"I do not suppose I shall ever be rich," said Loo, with a careless laugh.
"No, perhaps not. But let us hope that all will be for the best. You must not attach too much importance to what I said about France, you know. I may be wrong. Let us hope I am. For I understand that your heritage is there."
"Yes," answered Loo, who was shaking hands with Sep and Miriam, "my heritage is there."
"And you will go back to France?" inquired Marvin, holding out his hand.
"Yes," was the reply, with a side glance in the direction of Miriam. "I shall go back to France."
At Farlingford, forgotten of the world, events move slowly and men's minds assimilate change without shock. Old people look for death long before it arrives, so that when at last the great change comes it is effected quite calmly. There is no indecent haste, no scrambling to put a semblance of finish to the incomplete, as there is in the hurried death of cities. Young faces grow softly mellow without those lines and anxious crow's-feet that mar the features of the middle-aged, who, to earn their daily bread or to kill the tedium of their lives, find it necessary to dwell in streets.
"Loo's home again," men told each other at "The Black Sailor"; and the women, who discussed the matter in the village street, had little to add to this bare piece of news. There was nothing unusual about it. Indeed, it was customary for Farlingford men to come home again. They always returned, at last, from wide wanderings, which a limited conversational capacity seemed to deprive of all interest. Those that stayed at home learnt a few names, and that was all.
"Where are ye now from, Willum?" the newly returned sailor would be kindly asked, with the sideward jerk of the head.
"A'm now from Va'paraiso."
And that was all that there was to be said about Valparaiso and the experiences of this circumnavigator. Perhaps it was not considered good form to inquire further into that which was, after all, his own business. If you ask an East Anglian questions he will tell you nothing; if you do not inquire he will tell you less.
No one, therefore, asked Barebone any questions. More especially is it considered, in seafaring communities, impolite to make inquiry into your neighbour's misfortune. If a man have the ill luck to lose his ship, he may well go through the rest of his life without hearing the mention of her name. It was understood in Farlingford that Loo Barebone had resigned his post on "The Last Hope" in order to claim a heritage in France. He had returned home, and was living quietly at Maidens Grave Farm with Mrs. Clubbe. It was, therefore, to be presumed that he had failed in his quest. This was hardly a matter for surprise to such as had inherited from their forefathers a profound distrust in Frenchmen.
The brief February days followed each other with that monotony, marked by small events, that quickly lays the years aside. Loo lingered on, with a vague indecision in his mind which increased as the weeks passed by and the spell of the wide marsh-lands closed round his soul. He took up again those studies which the necessity of earning a living had interrupted years before, and Septimus Marvin, who had never left off seeking, opened new historical gardens to him and bade him come in and dig.
Nearly every morning Loo went to the rectory to look up an obscure reference or elucidate an uncertain period. Nearly every evening, after the rectory dinner, he returned the books he had borrowed, and lingered until past Sep's bedtime to discuss the day's reading. Septimus Marvin, with an enthusiasm which is the reward of the simple-hearted, led the way down the paths of history while Loo and Miriam followed—the man with the quick perception of his race, the woman with that instinctive and untiring search for the human motive which can put heart into a printed page of history.
Many a whole lifetime has slipped away in such occupations; for history, already inexhaustible, grows in bulk day by day. Marvin was happier than he had ever been, for a great absorption is one of Heaven's kindest gifts.
For Barebone, France and his quest there, the Marquis de Gemosac, Dormer Colville, Juliette, lapsed into a sort of dream, while Farlingford remained a quiet reality. Loo had not written to Dormer Colville. Captain Clubbe was trading between Alexandria and Bristol. "The Last Hope" was not to be expected in England before April. To communicate with Colville would be to turn that past dream, not wholly pleasant, into a grim reality. Loo therefore put off from day to day the evil moment. By nature and by training he was a man of action. He tried to persuade himself that he was made for a scholar and would be happy to pass the rest of his days in the study of that history which had occupied Septimus Marvin's thoughts during a whole lifetime.
Perhaps he was right. He might have been happy enough to pass his days thus if life were unchanging; if Septimus Marvin should never age and never die; if Miriam should be always there, with her light touch on the deeper thoughts, her half-French way of understanding the unspoken, with her steady friendship which might change, some day, into something else. This was, of course, inconsistent. Love itself is the most inconsistent of all human dreams; for it would have some things change and others remain ever as they are. Whereas nothing stays unchanged for a single day: love, least of all. For it must go forward or back.
"See!" cried Septimus Marvin, one evening, laying his hand on the open book before him. "See how strong are racial things. Here are the Bourbons for ever shutting their eyes to the obvious, for ever putting off the evil moment, for ever temporising—from father to son, father to son; generation after generation. Finally we come to Louis XVI. Read his letters to the Comte d'Artois. They are the letters of a man who knows the truth in his own heart and will not admit it even to himself."
"Yes," admitted Loo. "Yes—you are right. It is racial, one must suppose."
And he glanced at Miriam, who did not meet his eyes but looked at the open page, with a smile on her lips half sad, wholly tolerant.
Next morning, Loo thought, he would write to Dormer Colville. But the following evening came, and he had not done so. He went, as usual, to the rectory, where the same kind welcome awaited him. Miriam knew that he had not written. Like him, she knew that an end of some sort must soon come. And the end came an hour later.
Some day, Barebone knew, Dormer Colville would arrive. Every morning he half looked for him on the sea-wall, between "The Black Sailor" and the rectory garden. Any evening, he was well aware, the smiling face might greet him in the lamp-lit drawing-room.
Sep had gone to bed earlier that night. The rector was reading aloud an endless collection of letters, from which the careful student could scarcely fail to gather side-lights on history. Both Miriam and Loo heard the clang of the iron gate on the sea-wall.
A minute or two later the old dog, who lived mysteriously in the back premises, barked, and presently the servant announced that a gentleman was desirous of speaking to the rector. There were not many gentlemen within a day's walk of the rectory. Some one must have put up at "The Black Sailor." Theoretically, the rector was at the call of any of his parishioners at all moments; but in practice the people of Farlingford never sought his help.
"A gentleman," said Marvin, vaguely; "well, let him come in, Sarah."
Miriam and Barebone sat silently looking at the door. But the man who appeared there was not Dormer Colville. It was John Turner.
He evinced no surprise on seeing Barebone, but shook hands with him with a little nod of the head, which somehow indicated that they had business together.
He accepted the chair brought forward by Marvin and warmed his hands at the fire, in no hurry, it would appear, to state the reason for this unceremonious call. After all, Marvin was his oldest friend and Miriam his ward. Between old friends, explanations are often better omitted.
"It is many years," he said, at length, "since I heard their talk. They speak with their tongues and their teeth, but not their lips."
"And their throats," put in Marvin, eagerly. "That is because they are of Teuton descent. So different from the French, eh, Turner?"
Turner nodded a placid acquiescence. Then he turned, as far, it would appear, as the thickness of his neck allowed, toward Barebone.
"Saw in a French paper," he said, "that the 'Petite Jeanne' had put in to Lowestoft, to replace a dinghy lost at sea. So I put two and two together. It is my business putting two and two together, and making five of them when I can, but they generally make four. I thought I should find you here."
Loo made no answer. He had only seen John Turner once in his life—for a short hour, in a room full of people, at Royan. The banker stared straight in front of him for a few moments. Then he raised his sleepy little eyes directly to Miriam's face. He heaved a sigh, and fell to studying the burning logs again. And the colour slowly rose to Miriam's cheeks. The banker, it seemed, was about his business again, in one of those simple addition sums, which he sometimes solved correctly.
"To you," he said, after a moment's pause, with a glance in Loo's direction, "to you, it must appear that I am interfering in what is not my own business. You are wrong there."
He had clasped his hands across his abnormal waistcoat, and he half closed his eyes as he blinked at the fire.
"I am a sort of intermediary angel," he went on, "between private persons in France and their friends in England. Nothing to do with state affairs, you understand, at least, very little. Many persons in England have relations or property in France. French persons fall in love with people on this side of the Channel, and vice versa. And, sooner or later, all these persons, who are in trouble with their property or their affections, come to me, because money is invariably at the bottom of the trouble. Money is invariably at the bottom of all trouble. And I represent money."
He pursed up his lips and gazed somnolently at the fire.
"Ask anybody," he went on, dreamily, after a pause, "if that is not the bare truth. Ask Colville, ask Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence, ask Miriam Liston, sitting here beside us, if I exaggerate the importance of—of myself."
"Every one," admitted Barebone, cheerfully, "knows that you occupy a great position in Paris."
Turner glanced at him and gave a thick chuckle in his throat.
"Thank you," he said. "Very decent of you. And that point being established, I will explain further, that I am not here of my own free will. I am only an agent. No man in his senses would come to Farlingford in mid-winter unless—" he broke off, with a sharp sigh, and glanced down at Miriam's slipper resting on the fender, "unless he was much younger than I am. I came because I was paid to do it. Came to make you a proposition."
"To make me a proposition?" inquired Loo, as the identity of Turner's hearers had become involved.
"Yes. And I should recommend you to give it your gravest consideration. It is one of the most foolish propositions, from the proposer's point of view, that I have ever had to make. I should blush to make it, if it were any use blushing, but no one sees blushes on my cheeks now. Do not decide in a hurry—sleep on it. I always sleep on a question."
He closed his eyes, and seemed about to compose himself to slumber then and there.
"I am no longer young," he admitted, after a pause, "and therefore propose to take one of the few alleviations allowed to advancing years and an increasing avoirdupois. I am going to give you some advice. There is only one thing worth having in this life, and that is happiness. Even the possibility of it is worth all other possibilities put together. If a man have a chance of grasping happiness—I mean a home and the wife he wants.... and all that—he is wise to throw all other chances to the wind. Such, for instance, as the chance of greatness, of fame or wealth, of gratified vanity or satisfied ambition."
He had spoken slowly, and at last he ceased speaking, as if overcome by a growing drowsiness. A queer silence followed this singular man's words. Barebone had not resumed his seat. He was standing by the mantelpiece, as he often did, being quick and eager when interested, and not content to sit still and express himself calmly in words, but must needs emphasise his meaning by gestures and a hundred quick movements of the head.
"Go on," he said. "Let us have the proposition."
"And no more advice?"
Loo glanced at Miriam. He could see all three faces where he stood, but only by the light of the fire. Miriam was nearest to the hearth. He could see that her eyes were aglow—possibly with anger.
Barebone shrugged his shoulders.
"You are not an agent—you are an advocate," he said.
Turner raised his eyes with the patience of a slumbering animal that has been prodded.
"Yes," he said—"your advocate. There is one more chance I should advise any man to shun—to cast to the four winds, and hold on only to that tangible possibility of happiness in the present—it is the chance of enjoying, in some dim and distant future, the satisfaction of having, in a half-forgotten past, done one's duty. One's first duty is to secure, by all legitimate means, one's own happiness."
"What is the proposition?" interrupted Barebone, quickly; and Turner, beneath his heavy lids, had caught in the passing the glance from Miriam's eyes, for which possibly both he and Loo Barebone had been waiting.
"Fifty thousand pounds," replied the banker, bluntly, "in first-class English securities, in return for a written undertaking on your part to relinquish all claim to any heritage to which you may think yourself entitled in France. You will need to give your word of honour never to set foot on French soil—and that is all."
"I never, until this moment," replied Barebone, "knew the value of my own pretensions."
"Yes," said Turner, quietly; "that is the obvious retort. And having made it, you can now give a few minutes' calm reflection to my proposition—say five minutes, until that clock strikes half-past nine—and then I am ready to answer any questions you may wish to ask."
Barebone laughed good-humouredly, and so far fell in with the suggestion that he leant his elbow on the corner of the mantelpiece, and looked at the clock.
IN THE DARK
Had John Turner been able to see round the curve of his own vast cheeks he might have perceived the answer to his proposition lurking in a little contemptuous smile at the corner of Miriam's closed lips. Loo saw it there, and turned again to the contemplation of the clock on the mantelpiece which had already given a preliminary click.
Thus they waited until the minutes should elapse, and Turner, with a smile of simple pleasure at their ready acquiescence in his suggestion, probably reflected behind his vacuous face that silence rarely implies indecision.
When at last the clock struck, Loo turned to him with a laugh and a shake of the head as if the refusal were so self-evident that to put it into words were a work of supererogation.
"Who makes the offer?" he asked.
Turner smiled on him with visible approbation as upon a quick and worthy foe who fought a capable fight with weapons above the board.
"No matter—since you are disposed to refuse. The money is in my hands, as is the offer. Both are good. Both will hold good till to-morrow morning."
Septimus Marvin gave a little exclamation of approval. He had been sitting by the table looking from one to the other over his spectacles with the eager smile of the listener who understands very little, and while wishing that he understood more, is eager to put in a word of approval or disapprobation on safe and general lines. It was quite obvious to John Turner, who had entered the room in ignorance on this point, that Marvin knew nothing of Barebone's heritage in France while Miriam knew all.
"There is one point," he said, "which is perhaps scarcely worth mentioning. The man who makes the offer is not only the most unscrupulous, but is likely to become one of the most powerful men in Eur—men I know. There is a reverse side to the medal. There always is a reverse side to the good things of this world. Should you refuse his ridiculously generous offer you will make an enemy for life—one who is nearing that point where men stop at nothing."
Turner glanced at Miriam again. Her clean-cut features had a stony stillness and her eyes looked obstinately at the clock. The banker moved in his chair as if suddenly conscious that it was time to go.
"Do not," he said to Barebone, "be misled or mislead yourself into a false estimate of the strength of your own case. The offer I make you does not in any way indicate that you are in a strong position. It merely shows the indolence of a man naturally open-handed, who would always rather pay than fight."
"Especially if the money is not his own."
"Yes," admitted Turner, stolidly, "that is so. Especially if the money is not his own. I dare say you know the weakness of your own case: others know it too. A portrait is not much to go on. Portraits are so easily copied; so easily changed."
He rose as he spoke and shook hands with Marvin.
Then he turned to Miriam, but he did not meet her glance. Last of all he shook hands with Barebone.
"Sleep on it," he said. "Nothing like sleeping on a question. I am staying at 'The Black Sailor.' See you tomorrow."
He had come, had transacted his business and gone, all in less than an hour, with an extraordinary leisureliness almost amounting to indolence. He had lounged into the house, and now he departed without haste or explanation. Never hurry, never explain, was the text upon which John Turner seemed to base the sleepy discourse of his life. For each of us is a living sermon to his fellows, and, it is to be feared, the majority are warnings.
Turner had dragged on his thick overcoat, not without Loo's assistance, and, with the collar turned up about his ears, he went out into the night, leaving the three persons whom he had found in the drawing-room standing in the hall looking at the door which he closed decisively behind him. "Seize your happiness while you can," he had urged. "If not—" and the decisive closing of a door on his departing heel said the rest.
The clocks struck ten. It was not worth while going back to the drawing-room. All Farlingford was abed in those days by nine o'clock. Barebone took his coat and prepared to follow Turner. Miriam was already lighting her bedroom candle. She bade the two men good night and went slowly upstairs. As she reached her own room she heard the front door closed behind Loo and the rattle of the chain under the uncertain fingers of Septimus Marvin. The sound of it was like the clink of that other chain by which Barebone had made fast his boat to the tottering post on the river-wall.
Miriam's room was at the front of the house, and its square Georgian windows faced eastward across the river to the narrow spit of marsh-land and the open sea beyond it. A crescent of moon far gone on the wane, yellow and forlorn, was rising from the sea. An uncertain path of light lay across the face of the far-off tide-way—broken by a narrow strip of darkness and renewed again close at hand across the wide river almost to the sea-wall beneath the window. From this window no house could be seen by day—nothing but a vast expanse of water and land hardly less level and unbroken. No light was visible on sea or land now, nothing but the waning moon in a cold clear sky.
Miriam threw herself, all dressed, on her bed with the abandonment of one who is worn out by some great effort, and buried her face in the pillow.
Barebone's way lay to the left along the river-wall by the side of the creek. Turner had gone to the right, taking the path that led down the river to the old quay and the village. Whereas Barebone must turn his back on Farlingford to reach the farm which still crouches behind a shelter of twisted oaks and still bears the name of Maiden's Grave; though the name is now nothing but a word. For no one knows who the maiden was, or where her grave, or what brought her to it.
The crescent moon gave little light, but Loo knew his way beneath the stunted cedars and through the barricade of ilex drawn round the rectory on the northern side. His eyes, trained to darkness, saw the shadowy form of a man awaiting him beneath the cedars almost as soon as the door was closed.
He went toward him, perceiving with a sudden misgiving that it was not John Turner. A momentary silhouette against the northern sky showed that it was Colville, come at last.
"Quick—this way!" he whispered, and taking Barebone's arm he led him through the bushes. He halted in a little open space between the ilex and the river-wall, which is fifteen feet high at the meeting of the creek and the larger stream. "There are three men, who are not Farlingford men, on the outer side of the sea-wall below the rectory landing. Turner must have placed them there. I'll be even with him yet. There is a large fishing-smack lying at anchor inside the Ness—just across the marsh. It is the 'Petite Jeanne.' I found this out while you were in there. I could hear your voices."
"Could you hear what he said?"
"No," answered Colville, with a sudden return to his old manner, easy and sympathetic. "No—this is no time for joking, I can tell you that. You have had a narrow escape, I assure you, Barebone. That man, the Captain of the 'Petite Jeanne,' is well known. There are plenty of people in France who want to get quietly rid of some family encumbrance—a man in the way, you understand, a son too many, a husband too much, a stepson who will inherit—the world is full of superfluities. Well, the Captain of the 'Petite Jeanne' will take them a voyage for their health to the Iceland fisheries. They are so far and so remote—the Iceland fisheries. The climate is bad and accidents happen. And if the 'Petite Jeanne' returns short-handed, as she often does, the other boats do the same. It is only a question of a few entries in the custom-house books at Fecamp. Do you see?"
"Yes," admitted Barebone, thoughtfully. "I see."
"I suppose it suggested itself to you when you were on board, and that is why you took the first chance of escape."
"Well, hardly; but I escaped, so it does not matter."
"No." acquiesced Colville. "It doesn't matter. But how are we to get out of this? They are waiting for us under the sea-wall. Is there a way across the marsh?"
"Yes—I know a way. But where do you want to go to-night?"
"Out of this," whispered Colville, eagerly. "Out of Farlingford and Suffolk before the morning if we can. I tell you there is a French gunboat at Harwich, and another in the North Sea. It may be chance and it may not. But I suspect there is a warrant out against you. And, failing that, there is the 'Petite Jeanne' hanging about waiting to kidnap you a second time. And Turner's at the bottom of it, damn him!"
Again Dormer Colville allowed a glimpse to appear of another man quite different from the easy, indolent man-of-the-world, the well-dressed adventurer of a day when adventure was mostly sought in drawing-rooms, when scented and curled dandies were made or marred by women. For a moment Colville was roused to anger and seemed capable of manly action. But in an instant the humour passed and he shrugged his shoulders and gave a short, indifferent laugh beneath his breath.
"Come," he said, "lead the way and I will follow. I have been out here since eight o'clock and it is deucedly cold. I followed Turner from Paris, for I knew he was on your scent. Once across the marsh we can talk without fear as we go along."
Barebone obeyed mechanically, leading the way through the bushes to the kitchen-garden and over an iron fencing on to the open marsh. This stretched inland for two miles without a hedge or other fence but the sunken dykes which intersected it across and across. Any knowing his way could save two miles on the longer way by the only road connecting Farlingford with the mainland and tapping the great road that runs north and south a few miles inland.
There was no path, for few ever passed this way. By day, a solitary shepherd watched his flocks here. By night the marsh was deserted. Across some of the dykes a plank is thrown, the whereabouts of which is indicated by a post, waist-high, driven into the ground, easily enough seen by day, but hard to find after dark. Not all the dykes have a plank, and for the most part the marsh is divided into squares, each only connected at one point with its neighbour.
Barebone knew the way as well as any in Farlingford, and he struck out across the thick grass which crunched briskly under the foot, for it was coated with rime, and the icy wind blew in from the sea a freezing mist. Once or twice Barebone, having made a bee-line across from dyke to dyke, failed to strike the exact spot where the low post indicated a plank, and had to pause and stoop down so as to find its silhouette against the sky. When they reached a plank he tried its strength with one foot and then led the way across it, turning and waiting at the far end for Colville to follow. It was unnecessary to warn him against a slip, for the plank was no more than nine inches wide and shone white with rime. Each foot must be secure before its fellow was lifted.
Colville, always ready to fall in with a companion's humour, ever quick to understand the thoughts of others, respected his silence. Perhaps he was not far from guessing the cause of it.
Loo was surprised to find that Dormer Colville was less antipathetic than he had anticipated. For the last month, night and day, he had dreaded Colville's arrival, and now that he was here he was almost glad to see him; almost glad to quit Farlingford. And his heart was hot with anger against Miriam.
Turner's offer had at all events been worth considering. Had he been alone when it was made he would certainly have considered it; he would have turned it this way and that. He would have liked to play with it as a cat plays with a mouse, knowing all the while that he must refuse in the end. Perhaps Turner had made the offer in Miriam's presence, expecting to find in her a powerful ally. It was only natural for him to think this. Ever since the beginning, men have assigned to women the role of the dissuader, the drag, the hinderer. It is always the woman, tradition tells us, who persuades the man to be a coward, to stay at home, to shirk a difficult or a dangerous duty.
As a matter of fact, Turner had made this mistake. He had always wondered why Miriam Liston elected to live at Farlingford when with her wealth and connections, both in England and France, she might live a gayer life elsewhere. There must, he reflected, be some reason for it.
When whosoever does anything slightly unconventional or leaves undone what custom and gossip make almost obligatory, a relation or a mere interfering neighbour is always at hand to wag her head and say there must be some reason for it. Which means, of course, one specific reason. And the worst of it is that she is nearly always right.
John Turner, laboriously putting two small numerals together, after his manner, had concluded that Loo Barebone was the reason. Even banking may, it seems, be carried on without the loss of all human weakness, especially if the banker be of middle age, unmarried, and deprived by an unromantic superfluity of adipose tissue of the possibility of living through a romance of his own. Turner had consented to countenance, if not actually to take part in, a nefarious scheme, to rid France and the present government of one who might easily bring about its downfall, on certain conditions. Knowing quite well that Loo Barebone could take care of himself at sea, and was quite capable of effecting an escape if he desired it, he had put no obstacle in the way of the usual voyage to the Iceland fisheries. Since those days many governments in France have invented many new methods of disposing of a political foe. Dormer Colville was only anticipating events when he took away the character of the Captain of the "Petite Jeanne."
Turner had himself proposed this alternative method of securing Barebone's silence. He had even named the sum. He had seized the excellent opportunity of laying it before Barebone in the quiet intimacy of the rectory drawing-room with Miriam in the soft lamp-light beside him, with the scent of the violets at her breast mingling with the warm smell of the wood fire.
And Barebone had laughed at the offer.
IN THE FURROW AGAIN
Turner, stumbling along the road to "The Black Sailor," probably wondered why he had failed. It is to be presumed that he knew that the ally he had looked to for powerful aid had played him false at the crucial moment.
His misfortune is common to all men who presume to take anything for granted from a woman.
Barebone, stumbling along in the dark in another direction, was as angry with Miriam as she in her turn was angry with Turner. She was, Barebone reflected, so uncompromising. She saw her course so clearly, so unmistakably—as birds that fly in the night—and from that course nothing, it seemed, would move her. It was a question of temperament and not of principle. For, even half a century ago, high principles were beginning to go out of fashion in the upper strata of a society which in these days tolerates anything except cheating at games.
Barebone himself was of a different temperament. He liked to blind himself to the inevitable end, to temporise with the truth, whereas Miriam, with a sort of dogged courage essentially English, perceived the hard truth at once and clung to it, though it hurt. And all the while Barebone knew at the back of his heart that his life was not his own to shape. At the end, says an Italian motto, stands Destiny. Barebone wanted to make believe; he wanted to pretend that his path lay down a flowery way, knowing all the while that he had a hill to climb and Destiny stood at the top.
Colville had come at the right time. It is the fate of some men to come at the right moment, just as it is the lot of others never to be there when they are wanted and their place is filled by a bystander and an opportunity is gone for ever. Which is always a serious matter, for God only gives one or two opportunities to each of us.
Colville had come with his ready sympathy, not expressed as the world expresses its sympathy, in words, but by a hundred little self-abnegations. He was always ready to act up to the principles of his companion for the moment or to act up to no principles at all should that companion be deficient. Moreover, he never took it upon himself to judge others, but extended to his neighbour a large tolerance, in return for which he seemed to ask nothing.
"I have a carriage," he said, when on a broader cart-track they could walk side by side, "waiting for me at the roadside inn at the junction of the two roads. The man brought me from Ipswich to the outskirts of Farlingford, and I sent him back to the high road to wait for me there, to put up and stay all night, if necessary."
Barebone was beginning to feel tired. The wind was abominably cold. He heard with satisfaction that Colville had as usual foreseen his wishes.
"I dogged Turner all the way from Paris, hardly letting him out of my sight," Colville explained, cheerily, when they at length reached the road. "It is easy enough to keep in touch with one so remarkably stout, for every one remembers him. What did he come to Farlingford for?"
"Apparently to try and buy me off."
"For Louis Bonaparte?"
"He did not say so,"
"No," said Colville. "He would not say so. But it is pretty generally suspected that he is in that galley, and pulls an important oar in it, too. What did he offer you?"
"Fifty thousand pounds."
"Whew!" whistled Colville. He stopped short in the middle of the road. "Whew!" he repeated, thoughtfully, "fifty thousand pounds! Gad! They must be afraid of you. They must think that we are in a strong position. And what did you say, Barebone?"
Barebone paused, and after a moment's thought made no answer at all. He could not explain to Dormer Colville his reason for refusing.
"Outright?" inquired Colville, deep in thought.
Colville turned and glanced at him sideways, though it was too dark to see his face.
"I should have thought," he said, tentatively, after a while, "that it would have been wise to accept. A bird in the hand, you know—a damned big bird! And then afterwards you could see what turned up."
"You mean I could break my word later on," inquired Barebone, with that odd downrightness which at times surprised Colville and made him think of Captain Clubbe.
"Well, you know," he explained, with a tolerant laugh, "in politics it often turns out that a man's duty is to break his word—duty toward his party, and his country, and that sort of thing."
Which was plausible enough, as many eminent politicians seem to have found in these later times.
"I dare say it may be so," answered Barebone, "but I refused outright, and there is an end to it."
For now that he was brought face to face with the situation, shorn of side issues and set squarely before him, he envisaged it clearly enough. He did not want fifty thousand pounds. He had only wanted the money for a moment because the thought leapt into his mind that fifty thousand pounds meant Miriam. Then he saw that little contemptuous smile tilting the corner of her lips, and he had no use for a million.
If he could not have Miriam, he would be King of France. It is thus that history is made, for those who make it are only men. And Clio, that greatest of the daughters of Zeus, about whose feet cluster all the famous names of the makers of this world's story, has, after all, only had the reversion of the earth's great men. She has taken them after some forgotten woman of their own choosing has had the first refusal.
Thus it came about that the friendship so nearly severed one evening at the Hotel Gemosac, in Paris, was renewed after a few months; and Barebone felt assured once more that no one was so well disposed toward him as Dormer Colville.
There was no formal reconciliation, and neither deemed it necessary to refer to the past. Colville, it will be remembered, was an adept at that graceful tactfulness which is somewhat clumsily described by this tolerant generation as going on as if nothing had happened.
By the time that the waning moon was high enough in the eastern sky to shed an appreciable light upon their path, they reached the junction of the two roads and set off at a brisk pace southward toward Ipswich. So far as the eye could reach, the wide heath was deserted, and they talked at their ease.
"There is nothing for it but to wake up my driver and make him take us back to Ipswich to-night. To-morrow morning we can take train to London and be there almost as soon as John Turner realises that you have given him the slip," said Colville, cheerily.
"And then back to France—where the sun shines, my friend, and the spring is already in the air. Think of that! It is so, at least, at Gemosac, for I heard from the Marquis before I quitted Paris. Your disappearance has nearly broken a heart or two down there, I can tell you. The old Marquis was in a great state of anxiety. I have never seen him so upset about anything, and Juliette did not seem to be able to offer him any consolation."
"Back to France?" echoed Barebone, not without a tone of relief, almost of exultation, in his voice. "Will it be possible to go back there, since we have to run away from Farlingford?"
"Safer there than here," replied Colville. "It may sound odd, but it is true. De Gemosac is one of the most powerful men in France—not intellectually, perhaps, but by reason of his great name—and they would not dare to touch a protege or a guest of his. If you go back there now you must stay at Gemosac; they have put the chateau into a more habitable condition, and are ready to receive you."
He turned and glanced at Loo's face in the moonlight.
"There will be a difference, you understand. You will be a different person from what you were when last there," he went on, in a muffled voice.
"Yes, I understand," replied Barebone, gravely. Already the dream was taking shape—Colville's persuasive voice had awakened him to find that it was no dream, but a reality—and Farlingford was fading back into the land of shadows. It was only France, after all, that was real.
"That journey of ours," explained Colville, vaguely, "has made an extraordinary difference. The whole party is aroused and in deadly earnest now."
Barebone made no answer, and they walked on in meditative silence toward the roadside inn, which stood up against the southern sky a few hundred yards ahead.
"In fact," Colville added, after a silence, "the ball is at your feet, Barebone. There can be no looking back now."
And again Barebone made no answer. It was a tacit understanding, then.
For greater secrecy, Barebone walked on toward Ipswich alone, while Colville went into the inn to arouse his driver, whom he found slumbering in the wide chimney corner before a log fire. From Ipswich to London, and thus on to Newhaven, they journeyed pleasantly enough in company, for they were old companions of the road, and Colville's unruffled good humour made him an easy comrade for travel even in days when the idea of comfort reconciled with speed had not suggested itself to the mind of man.
Such, indeed, was his foresight that he had brought with him to London, and there left awaiting further need of it, that personal baggage which Loo had perforce left behind him at the Hotel Gemosac in Paris.
They made but a brief halt in London, where Colville admitted gaily that he had no desire to be seen.
"I might meet my tailor in Piccadilly," he said. "And there are others who may perhaps consider themselves aggrieved."
At Colville's club, where they dined, he met more than one friend.
"Hallo!" said one who had the ruddy countenance and bluff manners of a retired major. "Hallo! Who'd have expected to see you here? I didn't know—I—thought—eh! dammy!"
And a hundred facetious questions gleamed from the major's eye.
"All right, my boy," answered Colville, cheerfully. "I am off to France to-morrow morning."
The Major shook his head wisely as if in approval of a course of conduct savouring of that prudence which is the better part of valour, glanced at Loo Barebone, and waited in vain for an invitation to take a vacant chair near at hand.
"Still in the south of France, I suppose?"
"Still in the south of France," replied Colville, turning to Barebone in a final way, which had the effect of dismissing this inquisitive idler.
While they were at dinner another came. He was a raw-boned Scotchman, who spoke in broken English when the waiter was absent and in perfect French when that servitor hovered near.
"I wish I could show my face in Paris," he said, frankly, "but I can't. Too much mixed up with Louis Philippe to find favour in the eyes of the Prince President."
"Why?" asked Colville. "What could you gain by showing in Paris a face which I am sure has the stamp of innocence all over it?"
The Scotchman laughed curtly.
"Gain?" he answered. "Gain? I don't say I would, but I think I might be able to turn an honest penny out of the approaching events."
"The Lord alone knows," replied the Scotchman, who had never set foot in his country, but had acquired elsewhere the prudent habit of never answering a question. "France doesn't, I am sure of that. I am thinking there will be events, though, before long, Colville. Will there not, now?"
Colville looked at him with an open smile.
"You mean," he said, slowly, "the Prince President."
"That is what he calls himself at present. I'm wondering how long. Eh! man. He is just pouring money into the country from here, from America, from Austria—from wherever he can get it."
"Why is he doing that?"
"You must ask somebody who knows him better than I do. They say you knew him yourself once well enough, eh?"
"He is not a man I have much faith in," said Colville, vaguely. "And France has no faith in him at all."
"So I'm told. But France—well, does France know what she wants? She mostly wants something without knowing what it is. She is like a woman. It's excitement she wants, perhaps. And she will buy it at any cost, and then find afterward she has paid too dear for it. That is like a woman, too. But it isn't another Bonaparte she wants, I am sure of that."
"So am I," answered Colville, with a side glance toward Barebone, a mere flicker of the eyelids.
"Not unless it is a Napoleon of that ilk."
"And he is not," completed Colville.
"But—" the Scotchman paused, for a waiter came at this moment to tell him that his dinner was ready at a table nearer to the fire. "But," he went on, in French, for the waiter lingered, "but he might be able to persuade France that it is himself she wants—might he not, now? With money at the back of it, eh?"
"He might," admitted Colville, doubtfully. The Scotchman moved away, but came back again.
"I am thinking," he said, with a grim smile, "that like all intelligent people who know France, you are aware that it is a King she wants."
"But not an Orleans King," replied Colville, with his friendly and indifferent laugh.
The Scotchman smiled more grimly still and went away.
He was seated too near for Colville and Loo to talk of him. But Colville took an opportunity to mention his name in an undertone. It was a name known all over Europe then, and forgotten now.
THE THURSDAY OF MADAME DE CHANTONNAY
"It is," Madame de Chantonnay had maintained throughout the months of January and February—"it is an affair of the heart."
She continued to hold this opinion with, however, a shade less conviction, well into a cold March.
"It is an affair of the heart, Abbe," she said. "Allez! I know what I talk of. It is an affair of the heart and nothing more. There is some one in England: some blonde English girl. They are always washing, I am told. And certainly they have that air—like a garment that has been too often to the blanchisseuse and has lost its substance. A beautiful skin, I allow you. But so thin—so thin."
"The skin, madame?" inquired the Abbe Touvent, with that gentle and cackling humour in which the ordained of any Church may indulge after a good dinner.
The Abbe Touvent had, as a matter of fact, been Madame de Chantonnay's most patient listener through the months of suspense that followed Loo Barebone's sudden disappearance. Needless to say he agreed ardently with whatever explanation she put forward. Old ladies who give good dinners to a Low Church British curate, or an abbe of the Roman confession, or, indeed, to the needy celibate exponents of any creed whatsoever, may always count upon the active conversational support of their spiritual adviser. And it is not only within the fold of Papacy that careful Christians find the road to heaven made smooth by the arts of an efficient cook.
"You know well enough what I mean, malicious one," retorted the lady, arranging her shawl upon her fat shoulders.
"I always think," murmured the Abbe, sipping his digestive glass of eau-de-vie d'Armagnac, which is better than any cognac of Charente—"I always think that to be thin shows a mean mind, lacking generosity."
"Take my word for it," pursued Madame de Chantonnay, warming to her subject, "that is the explanation of the young man's disappearance. They say the government has taken some underhand way of putting him aside. One does not give credence to such rumours in these orderly times. No: it is simply that he prefers the pale eyes of some Mees to glory and France. Has it not happened before, Abbe?"
"Ah! Madame—" another sip of Armagnac.
"And will it not happen again? It is the heart that has the first word and the last. I know—I who address you, I know!"
And she touched her breast where, very deeply seated it is to be presumed, she kept her own heart.
"Ah! Madame. Who better?" murmured the Abbe.
"Na, na!" exclaimed Madame de Chantonnay, holding up one hand, heavy with rings, while with the other she gathered her shawl closer about her as if for protection.
"Now you tread on dangerous ground, wicked one—wicked! And you so demure in your soutane!"
But the Abbe only laughed and held up his small glass after the manner of any abandoned layman drinking a toast.
"Madame," he said, "I drink to the hearts you have broken. And now I go to arrange the card tables, for your guests will soon be coming."
It was, in fact, Madame de Chantonnay's Thursday evening to which were bidden such friends as enjoyed for the moment her fickle good graces. The Abbe Touvent was, so to speak, a permanent subscriber to these favours. The task was easy enough, and any endowed with a patience to listen, a readiness to admire that excellent young nobleman, Albert de Chantonnay, and the credulity necessary to listen to the record (more hinted at than clearly spoken) of Madame's own charms in her youth, could make sure of a game of dominoes on the evening of the third Thursday in the month.
The Abbe bustled about, drawing cards and tables nearer to the lamps, away from the draught of the door, not too near the open wood fire. His movements were dainty, like those of an old maid of the last generation. He hissed through his teeth as if he were working very hard. It served to stimulate a healthy excitement in the Thursday evening of Madame de Chantonnay.
"Oh, I am not uneasy," said that lady, as she watched him. She had dined well and her digestion had outlived those charms to which she made such frequent reference. "I am not uneasy. He will return, more or less sheepish. He will make some excuse more or less inadequate. He will tell us a story more or less creditable. Allez! Oh, you men. If you intend that chair for Monsieur de Gemosac, it is the wrong one. Monsieur de Gemosac sits high, but his legs are short; give him the little chair that creaks. If he sits too high he is apt to see over the top of one's cards. And he is so eager to win—the good Marquis."
"Then he will come to-night despite the cold? You think he will come, Madame?"
"I am sure of it. He has come more frequently since Juliette came to live at the chateau. It is Juliette who makes him come, perhaps. Who knows?"
The Abbe stopped midway across the floor and set down the chair he carried with great caution.
"Madame is incorrigible," he said, spreading out his hands. "Madame would perceive a romance in a cradle."
"Well, one must begin somewhere, Materialist. Once it was for me that the guests crowded to my poor Thursdays. But now it is because Albert is near. Ah! I know it. I say it without jealousy. Have you noticed, my dear Abbe, that he has cut his whiskers a little shorter—a shade nearer to the ear? It is effective, eh?"
"It gives an air of hardihood," assented the Abbe. "It lends to that intellectual face something martial. I would almost say that to the timorous it might appear terrible and overbearing."
Thus they talked until the guests began to arrive, and for Madame de Chantonnay the time no doubt seemed short enough. For no one appreciated Albert with such a delicacy of touch as the Abbe Touvent.
The Marquis de Gemosac and Juliette were the last to arrive. The Marquis looked worn and considerably aged. He excused himself with a hundred gestures of despair for being late.
"I have so much to do," he whispered. "So much to think of. We are leaving no stone unturned, and at last we have a clue."
The other guests gathered round.
"But speak, my dear friend, speak," cried Madame de Chantonnay. "You keep us in suspense. Look around you. We are among friends, as you see. It is only ourselves."
"Well," replied the Marquis, standing upright and fingering the snuff-box which had been given to his grandfather by the Great Louis. "Well, my friends, our invaluable ally, Dormer Colville, has gone to England. There is a ray of hope. That is all I can tell you."
He looked round, smiled on his audience, and then proceeded to tell them more, after the manner of any Frenchman.
"What," he whispered, "if an unscrupulous republican government had got scent of our glorious discovery! What if, panic-stricken, they threw all vestige of honour to the wind and decided to kidnap an innocent man and send him to the Iceland fisheries, where so many lives are lost every winter; with what hopes in their republican hearts, I leave to your imagination. What if—let us say it for once—Monsieur de Bourbon should prove a match for them? Alert, hardy, full of resource, a skilled sailor, he takes his life in his hand with the daring audacity of royal blood and effects his escape to England. I tell you nothing—"
He held up his hands as if to stay their clamouring voices, and nodded his head triumphantly toward Albert de Chantonnay, who stood near a lamp fingering his martial whisker of the left side with the air of one who would pause at naught.
"I tell you nothing. But such a theory has been pieced together upon excellent material. It may be true. It may be a dream. And, as I tell you, our dear friend Dormer Colville, who has nothing at stake, who loses or gains little by the restoration of France, has journeyed to England for us. None could execute the commission so capably, or without danger of arousing suspicion. There! I have told you all I know. We must wait, my compatriots. We must wait."
"And in the mean time," purred the voice of the Abbe Touvent, "for the digestion, Monsieur le Marquis—for the digestion."
For it was one of the features of Madame de Chantonnay's Thursdays that no servants were allowed in the room; but the guests waited on each other. If the servants, as is to be presumed, listened outside the door, they were particular not to introduce each succeeding guest without first knocking, which caused a momentary silence and added considerably to the sense of political importance of those assembled. The Abbe Touvent made it his special care to preside over the table where small glasses of eau-de-vie d'Armagnac and other aids to digestion were set out in a careful profusion.
"It is a theory, my dear Marquis," admitted Madame de Chantonnay. "But it is nothing more. It has no heart in it, your theory. Now I have a theory of my own."
"Full of heart, one may assure oneself, Madame; full of heart," murmured the Marquis. "For you yourself are full of heart—is it not so?"
"I hope not," Juliette whispered to her fan, with a little smile of malicious amusement. For she had a youthful contempt for persons old and stout, who talk ignorantly of matters only understood by such as are young and slim and pretty. She looked at her fan with a gleam of ill-concealed irony and glanced over it toward Albert de Chantonnay, who, with a consideration which must have been hereditary, was uneasy about the alteration he had made in his whiskers. It was perhaps unfair, he felt, to harrow young and tender hearts.
It was at this moment that a loud knock commanded a breathless silence, for no more guests were expected. Indeed the whole neighbourhood was present.
The servant, in his faded gold lace, came in and announced with a dramatic assurance: "Monsieur de Barebone—Monsieur Colville."
And that difference which Dormer Colville had predicted was manifested with an astounding promptness; for all who were seated rose to their feet. It was Colville who had given the names to the servant in the order in which they had been announced, and at the last minute, on the threshold, he had stepped on one side and with his hand on Barebone's shoulder had forced him to take precedence.
The first person Barebone saw on entering the room was Juliette, standing under the spreading arms of a chandelier, half turned to look at him—Juliette, in all the freshness of her girlhood and her first evening dress, flushing pink and white like a wild rose, her eyes, bright with a sudden excitement, seeking his.
Behind her, the Marquis de Gemosac, Albert de Chantonnay, his mother, and all the Royalists of the province, gathered in a semicircle, by accident or some tacit instinct, leaving only the girl standing out in front, beneath the chandelier. They bowed with that grave self-possession which falls like a cloak over the shoulders of such as are of ancient and historic lineage.
"We reached the chateau of Gemosac only a few minutes after Monsieur le Marquis and Mademoiselle had quitted it to come here," Barebone explained to Madame de Chantonnay; "and trusting to the good-nature—so widely famed—of Madame la Comtesse, we hurriedly removed the dust of travel, and took the liberty of following them hither."
"You have not taken me by surprise," replied Madame de Chantonnay. "I expected you. Ask the Abbe Touvent. He will tell you, gentlemen, that I expected you."
As Barebone turned away to speak to the Marquis and others, who were pressing forward to greet him, it became apparent that that mantle of imperturbability, which millions made in trade can never buy, had fallen upon his shoulders, too. For most men are, in the end, forced to play the part the world assigns to them. We are not allowed to remain what we know ourselves to be, but must, at last, be that which the world thinks us.
Madame de Chantonnay, murmuring to a neighbour a mystic reference to her heart and its voluminous premonitions, watched him depart with a vague surprise.
"Mon Dieu! mon Dieu!" she whispered, breathlessly. "It is not a resemblance. It is the dead come to life again."
"If I go on, I go alone," Barebone had once said to Dormer Colville. The words, spoken in the heat of a quarrel, stuck in the memory of both, as such are wont to do. Perhaps, in moments of anger or disillusionment—when we find that neither self nor friend is what we thought—the heart tears itself away from the grip of the cooler, calmer brain and speaks untrammelled. And such speeches are apt to linger in the mind long after the most brilliant jeu d'esprit has been forgotten.
What occupies the thoughts of the old man, sitting out the grey remainder of the day, over the embers of a hearth which he will only quit when he quits the world? Does he remember the brilliant sallies of wit, the greatest triumphs of the noblest minds with which he has consorted; or does his memory cling to some scene—simple, pastoral, without incident—which passed before his eyes at a moment when his heart was sore or glad? When his mind is resting from its labours and the sound of the grinding is low, he will scarce remember the neat saying or the lofty thought clothed in perfect language; but he will never forget a hasty word spoken in an unguarded moment by one who was not clever at all, nor even possessed the worldly wisdom to shield the heart behind the buckler of the brain.
"You will find things changed," Colville had said, as they walked across the marsh from Farlingford, toward the Ipswich road. And the words came back to the minds of both, on that Thursday of Madame de Chantonnay, which many remember to this day. Not only did they find things changed, but themselves they found no longer the same. Both remembered the quarrel, and the outcome of it.
Colville, ever tolerant, always leaning toward the compromise that eases a doubting conscience, had, it would almost seem unconsciously, prepared the way for a reconciliation before there was any question of a difference. On their way back to France, without directly referring to that fatal portrait and the revelation caused by Barebone's unaccountable feat of memory, he had smoothed away any possible scruple.
"France must always be deceived," he had said, a hundred times. "Better that she should be deceived for an honest than a dishonest purpose—if it is deception, after all, which is very doubtful. The best patriot is he who is ready to save his country at the cost of his own ease, whether of body or of mind. It does not matter who or what you are; it is what or who the world thinks you to be, that is of importance."
Which of us has not listened to a score of such arguments, not always from the lips of a friend, but most often in that still, small voice which rarely has the courage to stand out against the tendency of the age? There is nothing so contagious as laxity of conscience.
Barebone listened to the good-natured, sympathetic voice with a make-believe conviction which was part of his readiness to put off an evil moment. Colville was a difficult man to quarrel with. It seemed bearish and ill-natured to take amiss any word or action which could only be the outcome of a singularly tender consideration for the feelings of others.
But when they entered Madame de Chantonnay's drawing-room—when Dormer, impelled by some instinct of the fitness of things, stepped aside and motioned to his companion to pass in first—the secret they had in common yawned suddenly like a gulf between them. For the possession of a secret either estranges or draws together. More commonly, it estranges. For which of us is careful of a secret that redounds to our credit? Nearly every secret is a hidden disgrace; and such a possession, held in common with another, is not likely to insure affection.
Colville lingered on the threshold, watching Loo make the first steps of that progress which must henceforth be pursued alone. He looked round for a friendly face, but no one had eyes for him. They were all looking at Loo Barebone. Colville sought Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence, usually in full evidence, even in a room full of beautiful women and distinguished men. But she was not there. For a minute or two no one noticed him; and then Albert de Chantonnay, remembering his role, came forward to greet the Englishman.
"It was," explained Colville, in a lowered voice, "as we thought. An attempt was made to get him out of the way, but he effected his escape. He knew, however, the danger of attempting to communicate with any of us by post, and was awaiting some opportunity of transmitting a letter by a safe hand, when I discovered his hiding-place."
And this was the story that went half round France, from lip to lip, among those who were faithful to the traditions of a glorious past.
"Madame St. Pierre Lawrence," Albert de Chantonnay told Colville, in reply, "is not here to-night. She is, however, at her villa, at Royan. She has not, perhaps, displayed such interest in our meetings as she did before you departed on your long journey through France. But her generosity is unchanged. The money, which, in the hurry of the moment, you did not withdraw from her bank—"
"I doubt whether it was ever there," interrupted Colville.
"She informs me," concluded Albert, "is still at our service. We have many other promises, which must now be recalled to the minds of those who made them. But from no one have we received such generous support as from your kinswoman."
They were standing apart, and in a few minutes the Marquis de Gemosac joined them.
"How daring! how audacious!" he whispered, "and yet how opportune—this return. It is all to be recommenced, my friends, with a firmer grasp, a new courage."
"But my task is accomplished," returned Colville. "You have no further use for a mere Englishman, like myself. I was fortunate in being able to lend some slight assistance in the original discovery of our friend; I have again been lucky enough to restore him to you. And now, with your permission, I will return to Royan, where I have my little apartment, as you know."
He looked from one to the other, with his melancholy and self-deprecating smile.
"Voila" he added; "it remains for me to pay my respects to Madame de Chantonnay. We have travelled far, and I am tired. I shall ask her to excuse me."
"And Monsieur de Bourbon comes to Gemosac. That is understood. He will be safe there. His apartments have been in readiness for him these last two months. Hidden there, or in other dwellings—grander and better served, perhaps, than my poor ruin, but no safer—he can continue the great work he began so well last winter. As for you, my dear Colville," continued the Marquis, taking the Englishman's two hands in his, "I envy you from the bottom of my heart. It is not given to many to serve France as you have served her—to serve a King as you have served one. It will be my business to see that both remember you. For France, I allow, sometimes forgets. Go to Royan, since you wish—but it is only for a time. You will be called to Paris some day, that I promise you."
The Marquis would have embraced him then and there, had the cool-blooded Englishman shown the smallest desire for that honour. But Dormer Colville's sad and doubting smile held at arms' length one who was always at the mercy of his own eloquence.
The card tables had lost their attraction; and, although many parties were formed, and the cards were dealt, the players fell to talking across the ungathered tricks, and even the Abbe Touvent was caught tripping in the matter of a point.
"Never," exclaimed Madame de Chantonnay, as her guests took leave at their wonted hour, and some of them even later—"never have I had a Thursday so dull and yet so full of incident."
"And never, madame," replied the Marquis, still on tiptoe, as it were, with delight and excitement, "shall we see another like it."
Loo went back to Gemosac with the fluttering old man and Juliette. Juliette, indeed, was in no flutter, but had carried herself through the excitement of her first evening party with a demure little air of self-possession.
She had scarce spoken to Loo during the evening. Indeed, it had been his duty to attend on Madame de Chantonnay and on the older members of these quiet Royalist families biding their time in the remote country villages of Guienne and the Vendee.
On the journey home, the Marquis had so much to tell his companion, and told it so hurriedly, that his was the only voice heard above the rattle of the heavy, old-fashioned carriage. But Barebone was aware of Juliette's presence in a dark corner of the roomy vehicle, and his eyes, seeking to penetrate the gloom, could just distinguish hers, which seemed to be turned in his direction.
Many changes had been effected at the chateau, and a suite of rooms had been prepared for Barebone in the detached building known as the Italian house, which stands in the midst of the garden within the enceinte of the chateau walls.
"I have been able," explained the Marquis, frankly, "to obtain a small advance on the results of last autumn's vintage. My notary in the village found, indeed, that facilities were greater than he had anticipated. With this sum, I have been enabled to effect some necessary repairs to the buildings and the internal decorations. I had fallen behind the times, perhaps. But now that Juliette is installed as chatelaine, many changes have been effected. You will see, my dear friend; you will see for yourself. Yes, for the moment, I am no longer a pauper. As you yourself will have noticed, in your journey through the west, rural France is enjoying a sudden return of prosperity. It is unaccountable. No one can make me believe that it is to be ascribed to this scandalous Government, under which we agonise. But there it is—and we must thank Heaven for it."
Which was only the truth. For France was at this time entering upon a period of plenty. The air was full of rumours of new railways, new roads, and new commercial enterprise. Banks were being opened in the provincial towns, and loans made on easy terms to agriculturists for the improvement of their land.
Barebone found that there were indeed changes in the old chateau. The apartments above that which had once been the stabling, hitherto occupied by the Marquis, had been added to and a slight attempt at redecoration had been made. There was no lack of rooms, and Juliette now had her own suite, while the Marquis lived, as hitherto, in three small apartments over the rooms occupied by Marie and her husband.
An elderly relation—one of those old ladies habited in black, who are ready to efface themselves all day and occupy a garret all night in return for bed and board, had been added to the family. She contributed a silent and mysterious presence, some worldly wisdom, and a profound respect for her noble kinsman.
"She is quite harmless," Juliette explained, gaily, to Barebone, on the first occasion when they were alone together. This did not present itself until Loo had been quartered in the Italian house for some days, with his own servant. Although he took luncheon and dinner with the family in the old building near to the gate-house, and spent his evenings in Juliette's drawing-room, the Marquis or Madame Maugiron was always present, and as often as not, they played a game of chess together.
"She is quite harmless," said Juliette, tying, with a thread, the primroses she had been picking in that shady corner of the garden which lay at the other side of the Italian house. The windows of Barebone's apartment, by the way, looked down upon this garden, and he, having perceived her, had not wasted time in joining her in the morning sunshine.
"I wonder if I shall be as harmless when I am her age."
And, indeed, danger lurked beneath her lashes as she glanced at him, asking this question with her lips and a hundred others with her eyes, with her gay air of youth and happiness—with her very attitude of coquetry, as she stood in the spring sunshine, with the scent of the primroses about her.
"I think that any one who approaches you will always do so at his peril, Mademoiselle."
"Then why do it?" she asked, drawing back and busying herself with the flowers, which she laid against her breast, as if to judge the effect of their colour against the delicate white of her dress. "Why run into danger? Why come downstairs at all?"
"Why breathe?" he retorted, with a laugh. "Why eat, or drink, or sleep? Why live? Mon Dieu! because there is no choice. And when I see you in the garden, there is no choice for me, Mademoiselle. I must come down and run into danger, because I cannot help it any more than I can help—"
"But you need not stay," she interrupted, cleverly. "A brave man may always retire from danger into safety."
"But he may not always want to, Mademoiselle."
And, with a shrug of the shoulders, she inserted the primroses within a very small waistband and turned away.
"Will you give me those primroses, Mademoiselle?" asked Loo, without moving; for, although she had turned to go, she had not gone.
She turned on her heel and looked at him, with demure surprise, and then bent her head to look at the flowers at her own waist.
"They are mine," she answered, standing in that pretty attitude, her hair half concealing her face. "I picked them myself."
"Two reasons why I want them."
"Ah! but," she said, with a suggestion of thoughtfulness, "one does not always get what one wants. You ask a great deal, Monsieur."
"There is no limit to what I would ask, Mademoiselle."
She laughed gaily.
"If—" she inquired, with raised eyebrows.
"If I dared."
Again she looked at him with that little air of surprise.
"But I thought you were so brave?" she said. "So reckless of danger? A brave man assuredly does not ask. He takes that which he would have."
It happened that she had clasped her hands behind her back, leaving the primroses at her waist uncovered and half falling from the ribbon.
In a moment he had reached out his hand and taken them. She leapt back, as if she feared that he might take more, and ran back toward the house, placing a rough, tangle of brier between herself and this robber. Her laughing face looked at him through the brier.
"You have your primroses," she said, "but I did not give them to you. You want too much, I think."
"I want what that ribbon binds," he answered. But she turned away and ran toward the house, without waiting to hear.
DORMER COLVILLE IS BLIND
It was late when Dormer Colville reached the quiet sea-coast village of Royan on the evening of his return to the west. He did not seek Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence until the luncheon hour next morning, when he was informed that she was away from home.
"Madame has gone to Paris," the man said, who, with his wife, was left in charge of the empty house. "It was a sudden resolution, one must conclude," he added, darkly, "but Madame took no one into her confidence. She received news by post, which must have brought about this sudden decision."
Colville was intimately acquainted with his cousin's affairs; many hazarded an opinion that, without the help of Madame St. Pierre Lawrence, this rolling stone would have been bare enough. She had gone to Paris for one of two reasons, he concluded. Either she had expected him to return thither from London, and had gone to meet him with the intention of coming to some arrangement as to the disposal of the vast sum of money now in Turner's hands awaiting further developments, or some hitch had occurred with respect to John Turner himself.
Dormer Colville returned, thoughtfully, to his lodging, and in the evening set out for Paris.
He himself had not seen Turner since that morning in the banker's office in the Rue Lafayette, when they had parted so unceremoniously, in a somewhat heated spirit. But, on reflection, Colville, who had sought to reassure himself with regard to one whose name stood for the incarnation of gastronomy and mental density in the Anglo-French clubs of Paris, had come to the conclusion that nothing was to be gained by forcing a quarrel upon Turner. It was impossible to bring home to him an accusation of complicity in an outrage which had been carried through with remarkable skill. And when it is impossible to force home an accusation, a wise man will hold his tongue.
Colville could not prove that Turner had known Barebone to be in the carriage waiting in the courtyard, and his own action in the matter had been limited to the interposition of his own clumsy person between Colville and the window; which might, after all, have been due to stupidity. This, as a matter of fact, was Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence's theory on the subject. For that lady, resting cheerfully on the firm basis of a self-confidence which the possession of money nearly always confers on women, had laughed at Turner all her life, and now proposed to continue that course of treatment.
"Take my word," she had assured Colville, "he was only acting in his usual dense way, and probably thinks now that you are subject to brief fits of mental aberration. I am not afraid of him or anything that he can do. Leave him to me, and devote all your attention to finding Loo Barebone again."
Upon which advice Colville had been content to act. He had a faith in Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence's wit which was almost as great as her own; and thought, perhaps rightly enough, that if any one were a match for John Turner it was his sprightly and capable client. For there are two ways of getting on in this world: one is to get credit for being cleverer than you are, and the other to be cleverer than your neighbour suspects. But the latter plan is seldom followed, for the satisfaction it provides must necessarily be shared with no confidant.
Colville knew where to look for Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence in Paris, where she always took an apartment in a quiet and old-fashioned hotel rejoicing in a select Royalist clientele on the Place Vendome. On arriving at the capital, he hurried thither, and was told that the lady he sought had gone out a few minutes earlier. "But Madame's maid," the porter added, "is no doubt within."
Colville was conducted to Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence's room, and was hardly there before the lady's French maid came hurrying in with upraised hands.
"A just Heaven has assuredly sent Monsieur at this moment!" she exclaimed. "Madame only quitted this room ten minutes ago, and she was agitated—she, who is usually so calm. She would tell me nothing; but I know—I, who have done Madame's hair these ten years! And there is only one thing that could cause her anxiety—except, of course, any mishap to Monsieur; that would touch the heart—yes!"
"You are very kind, Catherine," said Colville, with a laugh, "to think me so important. Is that letter for me?" And he pointed to a note in the woman's hand.
"But—yes!" was the reply, and she gave up the letter, somewhat reluctantly. "There is only one thing, and that is money," she concluded, watching him tear open the envelope.
"I am going to John Turner's office," Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence wrote. "If, by some lucky chance, you should pass through Paris, and happen to call this morning, follow me to the Rue Lafayette. M. St. P. L."
It was plain enough. Colville reflected that Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence had heard of the success of his mission to England and the safe return to Gemosac of Loo Barebone. For the moment, he could not think how the news could have reached her. She might have heard it from Miriam Liston; for their journey hack to Gemosac had occupied nearly a week. On learning the good news, Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence had promptly grasped the situation; for she was very quick in thought and deed. The money would be wanted at once. She had gone to Turner's office to withdraw it in person.
Dormer Colville bought a flower in a shop in the Rue de la Paix, and had it affixed to his buttonhole by the handmaid of Flora, who made it her business to linger over the office with a gentle familiarity no doubt pleasing enough to the majority of her clients.
Colville was absent-minded as he drove, in a hired carriage, to the Rue Lafayette. He was wondering whether Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence's maid had any grounds for stating that a mishap to him would touch her mistress's heart. He was a man of unbounded enterprise; but, like many who are gamblers at heart, he was superstitious. He had never dared to try his luck with Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence. She was so hard, so worldly, so infinitely capable of managing her own affairs and regulating her own life, that to offer her his hand and heart in exchange for her fortune had hitherto been dismissed from his mind as a last expedient, only to be faced when ruin awaited him.
She had only been a widow three years. She had never been a sentimental woman, and now her liberty and her wealth were obviously so dear to her that, in common sense, he could scarcely, with any prospect of success, ask her outright to part with them. Moreover, Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence knew all about Dormer Colville, as men say. Which is only a saying; for no human being knows all about another human being, nor one-half, nor one-tenth of what there is to know. Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence knew enough, at all events, Colville reflected, rather ruefully, to disillusionise a schoolgirl, much more a woman of the world, knowing good and evil.
He had not lived forty years in the world, and twenty years in that world of French culture which digs and digs into human nature, without having heard philosophers opine that, in matters of the heart, women have no illusions at all, and that it is only men who go blindfold into the tortuous ways of love. But he was too practical a man to build up a false hope on so frail a basis as a theory applied to a woman's heart.
He bought a flower for his buttonhole then, and squared his shoulders, without any definite design. It was a mere habit—the habit acquired by twenty years of unsuccessful enterprise, and renewed effort and deferred hope—of leaving no stone unturned.
His cab wheeled into the Rue Lafayette, and the man drove more slowly, reading the numbers on the houses. Then he stopped altogether, and turned round in his seat.
"Citizen," he said, "there is a great crowd at the house you named. It extends half across the street. I will go no further. It is not I who care about publicity."
Colville stood up and looked in the direction indicated by his driver's whip. The man had scarcely exaggerated. A number of people were waiting their turn on the pavement and out into the roadway, while two gendarmes held the door. Dormer Colville paid his cabman and walked into that crowd, with a sinking heart.
"It is the great English banker," explained an on-looker, even before he was asked, "who has failed."
Colville had never found any difficulty in making his way through a crowd—a useful accomplishment in Paris at all times, where government is conducted, thrones are raised and toppled over, provinces are won and lost again, by the mob. He had that air of distinction which, if wielded good-naturedly, is the surest passport in any concourse. Some, no doubt, recognised him as an Englishman. One after another made way for him. Persons unknown to him commanded others to step aside and let him pass; for the busybody we have always with us.
In a few minutes he was at the top of the stairs, and there elbowed his way into the office, where the five clerks sat bent up over their ledgers. The space on the hither side of the counter was crammed with men, who whispered impatiently together. If any one raised his voice, the clerk whose business it was lifted his head and looked at the speaker with a mute surprise.
One after another these white-faced applicants leant over the counter.
"Voyons, Monsieur!" they urged; "tell me this or inform me of that."
But the clerk only smiled and shook his head.
"Patience, Monsieur," he answered. "I cannot tell you yet. We are awaiting advices from London."
"But when will you receive them?" inquired several, at once.
"It may be to-morrow. It may not be for several days."
"But can one see Mr. Turner?" inquired one, more daring than the rest.
"He is engaged."
Colville caught the eye of the clerk, and by a gesture made it known that he must be allowed to pass on into the inner room. Once more his air of the great world, his good clothes, his flower in the buttonhole, gave him the advantage over others; and the clerk got down from his stool.
"Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence is with him, I know," whispered Colville. "I come by appointment to meet her here."
He was shown in without further trouble, and found Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence sitting, white-faced and voluble, in the visitors' chair.
John Turner had his usual air of dense placidity, but the narrow black tie he always tied in a bow was inclined slightly to one side; his hair was ruffled, and, although the weather was not warm, his face wore a shiny look. Any banker, with his clients clamouring on the stairs and out into the street, might look as John Turner looked.
"You have heard the news?" asked Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence, turning sharply in her chair and looking at Colville with an expression of sudden relief. She carried a handkerchief in her hand, but her eyes were dry. She was, after all, only a forerunner of those who now propose to manage human affairs. And even in these later days of their great advance, they have not left their pocket-handkerchiefs behind them.
"I was told by one of the crowd," replied Colville, with a side smile full of sympathy for Turner, "that the—er—bank had come to grief."
"Was just telling Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence," said Turner, imperturbably, "that it is too early in the day to throw up the sponge and cry out that all is lost."
"All!" echoed Colville, angrily. "But do you mean to say—Why, surely, there is generally something left."
Turner shrugged his shoulders and sat in silence, gnawing the middle joint of his thumb.
"But I must have the money!" cried Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence. "It is most important, and I must have it at once. I withdraw it all. See, I brought my cheque-book with me. And I know that there are over a hundred thousand pounds in my account. As well as that, you hold securities for two hundred and fifty thousand more—my whole fortune. The money is not yours: it is mine. I draw it all out, and I insist on having it."
Turner continued to bite his thumb, and glanced at her without speaking.
"Now, damn it all, Turner!" said Colville, in a voice suddenly hoarse; "hand it over, man."
"I tell you it is gone," was the answer.
"What? Three hundred and fifty thousand pounds? Then you are a rogue! You are a fraudulent trustee! I always thought you were a damned scoundrel, Turner, and now I know it. I'll get you to the galleys for the rest of your life, I promise you that."
"You will gain nothing by that," returned the banker, staring at the date-card in front of him. "And you will lose any chance there is of recovering something from the wreck. Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence had better take the advice of her lawyer—in preference to yours."
"Then I am ruined!" said that lady, rising, with an air of resolution. She was brave, at all events.
"At the present moment, it looks like it," admitted Turner, without meeting her eye.
"What am I to do?" murmured Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence, looking helplessly round the room and finally at the banker's stolid face.
"Like the rest of us, I suppose," he admitted. "Begin the world afresh. Perhaps your friends will come forward."
And he looked calmly toward Colville. Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence's face suddenly flushed, and she turned away toward the door. Turner rose, laboriously, and opened it.
"There is another staircase through this side door," he said, opening a second door, which had the appearance of a cupboard. "You can avoid the crowd."
They passed out together, and Turner, having closed the door behind them, crossed the room to where a small mirror was suspended. He set his tie straight and smoothed his hair, and then returned to his chair, with a vague smile on his face.
Colville took the vacant seat in Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence's brougham. She still held a handkerchief in her hand.
"I do not mind for myself," she exclaimed, suddenly, when the carriage moved out of the court-yard. "It is only for your sake, Dormer."
She turned and glanced at him with eyes that shone, but not with tears.
"Oh! Don't you understand?" she asked, in a whisper. "Don't you see, Dormer?"
"A way out of it?" he answered, hurriedly, almost interrupting her. He withdrew his hand, upon which she had laid her own; withdrew it sympathetically, almost tenderly. "See a way out of it?" he repeated, in a reflective and business-like voice. "No, I am afraid, for the moment, I don't."
He sat stroking his moustache, looking out of the window, while she looked out of the other, resolutely blinking back her tears. They drove back to her hotel without speaking.
A SORDID MATTER
"Bon Dieu! my old friend, what do you expect?" replied Madame de Chantonnay to a rather incoherent statement made to her one May afternoon by the Marquis de Gemosac. "It is the month of May," she further explained, indicating with a gesture of her dimpled hand the roses abloom all around them. For the Marquis had found her in a chair beneath the mulberry-tree in the old garden of that house near Gemosac which looks across the river toward the sea. "It is the month of May. One is young. Such things have happened since the world began. They will happen until it ends, Marquis. It happened in our own time, if I remember correctly."
And Madame de Chantonnay heaved a prodigious sigh, in memory of the days that were no more.
"Given a young man of enterprise and not bad looking, I allow. He has the grand air and his face is not without distinction. Given a young girl, fresh as a flower, young, innocent, not without feeling. Ah! I know, for I was like that myself. Place them in a garden, in the springtime. What will they talk of—politics? Ah—bah! Let them have long evenings together while their elders play chess or a hand at bezique. What game will they play? A much older game than chess or bezique, I fancy."
"But the circumstances were so exceptional," protested the Marquis, who had a pleased air, as if his anger were not without an antidote.
"Circumstances may be exceptional, my friend, but Love is a Rule. You allow him to stay six weeks in the chateau, seeing Juliette daily, and then you are surprised that one fine morning Monsieur de Bourbon comes to you and tells you brusquely, as you report it, that he wants to marry your daughter."
"Yes," admitted the Marquis. "He was what you may describe as brusque. It is the English way, perhaps, of treating such matters. Now, for myself I should have been warmer, I think. I should have allowed myself a little play, as it were. One says a few pretty things—is it not so? One suggests that the lady is an angel and oneself entirely unworthy of a happiness which is only to be compared with the happiness that is promised to us in the hereafter. It is an occasion upon which to be eloquent."
"Not for the English," corrected Madame de Chantonnay, holding up a hand to emphasise her opinion. "And you must remember, that although our friend is French, he has been brought up in that cold country—by a minister of their frozen religion, I understand. I, who speak to you, know what they are, for once I had an Englishman in love with me. It was in Paris, when Louis XVIII was King. And did this Englishman tell me that he was heart-broken, I ask you? Never! On the contrary, he appeared to be of an indifference only to be compared with the indifference of a tree. He seemed to avoid me rather than seek my society. Once, he made believe to forget that he had been presented to me. A ruse—a mere ruse to conceal his passion. But I knew, I knew always."
"And what was the poor man's fate? What was his name, Comtesse?"
"I forget, my friend. For the moment I have forgotten it. But tell me more about Monsieur de Bourbon and Juliette. He is passionately in love with her, of course; he is so miserable."
The Marquis reflected for a few moments.
"Well," he said, at last, "he may be so; he may be so, Comtesse."
"And you—what did you say?"
The Marquis looked carefully round before replying. Then he leant forward with his forefinger raised delicately to the tip of his nose.
"I temporised, Comtesse," he said, in a low voice. "I explained as gracefully as one could that it was too early to think of such a development—that I was taken by surprise."
"Which could hardly have been true," put in Madame de Chantonnay in an audible aside to the mulberry-tree, "for neither Guienne nor la Vendee will be taken by surprise."
"I said, in other words—a good many words, the more the better, for one must be polite—'Secure your throne, Monsieur, and you shall marry Juliette.' But it is not a position into which one hurries the last of the house of Gemosac—to be the wife of an unsuccessful claimant, eh?"
Madame de Chantonnay approved in one gesture of her stout hand of these principles and of the Marquis de Gemosac's masterly demonstration of them.
"And Monsieur de Bourbon—did he accept these conditions?"
"He seemed to, Madame. He seemed content to do so," replied the Marquis, tapping his snuff-box and avoiding the lady's eye.
"And Juliette?" inquired Madame, with a sidelong glance.
"Oh, Juliette is sensible," replied the fond father. "My daughter is, I hope, sensible, Comtesse."
"Give yourself no uneasiness, my old friend," said Madame de Chantonnay, heartily. "She is charming."
Madame sat back in her chair and fanned herself thoughtfully. It was the fashion of that day to carry a fan and wield it with grace and effect. To fan oneself did not mean that the heat was oppressive, any more than the use of incorrect English signifies to-day ill-breeding or a lack of education. Both are an indication of a laudable desire to be unmistakably in the movement of one's day.
Over her fan Madame cast a sidelong glance at the Marquis, whom she, like many of his friends, suspected of being much less simple and spontaneous than he appeared.
"Then they are not formally affianced?" she suggested.
"Mon Dieu! no. I clearly indicated that there were other things to be thought of at the present time. A very arduous task lies before him, but he is equal to it, I am certain. My conviction as to that grows as one knows him better."
"But you are not prepared to allow the young people to force you to take a leap in the dark," suggested Madame de Chantonnay. "And that poor Juliette must consume her soul in patience; but she is sensible, as you justly say. Yes, my dear Marquis, she is charming."
They were thus engaged in facile talk when Albert de Chantonnay emerged from the long window of his study, a room opening on to a moss-grown terrace, where this plotter walked to and fro like another Richelieu and brooded over nation-shaking schemes.
He carried a letter in his hand and wore an air of genuine perturbment. But even in his agitation he looked carefully round before he spoke.
"Here," he said to the Marquis and his fond mother, who watched him with complacency—"here I have a letter from Dormer Colville. It is necessarily couched in very cautious language. He probably knows, as I know, that any letter addressed to me is liable to be opened. I have reason to believe that some of my letters have not only been opened, but that copies of them are actually in the possession of that man—the head of that which is called the Government."
He turned and looked darkly into a neighbouring clump of rhododendrons, as if Louis Napoleon were perhaps lurking there. But he was nevertheless quite right in his suspicions, which were verified twenty years later, along with much duplicity which none had suspected.
"Nevertheless," he went on, "I know what Colville seeks to convey to us, and is now hurrying away from Paris to confirm to us by word of mouth. The bank of John Turner in the Rue Lafayette has failed, and with it goes all the fortune of Madame St. Pierre Lawrence."
Both his hearers exclaimed aloud, and Madame de Chantonnay showed signs of a desire to swoon; but as no one took any notice, she changed her mind.
"It is a ruse to gain time," explained Albert, brushing the thin end of his moustache upward with a gesture of resolution. "Just as the other was a ruse to gain time. It is at present a race between two resolute parties. The party which is ready first and declares itself will be the victor. For to-day our poor France is in the gutter: she is in the hands of the canaille, and the canaille will accept the first who places himself upon an elevation and scatters gold. What care they—King or Emperor, Emperor or King! It is the same to them so long as they have a change of some sort and see, or think they see, gain to themselves to be snatched from it."
From which it will be seen that Albert de Chantonnay knew his countrymen.
"But," protested Madame de Chantonnay, who had a Frenchwoman's inimitable quickness to grasp a situation—the Government could scarcely cause a bank to fail—such an old-established bank as Turner's, which has existed since the day of Louis XIV—in order to gain time."
"An unscrupulous Government can do anything in France," replied the lady's son. "Their existence depends upon delay, and they are aware of it. They would ruin France rather than forego their own aggrandisement. And this is part of their scheme. They seek to delay us at all costs. To kidnap de Bourbon was the first move. It failed. This is their second move. What must be our counter-move?"
He clasped his hands behind his willowy back and paced slowly backward and forward. By a gesture, Madame de Chantonnay bade the Marquis keep silence while she drew his attention to the attitude of her son. When he paused and fingered his whisker she gasped excitedly.
"I have it," said Albert, with an upward glance of inspiration.
"Yes, my son?"
"The Beauvoir estate," replied Albert, "left to me by my uncle. It is worth three hundred thousand francs. That is enough for the moment. That must be our counter-move."
Madame de Chantonnay protested volubly. For if Frenchmen are ready to sacrifice, or, at all events, to risk all for a sentiment—and history says nothing to the contrary—Frenchwomen are eminently practical and far-sighted.
Madame had a hundred reasons why the Beauvoir estate should not be sold. Many of them contradicted each other. She was not what may be called a close reasoner, but she was roughly effective. Many a general has won a victory not by the accuracy, but by the volume of his fire.
"What will become of France," she cried to Albert's retreating back as he walked to and fro, "if none of the old families has a son to bless itself with? And Heaven knows that there are few enough remaining now. Besides, you will want to marry some day, and what will your bride say when you have no money? There are no dots growing in the hedgerows now. Not that I am a stickler for a dot. Give me heart, I always say, and keep the money yourself. And some day you will find a loving heart, but no dot. And there is a tragedy at once—ready made. Is it not so, my old friend?"
She turned to the Marquis de Gemosac for confirmation of this forecast.
"It is a danger, Madame," was the reply. "It is a danger which it would be well to foresee."
They had discussed a hundred times the possibility of a romantic marriage between their two houses. Juliette and Albert—the two last representatives of an old nobility long-famed in the annals of the west—might well fall in love with each other. It would be charming, Madame thought; but, alas! Albert would be wise to look for a dot.
The Marquis paused. Again he temporised. For he could not all in an instant decide which side of this question to take. He looked at Albert, frail, romantic; an ideal representative of that old nobility of France which was never practical, and elected to go to the guillotine rather than seek to cultivate that modern virtue.
"At the same time, Madame, it is well to remember that a loan offered now may reasonably be expected to bring such a return in the future as will provide dots for the de Chantonnays to the end of time."
Madame was about to make a spirited reply; she might even have suggested that the Beauvoir estate would be better apportioned to Albert's wife than to Juliette as the wife of another, but Albert himself stopped in front of them and swept away all argument by a passionate gesture of his small, white hand.
"It is concluded," he said. "I sell the Beauvoir estate! Have not the Chantonnays proved a hundred times that they are equal to any sacrifice for the sake of France?"
A SQUARE MAN
All through the summer of 1851—a year to be marked for all time in the minds of historians, not in red, but in black letters—the war of politics tossed France hither and thither.
There were, at this time, five parties contending for mastery. Should one of these appear for the moment to be about to make itself secure in power, the other four would at once unite to tear the common adversary from his unstable position. Of these parties, only two were of real cohesion: the Legitimists and the Bonapartists. The Socialists, the Moderate Republicans, and the Orleanists were too closely allied in the past to be friendly in the present. Socialists are noisy, but rarely clever. A man who in France describes himself as Moderate must not expect to be popular for any length of time. The Orleanists were only just out of office. It was scarcely a year since Louis Philippe had died in exile at Claremont—only three years since he signed his abdication and hurried across to Newhaven. It was not the turn of the Orleanists.
There is no quarrel so deadly as a family quarrel; no fall so sudden as that of a house divided against itself. All through the spring and summer of 1851 France exhibited herself in the eyes of the world a laughing-stock to her enemies, a thing of pity to those who loved that great country.
The Republic of 1848 was already a house divided against itself.
Its President, Louis Bonaparte, had been elected for four years. He was, as the law then stood, not eligible again until after the lapse of another four years. His party tried to abrogate this law, and failed. "No matter," they said, "we shall elect him again, and President he shall be, despite the law."
This was only one of a hundred such clouds, no bigger than a man's hand, arising at this time on the political horizon. For France was beginning to wander down that primrose path where a law is only a law so long as it is convenient.
There was one man, Louis Bonaparte, who kept his head when others lost that invaluable adjunct; who pushed on doggedly to a set purpose; whose task was hard even in France, and would have been impossible in any other country. For it is only in France that ridicule does not kill. And twice within the last fifteen years—once at Strasbourg, once at Boulogne—he had made the world hold its sides at the mention of his name, greeting with the laughter which is imbittered by scorn, a failure damned by ridicule.
It has been said that Louis Bonaparte never gave serious thought to the Legitimist party. He had inherited, it would seem, that invaluable knowledge of men by which his uncle had risen to the greatest throne of modern times. He knew that a party is never for a moment equal to a Man. And the Legitimists had no man. They had only the Comte de Chambord.
At Frohsdorff they still clung to their hopes, with that old-world belief in the ultimate revival of a dead regime which was eminently characteristic. And at Frohsdorff there died, in the October of this year, the Duchess of Angouleme, Marie Therese Charlotte, daughter of Marie Antoinette, who had despised her two uncles, Louis XVIII and Charles X, for the concessions they had made—who was more Royalist than the King. She was the last of her generation, the last of her family, and with her died a part of the greatness of France, almost all the dignity of royalty, and the last master-mind of the Bourbon race.