If, as Albert de Chantonny stated, the failure of Turner's bank was nothing but a ruse to gain time, it had the desired effect. For a space, nothing could be undertaken, and the Marquis de Gemosac and his friends were hindered from continuing the work they had so successfully begun.
All through the summer Loo Barebone remained in France, at Gemosac as much as anywhere. The Marquis de Gemosac himself went to Frohsdorff.
"If she had been ten years younger," he said, on his return, "I could have persuaded her to receive you. She has money. All the influence is hers. It is she who has had the last word in all our affairs since the death of the Due de Berri. But she is old—she is broken. I think she is dying, my friend."
It was the time of the vintage again. Barebone remembered the last vintage, and his journey through those provinces that supply all the world with wine, with Dormer Colville for a companion. Since then he had journeyed alone. He had made a hundred new friends, had been welcomed in a hundred historic houses. Wherever he had passed, he had left enthusiasm behind him—and he knew it.
He had grown accustomed to his own power, and yet its renewed evidence was a surprise to him every day. There was something unreal in it. There is always something unreal in fame, and great men know in their own hearts that they are not great. It is only the world that thinks them so. When they are alone—in a room by themselves—they feel for a moment their own smallness. But the door opens, and in an instant they arise and play their part mechanically.
This had come to be Barebone's daily task. It was so easy to make his way in this world, which threw its doors open to him, greeted him with outstretched hands, and only asked him to charm them by being himself. He had not even to make an effort to appear to be that which he was not. He had only to be himself, and they were satisfied.
Part of his role was Juliette de Gemosac. He found it quite easy to make love to her; and she, it seemed, desired nothing better. Nothing definite had been said by the Marquis de Gemosac. They were not formally affianced. They were not forbidden to see each other. But the irregularity of these proceedings lent a certain spice of surreptitiousness to their intercourse which was not without its charm. They did not see so much of each other after Loo had spoken to the Marquis de Gemosac on this subject; for Barebone had to make visits to other parts of France. Once or twice Juliette herself went to stay with relatives. During these absences they did not write to each other.
It was, in fact, impossible for Barebone to keep up any correspondence whatever. He heard that Dormer Colville was still in Paris, seeking to snatch something from the wreck of Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence's fortune. The Marquis de Gemosac had been told that affairs might yet be arranged. He was no financier, however, he admitted; he did not understand such matters, and all that he knew was that the promised help from the Englishwoman was not forthcoming.
"It is," he concluded, "a question of looking elsewhere. It is not only that we want money. It is that we must have it at once."
It was not, strictly speaking, Loo's part to think of or to administer the money. His was the part to be played by Kings—so easy, if the gift is there, so impossible to acquire if it be lacking—to know many people and to charm them all.
Thus the summer ripened into autumn. It had been another great vintage in the south, and Bordeaux was more than usually busy when Barebone arrived there, at daybreak, one morning in November, having posted from Toulouse. He was more daring in winter, and went fearlessly through the streets. In cold weather it is so much easier for a man to conceal his identity; for a woman to hide her beauty, if she wish to—which is a large If. Barebone could wear a fur collar and turn it up round that tell-tale chin, which made the passer-by pause and turn to look at him again if it was visible.
He breakfasted at the old-fashioned inn in the heart of the town, where to this day the diligences deposit their passengers, and then he made his way to the quay, from whence he would take passage down the river. It was a cold morning, and there are few colder cities, south of Paris, than Bordeaux. Barebone hurried, his breath frozen on the fur of his collar. Suddenly he stopped. His new self—that phantom second-nature bred of custom—vanished in the twinkling of an eye, and left him plain Loo Barebone, of Farlingford, staring across the green water toward "The Last Hope," deep-laden, anchored in mid-stream.
Seeing him stop, a boatman ran toward him from a neighbouring flight of steps.
"An English ship, monsieur," he said; "just come in. Her anchors are hardly home. Does monsieur wish to go on board?"
"Of course I do, comrade—as quick as you like," he answered, with a gay laugh. It was odd that the sight of this structure, made of human hands, should change him in a flash of thought, should make his heart leap in his breast.
In a few minutes he was seated in the wherry, half way out across the stream. Already a face was looking over the bulwarks. The hands were on the forecastle, still busy clearing decks after the confusion of letting go anchor and hauling in the jib-boom.
Barebone could see them leave off work and turn to look at him. One or two raised a hand in salutation and then turned again to their task. Already the mate—a Farlingford man, who had succeeded Loo—was standing on the rail fingering a coil of rope.
"Old man is down below," he said, giving Barebone a hand. From the forecastle came sundry grunts, and half a dozen heads were jerked sideways at him.
Captain Clubbe was in the cabin, where the remains of breakfast had been pushed to one end of the table to make room for pens and ink. The Captain was laboriously filling in the countless documents required by the French custom-house. He looked up, pen in hand, and all the wrinkles, graven by years of hardship and trouble, were swept away like writing from a slate.
He laid aside his pen and held his hand out across the table.
"Had your breakfast?" he asked, curtly, with a glance at the empty coffee-pot.
Loo laughed as he sat down. It was all so familiar—the disorder of the cabin; the smell of lamp-oil; the low song of the wind through the rigging, that came humming in at the doorway, which was never closed, night or day, unless the seas were washing to and fro on the main deck. He knew everything so well; the very pen and the rarely used ink-pot; the Captain's attitude, and the British care that he took not to speak with his lips that which was in his heart.
"Well," said Captain Clubbe, taking up his pen again, "how are you getting on?"
"With the business that brought you to this country," answered Clubbe, with a sudden gruffness; for he was, like the majority of big men, shy.
Barebone looked at him across the table.
"Do you know what the business is that brought me to this country?" he asked. And Captain Clubbe looked thoughtfully at the point of his pen.
"Did the Marquis de Gemosac and Dormer Colville tell you everything, or only a little?"
"I don't suppose they told me everything," was the reply. "Why should they? I am only a seafaring man."
"But they told you enough," persisted Barebone, "for you to draw your own conclusions as to my business over here."
"Yes," answered Clubbe, with a glance across the table. "Is it going badly?"
"No. On the contrary, it is going splendidly," answered Barebone, gaily; and Captain Clubbe ducked his head down again over the papers of the French custom-house. "It is going splendidly, but—"
He paused. Half an hour ago he had no thought in his mind of Captain Clubbe or of Farlingford. He had come on board merely to greet his old friends, to hear some news of home, to take up for a moment that old self of bygone days and drop it again. And now, in half a dozen questions and answers, whither was he drifting? Captain Clubbe filled in a word, slowly and very legibly.
"But I am not the man, you know," said Barebone, slowly. It was as if the sight of that just man had bidden him cry out the truth. "I am not the man they think me. My father was not the son of Louis XVI, I know that now. I did not know it at first, but I know it now. And I have been going on with the thing, all the same."
Clubbe sat back in his chair. He was large and ponderous in body. And the habit of the body at length becomes the nature of the mind.
"Who has been telling you that?" he asked.
"Dormer Colville. He told me one thing first and then the other. Only he and you and I know of it."
"Then he must have told one lie," said Clubbe, reflectively. "One that we know of. And what he says is of no value either way; for he doesn't know. No one knows. Your father was a friend of mine, man and boy, and he didn't know. He was not the same as other men; I know that—but nothing more."
"Then, if you were me, you would give yourself the benefit of the doubt?" asked Barebone, with a rather reckless laugh. "For the sake of others—for the sake of France?"
"Not I," replied Clubbe, bluntly.
"But it is practically impossible to go back now," explained Loo. "It would be the ruin of all my friends, the downfall of France. In my position, what would you do?"
"I don't understand your position," replied Clubbe. "I don't understand politics; I am only a seafaring man. But there is only one thing to do—the square thing."
"But," protested Dormer Colville's pupil, "I cannot throw over my friends. I cannot abandon France now."
"The square thing," repeated the sailor, stubbornly. "The square thing; and damn your friends—damn France!"
He rose as he spoke, for they had both heard the customs officers come on board; and these functionaries were now bowing at the cabin-door.
MRS. ST. PIERRE LAWRENCE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND
It was early in November that the report took wing in Paris that John Turner's bank was, after all, going to weather the storm. Dormer Colville was among the first to hear this news, and strangely enough he did not at once impart it to Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence.
All through the year, John Turner had kept his client supplied with ready money. He had, moreover, made no change in his own mode of living. Which things are a mystery to all who have no money of their own nor the good fortune to handle other people's. There is no doubt some explanation of the fact that bankers and other financiers seem to fail, and even become bankrupt, without tangible effect upon their daily comfort, but the unfinancial cannot expect to understand it.
There had, as a matter of fact, been no question of discomfort for Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence either.
"Can I spend as much as I like?" she had asked Turner, and his reply had been in the affirmative.
"No use in saving?"
"None whatever," he replied. To which Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence made answer that she did not understand things at all.
"It is no use collecting straws against a flood," the banker answered, sleepily.
There was, of course, no question now of supplying the necessary funds to the Marquis de Gemosac and Albert de Chantonnay, who, it was understood, were raising the money, not without difficulty, elsewhere. Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence had indeed heard little or nothing of her Royalist friends in the west. Human nature is the same, it would appear, all the world over, but the upper crust is always the hardest.
When Colville was informed of the rumour, he remembered that he had never quarrelled with John Turner. He had, of course, said some hard things in the heat of the moment, but Turner had not retorted. There was no quarrel. Colville, therefore, took an early opportunity of lunching at the club then reputed to have the best chef in Paris. He went late and found that the majority of members had finished dejeuner and were taking coffee in one or other of the smoking-rooms.
After a quick and simple meal, Colville lighted a cigarette and went upstairs. There were two or three small rooms where members smoked or played cards or read the newspapers, and in the quietest of these John Turner was alone, asleep. Colville walked backward into the room, talking loudly as he did so with a friend in the passage. When well over the threshold he turned. John Turner, whose slumbers had been rudely disturbed, was sitting up rubbing his eyes. The surprise was of course mutual, and for a moment there was an awkward pause; then, with a smile of frank good-fellowship, Colville advanced, holding out his hand.
"I hope we have known each other too many years, old fellow," he said, "to bear any lasting ill-will for words spoken in the heat of anger or disappointment, eh?"
He stood in front of the banker frankly holding out the hand of forgiveness, his head a little on one side, that melancholy smile of toleration for poor human weakness in his eyes.
"Well," admitted Turner, "we've certainly known each other a good many years."
He somewhat laboriously hoisted himself up, his head emerging from his tumbled collar like the head of a tortoise aroused from sleep, and gave into Colville's affectionate grasp a limp and nerveless hand.
"No one could feel for you more sincerely than I do," Colville assured him, drawing forward a chair,—"more than I have done all through these trying months."
"Very kind, I'm sure," murmured Turner, looking drowsily at his friend's necktie. One must look somewhere, and Turner always gazed at the necktie of any one who sat straight in front of him, which usually induced an uneasy fingering of that ornament and an early consultation of the nearest mirror. "Have a cigar."
There was the faint suggestion of a twinkle beneath the banker's heavy lids as Colville accepted this peace-offering. It was barely twenty-four hours since he had himself launched in Colville's direction the rumour which had brought about this reconciliation.
"And I'm sure," continued the other, turning to cut the end of the cigar, "that no one would be better pleased to hear that better times are coming—eh? What did you say?"
"Nothing. Didn't speak," was the reply to this vague interrogation. Then they talked of other things. There was no lack of topics for conversation at this time in France; indeed, the whole country was in a buzz of talk. But Turner was not, it seemed, in a talkative mood. Only once did he rouse himself to take more than a passing interest in the subject touched upon by his easy-going companion.
"Yes," he admitted, "he may be the best cook in Paris, but he is not what he was. It is this Revision of the Constitution which is upsetting the whole country, especially the lower classes. The man's hand is shaky. I can see it from his way of pouring the mayonnaise over a salad."
After touching upon each fresh topic, Colville seemed to return unconsciously to that which must of necessity be foremost in his companion's thoughts—the possibility of saving Turner's bank from failure. And each time he learnt a little more. At last, with that sympathetic spontaneity which was his chief charm, Dormer Colville laid his hand confidentially on Turner's sleeve.
"Frankly, old fellow," he said, "are you going to pull it through?"
"Frankly, old fellow, I am," was the reply, which made Colville glance hastily at the clock.
"Gad!" he exclaimed, "look at the time. You have kept me gossiping the whole afternoon. Must be off. Nobody will be better pleased than I am to hear the good news. But of course I am mum. Not a word will they hear from me. I am glad. Good-bye."
"I dare say you are," murmured Turner to the closed door.
Dormer Colville was that which is known as an opportunist. It was a dull grey afternoon. He would be sure to find Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence at home. She had taken an apartment in the Rue de Lille in the St. Germain quarter. His way was past the flower-shop, where he sometimes bestowed a fickle custom. He went in and bought a carnation for his buttonhole.
It is to be presumed that John Turner devoted the afternoon to his affairs. It was at all events evening before he also bent his steps toward the Rue de Lille.
Yes, the servant told him, Madame was at home and would assuredly see him. Madame was not alone. No. It was, however, only Monsieur Colville, who was so frequent a visitor.
Turner followed the servant along the corridor. The stairs had rather tried one who had to elevate such a weight at each step; he breathed hard, but placidly.
Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence received him with an unusual empressement. Dormer Colville, who was discovered sitting as far from her as the size of the room allowed, was less eager, but he brought forward a chair for the banker and glanced sharply at his face as he sat down.
"So glad to see you," the hostess explained. "It is really kind of you to come and cheer one up on such a dull afternoon. Dormer and I—won't you take off your coat? No, let me put it aside for you. Dormer and I were just—just saying how dull it was. Weren't we?"
She looked from one to the other with a rather unnatural laugh. One would have thought that she was engaged in carrying off a difficult situation and, for so practised a woman of the world, not doing it very well. Her cheeks were flushed, which made her look younger, and a subtle uncertainty in her voice and manner added to this illusion charmingly. For a young girl's most precious possession is her inexperience. Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence, for the first time in her life, was not sure of herself.
"Now I hope you have not come on business," she added, drawing forward her own chair and passing a quick hand over her hair. "Bother business! Do not let us think about it."
"Not exactly," replied Turner, recovering his breath. "Quite agree with you. Let us say, 'Bother business,' and not think of it. Though, for an old man who is getting stout, there is nothing much left but business and his dinner, eh?"
"No. Do not say that," cried the lady. "Never say that. It is time enough to think that years hence when we are all white-haired. But I used to think that myself once, you know. When I first had my money. Do you remember? I was so pleased to have all that wealth that I determined to learn all about cheque-books and things and manage it myself. So you taught me, and at last you admitted that I was an excellent man of business. I know I thought I was myself. And I suppose I lapsed into a regular business woman and only thought of money and how to increase it. How horrid you must have thought me!"
"Never did that," protested Turner, stoutly.
"But I know I learnt to think much too much about it," Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence went on eagerly. "And now that it is all gone, I do not care that for it."
She snapped her finger and thumb and laughed gaily.
"Not that," she repeated. She turned and glanced at Dormer Colville, raising her eyebrows in some mute interrogation only comprehensible to him. "Shall I tell him?" she asked, with a laugh of happiness not very far removed from tears. Then she turned to the banker again.
"Listen," she said. "I am going to tell you something which no one else in the world can tell you. Dormer and I are going to be married. I dare say lots of people will say that they have expected it for a long time. They can say what they like. We don't care. And I am glad that you are the first person to hear it. We have only just settled it, so you are the very first to be told. And I am glad to tell you before anybody else because you have been so kind to me always. You have been my best friend, I think. And the kindest thing you ever did for me was to lose my money, for if you had not lost it, Dormer never would have asked me to marry him. He has just said so himself. And I suppose all men feel that. All the nice ones, I mean. It is one of the drawbacks of being rich, is it not?"
"I suppose it is," answered Turner, stolidly, without turning an eyelash in the direction of Colville. "Perhaps that is why no one has ever asked me to marry them."
Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence laughed jerkily at this witticism. She laughed again when John Turner rose from his chair to congratulate her, but the laugh suddenly ceased when he raised her hand to his lips with a courtesy which was even in those days dying out of the world, and turned away from him hastily. She stood with her back toward them for a minute or two looking at some flowers on a side table. Then she came back into the middle of the room, all smiles, replacing her handkerchief in her pocket.
"So that is the news I have to tell you," she said.
John Turner had placidly resumed his chair after shaking hands with Dormer Colville for the second time since luncheon.
"Yes," he answered, "it is news indeed. And I have a little news to give you. I do not say that it is quite free from the taint of business, but at all events it is news. Like yours, it has the merit of being at first hand, and you are the first to hear it. No one else could tell it to you."
He broke off and rubbed his chin while he looked apathetically at Colville's necktie.
"It has another merit, rare enough," he went on. "It is good news. I think, in fact I may say I am sure, that we shall pull through now and your money will be safely returned to you."
"I am so glad," said Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence, with a glance at Dormer Colville. "I cannot tell you how glad I am."
She looked at the banker with bright eyes and the flush still in her cheeks that made her look younger and less sure of herself.
"Not only for my own sake, you know. For yours, because I am sure you must be relieved, and for—well, for everybody's sake. Tell me all about it, please." And she pushed her chair sideways nearer to Colville's.
John Turner bit the first joint of his thumb reflectively. It is so rare that one can tell any one all about anything.
"Tell me first," Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence suggested, "whether Miriam Liston's money is all safe as well."
"Miriam's money never was in danger," he replied. "Miriam is my ward; you are only my client. There is no chance of Miriam being able to make ducks and drakes of her money."
"That sounds as if I had been trying to do that with mine.
"Well," admitted the banker, with a placid laugh, "if it had not been for my failure—"
"Don't call it hard names," put in Dormer Colville, generously. "It was not a failure."
"Call it a temporary suspension of payment, then," agreed the banker, imperturbably. "If it had not been for that, half your fortune would have been goodness knows where by now. You wanted to put it into some big speculation in this country, if I remember aright. And big speculations in France are the very devil just now. Whereas, now, you see, it is all safe and you can invest it in the beginning of next year in some good English securities. It seems providential, does it not?"
He rose as he spoke and held out his hand to say good-bye. He asked the question of Colville's necktie, apparently, for he smiled stupidly at it.
"Well, I do not understand business after all, I admit that," Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence called out gaily to him as he went toward the door. "I do not understand things at all."
"No, and I don't suppose you ever will," Turner replied as he followed the servant into the corridor.
Loo Barebone went back to the Chateau de Gemosac after those travels in Provence which terminated so oddly on board "The Last Hope," at anchor in the Garonne River.
The Marquis received him with enthusiasm and a spirit of optimism which age could not dim.
"Everything is going a merveille!" he cried. "In three months we shall be ready to strike our blow—to make our great coup for France. The failure of Turner's bank was a severe check, I admit, and for a moment I was in despair. But now we are sure that we shall have the money for Albert de Chantonnay's Beauvoir estate by the middle of January. The death of Madame la Duchesse was a misfortune. If we could have persuaded her to receive you—your face would have done the rest, mon ami—we should have been invincible. But she was broken, that poor lady. Think of her life! Few women would have survived half of the troubles that she carried on those proud shoulders from childhood."
They were sitting in the little salon in the building that adjoined the gate-house of Gemosac, of which the stone stairs must have rung beneath the red spurs of fighting men; of which the walls were dented still with the mark of arms.
Barebone had given an account of his journey, which had been carried through without difficulty. Everywhere success had waited upon him—enthusiasm had marked his passage. In returning to France, he had stolen a march on his enemies, for nothing seemed to indicate that his presence in the country was known to them.
"I tell you," the Marquis explained, "that he has his hands full—that man in Paris. It is only a month since he changed his ministry. Who is this St. Arnaud, his Minister of War? Who is Maupas, his Prefect of Police? Does Monsieur Manpas know that we are nearly ready for our coup? Bah! Tell me nothing of that sort, gentlemen."
And this was the universally accepted opinion at this time, of Louis Bonaparte the President of a tottering Republic, divided against itself; a dull man, at his wits' end. For months, all Europe had been turning an inquiring and watchful eye on France. Socialism was rampant. Secret societies honeycombed the community. There was some danger in the air—men knew not what. Catastrophe was imminent, and none knew where to look for its approach. But all thought that it must come at the end of the year. A sort of panic took hold of all classes. They dreaded the end of 1851.
The Marquis de Gemosac spoke openly of these things before Juliette. She had been present when Loo and he talked together of this last journey, so happily accomplished, so fruitful of result. And Loo did not tell the Marquis that he had seen his old ship, "The Last Hope," in the river at Bordeaux, and had gone on board of her.
Juliette listened, as she worked, beneath the lamp at the table in the middle of the room. The lace-work she had brought from the convent-school was not finished yet. It was exquisitely fine and delicate, and Juliette executed the most difficult patterns with a sort of careless ease. Sometimes, when the Marquis was more than usually extravagant in his anticipations of success, or showed a superlative contempt for his foes, Juliette glanced at Barebone over her lace-work, but she rarely took part in the talk when politics were under discussion.
In domestic matters, however, this new chatelaine showed considerable shrewdness. She was not ignorant of the price of hay, and knew to a cask how much wine was stored in the vault beneath the old chapel. On these subjects the Marquis good-humouredly followed her advice sometimes. His word had always been law in the whole neighbourhood. Was he not the head of one of the oldest families in France?
"But, pardieu, she shows a wisdom quite phenomenal, that little one," the Marquis would tell his friends, with a hearty laugh. It was only natural that he should consider amusing the idea of uniting wisdom and youth and beauty in one person. It is still a universally accepted law that old people must be wise and young persons only charming. Some may think that they could point to a wise child born of foolish parents; to a daughter who is well-educated and shrewd, possessing a sense of logic, and a mother who is ignorant and foolish; to a son who has more sense than his father: but of course such observers must be mistaken. Old theories must be the right ones. The Marquis had no doubt of this, at all events, and thought it most amusing that Juliette should establish order in the chaos of domestic affairs at Gemosac.
"You are grave," said Juliette to Barebone, one evening soon after his return, when they happened to be alone in the little drawing-room. Barebone was, in fact, not a lively companion; for he had sat staring at the log-fire for quite three minutes when his eyes might assuredly have been better employed. "You are grave. Are you thinking of your sins?"
"When I think of those, Mademoiselle, I laugh. It is when I think of you that I am grave."
"So I am always grave, you understand."
She glanced quickly, not at him but toward him, and then continued her lace-making, with the ghost of a smile tilting the corners of her lips.
"It is because I have something to tell you."
"A secret?" she inquired, and she continued to smile, but differently, and her eyes hardened almost to resentment.
"Yes; a secret. It is a secret only known to two other people in the world besides myself. And they will never let you know even that they share it with you, Mademoiselle."
"Then they are not women," she said, with a sudden laugh. "Tell it to me, then—your secret."
There had been an odd suggestion of foreknowledge in her manner, as if she were humouring him by pretending to accept as a secret of vast importance some news which she had long known—that little air of patronage which even schoolgirls bestow, at times, upon white-haired men. It is part of the maternal instinct. But this vanished when she heard that she was to share the secret with two men, and she repeated, impatiently, "Tell me, please."
"It is a secret which will make a difference to us all our lives, Mademoiselle," he said, warningly. "It will not leave us the same as it found us. It has made a difference to all who know it. Therefore, I have only decided to tell you after long consideration. It is, in fact, a point of honour. It is necessary for you to know, whatever the result may be. Of that I have no doubt whatever."
He laughed reassuringly, which made her glance at him gravely, almost anxiously.
"And are you going on telling it to other people, afterward," she inquired; "to my father, for instance?"
"No, Mademoiselle. It comes to you, and it stops at you. I do not mind withholding it from your father, and from all the friends who have been so kind to me in France. I do not mind deceiving kings and emperors, Mademoiselle, and even the People, which is now always spelt in capital letters, and must be spoken of with bated breath."
She gave a scornful little laugh, as at the sound of an old jest—the note of a deathless disdain which was in the air she breathed.
"Not even the newspapers, which are trying to govern France. All that is a question of politics. But when it comes to you, Mademoiselle, that is a different matter."
"Yes. It is then a question of love."
Juliette slowly changed colour, but she gave a little gay laugh of incredulity and bent her head away from the light of the lamp.
"That is a different code of honour altogether," he said, gravely. "A code one does not wish to tamper with."
"No?" she inquired, with the odd little smile of foreknowledge again.
"No. And, therefore, before I go any farther, I think it best to tell you that I am not what I am pretending to be. I am pretending to be the son of the little Dauphin, who escaped from the Temple. He may have escaped from the Temple; that I don't know. But I know, or at least I think I know, that he is not buried in Farlingford churchyard and he was not my father. I can pass as the grandson of Louis XVI; I know that. I can deceive all the world. I can even climb to the throne of France, perhaps. There are many, as you know, who think I shall do it without difficulty. But I do not propose to deceive you, Mademoiselle."
There was a short silence, while Loo watched her face. Juliette had not even changed colour. When she was satisfied that he had nothing more to add, she looked at him, her needle poised in the air.
"Do you think it matters?" she asked, in a little cool, even voice.
It was so different from what he had expected that, for a moment, he was taken aback. Captain Clubbe's bluff, uncompromising reception of the same news had haunted his thoughts. "The square thing," that sailor had said, "and damn your friends; damn France." Loo looked at Juliette in doubt; then, suddenly, he understood her point of view; he understood her. He had learnt to understand a number of people and a number of points of view during the last twelve months.
"So long as I succeed?" he suggested.
"Yes," she answered, simply. "So long as you succeed, I do not see that it can matter who you are."
"And if I succeed," pursued Loo, gravely, "will you marry me, Mademoiselle?"
"Oh! I never said that," in a voice that was ready to yield to a really good argument.
"And if I fail—" Barebone paused for an instant. He still doubted his own perception. "And if I fail, you would not marry me under any circumstances?"
"I do not think my father would let me," she answered, with her eyes cast down upon her lace-frame.
Barebone leant forward to put together the logs, which burnt with a white incandescence that told of a frosty night. The Marquis had business in the town, and would soon return from the notary's, in time to dress for dinner.
"Well," said Loo, over his shoulder, "it is as well to understand each other, is it not?"
"Yes," she answered, significantly. She ignored the implied sarcasm altogether. There was so much meaning in her reply that Loo turned to look at her. She was smiling as she worked.
"Yes," she went on; "you have told me your secret—a secret. But I have the other, too; the secret you have not told me, mon ami. I have had it always."
"The secret that you do not love me," said Juliette, in her little wise, even voice; "that you have never loved me. Ah! You think we do not know. You think that I am too young. But we are never too young to know that, to know all about it. I think we know it in our cradles."
She spoke with a strange philosophy, far beyond her years. It might have been Madame de Chantonnay who spoke, with all that lady's vast experience of life and without any of her folly.
"You think I am pretty. Perhaps I am. Just pretty enough to enable you to pretend, and you have pretended very well at times. You are good at pretending, one must conclude. Oh! I bear no ill-will ..."
She broke off and looked at him, with a gay laugh, in which there was certainly no note of ill-will to be detected.
"But it is as well," she went on, "as you say, that we should understand each other. Thank you for telling me your secret—the one you have told me. I am flattered at that mark of your confidence. A woman is always glad to be told a secret, and immediately begins to anticipate the pleasure she will take in telling it to others, in confidence."
She looked up for a moment from her work; for Loo had given a short laugh. She looked, to satisfy herself that it was not the ungenerous laugh that nine men out of ten would have cast at her; and it was not. For Loo was looking at her with frank amusement.
"Oh, yes," she said; "I know that, too. It is one of the items not included in a convent education. It is unnecessary to teach us such things as that. We know them before we go in. Your secret is safe enough with me, however—the one you have told me. That is the least I can promise in return for your confidence. As to the other secret, bon Dieu! we will pretend I do not know it, if you like. At all events, you can vow that you never told me, if—if ever you are called upon to do so."
She paused for a moment to finish off a thread. Then, when she reached out her hand for the reel, she glanced at him with a smile, not unkind.
"So you need not pretend any more, monsieur," she said, seeing that Barebone was wise enough to keep silence. "I do not know who you are, mon ami," she went on, in a little burst of confidence; "and, as I told you just now, I do not care. And, as to that other matter, there is no ill-will. I only permit myself to wonder, sometimes, if she is pretty. That is feminine, I suppose. One can be feminine quite young, you understand."
She looked at him with unfathomable eyes and a little smile, such as men never forget once they have seen it.
"But you were inclined to be ironical just now, when I said I would marry you if you were successful. So I mention that other secret just to show that the understanding you wish to arrive at may be mutual—there may be two sides to it. I hear my father coming. That is his voice at the gate. We will leave things as they stand: n'est ce pas?"
She rose as she spoke and went toward the door. The Marquis's voice was raised, and there seemed to be some unusual clamour at the gate.
As the Marquis de Gemosac's step was already on the stairs, Barebone was spared the necessity of agreeing in words to the inevitable.
A moment later the old man hurried into the room. He had not even waited to remove his coat and gloves. A few snow-flakes powdered his shoulders.
"Ah!" he cried, on perceiving Barebone. "Good—you are safe!" He turned to speak to some one who was following him up the stairs with the slower steps of one who knew not his way.
"All is well!" he cried. "He is here. Give yourself no anxiety."
And the second comer crossed the threshold, coming suddenly out of the shadow of the staircase. It was Dormer Colville, white with snow, his face grey and worn. He shook hands with Barebone and bowed to Juliette, but the Marquis gave him no time to speak.
"I go down into the town," he explained, breathlessly. "The streets are full. There is a crowd on the marketplace, more especially round the tobacconist's, where the newspapers are to be bought. No newspapers, if you please. The Paris journals of last Sunday, and this is Friday evening. Nothing since that. No Bordeaux journal. No news at all from Paris: absolute silence from Toulouse and Limoges. 'It is another revolution,' they tell each other. Something has happened and no one knows what. A man comes up to me and tugs at my sleeve. 'Inside your walls, Monsieur le Marquis, waste no time,' he whispers, and is gone. He is some stable-boy. I have seen him somewhere. I! inside my walls! Here in Gemosac, where I see nothing but bare heads as I walk through the streets. Name of God! I should laugh at such a precaution. And while I am still trying to gather information the man comes back to me. 'It is not the people you have to fear,' he whispers in my ear, 'it is the Government. The order for your arrest is at the Gendarmerie, for it was I who took it there. Monsieur Albert was arrested yesterday, and is now in La Rochelle. Madame de Chantonnay's house is guarded. It is from Madame I come.' And again he goes. While I am hesitating, I hear the step of a horse, tired and yet urged to its utmost. It is Dormer Colville, this faithful friend, who is from Paris in thirty-six hours to warn us. He shall tell his story himself."
"There is not much to tell," said Colville, in a hollow voice. He looked round for a chair and sat down rather abruptly. "Louis Bonaparte is absolute master of France; that is all. He must be so by this time. When I escaped from Paris yesterday morning nearly all the streets were barricaded. But the troops were pouring into the city as I rode out—and artillery. I saw one barricade carried by artillery. Thousands must have been killed in the streets of Paris yesterday—"
"—And, bon Dieu! it is called a coup-d'etat," interrupted the Marquis.
"That was on Tuesday," explained Colville, in his tired voice—"at six o'clock on Tuesday morning. Yesterday and Wednesday were days of massacre."
"But, my friend," exclaimed the Marquis, impatiently, "tell us how it happened. You laugh! It is no time to laugh."
"I do not know," replied Colville, with an odd smile. "I think there is nothing else to be done—it is all so complete. We are all so utterly fooled by this man whom all the world took to be a dolt. On Tuesday morning he arrested seventy-eight of the Representatives. When Paris awoke, the streets had been placarded in the night with the decree of the President of the Republic. The National Assembly was dissolved. The Council of State was dissolved. Martial law was declared. And why? He does not even trouble to give a reason. He has the army at his back. The soldiers cried 'Vive l'Empereur' as they charged the crowd on Wednesday. He has got rid of his opponents by putting them in prison. Many, it is said, are already on their way to exile in Cayenne; the prisons are full. There is a warrant out against myself; against you, Barebone; against you, of course, Monsieur le Marquis. Albert de Chantonnay was arrested at Tours, and is now in La Rochelle. We may escape—we may get away to-night—"
He paused and looked hurriedly toward the door, for some one was coming up the stairs—some one who wore sabots. It was the servant, Marie, who came unceremoniously into the room with the exaggerated calm of one who realises the gravity of the situation and means to master it.
"The town is on fire," she explained, curtly; "they have begun on the Gendarmerie. Doubtless they have heard that these gentlemen are to be arrested, and it is to give other employment to the gendarmes. But the cavalry has arrived from Saintes, and I come upstairs to ask Monsieur to come down and help. It is my husband who is a fool. Holy Virgin! how many times have I regretted having married such a blockhead as that. He says he cannot raise the drawbridge. To raise it three feet would be to gain three hours. So I came to get Monsieur," she pointed at Barebone with a steady finger, "who has his wits on the top always and two hands at the end of his arms."
"But it is little use to raise the drawbridge," objected the Marquis. "They will soon get a ladder and place it against the breach in the wall and climb in."
"Not if I am on the wall who amuse myself with a hayfork, Monsieur le Marquis," replied Marie, with that exaggerated respect which implies a knowledge of mental superiority. She beckoned curtly to Loo and clattered down the stairs, followed by Barebone. The others did not attempt to go to their assistance, and the Marquis de Gemosac had a hundred questions to ask Colville.
The Englishman had little to tell of his own escape. There were so many more important arrests to be made that the overworked police of Monsieur de Maupas had only been able to apportion to him a bungler whom Colville had easily outwitted.
"And Madame St. Pierre Lawrence?" inquired the Marquis.
"Madame quitted Paris on Tuesday for England under the care of John Turner, who had business in London. He kindly offered to escort her across the Channel."
"Then she, at all events, is safe," said the Marquis, with a little wave of the hand indicating his satisfaction. "He is not brilliant, Monsieur Turner—so few English are—but he is solid, I think."
"I think he is the cleverest man I know," said Dormer Colville, thoughtfully. And before they had spoken again Loo Barebone returned.
He, like Marie, had grasped at once the serious aspect of the situation, whereas the Marquis succeeded only in reaching it with a superficial touch. He prattled of the political crisis in Paris and bade his friends rest assured that law and order must ultimately prevail. He even seemed to cherish the comforting assurance that Providence must in the end interfere on behalf of a Legitimate Succession. For this old noble was the true son of a father who had believed to the end in that King who talked grandiloquently of the works of Seneca and Tacitus while driving from the Temple to his trial, with the mob hooting and yelling imprecations into the carriage windows.
The Marquis de Gemosac found time to give a polite opinion on John Turner while the streets of Gemosac were being cleared by the cavalry from Saintes, and the Gendarmerie, burning briskly, lighted up a scene of bloodshed.
"We have raised the drawbridge a few feet," said Barebone; "but the chains are rusted and may easily be broken by a blacksmith. It will serve to delay them a few minutes; but it is not the mob we seek to keep out, and any organised attempt to break in would succeed in half an hour. We must go, of course."
He turned to Colville, with whom he had met and faced difficulties in the past. Colville might easily have escaped to England with Mrs. St. Pierre Lawrence, but he had chosen the better part. He had undertaken a long journey through disturbed France only to throw in his lot at the end of it with two pre-condemned men. Loo turned to him as to one who had proved himself capable enough in an emergency, brave in face of danger.
"We cannot stay here," he said; "the gates will serve to give us an hour's start, but no more. I suppose there is another way out of the chateau."
"There are two ways," answered the Marquis. "One leads to a house in the town and the other emerges at the mill down below the walls. But, alas! both are lost sight of. My ancestors—"
"I know the shorter one," put in Juliette, "the passage that leads to the mill. I can show you the entrance to that, which is in the crypt of the chapel, hidden behind the casks of wine."
She spoke to Barebone, only half-concealing, as Marie had done, the fact that the great respect with which the Marquis de Gemosac was treated was artificial, and would fall to pieces under the strain of an emergency—a faint echo of the old regime.
"When you are gone," the girl continued, still addressing Barebone, "Marie and I can keep them out at least an hour—probably more. We may be able to keep them outside the walls all night, and when at last they come in it will take them hours to satisfy themselves that you are not concealed within the enceinte."
She was quite cool, and even smiled at him with a white face.
"You are always right, Mademoiselle, and have a clear head," said Barebone.
"But no heart?" she answered in an undertone, under cover of her father's endless talk to Colville and with a glance which Barebone could not understand.
In a few minutes Dormer Colville pronounced himself ready to go, and refused to waste further precious minutes in response to Monsieur de Gemosac's offers of hospitality. No dinner had been prepared, for Marie had sterner business in hand and could be heard beneath the windows urging her husband to display a courage superior to that of a rabbit. Juliette hurried to the kitchen and there prepared a parcel of cold meat and bread for the fugitives to eat as they fled.
"We might remain hidden in a remote cottage," Barebone had suggested to Colville, "awaiting the development of events, but our best chance is 'The Last Hope.' She is at Bordeaux, and must be nearly ready for sea."
So it was hurriedly arranged that they should make their way on foot to a cottage on the marsh while Jean was despatched to Bordeaux with a letter for Captain Clubbe.
"It is a pity," said Marie, when informed of this plan, "that it is not I who wear the breeches. But I will make it clear to Jean that if he fails to carry out his task he need not show his face at the gate again."
The Marquis ran hither and thither, making a hundred suggestions, which were accepted in the soothing manner adopted toward children. He assured Juliette that their absence would be of short duration; that there was indeed no danger, but that he was acceding to the urgent persuasions of Barebone and Colville, who were perhaps unnecessarily alarmed—who did not understand how affairs were conducted in France. He felt assured that law and order must prevail.
"But if they have put Albert de Chantonnay in prison, why should you be safe?" asked Juliette. To which the Marquis replied with a meaning cackle that she had a kind heart, and that it was only natural that it should be occupied at that moment with thoughts of that excellent young man who, in his turn, was doubtless thinking of her in his cell at La Rochelle.
Which playful allusion to Albert de Chantonnay's pretensions was received by their object with a calm indifference.
"When Jean returns," she said, practically, "I will send him to you at the Bremonts' cottage with food and clothing. But you must not attempt to communicate with us. You would only betray your whereabouts and do no good to us. We shall be quite safe in the chateau. Marie and I and Madame Maugiron are not afraid."
At which the Marquis laughed heartily. It was so amusing to think that one should be young and pretty—and not afraid. In the mean time Barebone was sealing his letter to Captain Clubbe. He had written it in the Suffolk dialect, spelling all the words as they are pronounced on that coast and employing when he could the Danish and Dutch expressions in daily use on the foreshore, which no French official seeking to translate could find in any dictionary.
Loo gave his instructions to Jean himself, who received them in a silence not devoid of intelligence. The man had been round the walls and reported that nothing stirred beneath them; that there was more than one fire in the town, and that the streets appeared to be given over to disorder and riot.
"It is assuredly a change in the Government," he explained, simply. "And there will be many for Monsieur l'Abbe to bury on Sunday."
Jean was to accompany them to the cottage of an old man who had once lived by ferrying the rare passenger across the Gironde. Having left them here, he could reach Blaye before daylight, from whence a passage up the river to Bordeaux would be easily procurable.
The boatman's cottage stood on the bank of a creek running into the Gironde. It was a lone building hidden among the low dunes that lie between the river and the marsh. Any one approaching it by daylight would be discernible half an hour in advance, and the man's boat, though old, was seaworthy. None would care to cross the lowlands at night except under the guidance of one or two, who, like Jean, knew their way even in the dark.
Colville and Barebone had to help Jean to move the great casks stored in the crypt of the old chapel by which the entrance to the passage was masked.
"It is, I recollect having been told, more than a passage—it is a ramp," explained the Marquis, who stood by. "It was intended for the passage of horses, so that a man might mount here and ride out into the mill-stream, actually beneath the mill-wheel which conceals the exit."
Juliette, a cloak thrown over her evening dress, had accompanied them and stood near, holding a lantern above her head to give them light. It was an odd scene—a strange occupation for the last of the de Gemosacs. Through the gaps in the toppling walls they could hear the roar of voices and the occasional report of a firearm in the streets of the town below. The door opened easily enough, and Jean, lighting a candle, led the way. Barebone was the last to follow. Within the doorway he turned to say good-bye. The light of the lantern flickered uncertainly on Juliette's fair hair.
"We may be back sooner than you expect, mademoiselle," said Barebone.
"Or you may go—to England," she answered.
Although it was snowing hard, it was not a dark night. There was a half moon hidden behind those thin, fleecy clouds, which carry the snow across the North Sea and cast it noiselessly upon the low-lying coast, from Thanet to the Wash, which knows less rain and more snow than any in England.
A gale of wind was blowing from the north-east; not in itself a wild gale, but at short intervals a fresh burst of wind brought with it a thicker fall of snow, and during these squalls the force of the storm was terrific. A man, who had waited on the far shore of the river for a quiet interval, had at last made his way to the Farlingford side. He moored his boat and stumbled heavily up the steps.
There was no one on the quay. The street was deserted, but the lights within the cottages glowed warmly through red blinds here and there. The majority of windows were, however, secured with a shutter, screwed tight from within. The man trotted steadily up the street. He had an unmistakable air of discipline. It was only six o'clock, but night had closed in three hours ago. The coast-guard looked neither to one side nor the other, but ran on at the pace of one who had run far and knows that he cannot afford to lose his breath; for his night's work was only begun.
The coast-guard station stands on the left-hand side of the street, a long, low house in a bare garden. In answer to the loud summons, a red-faced little man opened the door and let out into the night a smell of bloaters and tea—the smell that pervades all Farlingford at six o'clock in the evening.
"Something on the Inner Curlo Bank," shouted the coast-guard in his face, and turning on his heel, he ran with the same slow, organised haste, leaving the red-faced man finishing a mouthful on the mat.
The next place of call was at River Andrew's, the little low cottage with rounded corners, below the church.
"Come out o' that," said the coast-guard, with a contemptuous glance of snow-rimmed eyes at River Andrew's comfortable tea-table. "Ring yer bell. Something on the Inner Curlo Bank."
River Andrew had never hurried in his life, and like all his fellows, he looked upon coast-guards as amateurs mindful, as all amateurs are, of their clothes.
"A'm now going," he answered, rising laboriously from his chair. The coast-guard glanced at his feet clad in the bright green carpet-slippers, dear to seafaring men. Then he turned to the side of the mantelpiece and took the church keys from the nail. For everybody knows where everybody else keeps his keys in Farlingford. He forgot to shut the door behind him, and River Andrew, pessimistically getting into his sea-boots, swore at his retreating back.
"Likely as not, he'll getten howld o' the wrong roup," he muttered; though he knew that every boy in the village could point out the rope of "John Darby," as that which had a piece of faded scarlet flannel twisted through the strands.
In a few minutes the man, who hastened slowly, gave the call, which every man in Farlingford answered with an emotionless, mechanical promptitude. From each fireside some tired worker reached out his hand toward his most precious possession, his sea-boots, as his forefathers had done before him for two hundred years at the sound of "John Darby." The women crammed into the pockets of the men's stiff oilskins a piece of bread, a half-filled bottle—knowing that, as often as not, their husbands must pass the night and half the next day on the beach, or out at sea, should the weather permit a launch through the surf.
There was no need of excitement, or even of comment. Did not "John Darby" call them from their firesides or their beds a dozen times every winter, to scramble out across the shingle? As often as not, there was nothing to be done but drag the dead bodies from the surf; but sometimes the dead revived—some fair-haired, mystic foreigner from the northern seas, who came to and said, "T'ank you," and nothing else. And next day, rigged out in dry clothes and despatched toward Ipswich on the carrier's cart, he would shake hands awkwardly with any standing near and bob his head and say "T'ank you" again, and go away, monosyllabic, mystic, never to be heard of more. But the ocean, as it is called at Farlingford, seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of such Titans to throw up on the rattling shingle winter after winter. And, after all, they were seafaring men, and therefore brothers. Farlingford turned out to a man, each seeking to be first across the river every time "John Darby" called them, as if he had never called them before.
To-night none paused to finish the meal, and many a cup raised half-way was set down again untasted. It is so easy to be too late.
Already the flicker of lanterns on the sea-wall showed that the rectory was astir. For Septimus Marvin, vaguely recalling some schoolboy instinct of fair-play, knew the place of the gentleman and the man of education among humbler men in moments of danger and hardship, which should, assuredly, never be at the back.
"Yonder's parson," some one muttered. "His head is clear now, I'll warrant, when he hears 'John Darby.'"
"'Tis only on Sundays, when 'John' rings slow, 'tis misty," answered a sharp-voiced woman, with a laugh. For half of Farlingford was already at the quay, and three or four boats were bumping and splashing against the steps. The tide was racing out, and the wind, whizzing slantwise across it, pushed it against the wooden piles of the quay, making them throb and tremble.
"Not less'n four to the oars!" shouted a gruff voice, at the foot of the steps, where the salt water, splashing on the snow, had laid bare the green and slimy moss. Two or three volunteers stumbled down the steps, and the first boat got away, swinging down-stream at once, only to be brought slowly back, head to wind. She hung motionless a few yards from the quay, each dip of the oars stirring the water into a whirl of phosphorescence, and then forged slowly ahead.
Septimus Marvin was not alone, but was accompanied by a bulky man, not unknown in Farlingford—John Turner, of Ipswich, understood to live "foreign," but to return, after the manner of East Anglians, when occasion offered. The rector was in oilskins and sou'wester, like any one else, and the gleam of his spectacles under the snowy brim of his headgear seemed to strike no one as incongruous. His pockets bulged with bottles and bandages. Under his arm he carried a couple of blanket horse-cloths, useful for carrying the injured or the dead.
"The Curlo—the Inner Curlo—yes, yes!" he shouted in response to information volunteered on all sides. "Poor fellows! The Inner Curlo, dear, dear!"
And he groped his way down the steps, into the first boat he saw, with a simple haste. John Turner followed him. He had tied a silk handkerchief over his soft felt hat and under his chin.
"No, no!" he said, as Septimus Marvin made room for him on the after-thwart. "I'm too heavy for a passenger. Put my weight on an oar," and he clambered forward to a vacant thwart.
"Mind you come back for us, River Andrew!" cried little Sep's thin voice, as the boat swirled down stream. His wavering bull's-eye lantern followed it, and showed River Andrew and another pulling stroke to John Turner's bow, for the banker had been a famous oar on the Orwell in his boyhood. Then, with a smack like a box on the ear, another snow-squall swept in from the sea, and forced all on the quay to turn their backs and crouch. Many went back to their homes, knowing that nothing could be known for some hours. Others crouched on the landward side of an old coal-shed, peeping round the corner.
Miriam and Sep, and a few others, waited on the quay until River Andrew or another should return. It was an understood thing that the helpers, such as could man a boat or carry a drowned man, should go first. In a few minutes the squall was past, and by the light of the moon, now thinly covered by clouds, the black forms of the first to reach the other shore could be seen straggling across the marsh toward the great shingle-bank that lies between the river and the sea. Two boats were moored at the far side, another was just making the jetty, while a fourth was returning toward the quay. It was River Andrew, faithful to his own element, who preferred to be first here, rather than obey orders on the open beach.
There were several ready to lend a helping hand against tide and wind, and Miriam and Sep were soon struggling across the shingle, in the footsteps of those who had gone before. The north-east wind seared their faces like a hot iron, but the snow had ceased falling. As they reached the summit of the shingle-bank, they could see in front of them the black line of the sea, and on the beach, where the white of the snow and the white of the roaring surf merged together, a group of men.
One or two stragglers had left this group to search the beach, north or south; but it was known, from a long and grim experience, that anything floating in from the tail of the Inner Curlo Bank must reach the shore at one particular point. A few lanterns twinkled here and there, but near the group of watchers a bonfire of wreckage and tarry fragments and old rope, brought hither for the purpose, had been kindled.
Two boats, hauled out of reach of a spring tide, were being leisurely prepared for launching. There was no hurry; for it had been decided by the older men that no boat could be put to sea through the surf then rolling in. At the turn of the tide, in two hours' time, something might be done.
"Us cannot see anything," a bystander said to Miriam. "It is just there, where I am pointing. Sea Andrew saw something a while back—says it looked like a schooner."
The man stood pointing out to sea to the southward. He carried an unlighted torch—a flare, roughly made, of tarred rope, bound round a stick. At times, one or another would ignite his flare, and go down the beach holding it above his head, while he stood knee deep in the churning foam to peer out to sea. He would presently return, without comment, to beat out his flare against his foot and take his place among the silent watchers. No one spoke; but if any turned his head sharply to one side or other, all the rest wheeled, like one man, in the same direction and after staring at the tumbled sea would turn reproachful glances on the false alarmist.
Suddenly, after a long wait, four men rushed without a word into the surf; their silent fury suggesting oddly the rush of hounds upon a fox. They had simultaneously caught sight of something dark, half sunk in the shallow water. In a moment they were struggling up the shingle slope toward the fire, carrying a heavy weight. They laid their burden by the fire, where the snow had melted away, and it was a man. He was in oilskins, and some one cut the tape that tied his sou'wester. His face was covered with blood.
"'Tis warm," said the man who had cut away the oilskin cap, and with his hand he wiped the blood away from the eyes and mouth. Some one in the background drew a cork, with his teeth, and a bottle was handed down to those kneeling on the ground.
Suddenly the man sat up—and coughed.
"Shipmets," he said, with a splutter, and lay down again.
Some one held the bottle to his lips and wiped the blood away from his face again.
"My God!" shouted a bystander, gruffly. "'Tis William Brooke, of the Cottages."
"Yes. 'Tis me," said the man, sitting up again. "Not that arm, mate; don't ye touch it. 'Tis bruk. Yes; 'tis me. And 'The Last Hope' is on the tail of the Inner Curlo—and the spar that knocked me overboard fell on the old man, and must have half killed him. But Loo Barebone's aboard."
He rose to his knees, with one arm hanging straight and piteous from his shoulder, then slowly to his feet. He stood wavering for a moment, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and spluttered. Then, looking straight in front of him, with that strange air of a whipped dog which humble men wear when the hand of Heaven is upon them, he staggered up the beach toward the river and Farlingford.
"Where are ye goin'?" some one asked.
"Over to mine," was the reply. "A'm going to my old woman, shipmets."
And he staggered away in the darkness.
FARLINGFORD ONCE MORE
After a hurried consultation, Septimus Marvin was deputed to follow the injured man and take him home, seeing that he had as yet but half recovered his senses. This good Samaritan had scarcely disappeared when a shout from the beach drew the attention of all in another direction.
One of the outposts was running toward the fire, waving his lantern and shouting incoherently. It was a coast-guard.
"Comin' ashore in their own boat," he cried. "They're coming in in their own boat!"
"There she rides—there she rides!" added Sea Andrew, almost immediately, and he pointed to the south.
Quite close in, just outside the line of breakers, a black shadow was rising and falling on the water. It seemed to make scarcely any way at all, and each sea that curled underneath the boat and roared toward the beach was a new danger.
"They're going to run her in here," said Sea Andrew. "There's more left on board; that's what that means, and they're goin' back for 'em. If 'twasn't so they'd run in anywheres and let her break."
For one sailor will always tell what another is about, however great the distance intervening.
Slowly the boat came on, rolling tremendously on the curve of the breakers, between the broken water of the tideway and the spume of the surf.
"That's Loo at the hellum," said Sea Andrew—the keenest eyes in Farlingford.
And suddenly Miriam swayed sideways against John Turner, who was perhaps watching her, for he gripped her arm and stood firm. No one spoke. The watchers on the beach stared open-mouthed, making unconscious grimaces as the boat rose and fell. All had been ready for some minutes; every preparation made according to the time-honoured use of these coasts: four men with life-lines round them standing knee-deep waiting to dash in deeper, others behind them grouped in two files, some holding the slack of the life-lines, forming a double rank from the shore to the fire, giving the steersman his course. There was no need to wave a torch or shout an order. They were Farlingford men on the shore and Farlingford men in the boat.
At last, after breathless moments of suspense, the boat turned, and came spinning in on the top of a breaker, with the useless oars sticking out like the legs of some huge insect. For a few seconds it was impossible to distinguish anything. The moment the boat touched ground, the waves beating on it enveloped all near it in a whirl of spray, and the black forms seemed to be tumbling over each other in confusion.
"You see," said Turner to Miriam, "he has come back to you after all."
She did not answer but stood, her two hands clasped together on her breast, seeking to disentangle the confused group, half in half out of the water.
Then they heard Loo Barebone's voice, cheerful and energetic, almost laughing. Before they could understand what was taking place his voice was audible again, giving a sharp, clear order, and all the black forms rushed together down into the surf. A moment later the boat danced out over the crest of a breaker, splashing into the next and throwing up a fan of spray.
"She's through, she's through!" cried some one. And the boat rode for a brief minute head to wind before she turned southward. There were only three on the thwarts—Loo Barebone and two others.
The group now broke up and straggled up toward the fire. One man was being supported, and could scarcely walk. It was Captain Clubbe, hatless, his grey hair plastered across his head by salt water.
He did not heed any one, but sat down heavily on the shingle and felt his leg with one hand, the other arm hung limply.
"Leave me here," he said, gruffly, to two or three who were spreading out a horse-cloth and preparing to carry him. "Here I stay till all are ashore."
Behind him were several new-comers, one of them a little man talking excitedly to his companion.
"But it is a folly," he was saying in French, "to go back in such a sea as that."
It was the Marquis de Gemosac, and no one was taking any notice of him. Dormer Colville, stumbling over the shingle beside him, recognised Miriam in the firelight and turned again to look at her companion as if scarcely believing the evidence of his own eyes.
"Is that you, Turner?" he said. "We are all here,—the Marquis, Barebone, and I. Clubbe took us on board one dark night in the Gironde and brought us home."
"Are you hurt?" asked Turner, curtly.
"Oh, no. But Clubbe's collar-bone is broken and his leg is crushed. We had to leave four on board; not room for them in the boat. That fool Barebone has gone back for them. He promised them he would. The sea out there is awful!"
He knelt down and held his shaking hands to the flames. Some one handed him a bottle, but he turned first and gave it the Marquis de Gemosac, who was shaking all over like one far gone in a palsy.
Sea Andrew and the coast-guard captain were persuading Captain Clubbe to quit the beach, but he only answered them roughly in monosyllables.
"My place is here till all are safe," he said. "Let me lie."
And with a groan of pain he lay back on the beach. Miriam folded a blanket and placed it under his head. He looked round, recognised her and nodded.
"No place for you, miss," he said, and closed his eyes. After a moment he raised himself on his elbow and looked into the faces peering down at him.
"Loo will beach her anywhere he can. Keep a bright lookout for him," he said. Then he was silent, and all turned their faces toward the sea.
Another snow-squall swept in with a rush from the eastward, and half of the fire was blown away—a trail of sparks hissing on the snow. They built up the fire again and waited, crouching low over the embers. They could see nothing out to sea. There was nothing to be done but to wait. Some had gone along the shore to the south, keeping pace with the supposed progress of the boat, ready to help should she be thrown ashore.
Suddenly the Marquis de Gemosac, shivering over the fire, raised his voice querulously. His emotions always found vent in speech.
"It is a folly," he repeated, "that he has committed. I do not understand, gentlemen, how he was permitted to do such a thing—he whose life is of value to millions."
He turned his head to glance sharply at Captain Clubbe, at Colville, at Turner, who listened with that half-contemptuous silence which Englishmen oppose to unnecessary or inopportune speech.
"Ah!" he said, "you do not understand—you Englishmen—or you do not believe, perhaps, that he is the King. You would demand proofs which you know cannot be produced. I demand no proofs, for I know. I know without any proof at all but his face, his manner, his whole being. I knew at once when I saw him step out of his boat here in this sad village, and I have lived with him almost daily ever since—only to be more sure than at first."
His hearers made no answer. They listened tolerantly enough, as one listens to a child or to any other incapable of keeping to the business in hand.
"Oh. I know more than you suspect," said the Marquis, suddenly. "There are some even in our own party who have doubts, who are not quite sure. I know that there was a doubt as to that portrait of the Queen," he half glanced toward Dormer Colville. "Some say one thing, some another. I have been told that, when the child—Monsieur de Bourbon's father—landed here, there were two portraits among his few possessions—the miniature and a larger print, an engraving. Where is that engraving, one would ask?"
"I have it in my safe in Paris," said a thick voice in the darkness. "Thought it was better in my possession than anywhere else."
"Indeed! And now, Monsieur Turner—" the Marquis raised himself on his knees and pointed in his eager way a thin finger in the direction of the banker—"tell me this. Those portraits to which some would attach importance—they are of the Duchess de Guiche. Admitted? Good! If you yourself—who have the reputation of being a man of wit—desired to secure the escape of a child and his nurse, would you content yourself with the mere precaution of concealing the child's identity? Would you not go farther and provide the nurse with a subterfuge, a blind, something for the woman to produce and say, 'This is not the little Dauphin. This is so-and-so. See, here is the portrait of his mother?' What so effective, I ask you? What so likely to be believed as a scandal directed against the hated aristocrats? Can you advance anything against that theory?"
"No, Monsieur," replied Turner.
"But Monsieur de Bourbon knows of these doubts," went on the Marquis. "They have even touched his own mind, I know that. But he has continued to fight undaunted. He has made sacrifices—any looking at his face can see that. It was not in France that he looked for happiness, but elsewhere. He was not heart-whole—I who have seen him with the most beautiful women in France paying court to him know that. But this sacrifice, also, he made for the sake of France. Or perhaps some woman of whom we know nothing stepped back and bade him go forward alone, for the sake of his own greatness—who can tell?"
Again no one answered him. He had not perceived Miriam, and John Turner, with that light step which sometimes goes with a vast bulk, had placed himself between her and the firelight. Monsieur de Gemosac rose to his feet and stood looking seaward. The snow-clouds were rolling away to the west, and the moon, breaking through, was beginning to illumine the wild sky.
"Gentlemen," said the Marquis, "they have been gone a long time?"
Captain Clubbe moved restlessly, but he made no answer. The Marquis had, of course, spoken in French, and the Captain had no use for that language.
The group round the fire had dwindled until only half a dozen remained. One after another the watchers had moved away uneasily toward the beach. The Marquis was right—the boat had been gone too long.
At last the moon broke through, and the snowy scene was almost as light as day.
John Turner was looking along the beach to the south, and one after another the watchers by the fire turned their anxious eyes in the same direction. The sea, whipped white, was bare of any wreck. "The Last Hope" of Farlingford was gone. She had broken up or rolled into deep water.
A number of men were coming up the shingle in silence. Sea Andrew, dragging his feet wearily, approached in advance of them.
"Boat's thrown up on the beach," he said to Captain Clubbe. "Stove in by a sea. We've found them."
He stood back and the others, coming slowly into the light, deposited their burdens side by side near the fire. The Marquis, who had understood nothing, took a torch from the hand of a bystander and held it down toward the face of the man they had brought last.
It was Loo Barebone, and the clean-cut, royal features seemed to wear a reflective smile.
Miriam had come forward toward the fire, and by chance or by some vague instinct the bearers had laid their burden at her feet. After all, as John Turner had said, Loo Barebone had come back to her. She had denied him twice, and the third time he would take no denial. The taciturn sailors laid him there and stepped back—as if he was hers and this was the inevitable end of his short and stormy voyage.
She looked down at him with tired eyes. She had done the right, and this was the end. There are some who may say that she had done what she thought was right, and this only seemed to be the end. It may be so.
The Marquis de Gemosac was dumb for once. He looked round him with a half-defiant question in his eyes. Then he pointed a lean finger down toward the dead man's face.
"Others may question," he said, "but I know—I know."