.

That week he was grateful for the hard, painstaking work of model-building. In the studio he cut a rectangle of thick pasteboard to serve as a base for the model, and he traced the footprint of the building onto the base in a thin pencil line. On another piece of pasteboard he drew the shapes of the building’s four elevations, working meticulously from his measured drawing. His favorite tool was a ruler of near-transparent cellulose through which he could see the pencil lines that intersected the one he was drawing; that ruler, with its strict grid of millimeters, was an island of exactitude in the sea of tasks he had to complete, a strip of certainty in the midst of his uncertainty. Every piece of the model had to be made from sturdy material that could not be bought at a discount or substituted with flimsy stuff; everyone recalled what had happened during the first week of classes, when Polaner, trying to stretch his dwindling supply of francs, had used Bristol paper for a model, rather than pasteboard. In the middle of the critique, when Professor Vago had tapped the roof of Polaner’s model with his mechanical pencil, one wall had buckled and sent the paper chateau to its knees. Pasteboard was expensive; Andras could not afford to make a mistake, neither in the ink drawing nor the cutting. It provided some comfort to work alongside Rosen and Ben Yakov and Polaner, who were building the École Militaire, the Rotonde de la Villette, and the Théâtre de l’Odéon, respectively. Even smug Lemarque provided a welcome distraction; he’d decided to build a model of the twenty-sided Cirque d’Hiver, and could be heard periodically swearing as he traced wall after wall onto pasteboard.

In statics class there was the clear plain order of math: the three-variable equation to calculate the number and thickness of steel rods per cubic meter of concrete, the number of kilograms a support column could bear, the precise distribution of pressure along the crown of an arch. At the front of the classroom, chalking his way through a maze of calculations on the chip-edged blackboard, stood the wildly untidy Victor Le Bourgeois, professor of statics, a practicing architect and engineer, who, like Vago, was said to be a close friend of Pingusson’s. His disorder expressed itself in trousers torn at the knee, a jacket permanently grayed with chalk dust, a shaggy halo of ginger-colored hair, and a tendency to misplace the blackboard eraser. But when he began to trace the relationship between mathematical abstractions and tangible building materials, all the chaos of his person seemed to drop away. Willingly Andras followed him into the curved halls of calculus, where the problem of Madame Morgenstern could not exist because it could not be described by an equation.

At the theater there was the relief of being able to speak her name aloud to Madame Gérard. During intermission at the Tuesday night performance, Andras brought Madame a cup of strong coffee and waited by the door of her dressing room as she drank it. She looked up from under the graceful arch of her brows; she was stately even in the soot-stained apron and head kerchief of the Mother. “I haven’t had word from Madame Morgenstern,” she said. “How was your luncheon?”

“Quite pleasance,” Andras said, and blushed. “Pleasant, I mean.”

“Quite pleasant, he says.”

“Yes,” Andras said. “Quite.” His French vocabulary seemed to have fled.

“Aha,” said Madame Gérard, as if she understood entirely. Andras’s blush deepened: He knew she must think that something had passed between himself and Elisabet. Something had, of course, though not at all what she must have imagined.

“Madame Morgenstern is very kind,” he said.

“And Mademoiselle?”

“Mademoiselle is very…” Andras swallowed and looked at the row of lights above Madame Gérard’s mirror. “Mademoiselle is very tall.”

Madame Gérard threw her head back and laughed. “Very tall!” she said. “Indeed. And very strong-willed. I knew her when she was a little girl playing at dolls; she used to speak to them so imperiously I thought they would burst into tears. But you mustn’t be scared of Elisabet. She’s harmless, I assure you.”

Before Andras could protest that he wasn’t in the least afraid of Elisabet, the double bell sounded to signal the impending end of intermission. Madame had a costume change to complete, and Andras had to leave to finish his tasks before the third act began. Once the actors went on again, time slowed to a polar trickle. All he could think of was the letter he’d written and when a response might come. His letter might have been delivered by that afternoon’s post, and she might have posted her own response today. Her letter could arrive as soon as tomorrow. It wasn’t unreasonable to think she might invite him for lunch again that weekend.

The next night, when the play finally ended and Andras had finished his duties for the evening, he ran all the way home to the rue des Écoles. In his mind he could see the envelope glowing in the dark of the entryway, the cream-colored stationery, Madame Morgenstern’s neat, even handwriting, the same handwriting in which she’d made the inscriptions beneath the postcards in her album. From Marie in Morocco. From Marcel in Rome. Who was Marcel, Andras wondered, and what had he written from Rome?

As he opened the tall red door with his skeleton key, he could already make out an envelope on the console table. He let the door swing behind him as he went for the letter. But it wasn’t the cream-colored lilac-scented envelope he’d hoped for; it was a wrinkled brown envelope addressed in the handwriting of his brother Mátyás. Unlike Tibor, Mátyás rarely wrote; when he did, the letters were thin and informational. This one was thick, requiring twice the usual amount of postage. His first thought was that something had happened to his parents-his father had been injured, his mother had caught influenza-and his second thought was of how ridiculous he’d been to expect a letter from Madame Morgenstern.

Upstairs he lit one of his precious candles and sat down at the table. He slit the brown envelope carefully with his penknife. Inside was a creased sheaf of pages, five of them, the longest letter Mátyás had ever written to him. The handwriting was large and careless and peppered with inkblots. Andras scanned the first lines for bad news about his parents, but there wasn’t any. If there had been, Andras thought, Tibor would have wired him. This letter was about Mátyás himself. Mátyás had learned that Andras had arranged for Tibor to enter medical school in January. Congratulations to them both, to Andras for having successfully exploited his lofty connections, and to Tibor for getting to leave Hungary at last. Now he, Mátyás, would certainly have to remain behind, alone, heir by default to a rural lumberyard. Did Andras think it was easy, having to hear their parents talk about how exciting Andras’s studies were, how well he was doing in his classes, how wonderful it was that Tibor could now study to become a doctor, what a fine couple of sons they were? Had Andras forgotten that Mátyás, too, might have hopes for his own studies abroad? Had Andras forgotten everything Mátyás had said on the subject? Did Andras think Mátyás was going to give up on his own plans? If he did, he’d better reconsider. Mátyás was saving money. If he saved enough before he graduated, he wouldn’t bother with his bac. He would run away to America, to New York, and go on the stage. He’d find a way to get by. In America all you needed was determination and the willingness to work. And once he left Hungary, it would be up to Andras and Tibor to worry about the lumberyard and their parents, because he, Mátyás, would never return.

At the end of the last page, written in a calmer hand-as if Mátyás had set the letter aside for a time, then come back to finish it once his anger had burned out-was a remorseful Hope you’re well. Andras gave a short, exhausted laugh. Hope you’re well! He might as well have written “Hope you die.”

Andras took up a sheet of paper from the desk. Dear Mátyás, he wrote. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been wretched a hundred times since I’ve been here. I’m wretched right now. Believe me when I tell you it hasn’t all been wonderful. As for you, I haven’t the slightest doubt that you will finish your bac and go to America, if that’s what you want (though I’d much rather you came here to Paris). I don’t expect you to take over for Apa, and neither does Apa himself. He wants you to finish your studies. But Mátyás was right to raise the question, right to be angry that there was no easy solution. He thought of Claire Morgenstern saying of her own mother, It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her, a very long time. How her expression had clouded, how her eyes had filled with a grief that seemed to echo the grief he’d witnessed in her mother’s features. What had parted them, and what had kept Madame Morgenstern away? With effort he turned his thoughts back to his letter. I hope you won’t be angry with me for long, Mátyáska, but your anger does you credit: It’s evidence of what a good son you are. When I finish my studies I’ll go back to Hungary, and may God keep Anya and Apa in health long enough for me to be of service to them then. In the meantime he would worry about them just as his brothers did. In the meantime I expect you to be brilliant and fearless in all things, as ever! With love, your ANDRAS.

He posted the reply the next morning, hoping that the day would bring word from Madame Morgenstern. But there was no letter on the hall table that night when he returned from work. And why should he have expected her to write? he wondered. Their social exchange was complete. He had accepted Madame Morgenstern’s hospitality and had sent his thanks. If he’d imagined a connection with her, he had been mistaken. And in any case he was supposed to have made a connection with her daughter, not with Madame Morgenstern herself. That night he lay awake shivering and thinking of her and cursing himself for his ridiculous hope. In the morning he found a thin layer of ice in the washbasin; he broke it with the washcloth and splashed his face with a burning sheet of ice-cold water. Outside, a stiff wind blew loose shingles off the roof and shattered them in the street. At the bakery the woman gave him hot peasant loaves straight from the oven, charging him as if they were day-old bread. It was going to be one of the coldest winters ever, she told him. Andras knew he would need a warmer coat, a woolen scarf; his boots would need to be resoled. He didn’t have the money for any of it.

All week the temperature kept falling. At school the radiators emitted a feeble dry heat; the fifth-year students took places close to them, and the first-years froze by the windows. Andras spent hopeless hours on his model of the Gare d’Orsay, a train station already drifting into obsolescence. Though it still served as the terminus for the railways of southwestern France, its platforms were too short for the long trains used now. Last time he’d gone there to take measurements, the station had looked derelict and unkempt, a few of its high windows broken, a stippling of mildew darkening its line of arches. It didn’t cheer him to think he was preserving its memory in cardboard; his model was a flimsy homage to a tatterdemalion relic. On Friday he walked home alone, too dispirited to join the others at the Blue Dove-and there on the entry table was a white envelope with his name on it, the response he’d waited for all week. He tore it open in the foyer. Andras, you’re very welcome. Please visit us again sometime. Regards, C. MORGENSTERN. Nothing more. Nothing certain. Please visit us again sometime: What did that mean? He sat down on the stairs and dropped his forehead against his knees. All week he’d waited for this! Regards. His heart went on drumming in his chest, as if something wonderful were still about to happen. He tasted shame like a hot fragment of metal on his tongue.

After work that night he couldn’t bear the thought of going home to his tiny room, of lying down in the bed where he’d now spent five sleepless nights thinking about Claire Morgenstern. Instead he wandered toward the Marais, drawing his thin coat closer around him. It cheered him to take an unfamiliar path through the streets of the Right Bank; he liked losing his way and finding it again, discovering the strangely named alleyways and lanes-rue des Mauvais Garçons, rue des Guillemites, rue des Blancs-Manteaux. Tonight there was a smell of winter in the air, different from the Budapest smell of brown coal and approaching snow; the Paris smell was wetter and smokier and sweeter: chestnut leaves turning to mash in the gutters, the sugary brown scent of roasted nuts, the tang of gasoline from the boulevards. Everywhere there were posters advertising the ice-skating rinks, one in the Bois de Boulogne and another in the Bois de Vincennes. He hadn’t imagined that Paris would get cold enough for skating, but both sets of posters proclaimed that the ponds were frozen solid. One depicted a trio of spinning polar bears; the other showed a little girl in a short red skirt, her hands in a fur muff, one slender leg extended behind her.

In the rue des Rosiers a man and a woman stood beside one of these posters and kissed unabashedly, their hands buried inside each other’s coats. Andras was reminded of a game the children used to play in Konyár: Behind the baker’s shop there was a wall of white stone that was always warm because the baker’s oven was on the other side, and in the wintertime the boys would meet there after school to kiss the baker’s daughter. The baker’s daughter had pale brown freckles scattered across her nose like sesame seeds. For ten fillér she would press you up against the wall and kiss you until you couldn’t breathe. For five fillér you could watch her do it to someone else. She was saving for a pair of ice skates. Her name was Orsolya, but they never called her that; instead they called her Korcsolya, the word for ice skates. Andras had kissed her once, had felt her tongue explore his own as she held him up against the warm wall. He couldn’t have been more than eight years old; Orsolya must have been ten. Three of his friends from school were watching, cheering him on. Halfway through the kiss he’d opened his eyes. Orsolya, too, was open-eyed, but absent, her mind fixed elsewhere-perhaps on the ice skates. He’d never forgotten the day he came out of the house to see her skating on the pond, the silver flash at her soles like a teasing wink, a steely goodbye-forever to paid kissing. That winter she’d nearly died of cold, skating in all weather. “That girl will go through the ice,” Andras’s mother had predicted, watching Orsolya tracing loops in an early March rain. But she hadn’t gone through the ice. She’d survived her winter on the millpond, and the next winter she was there again, and the one after that she’d gone away to secondary school. He could see her now, a red-skirted figure through a gray haze, untouchable and alone.

Now he made his way though the grotto of medieval streets toward the rue de Sévigné, toward Madame Morgenstern’s building. He hadn’t decided to come here, but here he was; he stood on the sidewalk opposite and rocked on his heels. It was near midnight, and all the lights were out upstairs. But he crossed the street and looked over the demi-curtains into the darkened studio. There was the morning-glory horn of the phonograph, gleaming black and brutal in a corner; there was the piano with its flat toothy grimace. He shivered inside his coat and imagined the pink-clad forms of girls moving across the yellow plane of the studio floor. It was bitterly, blindingly cold. What was he doing out here on the street at midnight? There was only one explanation for his behavior: He’d gone mad. The pressure of his life here, of his single chance at making a man and an artist of himself, had proved too much for him. He put his head against the wall of the entryway, trying to slow his breathing; after a moment, he told himself, he would shake off this madness and find his way home. But then he raised his eyes and saw what he hadn’t known he’d been looking for: There in the entryway was a slim glass-fronted case of the kind used to post menus outside restaurants; instead of a menu, this one held a white rectangle of cardstock inscribed with the legend Horaire des Classes.

The schedule, the pattern of her life. There it was, printed in her own neat hand. Her mornings were devoted to private lessons, the early afternoons to beginning classes, the later afternoons to intermediate and advanced. Wednesdays and Fridays she took the mornings off. On Sundays, the afternoons. Now, at least, he knew when he might look through this window and see her. Tomorrow wasn’t soon enough, but it would have to be.

All the next day he tried to turn his thoughts away from her. He went to the studio, where everyone gathered on Saturdays to work; he built his model, joked with Rosen, heard about Ben Yakov’s continuing fascination with the beautiful Lucia, shared his peasant bread with Polaner. By noon he couldn’t wait any longer. He went down into the Métro at Raspail and rode to Châtelet. From there he ran all the way to the rue de Sévigné; by the time he arrived he was hot and panting in the winter chill. He looked over the demi-curtains of the studio. A crowd of little girls in dancing clothes were packing their ballet shoes into canvas satchels, holding their street shoes in their hands as they lined up at the door. The covered entrance to the studio was crowded with mothers and governesses, the mothers in furs, the governesses in woolen coats. A few little girls broke through the cluster of women and ran off toward a candy shop. He waited for the crowd at the door to clear, and then he saw her just inside the entryway: Madame Morgenstern, in a black practice skirt and a close-wrapped gray sweater, her hair gathered at the nape of her neck in a loose knot. When all the children but one had been collected, Madame Morgenstern emerged from the entryway holding the last girl’s hand. She stepped lightly on the sidewalk in her dancing shoes, as if she didn’t want to ruin their soles on the paving stones. Andras had a sudden urge to flee.

But the little girl had seen him. She dropped Madame Morgenstern’s hand and took a few running steps toward him, squinting as if she couldn’t quite make him out. When she was close enough to touch his sleeve, she stopped short and turned back. Her shoulders rose and fell beneath the blue wool of her coat.

“It’s not Papa after all,” she said.

Madame Morgenstern raised her eyes in apology to the man who wasn’t Papa. When she saw it was Andras, she smiled and tugged the edge of her wrapped sweater straight, a gesture so girlish and self-conscious that it brought a rush of heat to Andras’s chest. He crossed the few squares of pavement between them. He didn’t dare to press her hand in greeting, could hardly look into her eyes. Instead he stared at the sidewalk and buried his hands in his pockets, where he discovered a ten-centime coin left over from his purchase of bread that morning. “Look what I found,” he said, kneeling to give the coin to the little girl.

She took it and turned it over in her fingers. “You found this?” she said. “Maybe someone dropped it.”

“I found it in my pocket,” he said. “It’s for you. When you go to the shops with your mother, you can buy candy or a new hair ribbon.”

The girl sighed and tucked the coin into the side pocket of her satchel. “A hair ribbon,” she said. “I’m not allowed candy. It’s bad for the teeth.”

Madame Morgenstern put a hand on the girl’s shoulder and drew her toward the door. “We can wait by the stove inside,” she said. “It’s warmer there.” She turned back to catch Andras’s eye, meaning to include him in the invitation. He followed her inside, toward the compact iron stove that stood in a corner of the studio. A fire hissed behind its isinglass window, and the little girl knelt to look at the flames.

“This is a surprise,” Madame Morgenstern said, lifting her gray eyes to his own.

“I was out for a ramble,” Andras said, too quickly. “Studying the quartier.”

“Monsieur Lévi is a student of architecture,” Madame Morgenstern told the girl. “Someday he’ll design grand buildings.”

“My father’s a doctor,” the girl said absently, not looking at either of them.

Andras stood beside Madame Morgenstern and warmed his hands at the stove, his fingers inches from her own. He looked at her fingernails, the slim taper of her digits, the lines of the birdlike bones beneath the skin. She caught him looking, and he turned his face away. They warmed their hands in silence as they waited for the girl’s father, who materialized a few minutes later: a short mustachioed man with a monocle, carrying a doctor’s bag.

“Sophie, where are your glasses?” he asked, pulling his mouth into a frown.

The little girl fished a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles from her satchel.

“Please, Madame,” he said. “If you can, be sure she wears them.”

“I’ll try,” Madame Morgenstern said, and smiled.

“They fall off when I dance,” the girl protested.

“Say goodbye, Sophie,” the doctor said. “We’ll be late for dinner.”

In the doorway, Sophie turned and waved. Then she and her father were gone, and Andras stood alone in the studio with Madame Morgenstern. She stepped away from the stove to gather a few things the children had left behind: a stray glove, a hairpin, a red scarf. She put all the things into a basket which she set beside the piano. Objets trouvés.

“I wanted to thank you again,” Andras said, when the silence between them had stretched to an intolerable length. It came out more gruffly than he’d intended, and in Hungarian, a low rural growl. He cleared his throat and repeated it in French.

“Please, Andras,” she said in Hungarian, laughing. “You wrote such a lovely note. And there was no need to thank me in the first place. I’m certain it wasn’t the most pleasant afternoon for you.”

He couldn’t tell her what the afternoon had been like for him, or what the past week had been like. He saw again in his mind the way she’d smiled and tugged at her sweater when she’d recognized him, that involuntary and self-conscious act. He crushed his cap in his hands, looking at the polished studio floor. There were heavy footsteps on the floor above, Elisabet’s, or Mrs. Apfel’s.

“Have we put you off for good?” Madame Morgenstern asked. “Can you come again tomorrow? Elisabet will have a friend here for lunch, and maybe we’ll go skating in the Bois de Vincennes afterward.”

“I don’t have skates,” he said, almost inaudibly.

“Neither do we,” she said. “We always rent them. It’s lovely. You’ll enjoy it.”

It’s lovely, you’ll enjoy it, as if it were really going to happen. And then he said yes, and it was.

CHAPTER NINE. Bois de Vincennes

THIS TIME, when he went to lunch on the rue de Sévigné, he didn’t wear a costume tie and he didn’t bring a bushel of wilting flowers; instead he wore an old favorite shirt and brought a bottle of wine and a pear tart from the bakery next door. As before, Mrs. Apfel laid out a feast: a layered egg-and-potato rakott krumpli, a tureen of carrot soup, a hash of red cabbage and apples with caraway, a dark peasant loaf, and three kinds of cheese. Madame Morgenstern was in a quiet mood; she seemed grateful for the presence of Elisabet’s friend, a stout heavy-browed girl in a brown woolen dress. This was the Marthe with whom Elisabet had gone to the movies the week before. She kept Elisabet talking about goings-on at school: who had made a fool of herself in geography class and who had won a choir solo and who was going to Switzerland to ski during the winter holidays. Every now and then Elisabet threw a glance at Andras, as if she wanted him to take note of the fact that the conversation excluded him. Outside, a light snow had begun to fall. Andras couldn’t wait to get out of the house. It was a relief when the pear tart was cut and eaten, when they could put their coats on and go.

At half past two they rode the Métro to the Bois. When they emerged from the station, Elisabet and Marthe hurried ahead, arm in arm, while Madame Morgenstern walked with Andras. She spoke about her students, about the upcoming winter pageant, about the recent cold snap. She was wearing a close-fitting red woolen hat shaped like a bell; the loose ends of her hair curled from its edge, and snowflakes gathered on its crown.

Inside the snowy Bois, between the barren elms and oaks and frosted evergreens, the paths were full of men and women carrying skates. From the lake came the shouts and calls of skaters, the scrape of blades on ice. They came to a break in the trees, and before them lay the frozen lake with its small central islands, its fenced banks crowded with Parisians. On the ice, serious-looking men and women in winter coats moved in a slow sweep around the islands. A warming house with a scalloped glass entryway stood on a shallow rise. According to a sign lettered in red, skates could be rented there for three francs. Elisabet and Marthe led their little group into the warming house and they waited in line at the rental counter. Andras insisted on renting skates for all of them; he tried not to think about what those twelve vanished francs would mean to him in the coming week. On a damp green bench they exchanged their shoes for skates, and soon afterward they were staggering downhill on a rubber path toward the lake.

Andras stepped onto the ice and cut a chain of arcs toward the larger of the two islands, testing the edge and balance of the blades. Tibor had taught him to skate when he was five years old; they had skated every day on the millpond in Konyár, on blades their father had made from scrapwood edged with heavy-gauge wire. As schoolboys in Debrecen they had skated at an outdoor rink on Piac utca, a perfect manmade oval artificially cooled by underground pipes and groomed to a glassine smoothness. Andras was light and nimble on skates, faster than his brothers or his friends. Even now, on these dull rental blades, he felt agile and swift. He cut between the skaters in their dark woolen coats, his jacket fluttering behind him, his cap threatening to fly from his head. If he had paused to notice, he might have seen young men watching him with envy as he sped by; he might have seen the girls’ curious glances, the elderly skaters’ looks of disapproval. But he was aware only of the pure thrill of flying across the ice, the quick exchange of heat between his blades and the frozen lake. He made a circuit around the larger island, coming up behind the women at top speed, then slipped between Madame Morgenstern and Elisabet so neatly that they both stopped and gasped.

“Do you mind watching where you’re going?” Elisabet said in her curt French. “You could hurt someone.” She took Marthe’s arm and the two of them pushed past him. And Andras was left to skate with Madame Morgenstern through a drifting tulle of snow.

“You’re quick on your feet,” she said, and gave him a fleeting smile from beneath the bell of her hat.

“Maybe on the ice,” Andras said, blushing. “I was never very good at sports.”

“You look as if you knew something about dancing, though.”

“Only that I’m not very good at that, either.”

She laughed and skated ahead of him. In the gray afternoon light, the lake brought to mind the Japanese paintings Andras had seen at the International Exposition; the evergreens spread their dark feathers against a wash of sky, and the hills were like doves huddled together for warmth. Madame Morgenstern moved easily on the ice, her back held straight, her arms rounded, as though this were just another form of ballet. She never stumbled against Andras or leaned on him as they circled the lake; even when she hit a sprig of evergreen and lost her balance, she skipped onto the other blade without a glance at him. But as they cleared the far end of the smaller island a second time, she drifted to his side.

“My brother and I used to skate in Budapest,” she said. “We used to go to the Városliget, not far from our house. You know the beautiful lake there, by the Vajdahunyad Castle?”

“Oh, yes.” He’d never been able to afford the entry fee while he’d lived in Budapest, but he and Tibor had gone many times to watch the skaters at night. The castle, an amalgam of a thousand years of architectural styles, had been built for a millennial celebration forty years earlier. Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque elements melted into one another along the length of the building; to walk along that strange façade was to pass through centuries. The castle was lit from below, and there was always music. Now he imagined two children, Madame Morgenstern and her brother-József Hász’s father?-casting their own dark shadows across the lighter shadow of the castle.

“Was your brother a good skater?” he asked.

Madame Morgenstern laughed and shook her head. “Neither of us was very good, but we had a good time. Sometimes I would invite my friends to come along. We would link hands and my brother would lead us along like a string of wooden ducks. He was ten years older, and far more patient than I would have been.” She pressed her lips together as she skated on, tucking her hands into her sleeves. Andras kept close beside her, catching glimpses of her profile beneath the low brim of her hat.

“I can teach you a waltz, if you’d like,” he said.

“Oh, no. I can’t do anything fancy.”

“It’s not fancy,” he said, and skated ahead to show her the steps. It was a simple waltz he’d learned in Debrecen as a ten-year-old: three strokes forward, a long arc, and a turn; three strokes backward, another arc, another turn. She repeated the steps, following him as he traced them on the ice. Then he turned to face her. Drawing a breath, he put a hand at her waist. Her arm came around him and her gloved hand found his hand. He hummed a few bars of “Brin de Muguet” and led her into the steps. She hesitated at first, particularly at the turns, but soon she was moving as lightly as he might have imagined, her hand firm against his hand. He knew that Rosen and Polaner and Ben Yakov would have laughed to see him dancing like this in front of everyone, but he didn’t care. For a few moments, the length of the song in his head, this light-footed woman in her bell-shaped hat was pressed close against him, her hand closed inside his hand. His mouth brushed the brim of her hat, and he tasted a cold damp veil of snowflakes. He could feel her breath against his neck. She glanced up at him and their eyes caught for an instant before he looked away. He reminded himself that anything he felt for her was hopeless; she was an adult woman with a complicated life, a profession, a daughter in high school. The waltz ended and went silent in his head. He let his arms fall from her body, and she moved away to skate at his side. They skated twice around the island before she spoke again.

“You make me homesick for Hungary,” she said. “It’s more than sixteen years since I was there. Elisabet’s lifetime.” She scanned the ice, and Andras followed her gaze. They could see the green and brown of Elisabet’s and Marthe’s coats far ahead. Elisabet pointed to something on the shore, the black shape of a dog leaping after a smaller, fleeter shape.

“Sometimes I think I might go back,” Madame Morgenstern said in a half whisper. “More often, though, I think I never will.”

“You will,” Andras said, surprised to find his voice steady. He took her arm, and she didn’t pull away. Instead she removed a hand from her coat sleeve and let it rest upon his arm. He shivered, though he could no longer feel the cold. They skated that way in silence for the time it took to circle the islet once more. But then a voice reached them from across the ice, resonant and familiar: It was Madame Gérard, calling his name and Madame Morgenstern’s. Andráska. Klárika. The Hungarian diminutives, as though they were all still in Budapest. Madame Gérard came gliding toward them in a new fur-collared coat and hat, followed by three other actors from the theater. She and Madame Morgenstern embraced, laughed, remarked on the beauty of the snow and the number of people on the frozen lake.

“Klárika, my dear, I’m very glad to see you. And here’s Andráska. And that must be Elisabet up ahead.” She smiled slyly and gave Andras a wink, then called Elisabet and Marthe back to the group. When they complained of the cold, she invited everyone for hot chocolate at the café. They sat together at a long wooden table and drank chocolate from crockery mugs, and it was easy for Andras to let everyone else talk, to let their conversation join the conversations of other skaters in the crowded warming house. The rising feeling he’d had just before Madame Gérard had arrived had already begun to dissipate; Madame Morgenstern seemed once again impossibly far away.

When they were finished with the chocolate, he retrieved their shoes from the rental desk, and afterward they walked together along the path toward the edge of the Bois. He kept looking for his chance to take Madame Morgenstern’s elbow, to let the others go on ahead while the two of them walked behind. Instead it was Marthe who dropped back to walk with Andras. She was purposeful and grim in the deepening cold.

“It’s hopeless, you know,” she said. “She wants nothing to do with you.”

“Who?” Andras said, alarmed to think he’d been so transparent.

“Elisabet! She wants you to stop looking at her all the time. Do you think she likes being looked at by a pathetic Hungarian?”

Andras sighed and glanced up ahead to where Elisabet was now walking with Madame Gérard, her green coat swinging around her legs. She stooped to say something to Madame, who threw her head back and laughed.

“She’s not interested in you,” Marthe said. “She’s already got a boyfriend. So there’s no need to come to the house again. And you don’t have to waste your time trying to charm her mother.”

Andras cleared his throat. “All right,” he said. “Well, thank you for telling me.”

Marthe gave a businesslike nod. “It’s my duty as Elisabet’s friend.”

And then they had reached the edge of the park, and Madame Morgenstern was beside him again, her sleeve brushing his own. They stood at the entrance to the Métro, the rush of trains echoing below. “Won’t you come with us?” she said.

“No, come with us!” Madame Gérard said. “We’re taking a cab. We’ll drop you at home.”

It was cold and growing dark, but Andras couldn’t bear the thought of a ride on the crowded Métro with Elisabet and Marthe and Madame Morgenstern. Nor did he want to crowd into a cab with Madame Gérard and the others. He wanted to be alone, to find his way back to his own neighborhood, to lock himself into his room.

“I think I’ll walk,” he told them.

“But you’ll come again for lunch next Sunday,” Madame Morgenstern said, looking up at him from under the brim of her hat, her skin still illuminated with the rush of skating. “In fact, we’re hoping you’ll make a habit of it.”

How else could he have replied? “Yes, yes, I’ll come,” he said.

CHAPTER TEN. Rue de Sévigné

AND SO ANDRAS became a fixture at Sunday lunches on the rue de Sévigné. Quickly they established a pattern: Andras would come and exchange pleasantries with Madame Morgenstern; Elisabet would sit and scowl at Andras, or make fun of his clothes or his accent; when she failed to whip him up as she’d done at the first lunch, she’d grow bored and go out with Marthe, who had cultivated her own towering scorn for Andras. Once Elisabet had gone he would sit with Madame Morgenstern and listen to records on the phonograph, or look at art magazines and picture postcards, or read from a book of poetry to practice his French, or talk about his family, his childhood. At times he tried to bring up the subject of her own past-the brother whom she hadn’t seen in years, the shadowy events that had resulted in Elisabet’s birth and had brought Madame Morgenstern to Paris. But she always managed to evade that line of conversation, turning his careful questions aside like the hands of unwelcome dance partners. And if he blushed when she sat close beside him, or stammered as he tried to respond after she’d paid him a compliment, she gave no sign that she’d noticed.

Before long he knew the precise shape of her fingernails, the cut and fabric of every one of her winter dresses, the pattern of lace at the edges of her pocket handkerchiefs. He knew that she liked pepper on her eggs, that she couldn’t tolerate milk, that the heel of the bread was her favorite part. He knew she’d been to Brussels and to Florence (though not with whom); he knew that the bones of her right foot ached when the weather was wet. Her moods were changeable, but she tempered the darker ones by making jokes at her own expense, and playing silly American tunes on the phonograph, and showing Andras droll photos of her youngest students in their dance exhibition costumes. He knew that her favorite ballet was Apollo, and that her least favorite was La Sylphide, because it was over-danced and so rarely done with originality. He considered himself shamefully ignorant on the subject of dance, but Madame Morgenstern seemed not to care; she would play ballets on the phonograph and describe what would be happening onstage as the music crested and ebbed, and sometimes she rolled up the sitting-room rug and reproduced the choreography for him in miniature, her skin flushing with pleasure as she danced. In return he would take her on walks around the Marais, narrating the architectural history of the buildings among which she made her life: the sixteenth-century Hôtel Carnavalet, with its bas-reliefs of the Four Seasons; the Hôtel Amelot de Bisseuil, whose great medusa-headed carriage doors had once opened regularly for Beaumarchais; the Guimard Synagogue on the rue Pavée, with its undulating façade like an open Torah scroll. She wondered aloud how she’d never taken note of those things before. He had pulled away a veil for her, she said, revealed a dimension of her quartier that she would never have discovered otherwise.

Despite the reassurance of the standing invitation, he lived in the fear that one Sunday he’d arrive at Madame Morgenstern’s to find another man at the table, some mustachioed captain or tweed-vested doctor or talented Muscovite choreographer-some cultivated forty-year-old with a cultural fluency that Andras could never match, and a knowledge of the things that gentlemen were supposed to know: wines, music, ways to make a woman laugh. But the terrifying rival never appeared, at least not on Sunday afternoons; that fraction of the Morgenstern week seemed to belong to Andras alone.

Outside the household on the rue de Sévigné, life went on as usual-or what had come to seem usual, within the context of his life as a student of architecture in Paris. His model progressed toward completion, its walls already cut from the stiff white pasteboard and ready for assembly. Despite the fact that it was now as large as an overcoat box, he’d begun carrying the model to and from school each day. This was due to a recent spate of vandalism, directed only, it seemed, at the Jewish students of the École Spéciale. A third-year student named Jean Isenberg had had a set of elaborate blueprints flooded with ink; a fourth-year, Anne-Laure Bauer, had been robbed of her expensive statics textbooks the week before an exam. Andras and his friends had so far escaped unscathed, but Rosen believed it was only a matter of time before one of them became a target. The professors called a general assembly and spoke sternly to the students, promising severe consequences for the perpetrators and imploring anyone with evidence to come forth, but no one volunteered any information. At the Blue Dove, Rosen advanced his own theory. Several students were known to belong to the Front de la Jeunesse and a group called Le Grand Occident, whose professed nationalism was a thin cover for anti-Semitism.

“That weasel Lemarque is a Jeunesse stooge,” Rosen said over his almond biscuits and coffee. “I’d bet he’s behind this.”

“It can’t be Lemarque,” Polaner said.

“Why not?”

Polaner flushed slightly, folding his slim white hands in his lap. “He helped me with a project.”

“He did, did he?” Rosen said. “Well, I think you’d better watch your back. That little salopard would just as soon slit your throat as bid you bonjour.”

“You won’t make friends by setting yourself against everyone,” said the politic Ben Yakov, whose chief preoccupation seemed to be to get as many people as possible to admire him, both male and female.

“Who cares?” said Rosen. “This isn’t a tea party we’re talking about.”

Andras quietly agreed with Rosen. He’d had his misgivings about Lemarque ever since the ambiguous incident with Polaner at the beginning of the year. He’d watched Lemarque after that, and had found it impossible to ignore the way Lemarque looked at Polaner, as if there were something compelling and repellent about him at once, or as if his disgust with Polaner gave him a kind of pleasure. Lemarque had a way of sidling up to Polaner, of finding excuses to talk to him in class: Could he borrow Polaner’s pantograph? Could he see Polaner’s solution to this difficult statics problem? Was this Polaner’s scarf that he’d found in the courtyard? Polaner seemed unwilling to consider that Lemarque could have anything but friendly motives. But Andras didn’t trust Lemarque, nor the slit-eyed students who sat with him at the student cantina, smoking a German brand of cigarettes and wearing buttoned-up shirts and surplus military jackets, as if they wanted to be ready to fight if called upon. Unlike the other students, they kept their hair clipped close and their boots polished. Andras had heard some people refer to them disparagingly as la garde. And then there were the ones who wore subtler signs of their politics: the ones who seemed to look directly through Andras and Rosen and Polaner and Ben Yakov, though they passed each other in the halls or in the courtyard every day.

“What we need to do is infiltrate those groups,” Rosen said. “The Front de la Jeunesse. The Grand Occident. Go to their meetings, learn what they’re planning.”

“That’s brilliant,” Ben Yakov said. “They’ll find us out and break our necks.”

“What do you think they’re planning, anyway?” Polaner said, beginning to grow angry. “It’s not as though they’re going to mount a pogrom in Paris.”

“Why not?” Rosen said. “Do you think they haven’t considered it?”

“Can we talk about something else, please?” Ben Yakov said.

Rosen pushed his coffee cup away. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Why don’t you tell us about your latest conquest? What could possibly be more important or more urgent?”

Ben Yakov laughed off Rosen’s slight, which infuriated Rosen all the more. He stood and threw money on the table, then slung his coat over his shoulder and made for the exit. Andras grabbed his own hat and followed; he hated to see a friend leave in anger. He caught up with Rosen on the corner of Saint-Germain and Saint-Jacques, and they stood together on the corner and waited for the light to change.

“You don’t think I’m speaking nonsense, do you?” Rosen said, his hands deep in his pockets, his eyes fixed on Andras.

“No,” Andras began, trying to find the words in French for what he wanted to say. “You’re just trying to think a few chess moves ahead.”

“Oh,” said Rosen, brightening. “Are you a chess player?”

“My brothers and I used to play. I wasn’t very good. My older brother mastered a book of defenses by a Russian champion. I couldn’t do a thing against him.”

“Couldn’t you read the book yourself?” Rosen said, and grinned.

“Maybe if he hadn’t hidden it so well!”

“I suppose that’s all I’m doing, then. Trying to find the book.”

“You won’t have to look very hard,” Andras said. “There are posters for those Front de la Jeunesse meetings all over the Latin Quarter.”

They had reached the Petit Pont at the foot of rue Saint-Jacques, and they crossed it together in the twilight. The towers of Notre-Dame caught the last rays of the setting sun as they entered the Square Charlemagne and walked toward the cathedral. They stopped to look at the grim saints who flanked the portals, one of whom held his own severed head in his hand.

“Do you know what I want to do when I grow up?” Rosen said.

“No,” Andras said. “What?”

“Move to Palestine. Build a temple of Jerusalem stone.” He paused and looked at Andras as if daring him to laugh, but Andras wasn’t laughing. He was thinking of some photographs of Jerusalem that had been printed in Past and Future. The buildings had a kind of geologic permanence, as if they hadn’t been made by human hands at all. Even in the black-and-white photos their stones seemed to radiate gold light.

“I want to make a city in the desert,” Rosen said. “A new city where an old one used to be. In the shape of the ancient city, but composed of all-knew buildings. Perret’s reinforced concrete is perfect for Palestine. Cheap and light, cool in the heat, ready to take on any shape.” He seemed to be seeing it in the distance as he spoke, a city in the rippling dunes.

“So you’re a dreamer,” Andras said. “I never would have guessed.”

Rosen smirked and said, “Don’t let the others know.” They looked up again at the tops of the towers as the line of gold narrowed to a filament. “You’ll do it, won’t you?” he said. “Come to one of these Jeunesse meetings? Then we’ll see what they’re plotting.”

Andras hesitated. He tried to imagine what Madame Morgenstern might think of an act like that, an infiltration. He envisioned narrating it to her on one of their Sunday afternoons: his daring, his bravery. His foolishness? “And what if someone does recognize us?” he said.

“They won’t,” Rosen said. “They won’t be looking for us among them.”

“When do they meet?”

“That’s my good man, Lévi,” Rosen said.

They decided to infiltrate a recruitment session for Le Grand Occident, reasoning that the meeting would be full of unfamiliar faces. It was to take place that Saturday at an assembly hall on rue de l’Université in Saint-Germain. But first there were the end-of-term critiques to get through. Andras had finished his Gare d’Orsay at last, staying up two nights straight to do it; on Friday morning it stood white and inviolate on its pasteboard base. He knew it was good work, the product of long study, of many hours of painstaking measurement and construction. Rosen and Ben Yakov and Polaner had put in their time, too, and there on the studio tables stood their ghost-white versions of the École Militaire, the Rotonde de la Villette, and the Théâtre de l’Odeon. They were to be evaluated in turn by their peers, by their second- and third- and fourth-year superiors, by their fifth-year studio monitor, Médard, and finally by Vago himself. Andras thought himself seasoned by the relentless friendly criticism of his editor at Past and Future; he’d had some critiques earlier that fall, none of them as bad as what his editor had regularly delivered.

But when the critique of his d’Orsay began, the commentary took a savage turn almost at once. His lines were imprecise, his methods of construction amateurish; he had made no attempt whatever to replicate the building’s front expanse of glass or to capture what was most striking about the design-the way the Seine, which flowed in front of the station, threw light against its high reflective façade. He’d made a dead model, one fourth-year student said. A shoebox. A coffin. Even Vago, who knew better than anyone how hard Andras had worked, criticized the model’s lifelessness. In his paint-flecked work shirt and an incongruously fine vest, he stood over the model and gazed at it with undisguised disappointment. He drew a mechanical pencil from his pocket and tapped its metal end against his lip.

“A dutiful reproduction,” he said. “Like a Chopin polonaise played at a student recital. You’ve hit all the notes, to be sure, but you’ve done so entirely without artistry.”

And that was all. He turned away and moved on to the next model, and Andras fell into an oubliette of humiliation and misery. Vago was right: He had replicated the building without inspiration; how had he ever seen the model otherwise? It was little consolation that the other first-year students fared just as badly. He couldn’t believe how confident he’d been half an hour earlier, how certain that everyone in the room would proclaim his work evidence of what a fine architect he would turn out to be.

He knew that the school had a tradition of difficult end-of-term critiques, that few first-year students survived with pride intact. It was the school’s version of an initiation ritual, an annealing that prepared the students for the deeper and more subtle humiliations that would occur when the work under discussion was of their own design. But this critique had been much harsher than he’d imagined-and, what was worse, the comments had seemed justified. He’d worked as hard as he could and it hadn’t been enough, not nearly, not by miles. And his humiliation was linked, in a way he found it impossible to articulate, to the idea of Madame Morgenstern and his relation to her-as though by building a fine replica of the Gare d’Orsay he might have had greater claim upon her affections. Now he couldn’t give her an honest account of the day’s events without revealing himself to be a prideful fool. He left the École Spéciale in a vile mood, a mood tenacious enough to stay with him through the night and the next morning; it was still with him when he went to meet Rosen for their infiltration.

The meeting hall was just around the corner from the palatial Beaux-Arts, a few blocks east of the Gare d’Orsay. Andras didn’t ever want to see that building again. He knew that the critiques he’d received had been accurate; in his zeal to replicate each detail of the building he had failed to grasp its whole, to understand what made the design distinct and alive. This was a classic first-year mistake, Vago had told him on his way out. But if that were the case, why hadn’t Vago cautioned him against it when he’d started? Rosen, too, now claimed a towering hatred for the subject of his model, the École Militaire. They scowled at the sidewalk in companionate symmetry as they made their way down the rue de l’Université.

Since the meeting they were attending was just a recruitment session, there was no need for secrecy or disguise; they arrived with the rest of the attendees, most of whom looked to be students. At a lectern on a low stage at the front of the room, a whip-thin man in an ill-fitting gray suit declared himself to be Monsieur Dupuis, “Secretary to President Pemjean himself,” and clapped his hands for order. The gathering fell silent. Volunteers walked along the aisles, handing out special supplementary sections of a newspaper entitled Le Grand Occident. The Secretary to President Pemjean Himself announced that this supplement set forth the beliefs of the organization, which the governing members would now read aloud to the assembly. A half-dozen grim-looking young fellows gathered on the stage, their copies of the supplement in hand. One by one they read that Jews must be removed from positions of influence in France, and that they should cease to exercise authority over Frenchmen; that Jewish organizations in France must be dissolved, because, while masquerading shamelessly as Jewish welfare agencies, they were working to achieve global domination; that the rights of French citizenship must be taken away from all Jews, who must henceforth be regarded as foreigners-even those whose families had been settled in France for generations; and that all Jewish goods and belongings should become the property of the state.

As each of the tenets was read, there were brief cracklings of applause. Some of the assembled men shouted their approval, and others raised their fists. Still others seemed to disagree, and a few began to argue with the supporters.

“What about the Jews whose brothers or fathers died for France in the Great War?” someone shouted from the balcony.

“Those Zionists died for their own glory, not for the glory of France,” the Secretary to the President Himself called back. “Israelites can’t be trusted to serve France. They must be forbidden to bear arms.”

“Why not let them die, if someone has to die?” another man called.

Rosen curled his hands around the back of the seat in front of him, his knuckles going white. Andras didn’t know what he would do if Rosen started shouting.

“You’re here because you believe in the need for a pure France, for the France our fathers and grandfathers built,” the Secretary to the President continued. “You’re here to lend your strength to the cleansing of France. If you’re not here for that purpose, please depart. We need only the most patriotic, the most true-hearted among you.” The Secretary waited. There was a quiet rumble among the assembly. One of the six young men who had read the tenets shouted, “Vive la France!”

“You will become part of an international alliance-” the Secretary began, but his words disappeared under a sudden staccato din, a wooden clapclacking that rendered his words unintelligible. Then, just as abruptly as it had begun, the noise ceased. The Secretary cleared his throat, straightened his lapels, and began again. “You will become part-”

This time the noise was even louder than before. It came from every part of the hall. Certain members of the audience had gotten to their feet and were spinning wooden noisemakers on sticks. As before, after a few moments of loud hard clatter, they stopped.

“I welcome your enthusiasm, gentlemen,” the Secretary continued. “But, if you please, wait until-”

The noise exploded again, and his time it did not cease. The men with noisemakers-there were perhaps twenty or thirty of them among the assembly-pushed into the aisles and spun their instruments as hard and as loud as they could. These were Purim noisemakers, Andras saw now-the wooden graggers used at synagogue during the reading of the story of Esther, whenever the villain Haman’s name occurred in the text. He glanced at Rosen, who had understood, too. The Secretary banged on his lectern. The six grim-faced men onstage stood at attention, as if awaiting an order from the Secretary. More men pushed out of the rows and into the aisles, bearing large banners that they unrolled and held high so the audience could see them. Ligue Internationale Contre l’Antisemitisme, read one. Stop the French Hitlerians, said another. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, read a third. The men holding the banners sent up a cheer, and an angry roar burst from the audience. The thin Secretary to the President flushed a surprising purple. Rosen let out a whoop and pulled Andras into the aisle, and the two of them helped to hoist one of the banners. One member of the Ligue, a tall broad-shouldered man in a tricolor neckerchief, produced a megaphone and began to shout, “Free men of France! Don’t let these bigots poison your minds!”

The Secretary growled an order at the six stern-faced young men, and in another moment all was chaos in the assembly hall. The seats emptied. Some audience members pulled at the banners, others pursued the men with the noisemakers. The six men who had read the beliefs of the organization went after the man with the megaphone, but other men defended him in a ring as he continued to urge Fraternité! Egalité! The Secretary disappeared behind a curtain at the back of the stage. Men shoved Andras from behind, kicked at his knees, elbowed him in the chest. Andras wouldn’t let go of the banner. He raised the pole high and shouted Stop the French Hitlerians. Rosen was no longer at his side; Andras couldn’t see him in the crowd. Someone tried to take the banner and Andras wrestled with the man; someone else grabbed him by the collar, and a blow caught him across the jaw. He stumbled against a column, spat blood onto the floor. All around him, men shouted and fought. He shoved his way toward an exit, feeling his teeth with his tongue and wondering if he’d have to see a dentist. In the vestibule he found Rosen grappling with a massive bald man in work overalls. As though he meant to fight Rosen himself, Andras caught him around the waist and wrenched him away, sending Rosen shoulder-first into a wall. The man in overalls, finding his arms empty, charged back into the fray of the auditorium. Andras and Rosen staggered out of the building, past streams of policemen who were rushing up the steps to break up the riot. When they’d gotten clear of the crowd, they tore down the rue de Solférino, all the way to the quai d’Orsay, where they cast themselves down on a pair of benches and lay panting.

“So we weren’t the only ones!” Rosen said, touching his ribs with his fingertips. Andras felt the inside of his lip with his tongue. His cheek still bled where his teeth had cut it, but the teeth were intact. At the sound of quick footsteps he looked up to see three members of the Ligue running down the street, their banners flapping. Other men chased them. Policemen chased the others.

“I’d love to see the look on that secretary’s face again,” Rosen said.

“You mean the Secretary to the President Himself?”

Rosen put his hands on his knees and laughed. But then an ambulance rushed down the street in the direction of the assembly hall, and a few moments later another followed. Not long afterward, more Ligue members passed; these looked pale and stricken, and they dragged their banners on the sidewalk and held their hats in their hands. Andras and Rosen watched them in silence. Something grave had happened: Someone from the Ligue had been hurt. Andras took off his own hat and held it on his lap, his adrenaline dissolving into hollow dread. Le Grand Occident wasn’t the only group of its kind; there had to be dozens of similar meetings taking place all over Paris that very minute. And if meetings like that were taking place in Paris, then what was going on in the less enlightened cities of Europe? Andras pulled his jacket tighter around himself, beginning to feel the cold again. Rosen got to his feet; he, too, had become quiet and serious.

“Far worse things are going to happen here,” he said. “Wait and see.”

On the rue de Sévigné the next day, Madame Morgenstern and Elisabet sat in silence as Andras described the incidents of the past forty-eight hours. He told them about the critique, and how far his work had fallen in his own estimation; he told them what had happened at the meeting. He produced a clipping from that morning’s L’Oeuvre and read it aloud. The article described the disrupted recruitment session and the melee that followed. Each group blamed the other for initiating the violence: Pemjean took the opportunity to point out the deviousness and belligerence of the Jewish people, and Gérard Lecache, president of the Ligue Internationale Contre l’Antisemitisme, called the incident a manifestation of Le Grand Occident’s violent intent. The newspaper abandoned all pretense of journalistic objectivity to praise the Maccabean bravery of the Ligue, and to accuse Le Grand Occident of bigotry, ignorance, and barbarism; two members of the Ligue, it turned out, had been beaten senseless and were now hospitalized at the Hôtel-Dieu.

“You might have been killed!” Elisabet said. Her tone was acidic as usual, but for an instant she gave him a look of what seemed like genuine concern. “What were you thinking? Did you imagine you’d take on all those brutes at once? Thirty of you against two hundred of them?”

“We weren’t part of the plan,” Andras said. “We didn’t know the LICA was going to be there. When they started making noise, we joined in.”

“Ridiculous fools, all of you,” Elisabet said.

Madame Morgenstern fixed her gray eyes upon Andras. “Take care you don’t get in trouble with the police,” she said. “Remember, you’re a guest in France. You don’t want to be deported because of an incident like this.”

“They wouldn’t deport me,” Andras said. “Not for serving the ideals of France.”

“They certainly would,” Madame Morgenstern said. “And that would be the end of your studies. Whatever you do, you must protect your status here. Your presence in France is a political statement to begin with.”

“He’ll never last here, anyway,” Elisabet said, the moment of concern having passed. “He’ll fail out of school by the end of the year. His professors think he’s talentless. Weren’t you listening?” She peeled herself from the velvet chair and slouched off to her bedroom, where they could hear her knocking around as she got ready to go out. A few moments later she emerged in an olive-green dress and a black wool cap. She’d braided her hair and scrubbed her cheeks into a windy redness. Pocketbook in one hand, gloves in the other, she stood in the sitting-room doorway and gave a half wave.

“Don’t wait up for me,” she told her mother. Then, as an apparent afterthought, she arrowed a look of disdain in Andras’s direction. “There’s no need to come next weekend, Champion of France,” she said. “I’ll be skiing with Marthe in Chamonix. In fact, I wish you’d desist altogether.” She slung her bag over her shoulder and ran down the stairs, and they heard the door slam and jingle behind her.

Madame Morgenstern lowered her forehead into her hand. “How much longer will she be like this, do you think? You weren’t like this when you were sixteen, were you?”

“Worse,” Andras said, and smiled. “But I didn’t live at home, so my mother was spared.”

“I’ve threatened to send her to boarding school, but she knows I don’t have the heart. Nor the money, for that matter.”

“Well,” he said. “Chamonix. How long will she be there?”

“Ten days,” she said. “The longest she’s been gone from home.”

“Then I suppose it’ll be January before I see you again,” Andras said. He heard himself say it aloud-maga, the singular Hungarian you-but by that time it was too late, and in any case Madame Morgenstern hadn’t seemed to notice the slip. With the excuse that it was time for him to go to work, he got up to take his coat and hat from the rack at the top of the stairs. But she stopped him with a hand on his sleeve.

“You’re forgetting the Spectacle d’Hiver,” she said. “You’ll come, won’t you?”

Her students’ winter recital. He knew it was next week, of course. It was to take place at the Sarah-Bernhardt on Thursday evening; he was the one who had designed the posters. But he hadn’t expected to have any excuse to attend. He wasn’t scheduled to work that night, since The Mother would already have closed for the holidays. Now Madame Morgenstern was looking at him in quiet anticipation, her hand burning through the fabric of his coat. His mouth was a desert, his hands glacial with sweat. He told himself that the invitation meant nothing, that it fell perfectly within the bounds of their acquaintance: as a friend of the family, as a possible suitor of Elisabet, he might well be asked to come. He mustered a response in the affirmative, saying he’d be honored, and they executed their weekly parting ritual: the coat-rack, his things, the stairs, a chaste goodbye. But at the threshold she held his gaze a moment longer than usual. Her eyebrows came together, and she held her mouth in its pensive pose. Just as she seemed about to speak, a pair of red-jacketed schoolgirls ran down the sidewalk chasing a little white dog, and they had to move apart, and the moment passed. She raised a hand in farewell and stepped inside, closing the door behind her.

CHAPTER ELEVEN. Winter Holiday

THAT YEAR, in her studio on the rue de Sévigné, Claire Morgenstern had taught some ninety-five girls between the ages of eight and fourteen, three of the oldest of whom would soon depart for professional training with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She had been preparing the children for the Spectacle d’Hiver for two months now; the costumes were ready, the young dancers schooled in the ways of snowflakes, sugarplums, and swans, the winter-garden scenery in readiness. That week Andras’s advertising poster appeared all over town: a snowflake child in silhouette against a starry winter sky, one leg extended in an arabesque, the words Spectacle d’Hiver trailing the upraised right hand like a comet tail. Every time he saw it-on the way to school, on the wall opposite the Blue Dove, at the bakery-he heard Madame Morgenstern saying You’ll come, won’t you?

By Wednesday, the evening of the dress rehearsal, he felt he couldn’t wait another day to see her. He arrived at the Sarah-Bernhardt at his usual hour, carrying a large plum cake for the coffee table. The corridors backstage were thronged with girls in white and silver tulle; they surged around him, blizzardlike, as he slipped into the backstage corner where the coffee table was arranged. With his pocketknife he cut the plum cake into a raft of little pieces. A group of girls in snowflake costumes clustered at the edges of the curtain, waiting for their entrance. As they tiptoed in place, they cast interested glances at the coffee table and the cake. Andras could hear a stage manager calling for the next group of dancers. Madame Morgenstern-Klara, as Madame Gérard called her-was nowhere to be seen.

He watched from the wings as the little girls danced their snowflake dance. The girl whose father had come late was among that group of children; when she ran back into the wings after her dance, she called to Andras and showed him that she had a new pair of glasses, this one with flexible wire arms that curled around the backs of her ears. They wouldn’t fall off while she danced, she explained. As she kicked into a pirouette to demonstrate, he heard Madame Morgenstern’s laugh behind him.

“Ah,” she said. “The new glasses.”

Andras allowed himself a swift look at her. She was dressed in practice clothes, her dark hair twisted close against her head. “Ingenious,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “They don’t come off at all.”

“They come off when I want them to,” the girl said. “I take them off at night.”

“Of course,” Andras said. “I didn’t mean to suggest you wore them always.”

The girl rolled her eyes at Madame Morgenstern and raced to the coffee table, where the other snowflakes were devouring the plum cake.

“This is a surprise,” Madame Morgenstern said. “I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow.”

“I have a job here, in case you’ve forgotten,” Andras said, and crossed his arms. “I’m responsible for the comfort and happiness of the performers.”

“That cake is your doing, I suppose?”

“The girls don’t seem to object.”

“I object. I don’t allow sweets backstage.” But she gave him a wink, and went to the table to take a piece of plum cake herself. The cake was dense and golden, its top studded with halved mirabelles. “Oh,” she said. “This is good. You shouldn’t have. Take some for yourself, at least.”

“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be professional.”

Madame Morgenstern laughed. “You’ve caught me at a rather busy time, I’m afraid. I’ve got to get the next group of girls onstage.” She brushed a snow of gold crumbs from her hands, and he found himself imagining the taste of plum on her fingers.

“I’m sorry I disturbed you,” he said. He was ready to say I’ll be off now, ready to leave her to the rehearsal, but then he thought of his empty room, and the long hours that lay between that night and the next, and the blank expanse of time that stretched into the future beyond Thursday-time when he’d have no excuse to see her. He raised his eyes to hers. “Have a drink with me tonight,” he said.

She gave a little jolt. “Oh, no,” she whispered. “I can’t.”

“Please, Klara,” he said. “I can’t bear it if you say no.”

She rubbed the tops of her arms as if she’d gotten a chill. “Andras-”

He mentioned a café, named a time. And before she could say no again, he turned and went down the backstage hallway and out into the white December evening.

The Café Bédouin was a dark place, its leather upholstery cracked, its blue velvet draperies lavendered with age. Behind the bar stood rows of dusty cut-glass bottles, relics of an earlier age of drinking. Andras arrived there an hour before the time he’d mentioned, already sick with impatience, disbelieving what he’d done. Had he really asked her to have a drink with him? Called her by her first name, in its intimate-seeming Hungarian form? Spoken to her as though his feelings might be acceptable, might even be returned? What did he expect would happen now? If she came, it would only be to confirm that he’d acted inappropriately, and perhaps to tell him she could no longer admit him to her house on Sunday afternoons. At the same time he was certain she’d known his feelings for weeks now, must have known since the day they’d gone skating in the Bois de Vincennes. It was time for them to be honest with each other; perhaps it was time for him to confess that he’d carried her mother’s letter from Hungary. He stared at the door as if to will it off its hinges. Each time a woman entered he leapt from his chair. He shook his father’s pocket watch to make sure nothing was loose, wound it again to make sure it was keeping time. Half an hour passed, then another. She was late. He looked into his empty whiskey glass and wondered how long he could sit in this bar without having to order a second drink. The waiters drifted by, throwing solicitous glances in his direction. He ordered another whiskey and drank it, hunched over his glass. He had never felt more desperate or more absurd. Then, finally, the door opened again and she was before him in her red hat and her close-fitting gray coat, out of breath, as if she’d run all the way from the theater. He leapt from his chair.

“I was afraid I’d miss you,” she said, and gave a sigh of relief. She took off her hat and slid onto the banquette across from him. She wore a snug gabardine jacket, closed at the collar with a neat silver pin in the shape of a harp.

“You’re late,” Andras said, feeling the whiskey in his head like a swarm of bees.

“The rehearsal finished ten minutes ago! You ran out before I could tell you what time I could come.”

“I was afraid you’d say you wouldn’t see me at all.”

“You’re quite right. I shouldn’t be here.”

“Why did you come, then?” He reached across the table for her hand. Her fingers were freezing cold, but she wouldn’t let him warm them. She slid her hand away, blushing into the collar of her jacket.

The waiter arrived to ask for their orders, hopeful that the young man would spend more money now that his friend had arrived. “I’ve been drinking whiskey,” he said. “Have a whiskey with me. It’s the drink of American movie stars.”

“I’m not in the mood,” she said. Instead she ordered a Brunelle and a glass of water. “I can’t stay,” she said, once the waiter had gone. “One drink, and then I’ll go.”

“I have something to tell you,” Andras said. “That’s why I wanted you to come.”

“What is it?” she said.

“In Budapest, before I left, I met a woman named Elza Hász.”

Madame Morgenstern’s face drained of color. “Yes?” she said.

“I went to her house on Benczúr utca. She’d seen me exchanging pengő for francs at the bank, and wanted to send a box to her son in Paris. There was another woman there, an older woman, who asked me to carry something else. A letter to a certain C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. About whom I must not inquire.”

Madame Morgenstern had gone so pale that Andras thought she might faint. When the waiter arrived a moment later with their drinks, she took up her Brunelle and emptied half the glass.

“I think you’re Klara Hász,” he said, lowering his voice. “Or you were. And the woman I met was your mother.”

Her mouth trembled, and she glanced toward the door. For a moment she looked as if she might flee. Then she sank back into her seat, a tense stillness coming over her body. “All right,” she said. “Tell me what you know, and what you want.” Her voice had thinned to a whisper; she sounded, more than anything, afraid.

“I don’t know anything,” he said, reaching for her hand again. “I don’t want anything. I just wanted to tell you what happened. What a strange coincidence it was. And I wanted you to know I’d met your mother. I know you haven’t seen her in years.”

“And you carried a box for my nephew József?” she said. “Have you spoken to him about this? About me?”

“No, not a word.”

“Thank God,” she said. “You can’t, do you understand?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t understand. I don’t know what any of this means. Your mother begged me not to speak to anyone about that letter, and I haven’t. No one knows. Or almost no one-I did show it to my brother when I came home from your mother’s house. He thought it must be a love letter.”

Klara gave a sad laugh. “A love letter! I suppose it was, in a way.”

“I wish you’d tell me what this is all about.”

“It’s a private matter. I’m sorry you had to be involved. I can’t make direct contact with my family in Budapest, and they can’t send anything directly to me. József can’t know I’m here. You’re certain you haven’t told him anything?”

“Nothing at all,” Andras said. “Your mother mentioned that specifically.”

“I’m sorry to make such a drama of it. But it’s very important that you understand. Some terrible things happened in Budapest when I was a girl. I’m safe now, but only as long as no one knows I’m here, or who I was before I came here.”

Andras repeated his vow. If his silence would protect her, he would keep silent. If she had asked him to sign his pledge in blood upon the gray marble of the café table, he would have taken a knife to his hand and done it. Instead she finished her drink, not speaking, not meeting his eyes. He watched the silver harp tremble at her throat.

“What did my mother look like?” she asked finally. “Has her hair gone gray?”

“It’s shot with gray,” Andras said. “She wore a black dress. She’s a tiny person, like you.” He told her a few things about the visit-what the house had looked like, what her sister-in-law had said. He didn’t tell her about her mother’s grief, about the expression of entrenched mourning he had remembered all this time; what good could it have done? But he told her a few things about József Hász-how he’d given Andras a place to stay when he’d first come to town, and had advised him about life in the Latin Quarter.

“And what about György?” she asked. “József’s father?”

“Your brother.”

“That’s right,” she said, quietly. “Did you see him, too?”

“No,” Andras said. “I was there only for an hour or so, in the middle of the day. He must have been at work. From the look of the house, though, I’d say he’s doing fine.”

Klara put a hand to her temple. “It’s rather difficult to take this in. I think this is enough for now,” she said, and then, “I think I’d better go.” But when she stood to put on her coat, she swayed and caught the edge of the table with her hand.

“You haven’t eaten, have you?” Andras said.

“I need to be someplace quiet.”

“There’s a restaurant-”

“Not a restaurant.”

“I live a few blocks from here. Come have a cup of tea. Then I’ll take you home.”

And so they went to his garret, climbing the bare wooden stairs to the top of 34 rue des Écoles, all the way to his drafty and barren room. He offered her the desk chair, but she didn’t want to sit. She stood at the window and looked down into the street, at the Collège de France across the way, where the clochards always sat on the steps at night, even in the coldest weather. One of them was playing a harmonica; the music made Andras think of the vast open grasslands he’d seen in American movies at the tiny cinema in Konyár. As Klara listened, he lit a fire in the grate, toasted a few slices of bread, and heated water for tea. He had only one glass-the jam jar he’d been using ever since his first morning at the apartment. But he had some sugar cubes, pilfered from the bowl at the Blue Dove. He handed the glass to Klara and she stirred sugar into her tea with his one spoon. He wished she would speak, wished she would reveal the terrible secret of her past, whatever it was. He couldn’t guess the details of her story, though he suspected it must have had something to do with Elisabet: an accidental pregnancy, a jealous lover, angry relatives, some unspeakable shame.

A draft came through the ill-fitting casement, and Klara shivered. She handed him the glass of tea. “You have some too,” she said. “Before it gets cold.”

His throat closed with a spasm of emotion. For the first time, she’d addressed him with the familiar te instead of the formal maga. “No,” he said. “I made it for you.” For you: te. He offered it to her again, and she closed her hands around his own. The tea trembled between them in its glass. She took it and set it down on the windowsill. Then she moved toward him, put her arms around his waist, tucked her dark head under his chin. He raised a hand to stroke her back, disbelieving his luck, worrying that this closeness was ill-gotten, the product of his revelation and her stirred emotions. But as she shivered against him he forgot to care what had brought them to that moment. He let his hand move along the curve of her back, allowed himself to trace the architecture of her spine. She was so close he could feel the jolt of her ribcage as she pulled a sharp breath; an instant later she moved away from him, shaking her head.

He lifted his hands, surrendering. But she was already retrieving her coat from the rack, winding her scarf around her neck, putting on the red bell-shaped hat.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to go. I’m sorry.”

At seven o’clock the next evening he went to see the Spectacle d’Hiver. The Sarah-Bernhardt was filled with the families of the dancers, an anxious chattering crowd. The parents had all brought ribboned cones of roses for their daughters. The aisles were draped with fir garland, and the theater smelled of rose and pine. The scent seemed to wake him from the haze in which he’d lived since the previous night. She was backstage; in two hours’ time he would see her.

Violins began to play in the orchestra pit, and the curtain rose to reveal six girls dressed in white leotards and jagged points of tulle. They seemed to levitate above the silvered floorboards, their movements dreamlike and precise. It was the way she moved, he thought. She had distilled her sharpness, her fluidity, into these little girls, into the forming vessels of their bodies. He felt as if he were caught in a strange dream; something seemed to have broken in him the night before. He had no idea how to behave in a situation like this. Nothing in his life had prepared him for it. Nor could he imagine what she might have been thinking-what she must think of him now, after he’d touched her that way. He would have liked to run backstage that moment and get it over with, whatever was going to happen.

But at intermission, when he might really have gone backstage, he was hit by a wave of panic so deep and cold he could hardly breathe. He went downstairs to the men’s washroom, where he locked himself into a stall and tried to slow his racing pulse. He leaned his forehead against the cool marble of the wall. The voices of men all around him had a soothing effect; they were fathers, they sounded like fathers. He could almost imagine that when he came out, his own father would be waiting. Lucky Béla, though sparing with words of advice, would tell him what to do. But when he came out, no one he knew was waiting; he was alone in Paris, and Klara was upstairs.

The lights flickered to signal the end of the intermission. He went up and took his seat again just as the house fell into darkness. A few rustling moments, and then blue lights glowed from the lighting bar beneath the catwalk; a high cold string of woodwind notes climbed from the orchestra pit, and the snowflakes drifted out to begin their dance. He knew Klara was standing just behind the stage-left curtain. She was the one who had signaled the musicians to begin. The girls danced perfectly, and were replaced by taller girls, and after that taller girls still, as if the same girls were growing older backstage during the moments when the lights dimmed. But at the end of the show they all came onstage to bow, and they called out for their teacher.

She came out in a simple black dress, an orange-red dahlia pinned behind her ear, like a girl in a Mucha painting. First she made her révérence to the young dancers, then to the audience. She acknowledged the musicians and the conductor. Then she disappeared into the wings again, allowing the girls to reap the glory of their curtain calls.

Andras sensed the return of his panic, heard its millipedal footsteps drawing closer. Before it could take him again he slid out of his row and ran backstage, where Klara was surrounded by a mass of rouged, tulle-skirted girls. He couldn’t get anywhere near her. But she seemed to be looking for him, or for someone in particular; she let her gaze drift over the heads of the little girls and move toward the darker edges of the wings. Her eyes flickered past him and returned for an instant. He couldn’t tell if her smile had darkened just at that moment, or if he had imagined it. In any case, she’d seen him. He took off his hat and stood twisting its brim until the crowd around her began to subside. As the parents rushed backstage to bestow bouquets on their children, he cursed himself for failing to bring flowers. He saw that many of the parents had brought roses for her as well as for their daughters. She would have a cartload of bouquets to bring home, none of them from him. The father of the bespectacled little Sophie had brought a particularly large sheaf of flowers for Madame-red roses, Andras noted. He saw her cordially refuse countless invitations to celebratory post-performance dinners; she claimed she was exhausted and must have her rest. It was nearly an hour before the little girls had all gone home with their families, leaving Klara and Andras alone backstage. He had twisted his hat entirely out of shape by then. Her arms were full of flowers; he couldn’t embrace her or even take her hand.

“You didn’t have to wait,” she said, giving him a half-reproachful smile.

“You’ve got a lot of roses there” was what he managed to say.

“Have you had dinner?”

He hadn’t, and he told her so. In the prop room he found a basket for her flowers. He loaded it and covered it with a cloth to protect the roses from the cold. As he helped her into her coat, he received a wondering look from Pély, the custodian, who had already begun to sweep up the evening’s snowfall of sequins and rose petals. Andras raised his hat in farewell and they went out through the backstage door.

She took his arm as they walked along, and let him lead her to a whitewashed café near the Bastille. It was a place he’d passed many times in his walks around Paris; it was called Aux Marocaines. On the low tables were green bowls of cardamom pods. On the walls, wooden racks held Moroccan pottery. Everything seemed to be built on a small scale, as if made for Klara. He could afford to buy her dinner there, though just barely; a week earlier he had received a Christmas bonus from Monsieur Novak.

A waiter in a fez seated them shoulder to shoulder at a corner table. There was flatbread and honey wine, a piece of grilled fish, a vegetable stew in a clay pot. As they ate they talked only about the performance, and about Elisabet, who had departed with Marthe for Chamonix; they talked about Andras’s work, and about his examinations, which he’d passed with top marks. But he was always aware of her heat and movement beside him, her arm brushing his arm. When she drank, he watched her lips touch the rim of the glass. He couldn’t stop looking at the curve of her breasts beneath her close-wrapped dress.

After dinner they had strong coffee and tiny pink macaroons. Still, neither of them had mentioned what had happened the previous night-not their conversation about her family, nor what had passed between them afterward. A time or two Andras thought he saw a shadow move across her features; he waited for her to reproach him, to say she wished he’d never told her that he’d met her mother and sister-in-law, or that she hadn’t meant to give him a mistaken impression. When she didn’t, he began to wonder if she meant for them to pretend it had never happened. At the end of the meal he paid the bill, despite her protests; he helped her into her coat again and they walked toward the rue de Sévigné. He carried the heavy basket of flowers, thinking of the ridiculous bouquet he’d brought to that first Sunday lunch. How ignorant he’d been of what was about to befall him, how unprepared for everything he’d experienced since-the shock of attraction, the torment of her closeness on Sunday afternoons, the guilty pleasure of their growing familiarity, and then that unthinkable moment last night when she’d closed her hands around his hands-when she’d put her arms around his waist, her head against his chest. And what would happen now? The evening was almost over. They had nearly reached her house. A light snow began to fall as they rounded the corner of her street.

At the doorstep her eyes darkened again. She leaned against the door and sighed, looking down at the roses. “Funny,” she said. “We’ve done the winter show every December for years, but I always feel this way afterward. Like there’s nothing to look forward to. Like everything’s finished.” She smiled. “Dramatic, isn’t it?”

He let out a long breath. “I’m sorry if-last night,” he began.

She stopped him with a shake of her head and told him there was nothing to apologize for.

“I shouldn’t have asked about your family,” he said. “If you’d wanted to talk about it, you would have.”

“Probably not,” she said. “It’s become such a habit with me, keeping everything secret.” She shook her head again, and he experienced the return of a memory from his early childhood-a night he’d spent hiding in the orchard while his brother Mátyás lay in bed, gravely ill with fever. A doctor had been called in, plasters applied, medicines dispensed, all to no effect; the fever rose and rose, and everyone seemed to believe Mátyás would die. Meanwhile, Andras hid in the branches of an apple tree with his terrible secret: He himself had passed the fever along, playing with Mátyás after their mother told him he must keep away at all costs. If Mátyás died, it would be his fault. He had never been so lonely in his life. Now he touched Klara’s shoulder and felt her shiver.

“You’re cold,” he said.

She shook her head. Then she took her key from her little purse and turned to unlock the door. But her hand began to tremble, and she turned back toward him and raised her face to him. He bent to her and brushed the corner of her mouth with his lips.

“Come in,” she said. “Just for a moment.”

His pulse thundering at his temples, Andras stepped in after her. He put a hand at her waist and drew her toward him. She looked up at him, her eyes wet, and then he lifted her against him and kissed her. He closed the door with one hand. Held her. Kissed her again. Took off his thin jacket, unbuttoned the glossy black buttons of her coat, pushed it from her shoulders. He stood in the entryway with her and kissed her and kissed her-first her mouth, then her neck at the margins of her dress, then the hollow between her breasts. He untied the black silk ribbon at her waist. The dress fell around her feet in a dark pool, and there she was before him in a rose-colored slip and stockings, the red-gold dahlia in her hair. He buried his hands in her dark curls and drew her to him. She kissed him again and slid her hands under his shirt. He heard himself saying her name; again he touched the bead-row of her spine, the curve of her hips. She lifted herself against him. It couldn’t be true; it was true.

They went upstairs to her bedroom. He would remember it as long as he lived: the way they moved awkwardly through the doorway, his persistent certainty that she would change her mind, his disbelief as she lifted the rose-colored slip over her head. The quick work she made of his embarrassing sock braces, his poorly darned socks, his underclothes worn to transparency. The shallow curves of her dancer’s body, the neat tuck of her navel, the shadow between her legs. The cool embrace of her bed, her own bed. The softness of her skin. Her breasts. His certainty that it would all be over in an embarrassing flash the instant she touched him with her hand; his wild concentration on anything else as she did it. The word baiser in his mind. The unbearable thrill of being able to touch her. The shock of the heat inside her. It could have all ended then-the city of Paris, the world, the universe-and he wouldn’t have cared, would have died happy, could have found no heaven broader or more drenched with light.

Afterward they lay on the bed and he stared at the ceiling, at its pattern of pressed flowers and leaves. She turned onto her side and put a hand on his chest. A velvety drowsiness pinned him to the bed, his head on her pillow. Her scent was in his hair, on his hands, everywhere.

“Klara,” he said. “Am I dead? Are you still here?”

“I’m still here,” she said. “You’re not dead.”

“What are we supposed to do now?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Just lie here for a little while.”

“All right,” he said, and lay there.

After a few minutes she removed her hand from his chest and rolled away from him, then got out of bed and went off down the hall. A moment later he heard the thunder of running water and the low roar and hiss of a gas heater. When she reappeared in the bedroom doorway, she was wearing a dressing gown.

“Come have a bath,” she said.

She didn’t have to coax him. He followed her into the white-tiled bathroom, where water steamed into the porcelain tub. She let the dressing gown drop and climbed into the water as he stood watching, speechless. He could have stood there all night while she bathed. Her image burned itself into his retinas: the small, high breasts; the twin wings of her hips; the smooth plane of her belly. And now, in the electric light of the bathroom, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before: a crescent-shaped scar with faint stitch-marks, just above the neat dark triangle of her hair. He stepped forward to touch her. He ran his hand along her belly, down to the scar, and brushed it with his fingers.

“She was a difficult birth,” Klara said. “In the end, a cesarean. She was too much for me, even then.”

Andras had an unbidden vision of Klara as a fifteen-year-old, straining upward on a metal table. The image hit him like a train. His knees seemed to liquefy, and he had to brace himself against the wall.

“Come in with me,” she said, and gave him her hand. He climbed into the bathtub and sank down into the water. She took the cloth and washed him from head to toe; she poured shampoo into her hands and massaged it into his scalp. Then they made love again, slowly, in the bathtub, and she showed him how to touch her, and he concluded that his life was over, that he would never want to do anything else in this lifetime. Then he washed her as she had washed him, every inch of her, and then they staggered to bed.

Nothing in his life had prepared him to imagine that a series of days might be spent the way they spent the next ten days. Later, in the darkest moments of the years that followed, he would come back again and again to those days, reminding himself that if he died, and if death led him into formless silence instead of into some other brighter life, he would still have experienced those days with Klara Morgenstern.

The Brecht play had gone dark for the holidays; Elisabet would be in Chamonix until the second of January. The studio was closed; school was out until after the new year; Andras’s friends had gone home for the duration. Mrs. Apfel had gone to her daughter-in-law’s cottage in Aixen-Provence. Even the signs advertising meetings of anti-Jewish organizations had ceased to appear. At all hours of the day, the streets were filled with people out shopping or on their way to parties. Klara had been invited to half a dozen parties herself, but she cancelled all her engagements. Andras went to his cold attic for some articles of clothing and his sketchbooks, locked the door behind him, and decamped to the rue de Sévigné.

They went on an expedition for provisions: potatoes for potato pancakes, cold roast chicken, bread, cheese, wine, a cake packed with currants. At a music shop on rue Montmartre they bought records for five francs apiece, comic operettas and American jazz and ballets. With their arms full and their pockets empty, they returned to Klara’s apartment and set up house. Chanukah began that night. They made potato pancakes, filling the kitchen with the rich smell of hot oil, and they lit candles. They made love in the kitchen and in the bedroom and once, awkwardly, on the stairs. The next day they went skating at the other skating pond, the one at the Bois de Boulogne, where they were unlikely to see anyone they knew. The skaters at the park wore bright colors against the gray of the afternoon; there was a marked-off patch at the center of the ice where the more adroit among them executed spins. Andras and Klara skated until their lips were blue with cold. Every night they bathed together; every morning they woke and made love. Andras received an astonishing education in the ways a human being could experience pleasure. At night, when he woke and thought of Klara, it amazed him that he could turn over and curl himself around her. He surprised her with his knowledge of cookery, gained from watching his mother. He could make palacsinta, thin egg pancakes, with chocolate or jam or apple filling; he could make paprikás burgonya and spaetzle, and red cabbage with caraway seeds. They slept long and gloriously in the afternoons. They made love in the middle of the day on Klara’s white bed while freezing rain fell outside. They made love late at night in the dance studio, on rugs they’d dragged down from upstairs. One time, on the way home from a café, they made love against the wall in an alleyway.

They celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Bastille, with thousands of other cheering Parisians. Afterward they drank a bottle of champagne in the sitting room and ate a feast of cold paté and bread and cheese and cornichons. Neither of them wanted to sleep, knowing that the next day would be the last of that string of impossible days. When dawn broke, instead of going to bed they put on coats and hats and went walking by the river. The sun cast its gold light onto the buttresses of Notre-Dame; the streets were full of cabs taking drowsy revelers home to their apartments. They sat on a bench in the dead garden at the eastern tip of Île St.-Louis and kissed each other’s freezing hands, and Andras dredged from his mind a Marot poem he’d learned with Professor Vago:

D’Anne qui luy jecta de la Neige

Anne (par jeu) me jecta de la Neige

Que je cuidoys froide certainement;

Mais estoit feu, l’experience en ay-je;

Car embrasé je fuz soubdainement.

Puis que le feu loge secretement

Dedans la Neige, où trouveray je place

Pour n’ardre point? Anne, ta seule grace

Estaindre peult le feu que je sens bien,

Non point par Eau, par Neige, ne par Glace,

Mais par sentir un feu pareil au mien.

And when she protested against sixteenth-century French after a night of sleeplessness and drinking, he whispered another version into her ear, a spontaneous Hungarian translation of that hot exchange between the poet Marot and his girlfriend: as a game Anne threw snow at him, and it was cold, of course. But what he felt was heat, because he found himself in her arms. If fire dwelt secretly in snow, how could he escape burning? Only Anne’s mercy could control the flame. Not with water, snow, nor ice, but with a fire like his own.

When he woke that afternoon, Klara lay fast asleep beside him, her hair tangled on the pillows. He got up, pulled on his trousers, washed his face. His head throbbed. He cleaned up the remnants of the previous night’s sitting-room picnic, made coffee in the kitchen, drank a slow black cup and rubbed his temples. He wanted Klara to be awake, to be with him, but he didn’t want to wake her. So he refilled his cup and roamed the apartment by himself. He walked through the empty dining room, where they’d had their first lunch together; he walked through the sitting room, where he’d seen her for the first time. He took a long look at the bathroom with its miraculous hot-water heater, where they’d spent long hours bathing. Finally, in the hall, he paused before Elisabet’s bedroom. Their travels through the rooms had never taken them there, but now he pushed the door open. Elisabet’s room was surprisingly neat; her dresses hung in a limp row in the open wardrobe. Two pairs of brown shoes were ranged underneath: a caramel-colored pair on the left, a chestnut-colored pair on the right. On the dresser there was a wooden music box with tulips painted on the lid. A silver comb stood upright between the bristles of a silver brush. An empty perfume flask glowed yellow-green. He opened the top dresser drawer: grayish cotton underwear and grayish cotton brassieres. A few handkerchiefs. Some frayed hair ribbons. A broken slide rule. A tube of epoxy rolled tight all the way to its tip. Six cigarettes bound with a strip of paper.

He closed the drawer and sat down in the little wooden chair beside the bed. He looked at the yellow coverlet, at the rag doll keeping watch over the silent room, and considered how furious Elisabet would be if she knew what had happened in her absence. Though there was some small hint of triumph in the feeling, there was also a sense of fear; if she found out, he knew she wouldn’t stand for it. He couldn’t know what effect her anger might have upon her mother, but at the very least he knew that Klara’s ties to Elisabet were far stronger than her tenuous ties to him. The scar on her belly reminded him of it every time they made love.

He turned and left the little room, and went to Klara where she lay sleeping on the tumbled bed. She had curled herself around the pillow he’d been using. She was naked, her legs tangled in the eiderdown. In the silvery northern light of the winter afternoon, he could see the hairline creases at the corners of her eyes, the faint signs of her age. He loved her, wanted her, felt himself stirring again at the sight of her. He knew he would be willing to give his life to protect her. He wanted to take her to Budapest and heal whatever terrible hurt had occurred there, see her walk into the drawing room of that house on Benczúr utca and put her hands into her mother’s hands. His eyes burned at the thought that he was only twenty-two, a student, unable to do anything of substance for her. The lives they’d been leading those past ten days hadn’t been their real lives. They hadn’t worked, hadn’t taken care of anyone but themselves, hadn’t had much need for money. But money was an ever-present woe for him. It would be years before he’d have a steady income. If his studies went as planned, it would be another four and a half years before he became an architect. And he’d lived long enough already, and had faced enough difficulty, to know that things seldom went as planned.

He touched her shoulder. She opened her gray eyes and looked at him. “What is it?” she said. She sat up and held the eiderdown against herself. “What’s happened?”

“Nothing’s happened,” he said, sitting down beside her. “I’ve just been thinking about what’s to happen after.”

“Oh, Andras,” she said, and smiled drowsily. “Not that. That’s my least favorite subject at the moment.”

This was the way it had gone, anytime either of them had introduced the topic over the past week or so; they had turned it aside, allowed it to drift away as they drifted into another series of pleasures. It was easy enough to do; their real lives had come to seem far less real than the one they were leading together on the rue de Sévigné. But now their time was nearly finished. They couldn’t avoid the subject any longer.

“We have six more hours,” he said. “Then our lives begin again.”

She slipped her arms around him. “I know.”

“I want to have everything with you,” he said. “A real life. God help me! I want you beside me at night, every night. I want to have a child with you.” He had not yet said these things aloud; he could feel the blood rushing to his skin as he spoke.

Klara was silent for a long moment. She dropped her arms, sat back against the pillows, put her hand in his. “I have a child already,” she said.

“Elisabet’s not a child.” But those vulnerable shoes at the bottom of the closet. The painted box on the dresser. The hidden cigarettes.

“She’s my daughter,” Klara said. “She’s what I’ve lived for these sixteen years. I can’t just take up another life.”

“I know. But I can’t not see you, either.”

“Perhaps it would be best, though,” she said, and looked away from him. Her voice had fallen almost to a whisper. “Perhaps it would be best to stop with what we’ve had. Our lives may spoil it.”

But what would his life be without her, now that he knew what it was to be with her? He wanted to weep, or to take her by the shoulders and shake her. “Is that what you’ve thought all along?” he said. “That this was a lark? That when our lives began again it would be over?”

“I didn’t think about what would happen,” she said. “I didn’t want to. But we’ve got to think about it now.”

He got out of bed and took his shirt and trousers from a chair. He couldn’t look at her. “What good will that do?” he said. “You’ve already decided it’s impossible.”

“Please, Andras,” she said. “Don’t go.”

“Why should I stay?”

“Don’t be angry at me. Don’t leave like that.”

“I’m not angry,” he said. But he finished dressing, then retrieved his suitcase from beneath the bed and began to pack the few articles of clothing he’d brought from the rue des Écoles.

“There are things you don’t know about me,” she said. “Things that might frighten you, or change the way you felt.”

“That’s right,” he said. “And there’s a great deal you don’t know about me. But what does that matter now?”

“Don’t be cruel to me,” she said. “I’m as unhappy as you are.”

He wanted to believe that it was true, but it couldn’t have been; he’d laid himself open before her and she’d withdrawn from him. He put his last few things in the suitcase and snapped the latches, then went into the hallway and took his coat from the rack. She followed him to the top of the stairs, where she stood barefoot and bare-shouldered, the sheet wrapped around her as though she were a Greek sculpture. He buttoned his coat. He couldn’t believe he was going to walk down the stairs and through the door, not knowing when he’d see her again. He put a hand to her arm. Touched her shoulder. Tugged a corner of the sheet so that it fell from her body. In the dim hallway she stood naked before him. He couldn’t bear to look at her, couldn’t bear to touch or kiss her. And so he did what a moment before had seemed unimaginable: He descended the stairs, past the eyes of all those child dancers in their ethereal costumes, opened the door, and left her.

PART TWO. Broken Glass

CHAPTER TWELVE. What Happened at the Studio

CLASSES BEGAN the first Monday of January with a two-day charrette. Within a span of forty-eight hours they had to design a freestanding living space of fifty meters square, with a movable wall, two windows, a bath, a galley kitchen. They would submit a front elevation of the building, a floor plan, and a model. Forty-eight hours, during which anyone who cared about the project wouldn’t eat a meal or sleep or leave the studio. Andras took the project like an oblivion drug, felt the crush of time in his veins, willed it to make him forget his ten days with Klara. He bent over the plane of his worktable and made it the landscape of his mind. The Gare d’Orsay critique had left its imprint; he vowed that he would not be humiliated before the rest of the class, before that smug Lemarque and the ranks of the upperclassmen. Toward the end of his thirtieth waking hour he looked at his design and found that what he’d drawn was his parents’ house in Konyár, with a few details changed. One bedroom, not two. An indoor bath instead of the tin tub and outhouse. A modern indoor kitchen. One external wall had become a movable wall; it could be opened in summer to let the house communicate with the garden. The façade was plain and white with a many-paned window. On his second sleepless night he drew the movable wall as a curve; when it was open it would make a shady niche. He drew a stone bench in the garden, a circular reflecting pool. His parents’ house made over into a country retreat. He feared it was absurd, that everyone would see it for what it was: a Hajdú boy’s design, rude and primitive. He turned it in at the last minute and received, to his surprise, an appreciative nod and a paragraph of closely written praise from Vago, and the grudging approval of even the harshest fifth-year students.

At the Bernhardt they struck the set of The Mother and held auditions for Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna. Though Zoltán Novak pleaded, Madame Gérard would not take a role in the new play; she’d already been offered the role of Lady Macbeth at the Thêátre des Ambassadeurs, and Novak couldn’t pay her what they would. Andras was grateful for her impending departure. He couldn’t look at her without thinking of Klara, without wondering whether Madame Gérard knew what had happened between them. The day before she departed for the Ambassadeurs he helped her box up her dressing room: her Chinese robe, her tea things, her makeup, a thousand fan letters and postcards and little presents. As they worked she told him about the members of the new company she would join, two of whom had been featured in American films, and one of whom had appeared with Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet. He found it difficult to pay attention. He wanted to tell her what had happened. He had told no one; even to have told his friends at school would have reduced it somehow, made it seem a superficial and fleeting liaison. But Madame Gérard knew Klara; she would know what it meant. She might even be able to offer some hope. So he closed the dressing-room door and confessed it all, omitting only the revelation about the letter.

Madame Gérard listened gravely. When he’d finished, she got to her feet and paced the green rug in front of the dressing-room mirror as if bringing a monologue to mind. At last she turned and put her hands on the backrest of her makeup chair. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew, and I ought to have said something. When I saw you at the Bois de Vincennes, I knew. You didn’t care at all for the girl. You looked only at Klara. I’ll admit,” and she turned her eyes from him, laughing ruefully to herself, “old as I am, I was a little jealous. But I never thought you’d act upon your feelings.”

Andras rubbed his palms against his thighs. “I shouldn’t have,” he said.

“It’s well she ended it,” Madame Gérard said. “She knew it wasn’t right. She invited you into her house thinking you might be a friend to her daughter. You should have stopped going once you knew you didn’t care for Elisabet.”

“It was too late by then,” he said. “I couldn’t stop.”

“You don’t know Klara,” Madame Gérard said. “You can’t, not after a few Sunday lunches and a week-long affair. She’s never made any man happy. She’s had ample chance to fall in love-and, if you’ll pardon me, with grown men, not first-year architecture students. Don’t imagine she hasn’t had plenty of suitors. If she ever does take a man seriously, it’ll be because she wants to get married-that is to say, because she wants someone to ease her life, to take care of her. Which you, my dear, are in no position to do.”

“You don’t have to remind me of that.”

“Well, someone must, apparently!”

“But what now?” he demanded. “I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”

“Why not? It’s over between the two of you. You said as much yourself.”

“It’s not over for me. I can’t put her out of my mind.”

“I’d advise you to try,” Madame Gérard said. “She can’t be any good to you.”

“That’s all, then? I’m supposed to forget her?”

“That would be best.”

“Impossible,” he said.

“Poor darling,” Madame Gérard said. “I’m sorry. But you’ll get over it. Young men do.” She turned again to her packing, loading her gold and silver makeup sticks into a box with dozens of little drawers. A private smile came to her mouth; she rolled a tube of rouge between her fingers and turned to him. “You’ve joined an illustrious club, you know, now that Klara’s thrown you over. Most men never make it that far.”

“Please,” he said. “I can’t bear to hear you speak of her that way.”

“It’s the girl’s father, you know. I think she must still be in love with him.”

“Elisabet’s father,” he said. “Is he here in Paris? Does she still see him?”

“Oh, no. He died many years ago, as I understand it. But death isn’t a bar to love, as you may learn someday.”

“Who was he?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. Klara keeps her history close.”

“So it’s hopeless, then. I’m supposed to let it go because she’s in love with a dead man.”

“Allow it to be what it was: a pretty episode. The satisfaction of a mutual curiosity.”

“That wasn’t what it was to me.”

She tilted her head at him and smiled again, that terrible all-knowing smile. “I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to dispense advice about love. Unless you’d like to be disabused of your romantic notions.”

“You’ll excuse me, then, if I leave you to your packing.”

“My dear boy, no excuse needed.” She rose, kissed him on both cheeks, and turned him out into the hall. There was no choice for him but to go back to his work; he did it in mute consternation, wishing he had never confided in her.

There was one great source of relief, one astonishing piece of news that had arrived in a telegram from Budapest: Tibor was coming to visit. His classes in Modena would start at the end of January, but before he went to Italy he would come to Paris for a week. When the telegram arrived, Andras had shouted the news aloud into the stairwell of the building, at a volume that had brought the concierge out into the hall to reprimand him for disturbing the other tenants. He silenced her by kissing her on the brow and showing her the telegram: Tibor was coming! Tibor, his older brother. The concierge voiced the hope that this older brother would beat some manners into Andras, and left him in the hall to experience his delight alone. Andras hadn’t mentioned Klara in his letters to Tibor, but he felt as if Tibor knew-as if Tibor had sensed that Andras was in distress and had decided to come for that reason.

The anticipation of the visit-three weeks away, then two, then one-got him from home to school, and from school to work. Now that The Mother was finished and Madame Gérard gone, afternoons at the Sarah-Bernhardt passed at a maddening crawl. He had arranged everything so well backstage that there was little to do while the actors rehearsed; he paced behind the curtain, subject to an increasing fear that Monsieur Novak would discover his superfluity. One afternoon, after he’d overseen the delivery of a load of lumber for the set of Fuente Ovejuna, he approached the head carpenter and offered his services as a set builder. The head carpenter put him to work. During the afternoon hours Andras banged flats together; after hours he studied the design of the new sets. This was a different kind of architecture, all about illusion and impression: perspective flattened to make spaces look deeper, hidden doors through which actors might materialize or disappear, pieces that could be turned backward or inside out to create new tableaux. He began to mull over the design in bed at night, trying to distract himself from thoughts of Klara. The false fronts that represented the Spanish town might be put on wheels and rotated, he thought; their opposite sides could be painted to represent the building interiors. He made a set of sketches showing how it might be done, and later he redrew the sketches as plans. His second week as assistant set builder he went to the head carpenter and showed him the work. The carpenter asked him if he thought he had a budget of a million francs. Andras told him it would cost less than building the two sets of flats that would be required to make separate exteriors and interiors. The head carpenter scratched his head and said he’d consult the set designer. The set designer, a tall round-shouldered man with an ill-trimmed moustache and a monocle, scrutinized the plans and asked Andras why he was still working as a gofer. Did he want a job that would pay three times what he was making now? The set designer had an independent shop on the rue des Lombards and generally employed an assistant, but his most recent one had just finished his coursework at the Beaux-Arts and had taken a position outside the capital.

Andras did want the job. But Zoltán Novak had saved his life; he couldn’t very well walk out on the Sarah-Bernhardt. He accepted the man’s business card and stared at it all that night, wondering what to do.

The next afternoon he went to Novak’s office to lay the situation before him. There was a long silence after he knocked, then the sound of male voices in argument; the door flew open to reveal a pair of men in pinstriped suits, briefcases in hand, their faces flushed as though Novak had been insulting them in the vilest terms. The men clapped hats onto their heads and walked out past Andras without a nod or glance. Inside the office Novak stood at his desk with his hands on the blotter, watching the men recede down the hallway. When they’d disappeared, he came out from behind the desk and poured himself a tumbler of whiskey from the decanter on the sideboard. He looked over his shoulder at Andras and pointed to a glass. Andras raised a hand and shook his head.

“Please,” Novak said. “I insist.” He poured whiskey and added water.

Andras had never seen Novak drinking before dusk. He accepted the tumbler and sat down in one of the ancient leather chairs.

“Egészségedre,” Novak said. He lifted his glass, drained it, set it down on the blotter. “Can you guess who that was, leaving?”

“No,” Andras said. “But they looked rather grim.”

“They’re our money men. The people who’ve always managed to persuade the city to let us keep our doors open.”

“And?”

Novak sat back in his chair and laced his hands into a mountain. “Fifty-seven people,” he said. “That’s how many I have to fire today, according to those men. Including myself, and you.”

“But that’s everyone,” Andras said.

“Precisely,” he said. “They’re closing us down. We’re finished until next season, at least. They can’t support us any longer, even though we’ve posted profits all fall. The Mother did better than any other show in Paris, you know. But it wasn’t enough. This place is a money-sink. Do you know what it costs to heat five stories of open space?”

Andras took a swallow of whiskey and felt the false warmth of it move through his chest. “What will you do?” he said.

“What will you do?” Novak said. “And what will the actors do? And Madame Courbet? And Claudel, and Pély, and all the others? It’s a disaster. We’re not the only ones, either. They’re closing four theaters.” He sat back in his chair and stroked his moustache with one finger, his eyes moving over the bookshelves. “The fact is, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Madame Novak is in a delicate condition, as they say. She’s been pining for her parents in Budapest. I’m sure she’ll take this as a sign that we should return home.”

“But you’d rather stay,” Andras said.

Novak released a sigh from the broad bellows of his chest. “I understand how Edith feels. This isn’t our home. We’ve scratched out our little corner here, but none of it belongs to us. We’re Hungarians, in the end, not French.”

“When I met you in Vienna, I thought no man could look more Parisian.”

“Now you see how green you were,” Novak said, and smiled sadly. “But what about you? I know you’ve got your school fees to pay.”

Andras told him about the offer of an assistantship with the set designer, Monsieur Forestier, and how he’d just been coming to ask Novak’s advice on the matter.

Novak brought his hands together, a single beat of applause. “It would have been a terrible shame to lose you,” he said. “But it’s an excellent chance, and well timed. You’ve got to do it, of course.”

“I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done,” Andras said.

“You’re a good young man. You’ve worked hard here. I’ve never regretted taking you on.” He drained the rest of his drink and pushed the empty glass across the desk. “Now, would you fill that again for me? I’ve got to go break the news to the others. You’ll come to work tomorrow, I hope. There’ll be a great deal to do, getting this place closed down. You’ll have to tell Forestier I can’t release you until the end of the month.”

“Tomorrow, as usual,” Andras said.

He went home that evening with a frightening sense of vacancy in his chest. No more Sarah-Bernhardt. No more Monsieur Novak. No more Claudel, or Pély; no more Marcelle Gérard. And no more Klara, no more Klara. The hard white shell of his life punctured and blown clean. He was light now, hollow, an empty egg. Hollow and light, he drifted home through the January wind. At 34 rue des Écoles he climbed the flights and flights of stairs-how many hundreds of them were there?-feeling he didn’t have the energy to look at his books that night, nor even to wash his face or change for bed. He wanted only to lie down in his trousers and shoes and overcoat, pull the eiderdown over his head, ride out the hours before dawn. But at the top of the stairs he saw a line of light coming from beneath his own door, and when he put a hand on the doorknob he found it unlocked. He pushed the door open and let it swing. A fire in the grate; bread and wine on the table; in the single chair with a book in her hands, Klara.

“Te,” he said. You.

“And you,” she said.

“How did you get in?”

“I told the concierge it was your birthday. I said I was planning a surprise.”

“And what did you tell your daughter?”

She looked down at the cover of her book. “I told her I was going to see a friend.”

“What a shame that wasn’t true.”

She got to her feet, crossed the room to him, put her hands on his arms. “Please, Andras,” she said. “Don’t speak to me that way.”

He moved away from her and took off his coat, his scarf. For what felt like a long time he couldn’t say anything more; he went to the fireplace and crossed his arms, looking down into a faltering pyramid of bright coals. “It was bad enough, not knowing whether or not I’d see you again,” he said. “I told myself we were finished, but I couldn’t convince myself it was true. Finally I confided in Marcelle. She was kind enough to tell me I wasn’t alone in my misery. She said I belonged to an illustrious club of men you’d thrown over.”

Her gray eyes darkened. “Thrown over? Is that what you feel I’ve done to you?”

“Thrown over, jettisoned, sent packing. I don’t suppose it matters what you call it.”

“We decided it was impossible.”

“You decided.”

She went to him and moved her hands over his arms, and when she looked up into his face he saw there were tears in her eyes. To his horror his own eyes began to burn. This was Klara, whose name he’d carried with him from Budapest; Klara, whose voice came to him in his sleep.

“What do you want?” he said into her hair. “What am I supposed to do?”

“I’ve been miserable,” she said. “I can’t let it go. I want to know you, Andras.”

“And I want to know you,” he said. “I don’t like secrecy.” But he knew as he said it that what was hidden made her all the more attractive; there was a kind of torment in her unknowability, in the rooms that lay beyond the ones in which she entertained him.

“You’ll have to be patient with me,” she said. “You’ll have to let me trust you.”

“I can be patient,” he said. He had drawn her so close that the sharp crests of her pelvis pressed against him; he wanted to reach into her body and grab her by the bones. “Claire Morgenstern,” he said. “Klárika.” She would ruin him, he thought. But he could no sooner have sent her away than he could have dismissed geometry from architecture, or the cold from January, or the winter sky from outside his window. He bent to her and kissed her. Then, for the first time, he took her into his own bed.

When he stepped into the world the next morning it was a transformed place. The dullness of the weeks without her had fallen away. He had become human again, had reclaimed his own flesh and blood, and hers. Everything glittered too brilliantly in the winter sun; every detail of the street rushed at him as if he were seeing it for the first time. How had he never noticed the way light fell from the sky onto the bare limbs of the lindens outside his building, the way it broke and diffused on the wet paving stones and needled whitely from the polished brass handles of the doors along the street? He savored the bracing slap of his soles against the sidewalk, fell in love with the cascade of ice in the frozen fountain of the Luxembourg. He wanted to thank someone aloud for the fine long corridor of the boulevard Raspail, which conducted him every day along its row of Haussmann-era buildings to the blue doors of the École Spéciale. He adored the empty courtyard awash with winter sunlight, its green benches empty, its grass frozen, its paths wet with melted snow. A speckle-breasted bird on a branch pronounced her name exactly: Klara, Klara.

He ran upstairs to the studio and looked among the drawings for the new set of plans he’d been working on with Polaner. He thought he might spend a few minutes on them before he had to report to Vago for his morning French. But the plans weren’t there; Polaner must have taken them home with him. Instead he picked up the textbook of architectural vocabulary he would study that morning with Vago, and ran downstairs again for a stop at the men’s room. He pushed open the door into echoing dark and fumbled for the light switch. From the far corner of the room came a low wheezing groan.

Andras turned on the light. On the concrete floor, against the wall beyond the urinals and the sinks, someone was curled into a tight G. A small form, a man’s, in a velvet jacket. Beside him a set of plans, crumpled and boot-stomped.

“Polaner?”

That sound again. A wheeze sliding into a groan. And then his own name.

Andras went to him and knelt beside him on the concrete. Polaner wouldn’t look at Andras, or couldn’t. His face was dark with bruises, his nose broken, his eyes hidden in purple folds. He kept his knees tight against his chest.

“My God,” Andras said. “What happened? Who did this?”

No response.

“Don’t move,” Andras said, and staggered to his feet. He turned and ran out of the room, across the courtyard, and up the stairs to Vago’s office, and opened the door without knocking.

“Lévi, what on earth?”

“Eli Polaner’s been beaten half to death. He’s in the men’s room, ground floor.”

They ran downstairs. Vago tried to get Polaner to let him see what had happened, but Polaner wouldn’t uncurl. Andras pleaded with him. When Polaner dropped his arms from his face, Vago took a sharp breath. Polaner started to cry. One of his lower teeth had been knocked out, and he spat blood onto the concrete.

“Stay here, both of you,” Vago said. “I’m going to call an ambulance.”

“No,” Polaner said. “No ambulance.” But Vago had already gone, the door slamming behind him as he ran into the courtyard.

Polaner rolled onto his back, letting his arms go limp. Beneath the velvet jacket his shirt had been torn open, and something had been written on his chest in black ink.

Feygele. A Jewish fag.

Andras touched the torn shirt, the word. Polaner flinched.

“Who did it?” Andras said.

“Lemarque,” Polaner said. Then he mumbled something else, a phrase Andras could only hear halfway, and couldn’t translate: “J’étais coin…”

“Tu étais quoi?”

“J’étais coincé,” Polaner said, and repeated it until Andras could understand. They’d caught him in a trap. Tricked him. In a whisper: “Asked me to meet him here last night. And then came with three others.”

“Meet him here at night?” Andras said. “To work on those plans?”

“No.” Polaner turned his blackened and swollen eyes on him. “Not to work.”

Feygele.

It took him a moment to understand. Meet at night: an assignation. So this, and not the girl back in Poland, the would-be fiancée who had written him those letters, was what had prevented him from showing interest in women here in Paris.

“Oh, God,” Andras said. “I’ll kill him. I’ll knock his teeth down his throat.”

Vago came through the door of the men’s room with a first-aid box. A cluster of students crowded into the doorway behind him. “Go away,” he shouted back over his shoulder, but the students didn’t move. Vago’s brows came together into a tight V. “Now!” he cried, and the students backed away, murmuring to each other. The door slammed. Vago knelt on the floor beside Andras and put a hand on Polaner’s shoulder.

“An ambulance is coming,” he said. “You’ll be all right.”

Polaner coughed, spat blood. He tried to hold his shirt closed with one hand, but the effort was beyond him; his arm fell against the concrete floor.

“Tell him,” Andras said.

“Tell me what?” said Vago.

“Who did this.”

“Another student?” Vago said. “We’ll bring him before the disciplinary council. He’ll be expelled. We’ll press criminal charges.”

“No, no,” Polaner said. “If my parents knew-”

Now Vago saw the word inked across Polaner’s chest. He rocked back onto his heels and put a hand to his mouth. For a long time he didn’t speak or move. “All right,” he said, finally. “All right.” He moved the shreds of Polaner’s shirt aside to get a better look at his injuries; Polaner’s chest and abdomen were black with bruises. Andras could hardly bear to look. Nausea plowed through him, and he had to put his head against one of the porcelain sinks. Vago pulled off his own jacket and draped it over Polaner’s chest. “All right,” he said. “You’ll go to the hospital and they’ll take care of you. We’ll worry about the rest of this later.”

“Our plans,” Polaner said, touching the crumpled sheets of drafting paper.

“Don’t think about that,” Vago said. “We’ll fix them.” He picked up the plans and handed them carefully to Andras, as though there were any chance they could be salvaged. Then, hearing the ambulance bell outside, he ran to direct the attendants to the men’s room. Two men in white uniforms brought a stretcher in; when they lifted Polaner onto it, he fainted from the pain. Andras held the door open as they carried him into the courtyard. A crowd had gathered outside. The word had spread as the students arrived for morning classes. The attendants had to push their way through the crowd as they carried Polaner down the flagstone path.

“There’s nothing to see,” Vago shouted. “Go to your classes.” But there were no classes yet; it was only a quarter to eight. Not a single person turned away until the attendants had gotten Polaner into the ambulance. Andras stood at the courtyard door, holding Polaner’s plans like the broken body of an animal. Vago put a hand on his shoulder.

“Come to my office,” he said.

Andras turned to follow him. He knew this was the same courtyard he’d crossed earlier that morning, with the same frosted grass and green benches, the same paths bright-wet in the sun. He knew it, but now he couldn’t see what he had seen before. It astonished him to think the world could trade that beauty for this ugliness, all in the space of a quarter hour.

In his office, Vago told Andras about the other cases. Last February someone had stenciled the German words for filth and swine onto the final projects of a group of Jewish fifth-year students, and later that spring a student from Côte d’Ivoire had been dragged from the studio at night and beaten in the cemetery behind the school. That student, too, had had an insult painted on his chest, a racial slur. But not one of the perpetrators had been identified. If Andras had any information to volunteer, he would be helping everyone.

Andras hesitated. He sat on his usual stool, rubbing his father’s pocket watch with his thumb. “What will happen if they’re caught?”

“They’ll be questioned. We’ll take disciplinary and legal action.”

“And then their friends will do something worse. They’ll know Polaner told.”

“And if we do nothing?” Vago said.

Andras let the watch drop into the hollow of his pocket. He considered what his father would tell him to do in a situation like this. He considered what Tibor would tell him to do. There was no question: They would both think him a coward for hesitating.

“Polaner mentioned Lemarque,” he said. It came out as a whisper at first, and he repeated the name, louder. “Lemarque and some others. I don’t know who else.”

“Fernand Lemarque?”

“That’s what Polaner said.” And he told Vago everything he knew.

“All right,” said Vago. “I’m going to talk to Perret. In the meantime”-he opened his architectural vocabulary book to the page that depicted the inner structures of roofs, with their vertical poinçons, their buttressing contre-fiches, their riblike arbalétriers-“stay here and study,” he said, and left Andras alone in the office.

Andras couldn’t study, of course; he couldn’t keep the image of Polaner from his mind. Again and again he saw Polaner on the floor, the word inscribed on his chest in black ink, the plans crumpled beside him. Andras understood desperation and loneliness; he knew how it felt to be thousands of miles from home; he knew how it felt to carry a secret. But to what depths of misery would Polaner have had to descend in order to imagine Lemarque as a lover? As a person with whom he might share a moment of intimacy in the men’s room at night?

Not five minutes passed before Rosen burst into Vago’s office, cap in hand. Ben Yakov stood behind him, abashed, as though he’d tried and failed to prevent Rosen from tearing upstairs.

“Where’s that little bastard?” Rosen shouted. “Where is that weasel? If they’re hiding him up here, I swear to God I’ll kill them all!”

Vago ran down the hall from Perret’s office. “Lower your voice,” he said. “This isn’t a beer hall. Where’s who?”

“You know who,” Rosen said. “Fernand Lemarque. He’s the one who whispers sale Juif. The one who put up those posters for that Front de la Jeunesse. You saw them: Meet and Unite, Youth of France, and all that rubbish, at the Salle des Sociétés Savantes, of all places. They’re anti-parliament, anti-Semitic, anti-everything. He’s one of their little stooges. There’s a whole group of them. Third-years, fifth-years. From here, from the Beaux-Arts, from other schools all over the city. I know. I’ve been to their meetings. I’ve heard what they want to do to us.”

“All right,” Vago said. “Suppose you tell me about it after studio.”

“After studio!” Rosen spat on the floor. “Right now! I want the police.”

“We’ve already contacted the police.”

“Bullshit! You haven’t called anyone. You don’t want a scandal.”

Now Perret himself came down the hall, his gray cape rolling behind him. “Enough,” he said. “We’re handling this. Go to your studio.”

“I won’t,” Rosen said. “I’m going to find that little bastard myself.”

“Young man,” Perret said. “There are elements of this situation that you don’t understand. You’re not a cowboy. This is not the Wild West. This country has a system of justice, which we’ve already put into play. If you don’t lower your voice and conduct yourself like a gentleman, I’m going to have you removed from this school.”

Rosen turned and went down the stairs, cursing under his breath. Andras and Ben Yakov followed him to the studio, where Vago met them ten minutes later. At nine o’clock they continued with the previous day’s lesson, as if designing the perfect maison particulier were the only thing that mattered in the world.

At the hospital that afternoon, Andras and Rosen and Ben Yakov found Polaner in a long narrow ward filled with winter light. He lay in a high bed, his legs propped on pillows, his nose set with a plaster bridge, deep purple bruises ringing his eyes. Three broken ribs. A broken nose. Extensive contusions on the upper body and legs. Signs of internal bleeding-abdominal swelling, unstable pulse and temperature, blood pooling beneath the skin. Symptoms of shock. Aftereffects of hypothermia. That was what the doctor told them. A chart at the foot of Polaner’s bed showed temperature and pulse and blood-pressure readings taken every quarter hour. As they crowded around the bed, he opened his swollen eyes, called them by unfamiliar Polish names, and lost consciousness. A nurse came down the ward with two hot-water bottles, which she tucked beneath Polaner’s sheets. She took his pulse and blood pressure and temperature and recorded the numbers on his chart.

“How is he?” Rosen asked, getting to his feet.

“We don’t know yet,” the nurse said.

“Don’t know? Is this a hospital? Are you a nurse? Isn’t it your job to know?”

“All right, Rosen,” Ben Yakov said. “It’s not her fault.”

“I want to speak to that doctor again,” Rosen said.

“I’m afraid he’s making his rounds at the moment.”

“For God’s sake! This is our friend. I just want to know exactly how bad it is.”

“I wish I could tell you myself,” the nurse said.

Rosen sat down again and put his head in his hands. He waited until the nurse had gone off down the ward. “I swear to God,” he said. “I swear to God, if I catch those bastards! I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t care if I do get kicked out of school. I’ll go to jail if I have to. I want to make them regret they were born.” He looked up at Andras and Ben Yakov. “You’ll help me find them, won’t you?”

“Why?” Ben Yakov said. “So we can bash their skulls in?”

“Oh, pardon me,” Rosen said. “I suppose you wouldn’t want to risk having your own pretty nose broken.”

Ben Yakov got up from his chair and took Rosen by the shirtfront. “You think I like seeing him like this?” he said. “You think I don’t want to kill them myself?”

Rosen twisted his shirt out of Ben Yakov’s grasp. “This isn’t just about him. The people who did this to him would do it to us.” He took up his coat and slung it over his arm. “I don’t care if you come with me or not. I’m going to look for them, and when I find them they’re going to answer for what they did.” He jammed his cap onto his head and went off down the ward.

Ben Yakov put a hand to the back of his neck and stood looking at Polaner. Then he sighed and sat down again beside Andras. “Look at him. God, why did he have to meet Lemarque at night? What was he thinking? He can’t be-what they said.”

Andras watched Polaner’s chest rise and fall, a faint disturbance beneath the sheets. “And what if he were?” he said.

Ben Yakov shook his head. “Do you believe it?”

“It’s not impossible.”

Ben Yakov set his chin on his fist and stared at the railing of the bed. He had ceased for the moment to resemble Pierre Fresnay. His eyes were hooded and damp, his mouth drawn into a crumpled line. “There was one time,” he said, slowly. “One day when we were going to meet you and Rosen at the café, he said something about Lemarque. He said he thought Lemarque wasn’t really an anti-Semite-that he hated himself, not Jews. That he had to put on a show so people wouldn’t see him for what he was.”

“What did you say?”

“I said Lemarque could go stuff himself.”

“That’s what I would have said.”

“No,” Ben Yakov said. “You would have listened. You’d have had something intelligent to say in return. You would have asked what made him think so.”

“He’s a private person,” Andras said. “He might not have said more if you’d asked.”

“But I knew something was wrong. You must have noticed it too. You were working on that project with him. Anyone could tell he hadn’t been sleeping, and he was so quiet when Lemarque was around-quieter than usual.”

Andras didn’t know what to say. He’d been consumed with thoughts of Klara, with his anticipation of Tibor’s visit, with his own work. He was aware of Polaner as a constant presence in his life, knew him to be guarded and circumspect, even knew him to brood at times; but he hadn’t considered that Polaner might possess private woes as monumental as his own. If the affair with Klara had been difficult, how much harder might it have been for Polaner to nurse a secret attraction to Lemarque? He had spent little time imagining what it might be like to be a man who favored men. There were plenty of girlish men and boyish women in Paris, of course, and everyone knew the famous clubs and balls where they went to meet: Magic-City, the Monocle, the Bal de la Montagne-Sainte -Geneviève; but that world seemed remote from Andras’s life. What hint of it had there been in his own experience? Things had gone on at gimnázium-boys cultivated friendships that seemed romantic in their intrigues and betrayals; and then there were those times when he and his classmates would stand in a row, their shorts around their ankles, bringing themselves off together in the semidark. There was one boy at school whom everyone said loved boys-Willi Mandl, a lanky blond boy who played piano, wore white embroidered socks, and had been glimpsed one afternoon in a secondhand store dreamily fondling a blue silk reticule. But that was all part of the fog of childhood, nothing that seemed to bear upon his current life.

Now Polaner opened his eyes and looked at Andras. Andras touched Ben Yakov’s sleeve. “Polaner,” Andras said. “Can you hear me?”

“Are they here?” Polaner said, almost unintelligibly.

“We’re here,” Andras said. “Go to sleep. We’re not going to leave you.”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN. Visitor

ANDRAS HADN’T BEEN back to the Gare du Nord since he’d arrived from Budapest in September. Now, in late January, as he stood on the platform waiting for Tibor’s train, it amazed him to consider the bulk of ignorance he’d hauled to Paris those few months ago. He’d known almost nothing about architecture. Nothing about the city. Less than nothing about love. He had never touched a woman’s naked body. Hadn’t known French. Those SORTIE signs above the exits might as well have said YOU IDIOT! The past days’ events had only served to remind him how little he still knew of the world. He felt he was just beginning to sense the scope of his own inexperience, his own benightedness; he had scarcely begun to allay it. He’d hoped that by the time he saw his brother again he might feel more like a man, like someone conversant with the wider world. But there was nothing more he could do about that now. Tibor would have to take him as he was.

At a quarter past five the Western Europe Express pulled into the station, filling that glass-and-iron cavern with the screech of brakes. Porters lowered the steps and climbed down; passengers poured forth, men and women haggard from traveling all night. Young men his age, sleepless and uncertain-looking in the wintry light of the station, squinted at the signs and searched for their baggage. Andras scanned the faces of the passengers. As more and more of them passed without a sign of Tibor, he had a moment of fear that his brother had decided not to come after all. And then someone put a hand on his shoulder, and he turned, and there was Tibor Lévi on the platform of the Gare du Nord.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Tibor said, and pulled Andras close.

A carbonated joy rose up in Andras’s chest, a dreamlike sense of relief. He held his brother at arm’s length. Tibor scrutinized Andras from head to toe, his gaze coming to rest on Andras’s hole-ridden shoes.

“It’s a good thing you have a brother who’s a shoe clerk,” he said. “Or was one. Those filthy oxfords wouldn’t have lasted you another week.”

They retrieved Tibor’s bags and took a cab to the Latin Quarter, a trip Andras found surprisingly brief and direct, and he grasped how pro-foundry his first Parisian cab driver had cheated him. The streets flashed past almost too quickly; he wanted to show Tibor everything at once. They flew down the boulevard de Sébastopol and over the Île de la Cité, and were turning onto the rue des Écoles in what felt like an instant. The Latin Quarter crouched beneath a haze of rain, its sidewalks crowded with umbrellas. They rushed Tibor’s bags through the drizzle and dragged them upstairs. When they reached Andras’s garret, Tibor stood in the doorway and laughed.

“What?” Andras said. He was proud of his shabby room.

“It’s exactly as I imagined,” Tibor said. “Down to the last detail.”

Under his gaze the Paris apartment seemed to come fully into Andras’s possession perhaps for the first time, as if his seeing it made it continuous with the places Andras had lived before, with the life he had led before he climbed onto a train at Nyugati Station in September. “Come in,” Andras said. “Take off your coat. Let me make a fire.”

Tibor took off his coat, but he wouldn’t let Andras make the fire. It couldn’t have mattered less that this was Andras’s apartment, nor that Tibor had been traveling for three days. This was how it had always been between them: The older took care of the younger. If this had been Mátyás’s apartment and Andras had been there to visit, Andras would have been the one cracking the kindling and piling the paper beneath the logs. In a few minutes Tibor had conjured a steady blaze. Only then would he take off his shoes and crawl into Andras’s bed.

“What a relief!” he said. “It’s been three days since I slept lying down.” He pulled the coverlet over himself and in another moment he was asleep.

Andras set up his books on the table and tried to study, but found he couldn’t concentrate. He wanted news of Mátyás and his parents. And he wanted news of Budapest -not of its politics or its problems, which anyone could read about in the Hungarian dailies, but of the neighborhood where they’d lived, the people they knew, the innumerable small changes that marked the flow of time. He wanted, too, to tell Tibor what had happened to Polaner, whom he’d seen again that morning. Polaner had looked even worse than before, swollen and livid and feverish. His breath had grated in his throat, and the nurses had bent over him with dressings for his bruises and doses of fluids to raise his blood pressure. A team of doctors gathered at the foot of his bed and debated the risks and benefits of surgery. The signs of internal bleeding persisted, but the doctors couldn’t agree whether it was best to operate or whether the bleeding would stop on its own. Andras tried to decode their quick medical patter, tried to piece through the puzzle of French anatomical terms, but he couldn’t grasp everything, and his fear prevented him from asking questions. It was horrible to think of Polaner cut open, and even worse to think of the bleeding unstinted inside him. Andras had stayed until Professor Vago arrived to take over the watch; he didn’t want Polaner to wake and find himself alone. Ben Yakov hadn’t made an appearance that morning, and no one had heard from Rosen since he’d left the hospital in search of Lemarque.

Now he forced himself to look at his textbook: a list of statics problems swarming in an antlike blur. He willed the numbers and letters into an intelligible order, penciled neat columns of figures onto a clean sheet of graph paper. He calculated the force vectors acting upon fifty steel rods in a load-bearing wall of reinforced concrete, located the points of highest tension along a cathedral buttress, estimated the wind sway of a hypothetical steel structure twice as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Each building with its quiet internal math, the numbers floating within the structures. An hour passed as he made his way through the list of problems. At last Tibor groaned and sat up in bed.

“Orrh,” he said. “Am I still in Paris?”

“I’m afraid so,” Andras said.

Tibor insisted on taking Andras to dinner. They went to a Basque restaurant that was supposed to serve good oxtail soup. The waiter was a broad-shouldered bully who banged the plates onto the tables and shouted curses at the kitchen. The soup was thin, the meat overcooked, but they drank Basque beer that made Andras feel flushed and sentimental. Here was his brother at last, here they were together, dining in a foreign city like the grown men they’d become. Their mother would have laughed aloud to see them together in this mannish restaurant, leaning over their mugs of ale.

“Be honest,” Andras said. “How’s Anya? Her letters are too cheerful. I’m afraid she wouldn’t tell me if something were wrong.”

“I went to Konyár the weekend before I left,” Tibor said. “Mátyás was there, too. Anya’s trying to convince Apa to move to Debrecen for the winter. She wants him close to a good doctor if he gets pneumonia again. He won’t go, of course. He insists he won’t get sick, as though he had any control over that. And when I take Anya’s side, he asks me who I think I am to tell him what to do. You’re not a doctor yet, Tibi, he says. And he shakes his finger at me.”

Andras laughed, though he knew it was a serious matter; they both knew how ill their father had been, and how their mother relied on him. “What will they do?”

“Stay in Konyár, for now.”

“And Mátyás?”

Tibor shook his head. “A strange thing happened the night before I left. Matyás and I went walking out to the rail bridge above that creek, the one where we used to catch minnows in the summer.”

“I know the one,” Andras said.

“It was a cold night to be out walking. The bridge was icy. We never should have been up there in the first place. Well, we stood there for a while looking at the stars, and we started talking about Anya and Apa, about what Mátyás might have to do if something happened to them, and he was angry at me, you know-I was leaving him to handle everything alone, he said. I tried to tell him they’d be fine, and that if anything truly bad happened, you and I would come home, and he said we’d never come home, that you were gone for good and that I would be soon. We were having this argument above that frozen creek, and then we heard a train coming.”

“I don’t know if I want to hear the end of this.”

“So Mátyás says, ‘Stay on the bridge. Stand here beside the tracks, on the crossties. See if we can keep our balance when the train comes by. Think you can? Not scared, are you?’ The train’s coming fast now. And you know that bridge, Andras. The ties give you about a meter on each side of the tracks. And it’s maybe twenty meters above the creek. So he jumps onto the ties between the rails and stands there facing the train. It’s coming on. The light from the headlamp’s already on him. I’m shouting at him to get off, but he’s not going anywhere. ‘I’m not afraid,’ he says. ‘Let it come.’ So I run at him and put him over my shoulder like a sack of sawdust, and I swear to God, the bridge was iced so badly I nearly fell and killed us both. I got him off and threw him in the snow. The train came by about a second later. He stood up laughing like a madman afterward, and I got up and hit him across the jaw. I wanted to break his neck, the little idiot.”

“I would have broken his neck!”

“Believe me, I wanted to.”

“He didn’t want you to go. He’s all alone there now.”

“Not exactly,” Tibor said. “He’s got quite a life in Debrecen. Nothing like our school days. He and I made it up the next day, and I went back there with him on the way to Budapest. You should see what he’s been doing at that nightclub where he performs! He ought to be in movies. He’s like Fred Astaire, but with back handsprings and somersaults. And they pay him to do it! I might be happy for him if I didn’t think he’s completely lost his mind. He’s inches from being kicked out of school, you know. He’s failing Latin and history and barely sliding by in his other classes. I’m sure he’ll quit as soon as he saves enough for a ticket out of Hungary. Anya and Apa know it, too.”

“You didn’t tell them about that bridge business, did you?”

“Are you joking?”

They signaled to the waiter for another round of drinks. While they waited, Andras asked about Budapest and their old Harsfa utca and the Jewish Quarter.

“It’s all much the same as when you left,” Tibor said. “Though everyone’s increasingly worried that Hitler’s going to drag Europe into another war.”

“If he does, the Jews will get the blame. Here in France, at least.”

The waiter returned, and Tibor took a long, thoughtful drink of Basque beer. “Not as much fraternité or égalité as you once thought, is there?”

Andras told him about the meeting of Le Grand Occident, and then about what had happened to Polaner. Tibor took off his glasses, wiped the lenses with his handkerchief, and put them on again.

“I was talking to a man on the train who’d just been in Munich,” he said. “A Hungarian journalist sent to report on a rally there. He saw three men beaten to death for destroying copies of a state-sponsored anti-Jewish newspaper. Insurgents, the German press called them. One of them was a decorated officer from the Great War.”

Andras sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “With Polaner the situation’s personal,” he said. “There are questions about his relationship with one of the men who did it.”

“It’s just the same brand of hatred writ small,” Tibor said. “Horrible any way you look at it.”

“I was a fool to think things would be different here.”

“ Europe ’s changing,” Tibor said. “The picture’s getting bleaker everywhere. But it hasn’t all been grim for you here, I hope.”

“It hasn’t.” He looked up at Tibor and managed a smile.

“What’s that about, Andráska?”

“Nothing.”

“Are you harboring secrets? Have you got some intrigue going on?”

“You’ll have to buy me a stronger drink,” Andras said.

At a nearby bar they ordered whiskey, and he told Tibor everything: about the invitation to the Morgensterns’, and how he’d recognized the name and address from the letter; how he’d fallen in love with Klara, not Elisabet; how they’d failed to keep the attraction at bay. How Klara had told him nothing about what had brought her to Paris, or why her identity had to be kept a secret. When he’d finished, Tibor held on to his glass and stared.

“How much older is she?”

There was no way around it. “Nine years.”

“Good God,” Tibor said. “You’re in love with a grown woman. This is serious, Andras, do you understand?”

“Serious as death.”

“Put down that glass. I’m talking to you.”

“I’m listening.”

“She’s thirty-one,” Tibor said. “She’s not a girl. What are your intentions?”

A tightness gathered in Andras’s throat. “I want to marry her,” he said.

“Of course. And you’ll live on what?”

“Believe me, I’ve thought about that.”

“Four and a half more years,” Tibor said. “That’s how long it’ll take you to get your degree. She’ll be thirty-six. When you’re her age, she’ll be nearly forty. And when you’re forty, she’ll be-”

“Stop it,” Andras said. “I can do the math.”

“But have you?”

“So what? So what if she’s forty-nine when I’m forty?”

“What happens when you’re forty and a thirty-year-old woman starts paying attention to you? Do you think you’ll stay faithful to your wife?”

“Tibi, do you have to do this?”

“What about the daughter? Does she know what’s going on between you and her mother?”

Andras shook his head. “Elisabet detests me, and she’s terrible to Klara. I doubt she’d take kindly to the situation.”

“And József Hász? Does he know you’ve fallen in love with his aunt?”

“No. He doesn’t know his aunt’s whereabouts. The family doesn’t trust him with the information, whatever that means.”

Tibor laced his fingers. “Good God, Andras, I don’t envy you.”

“I was hoping you’d tell me what to do.”

“I know what I’d do. I’d break it off as soon as I could.”

“You haven’t even met her.”

“What difference would that make?”

“I don’t know. I was hoping you might want to. Aren’t you even curious?”

“Desperately,” he said. “But I won’t participate in your undoing. Not even as a spectator.” And he called the waiter over and requested the bill, then firmly changed the subject.

In the morning Andras brought Tibor to the École Spéciale, where they met Vago at his office. When they entered, Vago was sitting behind his desk and talking on the telephone in his particular manner: He held the mouthpiece between his cheek and shoulder and gesticulated with both hands. He sketched the shape of a flawed building in the air, then erased it with a sweep of his arm, then sketched another building, this one with a roof that seemed flat but was not flat, to allow for drainage-and then the conversation was over, and Andras introduced Tibor to Vago at last, there in the room where he had been the subject of so many morning conversations, as though the talking itself had caused Tibor to materialize.

“Off to Modena,” Vago said. “I envy you. You’ll love Italy. You won’t ever want to go back to Budapest.”

“I’m grateful for your help,” Tibor said. “If I can ever repay the favor…”

Vago waved the idea away. “You’ll become a doctor,” he said. “If I’m lucky, I won’t need your favors.” Then he gave them the news from the hospital: Polaner was holding steady; the doctors had decided not to operate yet. Of Lemarque there was still no sign. Rosen had kicked down the door of his rooming house the day before, but he was nowhere to be found.

Tibor sat through the morning classes with Andras. He heard Andras present his solution to the statics problem about the cathedral buttress, and he let Andras show him his drawings in studio. He met Ben Yakov and Rosen, who quickly exhausted the few words of Hungarian they’d learned from Andras; Tibor bantered with them in his sparse but fearless French. At noon, over lunch at the school café, Rosen talked about his trip to Lemarque’s rooming house. He looked depleted now; his face had lost its angry flush, and his russet-colored freckles seemed to float on the surface of his skin. “What a rathole,” he said. “A hundred cramped dark rooms full of smelly men. It stank worse than a prison. You could almost feel sorry for the bastard, living in a place like that.” He paused to give a broad yawn. He’d been up all night at the hospital.

“And nothing?” Ben Yakov said. “Not a trace of him?”

Rosen shook his head. “I searched the place from basement to attic. Nobody had seen him, or at least they claimed they hadn’t.”

“And what if you’d found him?” Tibor asked.

“What would I have done, you mean? At the time, I would have choked him to death with my bare hands. But I would have been a fool to do it. We need to know who his accomplices were.”

The student café began to clear. Doors opened and slammed all around the atrium as students filtered into the classrooms. Tibor watched them go, his eyes grave behind his silver-rimmed glasses.

“What are you thinking about?” Andras asked him in Hungarian.

“Lucky Béla,” Tibor said. “Ember embernek farkasa.”

“Speak French, Hungarians,” Rosen said. “What are you talking about?”

“Something our father used to say,” Andras said, and repeated the phrase.

“And what does that mean, in the parlance of the rest of the world?”

“Man is a wolf to man.”

That night they were supposed to go to a party at József Hász’s on the boulevard Saint-Jacques. It was to be the first time Andras would spend an evening at József’s since the beginning of his liaison with Klara. The idea made him anxious, but József had invited him in person a week earlier; a few of his paintings were to appear in a student show at the Beaux-Arts, which Andras must be sure to miss because it would be a terrible bore, but after the opening there would be drinks and dinner at József’s. Andras had demurred on the basis that Tibor would be in town and that he couldn’t burden József with another guest, but that had only made József insist all the more: If Tibor were in Paris for the first time, he couldn’t miss a party at József Hász’s.

When they arrived, the company was already drunk. A trio of poets stood on the sofa and shouted verse in three-part cacophony while a girl in a green leotard performed acts of contortion on the Oriental rug. József himself presided over the card table, winning at poker while the other players scowled at their dwindling piles of money.

“The Hungarians have arrived!” József said when he saw them. “Now we’ll have a real game. Pull up a chair, men! Play cards.”

“I’m afraid we can’t,” Andras said. “We’re broke.”

József dealt a hand with dazzling speed. “Eat, then,” he said. “If you’re broke, you’re probably hungry. Aren’t you hungry?” He didn’t look up from his cards. “Visit the buffet.”

On the dining table was a raft of baguettes, three wheels of cheese, pickles, apples, figs, a chocolate torte, six bottles of wine.

“Now that’s a welcome sight,” Tibor said. “Free dinner.”

They made sandwiches of figs and cheese and took them to the large front room, where they watched the contortionist become a circle, a bell, a Spanish knot. Afterward she posed erotically with another girl, while a third girl took photographs with an ancient-looking camera.

Tibor watched in a mesmeric trance. “Does Hász have parties like this often?” he asked, following the girls with his eyes as they shifted to a new pose.

“More often than you’d imagine,” Andras said.

“How many people live in this apartment?”

“Just him.”

Tibor let out a low whistle.

“There’s hot water in the bathroom, too.”

“Now you’re exaggerating.”

“No, I’m not. And a porcelain tub with lion feet. Come see.” He led Tibor down the hall toward the back of the apartment and paused at the bathroom door, which stood open just enough to show a sliver of white porcelain. A glow of candles emanated from within. Andras opened the door. There, blinking against the glare from the hallway, was a couple standing against the wall, the girl’s hair disheveled, the top buttons of her shirt undone. The girl was Elisabet Morgenstern, one hand raised against the light.

“Pardon us, gentlemen,” the man said in American-accented French, each word delivered with drink-soaked languor.

Elisabet had recognized Andras at once. “Stop looking at me, you stupid Hungarian!” she said.

Andras took a step backward into the hall, pulling Tibor along with him. The man gave them a wink of drunken triumph and kicked the door closed.

“Well,” Tibor said. “I suppose we’d better examine the plumbing later.”

“That might be best.”

“And who was that darling girl? She seems to know you.”

“That darling girl was Elisabet Morgenstern.”

“The Elisabet? Klara’s daughter?”

“The.”

“And who was the man?”

“Someone awfully brave, that’s for sure.”

“Does József know Elisabet?” Tibor said. “Do you think the secret’s out between them?”

Andras shook his head. “No idea. Elisabet does seem to live her own life outside the house. But József’s never mentioned a secret cousin, which I’m certain he would have, as much as he loves to gossip.” His temples began to pound as he wondered what exactly he had discovered, and what he would tell Klara.

They wove their way back to the sofa and sat down to watch the guests play charades; a girl appropriated Andras’s coat and wore it over her head like a hood while she stooped to pick invisible flowers. The others called out the titles of films Andras had never seen. He needed another glass of wine, and was ready to get up and look for one when Elisabet’s lover staggered into the room. The man, blond and broad-shouldered and wearing an expensive-looking merino jacket, tucked his shirt into his trousers and smoothed his hair. He raised a hand in greeting and sat down on the couch between Andras and Tibor.

“How are we, gentlemen?” he asked in his languid French. “You’re not having nearly as much fun as I am, from the look of it.” He sounded like the Hollywood stars who did commercials for Radio France. “That girl’s quite a firecracker. I met her on a ski vacation over Christmas, and I’m afraid I’ve become addicted to her.”

“We were just leaving,” Andras said. “We’ll be on our way now.”

“No, sir!” the blond American crowed. He put an arm across Andras’s chest. “No one goes! We’re staying all night!”

Down the hall came Elisabet, shaking drops of water from her hands. She’d hastily rearranged her hair and misbuttoned her blouse. When she reached the front room, she beckoned to Andras with a single urgent sweep of her hand. Andras got up from the sofa and excused himself with a half bow, then followed Elisabet down the hall. She led him to József’s bedroom, where a deluge of coats had overflowed the bed and pooled on the floor.

“All right,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Tell me what you saw.”

“Nothing!” Andras said. “Not a thing.”

“If you tell my mother about Paul, I’ll kill you.”

“When would I tell her, now that you’ve banished me from your house?”

Elisabet’s look became shrewd. “Don’t play innocent with me,” she said. “I know you haven’t spent the past two months hoping I’d fall in love with you. I know what’s going on between you and my mother. I could see how she looked at you. I’m not a fool, Andras. She might not tell me everything, but I’ve known her long enough to be able to tell when she’s got a lover. And you’re just her type. Or one of her types, I should say.”

Now it was his turn to show a self-conscious flush; I could see how she looked at you. And how he must have looked at her. How could anyone have failed to see it? He glanced down at the hearth; a silver cigarette case lay among the ashes, its monogram obscured. “You know she wouldn’t want you to be here,” he said. “Does she know you know József Hász?”

“That idiot who lives here, you mean? Why, is he some sort of notorious criminal?”

“Not exactly,” Andras said. “He can throw a rather rough party, that’s all.”

“I just met him tonight. He’s some friend of Paul’s from school.”

“And you met Paul in Chamonix?”

“I don’t see where that’s any business of yours. And I mean it, Andras, you can’t tell my mother about any of this. She’ll lock me in my room for life.” She tugged at her shirt, and when she saw she’d buttoned it wrong, pronounced an unladylike curse.

“I won’t tell,” he said. “Upon my honor.”

Elisabet scowled at him, seeming to doubt his trustworthiness; but behind her hard look there was a flash of vulnerability, a consciousness that he held the key to something that mattered to her. Andras wasn’t certain whether it was Paul himself she loved, or whether it was simply the freedom to carry on a life beyond her mother’s scrutiny, but in either case he understood. He spoke his pledge again. Her tight-held shoulders relaxed a single degree, and she let out a truncated sigh. Then she fished a pair of coats from the pile on the bed, brushed past him into the hall, and returned to the front room, where Paul and Tibor were still watching the charades.

“It’s late, Paul,” Elisabet said, throwing his coat onto his lap. “Let’s go.”

“It’s early!” Paul said. “Come sit here with us and watch these girls.”

“I can’t. I have to get home.”

“Come to me, lioness,” he said, and took her wrist.

“If I have to go home alone, I will,” she said, and pulled away.

Paul got up from the sofa and kissed Elisabet on the mouth. “Stubborn girl,” he said. “I hope this gentleman wasn’t rude to you.” He gave Andras a wink.

“This gentleman has the deepest respect for the young lady,” Andras said.

Elisabet rolled her eyes. “All right,” she said. “That’s enough.” She shrugged into her coat, gave Andras a last warning look, and went to the door. Paul snapped a salute and followed her into the hallway.

“Well,” Tibor said. “I think you’d better sit down and tell me what that was all about.”

“She begged me not to tell her mother that I saw her with that man.”

“And what did you say?”

“I swore I’d never tell.”

“Not that you’d have the opportunity anyway.”

“Well,” Andras said. “It seems Elisabet has figured out what’s going on between her mother and me.”

“Ah. So the secret’s out.”

“That one is, anyway. She seemed not at all surprised. She said I was her mother’s type, whatever that means. But she doesn’t seem to have any idea that József’s her cousin.” He sighed. “Tibor, what in God’s name am I doing?”

“That’s just what I’ve been asking you,” Tibor said, and put an arm around Andras’s shoulders. A moment later József Hász appeared, three glasses of champagne in his hands. He passed them each a glass and toasted their health.

“Are you having fun?” he said. “Everyone must have fun.”

“Oh, yes,” Andras said, grateful for the champagne.

“I see you’ve met my American friend Paul,” József said. “His father’s an industrial chieftain. Automobile tires or some such thing. That new girlfriend of his is a little sharp-tongued for my taste, but he’s wild about her. Maybe he thinks that’s just the way French girls act.”

“If that’s the way French girls act, you gentlemen are in trouble,” Tibor said.

“Here’s to trouble,” József said, and they drained their glasses.

The next day Andras and Tibor walked the long halls of the Louvre, taking in the velvet-brown shadows of Rembrandt and the frivolous curlicues of Fragonard and the muscular curves of the classical marbles; then they strolled along the quais to the Pont d’Iéna and stood beneath the monumental arches of the Tower. They circumnavigated the Gare d’Orsay as Andras described how he’d built his model; finally they backtracked to the Luxembourg, where the apiary stood in silent hibernation. They sat with Polaner at the hospital as he slept through the nurses’ ministrations; Polaner, whose terrible story Andras hadn’t yet told Klara. They watched him sleep for nearly an hour. Andras wished he’d wake, wished he wouldn’t look so pale and still; the nurses said he was better that day, but Andras couldn’t see any change. Afterward they walked to the Sarah-Bernhardt, where Tibor lent a hand with the closing-down. They stowed the coffee things and folded the wooden table, cleared the actors’ pigeonholes of ancient messages, shuttled stray props to the prop room and costumes to the costume shop, where Madame Courbet was folding garments into her neatly labeled cabinets. Claudel gave Andras a half-full box of cigars-a former prop-and apologized for having told him so many times to burn in hell. He hoped Andras could forgive him, now that they’d both been cast upon the whims of fate.

Andras forgave him. “I know you didn’t mean any harm,” he said.

“That’s a good boy,” Claudel said, and kissed him on both cheeks. “He’s a good boy,” he told Tibor. “A darling.”

Monsieur Novak met them in the hallway as they were on their way out. He called them into his office, where he produced three cut-crystal glasses and poured out the last of a bottle of Tokaji. They toasted Tibor’s studies in Italy, and then they toasted the eventual reopening of the Sarah-Bernhardt and the three other theaters that were closing that week. “A city without theater is like a party without conversation,” Novak said. “No matter how good the food and drink are, people will find it dull. Aristophanes said that, I believe.”

“Thank you for keeping my brother out of the gutter,” Tibor said.

“Oh, he would have found a way without me,” Novak said, and put a hand on Andras’s shoulder.

“It was your umbrella that saved him,” Tibor said. “Otherwise he would have missed his train. And then he might have lost his nerve.”

“No, not him,” Novak said. “Not our Mr. Lévi. He would have been all right. And so will you, my young man, in Italy.” He shook Tibor’s hand and wished him luck.

It was dark by the time they left. They walked along the Quai de Gesvres as the lights of the bridges and barges shivered on the water. A wind tore through the river channel, flattening Andras’s coat against his back. He knew Klara was in her studio at that hour, teaching the final segment of her evening class. Without telling Tibor where they were going he steered them down the rue François Miron in the direction of the rue de Sévigné. He traced the route he hadn’t walked in weeks. And there on the corner, its light spilling into the street, was the dance studio with its demi-curtains, its sign that said MME. MORGENSTERN, MAÎTRESSE. The faint sound of phonograph music reached them through the glass: the slow, stately Schumann she used for the end-of-class révérences. This was a class of intermediate girls, slender ten-year-olds with downy napes, their shoulder blades like small sharp wings beneath the cotton of their leotards. At the front of the room Klara led them through a series of sweeping curtseys. Her hair was gathered into a loose roll at the base of her neck, and she wore a practice dress of plum-colored viscose, tied at the waist with a black ribbon. Her arms were supple and strong, her features tranquil. She needed no one; she had made a life, and here it was: these end-of-day révérences, her own daughter upstairs, Mrs. Apfel, the warm rooms of the flat she’d bought for herself. And yet from him, from Andras Lévi, a twenty-two-year-old student at the École Spéciale, she seemed to want something: the luxury of vulnerability, perhaps; the sharp thrill of uncertainty. As he watched, his heart seemed to go still in his chest.

“There she is,” he said. “Klara Morgenstern.”

“God,” Tibor said. “She’s beautiful, that’s for certain.”

“Let’s see if she’ll have dinner with us.”

“No, Andras. I’m not going to do it.”

“Why not?” he said. “You came here to see how I live, didn’t you? This is it. If you don’t meet her, you won’t know.”

Tibor watched as Klara lifted her arms; the children lifted their arms and swept into low curtseys.

“She’s tiny,” Tibor said. “She’s a wood nymph.”

Andras tried to see her as Tibor was seeing her-tried to see her for the first time. There was something fearless, something girlish, about the way she moved her body, as if part of her remained a child. But her eyes held the look of a woman who had seen one lifetime pass into another. That was what made her like a nymph, Andras thought: the way she seemed to embody both timelessness and the irrevocable passage of time. The music reached its end, and the girls rushed for their satchels and coats. Tibor and Andras watched them leave. Then they met Klara at the studio door, where she stood shivering in her practice dress.

“Andras,” she said, reaching for his hand. He was relieved that she seemed glad to see him; he hadn’t known how she’d react to his coming to the studio. But there was nothing wrong with his stopping in as he passed through the Marais, he told himself; it was an ordinary thing, something an acquaintance might have done.

“This is a surprise,” she said. “And who’s this gentleman?”

“This is Tibor,” Andras said. “My brother.”

Klara took his hand. “Tibor Lévi!” she said. “At last. I’ve been hearing about you for months.” She glanced over her shoulder, up the stairs. “But what are the two of you doing here? I know you haven’t come to take a lesson.”

“Have dinner with us,” Andras said.

She laughed, a little nervously. “I’m hardly dressed for it.”

“We’ll have a drink and wait for you.”

She put a hand to her mouth and glanced over her shoulder again. From the apartment came the sound of quick footsteps and the rustle of outdoor garments. “My inscrutable daughter is dining out with friends tonight.”

“Come, then,” Andras said. “We’ll keep you company.”

“All right,” she said. “Where will you be?”

Andras named a place that served bouillabaisse with slabs of thick brown bread. They both loved it; they’d been there during their ten days together in December.

“I’ll be there in half an hour,” Klara said, and ran upstairs.

The restaurant had once been a smithy, and still smelled faintly of cinders and iron. The smelting ovens had been converted to cooking ovens; there were rough-hewn wooden tables, a menu full of cheap dishes, and strong apple cider served in earthenware bowls. They sat down at one of the tables and ordered drinks.

“So that was your Klara,” Tibor said, and shook his head. “She can’t be the mother of that girl we met at the party last night.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“What a disaster! How did she come by that child? She must have been little more than a girl herself at the time.”

“She was fifteen,” Andras said. “I don’t know anything about the father, except that he’s long dead. She doesn’t like to talk about any of it.”

She came in just as they were ordering a second round of drinks. She hung her red hat and her coat on a hook beside the table and sat down with them, tucking a few damp strands of hair behind her ear. Andras felt the heat of her legs close to his own; he touched the folds of her dress beneath the table. She raised her eyes to him and asked if anything were wrong. He couldn’t tell her, of course, what was most immediately wrong: that Tibor objected to their liaison, at least in theory. So he told her instead what had happened to Polaner at the École Spéciale.

“What a nightmare,” she said when he’d finished, and put her forehead into her hands. “That poor boy. And what about his parents? Has someone written to them?”

“He asked us not to. He’s ashamed, you know.”

“Of course. My God.”

The three of them sat in silence, looking at their bowls of cider. When Andras glanced at Tibor it seemed to him that his brother’s look had softened; it was as though, in the shadow of what had happened to Polaner, it had become an absurdity, a luxury, to hold an opinion about the rightness or wrongness of love. Tibor asked Klara about the class she’d been teaching, and she asked what he thought of Paris and whether he’d have time to see Italy before school began.

“There won’t be much time to travel,” Tibor said. “Classes start next week.”

“And what will you study first?”

“Anatomy.”

“You’ll find it fascinating,” she said. “I did.”

“You’ve studied anatomy?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “In Budapest, as part of my ballet training. I had a master who believed in teaching the physics and mechanics of the human body. He made us read books with anatomical drawings that disgusted most of the girls-and some of the boys, too, though they tried not to show it. And one day he took us to the medical school at Budapest University, where the students were dissecting cadavers. He had one of the professors show us all the muscles and tendons and bones of the leg and the arm. Then the back, the spine. Two girls fainted, I remember. But I loved it.”

Tibor looked at her with reluctant admiration. “And do you think it improved your dancing?”

“I don’t know. I think it helps my teaching. It helps me explain things.” She became pensive for a moment, touching the stitched edge of her napkin. “You know, I have some of those anatomy books at home. More than I need or use. I should make you a gift of one of them, if you’ve got room in your luggage.”

“I couldn’t,” Tibor said, but a familiar covetousness had come into his eyes. Their father’s mania for old books had become their own; Tibor and Andras had spent hours at the used bookstores in Budapest, where Tibor had taken down one ancient anatomy book after another and showed Andras in color-plated detail the shy curve of a pancreas, the cumular cluster of a lung. He pined for those gorgeous tomes he could never afford, not even at the used booksellers’ prices.

“I insist,” Klara said. “You’ll come by after dinner and choose one.”

And so, after the bouillabaisse and another round of cider, they went to the rue de Sévigné and climbed the stairs to Klara’s apartment. Here was the sitting room where he’d seen her for the first time; here was the nest-shaped bowl with its candy eggs, the gray velvet sofa, the phonograph, the amber-shaded lamps-the intimate landscape of her life, denied him for the past month. From one of the bookshelves she extracted three large leather-bound anatomy books. She laid them on the writing desk and opened the gold-stamped covers. Tibor unfolded the leaves of illustrations to reveal the mysteries of the human body in four-color ink: the bones with their woven sheaths of muscle, the spiderweb of the lymphatic system, the coiled snake of the intestines, the small windowed room of the eye. The heaviest and most beautiful of all the volumes was a folio copy of Corpus Humanum, printed in Latin and inscribed for Klara in the bold angular script of her ballet master, Viktor Romankov: Sine scientia ars nihil est. Budapest 1920.

She took that volume from Tibor and replaced it in its leather box. “This is the one I want to give you,” she said, laying it in his arms.

He flushed and shook his head. “I couldn’t possibly.”

“I want you to have it,” she said. “For your studies.”

“I’ll be traveling. I wouldn’t want to damage it.” He held it toward her again.

“No,” she said. “Take it. You’ll be glad to have it. I’ll be glad to think of it in Modena. It’s a small thing, considering what you’ve had to do to get there.”

Tibor looked down at the book at his arms. He raised his eyes to meet Andras’s, but Andras wouldn’t look at him; he knew that if he did, this would become a matter of whether or not Tibor approved of what existed between Andras and Klara. So he kept his own gaze fixed on the fireplace screen, with its faded scene of a horse and rider in a shadowy wood, and let Tibor’s desire for that gorgeous folio make the decision for him. After another moment of hesitation, Tibor made gruff avowals of his gratitude and let Klara wrap the book in brown paper.

On Tibor’s final day in Paris, he and Andras rode the thundering Métro to Boulogne-Billancourt. The afternoon was warm for January, windless and dry. They walked the long quiet avenues, past the bakeries and greengrocers and haberdashers, out toward the neighborhood where Pingusson’s white ocean-liner building cut through the morning air as though en route to the sea. Andras told the story of the poker game wherein Perret’s loss had been transformed into a scholarship; then he led his brother farther along the rue Denfert-Rochereau, where buildings by Le Corbusier and Mallet-Stevens and Raymond Fischer and Pierre Patout stood radiating their austere, unadorned strength into the thin light of morning. In the months since his first visit here, Andras had returned again and again to this small cluster of streets where the living architects he admired most had built small-scale shrines to simplicity and beauty. One morning not long ago he had come upon Perret’s Villa Gordin, a blocklike and vaguely Japanese-looking house built for a sculptor, with a bank of reflective windows offset by two rectangles of perpendicularly laid bricks. Perret might have built anything he liked on any empty piece of land in Paris, but had chosen to do this: to create a work of Spartan simplicity, a human-sized space for an artist on a tiny street where a person could work and be alone. The building had become Andras’s favorite in Boulogne-Billancourt. They sat down on the curb across the street and he told his brother about the Latvian-born sculptor who lived there, Dora Gordin, and about the airy studio Perret had designed for her at the back of the house.

“Remember those huts you used to build in Konyár?” Tibor said. “Your housing business?”

The housing business. The summer he turned nine, just before he’d started school in Debrecen, he had become a building contractor for the neighborhood boys. He had a monopoly on scrap wood, and could build a fort or clubhouse in half a day. Four-year-old Mátyás was his assistant. Mátyás would come along on the jobs and solemnly hand nails to Andras as Andras pounded the huts together. In return for his building services, Andras collected whatever the boys had to offer: a photograph of someone’s father in a soldier’s uniform, a fleet of tiny tin warplanes, a cat’s skull, a balsa boat, a white mouse in a cage. That summer he had been the richest boy in town.

“Remember my mouse?” Andras said. “Remember what you used to call him?”

“Eliahu ha Navi.”

“Anya hated that. She thought it was sacrilegious.” He smiled and flexed his fingers against the cold curb. The shadows were lengthening, and the chill had made its way through the layers of his clothing. He was ready to suggest they keep walking, but Tibor leaned back on his elbows and looked up at the roof garden with its row of little evergreens.

“That was the year I fell in love for the first time,” he said. “I never told you. You were too young to understand, and by the time you were old enough I was in love with someone else, Zsuzsanna, that girl I used to take to dances at gimnázium. But before her there was a girl named Rózsa Geller. Rózsika. I was thirteen, she was sixteen. She was the oldest daughter of the family I boarded with in Debrecen. The ones who moved away just before you came to school.”

Andras caught an unfamiliar edge in Tibor’s voice, almost a note of bitterness. “Sixteen,” he said, and gave a low whistle. “An older woman.”

“I used to watch her bathing. She used to bathe in the kitchen in a tin washtub, and my bed was on the other side of the curtain. That curtain was full of holes. She must have known I was watching.”

“And you saw everything.”

“Everything. She would stand there pouring water over herself and humming the Marseillaise.”

“Why the Marseillaise?”

“She was in love with some French film star. He’d been in a lot of war movies.”

“Pierre Fresnay.”

“That’s right, that was the bastard’s name. How did you know?”

“That friend of mine, Ben Yakov, looks just like him.”

“Hm. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I met your friend.”

“So what happened?”

“One day her father caught me watching. He beat me bloody. Broke my arm.”

“You broke your arm playing football!”

“That was the official story. Her father said he’d turn me over to the police if I told the truth. They put me out of the house. I never saw her again.”

“Oh, God, Tibor. I never knew.”

“That was the idea.”

“It’s terrible! You were only thirteen.”

“And she was sixteen. She knew better than to let it go on. She must have known I’d get caught eventually. Maybe she wanted me to get caught.” He stood and brushed the dust from his trousers. “So you see, that’s my experience with older women.”

There was a motion behind one of the windows of the house, the shadow of a woman crossing a square of light. Andras stood up beside his brother. He imagined the sculptor coming to her window, seeing them loitering there as if they were waiting to catch a glimpse of her.

“I’m not thirteen,” Andras said. “Klara’s not sixteen.”

“No, indeed,” Tibor said. “You’re adults. Which means the consequences may be graver if you get in over your heads.”

“It’s too late,” Andras said. “I’m already in over my head. I don’t know what’ll happen. I’m at her mercy.”

“I hope she’ll show some mercy, then,” Tibor said. And he used the Yiddish word rachmones, the same word that had called Andras back to himself three months earlier at the Jardin du Luxembourg.

The next morning they carried Tibor’s bags to the Gare de Lyon, just as they’d carried Andras’s bags to Nyugati Station when he’d left for Paris. Now it was Tibor going off to an unknown life in a foreign place, Tibor going off to study and work and navigate the dark passageways of a foreign language. The wind roared through the channels of the boulevards and tried to twist the suitcases from their hands; the previous day’s warm weather was gone as though they’d only dreamed it. Paris was as gray as it had been the day Andras had arrived. He wished he had an excuse to keep Tibor with him another day, another week. Tibor was right, of course. It was a foolish thing Andras had done, getting involved with Klara Morgenstern. He’d already ventured into dangerous terrain, had found himself edging along a dwindling path toward a blind corner of rock. He didn’t have the shoes for this, nor the provisions, nor the clothing, nor the foresight, nor the mental strength, nor the experience. All he had was a kind of reckless hope-something, he imagined, not unlike the hope that had sent fifteenth-century explorers hurtling off the map. Having pointed out how ill-equipped Andras was, how could Tibor now let him go on alone? How could he step onto a train and speed off to Italy, even if medical school waited at the other end? His role had always been to show Andras the way when the way was obscure-at times, in their boyhood, quite literally, his hand was Andras’s only guide in the dark. But now they had reached the Gare de Lyon; there was the train itself, black and impassive on its tracks.

“All right, then,” Tibor said. “Off I go.”

Stay, Andras wanted to say. “Good luck,” he said.

“Write to me. And don’t get in trouble. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“Good. I’ll see you before long.”

Liar, Andras wanted to say.

Tibor put a hand on Andras’s sleeve. He looked as if he meant to say something more, a few final words in Hungarian before he boarded a train full of Italian- and French-speakers, but he was silent as he glanced off toward the vast mouth of the station and the tangle of tracks that lay beyond it. He stepped up onto the train and Andras handed him his leather satchel. His silver-rimmed glasses slid down the bridge of his nose; he pushed them back with his thumb.

“Write me when you get there,” Andras said.

Tibor touched his cap and disappeared into the third-class car, and was gone.

When the train had left the station, Andras went back through the SORTIE doors and walked out into a city that no longer contained his brother. He walked on benumbed feet in the new black Oxfords his brother had brought him from Hungary. He didn’t care who passed him on the street or where he was going. If he had stepped off the curb into the air instead of down into the gutter, if he had climbed the void above the cars and between the buildings until he was looking down at the rooftops with their red-clay chimney pots, their irregular curving grid, and if he had then kept climbing until he was wading through the slough of low-lying clouds in the winter sky, he would have felt no shock or joy, no wonder or surprise, just the same leaden dampness in his limbs. His feet led him farther from his brother, westward across town to the boulevard Raspail, all the way to the École Spéciale, and in through the blue doors of the courtyard.

The yard was full of students, all of them strangely silent, standing in head-bowed clumps of three and four. A heavy stillness hung in the air above the yard. It had a palpable black presence, like a flock of crows frozen midflight. On a splintered bench in a corner Perret himself sat with his head in his hands.

This was what had happened: By way of the slow-moving provincial post, the news of Polaner’s injuries had reached Lemarque in Bayeux, where he’d fled to his parents’ farm after the attack. The letter, written by his accomplices, told him that Polaner lay in the hospital on the brink of death, bleeding from internal wounds: an account meant to hearten Lemarque, to show him that all had not been in vain, that the work of the beating had continued after the attack. Having received this letter, Lemarque had written two of his own. One he addressed to the directors of the school, claiming responsibility for what had happened and naming three other students, third- and fourth-year men, who had participated. The other he addressed to Polaner, a brief admission of remorse and love. Late at night, after he’d left both letters on the kitchen table, he’d hanged himself from a crossbeam in his parents’ barn. His father had discovered the body that morning, cold and blue as the hibernal dawn itself.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN. A Haircut

IT WAS DECIDED-first in a late-night meeting at Perret’s office, then later still at the Blue Dove-that Andras would be the one to break the news of Lemarque’s death to Polaner. Perret believed it was his own responsibility as director of the school, but Vago argued that the delicacy of the situation called for special measures; it might be easier, he said, if the news were to come from a friend. Andras and Rosen and Ben Yakov agreed, and decided among themselves that Andras should be the one to give Polaner the letter. They would wait, of course, until the doctors considered him to be out of danger; there was reason to think that time might come soon. After a second week in the hospital the symptoms and aftereffects of internal bleeding had abated. Polaner’s disorientation had passed, his bruising and swelling had receded; he could eat and drink again on his own. He would be in a weakened state for nearly a month, the doctors said, while he remade the blood that had been lost, but all agreed that he had moved back from the brink. That weekend, in fact, he appeared so well recovered that Andras dared to approach one of his doctors and explain in careful French about Lemarque. The doctor, a long-faced internist who had made Polaner’s case his special project, expressed concern about the possible effects of the shock; but because the news could not be kept from Polaner forever, the doctor agreed that it might be better to tell him while he was still in the hospital and could be closely watched.

The next day, as Andras sat in the now-familiar steel chair beside the bed, he introduced the subject of the École Spéciale for the first time since the attack. Now that Polaner was mending so well, Andras said, the doctor thought he might consider a gradual return to his schoolwork. Could Andras bring him anything from the studio-his statics texts, his drawing tools, a sketchbook?

Polaner gave Andras a look of pity and closed his eyes. “I’m not going back to school,” he said. “I’m going home to Kraków.”

Andras laid a hand on his arm. “Is that what you want?”

Polaner let out a long breath. “It’s been decided for me,” he said. “They decided it.”

“Nothing’s been decided. You’ll go back to school if you want.”

“I can’t,” Polaner said, his eyes filling with tears. “How can I face Lemarque, or any of them? I can’t go to studio and sit down at my table as if nothing happened.”

There was no use waiting any longer; Andras took the letter from his pocket and put it into Polaner’s hands. Polaner spent a long moment looking at the envelope, at his name written in Lemarque’s sharp-edged print. Then he opened the letter and flattened the single sheet against his leg. He read the six lines in which Lemarque confessed himself and begged Polaner’s pardon, both for the attack and for what he felt he must do. When he’d finished reading, he folded the note again and lay back against the pillow, his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling beneath the sheet.

“Oh, God,” he said in a half whisper. “It’s as though I killed him myself.”

Before that moment Andras had believed that his hate for Lemarque had reached its limit, that with Lemarque’s death his feelings had moved past hate toward something more like pity. But as he watched Polaner grieve, as he watched the familiar lines and planes of his friend’s face crumple under the burden of the news, he found himself shaking with anger. How much worse that Lemarque’s death had come with this confession of remorse and love! Now Polaner would always have to consider what had been lost, what might have been if the world had been a different place. Here was a cruelty beyond the attack and the death itself, a sting like that of certain fire nettles that grew on the Hajdú plain: Once the spine was in, it would work its way deeper into the wound and discharge its poison there for days, for weeks, while the victim burned.

He stayed with Polaner that night long past dark, ignoring the ward nurse’s reminder that visiting hours were over. When she insisted, he told her she would have to call the police to get rid of him; eventually the long-faced doctor interceded on Andras’s behalf, and he was allowed to stay all night and into the next morning. As he kept watch beside the bed, his mind kept returning to what Polaner had said at the Blue Dove in October: I just want to keep my head down. I want to study and get my degree. If it were in his power, he thought, he would not let Polaner’s shame and grief send him home to Kraków.

Another week passed before Polaner left the hospital. When he did, it was Andras who brought him home to his room on the boulevard Saint-Germain. He watched over Polaner’s injuries, kept him fed, took his clothes to the laundry, built up the fire in the grate when it burned low. One morning he returned from the bakery to find Polaner sitting up in bed with a drawing tablet angled against his knees; the coverlet was snowed with pencil shavings, the chair beside the bed strewn with charcoals. Andras said not a word as he deposited a pair of baguettes on the table. He prepared bread and jam and tea for Polaner and gave it to him in bed, then took a seat at Polaner’s table. And all morning the noise of Polaner’s pencil followed him through his own work like music.

Later that morning, Polaner stood before the mirror at the bureau and ran his hands over his stubble-shadowed chin. “I look like a criminal,” he said. “I look like I’ve been in jail for months.”

“You look a good deal better than you did a few weeks ago.”

“It seems absurd to think about a haircut,” he said, almost in a whisper.

“What’s absurd about it?”

“I don’t know. Everything. To begin with, I don’t know if I can sit in a barber’s chair and carry on a barbershop conversation.”

Andras stood beside Polaner at the mirror, regarding him in the glass. He himself looked neater than he had in weeks; Klara had given him a trim the night before, and had made him look something like a gentleman, though she liked his hair long.

“Look,” Andras said. “Suppose I were to ask a friend to come and cut your hair. Then you wouldn’t have to sit in a barber’s chair and trade stories with the barber.”

“What friend?” Polaner said, regarding Andras in the glass.

“A rather close friend.”

Polaner turned from the mirror to look at Andras directly. “A lady friend?”

“Exactement.”

“What lady friend, Andras? What’s been going on while I’ve been lying in bed?”

“I’m afraid this has been going on quite a while longer than that. Months, actually.”

Polaner gave Andras a fleet, shy smile; for that moment, and for the first time since the news of Lemarque’s death, he seemed to have slipped back into his own skin. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me all about it.”

“Now that I’ve mentioned it, I consider myself under an obligation.”

Polaner gestured toward a chair. “Tell,” he said.

The next night found Polaner seated on that same chair in the middle of the room, his shoulders draped in a tea towel, the mirror propped before him, while Klara Morgenstern ministered to him with scissors and comb and talked to him in her low hypnotic way. When Andras had spoken to her the night before, she had understood at once why she must do what he asked; she had cancelled her dinner plans to do it. Earlier that evening, on their way to Polaner’s, she’d held Andras’s hand with a kind of mute fervor as they crossed the Seine, her eyes downcast with what Andras imagined to be the memory of a similar grief. Now he stood near the fire and watched the locks of hair fall, silent with gratitude to this woman who understood the need to do this simple and intimate thing, to perform this act of restoration in an attic apartment on the boulevard Saint-Germain.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN. In the Tuileries

THAT SPRING, when he was not in class or tending Polaner or seeing Klara, Andras learned the design and construction of stage sets under the tutelage of Vincent Forestier. Monsieur Forestier had a studio on the rue des Gravilliers where he drafted designs and built his models; for months he had been desperately in need of a new apprentice to assist with the copying of plans, the detailed and painstaking work of model construction. Forestier was tall and heavy and mournful, with a perpetual haze of gray stubble and a habit of punctuating his utterances with shrugs of his broad shoulders, as if he himself didn’t set much store by what he was saying. It turned out that he was also a quiet genius of design. With the strictest of financial constraints and the shortest of production times, he could produce palaces and city streets and shady glens in his own incomparable style. His stage sets often metamorphosed into one another: A fairy queen’s bower might become a commandant’s office in another theater on the other side of town, and then might serve a third tour of duty as a train compartment or a hermit’s hut or a pasha’s veil-draped bed. Andras’s idea of making flats with interiors on one side and exteriors on the other was one of Forestier’s lesser tricks. He made stage sets like puzzles, stage sets that could become three or four different interiors depending upon the order in which their panels were arranged; he was a master of optical illusion. He could make an actor seem to grow or shrink as he walked across a stage, could use a subtle shift of lighting to turn a nursery into a hall of horrors. Projections of hand-colored slides could suggest distant cities or mountains, ghostly presences, memories from a character’s youth. A magic lantern made to spin by the heat of a candle could send flocks of birds rippling across a scrim. Any stage set might conceal trapdoors and rotating panels; every surface hid a mysterious interior that might hide another interior that might hide still another interior that bore a haunting resemblance to the exterior. Monsieur Forestier himself had a way of appearing and disappearing as if he were an actor within a set he’d designed; he would come in and assign Andras a task, and five minutes later he would have vanished as if into a wall, leaving Andras to puzzle through the difficulties of the design alone. After the tumult of the Sarah-Bernhardt, Andras found it solitary and at times lonely work. But at night, when he came home to his room, Klara might be waiting.

He rushed home every night hoping she’d be there; most often it was her ghost he embraced in the dark, the shadow presence that remained in his room when the real Klara was absent. It nearly drove him mad when days would pass between her visits. He knew, but didn’t want to be reminded, that while he was going to school and working and taking care of Polaner, Klara was conducting her own life. She gave dinner parties, went to the cinema and the theater, to jazz clubs and gallery openings. He conjured images of the people she met at her friends’ parties or entertained at her own-choreographers and dancers from abroad, young composers, writers, actors, wealthy patrons of the arts-and felt certain that her attention would turn away from him. If for three nights she failed to appear at the rue des Écoles, he would think, Well, it’s happened, and spend the next day in a haze of despair. If he walked out alone he resented every couple he passed on the street; if he tried to distract himself with a film he cursed the jet-haired screen goddess who crept from her husband’s train compartment to climb into her lover’s moonlit couchette. If, at the end of such a night, he came home to the rue des Écoles to find a light on in his windows, he would climb the stairs telling himself she had only come to break it off for good. Then he’d open the door and find her sitting beside the fire, reading a novel or stitching the hem of a practice dress or making tea, and she would get to her feet and put her arms around his neck, and he would be ashamed he’d doubted her.

In mid-May, when the trees wore close-fitting green singlets and the breeze from the Seine was warm even at night, Klara appeared one Saturday evening in a new spring hat, a pale blue toque with a ribbon of darker blue. A new hat, that simple thing: It was nothing more than a scrap of fashion, a sign of the changing season. Surely she’d worn a variety of hats since the red bell of their first winter embraces; he could remember a camel-colored one with a black feather, and a green cap with some sort of leather tassel. But this decidedly vernal hat, this pale blue toque, reminded him, as the others hadn’t, that time was passing for both of them, that he was still in school and she was still waiting for him, that what existed between them was an affair, gossamer and impermanent. He removed her dragonfly hatpin and hung the hat on the coat stand beside the door, then took both her hands and led her to the bed. She smiled and put her arms around him, saying his name into his ear, but he took her hands again and sat down with her.

“What is it?” she said. “What’s wrong?”

He couldn’t speak, couldn’t begin to say what had made him melancholy. He couldn’t find a way to tell her that her hat had reminded him that life was short and that he was no closer to being worthy of her than he’d ever been. So he took her into his arms and made love to her, and told himself he didn’t care if there were never anything more between them than these late-night meetings, this circumscribed affair.

The hours passed quickly; by the time they’d pried themselves from the warmth of the bed and dressed, it was nearly three o’clock. They descended the five flights of stairs to the street, then walked to the boulevard Saint-Michel to hail a cab. They always said their goodbyes on the same corner. He’d grown to hate that patch of pavement for taking her away from him night after night. During the day, when its power to strip him of her was cloaked beneath the love-ignoring clamor of everyday life, it seemed a different place; he could almost believe it was like any other street corner, a place of no particular significance. But now, at night, it was his nemesis. He didn’t want to see it-not the bookstore across the street, nor the fenced limes, nor the pharmacy with its glowing green cross: none of it. He turned with her instead down another street and they walked toward the Seine.

“Where are we going?” she said, smiling up at him.

“I’m walking you home.”

“All right,” she said. “It’s a beautiful night.” And it was. A May breeze came up the channel of the Seine as they crossed the bridges toward the Marais. The sidewalks were still full of men and women in evening clothes; no one seemed ready to give up the night. As they walked, Andras entertained the impossible fantasy that when they reached Klara’s house they would climb the stairs together and move noiselessly down the hall to her bedroom, where they would fall asleep together in her white bed. But at Number 39 they found the lights ablaze; Mrs. Apfel ran downstairs at the sound of Klara’s key and told her that Elisabet had not yet been home.

Klara’s eyes widened with panic. “It’s past three!”

“I know,” Mrs. Apfel said, twisting her apron. “I didn’t know where to find you.”

“Oh, God, what could have happened? She’s never been this late.”

“I’ve been all over the neighborhood looking for her, Madame.”

“And I’ve been out all this time! Oh, God. Three in the morning! She said she was just going to a dance with Marthe!”

A panicked hour followed, during which Klara made a series of telephone calls and learned that Marthe hadn’t seen Elisabet all night, that the hospitals had admitted no one by the name of Elisabet Morgenstern, and that the police had received no report of foul play involving a girl of Elisabet’s description. When she’d hung up the phone, Klara walked up and down the parlor, her hands on her head. “I’ll kill her,” she said, and then burst into tears. “Where is she? It’s nearly four o’ clock!”

It had occurred to Andras that Elisabet was most likely with her blond American, and that the reason for her absence was in all probability similar to the reason for Klara’s late return. He’d sworn to keep her secret; he hesitated to speak his suspicions aloud. But he couldn’t watch Klara torture herself. And besides that, it might be dangerous to hesitate. He imagined Elisabet in peril somewhere-drink-poisoned in the aftermath of one of József’s parties, or alone in a distant arrondissement after a dance-hall night gone wrong-and he knew he had to speak.

“Your daughter has a gentleman friend,” he said. “I saw them together one night at a party. We might find out where he lives, and check there.”

Klara’s eyes narrowed. “What gentleman friend? What party?”

“She begged me not to tell you,” Andras said. “I promised her I wouldn’t.”

“When did this happen?”

“Months ago,” Andras said. “January.”

“January!” She put a hand against the sofa as if to keep herself upright. “Andras, you can’t mean that.”

“I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner. I didn’t want to betray Elisabet’s trust.”

The look in her eyes was pure rage. “What is this person’s name?”

“I know his first. I don’t know his last. But your nephew knows him. We can go to his place-I’ll go up, and you can wait in the cab.”

She took up her light coat from the sofa, and a moment later they were running down the stairs. But when they opened the door they found Elisabet on the doorstep, holding a pair of evening shoes in one hand, a cone of spun-sugar candy in the other. Klara, standing in the doorway, took a long look at her, at the shoes, the cone of candy; it was clear she hadn’t come from an innocent evening with Marthe. Elisabet, in turn, cast a long look at Andras. He couldn’t hold her gaze, and in that instant she seemed to understand that he had betrayed her; she turned an expression of startled outrage upon him, then pushed past him and her mother and ran up the stairs. A few moments later they heard her bedroom door slam.

“We’ll talk later,” Klara said, and left him standing in the entryway, having earned the furious contempt of both Morgensterns.

“I think you ought to know what kind of woman my mother is,” Elisabet said.

She sat on a bench in the Tuileries and Andras stood before her; two days had passed since he’d last seen Klara, and no word had come from the rue de Sévigné. Then that afternoon, Elisabet had surprised him in the courtyard of the École Spéciale, causing Rosen and Ben Yakov to think she must be the mysterious woman he’d been seeing all that time-the woman they’d never met, whom he’d mentioned only in the vaguest terms during their conversations at the Blue Dove. When they emerged from studio and saw Elisabet standing in the courtyard, her cold eyes fixed upon Andras, her arms crossed over the bodice of her pale green dress, Rosen gave a whistle and Ben Yakov raised an eyebrow.

“She’s an Amazon,” he whispered. “How do you scale her in bed?”

Only Polaner knew this wasn’t the woman Andras loved-Polaner, who, thanks to Andras’s ministrations, and Klara’s, and the unwavering friendship of Rosen and Ben Yakov, had returned to the École Spéciale and entered his classes again. Only Polaner was privy to the secret of Andras’s relationship; though he had never met Elisabet, he knew as much about Klara’s history and family as Andras did himself. So when this tall, powerful girl had appeared in the courtyard of the École Spéciale, shooting cold electric fire in Andras’s direction, he guessed in an instant who she was. He distracted Rosen and Ben Yakov with a request for tea at the student café, seeing no other alternative but to leave Andras to his fate.

At the gates of the school, Elisabet turned and led Andras down the boulevard Raspail without a word. All the way to the Tuileries she stayed two steps ahead of him. She had drawn her hair into a tight ponytail; it beat a rhythm against her back as she walked. He followed her down Raspail to Saint-Germain, and they crossed over the river and into the Tuileries. She led him down paths awash in gold and lilac and fuchsia, through the too-fragrant profusion of May flora, until they reached what must have been the park’s only dismal corner: a black bench in need of repainting, a deflowered flowerbed. Behind them swept the rush of traffic on the rue de Rivoli. Elisabet sat down, crossed her arms again, and gave Andras a hate-laced stare.

“This won’t take long,” she said. And then she told him he ought to know what kind of woman her mother was.

“I know what kind of woman she is,” Andras said.

“You told her the truth about Paul and me. And now I’m going to tell you the truth about her.”

She was angry, he reminded himself. She would do whatever she could to hurt him, would tell whatever lies it suited her to tell. In a sense, he owed it to her to listen; he had betrayed her, after all.

“All right,” he said. “What do you want to tell me?”

“I suppose you think you’re my mother’s first lover since my father.”

“I know she’s led a complicated life,” he said. “That’s not news.”

Elisabet gave a short, hard laugh. “Complicated! I wouldn’t say so. It’s simple, once you know the pattern. I’ve seen pathetic men fawning over her for as long as I can remember. She’s always known what she wanted from them, and what she was worth. How do you think she got the apartment and the studio? By dancing her heart out?”

It was all he could do not to slap her. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands. “That’s enough,” he said. “I won’t listen to this.”

“Someone has to tell you the truth.”

“Your mother doesn’t take me for a fool, and neither should you.”

“But you are a fool, you stupid fool! She’s playing a game with you, using you to make another man jealous. A real man, an adult, one with a job and money. You can read about it yourself.” She produced a sheaf of envelopes from her leather schoolbag. A masculine hand; Klara’s name. She took out another sheaf, and another. Stacks and stacks of letters. She peeled an envelope from the top of the pile, extracted the letter, and began to read.

“‘My dear Odette.’ That’s what he calls her, his Odette, after the swan-princess in the ballet. ‘Since last night I’ve done nothing but think of you. Your taste is still in my mouth. My hands are full of you. Your scent is everywhere in my house.’”

Andras took the letter from her hand. There were the lines she’d just read, in a familiar script; he turned it over to look for the signature. One initial: Z. The envelope bore a year-old postmark.

“Who do you think it is?” Elisabet said, her eyes fixed on his own. “It’s your Monsieur Novak. Z is for Zoltán. She’s been his mistress for eleven years. And when things go sour, as they do now and then, she takes up with idiots like you to drive him mad. He always comes back. That’s how it works. Now you know.”

A wave of hot needles rolled through him. He felt as though his lungs had been punctured, as though he couldn’t draw a breath. “Are you finished?” he said.

She got up and smoothed the skirt of her pale green dress. “It might seem hard to take,” she said. “But I can assure you it’s no harder than what she’s doing to me, now that she knows about Paul.” And she left him there in the Tuileries with Novak’s letters.

He didn’t go to work. Instead he sat on the bench in that dusty corner of the park and read the letters. The oldest was dated January 1927. He read about Klara’s first meeting with Novak after a dance performance; he read about Novak’s failing struggle to stay faithful to his wife, and then he read Novak’s half-exultant self-castigation after his first tryst with Klara. There were cryptic references to places where they must have made love-an opera box, a friend’s cottage in Montmartre, a bedroom at a party, Novak’s office at the Sarah-Bernhardt; there were notes in which Novak pleaded for a meeting, and notes in which he begged her to refuse to see him the next time he asked. There were references to arguments involving crises of conscience on both sides, and then a six-month break in the regular stream of letters-a time when they must have been apart and she must have begun seeing someone else, because the next letters made angry mention of a young dancer named Marcel. (Was this the Marcel, Andras wondered, who’d written Klara those postcards from Rome?) Novak demanded that she break off the liaison with Marcel; it was absurd, he wrote, to think that that young salamander’s feelings could ever match his own. And she must have done as he wished, because the letters from Novak picked up their steady pace again, and they were once again full of affectionate reference to the time he’d spent with Klara. There were letters in which he wrote about the dance studio and the apartment he’d found for her, dull letters about the technicalities of the real-estate transaction; desperate notes about how he would leave his wife and come to live with her on the rue de Sévigné-marry her and adopt Elisabet-and sober-toned notes about why he couldn’t. Then another break, and more letters referring to another lover of Klara’s, this one a writer whose plays had been performed at the Sarah-Bernhardt; one week Novak swore that this was the final straw, that he was finished with Klara forever, but the next week he begged her to come to him, and the following week it was clear that she had done so-what sweet relief to have you again, what fulfillment of my wildest hopes. Finally, in early 1937, it seemed his wife had learned from their lawyer that they owned a piece of property she hadn’t known about; she’d confronted Novak, and he’d confessed. His wife had told him to make a choice. That was when he’d gone home to Hungary-to take a cure for a mild case of tuberculosis, as he’d told everyone, but also, in fact, to decide between his marriage and his mistress. It must have been on his way back from Hungary that Andras had met him at the train station. He’d come back full of remorse, ashamed at having wronged both Edith and Klara. He’d broken off his relations with Klara, and his wife had become pregnant. That piece of news had come in December. But the most recent letter was from just a few weeks ago, and concerned rumors that Klara had been seeing someone else-and not just anyone, but Andras Lévi, the young Hungarian whom Zoltán had hired at the Sarah-Bernhardt last fall. He demanded that she explain herself, and begged her to do so in person at a certain hotel, on a certain afternoon; he would be waiting for her.

Andras sat on the bench with the stack of letters beside him. That afternoon, two weeks earlier-what had he been doing? Had he been at work? At school? He couldn’t remember. Had she cancelled her classes, gone to meet Novak? Was she with him this very instant? He had the sudden desire to choke someone to death. Anyone would do: that brocaded matron beside the fountain with her bichon frisé; that sad-looking girl beneath the limes; the policeman on the corner whose moustache seemed grotesquely like Novak’s. He got to his feet, stuffed the letters into his bag, and walked back toward the river. It was dark now, a damp spring night. He stepped in front of cars that blared their horns at him, shouldered past men and women on the sidewalks, trudged through groups of clochards on the bridges. He didn’t know what time it was, and didn’t care. He was exhausted. He hadn’t eaten anything and wasn’t hungry. It was too late for him to show up at Forestier’s now, but he didn’t want to go home, either; there was a chance Klara might come to talk to him, and he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her. He didn’t want to confront her about Novak; he was ashamed at having read the letters, at having allowed Elisabet to do this to him. He turned away and walked off down the rue des Écoles to the place de la Sorbonne, where he sat at the edge of a fountain and listened to a one-legged accordionist playing the bitterest love songs he had ever heard. When he couldn’t stand another measure he fled to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where he fell into a fretful sleep on an elm-shadowed bench.

He awoke some time later in a humid blue dawn, his neck in a spasm from the way he’d slept. He remembered that some disaster had crushed him the night before; he could feel it rushing toward his consciousness again. And there it was: Zoltán Novak, the letters. He rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger and blinked at the morning. Before him on the grass two tiny rabbits browsed the clover. The first light of day came through the delicate endive leaves of their ears; they were so close he could hear the snip and grind of their teeth. The park was otherwise silent, and he was alone with what he knew about Klara and could not unknow.

He was right: She’d been at his apartment the night before. In fact she’d been looking for him all over town. He traced her movements through a series of increasingly anxious notes, which he received in reverse order. First the one she’d tacked to his drawing table at the studio: A, where can you be? I’ve looked everywhere. Come see me as soon as you get this. K.; next the one she’d left in the care of the good Monsieur Forestier, who was more worried than angry when Andras came to work looking like he’d spent the previous night on a bench: A, When you didn’t come home I came here to look for you. Going to check at school. K.; and finally, at the end of what felt like the longest day he’d ever lived, the note she’d left for him at home, on the table downstairs: A, I’ve gone to look for you at Forestier’s. Your K. He climbed the five flights to his attic and opened the door. In the dark, there was the clatter of a chair falling over, and Klara’s light tread on the floor, and then she was beside him. He lit a lamp and shrugged off his jacket.

“Andras,” she said. “My God, what happened to you? Where have you been?”

“I don’t want to talk,” he said. “I’m going to bed.” He couldn’t look at her. Every time he did, he saw Novak’s hands on her, his mouth on her mouth. Your taste. Nausea came at him in a towering wave, and he went to his knees beside the bed. When she put a hand on his shoulder he shrugged it away.

“What’s wrong?” she said. “Look at me.”

He couldn’t. He stripped off his shirt and trousers and crawled into bed, his face to the wall. He heard her moving through the room behind him.

“You can’t do this,” she said. “We’ve got to talk.”

“Go away,” he said.

“This is crazy. You’re acting like a child.”

“Leave me alone, Klara.”

“Not until you talk to me.”

He sat up in bed, his eyes going hot. He wouldn’t cry in front of her. Without a word, he got up and took the letters from his bag and threw them on the table.

“What are those?” she said.

“You tell me.”

She picked up one of the letters. “Where did you get these?”

“Your daughter was kind enough to deliver them. It was her way of thanking me for telling you about Paul.”

“What?”

“She thought I might want to know who else you were fucking.”

“Oh, God!” she cried. “Unbelievable. She did this?”

“‘Your taste is still in my mouth. My hands are full of you. Your scent is everywhere in my house.’” He peeled the letter off the pile and threw it at her. “Or this one: ‘But for you, my life would be darkness.’ Or this: ‘Thoughts of last night have sustained me through this terrible day. When will you come to me again?’ And this one, from two weeks ago: ‘… The Hotel St. Lazare, where I’ll be waiting.’”

“Andras, please-”

“Go to hell, Klara, go to hell! Get out of my house! I can’t look at you.”

“It’s all in the past,” she said. “I couldn’t do it anymore. I never loved him.”

“You were with him for eleven years! You slept with him three nights a week. You left two other lovers for him. You let him buy you an apartment and a studio. And you never loved him? If that’s true, is it supposed to make me feel better?”

“I told you,” she said, her voice flattened with pain. “I told you you didn’t want to know everything about me.”

He couldn’t stand to hear another word. He was exhausted and hungry and depleted, his mind a scorched pot whose contents had burned away to nothing. He almost didn’t care whether there was anything between Klara and Novak still, whether their most recent break was decisive or just one of many temporary breaks. The idea that she’d been with that man, Zoltán Novak, with his odious moustache-that he’d put his hands on her body, on her birthmarks and scars, the terrain that had seemed to belong to Andras alone, but which of course belonged only to Klara, to do with as she wished-he couldn’t stand it. And then there were the others-the dancer, the playwright-and before them there had undoubtedly been others still. They seemed to become real to him all at once, the legions of her former lovers, those men who had preceded him in his knowledge of her. They seemed to crowd the room. He could see them in their ridiculous ballet costumes and their expensive overcoats and their decorated military jackets, with their good haircuts and bad haircuts and dusty or glossy shoes, their proud or defeated-looking shoulders, their grace, their awkwardness, their variously shaped spectacles, their collective smell of leather and shaving soap and Macassar oil and plain masculine desire. Klara Morgenstern: That was what they had in common. Despite what Madame Gérard had told him, he had thought himself unique in her life, without precedent, but the truth was that he was a foot soldier in an army of lovers, and once he’d fallen there would be others to replace him, and others after that. It was too much. He pulled the quilt over his shoulder and put an arm across his eyes. She said his name again in her low familiar voice. He remained silent, and she said it again. He wouldn’t make a sound. After a while he heard her get up and put on her coat, and then he heard the door open and close. On the other side of the wall a pair of new neighbors began to make noisy love. The woman called out in a breathy contralto; the man grunted in basso. Andras ground his face into pillow, wild with grief, thinking of nothing, wishing to God he were dead.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN. The Stone Cottage

BY THE NEXT MORNING he was dizzy with fever. Heat poured out of him and soaked the bed; then he was shaking with chills beneath his blanket and his jacket and his overcoat and three wool sweaters. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t get up for work, couldn’t go to school. When he got thirsty he drank the cold remains of tea straight from the kettle. When he had to piss he used the chamber pot beneath the bed. On the morning of the second day, when Polaner came looking for him, he didn’t have the strength to tell him to leave, though all he wanted was to be alone. Now it was Polaner who stepped into the role of nurse; he did it as though he’d done it all his life. He made Andras get out of bed and wash himself. He emptied the chamber pot, changed Andras’s sheets. He boiled water and brewed strong tea; he sent the concierge for soup and made Andras eat it. When Andras was clean and dressed and lying exhausted on the freshly made bed, Polaner made him tell him exactly what had happened. He took it all in with careful attention, and judged the situation grave, though not hopeless. The important thing now, he said, was for Andras to get well. There were two projects to be finished for studio. If he couldn’t get out of bed and get back to work, Polaner would suffer for it: They were team projects, and he and Andras were the team. Then there were exams to prepare for: statics and history of architecture. They would be given in ten days’ time. If Andras failed, he would lose his scholarship and be sent home. There was also the small matter of Andras’s job. For two days he’d sent no word to Monsieur Forestier.

Polaner said he would gather their things from the studio-Andras was too depleted from the fever to make the trip to the boulevard Raspail-and they would work on their projects all day. In the afternoon Polaner would go to the set-design studio with a note from Andras begging Monsieur Forestier’s pardon. Polaner would offer to do Andras’s copy work that night. In the meantime Andras would lay out a plan of study for the statics and the history exams.

He had never had a friend like Polaner, and would never have a better one as long as he lived. By the next day his job was secure, his final projects on their way to completion. They had to draw plans for a single-use building, a modern concert hall, and there were still problems to solve in the design: They had chosen a cylindrical shape for the exterior, and had to design a ceiling inside that would send the sound toward the audience without echo or distortion. When they were finished with the plans they would have to build a model. Arranging and rearranging cardboard forms consumed an entire day and night. Polaner didn’t mention going home; he slept on the floor, and was there when Andras woke in the morning.

At half past ten, just as Polaner was getting ready to go home, they heard a rising tread on the stairs. It seemed to Andras as if someone were climbing his very spine, toward the black and painful cavern of his heart. They heard a key in the lock, and the door edged open; it was Klara, her eyes dark beneath the brim of her spring hat.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know you had company.”

“Monsieur Polaner is on his way home,” Polaner said. “Monsieur Lévi has had enough of me for now. I taxed his brain with architecture all night, though he was still recovering from a fever.”

“A fever?” Klara said. “Has the doctor been here?”

“Polaner’s been taking care of me,” Andras said.

“I’ve been a poor doctor,” Polaner said. “He looks like he’s lost weight. I’ll be off before I do any further damage.” He put on his own spring hat, of such a fashionable shape and color that you could miss the place where he’d resewn the brim to the crown, and he slipped into the hall, closing the door quietly behind him.

“A fever,” Klara said. “Are you feeling better now?”

He didn’t answer. She sat down in the wooden chair and touched the cardboard walls of the concert hall. “I should have told you about Zoltán,” she said. “This was a terrible way for you to find out. And there might have been worse ways. You worked together. Marcelle knew.”

He hated to think of it, of Madame Gérard knowing all and seeing all. “It was a bad enough way to find out,” he said.

“I want you to know it’s over,” Klara said. “I didn’t see him two weeks ago, and I won’t if he asks again.”

“I’m sure you’ve said that every time.”

“You have to believe me, Andras.”

“You’re still tied to him. You live in the house he bought you.”

“He made the down payment for me,” Klara said. “But I paid for the rest. Elisabet doesn’t know the details of our finances. Perhaps she doesn’t want to believe I support us. That would make it difficult for her to justify the way she behaves toward me.”

“But you did love him,” Andras said. “You still do. You took up with me to make him jealous, just as you did with those others. Marcel. And that writer, Édouard.”

“It’s true that when Zoltán turned away from me, I didn’t sit home alone. Not for long, in any case. When he claimed to be moving on with his life, I moved on with mine. But I didn’t care for Marcel or Édouard the way I cared for him, so I went back.”

“So it’s true, then,” Andras said. “You do love him.”

She sighed. “I don’t know. Zoltán and I are very close, or we were, once. But we didn’t give ourselves to each other. He couldn’t, because of what he felt for Edith; and I didn’t, also because of that. In the end I decided I didn’t want to be someone’s mistress for the rest of my life. And he decided we couldn’t keep on with it if he and Edith were to have a child.”

“And now?”

“I haven’t seen him since we made those decisions. Since November.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Sometimes,” she said, and folded her hands between her knees. “He was a dear friend, and he’s been a great help with Elisabet. She’s fond of him, too, or was. He’s the closest thing she’s had to a father. When we decided to end it, she felt as though he’d left both of us. She blamed me for it. I think she hoped I was seeing him again, those nights when I was with you.”

“And what now? What if he asks you again? You were together for eleven years, nearly a third of your life.”

“It’s finished, Andras. You’re in my life now.”

“Am I?” he said. “I thought you were finished with me. I didn’t know if you could forgive me for keeping Elisabet’s business from you.”

“I don’t know if I can,” she said, without a hint of humor. “Elisabet had no right to put you in that position, but once she did, you should have told me immediately. The man is five years older than she is-a rich American, studying painting at the Beaux-Arts on a lark. Not someone who’s likely to treat her kindly, or take her seriously. And worse than that, he knows my nephew.”

“You can hardly hold that against him,” Andras said. “I believe your nephew knows everyone between the ages of sixteen and thirty in the Quartier Latin.”

“In any case, it’s got to stop. I don’t intend to let that young man prove himself dishonorable.”

“And what about what Elisabet wants?”

“I’m afraid that’s beside the point.”

“But Elisabet won’t see it that way. If you oppose her, she’ll only become more resolved.”

Klara shook her head. “Don’t try to tell me how to raise that child, Andras.”

“I don’t claim to know how. But I do know how I felt at sixteen.”

“I told myself that was why you’d kept her secret,” Klara said. “I knew you felt a certain empathy with her, and I think it’s rather sweet of you, actually. But you’ve got to imagine my position, too.”

“I see. So you’ve put an end to things between Elisabet and Paul.”

“I hope so,” Klara said. “And I’ve punished her for showing you those letters.” Her brow folded into a familiar set of creases. “She seemed rather pleased with herself when she saw how upset I was about that. She told me I had gotten what I deserved. I’ve placed her under a kind of house arrest. Mrs. Apfel is keeping watch while I’m gone. Elisabet is not to go out until she writes you a letter of apology.”

“She’ll never do it. She’ll grow old and die first.”

“That will be her decision,” Klara said.

But he knew Elisabet wouldn’t remain bound by Klara’s house arrest for long, Mrs. Apfel notwithstanding. She’d soon find a way to escape, and he worried that when she did she’d leave no forwarding address. He didn’t want to be responsible for that.

“Let me come tomorrow and speak to her,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s any point.”

“Let me try.”

“She won’t see you. She’s been in a vicious mood.”

“It can’t have been as bad as my own.”

“You know what she’s like, Andras. She can be beastly.”

“I know. But she’s still just a girl, after all.”

Klara gave a deep sigh. “And what now?” she said, looking up at him from her chair. “What do we do, after all this?”

He ran a hand over the back of his neck. The question had been in his mind. “I don’t know, Klara. I don’t know. I’m going to sit down here on the bed. You can sit beside me if you like.” He waited until she sat beside him, and then he continued. “I’m sorry about the way I spoke to you the other night,” he said. “I acted as though you’d been unfaithful to me, but you haven’t, have you?”

“No,” she said, and put a hand on his knee, where it burned like a feverish bird. “What I feel for you would make that impossible. Or absurd, at the very least.”

“How is that, Klara? What is it you feel for me?”

“It may take me some time to answer that question,” she said, and smiled.

“I can’t be what he was. I can’t give you a place to live, or be anything like a father to Elisabet.”

“I have a place to live,” she said. “And Elisabet, though she’s still a child in many ways, will soon be grown. I don’t need now what I needed then.”

“What do you need now?”

She drew in her mouth in her pensive way. “I’m not certain, exactly. But I can’t seem to stand to be away from you. Even when I’m livid with anger at you.”

“There’s still a great deal I don’t know about you.” He stroked the curve of her back; he could feel the glowing coals of her vertebrae through her thin jersey.

“I hope there’ll be time to learn.”

He drew her down with him onto the bed, and she put her head on his shoulder. He ran his hand along the warm dark length of her hair and took its upturned ends between his fingers. “Let me talk to Elisabet,” he said. “If we’re to continue with this, I can’t have her hate me. And I can’t hate her.”

“All right,” Klara said. “You’re welcome to try.” She rolled over onto her back and looked up at the slope of the ceiling, with its water stains in the shape of fish and elephants. “I was terrible to my mother, too,” she said. “It’s foolish to pretend I wasn’t.”

“We’re all terrible to our parents at sixteen.”

“Not you, I’m sure,” she said, her eyelids closing. “You love your parents. You’re a good son.”

“I’m here in Paris while they’re in Konyár.”

“That’s not your fault. Your parents worked so you could go to school, and they wanted you to come here. You write to them every week. They know you love them.”

He hoped she was right. It had been nine months since he’d seen them. Still, he could feel a fine cord stretched between them, a thin luminous fiber that ran from his chest all the way across the continent and forked into theirs. Never before had he lived through a fever without his mother; when he’d been sick in Debrecen she’d taken the train to be with him. Never had he finished a year at school without knowing that soon he’d be home with his father, working beside him in the lumberyard and walking through the fields with him in the evening. Now there was another filament, one that linked him to Klara. And Paris was her home, this place thousands of kilometers from his own. He felt the stirring of a new ache, something like homesickness but located deeper in his mind; it was an ache for the time when his heart had been a simple and satisfied thing, small as the green apples that grew in his father’s orchard.

For the first time ever, he went to see József Hász at school. The Beaux-Arts was a vast urban palace, a monument to art for art’s sake; it made the humble courtyard and studios of the École Spéciale look like something a few boys had thrown together in an empty lot. He entered through a floriated wrought-iron gate between two stern figures carved in stone, and crossed a sculpture garden packed with perfect marble specimens of kore and kouros, straight from his art history textbook, staring into the distance with empty almond-shaped eyes. He climbed the marble entry stairs of a three-story Romanesque building and found himself in a hallway teeming with young men and women, all of them dressed with careful offhandedness. A list of studio assignments bore József’s name; a map told him where to look. He went upstairs to a classroom with a sloping north-facing ceiling made all of glass. There, among rows of students intent on their paintings, József was applying varnish to a canvas that at first glance seemed to depict three smashed bees lying close to the black abyss of a drain. Upon closer inspection, the bees turned out to be black-haired women in black-striped yellow dresses.

József didn’t seem much surprised to see Andras at his painting studio. He raised a cool eyebrow and continued varnishing. “What are you doing here, Lévi?” he asked. “Don’t you have projects of your own to finish? Are you slacking off for the day? Did you come to make me have a drink in the middle of the morning?”

“I’m looking for that American,” Andras said. “That person who was at your party. Paul.”

“Why? Are you dueling with him over his statuesque girlfriend?” He kicked the easel of the student across from him, and the student gave a shout of protest.

“You imbecile, Hász,” said Paul, for that was who it was. He stepped out from behind the canvas with a paintbrush full of burnt umber, his long equine features tightened with annoyance. “You made me give my maenad a moustache.”

“I’m sure it’ll only improve her.”

“Lévi again,” Paul said, nodding at Andras. “You go to school here?”

“No. I came to talk to you.”

“I think he wants to fight you for that strapping girl,” József said.

“Hász, you’re hilarious,” Paul said. “You should take that act on tour.”

József blew him a kiss and went back to his varnishing.

Paul took Andras’s arm and led him to the studio door. “Sometimes I can stand that jackass and sometimes I can’t,” he said as they descended the stairs. “Today I can’t, particularly.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you at studio,” Andras said. “I didn’t know where else to find you.”

“I hope you’ve come to tell me what’s going on,” Paul said. “I haven’t seen Elisabet for days. I assume her mother’s keeping her at home after that late night we had. But maybe you’ve got more information.” He gave Andras a sideways glance. “I understand you’ve got something going with Madame Morgenstern.”

“Yes,” Andras said. “I suppose you could say we’ve got something going.” They had reached the front doors of the building and sat down outside on the marble steps. Paul searched his pocket for a cigarette and lit it with a monogrammed lighter.

“So?” he said. “What’s the news, then?”

“Elisabet’s been confined to her room,” Andras said. “Her mother won’t let her out until she apologizes to me.”

“For what?”

“Never mind. It’s complicated. The thing is, Elisabet won’t apologize. She’d rather die.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, I’m afraid I’m the one who blew the whistle on the two of you. When Elisabet was out late the other night, her mother was frantic. I had to tell her Elisabet might be with you. Now it’s all out in the open. And her mother didn’t take kindly to the idea of her having a gentleman friend.”

Paul took a long draw of his cigarette and blew a gray cloud into the courtyard. “I’m relieved, to tell you the truth,” he said. “The secrecy was getting a little stifling. I’m wild about the girl, and I hate”-he seemed to search his mind for the French phrase-“sneaking around. I like to be the guy in the white cowboy hat. Do you understand me? Are you a fan of the American western?”

“I’ve seen a few,” Andras said. “Dubbed in Hungarian, though.”

Paul laughed. “I didn’t know they did that.”

“They do.”

“So you’re here on a peace mission? You want to help us, now that you’ve mucked everything up?”

“Something like that. I’d like to act as a go-between. To earn Elisabet’s trust again, if you will. I can’t have her hate me forever. Not if her mother and I are going to keep seeing each other.”

“What’s the plan, then?”

“You can’t pay a visit to Elisabet, but I can. I’m sure she’d want to hear from you. I thought you might want to send a note.”

“What if her mother finds out?”

“I plan to tell her,” Andras said. “I predict she’ll come around to you eventually.”

Paul took a long American drag on his cigarette, seeming to consider the proposition. Then he said, “Listen to me, Lévi. I’m serious about this girl. She’s like no one else I know. I hope this isn’t just going to make things worse.”

“At the moment, I’m not sure they could get much worse.”

Paul stubbed his cigarette against the marble step, then kicked it down into the dirt. “All right,” he said. “Wait here. I’ll go write a note.” He got to his feet and offered Andras a hand up. Andras stood and waited, watching a pair of finches browse for seeds in a clump of lavender. He looked over his shoulder to make sure no one saw him, took out his pocketknife, and cut a sheaf of stems. A length of cotton string torn from the strap of his canvas satchel served to tie them. A few minutes later, Paul came downstairs with a kraft envelope in his hand.

“There’s a note,” Paul said, and handed it to him. “Good luck to us both.”

“Here goes nothing,” Andras said. His sole English phrase.

When he arrived the next day at noon, Klara was teaching a private student. It was Mrs. Apfel who opened the door. Her white apron was stained with purple juice, and she had a pair of bruised-looking moons under her eyes, as though she hadn’t slept in days. She gave Andras a tired frown; she seemed to expect nothing from him but more trouble.

“I’m here to see Elisabet,” Andras said.

Mrs. Apfel shook her head. “You’d better go home.”

“I’d like to speak to her,” he said. “Her mother knows why I’m here.”

“Elisabet won’t see you. She’s locked herself in her room. She won’t come out. Won’t even eat.”

“Let me try,” Andras said. “It’s important.”

She knit her ginger-colored eyebrows. “Believe me, you don’t want to try.”

“Give me a tray for her. I’ll take it in.”

“You won’t have any better luck than the rest of us,” she said, but she turned and led him up the stairs. He followed her into the kitchen, where a fallen blueberry cake stood cooling on an iron rack. He stood over it and breathed its scent as Mrs. Apfel made an omelet for Elisabet. She cut a fat slice of the cake and set it on a plate with a square of butter.

“She hasn’t eaten a thing in two days,” Mrs. Apfel said. “We’re going to have to get the doctor here before long.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Andras said. He took the tray and went down the hall to Elisabet’s room, where he knocked the corner of the tray twice against the closed door. From within, silence.

“Elisabet,” he said. “It’s Andras. I brought your lunch.”

Silence.

He set the tray down in the hall, took Paul’s envelope from his bag, pressed it flat, and slipped it under Elisabet’s door. For a long while he heard nothing. Then a faint scraping, as though she were drawing the note closer. He listened for the rustle of paper. There it was. More silence followed. Finally she opened the door, and he stepped in and set the tray on her little desk. She gave the food a contemptuous glance but wouldn’t look at Andras at all. Her hair was a dun-colored tangle, her face raw and damp. She wore a wrinkled nightgown and red socks with holes in the toes.

“Close the door,” she said.

He closed the door.

“How did you get that letter?”

“I went to see Paul. I thought he’d want to know what had happened to you. I thought he might want to send you a note.”

She gave a shuddering sigh and sat down on the bed. “What does it matter?” she said. “My mother’s never going to let me leave the house again. It’s all over with Paul.” When she raised her eyes to him there was a look he’d never seen in them before: grim, exhausted defeat.

Andras shook his head. “Paul doesn’t think it’s all over. He wants to meet your mother.”

Elisabet’s eyes filled with tears. “She’ll never meet him,” she said.

She was exactly Mátyás’s age, Andras thought. She would have cut her teeth when he’d cut his teeth, walked at the same time, learned to write during the same school year. But she was no one’s sister. She had no age-mate in that house, no one she could think of as an ally. She had no one with whom to divide the intensity of her mother’s scrutiny and love.

“He wants to know you’re all right,” Andras said. “If you write back to him, I’ll take the note.”

“Why would you?” she demanded. “I’ve been so hateful to you!” And she put her head against her knees and cried-not from remorse, it seemed to him, but from sheer exhaustion. He sat down in the desk chair beside the bed, looking out the window into the street below, where one set of posters touted the Jardin des Plantes and another set advertised Abel Gance’s J’accuse, which had just opened at the Grand Rex. He would wait as long as she wanted to cry. He sat beside her in silence until she was finished, until she’d wiped her nose on her sleeve and pushed her hair back with a damp hand. Then he asked, as gently as possible, “Don’t you think it’s time to eat something?”

“Not hungry,” she said.

“Yes, you are.” He turned to the tray of food on the desk and spread the butter on the blueberry cake, took the napkin and laid it on Elisabet’s knees, set the tray before her on the bed. A quiet moment passed; from below they could hear the triple-beat lilt of a waltz, and Klara’s voice as she counted out the steps for her private student. Elisabet picked up her fork. She didn’t set it down again until she’d eaten everything on the tray. Afterward she put the tray on the floor and took a piece of notepaper from the desk. While Andras waited, she scribbled something on a page of her school notebook with a blunt pencil. She tore it out, folded it in half, and thrust it into his hand.

“There’s your apology,” she said. “I apologized to you and to my mother, and to Mrs. Apfel for being so awful to her these past few days. You can leave it on my mother’s writing desk in the sitting room.”

“Do you want to send a note to Paul?”

She bit the end of the pencil, tore out a new piece of paper. After a moment she threw a glare at Andras. “I can’t write it while you’re watching me,” she said. “Go wait in the other room until I call you.”

He took the tray and the cleaned plates and brought them to the kitchen, where Mrs. Apfel stared in speechless amazement. He delivered the apology to Klara’s writing table. Finally he went to the bedroom and set the little bunch of lavender in a glass on Klara’s bedside table with a four-word note of his own. Then he went into the sitting room to wait for Elisabet’s note, and to gather his thoughts about what he’d say to Klara.

In August, Monsieur Forestier closed his set design studio for a three-week holiday. Elisabet went to Avignon with Marthe, whose family had a summer home there; they wouldn’t be back until the first of September. Mrs. Apfel went once again to her daughter’s house in Aix. And Klara wrote a note to Andras, telling him to come to the rue de Sévigné with enough clothing for a twelve-day stay.

He packed a bag, his chest tight with joy. The rue de Sévigné, that apartment, those sunlit rooms, the house where he’d lived with Klara in December: Now it would be theirs again for nearly two weeks. He’d longed for that kind of time with her. In the first month after he’d found out about Novak, he had lived in a state of near-constant dread; despite Klara’s reassurances, he could never shake the fear that Novak would call to her and she would go to him. The dread abated as July passed and there was no word from Novak, no sign that Klara would abandon Andras for his sake. At last he began to trust her, and even to envision a future with her, though the details were still obscure. He began to spend Sundays at her house again, and more pleasantly than in the past: His diplomacy with Elisabet had earned him her reluctant gratitude, and she could sit with him for an hour without insulting him or mocking his imperfect French. Though Klara had been furious at first when Andras had told her of his role as go-between, she had nonetheless been impressed with the change he’d brought about in Elisabet. He had made an earnest argument for Paul’s merits, and finally Klara had relented and invited Elisabet’s gentleman friend to lunch. Before long, a delicate peace had emerged; Paul had impressed Klara with his knowledge of contemporary art, his good-natured courtliness, his unfailing patience with Elisabet.

Now another milestone was approaching: the first time Andras would celebrate a birthday in Paris. In late August he would turn twenty-three. As he packed his suitcase he imagined drinking champagne with Klara on the rue de Sévigné, the two of them sweetly alone, a reprise of their winter idyll. But when he arrived at her house that morning there was a black Renault parked at the curb, its top folded down. Two small suitcases stood beside the car; a scarf and goggles lay on the driver’s seat. Klara stepped out of the house, shading her eyes against the sun; she wore a motoring duster, canvas boots, driving gloves. She had gathered her hair into two bunches at the back of her head.

“What’s this all about?” Andras said.

“Put your things in the trunk,” Klara said, throwing him the keys. “We’re going to Nice.”

“To Nice? In this car? We’re driving this car?”

“Yes, in this car.”

He gave a shout, climbed over the car, and took her in his arms. “You can’t have done this,” he said.

“I did. It’s for your birthday. We have a cottage by the sea.”

Though he knew in theory that cars and cottages could be hired, it seemed almost impossible to believe that Klara had in actuality hired a car, and that, having the car in their possession, they could simply fill its tank with gas and drive to a cottage in Nice. No struggling with baggage in a train station, no crowded third-class rail carriage smelling of smoke and sandwiches and sweating passengers, no search for a cab or horse cart at the other end of the line. Just Andras and Klara in this tiny beetle-black car. And then a house where they would be alone together. What luxury; what freedom. They piled their suitcases into the car, and Klara put on her scarf and driving goggles.

“How do you know how to drive?” he asked her as they pulled away toward the rue des Francs-Bourgeois. “Do you know everything?”

“Nearly everything,” she said. “I don’t know Portuguese or Japanese, and I can’t make brioche, and I’m a terrible singer. But I do know how to drive. My father taught me when I was a girl. We used to practice in the country, near my grandmother’s house in Kaba.”

“I hope you’ve driven more recently than that.”

“Not often. Why? Are you afraid?”

“I don’t know,” Andras said. “Should I be?”

“You’ll find out soon!”

From the rue du Pas de la Mule she turned onto the boulevard Beaumarchais and merged effortlessly into the traffic encircling the Bastille. She picked up the boulevard Bourdon; they crossed the Seine at Pont d’Austerlitz and shot off toward the south. Andras’s cap threatened to fly away, and he had to hold it to his head with one hand. They motored through the seemingly endless suburbs of Paris (Who lived in these distant neighborhoods, these balconied three-story buildings? Whose washing was that on the line?) and then out into the gold haze and the rolling green pastures of the countryside. Sturdy sheep and goats stood in bitten-down grass. Beside a farmhouse, children beat at the exoskeleton of a rusted Citroën with sticks and spades. A clutter of chickens crowded into the roadway and Klara had to blast them with a ga-zoo-bah! from the Renault’s horn. Tall feathery lindens whipped by, each with its fleeting rush of sound. For lunch they stopped beside a meadow and ate cold chicken and an asparagas salad and a peach tart that attracted yellowjackets. At Valence a thunderstorm overtook them and threw a hard slant of rain into the car before they could raise the roof; as they drove on, the windshield became so clouded with steam that they had to stop and wait for the storm to pass. It was nearly sunset when, after passing through a thirty-mile stretch of olive groves, they crested a hill and began to descend toward the edge of the earth. That was how it looked to Andras, who had never before seen the sea. As they drew closer it became a vast plain of liquid metal, a superheated infinity of molten bronze. But the air grew cooler with their approach, and the grasses along the road bent their seed pods in a rising wind. They reached a stretch of sand just as the red lozenge of the sun dissolved into the horizon. Klara stopped the car at an empty beach and turned off the motor. At the margin of the water, a pounding roar and a cataclysm of foam. Without a word they got out of the car and walked toward that ragged white edge.

Andras cuffed his pants and stepped into the water. When a wave rolled in, the ground slid away beneath his feet and he had to catch Klara’s arm to keep from falling. He knew that feeling, that powerful and frightening tidal pull: It was Klara, her draw upon him, her inevitability in his life. She laughed and went to her knees in the waves, letting them wash over her body and render her blouse transparent; when she stood, her skirt was decorated with seaweed. He wanted to lay her down on the cooling stones and have her right there, but she ran back across the beach toward the car, calling for him to come.

After they’d driven through the town with its white hotels, its glittering curvelet of sea, they turned onto a road so rutted and rocky it threatened to disembowel the Renault. At the top of the road, a crumbling stone cottage stood in a tiny garden surrounded by gorse. The key was in a bird’s nest above the door. They dragged their suitcases inside and fell onto the bed, too exhausted now to consider lovemaking or dinner preparations or anything besides sleep. When they awoke it was velvet dark. They fumbled for kerosene lanterns, ate the cheese and bread that had been intended for breakfast the next morning. A slow-moving fog obscured the stars. Klara had forgotten her nightgown. Andras discovered that he was allergic to some plant in the garden; his eyes burned, and he sneezed and sneezed. They spent a restless night listening to the door rattling against its jamb, the wind soughing between the window frame and the sill, the endless gripe and creak of nighttime insects. When Andras woke in the gray haze of early morning, his first thought was that they could simply get into the car and return to Paris if they wanted. But here was Klara beside him, a scattering of sand grains in the fine hair at her temple; they were at Nice and he had seen the Mediterranean. He went outside to shoot a long arc of asparagus-scented urine out over the back garden. Inside again, he curled against Klara and fell into his deepest sleep of the night, and when he awoke for the second time there was a block of hot sunlight in bed with him where she had been. God, he was hungry; he felt as if he hadn’t eaten in days. From outside he heard the snick of gardening shears. Without bothering to don a shirt or trousers or even a pair of undershorts, he went out to find Klara removing a cluster of tall flowers that looked like close-crocheted doilies.

“Wild carrot,” she said. “That’s what made you sneeze last night.” She was wearing a sleeveless red cotton dress and a straw hat; her arms glowed gold in the sunlight. She wiped her brow with a handkerchief and stood to look at Andras in the doorway. “Au naturel,” she observed.

Andras made a fig leaf of his hand.

“I think I’m finished gardening,” she said, and smiled.

He went back to the bed, which lay in a windowed alcove from which he could see a slice of Mediterranean. Eons passed before she came in and washed her hands. He had forgotten how hungry he’d been when he first awakened. He had forgotten everything else in the world. She removed her shoes and climbed onto the bed, leaning over him. Her dark hair burned with absorbed sunlight, and her breath was sweet: She’d been eating strawberries in the garden. The red veil of her dress fell over his eyes.

Outside, three pygmy goats stepped out of the gorse and ate all the clipped flowers and a good many half-grown lettuces and an empty cardboard matchbook and Klara’s forgotten handkerchief. They liked to visit this cottage; intriguing and unfamiliar things often appeared in the yard. As they sniffed the tires of the Renault, a burst of human noise from the cottage made them raise their ears: two voices calling out and calling out inside the house.

Far below the cottage, silent from that high vantage point, lay the town of Nice with its blinding white beaches. In Nice you could swim in the rolling sea. You could eat at a café by the beach. You could sleep in a rented lounge chair on the pebbled strand or stroll through the colonnade of a hotel. For five francs you could watch a film projected onto the blank wall of a warehouse. You could buy armloads of roses and carnations at a covered flower market. You could tour the ruins of Roman baths at Cemenelum and eat a picnic lunch on a hill overlooking the port. You could buy art supplies for half what they cost in Paris. Andras bought a sketchbook and twelve good pencils with leads of varying density. In the afternoons, while Klara practiced ballet, he practiced drawing. First he drew their cottage until he knew every stone and every roof angle. Then he razed the cottage in his mind and began to plan the house they could build on that land. The land had a gentle slope; the house would have two stories, one of them invisible from the front. Its roofline would lie close to the hillside and be covered with sod; they would grow lavender thick and sweet in that layer of earth. He would build the house of rough-cut limestone. He would abandon the hard geometry of his professors’ designs and allow the house to lie against the hillside like a shoulder of rock revealed by wind. On the sea-facing side, he would set sliding glass doors into the limestone. There would be a practice room for Klara. There would be a studio for himself. There would be sitting rooms and guest rooms, rooms for the children they might have. There would be a stone-paved area behind the house, large enough for a dining table and chairs. There would be a terraced garden where they would grow cucumbers and tomatoes and herbs, squashes and melons; there would be a pergola for grapes. He didn’t dare to guess how much it might cost to buy a piece of land like that or to build the house he’d designed, or whether the building council of Nice would let him do it. The house didn’t exist in a reality that included money or seaside zoning laws. It was a perfect phantom that became more clearly visible the longer they stayed. By day, as he walked the scrubby perimeter of the garden, he laid out those sea-lit rooms; by night, lying awake at Klara’s side, he paved the patio and terraced the hillside for the garden. But he didn’t show his drawings to Klara, or tell her what he was doing while she practiced. Something about the project made him cautious, self-protective; perhaps it was the vast gulf between the harmonious permanence the house suggested and the complicated uncertainty of their lives.

At the stone cottage they lived for the first time like husband and wife. Klara bought food in the village and they cooked together; Andras spoke to her about his plans for the next year, how he might work as an intern at the architecture firm that employed Pierre Vago. She told him of her own plans to hire an assistant teacher from the ranks of young dancers from abroad. She wanted to do for someone what Novak and Forestier had done for Andras. They talked as they dawdled along the road that led to town; they talked after sunset in the dark garden, sitting on wooden chairs they’d dragged out of the house. They bathed each other in a tin tub in the middle of the cottage floor. They set out vegetables and bread for the pygmy goats, and one of the goats gave them milk. They discussed the names of their children: the girl would be Adèle, the boy Tamás. They swam in the sea and ate lemon ices and made love. And on the flat dirt roads that ran along the beaches, Klara taught Andras to drive.

On his first day out he stalled and stalled the Renault until he was blind with rage. He jumped out of the car and accused Klara of teaching him improperly, of trying to make an ass of him. Without surrendering her own calm, she climbed into the driver’s seat, gave him a wink, and drove off, leaving him fuming in the dust. By the time he’d walked the two miles back to the cottage, he was sunburned and contrite. The next day he stalled only twice; the day after that he drove without a stall. They followed the hillside road down to the Promenade des Anglais and drove along the sea all the way to Cannes. He loved the press of the curves, loved the vision of Klara with her white scarf flying. On their way back he drove more slowly, and they watched the sailboats drifting over the water like kites. He navigated the tricky hill up to the cottage without a stall. When they reached the garden, Klara got out and cheered. That night, the eve of his birthday, he drove her into town for drinks at the Hôtel Taureau d’Or. She wore a sea-green dress that revealed her shoulders, and a glittering hairpin in the shape of a starfish. Her skin had deepened to a dusky gold on the beach. Most beautiful of all were her feet in their Spanish sandals, her toes revealed in their shy brown beauty, her nails like chips of pink nacre. On the deck of the Taureau d’Or he told her he loved seeing her feet bare in public.

“It’s so risqué,” he said. “You seem thrillingly naked.”

She gave him a sad smile. “You should have seen them when I was en pointe every day. They were atrocious. You can’t imagine what ballet does to the feet.” She turned her glass in careful rings on the wooden table. “I wouldn’t have worn sandals for a million pengő.”

“I would have paid two million to see you wear them.”

“You didn’t have two million. You were a schoolboy at the time.”

“I’d have found a way to earn it.”

She laughed and slipped a finger under the cuff of his shirt, smoothed the skin of his wrist. It was torture to be beside her all day like this. The more he had of her, the more he wanted. Worst of all were the times on the beach, where she wore a black maillot and a bathing cap with white racing stripes. She’d turn over on her rattan beach mat and there would be silvery grains of sand dusting her breasts, the soft rise of her pubis, the smooth skin of her thighs. He had spent most of their time on the beach shielding his erection from public view with the aid of a book or towel. The previous afternoon he’d watched her execute neat dives from a wooden tower at this very beach; he could see the tower now, ghostly in the moonlight, a skeleton standing in the sea.

“I think we ought to stay here always,” he said. “You can teach ballet in Nice. I can finish my studies by correspondence.”

A veil of melancholy seemed to fall over her features. She took a sip of her drink. “You’re turning twenty-three,” she said. “That means I’ll be thirty-two soon. Thirty-two. The more I think about it, the more it begins to seem like an old woman’s age.”

“That’s nonsense,” Andras said. “The last Hungarian women’s swimming champion was thirty-three when she won her gold medal in Munich. My mother was thirty-five when Mátyás was born.”

“I feel as if I’ve lived such a long time already,” she said. “Those days when I wouldn’t have worn sandals for a million pengő-” She paused and smiled, but her eyes were sad and faraway. “So many years ago! Seventeen years!”

This wasn’t about him, he understood. It was about her own life, about how everything had changed when she’d become pregnant with her daughter. That was what had caused the veil to fall. When the waiter came she ordered absinthe for both of them, a drink she chose only when she was sad and wanted to be lifted away from the world.

But absinthe didn’t have the same effect on him; it tended to play dirty tricks on his mind. He told himself it might be different here at Nice, at this dreamlike hotel bar overlooking the beach, but it wasn’t long before the wormwood began to do its poisonous work. A gate swung open and paranoia elbowed through. If Klara was melancholy now, it wasn’t because she’d lost her life in ballet; it was because she’d lost Elisabet’s father. Her one great love. The single monumental secret she’d never told him. Her feelings for Andras were chaff by comparison. Even her eleven-year relationship with Novak hadn’t been able to break the spell. Madame Gérard knew it; Elisabet herself knew it; even Tibor had guessed it in the space of an hour, while Andras had failed to recognize it for months and months. How absurd of him to have spent the summer worrying about Novak when the real threat was this phantom, the only man who would ever have Klara’s heart. The fact that she could sit here in a sea-green dress and those sandals, calmly drinking absinthe, pretending she might someday be Andras’s wife, and then allow herself to be pulled back to wherever she’d been pulled-by him, no doubt, that nameless faceless man she’d loved-made him want to take her by the shoulders and shake her until she cried.

“God, Andras,” she said finally. “Don’t look at me that way.”

“What way?”

“You look as if you want to kill me.”

Her limpid gray eyes. The glitter of the starfish in her hair. Her child-sized hands on the table. He was more afraid of her, of what she could do to him, than anyone he’d known in his life. He pushed back his chair and went to the bar, where he bought a pack of Gauloises, and then walked down to the beach. There was some comfort in picking up shells at the water’s edge and skipping them into the surf. He sat down on the wooden slats of a deck chair and smoked three cigarettes, one after the other. He thought he might like to sleep on the beach that night, with the waves pounding the shore in the dark and the sound of the hotel band drifting down from the plein air ballroom. But soon his head began to clear and he realized he’d left Klara sitting alone at their table. The absinthe gate was closing. His paranoia retreated. He looked back over his shoulder, and there was the sea-green brushmark of Klara’s dress disappearing into the saffron light of the hotel.

He raced up the beach to catch her, but by the time he got there she was nowhere to be seen. In the lobby, the desk clerk denied having seen a woman in green walk past; the doormen had seen her leave, but one of them thought she’d headed away from town and another thought she’d headed toward it. The car was still parked where they’d left it, at the outside corner of a dusty lot. It was quite dark now. He thought she wouldn’t walk toward town, not in her current mood. He got into the car and drove at a crawl along the beach road. He hadn’t gotten far before his headlights illuminated a sea-green flash against the roadside. She was walking swiftly, her sandals raising clouds of dust. She’d wrapped her arms around herself; he could see the familiar sweet column of her vertebrae rising out of the deep-cut back of her dress. He brought the car to a stop and jumped out to catch up with her. She gave him a swift glance over her shoulder and kept walking.

“Klara,” he said. “Klárika.”

She stopped finally, her arms limp at her sides. From around a curve in the road came a sweep of headlights; they splashed across her body as a roadster tore past and shot off toward the center of town, its passengers shouting a song into the night. When it had gone, there was nothing but the thrum and pound of waves. For a long time neither of them spoke. She wouldn’t turn to face him.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know why I left you sitting there.”

“Let’s just go home,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about this on the side of the road.”

“Don’t be angry.”

“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have brought up the past. It makes me miserable to think of it, and that must have been what made you get up and go down to the beach.”

“It was the absinthe,” he said. “It makes me crazy.”

“It wasn’t the absinthe,” she said.

“Klara, please.”

“I’m cold,” she said, and put her arms around herself. “I want to get back to the house.”

He drove them, feeling no satisfaction in his mastery of the road; when they got out of the car there was no celebration of his skill. Klara went into the yard and sat down in one of the wooden chairs they’d dragged outside. He sat down beside her.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I did a foolish thing, a selfish thing, leaving you there at the table.”

She didn’t seem to hear him. She’d retreated to some distant place of her own, too small to admit him. “It’s been little more than torture for you, hasn’t it?” she said.

“What are you talking about?”

“All of it. Our connection. My half-truths. Everything I haven’t told you.”

“Don’t speak in those maddening generalizations,” he said. “What half-truths? Do you mean what happened with Novak? I thought we’d moved past that, Klara. What else do you want to tell me?”

She shook her head. Then she put her hand to her eyes and her shoulders began to shake.

“What’s happened to you?” he said. “I didn’t do this. I didn’t make this happen by walking down to the beach for a smoke.”

“No,” she said, looking up, her eyes lit with tears. “It’s just that I understood something while you were down there.”

“What is it?” he said. “If it has a name, tell me.”

“I ruin things,” she said. “I’m a ruiner. I take what’s good and make it bad. I take what’s bad and make it worse. I did it to my daughter and to Zoltán, and now I’ve done it to you. I saw how unhappy you looked before you left the table.”

“Ah, I see. It’s all your fault. You forced Elisabet to have the problems she’s had. You forced Novak to deceive his wife. You forced me to fall in love with you. The three of us had no part in it at all.”

“You don’t know the half of what I’ve done.”

“Then tell me! What is it? Tell me.”

She shook her head.

“And if you don’t?” he said. He got to his feet and took her by the arm, pulled her up beside him. “How are we supposed to go on? Will you keep me in ignorance? Will I learn the truth someday from your daughter?”

“No,” she said, almost too quietly to hear. “Elisabet doesn’t know.”

“If we’re to be together, I have to know everything. You’ve got to decide, Klara. If you want this to continue, you’ll have to be honest with me.”

“You’re hurting my arm,” she said.

“Who was he? Just tell me his name.”

“Who?”

“That man you loved. Elisabet’s father.”

She yanked her arm away. In the moonlight he could see the fabric of her dress straining against her ribs and going smooth again. Her eyes filled with tears. “Don’t ever grab me like that,” she said, and began to sob. “I want to go home. Please, Andras. I’m sorry. I want to go home to Paris.” She put her arms around herself, shivering as though she’d caught a fever in the cool Mediterranean night. Her starfish pin glittered like a beautiful mistake, a festive scrap torn from an ocean-liner ball, blown across the sea and caught by chance in the dark waves of her hair.

He could see it: She’d been overtaken by something that was like a disease, something that shook her frame and brought a pallor to her skin. He saw it in the way she huddled beneath the blankets in the cottage, the way she stared flat-eyed at the wall. She was serious about going home; she wanted to leave in the morning. For an hour he lay in bed with her, wide awake, until he heard her breath slide into the rhythm of sleep. He didn’t have the heart to be angry at her anymore. If she wanted to go home, he’d take her home. He could gather their things that night and be ready to leave at dawn. Careful not to wake her, he crawled out of bed and began to pack their suitcases. It was good to have something concrete and finite to do. He folded her little things: the cotton dresses, her stockings, her underclothes, her black maillot; he replaced her necklaces and earrings in the satin envelope from which he’d seen her remove them. He tucked her ballet shoes into each other and folded her practice skirts and leotards. Afterward, he put on a jacket and sat alone in the garden. In the weeds beside the driveway, crickets sang a French tune; the song his crickets sang in Konyár had had different high notes, a different rhythm. But the stars overhead were the same. There was the damsel stretched on her rock, and the little bear, and the dragon. He had pointed them out to Klara a few nights earlier; she’d made him repeat them each night until she knew them as well as he did.

They drove back to Paris the next morning. He had helped her get up and dress in the blue morning light; she had wept when she saw he’d packed all their things. “I’ve ruined this holiday for you,” she said. “And today’s your birthday.”

“I don’t care about that,” he said. “Let’s get home. It’s a long drive.”

While she waited in the car he locked the cottage and restored the key to the bird’s nest above the door. For the last time he drove down the winding road toward Nice; the sea glittered as sun began to spill across its pailletted surface. He wasn’t frightened on the road, not after the lessons she’d given him. He drove toward Paris as she sat silently and watched the fields and farms. By the time they’d reached the tangle of streets outside the city, she’d fallen asleep and he had to try to remember how they’d come. The streets had their own ideas; he lost an hour trying to find his way through the suburbs before a policeman directed him to the Porte d’Italie. At last he found his way across the Seine and up the familiar boulevards to the rue de Sévigné. By that time the sun was low in the sky; the dance studio lay in shadow, and the stairs were dark. Klara woke and rubbed her face with her hands. He helped her upstairs and got her into the nightgown she’d forgotten on the bed. She lay on her back and let the tears roll down her temples and onto the pillow.

“What can I do for you?” he asked, sitting beside her. “What do you need?”

“Just to be alone,” she said. “Just to sleep for a while.”

Her tone was strangely flat. This pale woman in the embroidered gown was the ghostly sister of the Klara he knew, the woman who’d raced from her house a week earlier in a duster and driving goggles. It seemed impossible to go home. He didn’t intend to leave her in this fog. Instead he carried her things upstairs from the car, then made her a cup of the linden tea she drank when she had a headache. When he brought it in, she sat up in bed and extended a hand to him. He came to the bed and sat down beside her. She held his eyes with her eyes; a pink flush had spread across her chest. She laid her head on his shoulder and put her arms around his waist. He felt the rise and fall of her chest against his own.

“What a dreadful birthday you’ve had,” she said.

“Not at all,” he said, stroking her hair. “I’ve been with you all day.”

“There’s something for you in the dance studio,” she said. “A birthday present.”

“I don’t need a present,” he said.

“Nonetheless.”

“You can give it to me another time.”

“No,” she said. “You should have it on your birthday, as long as we’re back anyway. I’ll come down with you.” She got out of bed and took his hand. Together they went down the stairs and into the dance studio. Standing against one wall was a sheet-draped object the size and shape of an upright piano.

“My God,” he said. “What is it?”

“Take a look,” she said.

“I don’t know if I dare.”

“Dare.”

He lifted the sheet by the corner and tugged it free. There, with its polished wooden drawing surface tilted toward the window, its steel base engraved with the name of a famous cabinetmaker, was a handmade drafting table as handsome and professional as Pierre Vago’s. At the bottom of the drawing surface was a perfect groove for pencils; on the right side, a deep inkwell. A drafting stool stood beneath the table, its seat and brass wheels gleaming. His throat closed.

“You don’t like it,” she said.

He waited until he knew he could speak. “It’s too good,” he said. “It’s an architect’s table. Not something for a student.”

“You’ll still have it when you’re an architect. But I wanted you to have it now.”

“Keep it for me,” he said. He turned to her and put a hand against her cheek. “If you decide we’re going to be together, I’ll take it home.”

The color faded from her lips and she closed her eyes. “Please,” she said. “I want you to take it now. It comes apart in two pieces. Take it in the car.”

“I can’t,” he said. “Not now.”

“Please, Andras.”

“Keep it for me. Once you’ve had some time to think, you’ll let me know if I should take it or not. But I won’t take it as a memento of you. Do you understand? I won’t have it instead of you.”

She nodded, her gray eyes downcast.

“It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten in my life,” he said.

And their holiday was at an end. September was coming. He could feel it as he walked home along the Pont Marie, carrying his bag with twelve days’ worth of clothes. September was sending its first cool streamers into Paris, its red tinge of burning. The scent of it blew through the channel of the Seine like the perfume of a girl on the threshold of a party. Her foot in its satin shoe had not yet crossed the sill, but everyone knew she was there. In another moment she would enter. All of Paris seemed to hold its breath, waiting.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN. Synagogue de la Victoire

HE WOULD HAVE given anything to spend Rosh Hashanah in Konyár that year-to go to synagogue with his father and Mátyás, to eat honey cake at his mother’s table, to stand in the orchard and put a hand on the trunk of his favorite apple tree, the crown of which had always been his refuge when he was frightened or lonely or depressed. Instead he found himself in his attic on the rue des Écoles, nearing the end of his first year in Paris, waiting for Polaner to meet him so they could go to synagogue together on the rue de la Victoire. Four weeks had passed since he’d last spoken to Klara. And as the Jewish year drew to a close, all of Europe seemed to hang from a filament above an abyss. As soon as he had returned to consciousness after Nice, as soon as he’d read the letters waiting for him and made his way through the usual sheaf of newspapers, he’d been reminded that there were worse things happening in Europe than the refusal of Klara Morgenstern to reveal the essential secrets of her history. Hitler, who had flouted the Versailles treaty with his annexation of Austria that past spring, now wanted Czechoslovakia’s border region, the mountain barrier of the Sudetenland, with its military fortifications, its armament plants, its textile factories and mines. What do you think of the chancellor’s newest mania? Tibor had written from Modena. Does he really believe Britain and France will stand idly by while he strips Central Europe’s last democracy of all her defenses? It would be the end of free Czechoslovakia, we can be certain of that.

From Mátyás there was a different note of indignation, a schoolboy’s protest against Hitler’s geographic revisionism: How can he demand the “return” of the Sudetenland when it never belonged to Germany in the first place? Who does he think he’s fooling? Every second-former knows that Czechoslovakia belonged to Austria-Hungary before the Great War. To that, Andras had written back that the Hungarian government itself was likely implicated in Hitler’s plans, since Hungary would stand to regain its own lost territory if Germany took the Sudetenland; the word return was an incitement to anyone who felt that his country had been shortchanged at Versailles. But at least you’ve been paying attention in school, he wrote. Maybe you’ll get your baccalaureate after all.

The Paris papers revealed more as the situation unfolded: On the twelfth of September, in his closing speech at the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg, Hitler brutalized the air with a fist and demanded justice for the millions of ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland; he refused to stand idly by and see them oppressed by the Czech president Beneš and his government. A few days later, Chamberlain, who had never before set foot on an airplane, flew to Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden to discuss what everyone was now calling the Sudeten crisis.

“He should never have gone,” Polaner said, over a glass of whiskey at the Blue Dove. “It’s a humiliation, don’t you see? This old man who’s never been on a plane before, made to travel to the remotest corner of Germany for a meeting with the Führer. It’s a show of force on Hitler’s part. The fact that Chamberlain went means he’s frightened. I promise you, Hitler will see his advantage and take it.”

“If anyone’s making a show of force, it’s Chamberlain,” Andras said. “He went to Berchtesgaden to make a point: If Hitler attacks Czechoslovakia, Britain and France will go to any length to bring him down. That’s what this is about.”

But soon it became clear that Andras was wrong. The papers reported that Chamberlain had come out of the meeting with a list of demands from Hitler, and was now determined to persuade his own government, and France’s, to meet the Führer’s conditions in short order. French editorials argued in favor of the sacrifice of the Sudetenland if it meant preserving the peace that had been won at such staggering cost in the Great War; the opposing view seemed to belong to a few fringe communist and socialist commentators. A few days later, envoys from the French and British governments presented President Beneš with a proposal to strip the republic of its border regions, and demanded that the Czech government accept the plan without delay. Andras found himself spending all day combing the papers and listening to the red Bakelite wireless at Forestier’s set-design studio, as if his constant attention might turn events in a different direction. Even Forestier put aside his design tools and mulled over the news with Andras. In response to the Anglo-French proposal, President Beneš had submitted a measured and scholarly memorandum reminding France that it had sworn to defend Czechoslovakia if it were threatened; a few hours after the memo was transmitted, the British and French foreign ministers in Prague pulled Beneš out of bed to insist he accept the proposal at once. Otherwise he would find himself facing Germany alone. The next day Andras and Monsieur Forestier listened in incredulous dismay as a commentator announced Beneš’s acceptance of the Anglo-French plan. The entire Czech cabinet had just resigned in protest. Chamberlain would meet with Hitler again on the twenty-second of September, this time in Bad Godesberg, to arrange the transfer of the Sudetenland.

“Well, that’s that!” Forestier said, his broad shoulders curling. “The last democracy of Central Europe kneels to Hitler at the urging of Britain and France. These are terrible times, my young Mr. Lévi, terrible times.”

Andras had assumed then that the crisis was over, that a war had been averted, even if at a cruel price. But he arrived at Forestier’s on the twenty-third of September to learn that the meeting in Bad Godesberg had yielded more demands still: Hitler wanted his troops to occupy the Sudetenland, and he required the Czech population of the area to vacate their homes and farms within a week, leaving behind everything they owned. Chamberlain brought home the new list of demands, which were promptly rejected by both the French and British governments. A military occupation was unthinkable, akin to surrendering the rest of Czechoslovakia without a fight.

The dreaded call-up has come, Andras had written to Tibor that morning, the eve of Rosh Hashanah. The Czech military has been mobilized, and our Premier Daladier has ordered a partial mobilization of French troops as well. Andras had watched it happen that morning: All over town, reservists left their shops and taxicabs and café tables and headed for points outside Paris where they would meet their battalions. When he went to send the letter to Tibor, there had been a crush at the postbox; every departing soldier seemed to have a missive to mail. Now he sat on his bed with his tallis bag in hand, waiting for Eli Polaner and thinking of his parents and his brothers and Klara and the prospect of war. At half past six Polaner arrived; they took the Métro to Le Peletier in the Ninth, and walked two blocks to the Synagogue de la Victoire.

This synagogue was not at all like the ornate Moroccan-style temple of Dohány utca, where Andras and Tibor had gone for High Holiday services in Budapest. Nor was it like the one-room shul in Konyár with its dark paneling and its wooden screen dividing the men’s section from the women’s. The Synagogue de la Victoire was a soaring Romanesque building of pale gold stone, with a grand rose window crowning the arched façade. Inside, slender columns rose toward a barrel-vaulted ceiling; a high clerestory deluged the space with light. Above the Byzantine-ornamented bimah, an inscription implored TU AIMERAS L’ETERNEL TON DIEU DE TOUT TON COEUR. By the time Andras and Polaner arrived, the service had already begun. They took seats in a pew near the back and unbuttoned their velvet tallis bags: Polaner’s tallis was of yellowed silk with blue stripes, Andras’s of fine-spun white wool. Together they said the blessing for donning the prayer shawls; together they draped the shawls over their shoulders. The cantor sang in Hebrew, How good and sweet it is when brothers sit down together. Again and again the familiar melody: one line low and somber like a work chant, the next climbing up into the arch of the ceiling like a question: Isn’t it good for brothers to sit down together? Polaner had learned the melody in Kraków. Andras had learned it in Konyár. The cantor had learned it from his grandfather in Minsk. The three old men standing beside Polaner had learned it in Gdynia and Amsterdam and Prague. It had come from somewhere. It had escaped pogroms in Odessa and Oradea, had found its way to this synagogue, would find its way to others that had not yet been built.

For Andras, who had spent the past four weeks constructing a wall around the part of himself that concerned Klara Morgenstern, the melody had the effect of an earthquake. It began as a small tremor, just enough to make the wall tremble-yes, it was good when brothers sat down together, but it had been months, months, since he’d seen his own brothers-and then there was a jolt of unbearable homesickness for Konyár, and a second jolt of homesickness for the rue de Sévigné and for the deeper, more intimate home that was Klara herself. For the past four weeks he had immersed himself in the news of the world and turned his thoughts away from her; late at night, when it was no use to pretend that he had really put her out of his mind, he told himself that her silence alone could not be taken to mean that all was over. Though she hadn’t contacted him, she hadn’t sent back his letters or requested that he return the things she kept at his apartment, either. She hadn’t given him reason to abandon hope altogether. But now, as the population of Paris fled to the countryside in anticipation of a bombardment, as the abstract possibility of war became a real and tangible thing, what was he supposed to make of her continued silence? Would she leave Paris without letting him know? Would she leave under the protection of Zoltán Novak, in a private car he had sent for her? At that very moment was she packing the same suitcase Andras had unpacked for her a few weeks earlier?

He pulled his tallis closer and tried to still his thoughts; there was some relief in repeating the prayers, some comfort in Polaner’s presence and the presence of these other men and women who knew the words by heart. He said the prayer that listed the sins committed by the House of Israel, and the one in which he asked the Lord to keep his mouth from evil and his lips from speaking guile. He said the prayer of gratitude for the Torah, and listened to others sing the words written in the white-clad scrolls. And at the end of the service he prayed to be written into the Book of Life, as if there might still be a place in such a book for him.

After the service, he and Polaner walked across the river to the students’ dining club, which had emptied over the summer, filled again as the schools prepared to reopen, and then emptied again with the threat of war. The server loaded Andras’s plate with bread and beef and hard oily potatoes.

“At home, my mother would be serving brisket and chicken noodle soup,” Polaner said as they took their plates to a table. “She would never let potatoes like these enter her kitchen.”

“You can’t blame the potato,” Andras said. “It’s hardly the potato’s fault.”

“It always begins with the potato,” Polaner said, raising an eyebrow darkly.

Andras had to laugh. It seemed a miracle that Polaner could be sitting across the table from him after what had happened last January. Though much was wrong with the world, it could not be denied that Eli Polaner had recovered from his injuries and had been brave enough to return to the École Spéciale for a second year.

“Your mother must have hated to let you leave Kraków,” Andras said.

Polaner unfolded his napkin and arranged it on his lap. “She’s never glad to see me go,” he said. “She’s my mother.”

Andras looked at him carefully. “You never told your parents what happened, did you?”

“Did you think I would?”

“You nearly died, after all.”

“They’d never have let me come back,” Polaner said. “They’d have shipped me off to some Freudian sanatorium for a talking cure, and you’d be lonely tonight, copain.”

“Lucky for me, then, that you didn’t tell,” Andras said. He had missed his friends, and Polaner in particular. He had imagined that by now they would all be dining at this club again, that soon they would be together in the studio, that they’d be meeting after classes at the Blue Dove to drink black tea and eat almond biscuits. He’d imagined himself narrating their exploits to Klara, making her laugh as they sat by the fire on the rue de Sévigné. But Rosen and Ben Yakov were home with their families, and he and Polaner were here alone together, and the École Spéciale had suspended the beginning of classes, as had all the other colleges of Paris. And he wasn’t narrating anything to Klara at all.

As the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur began to unfold, he told himself he would likely hear from her soon. War seemed inevitable. At night there were practice blackouts; the few corner lamps that remained lit were covered with black paper hoods to cast their light downward. Departing families clotted the trains and raised a cacophony of car horns in the streets. Five hundred thousand more men were called to the colors. Those who stayed in Paris rushed to buy gas masks and canned food and flour. A telegram arrived from Andras’s parents: IF WAR DECLARED COME HOME FIRST AVAIL TRAIN. He sat on his bed with the telegram in his hands, wondering if this were the end of everything: his studies, his life in Paris, all of it. It was the twenty-eighth of September, three days before Hitler’s threatened occupation of the Sudetenland. In seventy-two hours his life might fall apart. It was impossible to wait any longer. He would go to the rue de Sévigné at once and demand to see Klara; he would insist that she let him escort her and Elisabet out of the city as soon as they could pack their bags. Before he could lose his nerve, he threw on a jacket and ran all the way to her house.

But when he reached the door, he found his way barricaded by Mrs. Apfel. Madame Morgenstern would see no one, she said. Not even him. And she had no plans to leave the city, as far as Mrs. Apfel knew. At the moment she was in bed with a headache and had asked particularly that she not be disturbed. In any case, hadn’t Andras heard? There was to be a meeting at Munich the next day, a final effort to negotiate peace. Mrs. Apfel was certain those idiots would come to their senses. He would see, she said; there wouldn’t be a war after all.

Andras hadn’t heard. He ran to Forestier’s and spent the next two days with his ear sewn to the wireless. And on the thirtieth of September it was announced that Hitler had reached an accord with France, Britain, and Italy: Germany would have the Sudetenland in ten days’ time. There would, after all, be a military occupation. The Sudeten Czechs would be required to leave their homes and shops and farms without taking a stick of furniture, a single bolt of cloth or ear of corn, and there was to be no program of compensation for the lost goods. In the regions occupied by Polish and Hungarian minorities, popular votes would determine new frontiers; Poland and Hungary would almost certainly reclaim those lost territories. The radio announcer read the agreement in quick grainy French, and Andras struggled to make sense of it. How was it possible that Britain and France had accepted a plan almost identical to the one they’d rejected out of hand a few days earlier? The radio station broadcast the noise of celebration from London; Andras could hear the local jubilation well enough just outside Forestier’s studio, where hundreds of Parisians cheered the peace, celebrating Daladier, praising Chamberlain. The men who had been called up could now come home. That was an unarguable good-so many written into the Book of Life for another year. Why, then, did he feel more as Forestier seemed to feel-Forestier, who sat in the corner with his elbows on his knees, his forehead hammocked in his hands? The recent series of events seemed clothed in disgrace. Andras felt the way he might have if, after the attack on Polaner, Professor Perret had preserved peace at the École Spéciale by expelling the victim.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, Andras and Polaner went to hear Kol Nidre at the Synagogue de la Victoire. With solemn ceremony, with forehead-scraping genuflections, the cantor and the rabbi prayed for rachmones upon the congregation and the House of Israel. They declared that the congregants were released from the vows they’d made that year, to God and to each other. They thanked the Almighty that Europe had avoided war. Andras gave his thanks with a lingering sense of dread, and as the service progressed, his unhappiness flowed into another channel. That week, the threat of war had once again proved an effective distraction from the situation with Klara. For a time he had fooled himself, had let himself believe that her month of silence might contain a tacit promise, a suggestion that she was still wrestling with the problem that had sent them home early from Nice. But he couldn’t deceive himself any longer. She didn’t want to see him. They were finished; that was clear. Her silence could not be read otherwise.

That night he went home and put her things into a wooden crate: her comb and brush, two chemises, a stray earring in the shape of a daffodil, a green glass pillbox, a book of Hungarian short stories, a book of sixteenth-century French verse from which she liked to read aloud to him. He lingered for a moment over the book; he’d bought it for her because it contained the Marot poem about the fire that dwelt secretly in snow. He turned to the poem now. Carefully, with his pocketknife, he cut the page from the book and put it into the envelope that contained her letters. Those he kept, because he couldn’t bear to part with them. He wrote her a note on a postcard he’d bought as a keepsake months earlier: a photograph of the Square Barye, the tiny park at the eastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis, where he’d spoken the Marot poem into her ear on New Year’s Day. Dear Klara, he wrote, here are a few things you left with me. My feelings for you are unchanged, but I cannot continue to wait without knowing the reason for your silence, or whether it will be broken. So I must make the break myself. I release you from your promises to me. You need not be faithful to me any longer, nor conduct yourself as if you might someday be my wife. I have released you, but I cannot release myself from what I vowed to you; you must do that, Klara, if that is what you want. In the meantime, should you choose to come to me again, you will find that I am still, as ever, your ANDRAS.

He nailed the top onto the crate and hefted it. It weighed almost nothing, those last vestiges of Klara in his life. In the dark he went to her house one last time and set the box on the doorstep, where she would find it in the morning.

The next day he prayed and fasted. During the early service he felt certain he had made a terrible mistake. If he’d waited another week, he thought, she might have come back to him; now he had secured his own unhappiness. He wanted to run from the synagogue to the rue de Sévigné and retrieve the box before anyone found it. But as the fast scoured him from the inside, he began to believe that he’d done the right thing, that he’d done what he had to do to save himself. He pulled his tallis around his shoulders and leaned into the repetition of the eighteen benedictions. The familiar progression of the prayer brought him greater certainty. Nature had its cycles; there was a time for all things, and all things passed away.

By the evening service he was scraped out and numb and dizzy from fasting. He knew he was sliding toward some abyss, and that he was powerless to stop himself. At last the service concluded with the piercing spiral of the shofar blast. He and Polaner were supposed to go to dinner on the rue Saint-Jacques; József had invited them to break the fast with his friends from the Beaux-Arts. They walked across the river in silence, sunk into the last stages of their hunger. At József’s there was music and a vast table of liquor and food. József wished them a happy new year and put glasses of wine into their hands. Then, with a confidential crook of his finger, he drew Andras aside and bent his head toward him.

“I heard the most remarkable thing about you,” he said. “My friend Paul told me you’re involved with the mother of that tall girl, his obstreperous Elisabet.”

Andras shook his head. “Not anymore,” he said. And he took a bottle of whiskey from the table and locked himself in József’s bedroom, where he got blind drunk, shouted curses at himself in the mirror, terrified pedestrians by leaning out over the balcony edge, vomited into the fireplace, and finally passed into unconsciousness on the floor.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN. Café Bédouin

JUDAISM OFFERED no shivah for lost love. There was no Kaddish to say, no candle to burn, no injunction against shaving or listening to music or going to work. He couldn’t live in his torn clothes, couldn’t spend his days sitting in ashes. Nor could he turn to more secular modes of comfort; he couldn’t afford to drink himself into oblivion every night or suffer a nervous collapse. After he had scraped himself off József’s parquet floor and crawled back to his own apartment, he concluded that he had reached the nadir of his grief. The thought itself was medicinal. If this was the lowest point, then things would have to improve. He had made the break with Klara. Now he had to go on without her. Classes would soon begin again at the École Spéciale; he couldn’t fail his second year of school on her account. Nor could he justify hanging himself or leaping from a bridge or otherwise indulging in Greek tragedy. He had to go about the business of his life. He thought these things as he stood at the window of his garret, looking down into the rue des Écoles, still nursing a wild and irrepressible hope that she’d come around the corner in her red hat, half running to see him, the skirt of her fall coat flying behind her.

But when her silence stretched into a seventh week, even his most fantastical hopes began to dull. Life, oblivious to his grief, continued. Rosen and Ben Yakov returned to Paris with the rest of the students of the École Spéciale, Rosen in a state of chronic rage over what had happened and was still happening in Czechoslovakia, Ben Yakov pale with love for a girl he’d met in Italy that summer, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi in Florence. He had vowed to bring the girl to Paris as his bride; he’d taken a job reshelving books at the Bibliothèque Nationale to save money for that purpose. Rosen had a new passion, too: He had joined the Ligue Internationale Contre l’Antisemitisme, and was consumed with rallies and meetings. Andras himself had less time than ever to consider his situation with Klara. With the help of Vago’s recommendation, he had been offered the architecture internship for which he’d applied in the spring. He’d had to cut back his hours at Forestier’s, but there was a small stipend to make up for the loss of income. Now, three afternoons a week, he found himself at the elbow of an architect named Georges Lemain, playing the junior intern’s role of plan-filer, pencil-line-eraser, black-coffee-fetcher, calculation-maker. Lemain was a ruler-narrow man with a sleek head of clipped gray hair. He spoke rapid metallic French and drew with machinelike precision. Often he infuriated his colleagues by singing operatic airs as he worked. As a result he’d been sequestered in a far corner of the office, walled off by bookshelves filled with back issues of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui. As Andras worked at his own lowly desk beside Lemain’s great drawing table, he learned the airs and could soon sing them on his own. In return for his tolerance and diligence, Lemain began to help Andras with his school assignments. His fleet-looking angles of glass and polished planes of stone began to find their way into Andras’s designs. He encouraged Andras to keep a portfolio of private sketches, work that had nothing to do with his École Spéciale projects; he urged Andras to show him ideas that he’d been developing. And so, one afternoon in late October, Andras ventured to bring in the plans for the summer house in Nice. Lemain spread the plans on his own worktable and bent over the elevations.

“A wall like this won’t last five years in Nice,” he said, framing a segment of Andras’s drawing with his thumbs. “Consider the salt. These crevices will give it a foothold.” He laid a piece of tracing paper over Andras’s drawing and sketched in a smooth wall. “But you’ve found a clever way to use the grade of the hill. The oblique orientation of the patio and terrace works well with the topography.” He placed another sheet of tracing paper over the rear elevation and joined two levels of the terrace into a single curving slope. “Not too much terrace, though. Keep the shape of the hill intact. You can plant rosemary to hold the soil in place.”

Andras watched, making further changes in his mind. In the hard light of the office, the plans seemed less like a blueprint for a life he desired and more like the blank shape of a client’s house. That room need not be called a ballet studio; it was simply a light-filled salon. And those two small bedrooms on the main level might not be children’s rooms; they could be chambres 2 and 3, to be filled according to the client’s whims. The kitchen did not have to contain the imagined remnants of an abandoned meal; the chambre principal didn’t have to accommodate two Hungarian émigrés, or anyone in particular. All afternoon he erased and redrew until he believed he had chased the ghosts from the design.

With the rolled-up plans and Lemain’s sheets of tracing paper under his arm, he made his way toward the rue des Écoles through a confetti of dry leaves. The sound of their scrape and crunch against the sidewalk made him think of a thousand autumn afternoons in Konyár and Debrecen and Budapest, the burnt smell of nuts roasting in the street vendor’s cast-iron kettle, the stiff gray wool of school uniforms, the flower-sellers’ jars suddenly full of wheat sheaves and velvet-faced sunflowers. He paused at the window of a photographer’s studio on the rue des Écoles, where a new series of portraits had just been displayed: somber Parisian children in peasant clothing posed against a painted harvest backdrop. The children all wore shoes, and the shoes were brilliant with polish. He had to laugh aloud, imagining Tibor and Mátyás and himself arrayed in front of a real hay wagon in the clothes they’d worn when they were children: not these impeccable smocks and trousers, but brown workshirts sewn by their mother, hand-me-down dungarees, rope belts, caps made from the cloth of their father’s disintegrated overcoats. On their feet they would have worn the fine brown dust of Konyár. Their pockets would have been packed with small hard apples, their arms sore from baling hay for the neighboring farmers. From the house would come the rich red smell of chicken paprikás; their father would have sold so much wood for new hay wagons and sheds that they would eat chicken every Friday until winter. It was a good time, that stretch of warm days in October after the hay came in. The air was still soft and fragrant, the pond that would soon be frozen still a bright liquid oval reflecting mill and sky.

In the photographer’s window glass, a faint shape passed across the portraits of the children: the flash of a green woolen coat, the gold sheaf of a braid. The reflection crossed the street in his direction. As it approached, its anonymous features knit themselves into a form he knew: Elisabet Morgenstern. She gave him a hard tap on the shoulder and he turned.

“Elisabet,” he said. “What are you doing in the Latin Quarter on a Thursday afternoon? Going to meet Paul?”

“No,” she said, and gave him her hard stare. “I came to find you.” She pulled a tin of pastilles from her bag and shook one into her palm. “I’d offer you one, but I’m almost out.”

“What’s wrong?” he said, his insides clenching. “Has something happened to your mother?”

Elisabet rolled the pastille around in her mouth. When she spoke, Andras caught a whiff of anise. “I don’t want to talk here on the sidewalk,” she said. “Can’t we go somewhere?”

The Blue Dove was close by, but Andras didn’t want to meet his friends. Instead he led her around the corner and up the hill to the Café Bédouin, where he and Klara had met for a drink what seemed a lifetime ago. He hadn’t been back since that night. The same toothy row of liquor bottles stood behind the bar, and the same faded lilac curtains hung at the windows. They sat down at a table along the banquette and ordered tea.

“What’s this about?” he said, once the waiter had left them.

“Whatever you’re doing to my mother, you’d better stop,” Elisabet said.

“I don’t know what you mean. I haven’t seen her in weeks.”

“That’s exactly my point! To put it bluntly, Andras, you’re acting like a cad. My mother’s been miserable. She hardly eats. She won’t listen to music. She sleeps all the time. And she’s at me for every little thing. My marks in school aren’t high enough, or I’m not doing my chores properly, or I’ve taken the wrong tone with her.”

“And this is somehow my doing?”

“Who else’s? You’ve dropped her entirely. You don’t come to the house anymore. You sent back all her things.”

In an instant his grief rushed back as if it had never left him. “What was I supposed to do?” he said. “I stood it as long as I could. She wouldn’t write to me or see me. And I did go to her. I went after Rosh Hashanah, when everyone was talking about an evacuation. Mrs. Apfel said your mother wasn’t receiving anyone, least of all me. Even after that, she didn’t send word. I had to give it up. I had to respect her wishes. And I had to keep myself from losing my mind, too.”

“So you walked away because it was easier for you.”

“I didn’t walk away, Elisabet. I wrote to her when I sent her things. I told her my feelings were unchanged. She didn’t write back. It’s clear she doesn’t want to see me.”

“If that’s true, then why is she so unhappy? It’s not as though she’s seeing someone else. She never goes out. At night she’s always home. On Sunday afternoons she lies in bed.” The waiter delivered their tea, and Elisabet stirred milk into her cup. “She never gives me a moment alone with Paul. I have to sneak out in the middle of the night to see him.”

“Is that what this is about? You can’t get a moment alone with Paul?”

She glared at him, her mouth tight with disgust. “You’re an ass, do you know that? A real ass. Despite what you think, I do care how my mother feels. More than you do, apparently.”

“I care!” he cried, leaning across the table. “I’ve been going mad over this. But I can’t change her mind for her, Elisabet. I can’t make her feel for me what she doesn’t feel. If we’re going to speak, she’ll have to be the one to contact me.”

“But she won’t, don’t you see? She’ll stay miserable. She can keep it up, you know. She’s made a project of it all her life. And she’ll make me miserable, too.” She glanced down at her hand, where Andras noticed for the first time a ring on her fourth finger: a diamond with two leaf-shaped emeralds. As he studied it, she gave the band a contemplative twist.

“Paul and I are engaged,” she said. “He wants to take me to New York when I’m finished with school next June.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Does your mother know about this?”

“Of course not! You know what she’d say. She wants me to wait until I’m thirty before I look at a man. But I’d think she wouldn’t want me to end up like her, alone and old.”

“She doesn’t want you to end up like her. That’s the point! She was too young when she had you. She doesn’t want you to have to struggle like she did.”

“Let me tell you something,” Elisabet said, and gave him her granite-hard look. “I would never end up like her. If I got pregnant by some man who didn’t love me, I know what I’d do. I know girls who’ve done it. I’d do what she should have done.”

“How can you speak that way?” he said. “She gave up her whole life to raise you.”

“That’s not my fault,” Elisabet said. “And it doesn’t mean she can decide what I do once I turn eighteen. I’ll marry whomever I want to. I’ll go to New York with Paul.”

“You’re a selfish child, Elisabet.”

“Who are you calling selfish?” She narrowed her eyes and pointed a finger at him across the café table. “You’re the one who dropped her when she got depressed. A person in that state doesn’t invite people to lunch or send love notes. But you probably never cared for her at all, did you? You wanted to be her lover, but you didn’t really want to know her.”

“Of course I did!” he said. “She was the one who pushed me away.” But as he said it, he experienced a kind of pressure change, a quiet shock that thrummed in his ears. She had pushed him away, had done it more than once. But he had pushed her away too. At Nice, at the Hotel Taureau d’Or, when she’d seemed on the verge of speaking to him about her past, he’d left her alone at the table rather than hear what she might say. And later that night at the cottage, when he’d demanded she tell him everything, he had done it so roughly he’d frightened her. Then he’d packed her things and driven her back to Paris. He had tried to see her exactly once since then. He’d written a single postcard and returned her things, then set about erasing her from his mind, his life. Their love would have a neat, sad ending: a box of things dispached, a note unanswered. He would never have to hear the revelations that might hurt him or change the way he thought of her. Instead he’d chosen to preserve his idea of her-his memory of her small strong body, of the way she listened and spoke to him, of their nights together in his room. As much as he’d told himself he wanted to know everything about her, part of him had retreated in fear. He thought he’d loved her, but what he had loved wasn’t all of her-no more than the silvery images on those long-ago cards had been, or her name on an ivory envelope.

“Do you think she’ll see me?” he asked Elisabet.

She looked at him for a long moment, a faint wash of relief warming the cold blue pools of her eyes. “Ask her yourself,” she said.

CHAPTER NINETEEN. An Alley

IN THE NINE WEEKS since he’d seen her, time had not lain dormant. The earth had continued its transit around the sun, Germany had marched into the Sudetenland, and change had worked its way into the smaller orbit of his life. There was the raw feeling of wind at the back of his neck; he had cut the hair he’d grown long at her request. His morning tutorials with Vago had ended, and last year’s graduates were gone; the new first-year students paid mute attention when he and his classmates gave their critiques in studio. He had mastered the French language, which had crossed the boundary of his unconscious mind and established itself in the territory of his dreams. He had begun his internship at the architecture firm, his first job in his chosen field. And there were new set designs at Forestier’s (for Lysistrata, a foreshortened Parthenon and a forest of column-like phalluses; for The Cherry Orchard, a drawing room whose walls, made of sheer scrim fabric and lined with hidden lights, became increasingly transparent throughout the play until they disappeared to reveal the rows of trees beyond).

Then there was his room on the rue des Écoles. He had pulled the table into the sloping cave of the eaves, where he could pin plans against the ceiling. He’d gotten a green-shaded lamp to illuminate his work, and had tacked drawings of buildings to the walls-not the ocean liners and icebergs his professors designed, nor the monumental architecture of Paris, but the neat ovoids of Ghanaian huts and the nestlike clusters of American Indian cliff-dwellings and the gold stone walls of Palestine. He’d copied the images from magazines and books, had watercolored them with paints bought cheaply at Nice. On the floor was a thick red rug that smelled of woodsmoke; on the bed, a butter-colored bedspread made from a torn theater curtain. And beside the hearth was a deep low armchair of faded vermilion plush, a reject he’d found one morning on the sidewalk in front of the building. It had been lying facedown in a posture of abject indignity, as though it had tried and failed to stagger home after a night of hard drinking. The chair had a droll companion, a fringed and tufted footstool that resembled a shaggy little dog.

It was in this armchair that Klara sat now. He had written to her, had told her he wanted to see her, had asked for nothing more than her company for an evening. Though he’d told himself not to expect an answer, he hoped Elisabet might prevail upon her to write back. Then tonight he had come home from Forestier’s to find her sitting in the chair, her black shoes lined up beside it like a pair of quarter notes. He stood in the doorway and stared, afraid she might be an apparition; she got up and took the bag from his shoulder, slid her arms underneath his coat, held him against her chest. There was her smell of lavender and honey, the bready scent of her skin. The familiarity of it nearly brought him to tears. He put a thumb to the hollow of her throat, touched the amber button of her blouse.

“You’ve cut your hair,” she said.

He nodded, unable to speak.

“And you look thin,” she continued. “You look as if you haven’t been eating.”

“Have you?” he said, and studied her face. The hollows beneath her eyes were shaded violet; the beach gold of her skin had faded to ivory. She looked almost transparent, as if a wind had blown her empty from the inside. She held her body as if every part of it hurt.

“I’m going to make you some tea,” he said.

“Don’t trouble.”

“Believe me, Klara, it’s no trouble.” He put water on to boil and made tea for both of them. Then he built up the fire and sat down on the fringed footstool. He pushed her skirt up above the knee, unhooked the metal loops of her garters from their rubber nubs, removed her stockings. He didn’t caress her legs, though he wanted to; he didn’t bury his face in her thighs. Instead he took her feet in his hands and followed their arches with his thumbs.

She let out a cry, a sigh. “Why do you persist with me?” she said. “What is it you want?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know, Klara. Maybe just this.”

“I’ve been so unhappy since we came back from Nice,” she said. “I could hardly drag myself from bed. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t write a letter or mend a dress. When it looked like France might go to war, I had the terrible thought that you might volunteer to fight.” She paused and shook her head. “I spent two sleepless nights trying to work up the nerve to come to you, and gave myself such a terrible headache that I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t teach. I’ve never been too sick to teach, not in fifteen years. Mrs. Apfel had to post a note saying I was ill.”

“You told her to send me away if I came to see you.”

“I didn’t think you’d come except to tell me you were going off to war. I didn’t think I could survive that piece of news. And then you sent back my things. God, Andras! I read your note a hundred times. I made a hundred drafts of a reply and threw them away. Everything I wrote seemed wrong or cowardly.”

“And then France didn’t go to war after all.”

“No. And I was selfishly happy, believe me, even though I knew what it meant for Czechoslovakia.”

He smiled sadly. “I didn’t really send back all your things, after all. I kept the poem about Anne qui luy jecta de la Neige.”

“The Marot.”

“Yes. I cut it out of your book.”

“You vandalized my book!”

“I’m afraid so.”

She shook her head and rested her forehead in her palm, her elbow pillowed on the arm of the chair. “When your letter came this week, my daughter told me she’d lose all respect for me if I didn’t go to see you at once.” She paused to give him a wry half smile. “At first I was just astonished to learn that she had any respect for me at all. Then I decided I had better come.”

“Klara,” he said, moving closer and taking her hands in his own. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you the difficult questions now. I have to know what you were thinking when we came back from Nice. You have to tell me about-I don’t even know the man’s name. Elisabet’s father. You have to tell me why you came here to France.”

She sighed and looked into the fire, where the heat ran like a volatile liquid through the coals. Her eyes seemed to drink the red light of it. “Elisabet’s father,” she said, and ran a hand along the velvet arm of the chair. “That man.”

And then, though it was already past midnight, she told him her story.

In the second decade of that century, the best ballet students in Budapest had studied under Viktor Vasilievich Romankov, the willful and eccentric third son of a family of penniless Russian aristocrats. In St. Petersburg, when it had still been St. Petersburg, Romankov had studied at the Imperial School of Ballet and danced in the famous ballet company at the Mariinsky Theater; at thirty-five he left to open his own school, where he taught hundreds of dancers, among them the great Olga Spessivtzeva and Alexandra Danilova. As a young man, he himself had struggled to distill the tincture of precision into his ballet technique; his efforts to demystify the physiology of dance, and the patience he had developed in his own training, had made him an unusually effective teacher. His renown spread west and crossed the Atlantic. When his family lost the last of its once-great fortune in the early rumblings of the revolution, he fled St. Petersburg, intending to emigrate to Paris along the path traced by his hero Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes. But by the time Romankov reached Budapest he was exhausted and broke. He found himself unexpectedly in love with that city of bridges and parks, of ornately tiled buildings and tree-lined boulevards. Not more than a few days passed before he made inquiries into the Hungarian Royal Ballet; it turned out that its academy had a hopelessly antiquated system of training, and had long been in need of a change. The artistic director of the school knew of Romankov. He was precisely the sort of person the school had wanted to recruit; she was more than happy to have him join the faculty. So there in Budapest he’d stayed.

Klara had been one of his earliest pupils. She had started with him when she was eleven. He had picked her out of a class he’d glimpsed through a window as he walked through the Jewish Quarter; he went straight into the studio, took her by the hand from among her classmates, told the instructress that he was a friend of the family and that there was an urgent matter at home. Outside, he explained to Klara that he was a ballet teacher from St. Petersburg, that he had taken note of her talent and wanted to see her dance. Then he walked her to the Royal Ballet School on Andrássy út, a third-floor honeycomb of practice studios much shabbier than the school Klara had just left behind. The floors were gray with age, the pianos scarred, the walls devoid of even a single Degas print, the air redolent of feet and shoe satin and rosin. No classes were meeting that day; the studios stood empty of everything but the strange humming resonance that hovered in rooms whose natural state was to be filled with music and dancers. Romankov took Klara to one of the smaller studios and sat down at the piano. As he pounded out a minuet she danced her butterfly piece from the previous year’s recital. The music was wrong but the tempo was right; as she danced, she had the sense that something fateful was taking place. When she’d finished, Romankov clapped his hands and made her take a bow. She was splendid for her age, he said, and not too old for him to correct what was wrong with her technique. She must begin her training immediately; this was the school where she would become a ballerina. He must speak to her parents that very day.

Eleven-year-old Klara, flattered by his vision of her future, took him home to her parents’ villa on Benczúr utca. In the sitting room with its salmon-colored sofas, Romankov announced to Klara’s startled mother that her daughter was wasting her time at the studio on Wesselényi utca and must enroll at the Royal Ballet School at once. It was possible that Klara had a brilliant future in ballet, but he must undo the damage that her current teacher had done. He showed Mrs. Hász the mannered curl of Klara’s hand, the exaggerated flatness of her fifth position, the jerky exactitude of her port de bras; then he smoothed her hands into a more childlike curl, made her stand in a looser fifth, took her arms by the wrists and floated them through the positions as though through water. This was how a dancer should look, how she should move. He could train her to do this, and if she excelled she would have a place in the Royal Ballet.

Klara’s mother, who, through an accident of fate and love, had found herself extracted from rural oblivion in Kaba and placed at the center of the most exalted Jewish social circle of Budapest, had never imagined that Klara might someday become a professional dancer; she had imagined lives of ease and comfort for her children. Of course Klara studied ballet, grace being a necessary attribute for young ladies of her social position. But a career as a ballerina was out of the question. She thanked Romankov for his interest and wished him well with his new position at the Royal Ballet School; she would speak to Klara’s father that evening. Once she had sent him away she took Klara upstairs to the nursery and explained to her why she could not study ballet with the nice Russian man. Dancing was a pleasant pastime for a child, not something one did in front of audiences for money. Professional dancers led lives of poverty, deprivation, and exploitation. They rarely married, and when they did, their marriages ended unhappily. When Klara was grown she would be a wife and mother. If she wanted to dance she could give balls for her friends, as her anya and apa did.

Klara nodded and agreed, because she loved her mother. But at eleven years old she already knew she would be a dancer. She’d known it since her brother had taken her to see La Cendrillon at the Operaház when she was five. The next time her governess dropped her off for a dancing lesson at the school on Wesselényi utca, she ran the seven blocks to the Royal Ballet School on Andrássy út and asked one of the dancers there where she might find the tall red-bearded gentleman. The girl took her to a studio at the end of a hallway, where Romankov was just preparing to teach an intermediate lesson. He didn’t seem at all surprised to see Klara; he made a place for her at the practice barre between two other children, and, in his Russian-accented baritone, led them through a series of difficult exercises. At the end of class Klara returned to the other ballet school in time to meet her governess, to whom she mentioned nothing of her adventure. It was three weeks before Klara’s parents discovered her defection from the studio on Wesselényi utca. By then it was too late: Klara had become a devotee of Romankov and the Royal Ballet School. Klara’s indulgent father convinced her mother that there could be no real danger of their daughter’s ending up on the stage; the school was merely a more rigorous version of the one she’d attended before. He’d inquired into Romankov’s professional history, and there could be no denying that the man was an exceptionally gifted teacher. To have his daughter studying under that famous ballet master was an honor that touched Tamás Hász’s sense of bourgeois pride and confirmed his paternal prejudices.

Of the twenty children that comprised the Royal Ballet School’s beginning class, seventeen were girls and three were boys. One of the boys was a tall dark-haired child named Sándor Goldstein. He was the son of a carpenter and had a perpetual smell of fresh-cut wood about him. Romankov had discovered Sándor Goldstein not in a dance class but at the pool at Palatinus Strand, where Goldstein had been practicing acrobatic dives with a group of friends. At twelve years old he could do a handstand on the edge of the board and push himself off, then flip backward to enter the water headfirst. At his school he’d won the gymnastics medal three years in a row. When Romankov proposed taking him on as a student, Goldstein had denounced ballet as a pursuit for girls. Romankov had responded by engaging one of the male dancers of the Hungarian Royal Ballet to meet Goldstein on his way home from school, lift him overhead like a barbell, and run through the streets with him until Goldstein begged to be put down. The next day Goldstein enrolled in Romankov’s beginning class, and by the time he was thirteen and Klara twelve, they were both performing children’s roles with the Royal Ballet.

To Klara, Sándor was brother, friend, co-conspirator. He taught her to send Romankov into a fury by dancing half a beat behind the music. He introduced her to delicacies she’d never tried: the savory dry end of a Debrecen sausage; the crystalline scrapings of the sugared-nuts kettle, which could be bought for half a fillér at the end of the day; the tiny sour apples that were meant for jelly but that made for fine eating if you didn’t eat too many. And at the great market on Vámház körut he taught her how to steal. While Klara showed off pirouettes for the candy vendor, Sándor nicked a handful of peach-pit candy for both of them. He tipped tiny Russian dolls into his cap, looped embroidered kerchiefs onto his smallest finger, plucked pastries from the market baskets of women haggling over fruit and vegetables. Klara invited him to lunch at her parents’ house, where he soon became a favorite. Her father talked to him as though he were a full-grown gentleman, her mother fed him pink-iced chocolates, and her brother dressed him in a military jacket and taught him to shoot imaginary Serbs.

When they had both attained the necessary strength, Romankov made Klara and Sándor dancing partners. He taught Sándor to lift Klara with no sign of effort, to make her seem light as a reed. He taught them to become a single dancer in two bodies, to listen to the rhythm of each other’s breath, the flow of blood in each other’s veins. He made them study anatomy textbooks together and tested them on musculature and bone structure. He took them to see dissections at the medical school. Five times a week they performed with the Royal Ballet. By the time she was thirteen, Klara had been a moth, a sylph, a sugarplum, a member of a swan court, a lady-in-waiting, a mountain stream, a moonbeam, a doe. Her parents had resigned themselves to her appearing on the stage; her growing fame had earned them a certain prestige among their friends. When she turned fourteen and Sándor fifteen they began dancing principal roles, edging out dancers who were four and five years older. Great ballet masters from Paris and Petrograd and London came to see them. They danced for the dispossessed royalty of Europe and for the heirs of French and American fortunes. And amid the confusion of auditions and practices and costume fittings and performances, the inevitable happened: They fell in love.

A year later, in the spring of 1921, it came to the attention of Admiral Miklós Horthy that the star dancers of his kingless kingdom were two Jewish children who had been taught to dance by a White Russian émigré. Of course, no law forbade Jews from becoming dancers; no quota existed in the Royal Ballet Company to mirror the numerus clausus that kept Jews in universities and public positions to a reasonable six percent. But the matter offended Horthy’s sense of nationalism. Hungarian Jews might be Magyarized, but they were not really Hungarian. They might participate in the economic and civic life of the country, but they ought not stand as shining examples of Magyar achievement on the stages of the world. And that was what these children had been asked to do; that was why the minister of culture had brought the matter to Horthy’s attention. They’d been invited to perform in seventeen cities that spring, and had applied for the necessary visas.

Horthy couldn’t be troubled with the matter beyond forming the opinion that something ought to be done. He told the minister of culture to handle it as he saw fit. The minister of culture assigned the problem to an undersecretary who was known for his ambition and his unambiguous feelings toward Jews. This man, Madarász, lost no time in carrying out his assignment. First he forbade the visa office to grant exit passes to the two dancers. Then he assigned two police officers, known members of the right-wing Arrow Cross Party, to carry out a regular watch over the dancers’ comings and goings. Klara and Sándor never guessed that the policemen they saw every night in the alley had anything to do with the troubles they were having at the visa office; the men scarcely seemed to notice them. Usually the policemen were arguing. Invariably they were drunk: They had an army canteen they passed back and forth between them. No matter how late Klara and Sándor stayed at the Operaház-and sometimes they stayed until twelve thirty or one o’clock, because the theater was the only place where they could be alone-the men were always there. After a week or so of listening to their arguments, Sándor learned their names: Lajos was the tall block-jawed one; Gáspár was the one who looked like a bulldog. Sándor got into the habit of waving to them in greeting. The policemen never waved back, of course; they would give stony stares as Klara and Sándor passed.

A month went by and the men were still there, their presence as much a mystery as ever. But by that time they’d come to seem part of the neighborhood furniture, the fabric of Sándor and Klara’s everyday lives. The situation might have gone on indefinitely, or at least until the Ministry of Culture had lost interest, had not the policemen themselves tired of their endless watch. Boredom and drink made their silence oppressive. They started calling out to Klara and Sándor: Hey, lovers. Hey, darlings. How does she taste? Can we have some? Do dancer boys have anything down there? Does he know what to do with it, sugar? Sándor would take Klara’s arm and hurry her along, but she could feel him shaking with anger as the men’s taunts followed them down the street.

One night the man called Gáspár approached them, stinking of cigarettes and liquor. Klara remembered thinking that the leather strap across his chest looked like the kind of strap teachers used to beat unruly children at school. He drew his baton from its holster and tapped it against his leg.

“What are you waiting for?” the man called Lajos goaded him.

Gáspár took the baton and slipped it under the hem of Klara’s dress; in one swift motion he raised the hem as high as her head, exposing her to the waist for an instant.

“There you go,” called Gáspár to Lajos. “Now you’ve seen it.”

Before Klara knew what was happening, Sándor had stepped forward and grabbed the free end of the baton; as he tried to twist it away, the officer held fast to the other end. Sándor kicked the man in the knee, making him howl in pain. The officer wrenched the baton away and struck Sándor in the head. Sándor fell to his knees. He raised his arms, and the officer began to kick him in the stomach. For a moment Klara was caught in a paralysis of horror; she couldn’t understand what was happening or why. She screamed for the man to stop, she tried to pull him off Sándor. But the other officer, Lajos, caught her by the arm and wrenched her away. He dragged her into a recess of the alley, where he forced her down onto the paving stones and pushed her skirt up around her waist. He stuffed his handkerchief into her mouth, put a gun under her chin, and did what he did to her.

The pain of it had a kind of clarifying power. She scuttled her fingers across the pavement, looking for what she knew was there: the baton, cold and smooth against the cobblestones. He’d dropped it when he’d bent to unbutton his pants. Now she closed her hand around it and struck him in the temple. When he yelped and put a hand to his head, she kicked him in the chest as hard as she could. He reeled back against the opposite wall of the alcove, hit his head against the base of the wall, and went still. At that moment, from the alley where Sándor and the officer had been struggling, there came a sharp percussive crack. The sound seemed to fly into Klara’s brain and explode outward.

Then a terrible silence.

She got to her knees and crawled out of the alcove, toward the place where one male form crouched over another. Sándor lay on his back with his eyes open toward the sky. The bulldog-faced officer knelt beside him, one hand on Sándor’s chest. The officer was crying, telling the boy to get up, damn him, get up. He called the boy a rotten piece of filth. His hand came away from Sándor’s chest covered in blood. From the pavement he retrieved the gun he’d dropped and turned it upon Klara; its barrel caught the light and quavered in the dim cave of the alley. Klara edged back into the alcove where the first officer lay. She went to her knees, searching for the man’s revolver; she’d heard it clatter to the pavement when she’d knocked him away. There it was, cold and heavy on the ground. She picked it up in one hand and tried to hold it still against her leg. The officer who had shot Sándor advanced toward her, weeping. If she hadn’t seen him holding the gun a moment earlier, he might have seemed to be approaching her in supplication. Now she looked at Sándor on the ground and felt the weight of the weapon in her own hand, the same gun that the officer called Lajos had pushed against the hollow of her throat. She raised it and held it steady.

A second explosion. The man stumbled back and fell; afterward, a deep stillness.

It was the ache of the recoil in her shoulder that made her know that it had happened: She had fired the gun, had shot a man. From Andrássy út came a woman’s shout. Farther away, a siren sent up its two-note howl. She came out of the alcove with the gun in her hand and approached the officer she had shot. He had fallen backward onto the pavement, one arm flung over his head. From the alcove came a groan and a word she couldn’t understand. The other officer had gotten to his hands and knees. He saw the revolver in her hand and the man dead on the street. In three days he himself would be dead of his head injury, but not before he’d revealed the identity of his partner’s killer and his own. The distant sirens grew closer; Klara dropped the gun and ran.

She had killed one officer and fatally wounded another. Those were the facts. That she had been raped by one of those officers could never be proved in court. All the witnesses were dead, and within days Klara’s bruises and abrasions had disappeared. By that time, at the urging of her father’s lawyer, she’d been spirited over the border into Austria, and from there into Germany, and from Germany into France. The city of Paris would be her refuge, the famed ballet teacher Olga Nevitskaya, a cousin of Romankov’s, her protector. The arrangement was meant to be temporary. She would live at Nevitskaya’s only as long as it took her parents to determine who might be bribed, or how her safety might otherwise be guaranteed. But before two weeks had passed, the peril of Klara’s situation became clear. She had been accused of murder. The gravity of the crime assured that she would be tried as an adult. Her father’s lawyer believed there could be no guarantee of success in an argument of self-defense; the police had determined that the man she’d killed had been unarmed when she’d shot him. Of course he’d had a gun; he’d shot Sándor with it a few moments earlier. But the other officer, the one who had witnessed the shooting, had testified that his partner had dropped the gun before he had approached Klara. The testimony had been confirmed by material evidence: the gun had been found beside Sándor’s body, ten feet away from the fallen officer.

To make matters worse, it turned out that the man Klara had shot had been a war hero. He had saved fifteen members of his company in the battle of Kovel, had received an official commendation from the Emperor. And if that were not enough to turn any judge’s favor against Klara, it emerged-or the police claimed-that the right-wing members of their department had recently received threatening messages from Gesher Zahav, a Zionist organization to which Klara and Sándor had been linked. Three times in the past month the dancers had been seen coming and going from the organization’s headquarters on Dohány utca; never mind that what they’d been doing was attending Sunday night dances, not plotting the murder of police operatives. The fact that Klara had disappeared was considered to be a confirmation of her guilt, of her position as an instrument of Gesher Zahav’s plot. News of it was all over town; every paper in Budapest had run a front-page article about the young Jewish dancer who had murdered a war hero. And that was the end of Klara’s parents’ hopes to bring her home. It was a lucky thing, her father’s lawyer wrote, that they’d managed to get her out of the country when they had. If she’d stayed, there would have been another bloodbath.

For the first two months of her time at Madame Nevitskaya’s, Klara lay in a tiny dark room that looked out onto an airshaft. Every piece of bad news from Budapest seemed to push her farther toward the bottom of a well. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t stand to have anyone touch her. Sándor was dead. She would never see her parents or her brother again. Would never go home to Budapest. Would never again live in a place where everyone she passed on the street spoke Hungarian. Would never skate in the Városliget or dance on the stage of the Operaház, would never see any of her friends from school or eat a cone of chestnut paste as she walked the Danube strand on Margaret Island. Would never see any of the pretty things in her room, her leather-bound diaries and Herend vases and embroidered pillows, her Russian nesting dolls, her little menagerie of glass animals. She had even lost her name, would never again be Klara Hász; she would forever be Claire Morgenstern, a name chosen for her by a lawyer. Every morning she woke to face the knowledge that it had all really happened, that she was a fugitive here at Madame Nevitskaya’s in France. It seemed to have made her physically ill. She spent the first hours of each day hunched over a basin, vomiting and dry-heaving. Every time she stood she thought she would faint. One morning Madame Nevitskaya came into Klara’s room and asked a series of mysterious-seeming questions. Did her breasts hurt? Did the smell of food make her sick? When was the last time she had bled? Later that day a doctor came and performed a painful and humiliating examination, after which he confirmed what Madame Nevitskaya had suspected: Klara was pregnant.

For three days all she could do was stare at the dart of sky she could see from her bed. Clouds passed across it; a vee of brown birds flew through it; in the evening it darkened to indigo and then filled with the gold-shot black of Paris night. She watched it as Nevitskaya’s maid, Masha, fed her chicken broth and bathed her forehead. She watched it as Nevitskaya explained that there was no need for Klara to endure the torture of carrying that man’s child. The doctor could perform a simple operation after which Klara would no longer be pregnant. After Nevitskaya left her alone to contemplate her fate, she stared and stared at that changeable dart of sky, scarcely able to comprehend what she had learned. Pregnant. A simple operation. But Madame Nevitskaya didn’t know the whole story; she and Sándor had been lovers for six months before he’d been killed. They had made love the very night of the attack. They had taken precautions, but she knew those precautions didn’t always work. If she was pregnant, it was just as likely that the child was his.

The thought was enough to get her out of bed. She told Madame Nevitskaya that she wouldn’t have an operation, and why. Madame Nevitskaya, a stern, glossy-haired woman of fifty, took Klara in her arms and began to weep; she understood, she said, and would not try to dissuade her. Klara’s parents, informed of her pregnancy and her plans, felt otherwise. They couldn’t abide the idea that she might find herself raising that other person’s child. In fact, her father was so strongly opposed to the idea that he threatened to cut Klara off altogether if she kept the child. What would she do, alone in Paris? She couldn’t dance, not when she was pregnant, and not with an infant to care for; how would she support herself? Wasn’t her situation difficult enough already?

But Klara had made up her mind. She would not have that operation, nor would she give up the baby after she’d carried it. Once it had occurred to her that the child might be Sándor’s, the idea began to take on the weight of a certainty. Let her father cut her off. She would work; she knew what she could do. She went to Madame Nevitskaya and begged to be allowed to teach a few classes of beginning students. She could do it until her pregnancy showed, and she could do it once she’d recovered from the birth. If Nevitskaya would have her as an instructor, it would save her life and the child’s.

Nevitskaya would. She gave Klara a class of seven-year-olds and bought her the black practice dress worn by all the teachers at the school. And soon Klara began to live again. Her appetite came back and she gained weight. Her dizziness disappeared. She found she could sleep at night. Sándor’s child, she thought; not that other’s. She went to a barber shop and got her hair cut short. She bought a sack dress of the kind that was fashionable then, a dress she could wear until late in the pregnancy. She bought a new leather-bound diary. Every day she went to the ballet school and taught her class of twenty little girls. When she couldn’t teach anymore, she begged Masha to let her help with the work around the house. Masha showed her how to clean, how to cook, how to wash; she taught her to navigate the market and the shops. When, in her sixth month, Klara noticed the vendors glancing at her belly and at her bare left hand, she bought a brass band she wore on her third finger like a wedding ring. She bought it as a convenience, but after a time it came to seem as though it really were a wedding ring; she began to feel as if she were married to Sándor Goldstein.

As her ninth month approached, she began to have vivid dreams about Sándor. Not the nightmares she’d had in her first weeks in Paris-Sándor lying in the alley, his eyes open to the sky-but dreams in which they were doing ordinary things together, working on a difficult lift or arguing over the answer to some arithmetic problem or wrestling in the cloakroom of the Operaház. In one dream he was thirteen, stealing sweets with her at the market. In another he was younger still, a thin-armed boy teaching her to dive at Palatinus Strand. She thought of him when the first contractions came on; she thought of him when the water rushed out of her. It was Sándor she cried for when the pain grew long and deep inside her, a white-hot stream of fire threatening to cleave her. When she woke after the cesarean she put out her arms to receive his child.

But it wasn’t his child at all, of course. It was Elisabet.

When she’d finished her story they sat silent by the fire, Andras on the footstool and Klara in the vermilion chair, her feet tucked under her skirt. The tea had grown cold in their cups. Outside, a hard wind had begun to rattle the trees. Andras got up and went to the window, looked down at the entrance of the Collège de France, at its ragged lace collar of clochards.

“Zoltán Novak knows about this,” Andras said.

“He knows the basic facts. He’s the only one in France who does. Madame Nevitskaya died some time ago.”

“You told him so he’d understand why you couldn’t love him.”

“We were very close, Zoltán and I. I wanted him to know.”

“Not even Elisabet knows,” Andras said, smoothing the rim of his cup with his thumb. “She believes she’s the child of someone you loved.”

“Yes,” Klara said. “It couldn’t have helped her to know the truth.”

“And now you’ve told me. You’ve told me so I’d understand what happened at Nice. You fell in love once, with Sándor Goldstein, and you can’t love anyone else. Madame Gérard guessed as much-she told me a long time ago that you were in love with a man who’d died.”

Klara gave a quiet sigh. “I did love Sándor,” she said. “I adored him. But it’s romantic nonsense to suggest that what I felt for him would keep me from falling in love again.”

“What happened at Nice, then?” Andras said. “What made you turn away?”

She shook her head and put her cheek into her hand. “I was frightened, I suppose. I saw what it might be like to have a life with you. For the first time that seemed possible. But there were all the terrible things I hadn’t told you. You didn’t know I had shot and killed a man, or that I was a fugitive from justice. You didn’t know I’d been raped. You didn’t know how damaged I was.”

“How could it have done anything but make me feel closer to you?”

She came to stand beside him at the window, her face flushed and damp, raw-looking in the dim light. “You’re a young man,” she said. “You can love someone whose life is simple. You don’t need any of this. I was certain you’d see the situation that way as soon as I told you. I was certain I’d seem a ruin of a person.”

Last December she’d stood in just the same place with a cup of tea shivering in her hands. You have some too, she’d said, offering the cup. Te.

“Klara,” he said. “You’re mistaken. I wouldn’t trade your complication for anyone else’s simplicity. Do you understand?”

She raised her eyes to him. “It’s difficult to believe.”

“Try,” he said, and drew her close so he could breathe the warm scent of her scalp, the darkness of her hair. Here in his arms was the girl who had lived in the house near the Városliget, the young dancer who had loved Sándor Goldstein, the woman who loved him now. He could almost see inside her that unnameable thing that had remained the same through all of it: her I, her very life. It seemed so small, a mustard seed with one rootlet shot deep into the earth, strong and fragile at once. But it was all there needed to be. It was everything. She had given it to him, and now he held it in his hands.

They spent that night together on the rue des Écoles. In the morning they washed and dressed in the blue chill of Andras’s room, and then walked together to the rue de Sévigné. It was the seventh of November, a cold gray morning feathered with frost. Andras went inside with her to light the coal stove in the studio. He hadn’t entered that place, her own place, for two months. It was quiet in the expectant way of classrooms; it smelled of ballet shoes and rosin, like the Budapest studio she’d described. In a corner stood the drawing table she had given him for his birthday, draped to keep out the dust. She went to it and pulled the sheet free.

“I’ve kept it, just as you asked,” she said.

Andras took the sheet from her and wrapped it around them both. He drew her so close he could feel her hipbones hard against his own, her ribcage pressing against his ribcage as they breathed. He draped the end of the sheet over their heads so they stood shrouded together in a corner of the studio. In the white privacy of that tent he lifted her chin with one finger and kissed her. She drew the sheet tighter around them.

“Let’s never come out,” he said. “Let’s stay here always.”

He bent to kiss her again, full of the certainty that nothing could make him move from that place-not hunger, nor exhaustion, nor pain, nor fear, nor war.

CHAPTER TWENTY. A Dead Man

THE NEWS CAME to Andras at studio. Though he was half blind with exhaustion after his night with Klara, he had to go to school; he had a critique that day. It was an emulation project: he’d had to design a single-use space in the style of a contemporary architect. He had designed an architecture studio after Pierre Charreau, modeling it upon the doctor’s house on the rue Saint-Guillaume: a three-level building composed of glass block and steel, flooded with diffuse light all day and glowing from inside at night. Everyone had arrived early to pin their designs to the walls; once Andras had found a place for his drawings, he took a stool from his worktable and sat with the older students around a paint-spattered radio. They were listening to the news, expecting nothing but the usual panchromium of worries.

It was Rosen who caught it first; he turned up the volume so everyone could hear. The German ambassador had just been shot. No, not the ambassador, an embassy official. A secretary of legation, whatever that was. Ernst Eduard vom Rath. Twenty-nine years old. He’d been shot by a child. A child? That couldn’t be right. A youngster. A boy of seventeen. A Jewish boy. A German-Jewish boy of Polish extraction. He had shot the official to avenge the deportation of twelve thousand Jews from Germany.

“Oh, God,” Ben Yakov said, pulling his hands through his pomaded hair. “He’s a dead man.”

Everyone crowded closer. Had the embassy official been killed, or was he still alive? The answer came a moment later: He had been shot four times in the abdomen; he was undergoing surgery at the Alma Clinic on rue de l’Université, not ten minutes from the École Spéciale. It was rumored that Hitler was sending his personal physician from Berlin, along with the director of the Surgical Clinic of the University of Munich. The assailant, Gruenspan or Grinspun, was being held at an undisclosed location.

“Sending his personal physician!” Rosen said. “I’m sure he is. Sending him with a nice big capsule of arsenic for their man.”

“What do you mean?” someone demanded.

“Vom Rath has to die for Germany,” Rosen said. “Once he does, they can do whatever they want to the Jews.”

“They’d never kill their own man.”

“Of course they would.”

“They won’t have to,” another student said. “The man’s been shot four times.”

Polaner had stepped away from the crowd near the radio and had gone to smoke a cigarette by the window. Andras went over and looked down into the courtyard, where two fifth-year students were hanging a complicated wooden mobile from a tree. Polaner cracked the window open and blew a line of smoke out into the chilly air.

“I knew him,” he said. “Not the Jewish boy. The other.”

“Vom Rath?” Andras said. “How?”

Polaner glanced up at Andras and then looked away. He tapped his ash onto the windowsill outside, where it circled for a moment and then scattered. “There’s a certain bar I used to go to,” Polaner said. “He used to go, too.”

Andras nodded in silence.

“Shot,” Polaner said. “By a seventeen-year-old Jewish kid. Vom Rath, of all people.”

Vago came in at that moment and turned off the radio, and everyone began to take their seats for the brief lecture he’d give before the critique. Andras sat on his wooden stool only half listening, scratching a box into the surface of the studio desk with the metal clip of his pencil. It was all too much, what Klara had told him the night before and what had happened at the German Embassy. In his mind they became one: Klara and the Polish-German teenager, both violated, both holding guns in trembling hands, both firing, both condemned. Nazi doctors hastened toward Paris to save or kill a man. And the Polish-German boy was in jail somewhere, waiting to learn if he was a murderer or not. Andras’s drawing had slipped one of its pins and hung askew from the wall. He looked at it and thought, That’s right. At that moment, everything seemed to hang at an angle by a single pin: not just houses, but whole cities, countries, peoples. He wished he could quiet the din in his mind. He wanted to be in the smooth white bed at Klara’s house, in her white bedroom, in the sheets that smelled like her body. But there was Vago now, taking Andras’s drawing by its corner and repinning it to the wall. There was the class gathering around. It was time for his critique. He made himself get up from the table and stand beside his drawing while they discussed it. It was only afterward, when everyone was patting him on the shoulder and shaking his hand, that he realized it had been a success.

“Vom Rath didn’t hate the Jews,” Polaner said. “He was a Party member, of course, but he loathed what was going on in Germany. That’s why he came to France: He wanted to get away. At least that was what he told me.”

Two days had passed; Ernst vom Rath had died that afternoon at the Alma Clinic. Hitler’s doctors had come, but they had deferred to the French doctors. According to the evening news broadcast, vom Rath had died of complications from damage to his spleen. A ceremony would be held at the German Lutheran Church that Saturday.

Andras and Polaner had gone to the Blue Dove for a glass of whiskey, but they’d discovered they were short on cash. It was the end of the month; not even the pooled contents of their pockets would buy a single drink. So they told the waiter they would order in a few minutes, and then they sat talking, hoping they could pass half an hour in that warm room before they’d be asked to leave. After a while the waiter brought their usual whiskey and water. When they protested that they couldn’t pay, the waiter twisted one end of his moustache and said, “Next time I’ll charge you double.”

“How did you meet him?” Andras asked Polaner.

Polaner shrugged. “Someone introduced us. He bought me a drink. We talked. He was intelligent and well read. I liked him.”

“But when you learned who he was-”

“What would you have had me do?” Polaner said. “Walk away? Would you have wanted him to do the same to me?”

“But how could you sit there and speak to a Nazi? Especially after what happened last winter?”

“He didn’t do that to me. He wouldn’t have done it. I told you.”

“That’s what he said, at least. But he may have had other motives.”

“For God’s sake,” Polaner said. “Can’t you leave it alone? A man I knew just died. I’m trying to take it in. Isn’t that enough for now?”

“I’m sorry,” Andras said.

Polaner laid his folded hands on the table and rested his chin upon them. “Ben Yakov was right,” he said. “They’ll make an example of that boy. Grynszpan. They’ll have him extradited and then kill him in some spectacular way.”

“They can’t. The world is watching them.”

“All the better, as far as they’re concerned.”

Klara stood at the window with the newspaper in her hand, looking down into the rue de Sévigné. She had just read aloud a brief article about the actions the German government would take against the Jewish people in recompense for the catastrophic destruction of German property that resulted from the violence of 9 November. The newspapers were calling it the Night of Broken Glass. Andras walked up and down the length of the room, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. At the writing desk Elisabet opened a school notebook and scratched a series of figures with a pencil.

“A billion reichsmarks,” she said. “That’s the amount of the fine against the Jews. And there are half a million Jews in Germany. That means each person has to pay two thousand reichsmarks, including children.”

The logic was astounding. He had tried and failed to grasp it. Grynszpan had shot vom Rath; vom Rath had died; November 9, the Night of Broken Glass, was supposed to have been the German people’s natural reaction to the killing. Therefore the responsibility for the destruction of Jewish shops, and the burning of synagogues, and the ransacking of homes-to say nothing of the killing of ninety-one Jews and the arrest of thirty thousand more-lay with the Jews themselves, and so the Jews had to pay. In addition to the fines, all insurance payments for damaged property would go directly to the government. And now it was illegal for Jews to operate businesses in Germany. In Paris and New York and London there had been protests against the pogrom and its aftermath, but the French government had been strangely silent. Rosen said it was because von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, was supposed to visit Paris in December to sign a declaration of friendship between Germany and France. It all seemed a great ugly sham.

From downstairs came the flutter and clang of the afternoon mail arriving through the slot. Elisabet got to her feet so quickly she overturned the chair, sending it backward into the fire screen, then ran downstairs to get the letters.

“I used to have to bribe her with gingerbread to get the mail,” Klara said as she righted the desk chair. “Now she won’t let it sit for half a minute.”

Elisabet was a long time coming up again. When she reappeared, breathless and flushed, it was only to throw a few envelopes onto the writing desk before she ran off down the hall to her room. Klara sat at the desk and thumbed through the mail. One piece, a thin cream-colored envelope, seemed to catch her attention. She took her letter knife and opened it.

“It’s from Zoltán,” she said, and scanned the single page. Her eyebrows drew together and she read more closely. “He and Edith are leaving in three weeks. He’s writing to say goodbye.”

“Leaving for where?”

“Budapest,” she said. “This isn’t the first I’ve heard of it. Marcelle said she’d heard a rumor that they were leaving-she told me last week when I met her at the Tuileries. Zoltán’s been asked to manage the Royal Hungarian Opera. And Madame Novak wants to raise their child near her family.” She rolled her lips inward and pressed a hand against her mouth.

“Are you so unhappy to see him go, Klara?”

She shook her head. “Not for the reason you’re thinking. You know how I feel about Zoltán. He’s a dear friend to me, an old friend. And a good man. He employed you, after all, when the Bernhardt could scarcely afford it.” She went to sit beside Andras on the sofa and took his hand in her own. “But I’m not unhappy to see him go. I’m glad for him.”

“What’s the matter, then?”

“I’m envious,” she said. “Terribly so. He and Edith can get on a train and go home. They can take the baby home to Edith’s mother, to raise it with its cousins.” She smoothed her gray skirt over her knees. “That pogrom in Germany,” she said. “What if such a thing were to happen in Hungary? What if they were to arrest my brother? What would become of my mother?”

“If anything were to happen in Hungary, I could go to Budapest and see about your mother.”

“But I couldn’t go with you.”

“Perhaps we could find a way to bring your mother to France.”

“Even if we could, it would only be a temporary solution,” she said. “To our larger problem, I mean.”

“What larger problem?”

“You know the one. The problem of where we might live together. In the longer term, I mean. You know I can’t go home to Hungary, and you can’t stay here.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Your family,” she said. “What if there’s a war? You’d want to go home to them. I’ve thought about it a hundred times. You must know I thought about it a great deal in September. It was one of the reasons I couldn’t bring myself to write to you. I couldn’t see a way around it. I knew that if we decided to be together, I’d be keeping you from your family.”

“If I stay here it’ll be my own decision,” Andras said. “But if I have to go, I’ll find a way to bring you with me. We’ll see a lawyer. Isn’t there some statute of limitations?”

She shook her head. “I can still be arrested and tried for what I did. And even if I could go home, I couldn’t leave Elisabet.”

“Of course not,” Andras said. “But Elisabet has plans of her own.”

“Yes, that’s just what I fear. She’s still a child, Andras. She wears that engagement ring, but she doesn’t really understand what it means.”

“Her fiancé seems utterly sincere. I know he has the best intentions.”

“If that were the case, he might have consulted his parents before he started filling her head with ideas about marriage and America! He still hasn’t told them he’s engaged. Apparently they’ve got a girl in mind for him already, some beer heiress from Wisconsin. He’s got no attachment to her, he says, but I’m not certain his parents will see it that way. At the very least, he might have thought to ask my permission before he gave Elisabet that ring.”

Andras smiled. “Is that how it’s done? Do young men still ask permission?”

She surrendered a smile in return. “Good young men,” she said.

And then he drew closer and bent to her ear. “I’d like to ask someone’s permission, Klara,” he said. “I’d like to write a letter to your mother.”

“And what if she says no?” she whispered back.

“Then we’d have to elope.”

“But to where, darling?”

“I don’t care,” he said, looking deep into the gray landscape of her eyes. “I want to be with you. That’s all. I know it’s impractical.”

“It’s entirely impractical,” she said. But she put her arms around his neck and raised her face to him, and he kissed her closed eyes, tasting a trace of salt. At that moment they heard Elisabet’s step in the hallway; she appeared in the doorway of the sitting room in her green wool hat and coat. Andras and Klara drew away from each other and got to their feet.

“Pardon me, disgusting adults,” Elisabet said. “I’m going to the movies.”

“Listen, Elisabet,” Andras said. “What if I were to marry your mother?”

“Please,” Klara said, raising a hand in caution. “This isn’t the way we should talk about it.”

Elisabet tilted her head at Andras. “What did you say?”

“Marry her,” Andras said. “Make her my wife.”

“Do you mean that?” Elisabet said. “You want to marry her?”

“I do.”

“And she’ll have you?”

A long moment passed during which Andras experienced terrible suspense. But then Klara took his hand in her own and pressed it, almost as though she were in pain. “He knows what I want,” she said. “We want the same thing.”

Andras let out a breath. A flash flood of relief washed over Elisabet’s features; her perpetually knotted forehead went smooth. She crossed the room and put her arms around Andras, then kissed her mother. “It’s splendid,” she said, with plain sincerity. Without another word she flung her purse over her shoulder and clattered down the stairs.

“Splendid?” Klara said, in the reverberating silence that always followed Elisabet’s departures. “I’m not certain what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it.”

“She thinks it’ll make things easier for her and Paul.”

Klara sighed. “I know. If I marry you, she won’t have to feel guilty about leaving me.”

“We’ll wait, then, if you think it’ll make a difference. We’ll wait until she’s finished with school.”

“That’s another seven months.”

“Seven months,” he said. “But then we’ll have the rest of our lives.”

She nodded and took his hand. “Seven months.”

“Klara,” he said. “Klara Morgenstern. Have you just agreed to marry me?”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes. When Elisabet’s done with school. But that doesn’t mean I’m letting her run off to America with that smooth-talking young man.”

“Seven months,” he said.

“And perhaps by then we’ll solve our geographic problem.”

He held her by the shoulders and kissed her mouth, her cheekbones, her eyelids. “Let’s not worry about that now,” he said. “Promise me you won’t think about it.”

“I can’t promise that, Andras. We’ll have to think about it if we’re to solve it.”

“We’ll think about it later. Now I want to kiss you. May I?”

In answer she put her arms around him, and he kissed her, wishing he had nothing else to do all day, all year, all his life. Then he pulled away and said, “I’m unprepared for this. I don’t have anything for you. I don’t have a ring.”

“A ring!” she said. “I don’t want a ring.”

“You’ll have one, though. I’ll see to it. And I wasn’t speaking lightly when I said I wanted to write to your mother.”

“That’s a tricky business, as you know.”

“I wish we could speak to József,” Andras said. “He could write to her, or enclose a letter from me inside one of his own.”

Klara pulled her lips together. “From what you’ve told me about his life, it hasn’t come to seem any wiser to involve him in our situation.”

“If we’re to be married, he’ll have to know sometime. The Latin Quarter is a small place.”

She sighed. “I know. It’s rather complicated.” She went back to the sofa and opened the folded newspaper. “At least we’ve got some time to think about it. Seven months,” she said. “Who knows what will happen by then? Shouldn’t we all just get married at once? Shouldn’t I be glad that my child might go across the ocean to America? If there’s a war, she’ll be safer there.”

That elusive ghost, safety. It had fled Hungary, had fled the halls of the École Spéciale, had fled Germany long before November 9. But as he sat down beside her and looked at the newspaper on her lap, he tasted the shock of it all over again. He followed the line of her hand to the front-page photograph: a man and woman in their nightclothes, standing in the street; a little boy between them, clutching what looked to be a Punch doll with a cone-shaped hat; and before them, shedding its violent light on them, a house on fire from its doorstep to its rafters. In the places where the fire had burned away carpets and flooring, wallpaper and plaster, he could see the structure of the house illuminated like the stripped bones of an animal. And he saw what an architect might see, what the man and woman and boy could not have seen as they stood in the street at that moment: that the main supports had already burned through, and in another moment the structure would fall in upon itself like a poorly built model, its beams crumbling to ash.

PART THREE. Departures and Arrivals

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE. A Dinner Party

IN EARLY DECEMBER, Madame Gérard threw a party for her own birthday. Klara received an invitation on a heavy ivory-colored card printed with gold ink; Andras was invited as her guest. The night of the party he put on an immaculate white shirt and a black silk tie, sprinkled and brushed his best dinner jacket, and polished the shoes Tibor had brought him the year before from Budapest. He told himself that there was nothing extraordinary about the fact that Marcelle had invited him; in fact, though, this was to be the first time he had seen her since her departure from the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, and the first time he would appear in public as Klara’s future husband, among people who might consider him her inferior. What he feared was not just what her friends might think of him but what she might think, seeing him for the first time among the members of her circle. Those choreographers, those dancers, those composers who sometimes made her gifts of their music: How could he appear in comparison to them except as a novice, an aspirant, a perhaps-someday-but-not-yet? He wondered if that was the effect Marcelle had intended. But Klara herself distracted him from his concerns; when he arrived at the rue de Sévigné that night her manner was light and intimate. They walked the chilly boulevards toward Marcelle’s new apartment in the Eleventh, through streets that smelled of woodsmoke and approaching cold. It was difficult to believe it was nearly December, a year since they’d first met. Soon the skating ponds in the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne would be frozen solid once again.

At Madame Gérard’s they were received by a girl in a crisp white apron who took their coats and ushered them into a parquet-floored drawing room. The building belonged to the Belle Époque, but Madame Gérard had decorated her new apartment in the modern style: in the drawing room there were low black leather sofas and African masks and vases of veined malachite on glass shelves. Grass-green draperies hung at the windows, and two steel tables stood at attention beside the sofas like slim-legged greyhounds. On the tables were a pair of Brancusis, two tense flames of black marble. All of it was the fruit of her recent success; she had conquered Paris in every role she’d played since The Mother, and had just received a series of enthusiastic reviews for her Antigone at the Théâtre des Ambassadeurs, where Andras and Forestier had installed an elaborate surrealist set. Now Madame Gérard herself, dressed in a chartreuse silk gown, crossed the drawing room to welcome Andras and Klara. She kissed them both, and after they’d exchanged their greetings she led Andras to a black lacquered console table where drinks were being served.

“Look how you’ve turned out,” she said, and touched his lapel. “A gentleman after all. Evening dress suits you. I may have a terrible fit of jealousy before the night is over.”

“It was kind of you to invite me,” Andras said. He heard the forced calm in his own voice, and he thought he saw the hint of a smile at the corner of Madame Gérard’s mouth.

“It was kind of you to indulge me on my birthday,” she said. And then, more pointedly: “You’ll enjoy the company, I believe. Our friend Monsieur Novak is here with his wife. Have you heard they’re to return to Hungary?” She tilted her head toward a corner of the room, where Novak and his wife stood talking to a silver-haired man in a cravat. “I must say, he reacted with some surprise when I told him you and Klara would be here. I imagine you must know all about…?”

“Yes, I know all about,” he said. “Though I’m sure you’d rather I hadn’t. It would have entertained you, wouldn’t it, to have been able to tell me yourself.”

“I’ve only ever looked out for your well-being,” Madame Gérard said. “I warned you about getting involved with Klara. I must say I was astonished to hear that things had become so serious between you. I was certain she viewed you as a kind of entertainment.”

Andras felt the heat rising beneath his skin. “And is this your idea of an entertainment?” he said. “To invite people to your house and then insult them?”

“Lower your voice, darling,” Madame Gérard said. “You attribute too much cleverness to me. How is one to keep straight everyone else’s romantic intrigues? If I’d invited only those of my friends whose connections were uncomplicated, I couldn’t have invited anyone at all!”

“I know you better than that,” Andras said. “I don’t think you do anything by mistake.”

“Well, I can see you’ve got me thoroughly romanticized,” she said, obviously pleased. “What a charming young man you are.”

“And when exactly does Monsieur Novak depart for Hungary?” he asked.

She gave her low dissonant laugh. “January,” she said. “I can’t imagine you’ll be sad to see him go. Though I’m not certain how Klara will take it. They were very close, you understand.” She handed him a glass of whiskey with ice, and turned her head toward Klara, who had taken a seat beside Novak on a low black sofa. “You mustn’t worry what people will say about the two of you, by the way-about your engagement, I mean. Everyone loves Klara’s eccentricities. I find the situation irresistible myself. It’s like a fairy tale! Look at you. She’s turned you from a frog into a prince.”

“If that’s all,” he said, “I’ll bring Klara a drink.”

“You’d better,” Madame Gérard said. “In another moment he’ll be obliged to get one for her.” She turned her gaze again to the low black sofa, where Novak was explaining something to Klara in urgent tones. Klara shook her head, smiling sadly; Novak seemed to press his point, and Klara lowered her eyes.

Andras got her a glass of wine and made his way through a cluster of dinner guests in evening dress; he brushed past Novak’s wife, Edith, a tall, dark-haired woman in a velvet gown, redolent of jasmine perfume. The last time he’d seen her, almost a year earlier at the Sarah-Bernhardt, she’d handed him her bag while she searched her pockets for a handkerchief. She’d given him no more regard than if he’d been a hook on the wall. Now she held her back rigid while another women leaned close to her ear; it was clear that the other woman was narrating the progression of Novak’s tête-à-tête with Klara. When Andras reached the sofa, Monsieur Novak got to his feet and held out a damp red hand for Andras to shake. His eyes were raw, his breathing labored. After his first words of greeting he seemed unable to introduce a subject of conversation.

“I understand you’re going home to Budapest,” Andras said.

Novak smiled with obvious effort. “Yes, indeed,” he said. “And what will I do this time for a lunchtime companion? Madame Novak prefers the dining car.”

“You’ll probably cheer up some young fool on his way from Paris to Budapest.”

“Fool indeed, if he’s young and heading back to Budapest.”

“ Budapest is a fine place for a young man,” Andras said.

“Perhaps you ought to have stayed there, then,” Novak said, leaning a shade too close to Andras; in an instant Andras knew he was drunk. By now Klara knew, too, of course; she stood and placed a hand on Novak’s sleeve. A flash of resentment kindled in Andras’s chest. If Novak was going to undo himself, Klara shouldn’t feel under an obligation to protect him. But she gave Andras a look that begged forbearance, and he had to relent. He couldn’t fault Novak. It had been only three months, after all, since his own bout of drunken howling at József Hász’s flat.

“Monsieur Novak was telling me about his new position with the Royal Hungarian Opera,” Klara said.

“Ah, yes. They’re lucky to have you,” Andras said.

“Well, Paris won’t miss me,” Novak said, looking pointedly at Klara. “That much is evident.”

Madame Gérard had crossed the room to join their group, and she took Novak’s hands in her own. “We shall all miss you terribly,” she said. “It’s a great loss to us. A great loss to me. What will I do without you? Who will preside at my dinner parties?”

“You will preside, as always,” Novak said.

“Not ‘as always,’” she said. “I used to be morbidly shy. You used to do all the talking for me. But perhaps you don’t remember that. Perhaps you don’t remember how you were forced to ply me with wine in your office, just to convince me to take Madame Villareal-Bloch’s role.”

“Ah, yes, poor Claudine,” Novak said, his voice rising in volume as he spoke. “She was brilliant, and she threw it all away for that boy. That press attaché from Brazil. She followed him to São Paolo, and then he dropped her for a young tart.” He turned a glare upon Andras. “And she was so certain he loved her. But he made a fool of her.” He drained his glass, then went toward the window and stared down into the street.

A wave of silence spread from Novak to the rest of the guests; conversation faltered in one small group after another. It seemed they’d all been watching the exchange between Andras and Klara and Novak; it was almost as though they’d been notified of the situation in advance, and advised to pay particular attention. At last an elderly woman in a black Mainbocher gown cleared her throat delicately, fortified herself with a sip of gin, and declared that she had just heard that the forty thousand railroad workers fired by Monsieur Reynaud would stage a protest, and that the only good that might come of it would be that Monsieur and Madame Novak’s departure might be delayed.

“Oh, but that would be terrible,” said Madame Novak. “Mother is giving a party to welcome us, and the invitations have already been sent.”

Madame Gérard laughed. “No one could ever accuse you of being a populist, Edith,” she said, and the conversation soon resumed its former pace.

At dinner, Andras found himself seated between Madame Novak and the elderly woman in the Mainbocher gown. Andras found Madame Novak’s jasmine perfume so overpowering that it seemed to lace the flavor of every dish set before him; he ate jasmine terrapin soup, jasmine sorbet, jasmine pheasant. Klara was seated beside Novak down the table to Andras’s right, where it was impossible for him to see her face. The talk at the table was at first of Madame Gérard: her career and her new apartment and her enduring beauty. Marcelle listened with poorly acted modesty, her mouth slipping into a self-satisfied smile. When she’d grown bored of basking in flattery she turned the conversation to Budapest, its charms and difficulties and how it had changed since the Hungarians among them had lived there in their youth. She kept beginning her sentences by saying, “When we were Monsieur Lévi’s age.” A Captain Something-von-Other seated across from Andras declared that Europe would be at war before long, and that Hungary must be involved, and that Budapest would undergo profound changes before the decade closed. Madame Novak voiced the hope that the park where she’d played as a child would not be altered, at least; that was where she intended for her own child to play.

“Isn’t that right?” she asked her husband across the table. “I’ll have János’s nurse take him there as soon as we get to town.”

“Where, my dear?”

“The park on Pozsonyi út, at the river’s edge.”

“Of course,” said Novak absently, turning again to Klara.

The dinner concluded with cheeses and port, and the guests retired to a buff-walled room that held velvet settees and a Victrola. Madame Gérard demanded that they have dancing. The settees were moved aside, a record placed upon the Victrola, and the guests began swaying to a new American song, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Monsieur Novak took Klara by the waist and led her to the center of the room. They danced awkwardly, Klara with her hands braced against Novak’s arms, Novak trying to lower his head onto her shoulder. Madame Novak, willfully oblivious, danced a jerky jazz step with Captain Something-von-Other, and Andras found himself partnered with the elderly woman in black. The way you wear your hat, she sang into Andras’s ear. The way you sip your tea. The memory of all that-no, they can’t take that away from me.

“It’s about lost love!” she said, when he protested that his English was terrible. She seemed to think she had to shout into his ear in order to be heard above the music and conversation. “The man is parted from the woman, but he’ll never forget her! She haunts his dreams! She’s changed his life!”

No one could get enough of the song. Madame Gérard declared it her new favorite. They played it four times before they tired of it. Andras danced with Madame Gérard, and with Edith Novak, and with the elderly woman again; but Zoltán Novak would not release Klara. In a short time he would leave Paris forever; nothing could prevent that-not a rail strike, nor the threat of war, nor the force of his own love. Klara tried to extricate herself from his arms, but each time she pulled away he protested so loudly she had to stay with him to avoid a scene. Finally, too drunk to stand, he stumbled back onto a settee and wiped his forehead with a large white handkerchief. Madame Gérard took the record from the turntable and announced that the birthday cake would now be served, and Klara motioned Andras into a hallway.

“Let’s go,” she whispered. “We should never have come. I should have known Marcelle would arrange some horrible drama.”

He was only too eager to leave. They retrieved their coats from a red bedroom and slipped out into the hall. But Novak must have missed Klara, and then heard the lift descending; or perhaps he had just decided he couldn’t bear the heat of the room any longer. When they emerged onto the sidewalk he was there on the balcony, calling out to Klara as she and Andras walked arm in arm down the street. Andras, far from feeling any triumph, was sick with empathy. It seemed just as likely that he himself might have been the one she was leaving behind forever, the one who’d been sent back to Hungary without her, and the feeling was so strong he had to sit down on a bench and put his head between his knees. It was a fresh shock to feel her close beside him, her gloved hand on his shoulder. They sat there on the bench in the cold for what seemed a long time, neither of them speaking a word.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO. Signorina di Sabato

ON A DAY of knifelike December wind, the Ligue Internationale Contre l’Antisemitisme staged a protest against the German foreign minister’s visit to Paris. Andras and Polaner and Rosen and Ben Yakov stood in a tight group of demonstrators outside the Élysée Palace, shouting slogans of protest against the French and German governments, waving signs-NO FRIENDSHIP WITH FASCISTS; VON RIBBENTROP GO HOME-and singing the Zionist songs they’d learned at earlier meetings of the Ligue, which Rosen had insisted they all join after the pogrom in Germany. That morning he had woken them at dawn to paint placards. There could be no excuse for passivity, he said as he dragged them from their beds, no excuse for lying around while Joachim von Ribbentrop prepared to sign a nonaggression treaty with France; Bonnet, the French foreign minister who had been so accommodating about Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland, had arranged it all. At Rosen’s they drank a pot of Turkish coffee and made a dozen signs, Rosen stirring the paint with a ruler and insisting they all breathe the fumes of revolution. Andras knew Rosen’s performance was largely for the benefit of his new copine, a Zionist nursing student whom he’d met that summer. The girl, Shalhevet, had joined them that morning to make the signs. She was tall and fierce-eyed, with a heartbreaking lock of white in her black hair; her occasional winks at Andras and Polaner and Ben Yakov suggested she knew how absurd Rosen could be, but she watched him with an admiration that betrayed her deeper feelings.

Though Andras had complained at being dragged from bed, he was glad to be called upon to do something more substantial than read the newspaper and lament its contents. As he stood outside the Élysée Palace holding his sign aloft, he thought of the young Grynszpan in Fresnes prison-what he must have been feeling at that moment, and whether or not he knew France was welcoming the German foreign minister that day. At noon, von Ribbentrop’s black limousine pulled up to the gates of the palace and was quickly ushered through. While the police watched warily and guarded the barricades around the palace, the Friendship Declaration was signed. There was nothing the protesters could have done to stop it from happening, but they’d made their feelings known. After the foreign minister had departed again, the Ligue marched all the way to the river, shouting and singing. And at the quai des Tuileries Andras and his friends broke away to end their afternoon at the Blue Dove, where the talk was not of politics but of their other favorite subject. Ben Yakov, it seemed, faced a terrible problem: Despite all his efforts, he’d only managed to save two thirds of the money he needed to bring his Florentine bride back to Paris -to steal her away, as Rosen said. And time was of the essence; they couldn’t wait any longer. In another month she would be married to the old goat to whom her parents had promised her.

Rosen knocked a fist against the table. “To arms, men,” he said. “At all costs, we must save girls from goats.”

Shalhevet agreed. “Yes, please,” she said. “Save girls from goats.”

“You people insist upon making a joke out of everything,” Ben Yakov said.

“It’s your own medicine, I’m afraid,” Polaner said.

“This is the most critical moment of my life,” Ben Yakov said. “I can’t lose Ilana. For four months I’ve been working like a dog to bring her here. Day and night, at school and at the library, trying to save every centime. I’ve thought about nothing but her. I’ve written her nearly every day. I’ve been as celibate as a monk.”

“Excuse me,” Rosen said. “What about the Carousel Dance Club last weekend? What were you doing there with Lucia if you’ve been celibate as a monk?”

“One lapse!” Ben Yakov said, raising his hands heavenward. “A farewell to bachelorhood.”

Andras shook his head. “You must know you’ll make a terrible husband,” he said. “You ought to wait a few years until your blood cools down.”

Ben Yakov frowned at his empty glass. “I’m in love with Ilana,” he said. “We can’t wait any longer. But I’m still missing a thousand francs. I can afford to get there and back, but I can’t afford her ticket.”

“What about your brother?” Polaner asked, turning to Andras. “Can he help?”

Tibor was coming to visit in three weeks; he would spend his winter holiday in Paris. He and Andras had been saving the money for months. Even Klara had contributed to Tibor’s ticket; she’d insisted that as Andras’s fiancée she had a right to do so. “I won’t let him give up his ticket,” Andras said. “Not even for Ben Yakov’s fiancée.”

“He wouldn’t have to give it up,” Rosen said. “Ben Yakov can afford to buy her ticket if he doesn’t have to get one of his own. And then Tibor could escort her. He would just have to get to Florence, that’s all.”

Ben Yakov rose from his chair. He put his hands to his head. “That’s brilliant,” he said. “My God. We could do it. It can’t cost much to get from Modena to Florence.”

“Wait a minute,” Andras said. “Tibor hasn’t agreed, and neither have I. How is this meant to work? He goes to Florence, and elopes with her in your place?”

“He’ll meet her at the train station and they’ll leave together,” Rosen said. “Isn’t that right, Ben Yakov? He would have to do nothing but show up in Florence.”

“But what about when she gets here?” Andras said. “She can’t just step off a train and marry you at once. Where will she stay before the wedding?”

Ben Yakov stared. “She’ll stay at my apartment, of course.”

“She’s an Orthodox girl, remember.”

“I’ll give her my room. I’ll come stay with one of you.”

“Not with me,” Rosen said, glancing sideways at Shalhevet.

“If Shalhevet is staying with you,” Ben Yakov said, “let Ilana stay at her place.”

“You can’t leave her all alone in a dormitory,” Shalhevet said. “She’ll be miserable.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” Ben Yakov said.

“What about Klara?” Polaner asked. “Could Ilana stay with her?”

Andras set his chin on his hand. “I don’t know,” he said. “She’s preparing her students for their winter recital. It’s the busiest time of year.” And, though he didn’t say it aloud, there were aspects of the situation he knew Klara wouldn’t like. What business did they have importing a bride for Ben Yakov, their notorious scoundrel? The girl was running away from home to come to Paris; she had grown up in a close-knit Sephardic community in Florence, and was only nineteen years old. It was one thing to involve Tibor, but quite another to ask Klara to be an accomplice.

Polaner looked at Andras with concern. “What’s the matter?” he said.

“I’m not sure. Suddenly I find I’ve got doubts about all of this.”

“Please,” Ben Yakov said, putting a hand on Andras’s shoulder. “I’m begging you. Of all people, you have to understand my situation. You’ve struggled for the past year, and you’re happy now. Can’t you help me? I know I haven’t always acted like a gentleman, but you know how hard I’ve worked since I came back from Florence. I’ve done everything in my power to get that girl here.”

Andras gave a sigh and put a hand on Ben Yakov’s hand. “All right,” he said. “I’ll write to Tibor. And I’ll talk to Klara.”

12 December 1938

Modena, Italy

Andráska,

I consider it an honor to be asked to conduct the future Madame Ben Yakov to Paris. I’m glad to be of help to any friend of yours. I do feel for the girl’s parents, though. What will they think when they learn she’s gone? I hope Ben Yakov will reconcile with them as soon as he can. He may be just charming enough to pull it off. Please have him wire me Signorina di Sabato’s train information and I will meet her at the station in Firenze.

As for me, I’m more than ready to spend a few indolent weeks with you in your self-loving city. I’m exhausted. No one warns medical students that the course of study itself may produce any number of the diseases studied. I hope I may cure myself with sleep, wine, and your company.

Madame Morgenstern’s book of anatomy continues to serve me well. I’ll always be in debt to her for that gift. But please tell her not to make me any more such presents in the future! When my friends see that I own such a fine book, they overestimate my wealth and expect me to buy them dinner. At this rate I will soon be ruined entirely. In the meantime, I remain

your merely impoverished brother,

TIBOR

Andras brought the letter to Klara and asked for her help. Accompanying him was François Ben Yakov; it was the first time he had made Klara’s acquaintance. He had dressed for the occasion in a jacket of fine black wool and a red tie figured with barley-sized fleurs-de-lis. As Ben Yakov held Klara’s hands in his own and begged her understanding, meeting her gaze with his dark film-star eyes, Andras half-wondered if Klara might fall under the spell Ben Yakov seemed to cast upon every woman he met. She was enchanted enough to agree to help, at least; she allowed Ben Yakov to kiss her hand and to call her an angel. Once Ben Yakov had gone, leaving Andras and Klara alone, she laughed and said she could see why he caused such trouble among the young ladies of his acquaintance.

“I hope you won’t elope with him before the bride arrives,” Andras said. He pulled a chair close to the fire for her and they sat down to watch the coals burn low.

“Not a chance,” Klara said, and smiled. But then her expression grew serious, and she crossed her arms over her chest. “I share your brother’s reservation, though. I wish the girl didn’t have to run away. Would it really have been impossible for Ben Yakov to approach her father?”

“Would you allow your daughter to marry François Ben Yakov? Particularly if you’d raised her as an observant Jew? I’m afraid Ben Yakov was right when he came to the conclusion that they had to do it in secret.”

Klara sighed. “What will my own daughter think?”

“She’ll think she has a compassionate and understanding mother.”

“I understand too well,” Klara said. “So will Elisabet. This Florentine girl is restless, most likely. She wants a way out of the fate her parents have chosen for her. So she imagines herself to be in love with your friend. She must be very strong-willed if she’s ready to leave her family behind for his sake.”

“Strong-willed, indeed,” Andras said. “And in love. To hear him tell it, she wants to come more than anything. And he wants it too.”

“Do you think he can make her happy?”

Andras looked into the fire, at the heat swimming up through the coals. “He’ll do his best. He’s a good man.”

“I hope he does,” she said. “I hope he is.”

On the night of Tibor and Ilana’s arrival they all went to the station to meet the train. They stood in a group on the platform, Andras and Klara and Polaner, Rosen and Shalhevet, while Ben Yakov paced the platform a little distance away; in one clenched hand he held a nosegay of pansies for Signorina di Sabato. Pansies were a terrible extravagance in winter, but he’d insisted upon buying them. They were the flowers he’d given her when they first met.

It was Shalhevet who spotted the train, the speck of light far off down the line. They heard the throaty alto notes of the whistle; their group pressed forward with the rest of the Parisians who’d come to meet their holiday visitors. The train pulled in, letting off a skirt of steam, and the waiting crowd surged closer still as it came to a stop. After a maddeningly long time, the doors opened with their metallic clack and the gold-epauletted conductors jumped down onto the platform. Everyone took half a step back and waited.

Tibor was among the first to appear. Andras saw him at the door of one of the third-class cars, his expression anxious and weary; he held a pale green bandbox and a lady’s fancy umbrella. He moved aside to make way for a young girl with a long dark braid, who paused on the top step to cast a searching look over the crowd.

“It’s her,” Ben Yakov shouted over his shoulder to them. “It’s Ilana!” He called her name and waved the pansies. And the girl broke into an anxious smile so beautiful that Andras nearly fell in love with her himself. She came down the steps and crossed the platform to meet Ben Yakov, stopping just short of running into his arms, and let forth a stream of quick and insistent Italian as she gestured toward the train. Andras wondered how Ben Yakov could keep from embracing her; it gave him a moment’s worry before he remembered it was forbidden by her observance. Ben Yakov would not touch her until he placed the ring on her finger at the wedding. But she raised her eyes to him with a look more intimate than an embrace, and he offered her the pansies, and she gave him that smile again.

Tibor had crossed the platform behind Signorina di Sabato; he set the bandbox at her feet and propped the umbrella against it. She spoke a few words in a tone of gratitude and he made a quiet reply, not meeting her gaze. Then he put an arm around Andras, bent to his ear, and said, “Congratulations, little brother.”

“Congratulate Ben Yakov!” Andras said. “He’s the groom.”

“He is now,” Tibor said. “But you’ll be next. Where’s your bride?” He went to Klara, kissed her on both cheeks and embraced her. “I’ve never had a sister,” he told her. “You’ll have to teach me how to be a proper brother to you.”

“You’ve got a fine start,” Klara said. “Here you are, all the way from Modena.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be very good company tonight,” Tibor said. He put a hand on Andras’s sleeve. “I’ve got a rather bad headache. I don’t think I’m fit for a celebration at the moment.” In fact he seemed overcome with exhaustion; he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with two fingers before he greeted the others. He shook Ben Yakov’s hand, gave Polaner an appreciative clap on the shoulder, told Rosen what a pleasure it was to see him with such a lovely companion. And then he drew Andras aside.

“Get me to bed,” he said. “I’m whipped. I think I may be ill.”

“Of course,” Andras said. “We’ll get your bags and go.” He had planned to accompany Signorina di Sabato to Klara’s house, to see her comfortably settled there, but Klara insisted she could manage on her own. There wasn’t much to transport: Signorina di Sabato had a small trunk and a wooden crate in addition to the bandbox, and those pieces, along with the fancy umbrella, made up the sum of her possessions. They got everything to the curb and Ben Yakov hailed a cab. He held the door for Signorina di Sabato and ushered her inside; to preserve her modesty he allowed Klara to slide in next. Finally, with a salute to the rest of them, he ducked into the cab and pulled the door closed.

Rosen and Shalhevet remained on the sidewalk with Andras and his brother. “Won’t you come have a drink?” Rosen asked.

Tibor made his apologies in his confident but skeletal French, and Shalhevet and Rosen assured him that they understood. Andras called another cab. He had thought they might walk home, but Tibor looked as if he might fall to his knees at any moment. He was quiet on the way to the rue des Écoles; all he would say about the journey was that it had been long and that he was relieved it was over.

They climbed out of the cab and took Tibor’s things inside. By the time they got to the top, Tibor was taking rapid shallow breaths and bracing himself against the wall. Andras hastily unlocked the door. Tibor went in and lay down on the bed, not bothering to remove his shoes or overcoat, and put an arm over his eyes.

“Tibi,” Andras said. “What can I do? Shall I go to the pharmacist’s? Do you want something to drink?”

Tibor kicked his shoes loose and let them drop to the floor. He rolled onto his side and curled his knees to his chest. Andras went to the bed and leaned over him. He touched Tibor’s forehead: dry and hot. Tibor pulled the quilt over himself and began to shiver.

“You’re sick,” Andras said, one hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“Common virus. I felt it coming on all week. I just need to sleep.”

In another instant Tibor had drifted off. He slept as Andras took his coat off, as Andras undressed him and laid a cool cloth over his forehead. Around midnight the fever broke and Tibor threw the covers off, but it wasn’t long before he was shivering again. He woke and told Andras to get a box of aspirin from his suitcase. Andras gave him the medicine and covered Tibor with every blanket and coat he had. Finally Tibor turned over onto his side and slept. Andras unrolled the mattress he’d borrowed from the concierge and lay down on the floor beside the fire, but found himself unable to sleep. He paced the room, checking on Tibor every half hour until his forehead grew cooler and his breathing deepened. Andras lay down in his clothes on the borrowed mattress; he didn’t want to take the covers from his brother.

In the morning it was Tibor who woke first. By the time Andras opened his eyes his brother had made tea and toasted a few pieces of bread. Sometime in the night he must have spread a blanket over Andras. Now he sat in the orange velvet chair, clean and close-shaven, wearing Andras’s robe and eating toast with jam. At intervals he blew his nose loudly into a handkerchief.

“Well,” Andras said, from his mattress on the floor. “You’re alive.”

“You’d better not get near me, though. I’ve still got a fever.”

“Too late. I took care of you all night.” He sat up and ran his hands through his hair to stand it on end.

Tibor smiled. “That style suits you, brother.”

“Thank you, brother. And how are you feeling this morning? Any better?”

“Better than I felt on the train.” He looked down into his teacup. “I’m sure Signorina di Sabato must have thought me a fine companion.”

“She seemed in good enough spirits when you arrived.”

“She had a few bad moments when we left Florence, but on the whole she was rather brave.”

“Made bold by love,” Andras said.

Tibor gave a nod and turned the cup in its saucer. “Tell me,” he said. “What kind of person is this Ben Yakov?”

“You’ve met him,” Andras said, and shrugged. “He’s a good enough man.”

“Is that the best you can say for him?”

It wasn’t, after all. Andras remembered the talk they’d had at Polaner’s bedside after the attack. It was Ben Yakov who had shamed them both into realizing how little they knew of their friend, and how unlikely it was that he would have chosen to confide in either of them. “He’s a good friend,” Andras said. “He’s a good student. Women like him. He hasn’t always been honest with them, but he’s been nothing but sincere about Ilana.”

“She told me how they met,” Tibor said. “It was at the marketplace. She was there with a friend. She had just bought two live chickens, but they broke their cage and got away. They went down an alley and ran into someone’s courtyard. Ben Yakov caught them. He got them back into their cage and fixed it with wire. Then he insisted on carrying them home for her.”

“Escaped chickens,” Andras said. “A romantic beginning.”

“And then he started visiting her in secret,” Tibor said.

“Yes, of course. He’s always had a flair for the dramatic.”

“And there was the problem of her family’s plans for her. But it all seems rather dishonorable on his part, doesn’t it? He might have declared himself to her father and made an argument for himself.”

Andras gave a short laugh. “That’s just what Klara said, almost to the letter.”

Tibor frowned and put his cup on the table. He laced his fingers over his chest, looking out at the gray sky and the ostrich plumes of chimney smoke fading into its heights. “The girl is nineteen,” he said. “I saw her passport. Her birthday was last week. Do you know what else? She has a birthmark on her neck in the shape of a flying bird.”

“What sort of bird?” Andras said. “A chicken?”

Tibor gave a great helpless laugh, which led him into a cough. He leaned forward in the chair, covering his mouth with the handkerchief. When he sat back, he had to wipe his eyes with his sleeve and drink the rest of his tea before he could speak.

“Why do I bother talking to you?” he said.

“I suppose you got into the habit years ago and never quit.”

“Anyway, we’ve got more important things to discuss. Your engagement to Madame Morgenstern, for one.”

“Ah, yes. By some miracle, Klara Morgenstern has agreed to be my wife.”

“So you’ll be the first of the three of us to marry, too.”

“Unless the world ends before next summer.”

“A distinct possibility, the way things stand at the moment,” Tibor said.

“But if not, she’ll be Madame Lévi.”

“And what about this secret history of hers?”

Andras had refused to write him about it, saying instead that they would talk once Tibor came to visit; he had remembered the elder Mrs. Hász’s caution and decided it might be unwise to send the story via post. Now he joined Tibor at the little table and related Klara’s history from beginning to end, a revelation Klara herself had given him permission to make. When he’d finished, Tibor regarded him in stunned silence for a long moment.

“What a horror,” he said finally. “All of it. And now she’s an exile.”

“And there’s our problem,” Andras said. “Apparently insoluble.”

“You haven’t written to Anya and Apa about this, have you? Haven’t told them you’re engaged, or any of it?”

“I haven’t had the heart. I suppose I’m hoping Klara’s situation will change.”

“But how, if there’s no statute of limitations?”

“I don’t know how, I confess. Until it does, I’ll share her exile.”

“Ah, Andráska,” Tibor said. “Little brother.”

“You did warn me,” Andras said.

“And you ignored me, of course.” He bent to cough into his fist. “I shouldn’t be sitting up so long. I should be in bed. And I shouldn’t be giving anyone advice about love, of all things. Here’s what I know of the heart: It’s a four-chambered organ whose purpose is to pump blood. Left ventricle, right ventricle, left atrium, right atrium, and all the valves, tricuspid, mitral, pulmonary, and aortic.” He coughed again. “Ah, get me back to bed and let me sleep. And don’t give me any more bad news when I wake.”

The next day, when he was well enough to venture out, Tibor suggested they pay a visit to Signorina di Sabato-to make sure she was comfortably settled, he said, and to return a book he’d borrowed from her on the train: a beautiful old edition of the Divina Commedia, bound in tooled leather. When Andras expressed surprise that Signorina di Sabato would be reading Dante, Tibor insisted that she was better read than any girl he’d ever met. From the age of twelve she’d been a secret borrower from the library near her home in the Jewish Quarter. The Divina Commedia belonged to that library; Tibor showed Andras the stamp on the spine. She hadn’t meant to steal it, but as she was packing she realized that if she left it behind, her parents would find out that she’d been borrowing from the library in secret. She had told Tibor about it on the train, laughing sadly at herself as she did: There she’d been, running off to Paris to get married, and what had worried her was the idea that her parents might be scandalized by her having borrowed secular library books.

At Klara’s they found Signorina di Sabato engaged in hemming the ivory silk dress that was to be her wedding gown. Klara sat beside her on the sofa, sewing a fine band of scalloped lace along the edge of a veil. Elisabet, not usually one to take an interest in what everyone else was doing, pored over a book of fancy cakes; she gave Tibor a look of mild curiosity and waved to him from her chair. But Ilana di Sabato was on her feet the moment she saw him, the ivory dress falling from her lap to the floor.

“Ah, Tibor!” she said, and followed with a few quick words in Italian. She made a gesture toward the library book and offered a smile of gratitude.

“You brought the book,” Klara said. “She told me you’d borrowed it. I understood that much. We’ve been getting by, between my bit of Italian and her bit of French.”

“And what does Signorina di Sabato think of Paris?” Andras asked.

“She likes it very well indeed,” Klara said. “We had a walk in the Tuileries this morning.”

“I’m sure she despises it,” Elisabet answered, not raising her eyes from the book of cakes. “So cold and dismal. I’m sure she wants to go back to Florence.”

Signorina di Sabato gave Elisabet a questioning look. Tibor translated, and Signorina di Sabato shook her head and made an insistent reply.

“She doesn’t hate it at all,” Tibor said.

“She will, soon enough,” Elisabet said. “It’s depressing in December.”

Klara set down the wedding veil and declared that she would like some tea. “Won’t you help me with the tray?” she asked Andras. He followed her into the kitchen, where a raft of recipe books lay open on the table.

Andras touched a page on which there was a drawing of a whole fish dressed in thin slices of lemon. “And when will the wedding be?” he asked.

“Next Sunday,” Klara said. “Ben Yakov has arranged it with the rabbi. His parents are taking the train from Rouen. We’ll have the luncheon here afterward.”

“Klárika,” Andras said, taking her by the waist and turning her toward him. “No one meant for you to host a wedding luncheon.”

She put his arms around his neck. “They have to have some sort of party.”

“But it’s too much. You’ve got the recital to think about.”

“I want to do it,” she said. “I may have been too quick to judge the situation when we talked before. Your friend seems to have some serious notions of love, after all. And I think I expected Signorina di Sabato to be a different sort of girl.”

“Different in what way?”

“Less confident, perhaps. Less mature. Maybe even less intelligent, which should indicate to you how small-minded I’ve become. I consider myself a Jew, with my occasional observances, but I think of truly observant Jews as old-fashioned and myopic. Evidence of my ignorance, I suppose.”

“And Ben Yakov? Has he been here?”

“He spent most of Shabbos with us,” Klara said. “He’s been terribly kind and respectful, if a bit anxious. This morning he brought the rabbi to meet her, and they made all the plans for the wedding. Afterward, privately, he begged me to tell him if she seemed at all unhappy.”

“And what did you say?”

Klara arranged the teacups and saucers on a blue tray. “I told him she seemed fine, given the circumstances. I know she misses her parents. She showed me their photograph and wept. But I don’t think she regrets what she’s done.” She measured the tea into a strainer and lowered it into the pot. “Of course, Elisabet has been difficult. She’s suffering from jealousy. I’m terrified she’ll run off at any moment to marry her American. But this morning she told me she wanted to make the cake, which is something.” She shook her head and gave him a wry half smile. “And what about your brother? Is he well? I worried when you didn’t come yesterday.”

Andras paused before he spoke, running his hand along the edge of the tea tray. “He’s exhausted from overwork. And he’s been ill, but not dangerously so. He’s been sleeping almost constantly, and when he’s awake he burns through my handkerchiefs like wildfire.” He raised his eyes to Klara. “He’s concerned about our situation. I told him everything yesterday.”

She lowered her eyes. “Is he sorry we’re engaged?”

“Oh, no. He’s sorry about what happened to you. And he’s sorry you can’t go home to your family.” He touched the handle of one of the fragile cups and noticed for the first time that the pattern of her china was almost identical to her mother’s. “Of course, he’s worried about how our parents will take the news. But he doesn’t oppose our engagement. He knows what I feel for you.”

She put her arms around him and sighed. “I didn’t want to bring you this unhappiness.”

“Stop that at once,” he said, and kissed her bruise-colored eyelids.

When they returned to the sitting room they found Elisabet making a list of cake ingredients at her mother’s desk while Tibor sat on the sofa beside Signorina di Sabato, speaking to her in rapid Italian. He leaned toward her, his eyes steady upon hers, his hands trembling on his knees as he spoke. Signorina di Sabato shook her head, then shook it again more emphatically as she bent over her sewing. Finally she fixed her needle in the ivory silk and looked up at Tibor with something like dismay.

“Mi dispiace,” she said. “Mi dispiace molto.”

Tibor sat back and scrubbed his face with both hands. He glanced at the tea tray, at the clock on the mantel, and finally at Andras. “What time are you expected at studio?” he asked.

Andras wasn’t expected at any particular time, and Tibor knew it; this was Sunday, and he was going in simply because he needed to work. But Tibor was looking at him with such fixed concentration that Andras knew he had to respond with some concrete projection of their remaining time at Klara’s.

“Half an hour from now,” he said. “Polaner will be waiting.”

“Half an hour!” Klara said. “You should have told me. There’s no time for tea.”

“Yes, we should be off, I’m afraid,” Tibor said. He thanked Klara for her kindness and voiced the hope that he would see her again soon. As they put on their coats in the hallway, Andras wondered if Signorina di Sabato would let them leave without offering a word of farewell. But just before they went down, she appeared in the hallway with a hand on her chest as though she were trying to mute her heartbeat. She paused before Tibor and spoke a few sentences in such warm insistent Italian that Andras thought she might burst into tears. Tibor made an unintelligible reply and went down the stairs.

“What was that about?” Andras asked once they were out on the street. “What did she say?”

“She thanked me for the book,” Tibor said, and refused to speak another word all the way to the École Spéciale.

Ben Yakov married his Florentine bride on the coldest day of the year. A fine frozen mist was falling outside the Synagogue de la Victoire; Signorina di Sabato, in her white silk gown and icy veil, seemed dressed in a coalescence of winter air. But inside the synagogue it was hot and close, and Andras could feel the warmth emanating from the bride’s body as she entered the wedding canopy. Her features were hidden beneath the layers of the veil, but he could see her hands trembling as she circled Ben Yakov seven times. Andras exchanged a look with Rosen, who held another of the wedding canopy poles, and with Polaner, who held a third; the fourth canopy-bearer was Tibor himself. Ben Yakov was resplendent in his groom’s cloak; like the tallis, the kittel was pure white to serve as a reminder of death. The cloak was meant to be used someday as his shroud. After the rabbi had said a blessing over the wine, Ben Yakov placed a ring on Ilana’s finger and declared that she was consecrated to him according to the laws of Moses and Israel. In accordance with the custom, she remained silent beneath her veil and would not give Ben Yakov a ring of his own until after the ceremony. Ben Yakov’s uncles and grandfathers were called to the wedding canopy to recite the Seven Blessings. Andras could feel tension gathering in the sanctuary as they spoke, could sense it like a rise in barometric pressure; beneath the solemnity of the Hebrew words he felt the congregation’s awareness that this was an elopement, an act of rebellion on the part of the bride. And there was another sensation, too, a darker sense of anticipation: Before them stood a virgin who would not be a virgin for long.

When the uncles and grands-pères had taken their turns, and the wine had been blessed again, Ben Yakov broke the wedding cup beneath his heel. The bride lifted her veil at last as if she’d been startled by the sound, and the small party of guests sang siman tov u’mazal tov. And then everyone went to the rue de Sévigné for the bridal luncheon.

In the dining room there was a filet of roasted salmon, a wedding challah, steaming dishes of red potatoes and sweet golden noodles; there was costly white asparagus from Morocco, a bowl of oranges from Spain, and, on its own side table, the astonishing cake Elisabet had baked: a splendid three-tiered confection decorated with sugar beads and silver candy leaves. In the bedroom just on the other side of the dining-room wall, Madame and Monsieur Ben Yakov were spending their half hour of ritual seclusion. A violinist and a clarinet player entertained some of the guests in the sitting room, and others stood drinking white wine and admiring the luncheon dishes.

In the kitchen, Tibor had concerned himself with the care of a child who had slipped on a patch of ice outside. Andras helped him bandage the girl’s cut knee and clean the abrasions on her palms. She was a small cousin of Ben Yakov’s, dark-eyed and somber in a blue velvet dress; she seemed to relish the close attention of two such finely dressed young men, and when they had finished applying the bandages she instructed them to stay with her until she was better. She began a game with Tibor in which she would point to an object in the kitchen and call out the French word, to which Tibor would respond with the corresponding word in Hungarian; she seemed to find every Hungarian word hilarious. Andras was grateful for the distraction. He had begun to suspect that something momentous and unspeakable had passed between Tibor and Signorina di Sabato on the train from Florence. Andras and Tibor had spent the past week in what should have been enjoyable pursuits-they’d gone to the cinema and to a jazz show in Montmartre; they’d had a night of drinking with Rosen and Polaner and Ben Yakov to mark the end of the groom’s bachelorhood; they had accompanied Ben Yakov to the tailor to pick up his wedding suit, and had helped to lay in supplies at the couple’s apartment-but Tibor had been distant and abstracted through all of it, often receding into silence when Ilana’s name arose in conversation. Today he had been in a black mood, cursing his shoelace when it broke, railing at the chill of the water in the basin, nearly shouting at Andras when Andras had hurried him along toward Klara’s after the ceremony. But his attendence upon the little girl had calmed him; he seemed more like himself now, playing the game she’d invented.

“Passoire,” said the girl, pointing to a colander.

“Szűrő edény,” Tibor said in Hungarian.

“Ha! And what about spatule?”

“Spachtli.”

“Spachtli! And what about couteau?” The little girl grabbed a fierce-looking carving knife from the table and held it out for Tibor’s pronouncement.

“Kés,” he said. “But you’d better give that to me.” He took it from her and turned to put it away; just at that moment the new Madame Ben Yakov appeared in the doorway, her cheeks wildly flushed, a haze of black curls escaping from her coiled braids. The knife hovered in Tibor’s hand just centimeters from the ivory buttons of her dress. If she had come rushing into the room, he would have run her through.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, and took a small step back.

Their eyes met, and they both laughed.

“Don’t kill the bride, brother,” Andras said.

Tibor set the knife on the counter, slowly, as if it couldn’t be trusted.

The little girl, feeling the strangeness of the moment, looked up at all of them with frank curiosity. When no one spoke, she took it upon herself to begin a conversation.

“I hurt my knee,” she explained to the bride, showing her the bandage. “This man fixed it.”

Madame Ben Yakov nodded her understanding and bent to inspect the bandage. The little girl turned her knee this way and that. When the inspection was complete she got down from her chair and arranged her velvet skirts. She made a show of limping delicately out of the room.

Madame Ben Yakov gave Tibor a fleeting smile. “Ché buon medico siete,” she said. She edged past him and turned on the faucet at the porcelain sink, where she performed the ritual of hand-washing. Tibor watched every movement: the filling of the cup, the removal of her new wedding ring, the passing of water three times over the right hand, three times over the left.

After the luncheon there was dancing downstairs in the studio. In observance of Orthodox tradition, the men danced on one side of the room and the women on the other, shielded from each other’s view by a folding screen. Every now and then the men glimpsed the flying hem of a dress or the flash of a hair ribbon; every now and then a woman’s satin shoe came sliding out toward the wall, where the men could witness its suggestion of a woman’s bare foot. The women laughed behind their screen, their feet beating quick rhythmic couplets on the studio floor. But the men were awkward with each other on their side of the screen. No one wanted to dance. It wasn’t until Rosen produced a flask of whiskey from his pocket, and passed its fire around the circle twice, that they began to shuffle in time with the music. Ben Yakov and Rosen linked arms and jostled each other to the right and left. They took each other’s hands and began to spin until they both stumbled. Rosen grabbed Andras’s shoulder, Andras grabbed Polaner’s, Polaner grabbed Ben Yakov’s, Ben Yakov grabbed his father’s, and soon all the men were following each other in a clumsy circle. Ben Yakov and his father broke off into the center of the ring, taking each other by the shoulders; they kicked their heels skyward until their shirttails flew free and their pomaded hair swung loose in waves. Only Tibor stood with his back against the practice barre, watching.

Finally the moment arrived when Madame and Monsieur Ben Yakov would be lifted in chairs and carried around the room. The women emerged from behind their screen to watch; the sight of Klara with her hair fallen from its knot, her dress faintly damp against her breastbone, made Andras lose his breath. For a moment it seemed unfair that this was anyone else’s wedding but their own. Then she caught his eye and smiled, seeming to understand what he was thinking, and there was so much certainty and promise in her look that he couldn’t begrudge Ben Yakov his happiness.

After the wedding, only three days remained of Tibor’s visit. His mood seemed to lighten somewhat; he followed Andras to school and work and earned everyone’s admiration wherever he went. Monsieur Forestier gave him tickets to the shows whose sets he had designed, including Madame Gérard’s Antigone, which Tibor found admirable in every regard with the exception of the lead actress’s performance. Georges Lemain, at the architecture firm, was enthralled by Tibor’s ability to identify any opera by nothing more than a few hummed bars; he treated them to a matinee of La Traviata, and afterward they toured a maison particulier under construction in the Seventeenth, a house Lemain had designed for a Nobel laureate chemist and his family. He showed Tibor the northern-lit laboratory, the library with its ebony bookshelves, the high-ceilinged bedrooms that overlooked a landscaped courtyard. Tibor praised everything in his earnest French, and Lemain promised to design a similar house for him when he was a famous doctor. All through those three days, as Tibor and Andras went from one place to another, one commitment to another, Andras looked for a chance to ask Tibor about Signorina di Sabato, but never found the right moment to introduce the subject. At night, when they might have stayed up late to drink and talk, Tibor claimed exhaustion. Andras lay awake on the mattress on the floor, wondering how to break the fragile cell wall that seemed to separate him from his brother; he had a sense of Tibor hiding behind that translucent membrane as if he were afraid to be seen in sharp focus.

Tibor’s train departed on the night of Klara’s students’ Spectacle d’Hiver. Andras was to take him to the station and then meet Klara afterward at the Théâtre Deux Anges. The prospect of parting made them both quiet on the Métro; as they rode beneath the city, Andras found himself considering the long list of things they hadn’t talked about during the days that had just passed. Now, once again, they would part without knowing when they would see each other next. They hauled Tibor’s things out of the Métro and took them into the station. Once they’d checked the suitcases, they sat down together on a high-backed bench and shared a thermos of coffee. Across the platform stood the locomotive that would pull Tibor’s train to Italy: a giant insect of glossy black steel, its wheel pistons bent like the legs of a grasshopper.

“Listen, brother,” Tibor said, his dark eyes fixed upon the train. “I hope you’ll forgive my behavior at the wedding. It was abominable. I acted dishonorably.”

So here it was, half an hour before his train departed. “What was abominable?”

“You know what I mean. Don’t make me say it.”

“I didn’t see you do anything dishonorable.”

“I couldn’t be happy for them,” he said. “I couldn’t eat that gorgeous cake. I couldn’t bring myself to dance.” He took another breath. “I did an abominable thing, Andras. Not at the wedding. Before.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I did something unforgivable on the train.” He crossed his arms over his chest and lowered his eyes. “I’m ashamed to tell you. It was ungentlemanly. Worse. It was a scoundrel’s move.”

And then he admitted that he’d fallen in love with Ilana di Sabato from the beginning, from the moment he saw her coming across the platform in Florence with her umbrella and her pale green bandbox. There was a little boy with her-her brother, who had come along to help with the suitcases. He had a look of importance about him, Tibor said-importance and great secrecy. But Tibor saw the realization dawning upon him that this wasn’t a game, that his sister was really going to climb aboard a train and go to Paris. The little boy’s face had crumpled. He’d put the suitcase down and sat on it and cried. And Ilana di Sabato sat down with him and explained that it would be all right, that she’d get him to come visit her, that she’d bring her fine new husband home to meet him and the rest of the family. But he mustn’t tell anyone, not for a while yet. You had to see it, Tibor said, how she’d made him understand that.

“I told myself it was natural to feel a certain tenderness for her,” he went on. “She’d been entrusted to my care, and she was entirely without defenses, and she was out in the world for the first time. Everything was new to her. Or not entirely new, because she’d read about it all in books-it was all coming true for her, a world she’d imagined but had never seen. I watched it happen. I was the one she turned to when we crossed the Italian border. It was like watching a person being born. The pain of it, too. I saw her understand she’d left her parents, her family, behind. When she cried after the crossing, I put my arms around her. I did it almost without thinking.” He paused and took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger. “And she looked up at me, Andras, and by now you’ve guessed it. I kissed her. Not an innocent kiss, I’m afraid. Not a brief one. So you see, I did transgress against your friend. And I transgressed against Ilana. And not just then.” He paused again. “I want to tell you this, because it’s been weighing on me since it happened. I said something to her, here in this station, just before we got off the train.”

“What did you say?”

“I reminded her she still had a choice,” Tibor said. “I told her I’d be happy to take her back to Italy if she changed her mind.” He shook his head and put on his glasses again. “And I confessed myself to her, Andras. Later. I did it the morning we went to see her at Klara’s. When we went to give her that library book.”

Andras remembered the whispered conversation, Tibor’s trembling hands, Ilana’s dismay. “Oh, Tibor,” he said. “So that’s what was happening when I came in from the kitchen.”

“That’s right,” Tibor said. “And for a moment I thought I saw her hesitate. I deluded myself that she might feel something for me, too.” He shook his head. “If I’d gone to see her again, I might have ruined your friend’s happiness.”

“But you didn’t,” Andras said. “Everything went as planned. And they both seemed perfectly happy at the wedding.” He believed it as he said it, but a moment later he found himself wondering whether it had been true. Hadn’t Ilana seemed distressed that morning with Tibor? Hadn’t there been some strange exchange of energy between them in the kitchen on her wedding day? Was she sitting in Ben Yakov’s apartment and thinking of Tibor at that very moment?

“They’re married,” Tibor said. “It’s done. Now my feelings for her are their own punishment.”

Andras understood. He put an arm around his brother’s shoulders and looked at the insect form of the locomotive.

“I’ve been terribly lonely in Modena,” Tibor said. “It must have been the same for you, coming here. But you met Klara.”

“Yes,” he said. “And that was terrible, too, at times.”

“I see how it is between you now,” Tibor said. “So many times this week I was sick with envy.” He pressed his hands between his knees. At the window of the locomotive an argument was taking place between the engineer and an official-looking conductor, as though they were debating whether to make the trip to Italy after all.

“Don’t go back,” Andras said. “Come live with me, if you want.”

Tibor shook his head. “I have to go to school. I want to finish my studies. And in any case, I don’t know if I could stand to be so close to her.”

Andras turned to his brother. “She’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s true.”

There was an almost imperceptible shift in Tibor’s features, a softening of the lines around his mouth. “She is,” he said. “I can see her in that gown and veil. God, Andras, do you think she’ll be happy?”

“I hope so.”

Tibor nudged the corner of his leather satchel with the toe of his polished shoe. “I think you’d better write to Anya and Apa,” he said. “Let them know what’s happened between you and Klara. Tell them as much as you can about her situation. I’ll write them too. I’ll tell them I’ve gotten to know her, and that I don’t consider you mad for wanting to marry her.”

“I am mad, though.”

“No more so than any man in love,” Tibor said.

The conductor blew the boarding whistle. Tibor got to his feet and drew Andras close in a quick embrace. “Be a good man, little brother,” he said.

“Bon voyage,” Andras said. “Have a good spring. Study hard. Cure the sick.”

Tibor crossed the platform and boarded the train, his bag slung over his shoulder. Moments after he’d climbed aboard, the train gave a vast metallic groan; with a series of grunts and screeches it began to roll from the station. The grasshopper legs of the engine bent and flexed. Andras hoped Tibor had found a window seat, where he would have the comfort of watching the city fade into the darkness of the wintry fields. He hoped Tibor would be able to sleep. He hoped he’d get home swiftly, and that once he was there he would forget there had ever been a girl called Ilana di Sabato.

That year’s Spectacle d’Hiver was a quiet and humble affair. The Théâtre Deux Anges was small and shabby and ill-heated, its blue velvet seats faded to gray; the dark upper tiers seemed full of ghosts. Girls chased each other across the stage in costumes of blue and white satin, and a silver snow drifted down from some cold cloud in the flyspace. A group of twelve-year-olds in icy pink tulle put Andras in mind of dawn on New Year’s Day. He thought of Klara at the Square Barye: the flush of her forehead beneath her red wool hat, the crystalline dew on her eyebrows, the fog of her breath in the cold air. He could scarcely believe she would be waiting for him backstage after the recital-the same woman who had kissed him in that frozen park nearly a year ago. It seemed a miracle that any man who loved a woman might be loved by her in return. He rubbed his hands together in the chill and waited for the violet lights to fade.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE. Sportsclub Saint-Germain

EVERY SPRING the students of the École Spéciale competed for the Prix du Amphithéâtre, which brought its winner a gold medal worth a hundred francs, the admiration of the other students, and a measure of prestige for the winner’s curriculum vitae. Last year’s prize had gone to the beautiful Lucia for her design of a reinforced-concrete apartment building. This year’s subject was an urban gymnasium for Olympic sports: swimming, diving, gymnastics, weightlifting, running, fencing. It seemed to Andras a ridiculous notion to design a gymnasium while Europe edged toward war. Refugees poured into France from fractured Spain; the Marais had become a swamp of asylum-seekers. Hundreds of thousands more had been detained at the border and sent to internment camps in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Every day brought bad news, and the worst always seemed to come from Czechoslovakia. Hitler had told the Czech foreign minister that the nation must take a more aggressive approach to its Jewish problem; a week later the Czech government threw Jewish men and women out of their university professorships and civil-service jobs and public-health positions. In Hungary, Horthy followed suit by calling for a new cabinet that would support a stronger alliance with the Axis powers. It wouldn’t be long, newspaper columnists speculated, before the Hungarian parliament passed new anti-Jewish laws, too.

In the face of such news, how was Andras supposed to design a swimming pool, a locker room, a yard for fencing practice? Late one night he sat in the studio with an open letter on the table before him, his drawing tools still in their box. The letter had come earlier that day from his brother Mátyás:

12 February 1939

Budapest

Andráska,

Anya and Apa have just told me your great news. Mazel tov! I must meet the lucky girl as soon as possible. Since it seems you’ll be in France for the foreseeable future, I will have to join you there. I’m saving money already. By now you’ve heard from our parents that I have left school. I am living in Budapest and working as a window trimmer. It’s a good trade. I make 20 pengő a week. My best client is the haberdasher on Molnár utca. I heard from a friend that their old window trimmer had quit, so I went there the next day and offered my services. They told me to trim the window as a trial. I made a hunting display: two riding suits, one cloak, four neckties, a hunting blanket, a hat, a horn. I finished in an hour, and in another hour they had sold everything in the window. Even the horn.

Budapest is grand. I have many new friends here and perhaps one girlfriend. Also a fabulous dance teacher, an American Negro who calls himself Kid Sneeks. A month ago I saw him at the Gold Hat with his tap-dance team, the Five Hot Shots. After the show I stayed to meet the star. With the help of my girlfriend, who speaks a few words of English, I told him I was a dancer and asked him to take me on as a pupil. He said, Let’s see what you can do. I showed him everything. On the spot he gave me the English nickname of Lightning and agreed to teach me as long as he’s in Budapest. And his show is so popular it’s been held over another month.

I know you will scold me for quitting gimnázium, but believe me I am happier now. I hated school. The masters punished me for my bad attitude. The other boys were idiots. And Debrecen! What a place. Not the country nor the city, not modern nor quaint, not home nor a place I would want to make my home. In Budapest there is a better Jewish gimnázium. If I can, I will transfer my records and finish my studies there. Then I will come to you in Paris and go onto the stage. If you’re kind to me I will teach you to tap-dance.

Do not worry about me, brother. I am fine. I’m glad you are also fine. Don’t marry before I get there. I want to kiss the bride on your wedding day.