"If an attempt were made on N.'s life—I should say Sebastian. If Prussia were to play us false suddenly, and cut us off from France—I should say nothing else than Sebastian. He is more dangerous than a fanatic; for he is too clever to be one."
The writer shivered and laughed in sheer amusement at his own misery as he drew on his wet clothes. The shoemaker was already astir, and presently knocked at his door.
"Yes, yes," the soldier cried, "I am astir."
And as his host rattled the door he opened it. He had unrolled his long cavalry cloak, and wore it over his wet clothes.
"You never told me your name," said the shoemaker. A suspicious man is always more suspicious at the beginning of the day.
"My name," answered the other carelessly. "Oh! my name is Max Brunner."
CHAPTER VII. THE WAY OF LOVE.
Celui qui souffle le feu s'expose a etre brule par les etincelles.
It was said that Colonel de Casimir—that guest whose presence and uniform lent an air of distinction to the quiet wedding in the Frauengasse—was a Pole from Cracow. Men also whispered that he was in the confidence of the Emperor. But this must only have been a manner of speaking. For no man was ever admitted fully into the thoughts of that superhuman mind.
De Casimir was left behind in Dantzig when the army moved forward.
"There will be a great battle," he said, "somewhere near Vilna—and I shall miss it."
Indeed, every man was striving to get to the front. He who, himself, had given a new meaning to human ambition seemed able to inspire not only Frenchmen but soldiers of every nationality with fire from his own consuming flame.
"Yes! madame," said de Casimir; for it was to Desiree that he spoke, "and your husband is more fortunate than I. He is sure of a staff appointment. He will be among the first. It will soon be over. To-morrow war is to be declared."
They were in the street—not far from the Frauengasse, whence Desiree, always practical, was hurrying towards the market-place. De Casimir had seemed idle until he perceived her.
Desiree made a little movement of horror at the announcement. She did not know that the fighting had already begun.
"Ah!" cried de Casimir with a reassuring smile. "You must be of good cheer. There will be no war at all. I tell you that in confidence. Russia will be paralyzed. I was going towards the Frauengasse when I perceived you; to pay my respects to your father, to say a word to you. Come—you are smiling again. That is right. You were so grave, madame, as you hurried along with your eyes looking far away. You must not think of Charles, if the thoughts make you look as you looked then."
His manner was kind and confidential and easy—inviting in response that which the confidential always expect, a return in kind. It is either hit or miss with such people; and de Casimir missed. He saw Desiree draw back. She was young, and of that clear fairness of skin which seems to let the thoughts out through the face so that any can read them. That which her face expressed at that moment was a clear and definite refusal to confide anything whatsoever in this little dark man who stood in front of her, looking into her eyes with a deferential and sympathetic glance.
"I know for certain," he said, "that Charles was well two days ago, and that he is highly thought of in high quarters. I can tell you that, at all events."
"Thank you," said Desiree. She had nothing against de Casimir. She had only seen him once or twice, and she knew him to be Charles's friend, and in some sense his patron. For de Casimir held a high position in Dantzig. She was quite ready to like him since Charles liked him; but she intended to do so at her own range. It is always the woman who measures the distance.
Desiree made a little movement as if to continue on her way; and de Casimir instantly stood aside, with a bow.
"Shall I find your father at home?" he asked.
"I think so. He was at home when I left," she answered, responding to his salute with a friendly nod.
De Casimir watched her go and stood for a moment in reflection, as if going over in his mind that which had passed between them.
"I must try the other one," he said to himself as he turned down the Pfaffengasse. He continued his way at a leisurely pace. At the corner of the Frauengasse he lingered in the shadow of the linden trees, and while so doing saw Antoine Sebastian quit the door of No. 36, going in the opposite direction towards the river, and pass out through the Frauenthor on to the quay.
He made a little gesture of annoyance on being told by the servant that Sebastian was out. After a moment's reflection, he seemed to make up his mind to ignore the conventionalities.
"It is merely," he said in his friendly and confidential manner to the servant, in perfect German, "that I have news from Monsieur Darragon, the husband of Mademoiselle Desiree. Madame is out—you say. Well, then, what is to be done?"
He had a most charming, grave manner of asking advice which few could resist.
The servant nodded at him with a twinkle of understanding in her eye.
"There is Fraulein Mathilde."
"But... well, ask her if she will do me the honour of speaking to me for an instant. I leave it to you...."
"But come in," protested the servant. "Come upstairs. She will see you; why not?"
And she led the way upstairs. Papa Barlasch, sitting just within the kitchen door, where he sat all day doing nothing, glanced upwards through his overhanging eyebrows at the clink of spurs and the clatter of de Casimir's sword against the banisters. He had the air of a watchdog.
Mathilde was not in the drawing-room, and the servant left the visitor there alone, saying that she would seek her mistress. There were one or two books on the tables. One table was rather untidy; it was Desiree's. A writing-desk stood in the corner of the room. It was locked—and the lock was a good one. De Casimir was an observant man. He had time to make this observation, and to see that there were no letters in Desiree's work-basket; to note the titles of the books and the absence of name on the flyleaf, and was looking out of the window when the door opened and Mathilde came in.
This was a day when women were treated with a great show of deference, while in reality they had but little voice in the world's affairs. De Casimir's bow was deeper and more elaborate than would be considered polite to-day. On standing erect he quickly suppressed a glance of surprise.
Mathilde must have expected him. She was dressed in white, and her hair was tied with a bright ribbon. In her cheeks, usually so pale, was a little touch of colour. It may have been because Desiree was not near, but de Casimir had never known until this moment how pretty Mathilde really was. There was something in her eyes, too, which gripped his attention. He remembered that at the wedding he had never seen her eyes. They had always been averted. But now they met his with a troubling directness.
De Casimir had a gallant manner. All women commanded his eager respect, which they could assess at such value as their fancy painted, remembering that it is for the woman to measure the distance. On the few occasions of previous encounters, de Casimir had been empresse in his manner towards Mathilde. As he looked at her, his quick mind ran back to former meetings. He had no recollection of having actually made love to her.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "for a soldier—in time of war—the conventions may, perhaps, be slightly relaxed. I was told that you were alone—that your father is out, and yet I persisted—"
He spread out his hands and laughed appealingly, begging her, it would seem, to help him out of the social difficulty in which he found himself.
"My father will be sorry—" she began.
"That is hardly the question," he interrupted; "I was thinking of your displeasure. But I have an excuse, I assure you. I only ask a moment to tell you that I have heard from Konigsberg that Charles Darragon is in good health there, and is moving forward with the advance-guard to the frontier."
"You are kind to come so soon," answered Mathilde, and there was an odd note of disappointment in her voice. De Casimir must have heard it, for he glanced at her again with a gleam of surprise in his eyes.
"That is my excuse, Mademoiselle," he said with a tentative emphasis, as if he were feeling his way. He was an opportunist with all the quickness of one who must live by his wits among others existing on the same uncertain fare. He saw her flush, and again he hesitated as a wayfarer may hesitate when he finds an easy road where he had expected to climb a hill. What was the meaning of it? he seemed to ask himself.
"Charles does not interest you so much as he interests your sister?" he suggested.
"He has never interested me much," she replied indifferently. She did not ask him to sit down. It would not have been etiquette in an age when women were by some odd misjudgment considered incapable of managing their own hearts.
"Is that because he is in love, Mademoiselle?" inquired de Casimir with a guarded laugh.
She did not look at him. De Casimir had not missed this time. His air of candid confidence had met with a quick response. He laughed again and moved towards the door. Mathilde stood motionless, and although she said no word, nor by any gesture bade him stay, he stopped on the threshold and turned again towards her.
"It was my conscience," he said, looking at her over his shoulder, "that bade me go."
Her face and her averted eyes asked why, but her straight lips were silent.
"Because I cannot claim to be more interesting than Charles Darragon," he hazarded. "And you, Mademoiselle, confess that you have no tolerance for a man who is in love."
"I have no tolerance for a man who is weakened by love. He should be strengthened and hardened by it."
"To do a man's work in the world," said Mathilde coldly.
De Casimir was standing by the open door. He closed it with his foot. He was professedly a man alert for the chance of a moment, which he was content to grasp without pausing to look ahead. Should there be difficulties yet unperceived, these in turn might present an opportunity to be seized by the quick-witted.
"Then you would admit, Mademoiselle," he said gravely, "that there may be good in a love that fights continually against ambition, and—does not prevail."
Mathilde did not answer at once. There was an odd suggestion of antagonism in their attitude towards each other—not irreconcilable, the poets tell us, with love—but this is assuredly not the Love that comes from Heaven and will go back there to live through eternity.
"Yes," said she at length.
"Such is my love for you," he said, his quick instinct telling him that with Mathilde few words were best.
He only spoke the thoughts of his age; for ambition was the ruling passion in men's hearts at this time. All who served the Great Adventurer gave it the first place in their consideration, and de Casimir only aped his betters. Though oddly enough the only two of all the great leaders who were to emerge still greater from the coming war—Ney and Eugene—thought otherwise on these matters.
"I mean to be great and rich, Mademoiselle," he added after a pause. "I have risked my life for that purpose half a dozen times."
Mathilde stood looking across the room towards the window. He could only see her profile and the straight line of her lips. She too was the product of a generation in which men rose to dazzling heights without the aid of women.
"I should not have troubled you with these details, Mademoiselle," he said, watching her. His instinct was very keen, for not one woman in a thousand, even in those days, would have admitted that love was a detail. "I should not have mentioned it—had you not given me your views—so strangely in harmony with my own."
Whatever his nationality, his voice was that of a Pole—rich, musical, and expressive. He could have made, one would have thought, a very different sort of love had he wished, or had he been sincere. But he was an opportunist. This was the sort of love that Mathilde wanted.
He came a step nearer to her and stood resting on his sword—a lean hard man who had seen much war.
"Until you opened my eyes," he said, "I did not know, or did not care to know, that love, far from being a drag on ambition, may be a help."
Mathilde made a little movement towards him which she instantly repressed. The heart is quicker, but the head nearly always has the last word.
"Mademoiselle," he said—and no doubt he saw the movement and the restraint—"will you help me now at the beginning of the war, and listen to me again at the end of it—if I succeed?"
After all, he was modest in his demands.
"Will you help me? Together, Mademoiselle—to what height may we not rise in these days?"
There was a ring of sincerity in his voice, and her eyes answered it.
"How can I help you?" she asked in a doubting voice.
"Oh, it is a small matter," was the reply. "But it is one in which the Emperor is personally interested. Such things have a special attraction for him. The human interest never fails to hold his attention. If I do well, he will know it and remember me. It is a question, Mademoiselle, of secret societies. You know that Prussia is riddled with them."
Mathilde did not answer. He studied her face, which was clean cut and hard like a marble bust—a good face to hide a secret.
"It is my duty to watch here in Dantzig and to report to the Emperor. In serving myself I could also perhaps serve a friend, one who might otherwise run into danger—who may be in danger while you and I stand here. For the Emperor strikes hard and quickly. I speak of your father, Mademoiselle—and of the Tugendbund."
Still he could not see from the pale profile whether Mathilde knew anything at all.
"And if I procure information for you?" asked she at length, in a quiet and collected voice.
"You will help me to attain a position such as I could ask—even you—to share with me. And you would do your father no harm. You would even render him a service. For all the secret societies in Germany will not stop Napoleon. It is only God who can stop him now, Mademoiselle. All men who attempt it will only be crushed beneath the wheels. I might save your father."
But Mathilde did not seem to be thinking of her father.
"I am hampered by poverty," de Casimir said, changing his ground. "In the old days it did not matter. But now, in the Empire, one must be rich. I shall be rich—at the end of this campaign."
Again his voice was sincere, and again her eyes responded. He made a step forward, and gently taking her hand, he raised it to his lips.
"You will help me!" he said, and, turning abruptly on his heel, he left her.
De Casimir's quarters were in the Langenmarkt. On returning to them, he took from his despatch-case a letter which he turned over thoughtfully in his hand. It was addressed to Desiree, and sealed carefully with a wafer.
"She may as well have it," he said. "It will be as well that she should be occupied with her own affairs."
CHAPTER VIII. A VISITATION.
Be wiser than other people if you can, but do not tell them so.
Whenever Papa Barlasch caught sight of his unwilling host's face, he turned his own aside with a despairing upward nod. Once or twice, during the early days of his occupation of the room behind the kitchen in the Frauengasse, he smote himself sharply on the brow, as if calling upon his brain to make an effort. But afterwards he seemed to resign himself to this lapse of memory, and the upward despairing nod gradually lost intensity until at last he brought himself to pass Antoine Sebastian in the narrow passage with no more emphatic notice than a scowl.
"You and I," he said to Desiree, "are the friends. The others—"
And his gesture seemed to permit the others to go hang if they so desired. The army had gone forward, leaving Dantzig in that idle restlessness which holds those who, finding themselves in a house of sickness, are not permitted entry to the darkened chamber, but must await the crisis elsewhere.
There were some busy enough in the commerce that must exist between a huge army and its base, in the forwarding of war material and stores, in accommodating the sick and sending out in return those who were to fill the gaps. But the Dantzigers themselves had nothing to do. Their prosperous trade was paralyzed. Those who had aught to sell had sold it. The high-seas and the high-roads were alike blocked by the French. And rumour, ever busy among those that wait, ran to and fro in the town.
The Emperor of Russia had been taken prisoner. Napoleon had been checked at the passage of the Niemen. There had been a great battle at Gumbinnen, and the French were in full retreat. Vilna had capitulated to Murat, and the war was at an end. A hundred authentic despatches of the morning were the subject of contemptuous laughter at the supper-table.
Lisa heard these tales in the market-place, and told Desiree, who, as often as not, translated them to Barlasch. But he only held up his wrinkled forefinger and shook it slowly from side to side.
"Woman's chatter!" he said. "What is the German for 'magpie'?"
And on being told the word, he repeated it gravely to Lisa. For he had not only fulfilled his promise of settling down in the house, but had assumed therein a distinct and clearly defined position. He was the counsellor, and from his chair just within the kitchen he gave forth judgment.
"And you," he said to Desiree one morning, when household affairs had taken her to the kitchen, "you are troubled this morning. You have had a letter from your husband?"
"Yes—and he is in good health."
Barlasch glared at her beneath his brows, looking her up and down, noting her quick movements, which had the uncertainty of youth.
"And now that he is gone," he said, "and that there is war, you are going to employ yourself by falling in love with him, when you had all the time before, and did not take advantage of it."
Desiree laughed at him and made no other answer. While she spoke to Lisa he sat and watched them.
"It would be like a woman to do such a thing," he pursued. "They are so inconvenient—women. They get married for fun, and then one fine Thursday they find they have missed all the fun, like one who comes late to the theatre—when the music is over."
He went to the table and examined the morning marketing, which Lisa had laid out in preparation for dinner. Of some of her purchases he approved, but he laughed aloud at a lettuce which had no heart, and at such a buyer.
Then Desiree attracted his scrutiny again.
"Yes," he said, half to himself, "I see it. You are in love. Just Heaven, I know! I have had them in love with me.... Barlasch."
"That must have been a long time ago," answered Desiree with her gay laugh, only giving him half her attention.
"Yes, it was a century ago. But they were the same then as they are now, as they always will be—inconvenient. They waited, however, till they were grown up!"
And with his ever-ready accusing finger he drew Desiree's attention to her own slimness. They were left alone for a minute while Lisa answered a knock at the door, during which time Barlasch sat in grim silence.
"It is a letter," said Lisa, returning. "A sailor brought it."
"Another?" said Barlasch, with a gesture of despair.
"Can you give me news of Charles?" Desiree read, in a writing that was unknown to her. "I shall wait a reply until midnight on board the Elsa, lying off the Krahn-Thor." The letter bore the signature, "Louis d'Arragon." Desiree turned slowly and went upstairs, carrying it folded small in her closed hand.
She was alone in the house, for Mathilde was out and her father had not yet returned from his evening walk. She stood at the head of the stairs, where the last of the daylight filtered through the barred window, and read the letter again. Then she turned and gave a slight start to see Barlasch at the foot of the stairs beckoning to her. He made no attempt to come up, but stood on the mat like a dog that has been forbidden the upper rooms.
"Is it about your father?" he asked, in a hoarse whisper.
He made a gesture commanding secrecy and silence. Then he went to close the kitchen door and returned on tip-toe.
"It is," he explained, "that they are talking of him in the cafes. There are many to be arrested to-morrow. They say the patron is one of them, and employs himself in plotting. That his name is not Sebastian at all. That he is a Frenchman who escaped the guillotine. What do I know? It is the gossip of the cafes. But I tell it you because we are friends, you and I. And some day I may want you to do something for me. One thinks of one's self, eh? It is good to make friends. For some day one may want them. That is why I do it. I think of myself. An old soldier. Of the Guard."
With many gestures of tremendous import, and a face all wrinkled and twisted with mystery, he returned to the kitchen.
Mathilde was not to return until late. She had gone to the house of the old Grafin whose reminiscences had been a fruitful topic at Desiree's wedding. After dining there she and the Grafin were to go together to a farewell reception given by the Governor. For Rapp was bound for the frontier with the rest, and was to go to the war as first aide-de-camp to the Emperor.
Mathilde could not be back until ten o'clock. She, who was so quick and quiet, had been much occupied in social observances lately, and had made fast friends with the Grafin during the last few days, constantly going to see her.
Desiree knew that what Barlasch had repeated as the gossip of the cafes was in part, if not wholly, true. She and Mathilde had long known that any mention of France had the instant effect of turning their father into a man of stone. It was the skeleton in this quiet house that sat at table with its inmates, a shadowy fourth tying their tongues. The rattle of its bones seemed to paralyze Sebastian's mind, and at any moment he would fall into a dumb and stricken apathy which terrified those about him. At such times it seemed that one thought in his mind had swallowed all the rest, so that he heard without understanding and saw without perceiving.
He was in such a humour when he came back to dinner. He passed Desiree on the stairs without speaking and went to his room to change his clothes, for he never relaxed his formal habits. At the dinner-table he glanced at her as a dog, knowing that he is ill, may be seen to glance with a secret air at his master, wondering whether he is detected.
Desiree had always hoped that her father would speak to her when this humour was upon him and tell her the meaning of it. Perhaps it would come to-night, when they were alone. There was an unspoken sympathy existing between them in which Mathilde took no share, which had even shut out Charles as out of a room where there was no light, into which Desiree and her father went at times and stood hand-in-hand without speaking.
They dined in silence, while Lisa hurried about her duties, oppressed by a sense of unknown fear. After dinner they went to the drawing-room as usual. It had been a dull day, with great clouds creeping up from the West. The evening fell early, and the lamps were already alight. Desiree looked to the wicks with the eye of experience when she entered the room. Then she went to the window. Lisa did not always draw the curtains effectually. She glanced down into the street, and turned suddenly on her heel, facing her father.
"They are there," she said. For she had seen shadowy forms lurking beneath the trees of the Frauengasse. The street was ill-lighted, but she knew the shadows of the trees.
"How many?" asked Sebastian, in a dull voice.
She glanced at him quickly—at his still, frozen face and quiescent hands. He was not going to rise to the occasion, as he sometimes did even from his deepest apathy. She must do alone anything that was to be accomplished to-night.
The house, like many in the Frauengasse, had been built by a careful Hanseatic merchant, whose warehouse was his own cellar half sunk beneath the level of the street. The door of the warehouse was immediately under the front door, down a few steps below the street, while a few more steps, broad and footworn, led up to the stone veranda and the level of the lower dwelling-rooms. A guard placed in the street could thus watch both doors without moving.
There was a third door, giving exit from the little room where Barlasch slept to the small yard where he had placed those trunks which were made in France.
Desiree had no time to think. She came of a race of women of a brighter intelligence than any women in the world. She took her father by the arm and hastened downstairs. Barlasch was at his post within the kitchen door. His eyes shone suddenly as he saw her face. It was said of Papa Barlasch that he was a gay man in battle, laughing and making a hundred jests, but at other times lugubrious. Desiree saw him smile for the first time, in the dim light of the passage.
"They are there in the street," he said; "I have seen them. I thought you would come to Barlasch. They all do—the women. In here. Leave him to me. When they ring the bell, receive them yourself—with smiles. They are only men. Let them search the house if they want to. Tell them he has gone to the reception with Mademoiselle."
As he spoke the bell rang just above his head. He looked up at it and laughed.
"Ah, ah!" he said, "the fanfare begins."
He drew Sebastian within and closed the door of his little room. Lisa had already gone to answer the bell. When she opened the door three men stepped quickly over the threshold, and one of them, thrusting her aside, closed the door and turned the key. Desiree, in her white evening dress, on the bottom step, just beneath the lamp that hung from the ceiling, made them pause and look at each other. Then one of the three came towards her, hat in hand.
"Our duty, Fraulein," he said awkwardly. "We are but obeying orders. A mere formality. It will all be explained, no doubt, if the householder, Antoine Sebastian, will put on his hat and come with us."
"His hat is not there, as you see," answered Desiree. "You must seek him elsewhere."
The man shook his head with a knowing smile. "We must seek him in this house," he said. "We will make it as easy for you as we can, Fraulein—if you make it easy for us."
As he spoke he produced a candle from his pocket, and encouraged the broken wick with his finger-nail.
"It will make it pleasanter for all," said Desiree cheerfully, "if you will accept a candlestick."
The man glanced at her. He was a heavy man, with little suspicious eyes set close together. He seemed to be concluding that she had outwitted him—that Sebastian was not in the house.
"Where are the cellar-stairs?" he asked. "I warn you, Fraulein, it is useless to conceal your father. We shall, of course, find him."
Desiree pointed to the door next to that giving entry to the kitchen. It was bolted and locked. Desiree found the key for them. She not only gave them every facility, but was anxious that they should be as quick as possible. They did not linger in the cellar, which, though vast, was empty; and when they returned, Desiree, who was waiting for them, led the way upstairs.
They were rather abashed by her silence. They would have preferred protestations and argument. Discussion always belittles. The smile recommended by Papa Barlasch, lurking at the corner of her lips, made them feel foolish. She was so slight and young and helpless, that a sort of shame rendered them clumsy.
They felt more at home in the kitchen when they arrived there, and the sight of Lisa, sturdy and defiant, reminded them of the authority upon which Desiree had somehow cast a mystic contempt.
"There is a door there," said the heavy official, with a brusque return of his early manner. "Come, what is that door?"
"That is a little room."
"Then open it."
"I cannot," returned Lisa. "It is locked."
"Aha!" said the man, with a laugh of much meaning. "On the inside, eh?"
He went to it, and banged on it with his fist.
"Come," he shouted, "open it and be done."
There was a short silence, during which those in the kitchen listened breathlessly. A shuffling sound inside the door made the officer of the law turn and beckon to his two men to come closer.
Then, after some fumbling, as of one in the dark, the door was unlocked and slowly opened.
Papa Barlasch stood in a very primitive night-apparel within the door. He had not done things by halves, for he was an old campaigner, and knew that a thing half done is better left undone in times of war. He noted the presence of Desiree and Lisa, but was not ashamed. The reason of it was soon apparent. For Papa Barlasch was drunk, and the smell of drink came out of his apartment in a warm wave.
"It is the soldier billeted in the house," explained Lisa, with a half-hysterical laugh.
Then Barlasch harangued them in the language of intoxication. If he had not spared Desiree's feelings, he spared her ears less now; for he was an ignorant man, who had lived through a brutal period in the world's history the roughest life a man can lead. Two of the men held him with difficulty against the wall, while the third hastily searched the room—where, indeed, no one could well be concealed.
Then they quitted the house, followed by the polyglot curses of Barlasch, who was now endeavouring to find his bayonet amidst his chaotic possessions.
CHAPTER IX. THE GOLDEN GUESS.
The golden guess Is morning star to the full round of truth.
Barlasch was never more sober in his life than when he emerged a minute later from his room, while Lisa was still feverishly bolting the door. He had not wasted much time at his toilet. In his flannel shirt, his arms bare to the elbow, knotted and muscular, he looked like some rude son of toil.
"One thinks of one's self," he hastened to explain to Desiree, fearing that she might ascribe some other motive to his action. "Some day the patron may be in power again, and then he will remember a poor soldier. It is good to think of the future."
He shook his head pessimistically at Lisa as belonging to a sex liable to error: instanced in this case by bolting the door too eagerly.
"Now," he said, turning to Desiree again, "have you any in Dantzig to help you?"
"Yes," she answered rather slowly.
"Then send for him."
"I cannot do that."
"Then go for him yourself," snapped Barlasch impatiently.
He looked at her fiercely beneath his shaggy eyebrows.
"It is no use to be afraid," he said; "you are afraid—I see it in your face. And it is never any use. Before they hammered on that door there, my legs shook. For I am easily afraid—I. But it is never any use. And when one opens the door, it goes."
He looked at her with a puzzled frown, seeking in vain, it may have been, the ordinary symptoms of fear. She was hesitating but not afraid. There ran blood in her veins which will for all time be associated by history with a gay and indomitable courage.
"Come," he said sharply; "there is nothing else to do."
"I will go," said Desiree, at length, deciding suddenly to do the one thing that is left to a woman once or twice in her life—to go to the one man and trust him.
"By the back way," said Barlasch, helping her with the cloak that Lisa had brought, and pulling the hood forward over her face with a jerk. "Ah, I know that way. The patron is hiding in the yard. An old soldier looks to the retreat—though the Emperor has saved us that, so far. Come, I will help you over the wall, for the door is rusted."
The way, which Barlasch had perceived, led through the room at the back of the kitchen to a yard, and thence through a door not opened by the present occupiers of the old house, into a very labyrinth of narrow alleys running downward to the river and round the tall houses that stand against the cathedral walls.
The wall was taller than Barlasch, but he ran at it like a cat, and Desiree standing below could see the black outline of his limbs crouching on the top. He stooped down, and grasping her hands, lifted her by the sheer strength of one arm, balanced her for an instant on the wall, and then lowered her on the outer side.
"Run," he whispered.
She knew the way, and although the night was dark, and these narrow alleys between high walls had no lamps, Desiree lost no time. The Krahn-Thor is quite near to the Frauengasse. Indeed, the whole of Dantzig occupied but a small space between the rivers in those straitened days. The town was quieter than it had been for months, and Desiree passed unmolested through the narrow streets. She made her way to the quay, passing through the low gateway known as the door of the Holy Ghost, and here found people still astir. For the commerce that thrives on a northern river is paralyzed all the winter, and feverishly active when the ice has gone.
"The Elsa," replied a woman, who had been selling bread all day on the quay, and was now packing up her stall, "you ask for the Elsa. There is such a ship, I know. But how can I say which she is? See, they lie right across the river like a bridge. Besides, it is late, and sailors are rough men."
Desiree hurried on. Louis d'Arragon had said that the ship was lying near to the Krahn-Thor, of which the great hooded roof loomed darkly against the stars above her. She was looking about her when a man came forward with the hesitating step of one who has been told to wait the arrival of some one unknown to him.
"The Elsa," she said to him; "which ship is it?"
"Come along with me, Mademoiselle," the man replied; "though I was not told to look for a woman."
He spoke in English, which Desiree hardly understood; for she had never heard it from English lips, and looked for the first time on one of that race upon which all the world waited now for salvation. For the English, of all the nations, were the only men who from the first had consistently defied Napoleon.
The sailor led the way towards the river. As he passed the lamp burning dimly above some steps, Desiree saw that he was little more than a boy. He turned and offered her his hand with a shy laugh, and together they stood at the bottom of the steps with the water lapping at their feet.
"Have you a letter," he said, "or will you come on board?"
Then perceiving that she did not understand, he repeated the question in German.
"I will come on board," she answered.
The Elsa was lying in the middle of the river, and the boat into which Desiree stepped shot across the water without sound of oars. The sailor was paddling it noiselessly at the stern. Desiree was not unused to boats, and when they came alongside the Elsa she climbed on board without help.
"This way," said the sailor, leading her towards the deckhouse where a light burned dimly behind red curtains. He knocked at the door and opened it without awaiting a reply. In the little cabin two men sat at a table, and one of them was Louis d'Arragon dressed in the rough clothes of a merchant seaman. He seemed to recognize Desiree at once, though she still stood without the door, in the darkness.
"You?" he said in surprise. "I did not expect you, madame. You want me?"
"Yes," answered Desiree, stepping over the combing. Louis's companion, who was also a sailor, coarsely clad, rose and, awkwardly taking off his cap, hurried to the door, murmuring some vague apology. It is not always the roughest men who have the worst manners towards women.
He closed the door behind him, leaving Desiree and Louis looking at each other by the light of an oil lamp that flickered and gave forth a greasy smell. The little cabin was smoke-ridden, and smelt of ancient tar. It was no bigger than the table in the drawing-room in the Frauengasse, across which he had bowed to her in farewell a few days earlier, little knowing when and where they were to meet again. For fate can always turn a surprise better than the human fancy.
Behind the curtain, the window stood open, and the high, clear song of the wind through the rigging filled the little cabin with a continuous minor note of warning which must have been part of his life; for he must have heard it, as all sailors do, sleeping or waking, night and day.
He was probably so accustomed to it that he never heeded it. But it filled Desiree's ears, and whenever she heard it in after-life, in memory this moment came again to her, and she looked back to it, as a traveller may look back to a milestone at a cross-road, and wonder where his journey might have ended had he taken another turning.
"My father," she said quickly, "is in danger. There is no one else in Dantzig to whom we can turn, and—"
She paused. What was she going to add? She hesitated, and then was silent. There was no reason why she should have elected to come to him. At all events she gave none.
"I am glad I was in Dantzig when it happened," he said, turning to take up his cap, which was of rough dark fur, such as seamen wear even in summer at night in the Northern seas.
"Come," he added, "you can tell me as we go ashore."
But they did not speak while the sailor sculled the boat to the steps. On the quay they would probably pass unnoticed, for there were many strange sailors at this time in Dantzig, and Louis d'Arragon might easily be mistaken for one of the French seamen who had brought stores by sea from Bordeaux and Brest and Cherbourg.
"Now tell me," he said, as they walked side by side; and in voluble French, Desiree launched into her story. It was rather incoherent, by reason, perhaps, of its frankness.
"Stop—stop," he interrupted gravely, "who is Barlasch?"
Louis walked rather slowly in his stiff sea-boots at her side, and she instinctively spoke less rapidly as she explained the part that Barlasch had played.
"And you trust him?"
"Of course," she answered.
"Oh, you are so matter-of-fact," she exclaimed; "I do not know. Because he is trustworthy, I suppose."
She continued the story, but suddenly stopped and looked up at him under the shadow of her hood.
"You are silent," she said. "Do you know something about my father of which I am ignorant? Is that it?"
"No," he answered, "I am trying to follow—that is all. You leave so much to my imagination."
"But I have no time to explain things," she protested. "Every moment is of value. I will explain all those things some other time. At this moment all I can think of is my father and the danger he is in. If it had not been for Barlasch, he would have been in prison by now. And as it is, the danger is only half averted. For he, himself, is so little help. All must be done for him. He will do nothing for himself while this humour is upon him; you understand?"
"Partly," he answered slowly.
"Oh!" she exclaimed half-impatiently, "one sees that you are an Englishman."
And she found time, even in her hurry, to laugh. For she was young enough to float buoyant upon that sea of hope which ebbs in the course of years and leaves men stranded on the hard facts of life.
"You forget," he said in self-defence.
"I forget what?"
"That a week ago I had never seen Dantzig, or your father, or your sister, or the Frauengasse. A week ago I did not know that there was anybody called Sebastian in the world—and did not care."
"Yes," she admitted thoughtfully, "I had forgotten that."
And they walked on in silence, a long way, till they came to the Gate of the Holy Ghost.
"But you can help him to escape?" she said at length, as if following the course of her own thoughts.
"Yes," he answered, and that was all.
They passed through the smaller streets in silence, and Desiree led the way into a narrow alley running between the street of the Holy Ghost and the Frauengasse.
"There is the wall to be climbed," she said; but, as she spoke, the door giving exit to the alley was cautiously opened by Barlasch.
"A little oil," he whispered, "and it was soon done."
The yard was dark within, for there might be watchers at any of the windows above them in the pointed gables that made patterns against the star-lit sky.
"All is well," said Barlasch; "those sons of dogs have not returned, and the patron is waiting in the kitchen, cloaked and ready for a journey. He has collected himself—the patron."
He led the way through his own room, which was dark, save for a shaft of lamp-light coming from the kitchen. He looked back keenly at Louis d'Arragon.
"Salut!" he growled, scowling at his boots. "A sailor," he muttered after a pause. "Good. She has her wits at the top of the basket—that child."
Desiree was throwing back her hood and looking at her father with a reassuring smile.
"I have brought Monsieur d'Arragon," she said, "to help us."
For Sebastian has not recognized the new-comer. He now bowed in his stiff way, and began a formal apology, which D'Arragon cut short with a quick gesture.
"It is the least I could do," he said, "in the absence of Charles. Have you money?"
"You will require money and a few clothes. I can get you a passage to Riga or to Helsingborg to-night. From there you can communicate with your daughter. Events will follow each other rapidly. One never knows what a week may bring forth in time of war. It may be safe for you to return soon. Come, monsieur, we must go."
Sebastian made a gesture with his outspread arms, half of protestation, half of acquiescence. It was plain that he had no sympathy with these modern, hurried methods of meeting the emergencies of daily life. A valise, packed and strapped, lay on the table. D'Arragon weighed it in his hand, and then lifted it to his shoulder.
"Come, monsieur," he repeated leading the way through Barlasch's room to the yard. "And you," he added, addressing himself to that soldier, "shut the door behind us."
With another gesture of protest Sebastian gathered his cloak round him and followed. D'Arragon had taken Desiree so literally at her word that he allowed her father no time for hesitation, nor a moment to say farewell.
She was alone in the kitchen before she had realized that they were going. In a minute Barlasch returned. She could hear him setting in order the room which had been hurriedly disorganized in order to open the door leading to the yard, where her father had concealed himself. He was muttering to himself as he lifted the furniture.
Coming back into the kitchen, he found Desiree standing where he had left her. Glancing at her, he scratched his grey head in a plebeian way, and gave a little laugh.
"Yes," he said, pointing to the spot where D'Arragon had stood. "That was a man, that you fetched to help us—a man. It makes a difference when such as that goes out of the room—eh?"
He busied himself in the kitchen, setting in order that which remained of the mise en scene of his violent reception of the secret police. Suddenly he turned in his emphatic manner, and threw out his rugged forefinger to hold her attention.
"If there had been some like that in Paris, there would have been no Revolution. Za-za, za-za!" he concluded, imitating effectively the buzz of many voices in an assembly. "Words and not deeds," Barlasch protested. Whereas to-night, he clearly showed by two gestures, they had met a man of deeds.
CHAPTER X. IN DEEP WATER.
Le coeur humain est un abime qui trompe tous les calculs.
It is to be presumed that Colonel de Casimir met friends at the reception given by Governor Rapp in the great rooms of the Rathhaus. For there were many Poles present, and not a few officers of other nationalities.
The army indeed that set forth to conquer Russia was not a French-speaking army. Less than half of the regiments were of that nationality, while Italians, Bavarians, Saxons, Wurtembergers, Westphalians, Prussians, Swiss, and Portuguese went gaily forward on the great venture. There were soldiers from the numerous petty states of the German Confederation which acknowledged Napoleon as their protector, for the good reason that they could not protect themselves against him. Finally, there were those Poles who had fought in Spain for Napoleon, hoping that in return he would some day set the ancient kingdom upon its feet among the nations. Already the whisperers pointed to Davoust as the future king of the new Poland.
Many present at the farewell reception of the Governor carried a sword, though they were the merest civilians, plotting, counter-plotting, and whispering a hundred rumours. Perhaps Rapp himself, speaking bluff French with a German accent, was as honest as any man in the room, though he lacked the polish of the Parisian and had not the subtlety of the Pole. Rapp was not a shining light in these brilliant circles. He was a Governor not for peace, but for war. His day was yet to come.
Such men as de Casimir shrugged their supple shoulders at his simple talk. They spoke of him half-contemptuously as of one who had had a thousand chances and had never taken them. He was not even rich, and he had handled great sums of money. He was only a General, and he had slept in the Emperor's tent—had had access to him in every humour. He might do the same again in the coming campaign. He was worth cultivating. De Casimir and his like were full of smiles which in no wise deceived the shrewd Alsatian.
Mathilde Sebastian was among the ladies to whom these brilliant warriors paid their uncouth compliments. Perhaps de Casimir was aware that her measuring eyes followed him wherever he went. He knew, at all events, that he could hold his own amid these adventurers, many of whom had risen from the ranks; while others, from remote northern States, had birth but no manners at all. He was easy and gay, carrying lightly that subtle air of distinction which is vouchsafed to many Poles.
"Here to-day, Mademoiselle, and gone to-morrow," he said. "All these eager soldiers. And who can tell which of us may return?"
If he had expected Mathilde to flinch at this reminder of his calling, he was disappointed. Her eyes were hard and bright. She had had so few chances of moving amidst this splendour, of seeing close at hand the greatness which Napoleon shed around him as the sun its rays. She was carried away by the spirit of the age. Anything was better, she felt, than obscurity.
"And who can tell," whispered de Casimir with a careless and confident laugh, "which of us shall come back rich and great?"
This brought the glance from her dark eyes for which his own lay waiting. She was certainly beautiful, and wore the difficult dress of that day with assurance and grace. She possessed something which the German ladies about her lacked; something which many suddenly lack when a Frenchwoman is near.
His manner, half respectful, half triumphant, betrayed an understanding to which he did not refer in words. She had bestowed some favour upon him—had acceded to some request. He hoped for more. He had overstepped some barrier. She, who should have measured the distance, had allowed him to come too close. The barriers of love are one-sided; there is no climbing back.
"A hundred envious eyes are watching me," he said in an undertone as he passed on; "I dare not stay longer. I am on duty to-night."
She bowed and watched him go. She was, it would seem, aware of that fallen barrier. She had done nothing, had permitted nothing from weakness. There was no weakness at all perhaps in Mathilde Sebastian. She had the quiet manner of a skilled card-player with folded cards laid face down upon the table, who knows what is in her hand and is waiting for the foe to lead.
De Casimir did not see her again. In such a throng it would have been difficult to find her had he so desired. But, as he had told her, he was on duty to-night. There were to be a hundred arrests before dawn. Many who were laughing and talking with the French officers to-night were already in the grasp of Napoleon's secret police, and would drive straight from the door of the Rathhaus to the town prison or to the old Watch-house in the Portchaisengasse. Others, moving through the great rooms with a high head, were already condemned out of their own bureaux and escritoires now being rifled by the Emperor's spies.
The Emperor himself had given the order, before quitting Dantzig to take command of the maddest and greatest enterprise conceived by the mind of man. There was nothing above the reach of his mind, it seemed, and nothing too low for him to bend down and touch. Every detail had been considered by himself. He was like a man who, having an open wound on his back, attends to it hurriedly before showing an undaunted face to the enemy.
His inexorable finger had come down on the name of Antoine Sebastian, figuring on all the secret reports—first in many.
"Who is this man?" he asked, and none could answer.
He had gone to the frontier without awaiting the solution to the question. Such was his method now. He had so much to do that he could but skim the surface of his task. For the human mind, though it be colossal, can only work within certain limits. The greatest orator in the world can only move his immediate hearers. Those beyond the inner circle catch a word here and there, and imagination supplies the rest or improves upon it. But those in the farthest gallery hear nothing and see a little man gesticulating.
De Casimir was not entrusted with the execution of the Emperor's orders. As a member of General Rapp's staff, resident in Dantzig since the city's occupation by the French, he had been called upon to make exhaustive reports upon the feeling of the burghers. There were many doubtful cases. De Casimir did not pretend to be better than his fellows. To some he had sold the benefit of the doubt. Some had paid willingly enough for their warning. Others had put off the payment; for there were many Jews, then as now, in Dantzig; slow payers requiring something stronger than a threat to make them disburse.
De Casimir therefore quitted the Rathhaus among the first to go, and walked through the busy streets to his rooms in the Langenmarkt, where he not only lived but had a small office to which orderlies and aides-de-camp came by day or night. Two sentries kept guard on the pavement. Since the spring, this office had been one of the busiest military posts in Dantzig. Its doors were open at all hours, and in truth many of de Casimir's assistants preferred to transact their business in the dark.
There might be some recalcitrant debtor driven by stress of circumstance to clear his conscience to-night. It would be as well, de Casimir thought, to be at one's post. Nor was he mistaken. Though it was only ten o'clock, two men were awaiting his return, and, their business despatched, de Casimir deemed it wise to send away his assistants. Immediately after they had gone a woman came. She was half distracted with fear, and the tears ran down her pallid cheeks. But she dried them at the mention of de Casimir's price, and fell to abusing him.
"If your husband is innocent, there is all the more reason why he should be grateful to me for warning him," he said, with a smile. And at last the lady paid and went away.
The town clocks had struck eleven before another footstep on the pavement made de Casimir raise his head. He did not actually expect any one, but a certain surreptitiousness in the approach of this visitor, and the low knock on the door, made him suspect that this was grist for his mill.
He opened the door and, seeing that it was a woman, stepped back. When she had entered, he closed the door while she stood watching him in the dark passage, beneath the shadow of her hood. Knowing the value of such small details, he locked the door rather ostentatiously and dropped the key into his pocket.
"And now, madame," he said reassuringly, as he followed his visitor into the room where a shaded lamp lighted his writing-table. She threw back her hood, and it was Mathilde! The surprise on de Casimir's face was genuine enough. Romance could not have brought about this visit, nor love be its motive.
"Something has happened," he said, looking at her doubtfully.
"Where is my father?" was the reply.
"Unless there has been some mistake," he answered glibly, "he is at home in bed."
She smiled contemptuously into his innocent face.
"There has been a mistake," she said; "they came to arrest him to-night."
De Casimir made a gesture of anger and seemed to be mentally assigning a punishment to some blunderer.
"And?" he asked, without looking at her.
"And he escaped."
"For the moment?"
"No; he has left Dantzig."
Something in her voice—the cold note of warning—made him glance uneasily at her. This was not a woman to be deceived, and yet she was womanly enough to fear deception and to resent her own fears, visiting her anger on any who aroused them. In the flash of an eye he understood her, and forestalled the words that were upon her lips.
"And I promised that he should come to no harm—I know that," he said quickly. "At first I thought that it must have been a blunder, but on reflection I am sure that it is not. It is the Emperor. He must have given the order for the arrest himself, behind my back. That is his way. He trusts no one. He deceives those nearest to him. I made out the list of those to be arrested to-night, and your father's name was not on it. Do you believe me? Mademoiselle, do you believe me?"
It was only natural in such a man to look for disbelief. The air he breathed was infected by suspicion. No deception was too small for the great man whom he served. Mathilde made no answer.
"You came here to accuse me of having deceived you," he said rather anxiously. "Is that it?"
She nodded without meeting his eyes. It was not the truth. She had come to hear his defence, hoping against hope that she might be able to believe him.
"Mathilde," he asked slowly, "do you believe me?"
He came a step nearer, looking down at her averted face, which was oddly white. Then suddenly she turned, without a sound, without lifting her eyes—and was in his arms. It seemed that she had done it against her will, and it took him by surprise. He had thought that she was trying to attract his love because she believed in his capability to make his fortune like so many soldiers of France; that she was only playing a woman's subtle game. And, after all, she was like the rest—a little cleverer, a little colder—but, like the rest.
While his arms were still round her, his quick mind leapt forward to the future, wondering already to what end this would lead them. For a moment he was taken aback. He was over the last of those barriers which are so easy from the outside and unclimbable from within. She had thrust into his hands a power greater than, for the moment, he knew how to wield. It was characteristic of him to think first whither it would lead him, and next how he could turn it to good account.
Some instinct told him that this was a different love from any that he had met before. The same instinct made him understand that it was crying aloud to be convinced; and, oddly enough, he had told her the truth.
"See," he said, "here is a copy of the list, and your father's name is not on it. See, here is Napoleon's letter, expressing satisfaction with my work here and in Konigsberg, where I have been served by an agent of my own choosing. Many have climbed to a throne with less than that letter for their first step. See...!" he opened another drawer. It was full of money.
"See, again!" he said with a low laugh, and from an iron chest he took two or three bags which fell upon the table with the discreet unmistakable chink of gold. "That is the Emperor's. He trusts me, you see. These bags are mine. They are to be sent back to France before I follow the army to Russia. What I have told you is true, you see."
It was an odd way of wooing, but this man rarely made a mistake. There are many women who, like Mathilde Sebastian, are readier to love success than console failure.
"See," he said, after a moment's hesitation, opening another drawer in his writing-table, "before I went away I had intended to ask you to remember me."
As he spoke he drew a jewel-case from under some papers, and slowly opened it. He had others like it in the drawer; for emergencies.
"But I never hoped," he went on, "to have an opportunity of seeing you thus alone—to ask you never to forget me. You permit me?"
He clasped the diamonds round her throat, and they glittered on the poor, cheap dress, which was the best she had. She looked down at them with a catching breath, and for an instant the glitter was reflected in her eyes.
She had come asking for reassurance, and he gave her diamonds; which is an old tale told over and over again. For in human love we have to accept not what we want, but what is given to us.
"No one in Dantzig," he said, "is so glad to hear that your father has escaped as I am."
And, with the glitter still lurking in her dark-grey eyes, she believed him. He drew her cloak round her, and gently brought her hood over her hair.
"I must take you home," he said tenderly, "without delay. And as we go through the streets you must tell me how it happened, and how you were able to come to me."
"Desiree was not asleep," she answered; "she was waiting for me to return, and told me at once. Then she went to bed, and I waited until she was asleep. It was she who managed the escape."
De Casimir, who was locking the drawers of his writing-table, glanced up sharply.
"Ah! but not alone?"
"No—not alone. I will tell you as we go through the streets."
CHAPTER XI. THE WAVE MOVES ON.
La meme fermete qui sert a resister a l'amour sert aussi a le rendre violent et durable.
It is only in war that the unexpected admittedly happens. In love and other domestic calamities there is always a relative who knew it all the time.
The news that Napoleon was in Vilna, hastily evacuated by the Russians in full retreat, came as a surprise and not to all as a pleasant one, in Dantzig.
It was Papa Barlasch who brought the tidings to the Frauengasse, one hot afternoon in July. He returned before his usual hour, and sent Lisa upstairs, with a message given in dumb show and interpreted by her into matter-of-fact German, that he must see the young ladies without delay. Far back in the great days of the monarchy, Papa Barlasch must have been a little child in a peasant's hut on those Cotes du Nord where they breed a race of Frenchmen startlingly similar to the hereditary foe across the Channel, where to this day the men kick off their sabots at the door and hold that an honest labourer has no business under a roof except in stocking-feet and shirt-sleeves.
Barlasch had never yet been upstairs in the Sebastians' house, and deemed it only respectful to the ladies to take off his boots on the mat, and prowl to the kitchen in coarse blue woollen stockings, carefully darned by himself, under the scornful immediate eye of Lisa.
He was in the kitchen when Mathilde and Desiree, in obedience to his command, came downstairs. The floor in one corner of the room was littered with his belongings; for he never used the table. "He takes up no more room than a cat," Lisa once said of him. "I never fall over him."
"She leaves her greasy plates here and there," explained Barlasch in return. "One must think of one's self and one's uniform."
He was in his stocking-feet with unbuttoned tunic when the two girls came to him.
"Ai, ai, ai," he said, imitating with his two hands the galloping of a horse. "The Russians," he explained confidentially.
"Has there been a battle?" asked Desiree.
And Barlasch answered "Pooh!" not without contempt for the female understanding.
"Then what is it?" she inquired. "You must remember we are not soldiers—we do not understand those manoeuvres—ai, ai, like that."
And she copied his gesture beneath his scowling contempt.
"It is Vilna," he said. "That is what it is. Then it will be Smolensk, and then Moscow. Ah, ah! That little man!"
He turned and took up his haversack.
"And I—I have my route. It is good-bye to the Frauengasse. We have been friends. I told you we should be. It is good-bye to these ladies—and to that Lisa. Look at her!"
He pointed with his curved and derisive finger into Lisa's eyes. And in truth the tears were there. Lisa was in heart and person that which is comprehensively called motherly. She saw perhaps some pathos in the sight of this rugged man—worn by travel, bent with hardship and many wounds, past his work—shouldering his haversack and trudging off to the war.
"The wave moves on," he said, making a gesture, and a sound illustrating that watery progress. "And Dantzig will soon be forgotten. You will be left in peace—but we go on to—" He paused and shrugged his shoulders while attending to a strap. "India or the devil," he concluded.
"Colonel Casimir has gone," he added in what he took to be an aside to Mathilde. Which made her wonder for a moment. "I saw him depart with his staff soon after daybreak. And the Emperor has forgotten Dantzig. It is safe enough for the patron now. You can write him a letter to tell him so. Tell him that I said it was safe for him to return quietly here, and live in the Frauengasse—I, Barlasch."
He was ready now, and, buttoning his tunic, he fixed the straps across his chest, looking from one to the other of the three women watching him, not without some appreciation of an audience. Then he turned to Desiree, who had always been his friend, with whom he now considered that he had the soldier's bond of a peril passed through together.
"The Emperor has forgotten Dantzig," he repeated, "and those against whom he had a grudge. But he has also forgotten those who are in prison. It is not good to be forgotten in prison. Tell the patron that—to put it in his pipe and smoke it. Some day he may remember an old soldier. Ah, one thinks of one's self."
And beneath his bushy brows he looked at her with a gleam of cunning. He went to the door and, turning there, pointed the finger of scorn at Lisa, stout and tearful. He gave a short laugh of a low-born contempt, and departed without further parley.
On the doorstep he paused to put on his boots and button his gaiters, stooping clumsily with a groan beneath his burden of haversack and kit. Desiree, who had had time to go upstairs to her bedroom, ran after him as he descended the steps. She had her purse in her hand, and she thrust it into his, quickly and breathlessly.
"If you take it," she said, "I shall know that we are friends."
He took it ungraciously enough. It was a silken thing with two small rings to keep the money in place, and he looked at it with a grimace, weighing it in his hand. It was very light.
"Money," he said. "No, thank you. To get drink with, and be degraded and sent to prison. Not for me, madame. No, thank you. One thinks of one's career."
And with a gruff laugh of worldly wisdom he continued his way down the worn steps, never looking back at her as she stood in the sunlight watching him, with the purse in her hand.
So in his old age Papa Barlasch was borne forward to the war on that human tide which flooded all Lithuania, and never ebbed again, but sank into the barren ground, and was no more seen.
As the slow autumn approached, it became apparent that Dantzig no longer interested the watchers. Vilna became the base of operations. Smolensk fell, and, most wonderful of all, the Russians were retiring on Moscow. Dantzig was no longer on the route. For a time it was of the world forgotten, while, as Barlasch had predicted, free men continued at liberty, though their names had an evil savour, while innocent persons in prison were left to rot there.
Desiree continued to receive letters from her husband, full of love and war. For a long time he lingered at Konigsberg, hoping every day to be sent forward. Then he followed Murat across the Niemen, and wrote of weary journeys over the rolling plains of Lithuania.
Towards the end of July he mentioned curtly the arrival of de Casimir at head-quarters.
"With him came a courier," wrote Charles, "bringing your dead letter. I don't believe you love me as I love you. At all events, you do not seem to tell me that you do so often as I want to tell you. Tell me what you do and think every moment of the day...." And so on. Charles seemed to write as easily as he talked, and had no difficulty in setting forth his feelings. "The courier is in the saddle," he concluded. "De Casimir tells me that I must finish. Write and tell me everything. How is Mathilde? And your father? Is he in good health? How does he pass his day? Does he still go out in the evening to his cafe?"
This seemed to be an afterthought, suggested perhaps by conversation passing in the room in which he sat.
The other exile, writing from Stockholm, was briefer in his communications.
"I am well," wrote Antoine Sebastian, "and hope to arrive soon after you receive this. Felix Meyer, the notary, has instructions to furnish you with money for household expenses."
It would appear that Sebastian possessed other friends in Dantzig, who had kept him advised of all that passed in the city.
For neither Mathilde nor Desiree had obeyed Barlasch's blunt order to write to their father. They did not know whither he had fled, neither had they received any communication giving an address or a hint as to his future movements. It would appear that the same direct and laconic mind which had carried out his escape deemed it wiser that those left behind should be in no position to furnish information.
In fairness to Barlasch, Desiree had made little of that soldier's part in Sebastian's evasion, and Mathilde displayed small interest in such details. She rather fastened, however, upon the assistance rendered by Louis d'Arragon.
"Why did he do it?" she asked.
"Oh, because I asked him," was the reply.
"And why did you ask him?"
"Who else was there to ask?" returned Desiree, which was indeed unanswerable.
Perhaps the question had been suggested to her by de Casimir, who, on learning that Louis d'Arragon had helped her father to slip through the Emperor's fingers, had asked the same in his own characteristic way.
"What could he hope to gain by doing it?" he had inquired as he walked by Mathilde's side, along the Pfaffengasse. And he made other interrogations respecting D'Arragon which Mathilde was no more able to satisfy, as he accompanied her to the Frauengasse.
Since that time the dancing-lessons had been resumed to the music of a hired fiddler, and Desiree had once more taken up her household task of making both ends meet. She approached the difficulties as impetuously as ever, and danced the stout pupils round the room with undiminished energy.
"It seems no good at all, your being married," said one of these breathlessly, while Desiree laughingly attended to her dishevelled hair.
"Because you still make your own dresses and teach dancing," replied the pupil, with a quick sigh at the thought of some smart bursch in the Prussian contingent.
"Ah, but Charles will return a colonel, and I shall bow to you in a silk dress from a chaise and pair—come, left foot first. You are not so tired as you think you are."
For those that are busy, time flies quickly enough. And there is nothing more absorbing than keeping the wolf from the door, else assuredly the hungry thousands would find time to arise and rend the overfed few.
August succeeded a hot July and brought with it Sebastian's curt letter. Sebastian himself—that shadowy father—returned to his home a few hours later. He was not alone, for a heavier step followed his into the passage, and Desiree, always quick to hear and see and act, coming to the head of the stairs, perceived her father looking upwards towards her, while his companion in rough sailor's clothes turned to lay aside the valise he had carried on his shoulder.
Mathilde was close behind Desiree, and Sebastian kissed his daughters with that cold repression of manner which always suggested a strenuous past in which the emotions had been relinquished for ever as an indulgence unfit for a stern and hard-bitten age.
"I took him away and now return him," said the sailor coming forward. Desiree had always known that it was Louis, but Mathilde gave a little start at the sound of the neat clipping French in the mouth of an educated Frenchman so rarely heard in Dantzig—so rarely heard in all broad France to-day.
"Yes—that is true," answered Sebastian, turning to him with a sudden change of manner. There was that in voice and attitude which his hearers had never noted before, although Charles had often evoked something approaching it. It seemed to indicate that, of all the people with whom they had seen their father hold intercourse, Louis d'Arragon was the only man who stood upon equality with him.
"That is true—and at great risk to yourself," he said, not assigning, however, so great an importance to personal danger as men do in these careful days. As he spoke, he took Louis by the arm and by a gesture invited him to precede him upstairs with a suggestion of camaraderie somewhat startling in one usually so cold and formal as Antoine Sebastian, the dancing-master of the Frauengasse.
"I was writing to Charles," said Desiree to D'Arragon, when they reached the drawing-room, and, crossing to her own table, she set the papers in order there. These consisted of a number of letters from her husband, read and re-read, it would appear. And the answer to them, a clean sheet of paper bearing only the date and address, lay beneath her hand.
"The courier leaves this evening," she said, with a queer ring of anxiety in her voice, as if she feared that for some reason or another she ran the risk of failing to despatch her letter. She glanced at the clock, and stood, pen in hand, thinking of what she should write.
"May I enclose a line?" asked Louis. "It is not wise, perhaps, for me to address to him a letter—since I am on the other side. It is a small matter of a heritage which he and I divide. I have placed some money in a Dantzig bank for him. He may require it when he returns."
"Then you do not correspond with Charles?" said Mathilde, clearing a space for him on the larger table, and setting before him ink and pens and paper.
"Thank you, Mademoiselle," he said, glancing at her with that light of interest in his dark eyes which she had ignited once before by a question on the only occasion that they had met. He seemed to detect that she was more interested in him than her indifferent manner would appear to indicate. "No, I am a bad correspondent. If Charles and I, in our present circumstances, were to write to each other it could only lead to intrigue, for which I have no taste and Charles no capacity."
"You seem to hint that Charles might have such a taste then," she said, with her quiet smile, as she moved away leaving him to write.
"Charles has probably found out by this time," he answered with the bluntness which he claimed as a prerogative of his calling and nation, "that a soldier of Napoleon's who intrigues will make a better career than one who merely fights."
He took up his pen and wrote with the absorption of one who has but little time and knows exactly what to say. By chance he glanced towards Desiree, who sat at her own table near the window. She was stroking her cheek with the feather of her pen, looking with puzzled eyes at the blank paper before her. Each time D'Arragon dipped his pen he glanced at her, watching her. And Mathilde, with her needlework, watched them both.
CHAPTER XII. FROM BORODINO.
However we brave it out, we men are a little breed.
War is the gambling of kings. Napoleon, the arch-gambler, from that Southern sea where men, lacking cards or dice and the money to buy either, will yet play a game of chance with the ten fingers that God gave them for another purpose—Napoleon had dealt a hand with every monarch in Europe before he met for the second time that Northern adversary of cool blood who knew the waiting game.
It is only where the stakes are small that the leisurely players, idly fingering the fallen cards, return in fancy to certain points—to this trick trumped or that chance missed, playing the game over again. But when the result is great it overshadows the game, and all men's thoughts fly to speculation on the future. How will the loser meet his loss? What use will the winner make of his gain?
The results of the Russian campaign were so stupendous to history that the historians of the day, in their bewilderment, sought rather to preserve these than the details of the war. Thus the student of to-day, in piecing together an impression of bygone times, will inevitably find portions of his picture missing. As a matter of fact, no one can say for certain whether Alexander gently led Napoleon onward to Moscow or was himself driven thither in confusion by the conqueror.
Perhaps each merely pushed on from day to day, as men who are not Emperors must needs do in the stress of life. It is only in calm weather that the eye is able to discern things afar off and make ready; but in a storm the horizon is dimmed by cloud and spray. All Europe was so obscured at this time. And even Emperors, being only men, could look no farther than the immediate and urgent danger of the moment.
Napoleon's generals were scarcely social lights. Ney, the hero of the retreat, the bravest of the brave, was a rough man who ate horseflesh without troubling to cook it. Rapp, whose dogged defence of an abandoned city is without compare in the story of war, had the manners and the mind of a peasant. These gentlemen dealt more in deeds than in words. They had not much to say for themselves.
As for the Russians, Russia remains at this time the one European country unhampered and unharassed by a cheap press—the one country where prominent men have a quiet tongue. A hundred years ago Russians did great deeds, and the rest was silence. Neither Kutusoff nor Alexander ever stated clearly whether the retreat to Moscow was intentional or unavoidable; and these are the only men who knew. Perhaps Napoleon knew; at all events, he thought he did, or pretended to think it long afterwards at St. Helena, for Napoleon the Great was a consummate liar.
Be that as it may, the Russians retreated, and the French advanced farther and farther from their base. It was a great army—the greatest ever seen. For Napoleon had eight monarchs serving with the eagles; generals innumerable, many of them immortal—Davoust, the greatest strategist; Prince Eugene, the incomparable lieutenant; Ney, the fearless; four hundred thousand men. And they carried with them only twenty days' provision.
They had marched from the Vistula, full of shipping, across the Pregel, loaded with stores, to the Niemen, where there was no navigation. Dantzig, behind them—that Gibraltar of the North—was stored with provision enough for the whole army. But there was no transport; for the roads of Lithuania were unsuitable for the heavy carts provided.
The country across the Niemen could scarce sustain its own sparse population, and had nothing to spare for an invading army. This had once been Poland, and was now inimical to Russia; but Russia did not care, and the friendship of Lithuania was like many human friendships which we make sacrifices to preserve—not worth having.
All the while the Russians retreated, and, stranger still, the French followed them, eking out their twenty days' provision.
"I will make them fight a big battle, and beat them," said Napoleon; "and then the Emperor will sue for peace."
But Barclay de Tolly continued to run away from that great battle. Then came the news that Barclay had been deposed; that Kutusoff was coming from the South to take command. It was true enough; and Barclay cheerfully served in a subordinate position to the new chief. September brought great hopes of a battle, for Kutusoff seemed to retreat with less despatch, like a man choosing his ground—Kutusoff, that master of the waiting game.
Early in September Murat, the impetuous leader of the pursuit, complained to Nansouty that a cavalry charge had not been pushed home.
"The horses have no patriotism," replied Nansouty. "The men will fight on empty stomachs, but not the horses."
An ominous reply at the beginning of a campaign, while communications were still open.
At last, within a few days' march of Moscow, Kutusoff made a stand. At last the great battle was imminent, after a hundred false alarms, after many disappointed hopes. The country had been flat hitherto. The Borodino, running in a wider valley than many of these rivers, which are merely great ditches, seemed to offer possibilities of defence. It was the only hope for Moscow.
"At last," wrote Charles to Desiree on September 6, "we are to have a great battle. There has been much fighting the last few days, but I have seen none of it. We are only eighty miles from Moscow. If there is a great battle to-morrow we shall see Moscow in less than a week. For we shall win. I have now found out from one who is near him that the Emperor saw and remembered me the day he passed us in the Frauengasse—our wedding-day, dearest. Nobody is too insignificant for him to know. He thought that my marriage to you (for he knows that you are French) would militate against the work I had been given to do in Dantzig, so he gave orders for me to be sent at once to Konigsberg and to continue the work there. De Casimir tells me that the Emperor is pleased with me. De Casimir is the best friend I have; I am sure of that. It is said that under the walls of Moscow the Emperor will dictate his terms to Alexander. Every one wonders that Alexander of Russia did not make proposals of peace when Vilna and Smolensk fell. In a week we may be at Moscow. In a month I may be back at Dantzig, Desiree...."
And the rest would have been for Desiree's eyes alone, had it ever been penned. For next in sacredness to heaven-inspired words are mere human love letters; and those who read the love-letters of another commit a sacrilege. But Charles never finished the letter, for the dawn surprised him where he wrote in a shed by the miserable Kalugha, a streamlet running to the Moskwa. And it was the dawn of September 7, 1812.
"There is the sun of Austerlitz," said Napoleon to those who were near him when it arose. But it was not. It was the sun of Borodino. And before it set the great battle desired by the French had been fought, and eight French generals lay dead, while thirty more were wounded. Murat, Davoust, Ney, Junot, Prince Eugene, Napoleon himself—all were there; and all fought to finish a war which from the first had been disliked. The French claimed it as a victory; but they gained nothing by it, and they lost forty thousand killed and wounded.
During the night the Russians evacuated the position which they had held, and lost, and retaken. They retreated towards Moscow, but Napoleon was hardly ready to pursue.
These things, however, are history, and those who wish to know of them may read them in another volume. While to the many orderly persons who would wish to see everything in its place and the history-books on the top shelf to be taken down and read on a future day (which will never come), to such the explanation is due that this battle of Borodino is here touched upon because it changed the current of some lives with which we have to deal.
For battles and revolutions and historical events of any sort are the jagged instruments with which Fate rough-hews our lives, leaving us to shape them as we will. In other days, no doubt, men rough-hewed, while Fate shaped. But as civilization advances men will wax so tender, so careful of the individual, that they will never cut and slash, but move softly, very tolerant, very easy-going, seeking the compromise that brings peace and breeds a small and timid race of men.
Into such lives Fate comes crashing like a woodman with his axe, leaving us to smooth the edges of the gaping wound and smile, and say that we are not hurt; to pare away the knots and broken stumps; and hope that our neighbour, concealing such himself, will have the decency to pretend not to see.
Thus the battle of Borodino crashed into the lives of Desiree and Mathilde, and their father, living quietly on the sunny side of the Frauengasse in Dantzig. Antoine Sebastian was the first to hear the news. He had, it seemed, special facilities for learning news at the Weissen Ross'l, whither he went again now in the evening.
"There has been a great battle," he said, with so much more than his usual self-restraint that Desiree and Mathilde exchanged a glance of anxiety. "A man coming this evening from Dirschau saw and spoke with the Imperial couriers on their way to Berlin and Paris. It was a great victory, quite near to Moscow. But the loss on both sides has been terrible."
He paused and glanced at Desiree. It was his creed that good blood should show an example of self-restraint and a certain steadfast, indifferent courage.
"Not so much among the French," he said, "as among the Bavarians and Italians. It is an odd way of showing patriotism, to gain victories for the conqueror. One hoped—" he paused and made a gesture with his right hand, scarcely indicative of a staunch hope, "that the man's star might be setting, but it would appear to be still in the ascendant. Charles," he added, as an afterthought, "would be on the staff. No doubt he only saw the fighting from a distance."
Desiree, from whose face the colour had faded, nodded cheerfully enough.
"Oh yes," she answered, "I have no doubt he is safe. He has good fortune."
For she was an apt pupil, and had already learnt that the world only wishes to leave us in undisputed possession of our anxieties or sorrows, however ready it may be to come forward and take a hand in good fortune.
"But there is no definite news," said Mathilde, hardly looking up from the needlework at which her fingers were so deft and industrious.
"No news of Charles, I mean," she continued, "or of any of our friends. Of Monsieur de Casimir, for instance?"
"No. As for Colonel de Casimir," returned Sebastian thoughtfully, "he, like Charles, holds some staff appointment of which one does not understand the scope. He is without doubt uninjured."
Mathilde glanced at her father not without suspicion. His grand manner might easily be at times a screen. One never knows how much is perceived by those who look down from a high place.
The town was quiet enough all that night. Sebastian must have heard the news from some unofficial source, for none other seemed to know it. But at daybreak the church bells, so rarely used in Dantzig for rejoicing, awoke the burghers to the fact that the Emperor bade them make merry. Napoleon gave great heed to such matters. In the churches of Lithuania and farther on in Russia he had commanded the popes to pray for him at their altars instead of for the Czar.
When Desiree came downstairs, she found a packet awaiting her. The courier had come in during the night. This was more than a letter. A number of papers had been folded in a handkerchief and bound with string. The address was written on a piece of white leather cut from the uniform of one who had fallen at Borodino, and had no more need of sabretasche or trapping.
"Madame Desiree Darragon—nee Sebastian, Frauengasse 36, Dantzig."
Desiree's heart stood still; for the writing was unknown to her. As she cut the network of string, she thought that Charles was dead. When the enclosed papers fell upon the table, she was sure of it; for they were all in his writing. She did not pick and choose as one would who has leisure and no very strong excitement, but took up the first paper and read:
"Dear C.—I have been fortunate, as you will see from the enclosed report. His Majesty cannot again say that I have been neglectful. I was quite right. It is Sebastian and only Sebastian that we need fear. Here, they are clumsy conspirators compared to him. I have been in the river half the night, listening at the open stern window of a Reval pink to every word they said. His Majesty can safely come to Konigsberg. Indeed, he is better out of Dantzig. For the whole country is riddled with that which they call patriotism, and we, treason. But I can only repeat what His Majesty disbelieved the day before yesterday—that the heart of the ill is Dantzig, and the venom of it Sebastian. Who he really is and what he is about, you must find out how you can. I go forward to-day to Gumbinnen. The enclosed letter to its address—I beg of you—if only in acknowledgment of all that I have sacrificed."
The letter was unsigned, but the writing was the writing of Charles Darragon, and Desiree knew what he had sacrificed—what he could never recover.
There were two or three more letters addressed to "Dear C.," bearing no signature, and yet written by Charles. Desiree read them carefully with a sort of numb attention which photographed them permanently on her memory like writing that is carved in stone upon a wall. There must be some explanation in one of them. Who had sent them to her? Was Charles dead?
At last she came to a sealed envelope addressed to herself by Charles. Some other hand had copied the address from it in identical terms on the piece of white leather. She opened and read it. It was the letter written to her by Charles on the bank of the Kalugha river on the eve of Borodino, and left unfinished by him. He must be dead. She prayed that he might be.
She was alone in the room, having come down early, as was her wont, to prepare breakfast. She heard Lisa talking with some one at the door—a messenger, no doubt, to say that Charles was dead.
One letter still remained unread. It was in a different writing—the writing on the white leather.
"Madame," it read, "The enclosed papers were found on the field by one of my orderlies. One of them being addressed to you, furnishes a clue to their owner, who must have dropped them in the hurry of the advance. Should Captain Charles Darragon be your husband, I have the pleasure to inform you that he was seen alive and well at the end of the day." The writer assured Desiree of his respectful consideration, and wrote "Surgeon" after his name.
Desiree had read the explanation too late.
CHAPTER XIII. IN THE DAY OF REJOICING.
Truth, though it crush me.
The door of the room stood open, and the sound of a step in the passage made Desiree glance up, as she hastily put together the papers found on the battlefield of Borodino.
Louis d'Arragon was coming into the room, and for an instant, before his expression changed, she saw all the fatigue that he must have endured during the night; all that he must have risked. His face was usually still and quiet; a combination of that contemplative calm which characterises seafaring faces, and the clean-cut immobility of a racial type developed by hereditary duties of self-restraint and command.
He knew that there had been a battle, and, seeing the papers on the table, his eyes asked her the inevitable question which his lips were slow to put into words.
In reply Desiree shook her head. She looked at the papers in quick thought. Then she withdrew from them the letter written to her by Charles—and put the others together.
"You told me to send for you," she said in a quiet, tired voice, "if I wanted you. You have saved me the trouble."
His eyes were hard with anxiety as he looked at her. She held the letters towards him.
"By coming," she added, with a glance at him which took in the dust, and the stains of salt-water on his clothes, the fatigue he sought to conceal by a rigid stillness, and the tension that was left by the dangers he had passed through—daring all—to come.
Seeing that he looked doubtfully at the papers, she spoke again.
"One," she said, "that one on the stained paper, is addressed to me. You can read it—since I ask you."
The letter told him, at all events, that Charles was not killed, and, seeing his face clear as he read, she gave an odd, curt laugh.
"Read the others," she said. "Oh! you need not hesitate. You need not be so particular. Read one, the top one. One is enough."
The windows stood open, and the morning breeze fluttering the curtains brought in the gay sound of bells, the high clear bells of Hanseatic days, rejoicing at Napoleon's new success—by order of Napoleon. A bee sailed harmoniously into the room, made the circuit of it, and sought the open again with a hum that faded drowsily into silence.
D'Arragon read the letter slowly from beginning to the unsigned end, while Desiree, sitting at the table, upon which she leant one elbow, resting her small square chin in the palm of her hand, watched him.
"Ah?" she exclaimed at length, with a ring of contempt in her voice, as if at the thought of something unclean. "A spy! It is so easy for you to keep still, and to hide all you feel."
D'Arragon folded the letter slowly. It was the fatal letter written in the upper room in the shoemaker's house in Konigsberg in the Neuer Markt, where the linden trees grow close to the window. In it Charles spoke lightly of the sacrifice he had made in leaving Desiree on his wedding-day, to do the Emperor's bidding. It was indeed the greatest sacrifice that man can make; for he had thrown away his honour.
"It may not be so easy as you think," returned D'Arragon, looking towards the door.
He had no time to say more; for Mathilde and her father were talking together on the stairs as they came down. D'Arragon thrust the letters into his pocket, the only indication he had time to give to Desiree of the policy they must pursue. He stood facing the door, alert and quiet, with only a moment in which to shape the course of more than one life.
"There is good news, Monsieur," he said to Sebastian. "Though I did not come to bring it."
Sebastian pointed interrogatively to the open window, where the sound of the bells seemed to emphasize the sunlight and the freshness of the morning.
"No—not that," returned D'Arragon. "It is a great victory, they tell me; but it is hard to say whether such news would be good or bad. It was of Charles that I spoke. He is safe—Madame has heard."
He spoke rather slowly, and turned towards Desiree with a measured gesture, not unlike Sebastian's habitual manner, and a quick glance to satisfy himself that she had understood and was ready.
"Yes," said Desiree, "he was safe and well after the battle, but he gives no details; for the letter was actually written the day before."
"With a mere word, added in postscriptum, to say that he was unhurt at the end of the day," suggested Sebastian, already drawing forward a chair with a gesture full of hospitality, inviting D'Arragon to be seated at the simple breakfast-table. But D'Arragon was looking at Mathilde, who had gone rather hurriedly to the window, as if to breathe the air. He had caught a glimpse of her face as she passed. It was hard and set, quite colourless, with bright, sleepless eyes. D'Arragon was a sailor. He had seen that look in rougher faces and sterner eyes, and knew what it meant.
"No details?" asked Mathilde in a muffled voice, without looking round.
"No," answered Desiree, who had noticed nothing. How much more clearly we should understand what is going on around us if we had no secrets of our own to defend!
In obedience to Sebastian's gesture, D'Arragon took a chair, and even as he did so Mathilde came to the table, calm and mistress of herself again, to pour out the coffee, and do the honours of the simple meal. D'Arragon, besides having acquired the seamen's habit of adapting himself unconsciously and unobtrusively to his surroundings, was of a direct mind, lacking self-consciousness, and simplified by the pressure of a strong and steady purpose. For men's minds are like the atmosphere, which is always cleared by a steady breeze, while a changing wind generates vapours, mist, uncertainty.
"And what news do you bring from the sea?" asked Sebastian. "Is your sky there as overcast as ours in Dantzig?"
"No, Monsieur, our sky is clearing," answered D'Arragon, eating with a hearty appetite the fresh bread and butter set before him. "Since I saw you, the treaties have been signed, as you doubtless know, between Sweden and Russia and England."
Nodding his head with silent emphasis, Sebastian gave it to be understood that he knew that and more.
"It makes a great difference to us at sea in the Baltic," said D'Arragon. "We are no longer harassed night and day, like a dog, hounded from end to end of a hostile street, not daring to look into any doorway. The Russian ports and Swedish ports are open to us now."
"One is glad to hear that your life is one of less hardship," said Sebastian gravely. "I.... who have tasted it."
Desiree glanced at his lean, hard face. She rose, went out of the room, and returned in a few minutes carrying a new loaf which she set on the table before him with a short laugh, and something glistening in her eyes that was not mirth.
But neither Desiree nor Mathilde joined in the conversation. They were glad for their father to have a companion so sympathetic as to produce a marked difference in his manner. For Sebastian was more at ease with Louis d'Arragon than he was with Charles, though the latter had the tie of a common fatherland, and spoke the same French that Sebastian spoke. D'Arragon's French had the roundness always imparted to that language by an English voice. It was perfect enough, but of an educated perfection.
The talk was of such matters as concerned men more than women; of armies and war and treaties of peace. For all the world thought that Alexander of Russia would be brought to his knees by the battle of Borodino. None knew better how to turn a victory to account than he who claimed to be victor now. "It does not suffice," Napoleon wrote to his brother at this time, "to gain a victory. You must learn to turn it to advantage."
Save for the one reference to his life in the Baltic during the past two months, D'Arragon said nothing of himself, of his patient, dogged work carried on by day and by night in all weathers. Content to have escaped with his life, he neither referred to, nor thought of, his part in the negotiations which had resulted in the treaty just signed. For he had been the link between Russia and England; the never-failing messenger passing from one to the other with question and answer which were destined to bear fruit at last in an understanding brought to perfection in Paris, culminating at Elba.