"Sacrificed!" The professor suddenly released the huge volume of his voice. "Sacrificed!" he thundered. "If I could give him back to her as he is now, it would be restoring to her all that she had loved in him, the real SELF of him! It would be the greatest gift in her life."
"You speak for her?" demanded Ward, the question coming like a lawyer's. It failed to disturb Keredec, who replied quietly:
"It is a quibble. I speak for her, yes, my dear sir. Her action in defiance of her family and her friends proved the strength of what she felt for the man she married; that she have remained with him three years—until it was impossible—proved its persistence; her letters, which I read with reverence, proved its beauty—to me. It was a living passion, one that could not die. To let them see each other again; that was all I intended. To give them their new chance—and then, for myself, to keep out of the way. That was why—" he turned to me—"that was why I have been guilty of pretending to have that bad rheumatism, and I hope you will not think it an ugly trick of me! It was to give him his chance freely; and though at first I had much anxiety, it was done. In spite of all his wicked follies theirs had been a true love, and nothing in this world could be more inevitable than that they should come together again if the chance could be given. And they HAVE, my dear sirs! It has so happened. To him it has been a wooing as if for the first time; so she has preferred it, keeping him to his mistake of her name. She feared that if he knew that it was the same as his own he might ask questions of me, and, you see, she did not know that I had made this little plan, and was afraid—"
"We are not questioning Mrs. Harman's motives," George interrupted hotly, "but YOURS!"
"Very well, my dear sir; that is all. I have explained them."
"You have?" I interjected. "Then, my dear Keredec, either you are really insane or I am! You knew that this poor, unfortunate devil of a Harman was tied to that hyenic prowler yonder who means to fatten on him, and will never release him; you knew that. Then why did you bring him down here to fall in love with a woman he can never have? In pity's name, if you didn't hope to half kill them both, what DID you mean?"
"My dear fellow," interposed George quickly, "you underrate Professor Keredec's shrewdness. His plans are not so simple as you think. He knows that my cousin Louise never obtained a divorce from her husband."
"What?" I said, not immediately comprehending his meaning.
"I say, Mrs. Harman never obtained a divorce."
"Are you delirious?" I gasped.
"It's the truth; she never did."
"I saw a notice of it at the time. 'A notice?' I saw a hundred!"
"No. What you saw was that she had made an application for divorce. Her family got her that far and then she revolted. The suit was dropped."
"It is true, indeed," said Keredec. "The poor boy was on the other side of the world, and he thought it was granted. He had been bad before, but from that time he cared nothing what became of him. That was the reason this Spanish woman—"
I turned upon him sharply. "YOU knew it?"
"It is a year that I have known it; when his estate was—"
"Then why didn't you tell me last night?"
"My dear sir, I could not in HIS presence, because it is one thing I dare not let him know. This Spanish woman is so hideous, her claim upon him is so horrible to him I could not hope to control him—he would shout it out to her that she cannot call him husband. God knows what he would do!"
"Well, why shouldn't he shout it out to her?"
"You do not understand," George interposed again, "that what Professor Keredec risked for his 'poor boy,' in returning to France, was a trial on the charge of bigamy!"
The professor recoiled from the definite brutality. "My dear sir! It is not possible that such a thing can happen."
"I conceive it very likely to happen," said George, "unless you get him out of the country before the lady now installed here as his wife discovers the truth."
"But she must not!" Keredec lifted both hands toward Ward appealingly; they trembled, and his voice betrayed profound agitation. "She cannot! She has never suspected such a thing; there is nothing that could MAKE her suspect it!"
"One particular thing would be my telling her," said Ward quietly.
"Never!" cried the professor, stepping back from him. "You could not do that!"
"I not only could, but I will, unless you get him out of the country— and quickly!"
"George!" I exclaimed, coming forward between them. "This won't do at all. You can't—"
"That's enough," he said, waving me back, and I saw that his hand was shaking, too, like Keredec's. His face had grown very white; but he controlled himself to speak with a coolness that made what he said painfully convincing. "I know what you think," he went on, addressing me, "but you're wrong. It isn't for myself. When I sailed for New York in the spring I thought there was a chance that she would carry out the action she begun four years ago and go through the form of ridding herself of him definitely; that is, I thought there was some hope for me; I believed there was until this morning. But I know better now. If she's seen him again, and he's been anything except literally unbearable, it's all over with ME. From the first, I never had a chance against him; he was a hard rival, even when he'd become only a cruel memory." His voice rose. "I've lived a sober, decent life, and I've treated HER with gentleness and reverence since she was born, and HE'S done nothing but make a stew-pan of his life and neglect and betray her when he had her. Heaven knows why it is; it isn't because of anything he's done or has, it's just because it's HIM, I suppose, but I know my chance is gone for good! THAT leaves me free to act for her; no one can accuse me of doing it for myself. And I swear she sha'n't go through that slough of despond again while I have breath in my body!"
"Steady, George!" I said.
"Oh, I'm steady enough," he cried. "Professor Keredec shall be convinced of it! My cousin is not going into the mire again; she shall be freed of it for ever: I speak as her relative now, the representative of her family and of those who care for her happiness and good. Now she SHALL make the separation definite—and LEGAL! And let Professor Keredec get his 'poor boy' out of the country. Let him do it quickly! I make it as a condition of my not informing the woman yonder and her lawyer. And by my hope of salvation I warn you—"
"George, for pity's sake!" I shouted, throwing my arm about his shoulders, for his voice had risen to a pitch of excitement and fury that I feared must bring the whole place upon us. He caught himself up suddenly, stared at me blankly for a moment, then sank into a chair with a groan. As he did so I became aware of a sound that had been worrying my subconsciousness for an indefinite length of time, and realised what it was. Some one was knocking for admission.
I crossed the room and opened the door. Miss Elizabeth stood there, red- faced and flustered, and behind her stood Mr. Cresson Ingle, who looked dubiously amused.
"Ah—come in," I said awkwardly. "George is here. Let me present Professor Keredec—"
"'George is here!'" echoed Miss Elizabeth, interrupting, and paying no attention whatever to an agitated bow on the part of the professor. "I should say he WAS! They probably know THAT all the way to Trouville!"
"We were discussing—" I began.
"Ah, I know what you were discussing," she said impatiently. "Come in, Cresson." She turned to Mr. Ingle, who was obviously reluctant. "It is a family matter, and you'll have to go through with it now."
"That reminds me," I said. "May I offer—"
"Not now!" Miss Elizabeth cut short a rather embarrassed handshake which her betrothed and I were exchanging. "I'm in a very nervous and distressed state of mind, as I suppose we all are, for that matter. This morning I learned the true situation over here; and I'm afraid Louise has heard; at least she's not at Quesnay. I got into a panic for fear she had come here, but thank heaven she does not seem to—Good gracious! What's THAT?"
It was the discordant voice of Mariana la Mursiana, crackling in strident protest. My door was still open; I turned to look and saw her, hot-faced, tousle-haired, insufficiently wrapped, striving to ascend the gallery steps, but valiantly opposed by Madame Brossard, who stood in the way.
"But NO, madame," insisted Madame Brossard, excited but darkly determined. "You cannot ascend. There is nothing on the upper floor of this wing except the apartment of Professor Keredec."
"Name of a dog!" shrilled the other. "It is my husband's apartment, I tell you. Il y a une femme avec lui!"
"It is Madame Harman who is there," said Keredec hoarsely in my ear. "I came away and left them together."
"Come," I said, and, letting the others think what they would, sprang across the veranda, the professor beside me, and ran toward the two women who were beginning to struggle with more than their tongues. I leaped by them and up the steps, but Keredec thrust himself between our hostess and her opponent, planting his great bulk on the lowest step. Glancing hurriedly over my shoulder, I saw the Spanish woman strike him furiously upon the breast with both hands, but I knew she would never pass him.
I entered the salon of the "Grande Suite," and closed the door quickly behind me.
Louise Harman was standing at the other end of the room; she wore the pretty dress of white and lilac and the white hat. She looked cool and beautiful and good, and there were tears in her eyes. To come into this quiet chamber and see her so, after the hot sunshine and tawdry scene below, was like leaving the shouting market-place for a shadowy chapel.
Her husband was kneeling beside her; he held one of her hands in both his, her other rested upon his head; and something in their attitudes made me know I had come in upon their leave-taking. But from the face he lifted toward her all trace of his tragedy had passed: the wonder and worship written there left no room for anything else.
"Mrs. Harman—" I began.
"Yes?" she said. "I am coming."
"But I don't want you to. I've come for fear you would, and you—you must not," I stammered. "You must wait."
"It's necessary," I floundered. "There is a scene—"
"I know," she said quietly. "THAT must be, of course."
Harman rose, and she took both his hands, holding them against her breast.
"My dear," she said gently,—"my dearest, you must stay. Will you promise not to pass that door, even, until you have word from me again?"
"Yes," he answered huskily, "if you'll promise it SHALL come—some day?"
"It shall, indeed. Be sure of it."
I had turned away, but I heard the ghost of his voice whispering "good- bye." Then she was beside me and opening the door.
I tried to stay her.
"Mrs. Harman," I urged, "I earnestly beg you—"
"No," she answered, "this is better."
She stepped out upon the gallery; I followed, and she closed the door. Upon the veranda of my pavilion were my visitors from Quesnay, staring up at us apprehensively; Madame Brossard and Keredec still held the foot of the steps, but la Mursiana had abandoned the siege, and, accompanied by Mr. Percy and Rameau, the black-bearded notary, who had joined her, was crossing the garden toward her own apartment.
At the sound of the closing door, she glanced over her shoulder, sent forth a scream, and, whirling about, ran viciously for the steps, where she was again blocked by the indomitable Keredec.
"Ah, you foolish woman, I know who you are," she cried, stepping back from him to shake a menacing hand at the quiet lady by my side. "You want to get yourself into trouble! That man in the room up there has been my husband these two years and more."
"No, madame," said Louise Harman, "you are mistaken; he is my husband."
"But you divorced him," vociferated the other wildly. "You divorced him in America!"
"No. You are mistaken," the quiet voice replied. "The suit was withdrawn. He is still my husband."
I heard the professor's groan of despair, but it was drowned in the wild shriek of Mariana. "WHAT? You tell ME that? Ah, the miserable! If what you say is true, he shall pay bitterly! He shall wish that he had died by fire! What! You think he can marry ME, break my leg so that I cannot dance again, ruin my career, and then go away with a pretty woman like you and be happy? Aha, there are prisons in France for people who marry two like that; I do not know what they do in YOUR barbaric country, but they are decent people over here and they punish. He shall pay for it in suffering—" her voice rose to an incredible and unbearable shriek—"and you, YOU shall pay, too! You can't come stealing honest women's husbands like that. You shall PAY!"
I saw George Ward come running forward with his hand upraised in a gesture of passionate warning, for Mrs. Harman, unnoticed by me—I was watching the Spanish woman—had descended the steps and had passed Keredec, walking straight to Mariana. I leaped down after her, my heart in my throat, fearing a thousand things.
"You must not talk like that," she said, not lifting her voice—yet every one in the courtyard heard her distinctly. "You can do neither of us any harm in the world."
It is impossible to say what Mariana would have done had there been no interference, for she had worked herself into one of those furies which women of her type can attain when they feel the occasion demands it, a paroxysm none the less dangerous because its foundation is histrionic. But Rameau threw his arms about her; Mr. Percy came hastily to his assistance, and Ward and I sprang in between her and the too-fearless lady she strove to reach. Even at that, the finger-nails of Mariana's right hand touched the pretty white hat—but only touched it and no more.
Rameau and the little spy managed to get their vociferating burden across the courtyard and into her own door, where she suddenly subsided, disappearing within the passage to her apartment in unexpected silence— indubitably a disappointment to the interested Amedee, to Glouglou, Francois, and the whole personnel of the inn, who hastened to group themselves about the door in attentive attitudes.
"In heaven's name," gasped Miss Elizabeth, seizing her cousin by the arm, "come into the pavilion. Here's the whole world looking at us!"
"Professor Keredec—" Mrs. Harman began, resisting, and turning to the professor appealingly.
"Oh, let him come too!" said Miss Elizabeth desperately. "Nothing could be worse than this!"
She led the way back to the pavilion, and, refusing to consider a proposal on the part of Mr. Ingle and myself to remain outside, entered the room last, herself, producing an effect of "shooing" the rest of us in; closed the door with surprising force, relapsed in a chair, and burst into tears.
"Not a soul at Quesnay," sobbed the mortified chatelaine—"not one but will know this before dinner! They'll hear the whole thing within two hours."
"Isn't there any way of stopping that, at least?" Ward said to me.
"None on earth, unless you go home at once and turn your visitors and THEIR servants out of the house," I answered.
"There is nothing they shouldn't know," said Mrs. Harman.
George turned to her with a smile so bravely managed that I was proud of him. "Oh, yes, there is," he said. "We're going to get you out of all this."
"All this?" she repeated.
"All this MIRE!" he answered. "We're going to get you out of it and keep you out of it, now, for good. I don't know whether your revelation to the Spanish woman will make that easier or harder, but I do know that it makes the mire deeper."
"For Harman. But you sha'n't share it!"
Her anxious eyes grew wider. "How have I made it deeper for him? Wasn't it necessary that the poor woman should be told the truth?"
"Professor Keredec seemed to think it important that she shouldn't."
She turned to Keredec with a frightened gesture and an unintelligible word of appeal, as if entreating him to deny what George had said. The professor's beard was trembling; he looked haggard; an almost pitiable apprehension hung upon his eyelids; but he came forward manfully.
"Madame," he said, "you could never in your life do anything that would make harm. You were right to speak, and I had short sight to fear, since it was the truth."
"But why did you fear it?"
"It was because—" he began, and hesitated.
"I must know the reason," she urged. "I must know just what I've done."
"It was because," he repeated, running a nervous hand through his beard, "because the knowledge would put us so utterly in this people's power. Already they demand more than we could give them; now they can—"
"They can do what?" she asked tremulously.
His eyes rested gently on her blanched and stricken face. "Nothing, my dear lady," he answered, swallowing painfully. "Nothing that will last. I am an old man. I have seen and I have—I have thought. And I tell you that only the real survives; evil actions are some phantoms that disappear. They must not trouble us."
"That is a high plane," George intervened, and he spoke without sarcasm. "To put it roughly, these people have been asking more than the Harman estate is worth; that was on the strength of the woman's claim as a wife; but now they know she is not one, her position is immensely strengthened, for she has only to go before the nearest Commissaire de Police—"
"Oh, no!" Mrs. Harman cried passionately. "I haven't done THAT! You mustn't tell me I have. You MUSTN'T!"
"Never!" he answered. "There could not be a greater lie than to say you have done it. The responsibility is with the wretched and vicious boy who brought the catastrophe upon himself. But don't you see that you've got to keep out of it, that we've got to take you out of it?"
"You can't! I'm part of it; better or worse, it's as much mine as his."
"No, no!" cried Miss Elizabeth. "YOU mustn't tell us THAT!" Still weeping, she sprang up and threw her arms about her brother. "It's too horrible of you—"
"It is what I must tell you," Mrs. Harman said. "My separation from my husband is over. I shall be with him now for—"
"I won't listen to you!" Miss Elizabeth lifted her wet face from George's shoulder, and there was a note of deep anger in her voice. "You don't know what you're talking about; you haven't the faintest idea of what a hideous situation that creature has made for himself. Don't you know that that awful woman was right, and there are laws in France? When she finds she can't get out of him all she wants, do you think she's going to let him off? I suppose she struck you as being quite the sort who'd prove nobly magnanimous! Are you so blind you don't see exactly what's going to happen? She'll ask twice as much now as she did before; and the moment it's clear that she isn't going to get it, she'll call in an agent of police. She'll get her money in a separate suit and send him to prison to do it. The case against him is positive; there isn't a shadow of hope for him. You talk of being with him; don't you see how preposterous that is? Do you imagine they encourage family housekeeping in French prisons?"
"Oh, come, this won't do!" The speaker was Cresson Ingle, who stepped forward, to my surprise; for he had been hovering in the background wearing an expression of thorough discomfort.
"You're going much too far," he said, touching his betrothed upon the arm. "My dear Elizabeth, there is no use exaggerating; the case is unpleasant enough just as it is."
"In what have I exaggerated?" she demanded.
"Why, I KNEW Larrabee Harman," he returned. "I knew him fairly well. I went as far as Honolulu with him, when he and some of his heelers started round the world; and I remember that papers were served on him in San Francisco. Mrs. Harman had made her application; it was just before he sailed. About a year and a half or two years later I met him again, in Paris. He was in pretty bad shape; seemed hypnotised by this Mariana and afraid as death of her; she could go into a tantrum that would frighten him into anything. It was a joke—down along the line of the all-night dancers and cafes—that she was going to marry him; and some one told me afterward that she claimed to have brought it about. I suppose it's true; but there is no question of his having married her in good faith. He believed that the divorce had been granted; he'd offered no opposition to it whatever. He was travelling continually, and I don't think he knew much of what was going on, even right around him, most of the time. He began with cognac and absinthe in the morning, you know. For myself, I always supposed the suit had been carried through; so did people generally, I think. He'll probably have to stand trial, and of course he's technically guilty, but I don't believe he'd be convicted— though I must say it would have been a most devilish good thing for him if he could have been got out of France before la Mursiana heard the truth. Then he could have made terms with her safely at a distance— she'd have been powerless to injure him and would have precious soon come to time and been glad to take whatever he'd give her. NOW, I suppose, that's impossible, and they'll arrest him if he tries to budge. But this talk of prison and all that is nonsense, my dear Elizabeth!"
"You admit there is a chance of it!" she retorted.
"I've said all I had to say," returned Mr. Ingle with a dubious laugh. "And if you don't mind, I believe I'll wait for you outside, in the machine. I want to look at the gear-box."
He paused, as if in deference to possible opposition, and, none being manifested, went hastily from the room with a sigh of relief, giving me, as he carefully closed the door, a glance of profound commiseration over his shoulder.
Miss Elizabeth had taken her brother's hand, not with the effect of clinging for sympathy; nor had her throwing her arms about him produced that effect; one could as easily have imagined Brunhilda hiding her face in a man's coat-lapels. George's sister wept, not weakly: she was on the defensive, but not for herself.
"Does the fact that he may possibly escape going to prison"—she addressed her cousin—"make his position less scandalous, or can it make the man himself less detestable?"
Mrs. Harman looked at her steadily. There was a long and sorrowful pause.
"Nothing is changed," she said finally; her eyes still fixed gravely on Miss Elizabeth's.
At that, the other's face flamed up, and she uttered a half-choked exclamation. "Oh," she cried—"you've fallen in love with playing the martyr; it's SELF-love! You SEE yourself in the role! No one on earth could make me believe you're in LOVE with this degraded imbecile—all that's left of the wreck of a vicious life! It isn't that! It's because you want to make a shining example of yourself; you want to get down on your knees and wash off the vileness from this befouled creature; you want—"
"Madame!" Keredec interrupted tremendously, "you speak out of no knowledge!" He leaned toward her across the table, which shook under the weight of his arms. "There is no vileness; no one who is clean remains befouled because of the things that are gone."
"They do not?" She laughed hysterically, and for my part, I sighed in despair—for there was no stopping him.
"They do not, indeed! Do you know the relation of TIME to this little life of ours? We have only the present moment; your consciousness of that is your existence. Your knowledge of each present moment as it passes—and it passes so swiftly that each word I speak now overlaps it— yet it is all we have. For all the rest, for what has gone by and what is yet coming—THAT has no real existence; it is all a dream. It is not ALIVE. It IS not! It IS—nothing! So the soul that stands clean and pure to-day IS clean and pure—and that is all there is to say about that soul!"
"But a soul with evil tendencies," Ward began impatiently, "if one must meet you on your own ground—"
"Ha! my dear sir, those evil tendencies would be in the soiling memories, and my boy is free from them."
"He went toward all that was soiling before. Surely you can't pretend he may not take that direction again?"
"That," returned the professor quickly, "is his to choose. If this lady can be with him now, he will choose right."
"So!" cried Miss Elizabeth, "you offer her the role of a guide, do you? First she is to be his companion through a trial for bigamy in a French court, and, if he is acquitted, his nurse, teacher, and moral preceptor?" She turned swiftly to her cousin. "That's YOUR conception of a woman's mission?"
"I haven't any mission," Mrs. Harman answered quietly. "I've never thought about missions; I only know I belong to him; that's all I EVER thought about it. I don't pretend to explain it, or make it seem reasonable. And when I met him again, here, it was—it was—it was proved to me."
"Proved?" echoed Miss Elizabeth incredulously.
"Yes; proved as certainly as the sun shining proves that it's day."
"Will you tell us?"
It was I who asked the question: I spoke involuntarily, but she did not seem to think it strange that I should ask.
"Oh, when I first met him," she said tremulously, "I was frightened; but it was not he who frightened me—it was the rush of my own feeling. I did not know what I felt, but I thought I might die, and he was so like himself as I had first known him—but so changed, too; there was something so wonderful about him, something that must make any stranger feel sorry for him, and yet it is beautiful—" She stopped for a moment and wiped her eyes, then went on bravely: "And the next day he came, and waited for me—I should have come here for him if he hadn't—and I fell in with the mistake he had made about my name. You see, he'd heard I was called 'Madame d'Armand,' and I wanted him to keep on thinking that, for I thought if he knew I was Mrs. Harman he might find out—" She paused, her lip beginning to tremble. "Oh, don't you see why I didn't want him to know? I didn't want him to suffer as he would—as he does now, poor child!—but most of all I wanted—I wanted to see if he would fall in love with me again! I kept him from knowing, because, if he thought I was a stranger, and the same thing happened again—his caring for me, I mean—" She had begun to weep now, freely and openly, but not from grief. "Oh!" she cried, "don't you SEE how it's all proven to me?"
"I see how it has deluded you!" said Miss Elizabeth vehemently. "I see what a rose-light it has thrown about this creature; but it won't last, thank God! any more than it did the other time. The thing is for you to come to your senses before—"
"Ah, my dear, I have come to them at last and for ever!" The words rang full and strong, though she was white and shaking, and heavy tears filled her eyes. "I know what I am doing now, if I never knew before!"
"You never did know—" Miss Ward began, but George stopped her.
"Elizabeth!" he said quickly. "We mustn't go on like this; it's more than any of us can bear. Come, let's get out into the air; let's get back to Quesnay. We'll have Ingle drive us around the longer way, by the sea." He turned to his cousin. "Louise, you'll come now? If not, we'll have to stay here with you."
"I'll come," she answered, trying bravely to stop the tears that kept rising in spite of her; "if you'll wait till"—and suddenly she flashed through them a smile so charming that my heart ached the harder for George—"till I can stop crying!"
Mr. Earl Percy and I sat opposite each other at dinner that evening. Perhaps, for charity's sake, I should add that though we faced each other, and, indeed, eyed each other solemnly at intervals, we partook not of the same repast, having each his own table; his being set in the garden at his constant station near the gallery steps, and mine, some fifty feet distant, upon my own veranda, but moved out from behind the honeysuckle screen, for I sat alone and the night was warm.
To analyse my impression of Mr. Percy's glances, I cannot conscientiously record that I found favour in his eyes. For one thing, I fear he may not have recalled to his bosom a clarion sentiment (which doubtless he had ofttimes cheered from his native gallery in softer years): the honourable declaration that many an honest heart beats beneath a poor man's coat. As for his own attire, he was even as the lilies of Quesnay; that is to say, I beheld upon him the same formation of tie that I had seen there, the same sensuous beauty of the state waistcoat, though I think that his buttons were, if anything, somewhat spicier than those which had awed me at the chateau. And when we simultaneously reached the fragrant hour of coffee, the cigarette case that glittered in his hand was one for which some lady-friend of his (I knew intuitively) must have given her All—and then been left in debt.
Amedee had served us both; Glouglou, as aforetime, attending the silent "Grande Suite," where the curtains were once more tightly drawn. Monsieur Rameau dined with his client in her own salon, evidently; at least, Victorine, the femme de chambre, passed to and from the kitchen in that direction, bearing laden trays. When Mr. Percy's cigarette had been lighted, hesitation marked the manner of our maitre d'hotel; plainly he wavered, but finally old custom prevailed; abandoning the cigarette, he chose the cigar, and, hastily clearing my fashionable opponent's table, approached the pavilion with his most conversational face.
I greeted him indifferently, but with hidden pleasure, for my soul (if Keredec is right and I have one) lay sorrowing. I needed relief, and whatever else Amedee was, he was always that. I spoke first:
"Amedee, how long a walk is it from Quesnay to Pere Baudry's?"
"Monsieur, about three-quarters of an hour for a good walker, one might say."
"A long way for Jean Ferret to go for a cup of cider," I remarked musingly.
"Eh? But why should he?" asked Amedee blankly.
"Why indeed? Surely even a Norman gardener lives for more than cider! You usually meet him there about noon, I believe?"
Methought he had the grace to blush, though there is an everlasting doubt in my mind that it may have been the colour of the candle-shade producing that illusion. It was a strange thing to see, at all events, and, taking it for a physiological fact at the time, I let my willing eyes linger upon it as long as it (or its appearance) was upon him.
"You were a little earlier than usual to-day," I continued finally, full of the marvel.
"Monsieur?" He was wholly blank again.
"Weren't you there about eleven? Didn't you go about two hours after Mr. Ward and his friends left here?"
He scratched his head. "I believe I had an errand in that direction. Eh? Yes, I remember. Truly, I think it so happened."
"And you found Jean Ferret there?"
"At Pere Baudry's."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"No, monsieur." He was firm, somewhat reproachful.
"You didn't see Jean Ferret this morning?"
"Eh, but I did not find him at Pere Baudry's! It may have happened that I stopped there, but he did not come until some time after."
"After you had gone away from Pere Baudry's, you mean?"
"No, monsieur; after I arrived there. Truly."
"Now we have it! And you gave him the news of all that had happened here?"
A world—no, a constellation, a universe!—of reproach was in the word.
"I retract the accusation," I said promptly. "I meant something else."
"Upon everything that takes place at our hotel here, I am silent to all the world."
"As the grave!" I said with enthusiasm. "Truly—that is a thing well known. But Jean Ferret, then? He is not so discreet; I have suspected that you are in his confidence. At times you have even hinted as much. Can you tell me if he saw the automobile of Monsieur Ingle when it came back to the chateau after leaving here?"
"It had arrived the moment before he departed."
"Quite SO! I understand," said I.
"He related to me that Mademoiselle Ward had the appearance of agitation, and Madame d'Armand that of pallor, which was also the case with Monsieur Ward."
"Therefore," I said, "Jean Ferret ran all the way to Pere Baudry's to learn from you the reason for this agitation and this pallor?"
"I retract again!" I cut him off—to save time. "What other news had he?"
There came a gleam into his small, infolded eyes, a tiny glitter reflecting the mellow candle-light, but changing it, in that reflection, to a cold and sinister point of steel. It should have warned me, but, as he paused, I repeated my question.
"Monsieur, people say everything," he answered, frowning as if deploring what they said in some secret, particular instance. "The world is full of idle gossipers, tale-bearers, spreaders of scandal! And, though I speak with perfect respect, all the people at the chateau are not perfect in such ways."
"Do you mean the domestics?"
"What do they say?"
"Eh, well, then, they say—but no!" He contrived a masterly pretense of pained reluctance. "I cannot—"
"Speak out," I commanded, piqued by his shilly-shallying. "What do they say?"
"Monsieur, it is about"—he shifted his weight from one leg to the other—"it is about—about that beautiful Mademoiselle Elliott who sometimes comes here."
This was so far from what I had expected that I was surprised into a slight change of attitude, which all too plainly gratified him, though he made an effort to conceal it. "Well," I said uneasily, "what do they find to say of Mademoiselle Elliott?"
"They say that her painting is only a ruse to see monsieur."
"To see Monsieur Saffren, yes."
"But, no!" he cried. "That is not—"
"Yes, it is," I assured him calmly. "As you know, Monsieur Saffren is very, very handsome, and Mademoiselle Elliott, being a painter, is naturally anxious to look at him from time to time."
"You are sure?" he said wistfully, even plaintively. "That is not the meaning Jean Ferret put upon it."
"He was mistaken."
"It may be, it may be," he returned, greatly crestfallen, picking up his tray and preparing to go. "But Jean Ferret was very positive."
"And I am even more so!"
"Then that malicious maid of Mademoiselle Ward's was mistaken also," he sighed, "when she said that now a marriage is to take place between Mademoiselle Ward and Monsieur Ingle—"
"Proceed," I bade him.
He moved a few feet nearer the kitchen. "The malicious woman said to Jean Ferret—" He paused and coughed. "It was in reference to those Italian jewels monsieur used to send—"
"What about them?" I asked ominously.
"The woman says that Mademoiselle Ward—" he increased the distance between us—"that now she should give them to Mademoiselle Elliott! GOOD night, monsieur!"
His entrance into the kitchen was precipitate. I sank down again into the wicker chair (from which I had hastily risen) and contemplated the stars. But the short reverie into which I then fell was interrupted by Mr. Percy, who, sauntering leisurely about the garden, paused to address me.
"You folks thinks you was all to the gud, gittin' them trunks off, what?"
"You speak in mysterious numbers," I returned, having no comprehension of his meaning.
"I suppose you don' know nothin' about it," he laughed satirically. "You didn' go over to Lisieux 'saft'noon to ship 'em? Oh, no, not YOU!"
"I went for a long walk this afternoon, Mr. Percy. Naturally, I couldn't have walked so far as Lisieux and back."
"Luk here, m'friend," he said sharply—"I reco'nise 'at you're tryin' t' play your own hand, but I ast you as man to man: DO you think you got any chanst t' git that feller off t' Paris?"
"DO you think it will rain to-night?" I inquired.
The light of a reflecting lamp which hung on the wall near the archway enabled me to perceive a bitter frown upon his forehead. "When a gen'leman asts a question AS a gen'leman," he said, his voice expressing a noble pathos, "I can't see no call for no other gen'leman to go an' play the smart Aleck and not answer him."
In simple dignity he turned his back upon me and strolled to the other end of the courtyard, leaving me to the renewal of my reverie.
It was not a happy one. My friends—old and new—I saw inextricably caught in a tangle of cross-purposes, miserably and hopelessly involved in a situation for which I could predict no possible relief. I was able to understand now the beauty as well as the madness of Keredec's plan; and I had told him so (after the departure of the Quesnay party), asking his pardon for my brusquerie of the morning. But the towering edifice his hopes had erected was now tumbled about his ears: he had failed to elude the Mursiana. There could be no doubt of her absolute control of the situation. THAT was evident in the every step of the youth now confidently parading before me.
Following his active stride with my eye, I observed him in the act of saluting, with a gracious nod of his bare head, some one, invisible to me, who was approaching from the road. Immediately after—and altogether with the air of a person merely "happening in"—a slight figure, clad in a long coat, a short skirt, and a broad-brimmed, veil-bound brown hat, sauntered casually through the archway and came into full view in the light of the reflector.
I sprang to my feet and started toward her, uttering an exclamation which I was unable to stifle, though I tried to.
"Good evening, Mr. Percy," she said cheerily. "It's the most EXUBERANT night. YOU'RE quite hearty, I hope?"
"Takin' a walk, I see, little lady," he observed with genial patronage.
"Oh, not just for that," she returned. "It's more to see HIM." She nodded to me, and, as I reached her, carelessly gave me her left hand. "You know I'm studying with him," she continued to Mr. Percy, exhibiting a sketch-book under her arm. "I dropped over to get a criticism."
"Oh, drawin'-lessons?" said Mr. Percy tolerantly. "Well, don' lemme interrup' ye."
He moved as if to withdraw toward the steps, but she detained him with a question. "You're spending the rest of the summer here?"
"That depends," he answered tersely.
"I hear you have some PASSIONATELY interesting friends."
"Where did you hear that?"
"Ah, don't you know?" she responded commiseratingly. "This is the most scandalously gossipy neighbourhood in France. My DEAR young man, every one from here to Timbuctu knows all about it by this time!"
"All about what?"
"About the excitement you're such a VALUABLE part of; about your wonderful Spanish friend and how she claims the strange young man here for her husband."
"They'll know more'n that, I expec'," he returned with a side glance at me, "before VERY long."
"Every one thinks I am so interesting," she rattled on artlessly, "because I happened to meet YOU in the woods. I've held quite a levee all day. In a reflected way it makes a heroine of me, you see, because you are one of the very MOST prominent figures in it all. I hope you won't think I've been too bold," she pursued anxiously, "in claiming that I really am one of your acquaintances?"
"That'll be all right," he politely assured her.
"I am so glad." Her laughter rang out gaily. "Because I've been talking about you as if we were the OLDEST friends, and I'd hate to have them find me out. I've told them everything—about your appearance you see, and how your hair was parted, and how you were dressed, and—"
"Luk here," he interrupted, suddenly discharging his Bowery laugh, "did you tell 'em how HE was dressed?" He pointed a jocular finger at me. "That WUD 'a' made a hit!"
"No; we weren't talking of him."
"Why not? He's in it, too. Bullieve me, he THINKS he is!"
"In the excitement, you mean?"
"Right!" said Mr. Percy amiably. "He goes round holdin' Rip Van Winkle Keredec's hand when the ole man's cryin'; helpin' him sneak his trunks off t' Paris—playin' the hired man gener'ly. Oh, he thinks he's quite the boy, in this trouble!"
"I'm afraid it's a small part," she returned, "compared to yours."
"Oh, I hold my end up, I guess."
"I should think you'd be so worn out and sleepy you couldn't hold your head up!"
"Who? ME? Not t'-night, m'little friend. I tuk MY sleep's aft'noon and let Rameau do the Sherlock a little while."
She gazed upon him with unconcealed admiration. "You are wonderful," she sighed faintly, and "WONDERFUL!" she breathed again. "How prosaic are drawing-lessons," she continued, touching my arm and moving with me toward the pavilion, "after listening to a man of action like that!"
Mr. Percy, establishing himself comfortably in a garden chair at the foot of the gallery steps, was heard to utter a short cough as he renewed the light of his cigarette.
My visitor paused upon my veranda, humming, "Quand l'Amour Meurt" while I went within and lit a lamp. "Shall I bring the light out there?" I asked, but, turning, found that she was already in the room.
"The sketch-book is my duenna," she said, sinking into a chair upon one side of the centre table, upon which I placed the lamp. "Lessons are unquestionable, at any place or time. Behold the beautiful posies!" She spread the book open on the table between us, as I seated myself opposite her, revealing some antique coloured smudges of flowers. "Elegancies of Eighteen-Forty! Isn't that a survival of the period when young ladies had 'accomplishments,' though! I found it at the chateau and—"
"Never mind," I said. "Don't you know that you can't ramble over the country alone at this time of night?"
"If you speak any louder," she said, with some urgency of manner, "you'll be 'hopelessly compromised socially,' as Mrs. Alderman McGinnis and the Duchess of Gwythyl-Corners say"—she directed my glance, by one of her own, through the open door to Mr. Percy—"because HE'LL hear you and know that the sketch-book was only a shallow pretext of mine to see you. Do be a little manfully self-contained, or you'll get us talked about! And as for 'this time of night,' I believe it's almost half past nine."
"Does Miss Ward know—"
"Do you think it likely? One of the most convenient things about a chateau is the number of ways to get out of it without being seen. I had a choice of eight. So I 'suffered fearfully from neuralgia,' dined in my own room, and sped through the woods to my honest forester." She nodded brightly. "That's YOU!"
"You weren't afraid to come through the woods alone?" I asked, uncomfortably conscious that her gaiety met a dull response from me.
"But if Miss Ward finds that you're not at the chateau—"
"She won't; she thinks I'm asleep. She brought me up a sleeping-powder herself."
"She thinks you took it?"
"She KNOWS I did," said Miss Elliott. "I'm full of it! And that will be the reason—if you notice that I'm particularly nervous or excited."
"You seem all of that," I said, looking at her eyes, which were very wide and very brilliant. "However, I believe you always do."
"Ah!" she smiled. "I knew you thought me atrocious from the first. You find MYRIADS of objections to me, don't you?"
I had forgotten to look away from her eyes, and I kept on forgetting. (The same thing had happened several times lately; and each time, by a somewhat painful coincidence, I remembered my age at precisely the instant I remembered to look away.) "Dazzling" is a good old-fashioned word for eyes like hers; at least it might define their effect on me.
"If I did manage to object to you," I said slowly, "it would be a good thing for me—wouldn't it?"
"Oh, I've WON!" she cried.
"Won?" I echoed.
"Yes. I laid a wager with myself that I'd have a pretty speech from you before I went out of your life"—she checked a laugh, and concluded thrillingly—"forever! I leave Quesnay to-morrow!"
"Your father has returned from America?"
"Oh dear, no," she murmured. "I'll be quite at the world's mercy. I must go up to Paris and retire from public life until he does come. I shall take the vows—in some obscure but respectable pension."
"You can't endure the life at the chateau any longer?"
"It won't endure ME any longer. If I shouldn't go to-morrow I'd be put out, I think—after to-night!"
"But you intimated that no one would know about to-night!"
"The night isn't over yet," she replied enigmatically.
"It almost is—for you," I said; "because in ten minutes I shall take you back to the chateau gates."
She offered no comment on this prophecy, but gazed at me thoughtfully and seriously for several moments. "I suppose you can imagine," she said, in a tone that threatened to become tremulous, "what sort of an afternoon we've been having up there?"
"Has it been—" I began.
"Oh, heart-breaking! Louise came to my room as soon as they got back from here, this morning, and told me the whole pitiful story. But they didn't let her stay there long, poor woman!"
"They?" I asked.
"Oh, Elizabeth and her brother. They've been at her all afternoon—off and on."
"To do what?"
"To 'save herself,' so they call it. They're insisting that she must not see her poor husband again. They're DETERMINED she sha'n't."
"But George wouldn't worry her," I objected.
"Oh, wouldn't he?" The girl laughed sadly. "I don't suppose he could help it, he's in such a state himself, but between him and Elizabeth it's hard to see how poor Mrs. Harman lived through the day."
"Well," I said slowly, "I don't see that they're not right. She ought to be kept out of all this as much as possible; and if her husband has to go through a trial—"
"I want you to tell me something," Miss Elliott interrupted. "How much do you like Mr. Ward?"
"He's an old friend. I suppose I like my old friends in about the same way that other people like theirs."
"How much do you like Mr. Saffren—I mean Mr. Harman?"
"Oh, THAT!" I groaned. "If I could still call him 'Oliver Saffren,' if I could still think of him as 'Oliver Saffren,' it would be easy to answer. I never was so 'drawn' to a man in my life before. But when I think of him as Larrabee Harman, I am full of misgivings."
"Louise isn't," she put in eagerly, and with something oddly like the manner of argument. "His wife isn't!"
"Oh, I know. Perhaps one reason is that she never saw him at quite his worst. I did. I had only two glimpses of him—of the briefest—but they inspired me with such a depth of dislike that I can't tell you how painful it was to discover that 'Oliver Saffren'—this strange, pathetic, attractive FRIEND of mine—is the same man."
"Oh, but he isn't!" she exclaimed quickly.
"Keredec says he is," I laughed helplessly.
"So does Louise," returned Miss Elliott, disdaining consistency in her eagerness. "And she's right—and she cares more for him than she ever did!"
"I suppose she does."
"Are you—" the girl began, then stopped for a moment, looking at me steadily. "Aren't you a little in love with her?"
"Yes," I answered honestly. "Aren't you?"
"THAT'S what I wanted to know!" she said; and as she turned a page in the sketch-book for the benefit of Mr. Percy, I saw that her hand had begun to tremble.
"Why?" I asked, leaning toward her across the table.
"Because, if she were involved in some undertaking—something that, if it went wrong, would endanger her happiness and, I think, even her life— for it might actually kill her if she failed, and brought on a worse catastrophe—"
"Yes?" I said anxiously, as she paused again.
"You'd help her?" she said.
"I would indeed," I assented earnestly. "I told her once I'd do anything in the world for her."
"Even if it involved something that George Ward might never forgive you for?"
"I said, 'anything in the world,'" I returned, perhaps a little huskily. "I meant all of that. If there is anything she wants me to do, I shall do it."
She gave a low cry of triumph, but immediately checked it. Then she leaned far over the table, her face close above the book, and, tracing the outline of an uncertain lily with her small, brown-gloved forefinger, as though she were consulting me on the drawing, "I wasn't afraid to come through the woods alone," she said, in a very low voice, "because I wasn't alone. Louise came with me."
"What?" I gasped. "Where is she?"
"At the Baudry cottage down the road. They won't miss her at the chateau until morning; I locked her door on the outside, and if they go to bother her again—though I don't think they will—they'll believe she's fastened it on the inside and is asleep. She managed to get a note to Keredec late this afternoon; it explained everything, and he had some trunks carried out the rear gate of the inn and carted over to Lisieux to be shipped to Paris from there. It is to be supposed—or hoped, at least—that this woman and her people will believe THAT means Professor Keredec and Mr. Harman will try to get to Paris in the same way."
"So," I said, "that's what Percy meant about the trunks. I didn't understand."
"He's on watch, you see," she continued, turning a page to another drawing. "He means to sit up all night, or he wouldn't have slept this afternoon. He's not precisely the kind to be in the habit of afternoon naps—Mr. Percy!" She laughed nervously. "That's why it's almost absolutely necessary for us to have you. If we have—the thing is so simple that it's certain."
"If you have me for what?" I asked.
"If you'll help"—and, as she looked up, her eyes, now very close to mine, were dazzling indeed—"I'll adore you for ever and ever! Oh, MUCH longer than you'd like me to!"
"You mean she's going to—"
"I mean that she's going to run away with him again," she whispered.
At midnight there was no mistaking the palpable uneasiness with which Mr. Percy, faithful sentry, regarded the behaviour of Miss Elliott and myself as we sat conversing upon the veranda of the pavilion. It was not fear for the security of his prisoner which troubled him, but the unseemliness of the young woman's persistence in remaining to this hour under an espionage no more matronly than that of a sketch-book abandoned on the table when we had come out to the open. The youth had veiled his splendours with more splendour: a long overcoat of so glorious a plaid it paled the planets above us; and he wandered restlessly about the garden in this refulgence, glancing at us now and then with what, in spite of the insufficient revelation of the starlight, we both recognised as a chilling disapproval. The lights of the inn were all out; the courtyard was dark. The Spanish woman and Monsieur Rameau had made their appearance for a moment, half an hour earlier, to exchange a word with their fellow vigilant, and, soon after, the extinguishing of the lamps in their respective apartments denoted their retirement for the night. In the "Grande Suite" all had been dark and silent for an hour. About the whole place the only sign of life, aside from those signs furnished by our three selves, was a rhythmical sound from an open window near the kitchen, where incontrovertibly slumbered our maitre d'hotel after the cares of the day.
Upon the occasion of our forest meeting Mr. Percy had signified his desire to hear some talk of Art. I think he had his fill to-night—and more; for that was the subject chosen by my dashing companion, and vivaciously exploited until our awaited hour was at hand. Heaven knows what nonsense I prattled, I do not; I do not think I knew at the time. I talked mechanically, trying hard not to betray my increasing excitement.
Under cover of this traduction of the Muse I served, I kept going over and over the details of Louise Harman's plan, as the girl beside me had outlined it, bending above the smudgy sketch-book. "To make them think the flight is for Paris," she had urged, "to Paris by way of Lisieux. To make that man yonder believe that it is toward Lisieux, while they turn at the crossroads, and drive across the country to Trouville for the morning boat to Havre."
It was simple; that was its great virtue. If they were well started, they were safe; and well started meant only that Larrabee Harman should leave the inn without an alarm, for an alarm sounded too soon meant "racing and chasing on Canoby Lea," before they could get out of the immediate neighbourhood. But with two hours' start, and the pursuit spending most of its energy in the wrong direction—that is, toward Lisieux and Paris—they would be on the deck of the French-Canadian liner to-morrow noon, sailing out of the harbour of Le Havre, with nothing but the Atlantic Ocean between them and the St. Lawrence.
I thought of the woman who dared this flight for her lover, of the woman who came full-armed between him and the world, a Valkyr winging down to bear him away to a heaven she would make for him herself. Gentle as she was, there must have been a Valkyr in her somewhere, or she could not attempt this. She swept in, not only between him and the world, but between him and the destroying demons his own sins had raised to beset him. There, I thought, was a whole love; or there she was not only wife but mother to him.
And I remembered the dream of her I had before I ever saw her, on that first night after I came down to Normandy, when Amedee's talk of "Madame d'Armand" had brought her into my thoughts. I remembered that I had dreamed of finding her statue, but it was veiled and I could not uncover it. And to-night it seemed to me that the veil had lifted, and the statue was a figure of Mercy in the beautiful likeness of Louise Harman. Then Keredec was wrong, optimist as he was, since a will such as hers could save him she loved, even from his own acts.
"And when you come to Monticelli's first style—" Miss Elliott's voice rose a little, and I caught the sound of a new thrill vibrating in it— "you find a hundred others of his epoch doing it quite as well, not a BIT of a bit less commonplace—"
She broke off suddenly, and looking up, as I had fifty times in the last twenty minutes, I saw that a light shone from Keredec's window.
"I dare say they ARE commonplace," I remarked, rising. "But now, if you will permit me, I'll offer you my escort back to Quesnay."
I went into my room, put on my cap, lit a lantern, and returned with it to the veranda. "If you are ready?" I said.
"Oh, quite," she answered, and we crossed the garden as far as the steps.
Mr. Percy signified his approval.
"Gunna see the little lady home, are you?" he said graciously. "I was THINKIN' it was about time, m'self!"
The salon door of the "Grand Suite" opened, above me, and at the sound, the youth started, springing back to see what it portended, but I ran quickly up the steps. Keredec stood in the doorway, bare-headed and in his shirt-sleeves; in one hand he held a travelling-bag, which he immediately gave me, setting his other for a second upon my shoulder.
"Thank you, my good, good friend," he said with an emotion in his big voice which made me glad of what I was doing. He went back into the room, closing the door, and I descended the steps as rapidly as I had run up them. Without pausing, I started for the rear of the courtyard, Miss Elliott accompanying me.
The sentry had watched these proceedings open-mouthed, more mystified than alarmed. "Luk here," he said, "I want t' know whut this means."
"Anything you choose to think it means," I laughed, beginning to walk a little more rapidly. He glanced up at the windows of the "Grande Suite," which were again dark, and began to follow us slowly. "What you gut in that grip?" he asked.
"You don't think we're carrying off Mr. Harman?"
"I reckon HE'S in his room all right," said the youth grimly; "unless he's FLEW out. But I want t' know what you think y're doin'?"
"Just now," I replied, "I'm opening this door."
This was a fact he could not question. We emerged at the foot of a lane behind the inn; it was long and narrow, bordered by stone walls, and at the other end debouched upon a road which passed the rear of the Baudry cottage.
Miss Elliott took my arm, and we entered the lane.
Mr. Percy paused undecidedly. "I want t' know whut you think y're doin'?" he repeated angrily, calling after us.
"It's very simple," I called in turn. "Can't I do an errand for a friend? Can't I even carry his travelling-bag for him, without going into explanations to everybody I happen to meet? And," I added, permitting some anxiety to be marked in my voice, "I think you may as well go back. We're not going far enough to need a guard."
Mr. Percy allowed an oath to escape him, and we heard him muttering to himself. Then his foot-steps sounded behind us.
"He's coming!" Miss Elliott whispered, with nervous exultation, looking over her shoulder. "He's going to follow."
"He was sure to," said I.
We trudged briskly on, followed at some fifty paces by the perturbed watchman. Presently I heard my companion utter a sigh so profound that it was a whispered moan.
"What is it?" I murmured.
"Oh, it's the thought of Quesnay and to-morrow; facing them with THIS!" she quavered. "Louise has written a letter for me to give them, but I'll have to tell them—"
"Not alone," I whispered. "I'll be there when you come down from your room in the morning."
We were embarked upon a singular adventure, not unattended by a certain danger; we were tingling with a hundred apprehensions, occupied with the vital necessity of drawing the little spy after us—and that was a strange moment for a man (and an elderly painter-man of no mark, at that!) to hear himself called what I was called then, in a tremulous whisper close to my ear. Of course she has denied it since; nevertheless, she said it—twice, for I pretended not to hear her the first time. I made no answer, for something in the word she called me, and in her seeming to mean it, made me choke up so that I could not even whisper; but I made up my mind that, after THAT if this girl saw Mr. Earl Percy on his way back to the inn before she wished him to go, it would be because he had killed me.
We were near the end of the lane when the neigh of a horse sounded sonorously from the road beyond.
Mr. Percy came running up swiftly and darted by us.
"Who's that?" he called loudly. "Who's that in the cart yonder?"
I set my lantern on the ground close to the wall, and at the same moment a horse and cart drew up on the road at the end of the lane, showing against the starlight. It was Pere Baudry's best horse, a stout gray, that would easily enough make Trouville by daylight. A woman's figure and a man's (the latter that of Pere Baudry himself) could be made out dimly on the seat of the cart.
"Who is it, I say?" shouted our excited friend. "What kind of a game d'ye think y're puttin' up on me here?"
He set his hand on the side of the cart and sprang upon the hub of the wheel. A glance at the occupants satisfied him.
"Mrs. Harman!" he yelled. "Mrs. Harman!" He leaped down into the road. "I knowed I was a fool to come away without wakin' up Rameau. But you haven't beat us yet!"
He drove back into the lane, but just inside its entrance I met him.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Back to the pigeon-house in a hurry. There's devilment here, and I want Rameau. Git out o' my way!"
"You're not going back," said I.
"The hell I ain't!" said Mr. Percy. "I give ye two seconds t' git out o' my—TAKE YER HANDS OFFA ME!"
I made sure of my grip, not upon the refulgent overcoat, for I feared he might slip out of that, but upon the collars of his coat and waistcoat, which I clenched together in my right hand. I knew that he was quick, and I suspected that he was "scientific," but I did it before he had finished talking, and so made fast, with my mind and heart and soul set upon sticking to him.
My suspicions as to his "science" were perfervidly justified. "You long- legged devil!" he yelled, and I instantly received a series of concussions upon the face and head which put me in supreme doubt of my surroundings, for I seemed to have plunged, eyes foremost, into the Milky Way. But I had my left arm around his neck, which probably saved me from a coup de grace, as he was forced to pommel me at half-length. Pommel it was; to use so gentle a word for what to me was crash, bang, smash, battle, murder, earthquake and tornado. I was conscious of some one screaming, and it seemed a consoling part of my delirium that the cheek of Miss Anne Elliott should be jammed tight against mine through one phase of the explosion. My arms were wrenched, my fingers twisted and tortured, and, when it was all too clear to me that I could not possibly bear one added iota of physical pain, the ingenious fiend began to kick my shins and knees with feet like crowbars.
Conflict of any sort was never my vocation. I had not been an accessory- during-the-fact to a fight since I passed the truculent age of fourteen; and it is a marvel that I was able to hang to that dynamic bundle of trained muscles—which defines Mr. Earl Percy well enough—for more than ten seconds. Yet I did hang to him, as Pere Baudry testifies, for a minute and a half, which seems no inconsiderable lapse of time to a person undergoing such experiences as were then afflicting me.
It appeared to me that we were revolving in enormous circles in the ether, and I had long since given my last gasp, when there came a great roaring wind in my ears and a range of mountains toppled upon us both; we went to earth beneath it.
"Ha! you must create violence, then?" roared the avalanche.
And the voice was the voice of Keredec.
Some one pulled me from underneath my struggling antagonist, and, the power of sight in a hazy, zigzagging fashion coming back to me, I perceived the figure of Miss Anne Elliott recumbent beside me, her arms about Mr. Percy's prostrate body. The extraordinary girl had fastened upon him, too, though I had not known it, and she had gone to ground with us; but it is to be said for Mr. Earl Percy that no blow of his touched her, and she was not hurt. Even in the final extremities of temper, he had carefully discriminated in my favour.
Mrs. Harman was bending over her, and, as the girl sprang up lightly, threw her arms about her. For my part, I rose more slowly, section by section, wondering why I did not fall apart; lips, nose, and cheeks bleeding, and I had a fear that I should need to be led like a blind man, through my eyelids swelling shut. That was something I earnestly desired should not happen; but whether it did, or did not—or if the heavens fell!—I meant to walk back to Quesnay with Anne Elliott that night, and, mangled, broken, or half-dead, presenting whatever appearance of the prize-ring or the abattoir that I might, I intended to take the same train for Paris on the morrow that she did.
For our days together were not at an end; nor was it hers nor my desire that they should be.
It was Oliver Saffren—as I like to think of him—who helped me to my feet and wiped my face with his handkerchief, and when that one was ruined, brought others from his bag and stanched the wounds gladly received, in the service of his wife.
"I will remember—" he said, and his voice broke. "These are the memories which Keredec says make a man good. I pray they will help to redeem me." And for the last time I heard the child in him speaking: "I ought to be redeemed; I must be, don't you think, for her sake?"
"Lose no time!" shouted Keredec. "You must be gone if you will reach that certain town for the five-o'clock train of the morning." This was for the spy's benefit; it indicated Lisieux and the train to Paris. Mr. Percy struggled; the professor knelt over him, pinioning his wrists in one great hand, and holding him easily to earth.
"Ha! my friend—" he addressed his captive—"you shall not have cause to say we do you any harm; there shall be no law, for you are not hurt, and you are not going to be. But here you shall stay quiet for a little while—till I say you can go." As he spoke he bound the other's wrists with a short rope which he took from his pocket, performing the same office immediately afterward for Mr. Percy's ankles.
"I take the count!" was the sole remark of that philosopher. "I can't go up against no herd of elephants."
"And now," said the professor, rising, "good-bye! The sun shall rise gloriously for you tomorrow. Come, it is time."
The two women were crying in each other's arms. "Good-bye!" sobbed Anne Elliott.
Mrs. Harman turned to Keredec. "Good-bye! for a little while."
He kissed her hand. "Dear lady, I shall come within the year."
She came to me, and I took her hand, meaning to kiss it as Keredec had done, but suddenly she was closer and I felt her lips upon my battered cheek. I remember it now.
I wrung her husband's hand, and then he took her in his arms, lifted her to the foot-board of the cart, and sprang up beside her.
"God bless you, and good-bye!" we called.
And their voices came back to us. "God bless YOU and good-bye!" They were carried into the enveloping night. We stared after them down the road; watching the lantern on the tail-board of the cart diminish; watching it dim and dwindle to a point of gray;—listening until the hoof-beats of the heavy Norman grew fainter than the rustle of the branch that rose above the wall beside us. But it is bad luck to strain eyes and ears to the very last when friends are parting, because that so sharpens the loneliness; and before the cart went quite beyond our ken, two of us set out upon the longest way to Quesnay.