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The Crossing
by Winston Churchill
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"You have news?" I asked, as I took her hand.

"I have the kind of news I expected," she answered, a smile tempering the gravity of her face; "Auguste is, as usual, in need of money."

"Then you have found them," I answered, my voice betraying my admiration for the feat.

Madame la Vicomtesse shrugged her shoulders slightly.

"I did nothing," she said. "From what you told me, I suspected that as soon as Auguste reached Louisiana he would have a strong desire to go away again. This is undoubtedly what has happened. In any event, I knew that he would want money, and that he would apply to a source which has hitherto never failed him."

"Mademoiselle Antoinette!" I said.

"Precisely," answered Madame la Vicomtesse. "When I reached home last night I questioned Antoinette, and I discovered that by a singular chance a message from Auguste had already reached her."

"Where is he?" I demanded.

"I do not know," she replied. "But he will be behind the hedge of the garden at Les Iles at eleven o'clock—unless he has lost before then his love of money."

"Which is to say—"

"He will be there unless he is dead. That is why I sent for you, Monsieur." She glanced at me. "Sometimes it is convenient to have a man."

I was astounded. Then I smiled, the affair was so ridiculously simple.

"And Monsieur de St. Gre?" I asked.

"Has been gone for a week with Madame to visit the estimable Monsieur Poydras at Pointe Coupee." Madame la Vicomtesse, who had better use for her words than to waste them at such a time, left me, went to the balcony, and began to give the gardienne in the court below swift directions in French. Then she turned to me again.

"Are you prepared to ride with Antoinette and me to Les Iles, Monsieur?" she asked.

"I am," I answered.

It must have been my readiness that made her smile. Then her eyes rested on mine.

"You look tired, Mr. Ritchie," she said. "You did not obey me and go home last night."

"How did you know that?" I asked, with a thrill at her interest.

"Because Madame Gravois told my messenger that you were out."

I was silent.

"You must take care of yourself," she said briefly. "Come, there are some things which I wish to say to you before Antoinette is ready."

She led me toward the end of the gallery, where a bright screen of morning-glories shaded us from the sun. But we had scarce reached the place ere the sound of steps made us turn, and there was Mademoiselle Antoinette herself facing us. I went forward a few steps, hesitated, and bowed. She courtesied, my name faltering on her lips. Yes, it was Antoinette, not the light-hearted girl whom we had heard singing "Ma luron" in the garden, but a woman now with a strange beauty that astonished me. Hers was the dignity that comes from unselfish service, the calm that is far from resignation, though the black veil caught up on her chapeau de paille gave her the air of a Sister of Mercy. Antoinette had inherited the energies as well as the features of the St. Gre's, yet there was a painful moment as she stood there, striving to put down the agitation the sight of me gave her. As for me, I was bereft of speech, not knowing what to say or how far to go. My last thought was of the remarkable quality in this woman before me which had held her true to Mrs. Temple, and which sent her so courageously to her duty now.

Madame la Vicomtesse, as I had hoped, relieved the situation. She knew how to broach a dreaded subject.

"Mr. Ritchie is going with us, Antoinette," she said.

"It is perhaps best to explain everything to him before we start. I was about to tell you, Mr. Ritchie," she continued, turning to me, "that Auguste has given no hint in his note of Mr. Temple's presence in Louisiana. And yet you told me that they were to have come here together."

"Yes," I answered, "and I have no reason to think they have separated."

"I was merely going to suggest," said the Vicomtesse, firmly, "I was merely going to suggest the possibility of our meeting Mr. Temple with Auguste."

It was Antoinette who answered, with a force that revealed a new side of her character.

"Mr. Temple will not be there," she said, flashing a glance upon us. "Do you think he would come to me—?"

Helene laid her hand upon the girl's arm.

"My dear, I think nothing," she said quietly; "but it is best for us to be prepared against any surprise. Remember that I do not know Mr. Temple, and that you have not seen him for five years."

"It is not like him, you know it is not like him," exclaimed Antoinette, looking at me.

"I know it is not like him, Mademoiselle," I replied.

Madame la Vicomtesse, from behind the girl, gave me a significant look.

"This occurred to me," she went on in an undisturbed tone, "that Mr. Temple might come with Auguste to protest against the proceeding,—or even to defend himself against the imputation that he was to make use of this money in any way. I wish you to realize, Antoinette, before you decide to go, that you may meet Mr. Temple. Would it not be better to let Mr. Ritchie go alone? I am sure that we could find no better emissary."

"Auguste is here," said Antoinette. "I must see him." Her voice caught. "I may never see him again. He may be ill, he may be starving—and I know that he is in trouble. Whether" (her voice caught) "whether Mr. Temple is with him or not, I mean to go."

"Then it would be well to start," said the Vicomtesse.

Deftly dropping her veil, she picked up a riding whip that lay on the railing and descended the stairs to the courtyard. Antoinette and I followed. As we came through the archway I saw Andre, Monsieur de St. Gre's mulatto, holding open the wicket for us to pass. He helped the ladies to mount the ponies, lengthened my own stirrups for me, swung into the saddle himself, and then the four of us were picking our way down the Rue Chartres at an easy amble. Turning to the right beyond the cool garden of the Ursulines, past the yellow barracks, we came to the river front beside the fortifications. A score of negroes were sweating there in the sun, swinging into position the long logs for the palisades, nearly completed. They were like those of Kaskaskia and our own frontier forts in Kentucky, with a forty-foot ditch in front of them. Seated on a horse talking to the overseer was a fat little man in white linen who pulled off his hat and bowed profoundly to the ladies. His face gave me a start, and then I remembered that I had seen him only the day before, resplendent, coming out of church. He was the Baron de Carondelet.

There was a sentry standing under a crape-myrtle where the Royal Road ran through the gateway. Behind him was a diminutive five-sided brick fort with a dozen little cannon on top of it. The sentry came forward, brought his musket to a salute, and halted before my horse.

"You will have to show your passport," murmured Madame la Vicomtesse.

I drew the document from my pocket. It was signed by De Lemos, and duly countersigned by the officer of the port. The man bowed, and I passed on.

It was a strange, silent ride through the stinging heat to Les Iles, the brown dust hanging behind us like a cloud, to settle slowly on the wayside shrubbery. Across the levee bank the river was low, listless, giving off hot breath like a monster in distress. The forest pools were cracked and dry, the Spanish moss was a haggard gray, and under the sun was the haze which covered the land like a saffron mantle. At times a listlessness came over me such as I had never known, to make me forget the presence of the women at my side, the very errand on which we rode. From time to time I was roused into admiration of the horsemanship of Madame la Vicomtesse, for the restive Texas pony which she rode was stung to madness by the flies. As for Antoinette, she glanced neither right nor left through her veil, but rode unmindful of the way, heedless of heat and discomfort, erect, motionless save for the easy gait of her horse. At length we turned into the avenue through the forest, lined by wild orange trees, came in sight of the low, belvedered plantation house, and drew rein at the foot of the steps. Antoinette was the first to dismount, and passed in silence through the group of surprised house servants gathering at the door. I assisted the Vicomtesse, who paused to bid the negroes disperse, and we lingered for a moment on the gallery together.

"Poor Antoinette!" she said, "I wish we might have saved her this." She looked up at me. "How she defended him!" she exclaimed.

"She loves him," I answered.

Madame la Vicomtesse sighed.

"I suppose there is no help for it," she said. "But it is very difficult not to be angry with Mr. Temple. The girl cared for his mother, gave her a home, clung to her when he and the world would have cast her off, sacrificed her happiness for them both. If I see him, I believe I shall shake him. And if he doesn't fall down on his knees to her, I shall ask the Baron to hang him. We must bring him to his senses, Mr. Ritchie. He must not leave Louisiana until he sees her. Then he will marry her." She paused, scrutinized me in her quick way, and added: "You see that I take your estimation of his character. You ought to be flattered."

"I am flattered by any confidence you repose in me, Madame la Vicomtesse."

She laughed. I was not flattered then, but cursed myself for the quaint awkwardness in my speech that amused her. And she was astonishingly quick to perceive my moods.

"There, don't be angry. You will never be a courtier, my honest friend, and you may thank God for it. How sweet the shrubs are! Your chief business in life seems to be getting people out of trouble, and I am going to help you with this case."

It was my turn to laugh.

"You are going to help!" I exclaimed. "My services have been heavy, so far."

"You should not walk around at night," she replied irrelevantly.

Suddenly I remembered Gignoux, but even as I was about to tell her of the incident Antoinette appeared in the doorway. She was very pale, but her lips were set with excitement and her eyes shone strangely. She was still in her riding gown, in her hand she carried a leather bag, and behind her stood Andre with a bundle.

"Quick!" she said; "we are wasting time, and he may be gone."

Checking an exclamation which could hardly have been complimentary to Auguste, the Vicomtesse crossed quickly to her and put her arm about her.

"We will follow you, mignonne," she said in French.

"Must you come?" said Antoinette, appealingly. "He may not appear if he sees any one."

"We shall have to risk that," said the Vicomtesse, dryly, with a glance at me. "You shall not go alone, but we will wait a few moments at the hedge."

We took the well-remembered way through the golden green light under the trees, Antoinette leading, and the sight of the garden brought back to me poignantly the scene in the moonlight with Mrs. Temple. There was no sound save the languid morning notes of the birds and the humming of the bees among the flowers as Antoinette went tremblingly down the path and paused, listening, under the branches of that oak where I had first beheld her. Then, with a little cry, we saw her run forward—into the arms of Auguste de St. Gre. It was a pitiful thing to look upon.

Antoinette had led her brother to the seat under the oak. How long we waited I know not, but at length we heard their voices raised, and without more ado Madame la Vicomtesse, beckoning me, passed quickly through the gap in the hedge and went towards them. I followed with Andre. Auguste rose with an oath, and then stood facing his cousin like a man struck dumb, his hands dropped. He was a sorry sight indeed, unshaven, unkempt, dark circles under his eyes, clothes torn.

"Helene! You here—in America!" he cried in French, staring at her.

"Yes, Auguste," she replied quite simply, "I am here." He would have come towards her, but there was a note in her voice which arrested him.

"And Monsieur le Vicomte—Henri?" he said. I found myself listening tensely for the answer.

"Henri is in Austria, fighting for his King, I hope," said Madame la Vicomtesse.

"So Madame la Vicomtesse is a refugee," he said with a bow and a smile that made me very angry.

"And Monsieur de St. Gre!" I asked.

At the sound of my voice he started and gave back, for he had not perceived me. He recovered his balance, such as it was, instantly.

"Monsieur seems to take an extraordinary interest in my affairs," he said jauntily.

"Only when they are to the detriment of other persons who are my friends," I said.

"Monsieur has intruded in a family matter," said Auguste, grandly, still in French.

"By invitation of those most concerned, Monsieur," I answered, for I could have throttled him.

Auguste had developed. He had learned well that effrontery is often the best weapon of an adventurer. He turned from me disdainfully, petulantly, and addressed the Vicomtesse once more.

"I wish to be alone with Antoinette," he said.

"No doubt," said the Vicomtesse.

"I demand it," said Auguste.

"The demand is not granted," said the Vicomtesse; "that is why we have come. Your sister has already made enough sacrifices for you. I know you, Monsieur Auguste de St. Gre," she continued with quiet contempt. "It is not for love of Antoinette that you have sought this meeting. It is because," she said, riding down a torrent of words which began to escape from him, "it is because you are in a predicament, as usual, and you need money."

It was Antoinette who spoke. She had risen, and was standing behind Auguste. She still held the leather bag in her hand.

"Perhaps the sum is not enough," she said; "he has to get to France. Perhaps we could borrow more until my father comes home." She looked questioningly at us.

Madame la Vicomtesse was truly a woman of decision. Without more ado she took the bag from Antoinette's unresisting hands and put it into mine. I was no less astonished than the rest of them.

"Mr. Ritchie will keep this until the negotiations are finished," said the Vicomtesse.

"Negotiations!" cried Auguste, beside himself. "This is insolence, Madame."

"Be careful, sir," I said.

"Auguste!" cried Antoinette, putting her hand on his arm.

"Why did you tell them?" he demanded, turning on her.

"Because I trust them, Auguste," Antoinette answered. She spoke without anger, as one whose sorrow has put her beyond it. Her speech had a dignity and force which might have awed a worthier man. His disappointment and chagrin brought him beyond bounds.

"You trust them!" he cried, "you trust them when they tell you to give your brother, who is starving and in peril of his life, eight hundred livres? Eight hundred livres, pardieu, and your brother!"

"It is all I have, Auguste," said his sister, sadly.

"Ha!" he said dramatically, "I see, they seek my destruction. This man"—pointing at me—"is a Federalist, and Madame la Vicomtesse"—he bowed ironically—"is a Royalist."

"Pish!" said the Vicomtesse, impatiently, "it would be an easy matter to have you sent to the Morro—a word to Monsieur de Carondelet, Auguste. Do you believe for a moment that, in your father's absence, I would have allowed Antoinette to come here alone? And it was a happy circumstance that I could call on such a man as Mr. Ritchie to come with us."

"It seems to me that Mr. Ritchie and his friends have already brought sufficient misfortune on the family."

It was a villanous speech. Antoinette turned away, her shoulders quivering, and I took a step towards him; but Madame la Vicomtesse made a swift gesture, and I stopped, I know not why. She gave an exclamation so sharp that he flinched physically, as though he had been struck. But it was characteristic of her that when she began to speak, her words cut rather than lashed.

"Auguste de St. Gre," she said, "I know you. The Tribunal is merciful compared to you. There is no one on earth whom you would not torture for your selfish ends, no one whom you would not sell without compunction for your pleasure. There are things that a woman should not mention, and yet I would tell them without shame to your face were it not for your sister. If it were not for her, I would not have you in my presence. Shall I speak of your career in France? There is Valenciennes, for example—"

She stopped abruptly. The man was gray, but not on his account did the Vicomtesse stay her speech. She forgot him as though he did not exist, and by one of those swift transitions which thrilled me had gone to the sobbing Antoinette and taken her in her arms, murmuring endearments of which our language is not capable. I, too, forgot Auguste. But no rebuke, however stinging, could make him forget himself, and before we realized it he was talking again. He had changed his tactics.

"This is my home," he said, "where I might expect shelter and comfort. You make me an outcast."

Antoinette disengaged herself from Helene with a cry, but he turned away from her and shrugged.

"A stranger would have fared better. Perhaps you will have more consideration for a stranger. There is a French ship at the Terre aux Boeufs in the English Turn, which sails to-night. I appeal to you, Mr. Ritchie,"—he was still talking in French—"I appeal to you, who are a man of affairs,"—and he swept me a bow,—"if a captain would risk taking a fugitive to France for eight hundred livres? Pardieu, I could get no farther than the Balize for that. Monsieur," he added meaningly, "you have an interest in this. There are two of us to go."

The amazing effrontery of this move made me gasp. Yet it was neither the Vicomtesse nor myself who answered him. We turned by common impulse to Antoinette, and she was changed. Her breath came quickly, her eyes flashed, her anger made her magnificent.

"It is not true," she cried, "you know it is not true."

He lifted his shoulders and smiled.

"You are my brother, and I am ashamed to acknowledge you. I was willing to give my last sou, to sell my belongings, to take from the poor to help you—until you defamed a good man. You cannot make me believe," she cried, unheeding the color that surged into her cheeks, "you cannot make me believe that he would use this money. You cannot make me believe it."

"Let us do him the credit of thinking that he means to repay it," said Auguste.

Antoinette's eyes filled with tears,—tears of pride, of humiliation, ay, and of an anger of which I had not thought her capable. She was indeed a superb creature then, a personage I had not imagined. Gathering up her gown, she passed Auguste and turned on him swiftly.

"If you were to bring that to him," she said, pointing to the bag in my hand, "he would not so much as touch it. To-morrow I shall go to the Ursulines, and I thank God I shall never see you again. I thank God I shall no longer be your sister. Give Monsieur the bundle," she said to the frightened Andre, who still stood by the hedge; "he may need food and clothes for his journey."

She left us. We stood watching her until her gown had disappeared amongst the foliage. Andre came forward and held out the bundle to Auguste, who took it mechanically. Then Madame La Vicomtesse motioned to Andre to leave, and gave me a glance, and it was part of the deep understanding of her I had that I took its meaning. I had my forebodings at what this last conversation with Auguste might bring forth, and I wished heartily that we were rid of him.

"Monsieur de St. Gre," I said, "I understood you to say that a ship is lying at the English Turn some five leagues below us, on which you are to take passage at once."

He turned and glared at me, some devilish retort on his lips which he held back. Suddenly he became suave.

"I shall want two thousand livres Monsieur; it was the sum I asked for."

"It is not a question of what you asked for," I answered.

"Since when did Monsieur assume this intimate position in my family?" he said, glancing at the Vicomtesse.

"Monsieur de St. Gre," I replied with difficulty, "you will confine yourself to the matter in hand. You are in no situation to demand terms; you must take or leave what is offered you. Last night the man called Gignoux, who was of your party, was at the Governor's house."

At this he started perceptibly.

"Ha, I thought he was a traitor," he cried. Strangely enough, he did not doubt my word in this.

"I am surprised that your Father's house has not been searched this morning," I continued, astonished at my own moderation. "The sentiments of the Baron de Carondelet are no doubt known to you, and you are aware that your family or your friends cannot save you if you are arrested. You may have this money on two conditions. The first is that you leave the province immediately. The second, that you reveal the whereabouts of Mr. Nicholas Temple."

"Monsieur is very kind," he replied, and added the taunt, "and well versed in the conduct of affairs of money."

"Does Monsieur de St. Gre accept?" I asked.

He threw out his hands with a gesture of resignation.

"Who am I to accept?" he said, "a fugitive, an outcast. And I should like to remind Monsieur that time passes."

"It is a sensible observation," said I, meaning that it was the first. His sudden docility made me suspicious. "What preparations have you made to go?"

"They are not elaborate, Monsieur, but they are complete. When I leave you I step into a pirogue which is tied to the river bank."

"Ah," I replied. "And Mr. Temple?"

Madame la Vicomtesse smiled, for Auguste was fairly caught. He had not the astuteness to be a rogue; oddly he had the sense to know that he could fool us no longer.

"Temple is at Lamarque's," he answered sullenly.

I glanced questioningly at the Vicomtesse.

"Lamarque is an old pensioner of Monsieur de St. Gre's," said she; "he has a house and an arpent of land not far below here."

"Exactly," said Auguste, "and if Mr. Ritchie believes that he will save money by keeping Mr. Temple in Louisiana instead of giving him this opportunity to escape, it is no concern of mine."

I reflected a moment on this, for it was another sensible remark.

"It is indeed no concern of yours," said Madame la Vicomtesse.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"And now," he said, "I take it that there are no further conscientious scruples against my receiving this paltry sum."

"I will go with you to your pirogue," I answered, "when you embark you shall have it."

"I, too, will go," said Madame la Vicomtesse.

"You overwhelm me with civility, Madame," said the Sieur de St. Gre, bowing low.

"Lead the way, Monsieur," I said.

He took his bundle, and started off down the garden path with a grand air. I looked at the Vicomtesse inquiringly, and there was laughter in her eyes.

"I must show you the way to Lamarque's." And then she whispered, "You have done well, Mr. Ritchie."

I did not return her look, but waited until she took the path ahead of me. In silence we followed Auguste through the depths of the woods, turning here and there to avoid a fallen tree or a sink-hole where the water still remained. At length we came out in the glare of the sun and crossed the dusty road to the levee bank. Some forty yards below us was the canoe, and we walked to it, still in silence. Auguste flung in his bundle, and turned to us.

"Perhaps Monsieur is satisfied," he said.

I handed him the bag, and he took it with an elaborate air of thankfulness. Nay, the rascal opened it as if to assure himself that he was not tricked at the last. At the sight of the gold and silver which Antoinette had hastily collected, he turned to Madame la Vicomtesse.

"Should I have the good fortune to meet Monsieur le Vicomte in France, I shall assure him that Madame is in good hands" (he swept an exultant look at me) "and enjoying herself."

I could have flung him into the river, money-bag and all. But Madame la Vicomtesse made him a courtesy there on the levee bank, and said sweetly:—

"That is very good of you, Auguste."

"As for you, Monsieur," he said, and now his voice shook with uncontrolled rage, "I am in no condition to repay your kindnesses. But I have no doubt that you will not object to keeping the miniature a while longer."

I was speechless with anger and shame, and though I felt the eyes of the Vicomtesse upon me, I dared not look at her. I heard Auguste but indistinctly as he continued:—

"Should you need the frame, Monsieur, you will doubtless find it still with Monsieur Isadore, the Jew, in the Rue Toulouse." With that he leaped into his boat, seized the paddle, and laughed as he headed into the current. How long I stood watching him as he drifted lazily in the sun I know not, but at length the voice of Madame la Vicomtesse aroused me.

"He is a pleasant person," she said.



CHAPTER VIII

AT LAMARQUE'S

Until then it seemed as if the sun had gotten into my brain and set it on fire. Her words had the strange effect of clearing my head, though I was still in as sad a predicament as ever I found myself. There was the thing in my pocket, still wrapped in Polly Ann's handkerchief. I glanced at the Vicomtesse shyly, and turned away again. Her face was all repressed laughter, the expression I knew so well.

"I think we should feel better in the shade, Mr. Ritchie," she said in English, and, leaping lightly down from the bank, crossed the road again. I followed her, perforce.

"I will show you the way to Lamarque's," she said.

"Madame la Vicomtesse!" I cried.

Had she no curiosity? Was she going to let pass what Auguste had hinted? Lifting up her skirts, she swung round and faced me. In her eyes was a calmness more baffling than the light I had seen there but a moment since. How to begin I knew not, and yet I was launched.

"Madame la Vicomtesse, there was once a certain miniature painted of you."

"By Boze, Monsieur," she answered, readily enough. The embarrassment was all on my side. "We spoke of it last evening. I remember well when it was taken. It was the costume I wore at Chantilly, and Monsieur le Prince complimented me, and the next day the painter himself came to our hotel in the Rue de Bretagne and asked the honor of painting me." She sighed. "Ah, those were happy days! Her Majesty was very angry with me."

"And why?" I asked, forgetful of my predicament.

"For sending it to Louisiana, to Antoinette."

"And why did you send it?"

"A whim," said the Vicomtesse. "I had always written twice a year either to Monsieur de St. Gre or Antoinette, and although I had never seen them, I loved them. Perhaps it was because they had the patience to read my letters and the manners to say they liked them."

"Surely not, Madame," I said. "Monsieur de St. Gre spoke often to me of the wonderful pictures you drew of the personages at court."

Madame la Vicomtesse had an answer on the tip of her tongue. I know now that she spared me.

"And what of this miniature, Monsieur?" she asked. "What became of it after you restored it to its rightful owner?"

I flushed furiously and fumbled in my pocket.

"I obtained it again, Madame," I said.

"You obtained it!" she cried, I am not sure to this day whether in consternation or jest. In passing, it was not just what I wanted to say.

"I meant to give it you last night," I said.

"And why did you not?" she demanded severely.

I felt her eyes on me, and it seemed to me as if she were looking into my very soul. Even had it been otherwise, I could not have told her how I had lived with this picture night and day, how I had dreamed of it, how it had been my inspiration and counsel. I drew it from my pocket, wrapped as it was in the handkerchief, and uncovered it with a reverence which she must have marked, for she turned away to pick a yellow flower by the roadside. I thank Heaven that she did not laugh. Indeed, she seemed to be far from laughter.

"You have taken good care of it, Monsieur," she said. "I thank you."

"It was not mine, Madame," I answered.

"And if it had been?" she asked.

It was a strange prompting.

"If it had been, I could have taken no better care of it," I answered, and I held it towards her.

She took it simply.

"And the handkerchief?" she said.

"The handkerchief was Polly Ann's," I answered.

She stopped to pick a second flower that had grown by the first.

"Who is Polly Ann?" she said.

"When I was eleven years of age and ran away from Temple Bow after my father died, Polly Ann found me in the hills. When she married Tom McChesney they took me across the mountains into Kentucky with them. Polly Ann has been more than a mother to me."

"Oh!" said Madame la Vicomtesse. Then she looked at me with a stranger expression than I had yet seen in her face. She thrust the miniature in her gown, turned, and walked in silence awhile. Then she said:—

"So Auguste sold it again?"

"Yes," I said.

"He seems to have found a ready market only in you," said the Vicomtesse, without turning her head. "Here we are at Lamarque's."

What I saw was a low, weather-beaten cabin on the edge of a clearing, and behind it stretched away in prim rows the vegetables which the old Frenchman had planted. There was a little flower garden, too, and an orchard. A path of beaten earth led to the door, which was open. There we paused. Seated at a rude table was Lamarque himself, his hoary head bent over the cards he held in his hand. Opposite him was Mr. Nicholas Temple, in the act of playing the ace of spades. I think that it was the laughter of Madame la Vicomtesse that first disturbed them, and even then she had time to turn to me.

"I like your cousin," she whispered.

"Is that you, St. Gre?" said Nick. "I wish to the devil you would learn not to sneak. You frighten me. Where the deuce did you go to?"

But Lamarque had seen the lady, stared at her wildly for a moment, and rose, dropping his cards on the floor. He bowed humbly, not without trepidation.

"Madame la Vicomtesse!" he said.

By this time Nick had risen, and he, too, was staring at her. How he managed to appear so well dressed was a puzzle to me.

"Madame," he said, bowing, "I beg your pardon. I thought you were that—I beg your pardon."

"I understand your feelings, sir," answered the Vicomtesse as she courtesied.

"Egad," said Nick, and looked at her again. "Egad, I'll be hanged if it's not—"

It was the first time I had seen the Vicomtesse in confusion. And indeed if it were confusion she recovered instantly.

"You will probably be hanged, sir, if you do not mend your company," she said. "Do you not think so, Mr. Ritchie?"

"Davy!" he cried. And catching sight of me in the doorway, over her shoulder, "Has he followed me here too?" Running past the Vicomtesse, he seized me in his impulsive way and searched my face. "So you have followed me here, old faithful! Madame," he added, turning to the Vicomtesse, "there is some excuse for my getting into trouble."

"What excuse, Monsieur?" she asked. She was smiling, yet looking at us with shining eyes.

"The pleasure of having Mr. Ritchie get me out," he answered. "He has never failed me."

"You are far from being out of this," I said. "If the Baron de Carondelet does not hang you or put you in the Morro, you will not have me to thank. It will be Madame la Vicomtesse d'Ivry-le-Tour."

"Madame la Vicomtesse!" exclaimed Nick, puzzled.

"May I present to you, Madame, Mr. Nicholas Temple?" I asked.

Nick bowed, and she courtesied again.

"So Monsieur le Baron is really after us," said Nick. He opened his eyes, slapped his knee, and laughed. "That may account for the Citizen Captain de St. Gre's absence," he said. "By the way, Davy, you haven't happened by any chance to meet him?"

The Vicomtesse and I exchanged a look of understanding. Relief was plain on her face. It was she who answered.

"We have met him—by chance, Monsieur. He has just left for Terre aux Boeufs."

"Terre aux Boeufs! What the dev—I beg your pardon, Madame la Vicomtesse, but you give me something of a surprise. Is there another conspiracy at Terre aux Boeufs, or—does somebody live there who has never before lent Auguste money?"

Madame la Vicomtesse laughed. Then she grew serious again.

"You did not know where he had gone?" she said.

"I did not even know he had gone," said Nick. "Citizen Lamarque and I were having a little game of piquet—for vegetables. Eh, citizen?"

Madame la Vicomtesse laughed again, and once more the shade of sadness came into her eyes.

"They are the same the world over," she said,—not to me, nor yet to any one there. And I knew that she was thinking of her own kind in France, who faced the guillotine without sense of danger. She turned to Nick. "You may be interested to know, Mr. Temple," she added, "that Auguste is on his way to the English Turn to take ship for France."

Nick regarded her for a moment, and then his face lighted up with that smile which won every one he met, which inevitably made them smile back at him.

"The news is certainly unexpected, Madame," he said. "But then, after one has travelled much with Auguste it is difficult to take a great deal of interest in him. Am I to be sent to France, too?" he asked.

"Not if it can be helped," replied the Vicomtesse, seriously. "Mr. Ritchie will tell you, however, that you are in no small danger. Doubtless you know it. Monsieur le Baron de Carondelet considers that the intrigues of the French Revolutionists in Louisiana have already robbed him of several years of his life. He is not disposed to be lenient towards persons connected with that cause."

"What have you been doing since you arrived here on this ridiculous mission?" I demanded impatiently.

"My cousin is a narrow man, Madame la Vicomtesse," said Nick. "We enjoy ourselves in different ways. I thought there might be some excitement in this matter, and I was sadly mistaken."

"It is not over yet," said the Vicomtesse.

"And Davy," continued Nick, bowing to me, "gets his pleasures and excitement by extracting me from my various entanglements. Well, there is not much to tell. St. Gre and I were joined above Natchez by that little pig, Citizen Gignoux, and we shot past De Lemos in the night. Since then we have been permitted to sleep—no more—at various plantations. We have been waked up at barbarous hours in the morning and handed on, as it were. They were all fond of us, but likewise they were all afraid of the Baron. What day is to-day? Monday? Then it was on Saturday that we lost Gignoux."

"I have reason to think that he has already sold out to the Baron," I put in.

"Eh?"

"I saw him in communication with the police at the Governor's hotel last night," I answered.

Nick was silent for a moment.

"Well," he said, "that may make some excitement." Then he laughed. "I wonder why Auguste didn't think of doing that," he said. "And now, what?"

"How did you get to this house?" I said.

"We came down on Saturday night, after we had lost Gignoux above the city."

"Do you know where you are?" I asked.

"Not I," said Nick. "I have been playing piquet with Lamarque most of the time since I arrived. He is one of the pleasantest men I have met in Louisiana, although a little taciturn, as you perceive, and more than a little deaf. I think he does not like Auguste. He seems to have known him in his youth."

Madame la Vicomtesse looked at him with interest.

"You are at Les Iles, Nick," I said; "you are on Monsieur de St. Gre's plantation, and within a quarter of a mile of his house."

His face became grave all at once. He seized me by both shoulders, and looked into my face.

"You say that we are at Les Iles?" he repeated slowly.

I nodded, seeing the deception which Auguste had evidently practised in order to get him here. Then Nick dropped his arms, went to the door, and stood for a long time with his back turned to us, looking out over the fields. When finally he spoke it was in the tone he used in anger.

"If I had him now, I think I would kill him," he said.

Auguste had deluded him in other things, had run away and deserted him in a strange land. But this matter of bringing him to Les Iles was past pardon. It was another face he turned to the Vicomtesse, a stronger face, a face ennobled by a just anger.

"Madame la Vicomtesse," he said, "I have a vague notion that you are related to Monsieur de St. Gre. I give you my word of honor as a gentleman that I had no thought of trespassing upon him in any way."

"Mr. Temple, we were so sure of that—Mr. Ritchie and I—that we should not have sought for you here otherwise," she replied quickly. Then she glanced at me as though seeking my approval for her next move. It was characteristic of her that she did not now shirk a task imposed by her sense of duty. "We have little time, Mr. Temple, and much to say. Perhaps you will excuse us, Lamarque," she added graciously, in French.

"Madame la Vicomtesse!" said the old man. And, with the tact of his race, he bowed and retired. The Vicomtesse seated herself on one of the rude chairs, and looked at Nick curiously. There was no such thing as embarrassment in her manner, no trace of misgiving that she would not move properly in the affair. Knowing Nick as I did, the difficulty of the task appalled me, for no man was likelier than he to fly off at a misplaced word.

Her beginning was so bold that I held my breath, knowing full well as I did that she had chosen the very note.

"Sit down, Mr. Temple," she said. "I wish to speak to you about your mother."

He stopped like a man who had been struck, straightened, and stared at her as though he had not taken her meaning. Then he swung on me.

"Your mother is in New Orleans," I said. "I would have told you in Louisville had you given me the chance."

"It is an interesting piece of news, David," he answered, "which you might have spared me. Mrs. Temple did not think herself necessary to my welfare when I was young, and now I have learned to live without her."

"Is there no such thing as expiation, Monsieur?" said the Vicomtesse.

"Madame," he said, "she made me what I am, and when I might have redeemed myself she came between me and happiness."

"Monsieur," said the Vicomtesse, "have you ever considered her sufferings?"

He looked at the Vicomtesse with a new interest. She was not so far beyond his experience as mine.

"Her sufferings?" he repeated, and smiled.

"Madame la Vicomtesse should know them," I interrupted; and without heeding her glance of protest I continued, "It is she who has cared for Mrs. Temple."

"You, Madame!" he exclaimed.

"Do not deny your own share in it, Mr. Ritchie," she answered. "As for me, Monsieur," she went on, turning to Nick, "I have done nothing that was not selfish. I have been in the world, I have lived my life, misfortunes have come upon me too. My visits to your mother have been to me a comfort, a pleasure,—for she is a rare person."

"I have never found her so, Madame," he said briefly.

"I am sure it is your misfortune rather than your fault, Mr. Temple. It is because you do not know her now."

Again he looked at me, puzzled, uneasy, like a man who would run if he could. But by a kind of fascination his eyes went back to this woman who dared a subject sore to the touch—who pressed it gently, but with determination, never doubting her powers, yet with a kindness and sympathy of tone which few women of the world possess. The Vicomtesse began to speak again, evenly, gently.

"Mr. Temple," said she, "I am merely going to tell you some things which I am sure you do not know, and when I have finished I shall not appeal to you. It would be useless for me to try to influence you, and from what Mr. Ritchie and others have told me of your character I am sure that no influence will be necessary. And," she added, with a smile, "it would be much more comfortable for us both if you sat down."

He obeyed her without a word. No wonder Madame la Vicomtesse had had an influence at court.

"There!" she said. "If any reference I am about to make gives you pain, I am sorry." She paused briefly. "After Mr. Ritchie took your mother from here to New Orleans, some five years ago, she rented a little house in the Rue Bourbon with a screen of yellow and red tiles at the edge of the roof. It is on the south side, next to the corner of the Rue St. Philippe. There she lives absolutely alone, except for a servant. Mr. Clark, who has charge of her affairs, was the only person she allowed to visit her. For her pride, however misplaced, and for her spirit we must all admire her. The friend who discovered where she was, who went to her and implored Mrs. Temple to let her stay, she refused."

"The friend?" he repeated in a low tone. I scarcely dared to glance at the Vicomtesse.

"Yes, it was Antoinette," she answered. He did not reply, but his eyes fell. "Antoinette went to her, would have comforted her, would have cared for her, but your mother sent her away. For five years she has lived there, Mr. Temple, alone with her past, alone with her sorrow and remorse. You must draw the picture for yourself. If the world has a more terrible punishment, I have not heard of it. And when, some months ago, I came, and Antoinette sent me to her—"

"Sent you to her!" he said, raising his head quickly.

"Under another name than my own," Helene continued, apparently taking no notice of his interruption. She leaned toward him and her voice faltered. "I found your mother dying."

He said nothing, but got to his feet and walked slowly to the door, where he stood looking out again. I felt for him, I would have gone to him then had it not been for the sense in me that Helene did not wish it. As for Helene, she sat waiting for him to turn back to her, and at length he did.

"Yes?" he said.

"It is her heart, Mr. Temple, that we fear the most. Last night I thought the end had come. It cannot be very far away now. Sorrow and remorse have killed her, Monsieur. The one thing that she has prayed for through the long nights is that she might see you once again and obtain your forgiveness. God Himself does not withhold forgiveness, Mr. Temple," said the Vicomtesse, gently. "Shall any of us presume to?"

A spasm of pain crossed his face, and then his expression hardened.

"I might have been a useful man," he said; "she ruined my life—"

"And you will allow her to ruin the rest of it?" asked the Vicomtesse.

He stared at her.

"If you do not go to her and forgive her, you will remember it until you die," she said.

He sank down on the chair opposite to her, his head bowed into his hands, his elbows on the table among the cards. At length I went and laid my hands upon his shoulder, and at my touch he started. Then he did a singular thing, an impulsive thing, characteristic of the old Nick I had known. He reached across the table and seized the hand of Madame la Vicomtesse. She did not resist, and her smile I shall always remember. It was the smile of a woman who has suffered, and understands.

"I will go to her, Madame!" he said, springing to his feet. "I will go to her. I—I was wrong."

She rose, too, he still clinging to her hand, she still unresisting. His eye fell upon me.

"Where is my hat, Davy?" he asked.

The Vicomtesse withdrew her hand and looked at me.

"Alas, it is not quite so simple as that, Mr. Temple," she said; "Monsieur de Carondelet has first to be reckoned with."

"She is dying, you say? then I will go to her. After that Monsieur de Carondelet may throw me into prison, may hang me, may do anything he chooses. But I will go to her."

I glanced anxiously at the Vicomtesse, well knowing how wilful he was when aroused. Admiration was in her eyes, seeing that he was heedless of his own danger.

"You would not get through the gates of the city. Monsieur le Baron requires passports now," she said.

At that he began to pace the little room, his hands clenched.

"I could use your passport, Davy," he cried. "Let me have it."

"Pardon me, Mr. Temple, I do not think you could," said the Vicomtesse. I flushed. I suppose the remark was not to be resisted.

"Then I will go to-night," he said, with determination. "It will be no trouble to steal into the city. You say the house has yellow and red tiles, and is near the Rue St. Philippe?"

Helene laid her fingers on his arm.

"Listen, Monsieur, there is a better way," she said. "Monsieur le Baron is doubtless very angry with you, and I am sure that this is chiefly because he does not know you. For instance, if some one were to tell him that you are a straightforward, courageous young man, a gentleman with an unquenchable taste for danger, that you are not a low-born adventurer and intriguer, that you have nothing in particular against his government, he might not be quite so angry. Pardon me if I say that he is not disposed to take your expedition any more seriously than is your own Federal government. The little Baron is irascible, choleric, stern, or else good-natured, good-hearted, and charitable, just as one happens to take him. As we say in France, it is not well to strike flint and steel in his presence. He might blow up and destroy one. Suppose some one were to go to Monsieur de Carondelet and tell him what a really estimable person you are, and assure him that you will go quietly out of his province at the first opportunity, and be good, so far as he is concerned, forever after? Mark me, I merely say SUPPOSE. I do not know how far things have gone, or what he may have heard. But suppose a person whom I have reason to believe he likes and trusts and respects, a person who understands his vagaries, should go to him on such an errand."

"And where is such a person to be found," said Nick, amused in spite of himself.

Madame la Vicomtesse courtesied.

"Monsieur, she is before you," she said.

"Egad," he cried, "do you mean to say, Madame, that you will go to the Baron on my behalf?"

"As soon as I ever get to town," she said. "He will have to be waked from his siesta, and he does not like that."

"But he will forgive you," said Nick, quick as a flash.

"I have reason to believe he will," said Madame la Vicomtesse.

"Faith," cried Nick, "he would not be flesh and blood if he didn't."

At that the Vicomtesse laughed, and her eye rested judicially on me. I was standing rather glumly, I fear, in the corner.

"Are you going to take him with you?" said Nick.

"I was thinking of it," said the Vicomtesse. "Mr. Ritchie knows you, and he is such a reliable and reputable person."

Nick bowed.

"You should have seen him marching in a Jacobin procession, Madame," he said.

"He follows his friends into strange places," she retorted.

"And now, Mr. Temple," she added, "may we trust you to stay here with Lamarque until you have word from us?"

"You know I cannot stay here," he cried.

"And why not, Monsieur?"

"If I were captured here, I should get Monsieur de St. Gre into trouble; and besides," he said, with a touch of coldness, "I cannot be beholden to Monsieur de St. Gre. I cannot remain on his land."

"As for getting Monsieur de St. Gre into trouble, his own son could not involve him with the Baron," answered Madame la Vicomtesse. "And it seems to me, Monsieur, that you are already so far beholden to Monsieur de St. Gre that you cannot quibble about going a little more into his debt. Come, Mr. Temple, how has Monsieur de St. Gre ever offended you?"

"Madame—" he began.

"Monsieur," she said, with an air not to be denied, "I believe I can discern a point of honor as well as you. I fail to see that you have a case."

He was indeed no match for her. He turned to me appealingly, his brows bent, but I had no mind to meddle. He swung back to her.

"But Madame—!" he cried.

She was arranging the cards neatly on the table.

"Monsieur, you are tiresome," she said. "What is it now?"

He took a step toward her, speaking in a low tone, his voice shaking. But, true to himself, he spoke plainly. As for me, I looked on frightened,—as though watching a contest,—almost agape to see what a clever woman could do.

"There is—Mademoiselle de St. Gre—"

"Yes, there is Mademoiselle de St. Gre," repeated the Vicomtesse, toying with the cards.

His face lighted, though his lips twitched with pain.

"She is still—"

"She is still Mademoiselle de St. Gre, Monsieur, if that is what you mean."

"And what will she think if I stay here?"

"Ah, do you care what she thinks, Mr. Temple?" said the Vicomtesse, raising her head quickly. "From what I have heard, I should not have thought you could."

"God help me," he answered simply, "I do care."

Helene's eyes softened as she looked at him, and my pride in him was never greater than at that moment.

"Mr. Temple," she said gently, "remain where you are and have faith in us. I begin to see now why you are so fortunate in your friends." Her glance rested for a brief instant on me. "Mr. Ritchie and I will go to New Orleans, talk to the Baron, and send Andre at once with a message. If it is in our power, you shall see your mother very soon."

She held out her hand to him, and he bent and kissed it reverently, with an ease I envied. He followed us to the door. And when the Vicomtesse had gone a little way down the path she looked at him over her shoulder.

"Do not despair, Mr. Temple," she said.

It was an answer to a yearning in his face. He gripped me by the shoulders.

"God bless you, Davy," he whispered, and added, "God bless you both."

I overtook her where the path ran into the forest's shade, and for a long while I walked after her, not breaking her silence, my eyes upon her, a strange throbbing in my forehead which I did not heed. At last, when the perfumes of the flowers told us we were nearing the garden, she turned to me.

"I like Mr. Temple," she said, again.

"He is an honest gentleman," I answered.

"One meets very few of them," she said, speaking in a low voice. "You and I will go to the Governor. And after that, have you any idea where you will go?"

"No," I replied, troubled by her regard.

"Then I will tell you. I intend to send you to Madame Gravois's, and she will compel you to go to bed and rest. I do not mean to allow you to kill yourself."



CHAPTER IX

MONSIEUR LE BARON

The sun beat down mercilessly on thatch and terrace, the yellow walls flung back the quivering heat, as Madame la Vicomtesse and I walked through the empty streets towards the Governor's house. We were followed by Andre and Madame's maid. The sleepy orderly started up from under the archway at our approach, bowed profoundly to Madame, looked askance at me, and declared, with a thousand regrets, that Monsieur le Baron was having his siesta.

"Then you will wake him," said Madame la Vicomtesse.

Wake Monsieur le Baron! Bueno Dios, did Madame understand what it meant to wake his Excellency? His Excellency would at first be angry, no doubt. Angry? As an Andalusian bull, Madame. Once, when his Excellency had first come to the province, he, the orderly, had presumed to awake him.

"Assez!" said Madame, so suddenly that the man straightened and looked at her again. "You will wake Monsieur le Baron, and tell him that Madame la Vicomtesse d'Ivry-le-Tour has something of importance to say to him."

Madame had the air, and a title carried with a Spanish soldier in New Orleans in those days. The orderly fairly swept the ground and led us through a court where the sun drew bewildering hot odors from the fruits and flowers, into a darkened room which was the Baron's cabinet. I remember it vaguely, for my head was hot and throbbing from my exertions in such a climate. It was a new room,—the hotel being newly built,—with white walls, a picture of his Catholic Majesty and the royal arms of Spain, a map of Louisiana, another of New Orleans fortified, some walnut chairs, a desk with ink and sand and a seal, and a window, the closed lattice shutters of which showed streaks of light green light. These doubtless opened on the Royal Road and looked across the levee esplanade on the waters of the Mississippi. Madame la Vicomtesse seated herself, and with a gesture which was an order bade me do likewise.

"He will be angry, the dear Baron," she said. "He is harassed to death with republics. No offence, Mr. Ritchie. He is up at dawn looking to the forts and palisades to guard against such foolish enterprises as this of Mr. Temple's. And to be waked out of a well-earned siesta—to save a gentleman who has come here to make things unpleasant for him—is carrying a joke a little far. Mais—que voulez-vous?"

She gave a little shrug to her slim shoulders as she smiled at me, and she seemed not a whit disturbed concerning the conversation with his Excellency. I wondered whether this were birth, or training, or both, or a natural ability to cope with affairs. The women of her order had long been used to intercede with sovereigns, to play a part in matters of state. Suddenly I became aware that she was looking at me.

"What are you thinking of?" she demanded, and continued without waiting for a reply, "you strange man."

"I was thinking how odd it was," I replied, "that I should have known you all these years by a portrait, that we should finally be thrown together, and that you should be so exactly like the person I had supposed you to be."

She lowered her eyes, but she did not seem to take offence. I meant none.

"And you," she answered, "are continually reminding me of an Englishman I knew when I was a girl. He was a very queer person to be attached to the Embassy,—not a courtier, but a serious, literal person like you, Mr. Ritchie, and he resembled you very much. I was very fond of him."

"And—what became of him?" I asked. Other questions rose to my lips, but I put them down.

"I will tell you," she answered, bending forward a little. "He did something which I believe you might have done. A certain Marquis spoke lightly of a lady, an Englishwoman at our court, and my Englishman ran him through one morning at Versailles."

She paused, and I saw that her breath was coming more quickly at the remembrance.

"And then?"

"He fled to England. He was a younger son, and poor. But his King heard of the affair, had it investigated, and restored him to the service. I have never seen him since," she said, "but I have often thought of him. There," she added, after a silence, with a lightness which seemed assumed, "I have given you a romance. How long the Baron takes to dress!"

At that moment there were footsteps in the court-yard, and the orderly appeared at the door, saluting, and speaking in Spanish.

"His Excellency the Governor!"

We rose, and Madame was courtesying and I was bowing to the little man. He was in uniform, his face perspiring in the creases, his plump calves stretching his white stockings to the full. Madame extended her hand and he kissed it, albeit he did not bend easily. He spoke in French, and his voice betrayed the fact that his temper was near slipping its leash. The Baron was a native of Flanders.

"To what happy circumstance do I owe the honor of this visit, Madame la Vicomtesse?" he asked.

"To a woman's whim, Monsieur le Baron," she answered, "for a man would not have dared to disturb you. May I present to your Excellency, Mr. David Ritchie of Kentucky?"

His Excellency bowed stiffly, looked at me with no pretence of pleasure, and I had had sufficient dealings with men to divine that, in the coming conversation, the overflow of his temper would be poured upon me. His first sensation was surprise.

"An American!" he said, in a tone that implied reproach to Madame la Vicomtesse for having fallen into such company. "Ah," he cried, breathing hard in the manner of stout people, "I remember you came down with Monsieur Vigo, Monsieur, did you not?"

It was my turn to be surprised. If the Baron took a like cognizance of all my countrymen who came to New Orleans, he was a busy man indeed.

"Yes, your Excellency," I answered.

"And you are a Federalist?" he said, though petulantly.

"I am, your Excellency."

"Is your nation to overrun the earth?" said the Baron. "Every morning when I ride through the streets it seems to me that more Americans have come. Pardieu, I declare every day that, if it were not for the Americans, I should have ten years more of life ahead of me." I could not resist the temptation to glance at Madame la Vicomtesse. Her eyes, half closed, betrayed an amusement that was scarce repressed.

"Come, Monsieur le Baron," she said, "you and I have like beliefs upon most matters. We have both suffered at the hands of people who have mistaken a fiend for a Lady."

"You would have me believe, Madame," the Baron put in, with a wit I had not thought in him, "that Mr. Ritchie knows a lady when he sees one. I can readily believe it."

Madame laughed.

"He at least has a negative knowledge," she replied. "And he has brought into New Orleans no coins, boxes, or clocks against your Excellency's orders with the image and superscription of the Goddess in whose name all things are done. He has not sung 'Ca Ira' at the theatres, and he detests the tricolored cockades as much as you do."

The Baron laughed in spite of himself, and began to thaw. There was a little more friendliness in his next glance at me.

"What images have you brought in, Mr. Ritchie?" he asked. "We all worship the sex in some form, however misplaced our notions of it."

There is not the least doubt that, for the sake of the Vicomtesse, he was trying to be genial, and that his remark was a purely random one. But the roots of my hair seemed to have taken fire. I saw the Baron as in a glass, darkly. But I kept my head, principally because the situation had elements of danger.

"The image of Madame la Vicomtesse, Monsieur," I said.

"Dame!" exclaimed his Excellency, eying me with a new interest, "I did not suspect you of being a courtier."

"No more he is, Monsieur le Baron," said the Vicomtesse, "for he speaks the truth."

His Excellency looked blank. As for me, I held my breath, wondering what coup Madame was meditating.

"Mr. Ritchie brought down from Kentucky a miniature of me by Boze, that was painted in a costume I once wore at Chantilly."

"Comment! diable," exclaimed the Baron. "And how did such a thing get into Kentucky, Madame?"

"You have brought me to the point," she replied, "which is no small triumph for your Excellency. Mr. Ritchie bought the miniature from that most estimable of my relations, Monsieur Auguste de St. Gre."

The Baron sat down and began to fan himself. He even grew a little purple. He looked at Madame, sputtered, and I began to think that, if he didn't relieve himself, his head might blow off. As for the Vicomtesse, she wore an ingenuous air of detachment, and seemed supremely unconscious of the volcano by her side.

"So, Madame," cried the Governor at length, after I know not what repressions, "you have come here in behalf of that—of Auguste de St. Gre!"

"So far as I am concerned, Monsieur," answered the Vicomtesse, calmly, "you may hang Auguste, put him in prison, drown him, or do anything you like with him."

"God help me," said the poor man, searching for his handkerchief, and utterly confounded, "why is it you have come to me, then? Why did you wake me up?" he added, so far forgetting himself.

"I came in behalf of the gentleman who had the indiscretion to accompany Auguste to Louisiana," she continued, "in behalf of Mr. Nicholas Temple, who is a cousin of Mr. Ritchie."

The Baron started abruptly from his chair.

"I have heard of him," he cried; "Madame knows where he is?"

"I know where he is. It is that which I came to tell your Excellency."

"Hein!" said his Excellency, again nonplussed. "You came to tell me where he is? And where the—the other one is?"

"Parfaitement," said Madame. "But before I tell you where they are, I wish to tell you something about Mr. Temple."

"Madame, I know something of him already," said the Baron, impatiently.

"Ah," said she, "from Gignoux. And what do you hear from Gignoux?"

This was another shock, under which the Baron fairly staggered.

"Diable! is Madame la Vicomtesse in the plot?" he cried. "What does Madame know of Gignoux?"

Madame's manner suddenly froze.

"I am likely to be in the plot, Monsieur," she said. "I am likely to be in a plot which has for its furtherance that abominable anarchy which deprived me of my home and estates, of my relatives and friends and my sovereign."

"A thousand pardons, Madame la Vicomtesse," said the Baron, more at sea than ever. "I have had much to do these last years, and the heat and the Republicans have got on my temper. Will Madame la Vicomtesse pray explain?"

"I was about to do so when your Excellency interrupted," said Madame. "You see before you Mr. Ritchie, barrister, of Louisville, Kentucky, whose character of sobriety, dependence, and ability" (there was a little gleam in her eye as she gave me this array of virtues) "can be perfectly established. When he came to New Orleans some years ago he brought letters to Monsieur de St. Gre from Monsieur Gratiot and Colonel Chouteau of St. Louis, and he is known to Mr. Clark and to Monsieur Vigo. He is a Federalist, as you know, and has no sympathy with the Jacobins."

"Eh bien, Mr. Ritchie," said the Baron, getting his breath, "you are fortunate in your advocate. Madame la Vicomtesse neglected to say that she was your friend, the greatest of all recommendations in my eyes."

"You are delightful, Monsieur le Baron," said the Vicomtesse.

"Perhaps Mr. Ritchie can tell me something of this expedition," said the Baron, his eyes growing smaller as he looked at me.

"Willingly," I answered. "Although I know that your Excellency is well informed, and that Monsieur Vigo has doubtless given you many of the details that I know."

He interrupted me with a grunt.

"You Americans are clever people, Monsieur," he said; "you contrive to combine shrewdness with frankness."

"If I had anything to hide from your Excellency, I should not be here," I answered. "The expedition, as you know, has been as much of a farce as Citizen Genet's commissions. But it has been a sad farce to me, inasmuch as it involves the honor of my old friend and Colonel, General Clark, and the safety of my cousin, Mr. Temple."

"So you were with Clark in Illinois?" said the Baron, craftily. "Pardon me, Mr. Ritchie, but I should have said that you are too young."

"Monsieur Vigo will tell you that I was the drummer boy of the regiment, and a sort of ward of the Colonel's. I used to clean his guns and cook his food."

"And you did not see fit to follow your Colonel to Louisiana?" said his Excellency, for he had been trained in a service of suspicion.

"General Clark is not what he was," I replied, chafing a little at his manner; "your Excellency knows that, and I put loyalty to my government before friendship. And I might remind your Excellency that I am neither an adventurer nor a fool."

The little Baron surprised me by laughing. His irritability and his good nature ran in streaks.

"There is no occasion to, Mr. Ritchie," he answered. "I have seen something of men in my time. In which category do you place your cousin, Mr. Temple?"

"If a love of travel and excitement and danger constitutes an adventurer, Mr. Temple is such," I said. "Fortunately the main spur of the adventurer's character is lacking in his case. I refer to the desire for money. Mr. Temple has an annuity from his father's estate in Charleston which puts him beyond the pale of the fortune-seeker, and I firmly believe that if your Excellency sees fit to allow him to leave the province, and if certain disquieting elements can be removed from his life" (I glanced at the Vicomtesse), "he will settle down and become a useful citizen of the United States. As much as I dislike to submit to a stranger private details in the life of a member of my family, I feel that I must tell your Excellency something of Mr. Temple's career, in order that you may know that restlessness and the thirst for adventure were the only motives that led him into this foolish undertaking."

"Pray proceed, Mr. Ritchie," said the Baron.

I was surprised not to find him more restless, and in addition the glance of approbation which the Vicomtesse gave me spurred me on. However distasteful, I had the sense to see that I must hold nothing back of which his Excellency might at any time become cognizant, and therefore I told him as briefly as possible Nick's story, leaving out only the episode with Antoinette. When I came to the relation of the affairs which occurred at Les Iles five years before and told his Excellency that Mrs. Temple had since been living in the Rue Bourbon as Mrs. Clive, unknown to her son, the Baron broke in upon me.

"So the mystery of that woman is cleared at last," he said, and turned to the Vicomtesse. "I have learned that you have been a frequent visitor, Madame."

"Not a sparrow falls to the ground in Louisiana that your Excellency does not hear of it," she answered.

"And Gignoux?" he said, speaking to me again.

"As I told you, Monsieur le Baron," I answered, "I have come to New Orleans at a personal sacrifice to induce my cousin to abandon this matter, and I went out last evening to try to get word of him." This was not strictly true. "I saw Monsieur Gignoux in conference with some of your officers who came out of this hotel."

"You have sharp eyes, Monsieur," he remarked.

"I suspected the man when I met him in Kentucky," I continued, not heeding this. "Monsieur Vigo himself distrusted him. To say that Gignoux were deep in the councils of the expedition, that he held a commission from Citizen Genet, I realize will have no weight with your Excellency,—provided the man is in the secret service of his Majesty the King of Spain."

"Mr. Ritchie," said the Baron, "you are a young man and I an old one. If I tell you that I have a great respect for your astuteness and ability, do not put it down to flattery. I wish that your countrymen, who are coming down the river like driftwood, more resembled you. As for Citizen Gignoux," he went on, smiling, and wiping his face, "let not your heart be troubled. His Majesty's minister at Philadelphia has written me letters on the subject. I am contemplating for Monsieur Gignoux a sea voyage to Havana, and he is at present partaking of my hospitality in the calabozo."

"In the calabozo!" I cried, overwhelmed at this example of Spanish justice and omniscience.

"Precisely," said the Baron, drumming with his fingers on his fat knee. "And now," he added, "perhaps Madame la Vicomtesse is ready to tell me of the whereabouts of Mr. Temple and her estimable cousin, Auguste. It may interest her to know why I have allowed them their liberty so long."

"A point on which I have been consumed with curiosity—since I have begun to tremble at the amazing thoroughness of your Excellency's system," said the Vicomtesse.

His Excellency scarcely looked the tyrant as he sat before us, with his calves crossed and his hands folded on his waistcoat and his little black eyes twinkling.

"It is because," he said, "there are many French planters in the province bitten with the three horrors" (he meant Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity), "I sent six to Havana; and if Monsieur Etienne de Bore had not, in the nick of time for him, discovered how to make sugar he would have gone, too. I had an idea that the Sieur de St. Gre and Mr. Temple might act as a bait to reveal the disease in some others. Ha, I am cleverer than you thought, Mr. Ritchie. You are surprised?"

I was surprised, and showed it.

"Come," he said, "you are astute. Why did you think I left them at liberty?"

"I thought your Excellency believed them to be harmless, as they are," I replied.

He turned again to the Vicomtesse. "You have picked up a diplomat, Madame. I must confess that I misjudged him when you introduced him to me. And again, where are Mr. Temple and your estimable cousin? Shall I tell you? They are at old Lamarque's, on the plantation of Philippe de St. Gre."

"They were, your Excellency," said the Vicomtesse.

"Eh?" exclaimed the Baron, jumping.

"Mademoiselle de St. Gre has given her brother eight hundred livres, and he is probably by this time on board a French ship at the English Turn. He is very badly frightened. I will give your Excellency one more surprise."

"Madame la Vicomtesse," said the Baron, "I have heard that, but for your coolness and adroitness, Monsieur le Vicomte, your husband, and several other noblemen and their ladies and some of her Majesty's letters and jewels would never have gotten out of France. I take this opportunity of saying that I have the greatest respect for your intelligence. Now what is the surprise?"

"That your Excellency intended that both Mr. Temple and Auguste de St. Gre were to escape on that ship."

"Mille tonneres," exclaimed the Baron, staring at her, and straightway he fell into a fit of laughter that left him coughing and choking and perspiring as only a man in his condition of flesh can perspire. To say that I was bewildered by this last evidence of the insight of the woman beside me would be to put it mildly. The Vicomtesse sat quietly watching him, the wonted look of repressed laughter on her face, and by degrees his Excellency grew calm again.

"Mon dieu," said he, "I always like to cross swords with you, Madame la Vicomtesse, yet this encounter has been more pleasurable than any I have had since I came to Louisiana. But, diable," he cried, "just as I was congratulating myself that I was to have one American the less, you come and tell me that he has refused to flee. Out of consideration for the character and services of Monsieur Philippe de St. Gre I was willing to let them both escape. But now?"

"Mr. Temple is not known in New Orleans except to the St. Gre family," said the Vicomtesse. "He is a man of honor. Suppose Mr. Ritchie were to bring him to your Excellency, and he were to give you his word that he would leave the province at the first opportunity? He now wishes to see his mother before she dies, and it was as much as we could do this morning to persuade him from going to her openly in the face of arrest."

But the Baron was old in a service which did not do things hastily.

"He is well enough where he is for to-day," said his Excellency, resuming his official manner. "To-night after dark I will send down an officer and have him brought before me. He will not then be seen in custody by any one, and provided I am satisfied with him he may go to the Rue Bourbon."

The little Baron rose and bowed to the Vicomtesse to signify that the audience was ended, and he added, as he kissed her hand, "Madame la Vicomtesse, it is a pleasure to be able to serve such a woman as you."



CHAPTER X

THE SCOURGE

As we went through the court I felt as though I had been tied to a string, suspended in the air, and spun. This was undoubtedly due to the heat. And after the astonishing conversation from which we had come, my admiration for the lady beside me was magnified to a veritable awe. We reached the archway. Madame la Vicomtesse held me lightly by the edge of my coat, and I stood looking down at her.

"Wait a minute, Mr. Ritchie," she said, glancing at the few figures hurrying across the Place d'Armes; "those are only Americans, and they are too busy to see us standing here. What do you propose to do now?"

"We must get word to Nick as we promised, that he may know what to expect," I replied. "Suppose we go to Monsieur de St. Gre's house and write him a letter?"

"No," said the Vicomtesse, with decision, "I am going to Mrs. Temple's. I shall write the letter from there and send it by Andre, and you will go direct to Madame Gravois's."

Her glance rested anxiously upon my face, and there came an expression in her eyes which disturbed me strangely. I had not known it since the days when Polly Ann used to mother me. But I did not mean to give up.

"I am not tired, Madame la Vicomtesse," I answered, "and I will go with you to Mrs. Temple's."

"Give me your hand," she said, and smiled. "Andre and my maid are used to my vagaries, and your own countrymen will not mind. Give me your hand, Mr. Ritchie."

I gave it willingly enough, with a thrill as she took it between her own. The same anxious look was in her eyes, and not the least embarrassment.

"There, it is hot and dry, as I feared," she said, "and you seem flushed." She dropped my hand, and there was a touch of irritation in her voice as she continued: "You seemed fairly sensible when I first met you last night, Mr. Ritchie. Are you losing your sanity? Do you not realize that you cannot take liberties with this climate? Do as I say, and go to Madame Gravois's at once."

"It is my pleasure to obey you, Madame la Vicomtesse," I answered, "but I mean to go with you as far as Mrs. Temple's, to see how she fares. She may be—worse."

"That is no reason why you should kill yourself," said Madame, coldly. "Will you not do as I say?"

"I think that I should go to Mrs. Temple's," I answered.

She did not reply to that, letting down her veil impatiently, with a deftness that characterized all her movements. Without so much as asking me to come after her, she reached the banquette, and I walked by her side through the streets, silent and troubled by her displeasure. My pride forbade me to do as she wished. It was the hottest part of a burning day, and the dome of the sky was like a brazen bell above us. We passed the calabozo with its iron gates and tiny grilled windows pierced in the massive walls, behind which Gignoux languished, and I could not repress a smile as I thought of him. Even the Spaniards sometimes happened upon justice. In the Rue Bourbon the little shops were empty, the doorstep where my merry fiddler had played vacant, and the very air seemed to simmer above the honeycombed tiles. I knocked at the door, once, twice. There was no answer. I looked at Madame la Vicomtesse, and knocked again so loudly that the little tailor across the street, his shirt opened at the neck, flung out his shutter. Suddenly there was a noise within, the door was opened, and Lindy stood before us, in the darkened room, with terror in her eyes.

"Oh, Marse Dave," she cried, as we entered, "oh, Madame, I'se so glad you'se come, I'se so glad you'se come."

She burst into a flood of tears. And Madame la Vicomtesse, raising her veil, seized the girl by the arm.

"What is it?" she said. "What is the matter, Lindy?"

Madame's touch seemed to steady her.

"Miss Sally," she moaned, "Miss Sally done got de yaller fever."

There was a moment's silence, for we were both too appalled by the news to speak.

"Lindy, are you sure?" said the Vicomtesse.

"Yass'm, yass'm," Lindy sobbed, "I reckon I'se done seed 'nuf of it, Mistis." And she went into a hysterical fit of weeping.

The Vicomtesse turned to her own frightened servants in the doorway, bade Andre in French to run for Dr. Perrin, and herself closed the battened doors. There was a moment when her face as I saw it was graven on my memory, reflecting a knowledge of the evils of this world, a spirit above and untouched by them, a power to accept what life may bring with no outward sign of pleasure or dismay. Doubtless thus she had made King and Cardinal laugh, doubtless thus, ministering to those who crossed her path, she had met her own calamities. Strangest of all was the effect she had upon Lindy, for the girl ceased crying as she watched her.

Madame la Vicomtesse turned to me.

"You must go at once," she said. "When you get to Madame Gravois's, write to Mr. Temple. I will send Andre to you there."

She started for the bedroom door, Lindy making way for her. I scarcely knew what I did as I sprang forward and took the Vicomtesse by the arm.

"Where are you going?" I cried. "You cannot go in there! You cannot go in there!"

It did not seem strange that she turned to me without anger, that she did not seek to release her arm. It did not seem strange that her look had in it a gentleness as she spoke.

"I must," she said.

"I cannot let you risk your life," I cried, wholly forgetting myself; "there are others who will do this."

"Others?" she said.

"I will go. I—I have nursed people before this. And there is Lindy."

A smile quivered on her lips,—or was it a smile?

"You will do as I say and go to Madame Gravois's—at once," she murmured, striving for the first time to free herself.

"If you stay, I stay," I answered; "and if you die, I die."

She looked up into my eyes for a fleeting instant.

"Write to Mr. Temple," she said.

Dazed, I watched her open the bedroom doors, motion to Lindy to pass through, and then she had closed them again and I was alone in the darkened parlor.

The throbbing in my head was gone, and a great clearness had come with a great fear. I stood, I know not how long, listening to the groans that came through the wall, for Mrs. Temple was in agony. At intervals I heard Helene's voice, and then the groans seemed to stop. Ten times I went to the bedroom door, and as many times drew away again, my heart leaping within me at the peril which she faced. If I had had the right, I believe I would have carried her away by force.

But I had not the right. I sat down heavily, by the table, to think and it might have been a cry of agony sharper than the rest that reminded me once more of the tragedy of the poor lady in torture. My eye fell upon the table, and there, as though prepared for what I was to do, lay pen and paper, ink and sand. My hand shook as I took the quill and tried to compose a letter to my cousin. I scarcely saw the words which I put on the sheet, and I may be forgiven for the unwisdom of that which I wrote.

"The Baron de Carondelet will send an officer for you to-night so that you may escape observation in custody. His Excellency knew of your hiding-place, but is inclined to be lenient, will allow you to-morrow to go to the Rue Bourbon, and will without doubt permit you to leave the province. Your mother is ill, and Madame la Vicomtesse and myself are with her. "DAVID."

In the state I was it took me a long time to compose this much, and I had barely finished it when there was a knock at the outer door. There was Andre. He had the immobility of face which sometimes goes with the mulatto, and always with the trained servant, as he informed me that Monsieur le Medecin was not at home, but that he had left word. There was an epidemic, Monsieur, so Andre feared. I gave him the note and his directions, and ten minutes after he had gone I would have given much to have called him back. How about Antoinette, alone at Les Iles? Why had I not thought of her? We had told her nothing that morning, Madame la Vicomtesse and I, after our conference with Nick. For the girl had shut herself in her room, and Madame had thought it best not to disturb her at such a stage. But would she not be alarmed when Helene failed to return that night? Had circumstances been different, I myself would have ridden to Les Iles, but no inducement now could make me desert the post I had chosen. After many years I dislike to recall to memory that long afternoon which I spent, helpless, in the Rue Bourbon. Now I was on my feet, pacing restlessly the short breadth of the room, trying to shut out from my mind the horrors of which my ears gave testimony. Again, in the intervals of quiet, I sat with my elbows on the table and my head in my hands, striving to allay the throbbing in my temples. Pains came and went, and at times I felt like a fagot flung into the fire,—I, who had never known a sick day. At times my throat pained me, an odd symptom in a warm climate. Troubled as I was in mind and body, the thought of Helene's quiet heroism upheld me through it all. More than once I had my hand raised to knock at the bedroom door and ask if I could help, but I dared not; at length, the sun having done its worst and spent its fury, I began to hear steps along the banquette and voices almost at my elbow beyond the little window. At every noise I peered out, hoping for the doctor. But he did not come. And then, as I fell back into the fauteuil, there was borne on my consciousness a sound I had heard before. It was the music of the fiddler, it was a tune I knew, and the voices of the children were singing the refrain:—

"Ne sait quand reviendra, Ne sait quand reviendra."

I rose, opened the door, and slipped out of it, and I must have made a strange, hatless figure as I came upon the fiddler and his children from across the street.

"Stop that noise," I cried in French, angered beyond all reason at the thought of music at such a time. "Idiots, there is yellow fever there."

The little man stopped with his bow raised; for a moment they all stared at me, transfixed. It was a little elf in blue indienne who jumped first and ran down the street, crying the news in a shrill voice, the others following, the fiddler gazing stupidly after them. Suddenly he scrambled up, moaning, as if the scourge itself had fastened on him, backed into the house, and slammed the door in my face. I returned with slow steps to shut myself in the darkened room again, and I recall feeling something of triumph over the consternation I had caused. No sounds came from the bedroom, and after that the street was quiet as death save for an occasional frightened, hurrying footfall. I was tired.

All at once the bedroom door opened softly, and Helene was standing there, looking at me. At first I saw her dimly, as in a vision, then clearly. I leaped to my feet and went and stood beside her.

"The doctor has not come," I said. "Where does he live? I will go for him."

She shook her head.

"He can do no good. Lindy has procured all the remedies, such as they are. They can only serve to alleviate," she answered. "She cannot withstand this, poor lady." There were tears on Helene's lashes. "Her sufferings have been frightful—frightful."

"Cannot I help?" I said thickly. "Cannot I do something?"

She shook her head. She raised her hand timidly to the lapel of my coat, and suddenly I felt her palm, cool and firm, upon my forehead. It rested there but an instant.

"You ought not to be here," she said, her voice vibrant with earnestness and concern. "You ought not to be here. Will you not go—if I ask it?"

"I cannot," I said; "you know I cannot if you stay."

She did not answer that. Our eyes met, and in that instant for me there was neither joy nor sorrow, sickness nor death, nor time nor space nor universe. It was she who turned away.

"Have you written him?" she asked in a low voice.

"Yes," I answered.

"She would not have known him," said Helene; "after all these years of waiting she would not have known him. Her punishment has been great."

A sound came from the bedroom, and Helene was gone, silently, as she had come.

* * * * * * *

I must have been dozing in the fauteuil, for suddenly I found myself sitting up, listening to an unwonted noise. I knew from the count of the hoof-beats which came from down the street that a horse was galloping in long strides—a spent horse, for the timing was irregular. Then he was pulled up into a trot, then to a walk as I ran to the door and opened it and beheld Nicholas Temple flinging himself from a pony white with lather. And he was alone! He caught sight of me as soon as his foot touched the banquette.

"What are you doing here?" I cried. "What are you doing here?"

He halted on the edge of the banquette as a hurrying man runs into a wall. He had been all excitement, all fury, as he jumped from his horse; and now, as he looked at me, he seemed to lose his bearings, to be all bewilderment. He cried out my name and stood looking at me like a fool.

"What the devil do you mean by coming here?" I cried. "Did I not write you to stay where you were? How did you get here?" I stepped down on the banquette and seized him by the shoulders. "Did you receive my letter?"

"Yes," he said, "yes." For a moment that was as far as he got, and he glanced down the street and then at the heaving beast he had ridden, which stood with head drooping to the kennel. Then he laid hold of me. "Davy, is it true that she has yellow fever? Is it true?"

"Who told you?" I demanded angrily.

"Andre," he answered. "Andre said that the lady here had yellow fever. Is it true?"

"Yes," I said almost inaudibly.

He let his hand fall from my shoulder, and he shivered.

"May God forgive me for what I have done!" he said. "Where is she?"

"For what you have done?" I cried; "you have done an insensate thing to come here." Suddenly I remembered the sentry at the gate of Fort St. Charles. "How did you get into the city?" I said; "were you mad to defy the Baron and his police?"

"Damn the Baron and his police," he answered, striving to pass me. "Let me in! Let me see her."

Even as he spoke I caught sight of men coming into the street, perhaps at the corner of the Rue St. Pierre, and then more men, and as we went into the house I saw that they were running. I closed the doors. There were cries in the street now, but he did not seem to heed them. He stood listening, heart-stricken, to the sounds that came through the bedroom wall, and a spasm crossed his face. Then he turned like a man not to be denied, to the bedroom door. I was before him, but Madame la Vicomtesse opened it. And I remember feeling astonishment that she did not show surprise or alarm.

"What are you doing here, Mr. Temple?" she said.

"My mother, Madame! My mother! I must go to her."

He pushed past her into the bedroom, and I followed perforce. I shall never forget the scene, though I had but the one glimpse of it,—the raving, yellowed woman in the bed, not a spectre nor yet even a semblance of the beauty of Temple Bow. But she was his mother, upon whom God had brought such a retribution as He alone can bestow. Lindy, faithful servant to the end, held the wasted hands of her mistress against the violence they would have done. Lindy held them, her own body rocking with grief, her lips murmuring endearments, prayers, supplications.

"Miss Sally, honey, doan you know Lindy? Gawd'll let you git well, Miss Sally, Gawd'll let you git well, honey, ter see Marse Nick—ter see—Marse—Nick—"

The words died on Lindy's lips, the ravings of the frenzied woman ceased. The yellowed hands fell limply to the sheet, the shrunken form stiffened. The eyes of the mother looked upon the son, and in them at first was the terror of one who sees the infinite. Then they softened until they became again the only feature that was left of Sarah Temple. Now, as she looked at him who was her pride, her honor, for one sight of whom she had prayed,—ay, and even blasphemed,—her eyes were all tenderness. Then she spoke.

"Harry," she said softly, "be good to me, dear. You are all I have now."

She spoke of Harry Riddle!

But the long years of penance had not been in vain. Nick had forgiven her. We saw him kneeling at the bedside, we saw him with her hand in his, and Helene was drawing me gently out of the room and closing the door behind her. She did not look at me, nor I at her.

We stood for a moment close together, and suddenly the cries in the street brought us back from the drama in the low-ceiled, reeking room we had left.

"Ici! Ici! Voici le cheval!"

There was a loud rapping at the outer door, and a voice demanding admittance in Spanish in the name of his Excellency the Governor.

"Open it," said Helene. There was neither excitement in her voice, nor yet resignation. In those two words was told the philosophy of her life.

I opened the door. There, on the step, was an officer, perspiring, uniformed and plumed, and behind him a crowd of eager faces, white and black, that seemed to fill the street. He took a step into the room, his hand on the hilt of his sword, and poured out at me a torrent of Spanish of which I understood nothing. All at once his eye fell upon Helene, who was standing behind me, and he stopped in the middle of his speech and pulled off his hat and bowed profoundly.

"Madame la Vicomtesse!" he stammered. I was no little surprised that she should be so well known.

"You will please to speak French, Monsieur," she said; "this gentleman does not understand Spanish. What is it you desire?"

"A thousand pardons, Madame la Vicomtesse," he said. "I am the Alcalde de Barrio, and a wild Americano has passed the sentry at St. Charles's gate without heeding his Excellency's authority and command. I saw the man with my own eyes. I should know him again in a hundred. We have traced him here to this house, Madame la Vicomtesse. Behold the horse which he rode!" The Alcalde turned and pointed at the beast. "Behold the horse which he rode, Madame la Vicomtesse. The animal will die."

"Probably," answered the Vicomtesse, in an even tone.

"But the man," cried the Alcalde, "the man is here, Madame la Vicomtesse, here, in this house!"

"Yes," she said, "he is here."

"Sancta Maria! Madame," he exclaimed, "I—I who speak to you have come to get him. He has defied his Excellency's commands. Where is he?"

"He is in that room," said the Vicomtesse, pointing at the bedroom door.

The Alcalde took a step forward. She stopped him by a quick gesture.

"He is in that room with his mother," she said, "and his mother has the yellow fever. Come, we will go to him." And she put her hand upon the door.

"Yellow fever!" cried the Alcalde, and his voice was thick with terror. There was a moment's silence as he stood rooted to the floor. I did not wonder then, but I have since thought it remarkable that the words spoken low by both of them should have been caught up on the banquette and passed into the street. Impassive, I heard it echoed from a score of throats, I saw men and women stampeding like frightened sheep, I heard their footfalls and their cries as they ran. A tawdry constable, who held with a trembling hand the bridle of the tired horse, alone remained.

"Yellow fever!" the Alcalde repeated

The Vicomtesse inclined her head.

He was silent again for a while, uncertain, and then, without comprehending, I saw the man's eyes grow smaller and a smile play about his mouth. He looked at the Vicomtesse with a new admiration to which she paid no heed.

"I am sorry, Madame la Vicomtesse," he began, "but—"

"But you do not believe that I speak the truth," she replied quietly.

He winced.

"Will you follow me?" she said, turning again.

He had started, plainly in an agony of fear, when a sound came from beyond the wall that brought a cry to his lips.

Her manner changed to one of stinging scorn.

"You are a coward," she said. "I will bring the gentleman to you if he can be got to leave the bedside."

"No," said the Alcalde, "no. I—I will go to him, Madame la Vicomtesse."

But she did not open the door.

"Listen," she said in a tone of authority, "I myself have been to his Excellency to-day concerning this gentleman—"

"You, Madame la Vicomtesse?"

"I will open the door," she continued, impatient at the interruption, "and you will see him. Then I shall write a letter which you will take to the Governor. The gentleman will not try to escape, for his mother is dying. Besides, he could not get out of the city. You may leave your constable where he is, or the man may come in and stand at this door in sight of the gentleman while you are gone—if he pleases."

"And then?" said the Alcalde.

"It is my belief that his Excellency will allow the gentleman to remain here, and that you will be relieved from the necessity of running any further risk."

As she spoke she opened the door, softly. The room was still now, still as death, and the Alcalde went forward on tiptoe. I saw him peering in, I saw him backing away again like a man in mortal fear.

"Yes, it is he—it is the man," he stammered. He put his hand to his brow.

The Vicomtesse closed the door, and without a glance at him went quickly to the table and began to write. She had no thought of consulting the man again, of asking his permission. Although she wrote rapidly, five minutes must have gone by before the note was finished and folded and sealed. She held it out to him.

"Take this to his Excellency," she said, "and bring me his answer." The Alcalde bowed, murmured her title, and went lamely out of the house. He was plainly in an agony of uncertainty as to his duty, but he glanced at the Vicomtesse—and went, flipping the note nervously with his finger nail. He paused for a few low-spoken words with the tawdry constable, who sat down on the banquette after his chief had gone, still clinging to the bridle. The Vicomtesse went to the doorway, looked at him, and closed the battened doors. The constable did not protest. The day was fading without, and the room was almost in darkness as she crossed over to the little mantel and stood with her head laid upon her arm.

I did not disturb her. The minutes passed, the light waned until I could see her no longer, and yet I knew that she had not moved. The strange sympathy between us kept me silent until I heard her voice calling my name.

"Yes," I answered.

"The candle!"

I drew out my tinder-box and lighted the wick. She had turned, and was facing me even as she had faced me the night before. The night before! The greatest part of my life seemed to have passed since then. I remember wondering that she did not look tired. Her face was sad, her voice was sad, and it had an ineffable, sweet quality at such times that was all its own.

"The Alcalde should be coming back," she said.

"Yes," I answered.

These were our words, yet we scarce heeded their meaning. Between us was drawn a subtler communion than speech, and we dared—neither of us—to risk speech. She searched my face, but her lips were closed. She did not take my hand again as in the afternoon. She turned away. I knew what she would have said.

There was a knock at the door. We went together to open it, and the Alcalde stood on the step. He held in his hand a long letter on which the red seal caught the light, and he gave the letter to the Vicomtesse, with a bow.

"From his Excellency, Madame la Vicomtesse."

She broke the seal, went to the table, and read. Then she looked up at me.

"It is the Governor's permit for Mr. Temple to remain in this house. Thank you," she said to the Alcalde; "you may go."

"With my respectful wishes for the continued good health of Madame la Vicomtesse," said the Alcalde.



CHAPTER XI

"IN THE MIDST OF LIFE"

The Alcalde had stopped on the step with an exclamation at something in the darkness outside, and he backed, bowing, into the room again to make way for some one. A lady, slim, gowned and veiled in black and followed by a negress, swept past him. The lady lifted her veil and stood before us.

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