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The Maids of Paradise
by Robert W. (Robert William) Chambers
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A resounding roll of the drum ended the announcements; the girl slung the drum over her shoulder, turned to the right, and passed over the stone bridge, sabots clicking. Presently from the hamlet of Alincourt over the stream came the dull roll of the drum again and the faint, clear voice:

"Attention! Men of Finistere! By order of the governor of Lorient, all men—" The wind changed and her voice died away among the trees.

The maids of Paradise were weeping now by the fountain; the men gathered near, and their slow, hushed voices scarcely rose above the ripple of the stream where Robert the Lizard fished in silence.

It was after sunset before Jacqueline finished her rounds. She had read her proclamation in Alincourt hamlet, she had read it in Sainte-Ysole, her drum had aroused the inert loungers on the breakwater at Trinite-on-Sea. Now, with her drum on her shoulder and her sabots swinging in her left hand, she came down the cliffs beside the Chapel of Our Lady of Paradise, excited and expectant.

Of the first proclamation which she had read she apparently understood little. When she announced the great disaster at Metz in the north, and when her passionless young voice proclaimed the levee en masse—the call to arms for the men of the coast from Sainte-Ysole to Trinite Beacon—she scarcely seemed to realize what it meant, although all around her women turned away sobbing, or clung, deathly white, to sons and husbands.

But there was certainly something in the other proclamation which thrilled her and set her heart galloping as she loitered on the cliff.

I walked across to the Quimperle road and met her, dancing along with her drum; and she promptly confided her longings and desires to me as we stood together for an instant on the high-road. The circus! Once, it appeared, she had seen—very far off—a glittering creature turning on a trapeze. It was at the fair near Bannalec, and it was so long ago that she scarcely remembered anything except that somebody had pulled her away while she stood enchanted, and the flashing light of fairyland had been forever shut from her eyes.

At times, when the maids of Paradise were sociable at the well in the square, she had listened to stories of the splendid circus which came once to Lorient. And now it was coming again!

We stood in the middle of the high-road looking through the dust haze, she doubtless dreaming of the splendors to come, I very, very tired. The curtain of golden dust reddened in the west; the afterglow lit up the sky once more with brilliant little clouds suspended from mid-zenith. The moorland wind rose and tossed her elf-locks in her eyes and whipped her skirt till the rags fluttered above her smooth, bare knees.

Suddenly, straight out of the flaming gates of the sunset, the miracle was wrought. Celestial shapes in gold and purple rose up in the gilded dust, chariots of silver, milk-white horses plumed with fire.

Breathless, she shrank back among the weeds, one hand pressed to her throbbing throat. But the vision grew as she stared; there was heavenly music, too, and the clank of metal chains, and the smothered pounding of hoofs. Then she caught sight of something through the dust that filled her with a delicious terror, and she cried out. For there, uptowering in the haze, came trudging a great, gray creature, a fearsome, swaying thing in crimson trappings, flapping huge ears. It shuffled past, swinging a dusty trunk; the sparkling horsemen cantered by, tin armor blazing in the fading glory; the chariots dragged after, and the closed dens of beasts rolled behind in single file, followed by the band-wagon, where Heaven-inspired musicians played frantically and a white-faced clown balanced his hat on a stick and shrieked.

So the circus passed into Paradise; and I turned and followed in the wake of dust, stale odors, and clamorous discord, sick at heart of wandering over a world I had not found too kind.

And at my heels stole Jacqueline.



XI

IN CAMP

We went into camp under the landward glacis of the cliffs, in a field of clover which was to be ploughed under in a few days. We all were there except Kelly Eyre, who had gone to telegraph the governor of Lorient for permission to enter the port with the circus. Another messenger also left camp on private business for me.

It was part of my duty to ration the hay for the elephant and the thrice-accursed camel. The latter had just bitten Mr. Grigg, our clown—not severely—and Speed and Horan the "Strong Man" were hobbling the brute as I finished feeding my lions and came up to assist the others.

"Watch that darn elephant, too, Mr. Grigg," said Byram, looking up from a plate of fried ham that Miss Crystal, our "Trapeze Lady," had just cooked for him over our gypsy fires of driftwood.

"Look at that elephant! Look at him!" continued Byram, with a trace of animation lighting up his careworn face—"look at him now chuckin' hay over his back. Scrape it up, Mr. Scarlett; hay's thirty a ton in this war-starved country."

As I started to clean up the precious hay, the elephant gave a curious grunt and swung his trunk toward me.

"There's somethin' paltry about that elephant," said Byram, in a complaining voice, rising, with plate of ham in one hand, fork in the other. "He's gittin' as mean as that crafty camuel. Make him move, Mr. Speed, or he'll put his foot on the trombone."

"Ho Djebe! Mail!" said Speed, sharply.

The elephant obediently shuffled forward; Byram sat down again, and wearily cut himself a bit of fried ham; and presently we were all sitting around the long camp-table in the glare of two smoky petroleum torches, eating our bread and ham and potatoes and drinking Breton cider, a jug of which Mr. Horan had purchased for a few coppers.

Some among us were too tired to eat, many too tired for conversation, yet, from habit we fell into small talk concerning the circus, the animals, the prospects of better days.

The ladies of the company, whatever quarrels they indulged in among themselves, stood loyally by Byram in his anxiety and need. Miss Crystal and Miss Delany displayed edifying optimism; Mrs. Horan refrained from nagging; Mrs. Grigg, a pretty little creature, who was one of the best equestriennes I ever saw, declared that we were living too well and that a little dieting wouldn't hurt anybody.

McCadger, our band-master, came over from the other fire to say that the men had finished grooming the horses, and would I inspect the picket-line, as Kelly Eyre was still absent.

When I returned, the ladies had retired to their blankets under their shelter-tent; poor little Grigg lay asleep at the table, his tired, ugly head resting among the unwashed tin plates; Speed sprawled in his chair, smoking a short pipe; Byram sat all hunched up, his head sunk, eyes vacantly following the movements of two men who were washing dishes in the flickering torch-light.

He looked up at me, saying: "I guess Mr. Speed is right. Them lions o' yourn is fed too much horse-meat. Overeatin' is overheatin'; we've got to give 'em beef or they'll be clawin' you. Yes, sir, they're all het up. Hear 'em growl!"

"That's a fable, governor," I said, smiling and dropping into a chair. "I've heard that theory before, but it isn't true."

"The trouble with your lions is that you play with them too much and they're losing respect for you," said Speed, drowsily.

"The trouble with my lions," said I, "is that they were born in captivity. Give me a wild lion, caught on his native heath, and I'll know what to expect from him when I tame him. But no man on earth can tell what a lion born in captivity will do."

The hard cider had cheered Byram a little; he drew a cherished cigar from his vest-pocket, offered it to me, and when I considerately refused, he carefully set it alight with a splinter from the fire. Its odor was indescribable.

"Luck's a curious phenomena, ain't it, Mr. Scarlett?" he said.

I agreed with him.

"Luck," continued Byram, waving his cigar toward the four quarters of the globe, "is the rich man's slave an' the poor man's tyrant. It's also a see-saw. When the devil plays in luck the cherubim git spanked—or words to that effec'—not meanin' no profanity."

"It's about like that, governor," admitted Speed, lazily.

Byram leaned back and sucked meditatively at his cigar. The new moon was just rising over the elephant's hindquarters, and the poetry of the incident appeared to move the manager profoundly. He turned and surveyed the dim bivouac, the two silent tents, the monstrous, shadowy bulk of the elephant, rocking monotonously against the sky. "Kind of Silurian an' solemn, ain't it," he murmured, "the moon shinin' onto the rump of that primeval pachyderm. It's like the dark ages of the behemoth an' the cony. I tell you, gentlemen, when them fearsome an' gigantic mamuels was aboundin' in the dawn of creation, the public missed the greatest show on earth—by a few million years!"

We nodded sleepily but gravely.

Byram appeared to have recovered something of his buoyancy and native optimism.

"Gentlemen," he said, "let's kinder saunter over to the inn and have a night-cap with Kelly Eyre."

This unusual and expensive suggestion startled us wide awake, but we were only too glad to acquiesce in anything which tended to raise his spirits or ours. Dog tired but smiling we rose; Byram, in his shirt-sleeves and suspenders, wearing his silk hat on the back of his head, led the way, fanning his perspiring face with a red-and-yellow bandanna.

"Luck," said Byram, waving his cigar toward the new moon, "is bound to turn one way or t'other—like my camuel. Sometimes, resemblin' the camuel, luck will turn on you. Look out it don't bite you. I once made up a piece about luck:

"'Don't buck Bad luck Or you'll get stuck—'

I disremember the rest, but it went on to say a few other words to that effec'."

The lighted door of the inn hung ajar as we crossed the star-lit square; Byram entered and stood a moment in the doorway, stroking his chin. "Bong joor the company!" he said, lifting his battered hat.

The few Bretons in the wine-room returned his civility; he glanced about and his eye fell on Kelly Eyre, Speed's assistant balloonist, seated by the window with Horan.

"Well, gents," said Byram, hopefully, "an' what aire the prospects of smilin' fortune when rosy-fingered dawn has came again to kiss us back to life?"

"Rotten," said Eyre, pushing a telegram across the oak table.

Byram's face fell; he picked up the telegram and fumbled in his coat for his spectacles with unsteady hand.

"Let me read it, governor," said Speed, and took the blue paper from Byram's unresisting, stubby fingers.

"O-ho!" he muttered, scanning the message; "well—well, it's not so bad as all that—" He turned abruptly on Kelly Eyre—"What the devil are you scaring the governor for?"

"Well, he's got to be told—I didn't mean to worry him," said Eyre, stammering, ashamed of his thoughtlessness.

"Now see here, governor," said Speed, "let's all have a drink first. He ma belle!"—to the big Breton girl knitting in the corner—"four little swallows of eau-de-vie, if you please! Ah, thank you, I knew you were from Bannalec, where all the girls are as clever as they are pretty! Come, governor, touch glasses! There is no circus but the circus, and Byram is it's prophet! Drink, gentlemen!"

But his forced gayety was ominous; we scarcely tasted the liqueur. Byram wiped his brow and squared his bent shoulders. Speed, elbows on the table, sat musing and twirling his half-empty glass.

"Well, sir?" said Byram, in a low voice.

"Well, governor? Oh—er—the telegram?" asked Speed, like a man fighting for time.

"Yes, the telegram," said Byram, patiently.

"Well, you see they have just heard of the terrible smash-up in the north, governor. Metz has surrendered with Bazaine's entire army. And they're naturally frightened at Lorient.... And I rather fear that the Germans are on their way toward the coast.... And ... well ... they won't let us pass the Lorient fortifications."

"Won't let us in?" cried Byram, hoarsely.

"I'm afraid not, governor."

Byram stared at us. We had counted on Lorient to pull us through as far as the frontier.

"Now don't take it so hard, governor," said Kelly Eyre; "I was frightened myself, at first, but I'm ashamed of it now. We'll pull through, anyhow."

"Certainly," said Speed, cheerily, "we'll just lay up here for a few days and economize. Why can't we try one performance here, Scarlett?"

"We can," said I. "We'll drum up the whole district from Pontivy to Auray and from Penmarch Point to Plouharnel! Why should the Breton peasantry not come? Don't they walk miles to the Pardons?"

A gray pallor settled on Byram's sunken face; with it came a certain dignity which sorrow sometimes brings even to men like him.

"Young gentlemen," he said, "I'm obliged to you. These here reverses come to everybody, I guess. The Lord knows best; but if He'll just lemme run my show a leetle longer, I'll pay my debts an' say, 'Thy will be done, amen!'"

"We all must learn to say that, anyway," said Speed.

"Mebbe," muttered Byram, "but I must pay my debts."

After a painful silence he rose, steadying himself with his hand on Eyre's broad shoulder, and shambled out across the square, muttering something about his elephant and his camuel.

Speed paid the insignificant bill, emptied his glass, and nodded at me.

"It's all up," he said, soberly.

"Let's come back to camp and talk it over," I said.

Together we traversed the square under the stars, and entered the field of clover. In the dim, smoky camp all lights were out except one oil-drenched torch stuck in the ground between the two tents. Byram had gone to rest, so had Kelly Eyre. But my lions were awake, moving noiselessly to and fro, eyes shining in the dusk; and the elephant, a shapeless pile of shadow against the sky, stood watching us with little, evil eyes.

Speed had some cigarettes, and he laid the pink package on the table. I lighted one when he did.

"Do you really think there's a chance?" he asked, presently.

"I don't know," I said.

"Well, we can try."

"Oh yes."

Speed dropped his elbows on the table. "Poor old governor," he said.

Then he began to talk of our own prospects, which were certainly obscure if not alarming; but he soon gave up speculation as futile, and grew reminiscent, recalling our first acquaintance as discharged soldiers from the African battalions, our hand-to-mouth existence as gentlemen farmers in Algiers, our bankruptcy and desperate struggle in Marseilles, first as dock-workmen, then as government horse-buyers for the cavalry, then as employes of the Hippodrome in Paris, where I finally settled down as bareback rider, lion-tamer, and instructor in the haute-ecole; and he accepted a salary as aid to Monsieur Gaston Tissandier, the scientist, who was experimenting with balloons at Saint-Cloud.

He spoke, too, of our enlistment in the Imperial Police, and the hopes we had of advancement, which not only brought no response from me, but left us both brooding sullenly on our wrongs, crouched there over the rough camp-table under the stars.

"Oh, hell!" muttered Speed, "I'm going to bed."

But he did not move. Presently he said, "How did you ever come to handle wild animals?"

"I've always been fond of animals; I broke colts at home; I had bear cubs and other things. Then, in Algiers, the regiment caught a couple of lions and kept them in a cage, and—well, I found I could do what I liked with them."

"They're afraid of your eyes, aren't they?"

"I don't know—perhaps it's that; I can't explain it—or, rather, I could partly explain it by saying that I am not afraid of them. But I never trust them."

"You drag them all around the cage! You shove them about like sacks of meal!"

"Yes,... but I don't trust them."

"It seems to me," said Speed, "that your lions are getting rather impudent these days. They're not very much afraid of you now."

"Nor I of them," I said, wearily; "I'm much more anxious about you when you go sailing about in that patched balloon of yours. Are you never nervous?"

"Nervous? When?"

"When you're up there?"

"Rubbish."

"Suppose the patches give way?"

"I never think of that," he said, leaning on the table with a yawn. "Oh, Lord, how tired I am!... but I shall not be able to sleep. I'm actually too tired to sleep. Have you got a pack of cards, Scarlett? or a decent cigar, or a glass of anything, or anything to show me more amusing than that nightmare of an elephant? Oh, I'm sick of the whole business—sick! sick! The stench of the tan-bark never leaves my nostrils except when the odor of fried ham or of that devilish camel replaces it.

"I'm too old to enjoy a gypsy drama when it's acted by myself; I'm tired of trudging through the world with my entire estate in my pocket. I want a home, Scarlett. Lord, how I envy people with homes!"

He had been indulging in this outburst with his back partly turned toward me. I did not say anything, and, after a moment, he looked at me over his shoulder to see how I took it.

"I'd like to have a home, too," I said.

"I suppose homes are not meant for men like you and me," he said. "Lord, how I would appreciate one, though—anything with a bit of grass in the yard and a shovelful of dirt—enough to grow some damn flower, you know.... Did you smell the posies in the square to-night?... Something of that kind,... anything, Scarlett—anything that can be called a home!... But you can't understand."

"Oh yes, I can," I said.

He went on muttering, half to himself: "We're of the same breed—pariahs; fortunately, pariahs don't last long,... like the wild creatures who never die natural deaths,... old age is one of the curses they can safely discount,... and so can we, Scarlett, so can we.... For you'll be mauled by a lion or kicked into glory by a horse or an ox or an ass,... and I'll fall off a balloon,... or the camel will give me tetanus, or the elephant will get me in one way or another,... or something...."

Again he twisted around to look at me. "Funny, isn't it?"

"Rather funny," I said, listlessly.

He leaned over, pulled another cigarette from the pink packet, broke a match from the card, and lighted it.

"I feel better," he observed.

I expressed sleepy gratification.

"Oh yes, I'm much better. This isn't a bad life, is it?"

"Oh no!" I said, sarcastically.

"No, it's all right, and we've got to pull the poor old governor through and give a jolly good show here and start the whole country toward the tent door! Eh?"

"Certainly. Don't let me detain you."

"I'll tell you what," he said, "if we only had that poor little girl, Miss Claridge, we'd catch these Bretons. That's what took the coast-folk all over Europe, so Grigg says."

Miss Claridge had performed in a large glass tank as the "Leaping Mermaid." It took like wildfire according to our fellow-performers. We had never seen her; she was killed by diving into her tank when the circus was at Antwerp in April.

"Can't we get up something like that?" I suggested, hopelessly.

"Who would do it? Miss Claridge's fish-tights are in the prop-box; who's to wear them?"

He began to say something else, but stopped suddenly, eyes fixed. We were seated nearly opposite each other, and I turned around, following the direction of his eyes.

Jacqueline stood behind me in the smoky light of the torch—Jacqueline, bare of arm and knee, with her sea-blue eyes very wide and the witch-locks clustering around the dim oval of her face. After a moment's absolute silence she said: "I came from Paradise. Don't you remember?"

"From Paradise?" said Speed, smiling; "I thought it might be from elf-land."

And I said: "Of course I remember you, Jacqueline. And I have an idea you ought to be in bed."

There was another silence.

"Won't you sit down?" asked Speed.

"Thank you," said Jacqueline, gravely.

She seated herself on a sack of sawdust, clasping her slender hands between her knees, and looked earnestly at the elephant.

"He won't harm you," I assured her.

"If you think I am afraid of that," she said, "you are mistaken, Monsieur Scarlett."

"I don't think you are afraid of anything," observed Speed, smiling; "but I know you are capable of astonishment."

"How do you know that?" demanded the girl.

"Because I saw you with your drum on the high-road when we came past Paradise. Your eyes were similar to saucers, and your mouth was not closed, Mademoiselle Jacqueline."

"Oh—pour ca—yes, I was astonished," she said. Then, with a quick, upward glance: "Were you riding, in armor, on a horse?"

"No," said Speed; "I was on that elephant's head."

This appeared to make a certain impression on Jacqueline. She became shyer of speech for a while, until he asked her, jestingly, why she did not join the circus.

"It is what I wish," she said, under her breath.

"And ride white horses?"

"Will you take me?" she cried, passionately, springing to her feet.

Amazed at her earnestness, I tried to explain that such an idea was out of the question. She listened anxiously at first, then her eyes fell and she stood there in the torch-light, head hanging.

"Don't you know," said Speed, kindly, "that it takes years of practice to do what circus people do? And the life is not gay, Jacqueline; it is hard for all of us. We know what hunger means; we know sickness and want and cold. Believe me, you are happier in Paradise than we are in the circus."

"It may be," she said, quietly.

"Of course it is," he insisted.

"But," she flashed out, "I would rather be unhappy in the circus than happy in Paradise!"

He protested, smiling, but she would have her way.

"I once saw a man, in spangles, turning, turning, and ever turning upon a rod. He was very far away, and that was very long ago—at the fair in Bannalec. But I have not forgotten! No, monsieur! In our net-shed I also have fixed a bar of wood, and on it I turn, turn continually. I am not ignorant of twisting. I can place my legs over my neck and cross my feet under my chin. Also I can stand on both hands, and I can throw scores of handsprings—which I do every morning upon the beach—I, Jacqueline!"

She was excited; she stretched out both bare arms as though preparing to demonstrate her ability then and there.

"I should like to see a circus," she said. "Then I should know what to do. That I can swing higher than any girl in Paradise has been demonstrated often," she went on, earnestly. "I can swim farther, I can dive deeper, I can run faster, with bare feet or with sabots, than anybody, man or woman, from the Beacon to Our Lady's Chapel! At bowls the men will not allow me because I have beaten them all, monsieur, even the mayor, which he never forgave. As for the farandole, I tire last of all—and it is the biniou who cries out for mercy!"

She laughed and pushed back her hair, standing straight up in the yellow radiance like a moor-sprite. There was something almost unearthly in her lithe young body and fearless sea-blue eyes, sparkling from the shock of curls.

"So you can dive and swim?" asked Speed, with a glance at me.

"Like the salmon in the Laita, monsieur."

"Under water?"

"Parbleu!"

After a pause I asked her age.

"Fifteen, M'sieu Scarlett."

"You don't look thirteen, Jacqueline."

"I think I should grow faster if we were not so poor," she said, innocently.

"You mean that you don't get enough to eat?"

"Not always, m'sieu. But that is so with everybody except the wealthy."

"Suppose we try her," said Speed, after a silence. "You and I can scrape up a little money for her if worst comes to worst."

"How about her father?"

"You can see him. What is he?"

"A poacher, I understand."

"Oh, then it's easy enough. Give him a few francs. He'll take the child's salary, anyway, if this thing turns out well."

"Jacqueline," I said, "we can't afford to pay you much money, you know."

"Money?" repeated the child, vacantly. "Money! If I had my arms full—so!—I would throw it into the world—so!"—she glanced at Speed—"reserving enough for a new skirt, monsieur, of which I stand in some necessity."

The quaint seriousness, the resolute fearlessness of this little maid of Paradise touched us both, I think, as she stood there restlessly, balancing on her slim bare feet, finger-tips poised on her hips.

"Won't you take me?" she asked, sweetly.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Jacqueline," said I. "Very early in the morning I'll go down to your house and see your father. Then, if he makes no objection, I'll get you to put on a pretty swimming-suit, all made out of silver scales, and you can show me, there in the sea, how you can dive and swim and play at mermaid. Does that please you?"

She looked earnestly at me, then at Speed.

"Is it a promise?" she asked, in a quivering voice.

"Yes, Jacqueline."

"Then I thank you, M'sieu Scarlett,... and you, m'sieur, who ride the elephant so splendidly.... And I will be waiting for you when you come.... We live in the house below the Saint-Julien Light.... My father is pilot of the port.... Anybody will tell you." ...

"I will not forget," said I.

She bade us good-night very prettily, stepped back out of the circle of torch-light, and vanished—there is no other word for it.

"Gracious," said Speed, "wasn't that rather sudden? Or is that the child yonder? No, it's a bush. Well, Scarlett, there's an uncanny young one for you—no, not uncanny, but a spirit in its most delicate sense. I've an idea she's going to find poor Byram's lost luck for him."

"Or break her neck," I observed.

Speed was quiet for a long while.

"By-the-way," he said, at last, "are you going to tell the Countess about that fellow Buckhurst?"

"I sent a note to her before I fed my lions," I replied.

"Are you going to see her?"

"If she desires it."

"Who took the note, Scarlett?"

"Jacqueline's father,... that Lizard fellow."

"Well, don't let's stir up Buckhurst now," said Speed. "Let's do what we can for the governor first."

"Of course," said I. "And I'm going to bed. Good-night."

"Good-night," said Speed, thoughtfully. "I'll join you in a moment."

When I was ready for bed and stood at the tent door, peering out into the darkness, I saw Speed curled up on a blanket between the elephant's forefeet, sound asleep.



XII

JACQUELINE

The stars were still shining when I awoke in my blanket, lighted a candle, and stepped into the wooden tub of salt-water outside the tent.

I shaved by candle-light, dressed in my worn riding-breeches and jacket, then, candle in hand, began groping about among the faded bits of finery and tarnished properties until I found the silver-scaled swimming-tights once worn by the girl of whom we had heard so much.

She was very young when she leaped to her death in Antwerp—a slim slip of a creature, they said—so I thought it likely that her suit might fit Jacqueline.

The stars had begun to fade when I stepped out through the dew-soaked clover, carrying in one hand a satchel containing the swimming-suit, in the other a gun-case, in which, carefully oiled and doubly cased in flannel, reposed my only luxury—my breech-loading shot-gun.

The silence, intensified by the double thunder of the breakers on the sands, was suddenly pierced by a far cock-crow; vague gray figures passed across the square as I traversed it; a cow-bell tinkled near by, and I smelt the fresh-blown wind from the downs.

Presently, as I turned into the cliff-path, I saw a sober little Breton cow plodding patiently along ahead; beside her moved a fresh-faced maid of Paradise in snowy collarette and white-winged head-dress, knitting as she walked, fair head bent.

As I passed her she glanced up with tear-dimmed eyes, murmuring the customary salutation: "Bonjour d'ac'h, m'sieu!" And I replied in the best patois I could command: "Bonjour d'ec'h a laran, na oeled Ket! Why do you cry, mademoiselle?"

"Cry, m'sieu? They are taking the men of Paradise to the war. France must know how cruel she is to take our men from us."

We had reached the green crest of the plateau; the girl tethered her diminutive cow, sat down on a half-imbedded stone, and continued her knitting, crying softly all the while.

I asked her to direct me to the house where Robert, the Lizard, lived; she pointed with her needles to a large stone house looming up in the gray light, built on the rocks just under the beacon. It was white with sea-slime and crusted salt, yet heavily and solidly built as a fort, and doubtless very old, judging from the traces of sculptured work over portal and windows.

I had scarcely expected to find the ragged Lizard and more ragged Jacqueline housed in such an anciently respectable structure, and I said so to the girl beside me.

"The house is bare as the bones of Sainte-Anne," she said. "There is nothing within—not even crumbs enough for the cliff-rats, they say."

So I went away across the foggy, soaking moorland, carrying my gun and satchel in their cases, descended the grassy cleft, entered a cattle-path, and picked my way across the wet, black rocks toward the abode of the poacher.

The Lizard was standing on his doorsill when I came up; he returned my greeting sullenly, his keen eyes of a sea-bird roving over me from head to foot. A rumpled and sulky yellow cat, evidently just awake, sat on the doorstep beside him and yawned at intervals. The pair looked as though they had made a night of it.

"You took my letter last night?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Was there an answer for me?"

"Yes."

"Couldn't you have come to the camp and told me?"

"I could, but I had other matters to concern me," he replied. "Here's your letter," and he fished it out of his tattered pocket.

I was angry enough, but I did not wish to anger him at that moment. So I took the letter and read it—a formal line saying the Countess de Vassart would expect me at five that afternoon.

"You are not noted for your courtesy, are you?" I inquired, smiling.

Something resembling a grin touched his sea-scarred visage.

"Oh, I knew you'd come for your answer," he said, coolly.

"Look here, Lizard," I said, "I intend to be friends with you, and I mean to make you look on me as a friend. It's to my advantage and to yours."

"To mine?" he inquired, sneeringly, amused.

"And this is the first thing I want," I continued; and without further preface I unfolded our plans concerning Jacqueline.

"Entendu," he said, drawling the word, "is that all?"

"Do you consent?"

"Is that all?" he repeated, with Breton obstinacy.

"No, not all. I want you to be my messenger in time of need. I want you to be absolutely faithful to me."

"Is that all?" he drawled again.

"Yes, that is all."

"And what is there in this, to my advantage, m'sieu?"

"This, for one thing," I said, carelessly, picking up my gun-case. I slowly drew out the barrels of Damascus, then the rose-wood stock and fore-end, assembling them lovingly; for it was the finest weapon I had ever seen, and it was breaking my heart to give it away.

The poacher's eyes began to glitter as I fitted the double bolts and locked breech and barrel with the extension rib. Then I snapped on the fore-end; and there lay the gun in my hands, a fowling-piece fit for an emperor.

"Give it?" muttered the poacher, huskily.

"Take it, my friend the Lizard," I replied, smiling down the wrench in my heart.

There was a silence; then the poacher stepped forward, and, looking me square in the eye, flung out his hand. I struck my open palm smartly against his, in the Breton fashion; then we clasped hands.

"You mean honestly by the little one?"

"Yes," I said; "strike palms by Sainte Thekla of Ycone!"

We struck palms heavily.

"She is a child," he said; "there is no vice in her; yet I've seen them nearly finished at her age in Paris." And he swore terribly as he said it.

We dropped hands in silence; then, "Is this gun mine?" he demanded, hoarsely.

"Yes."

"Strike!" he cried; "take my friendship if you want it, on this condition—what I am is my own concern, not yours. Don't interfere, m'sieu; it would be useless. I should never betray you, but I might kill you. Don't interfere. But if you care for the good-will of a man like me, take it; and when you desire a service from me, tell me, and I'll not fail you, by Sainte-Eline of Paradise!"

"Strike palms," said I, gravely; and we struck palms thrice.

He turned on his heel, kicking off his sabots on the doorsill. "Break bread with me; I ask it," he said, gruffly, and stalked before me into the house.

The room was massive and of noble proportion, but there was scarcely anything in it—a stained table, a settle, a little pile of rags on the stone floor—no, not rags, but Jacqueline's clothes!—and there at the end of the great chamber, built into the wall, was the ancient Breton bed with its Gothic carving and sliding panels of black oak, carved like the lattice-work in a chapel screen.

Outside dawn was breaking through a silver shoal of clouds; already its slender tentacles of light were probing the shadows behind the lattice where Jacqueline lay sleeping.

From the ashes on the hearth a spiral of smoke curled. The yellow cat walked in and sat down, contemplating the ashes.

Slowly a saffron light filled the room; Jacqueline awoke in the dim bed.

She pushed the panels aside and peered out, her sea-blue eyes heavy with slumber.

"Ma doue!" she murmured; "it is M'sieu Scarlett! Aie! Aie! Am I a countess to sleep so late? Bonjour, m'sieu! Bonjour, pa-pa!" She caught sight of the yellow cat, "Et bien le bonjour, Ange Pitou!"

She swathed herself in a blanket and sat up, looking at me sleepily.

"You came to see me swim," she said.

"And I've brought you a fish's silver skin to swim in," I replied, pointing at the satchel.

She cast a swift glance at her father, who, with the gun on his knees, sat as though hypnotized by the beauty of its workmanship. Her bright eyes fell on the gun; she understood in a flash.

"Then you'll take me?"

"If you swim as well as I hope you can."

"Turn your back!" she cried.

I wheeled about and sat down on the settle beside the poacher. There came a light thud of small, bare feet on the stone floor, then silence. The poacher looked up.

"She's gone to the ocean," he said; "she has the mania for baths—like you English." And he fell to rubbing the gunstock with dirty thumb.

The saffron light in the room was turning pink when Jacqueline reappeared on the threshold in her ragged skirt and stained velvet bodice half laced, with the broken points hanging, carrying an armful of driftwood.

Without a word she went to work; the driftwood caught fire from the ashes, flaming up in exquisite colors, now rosy, now delicate green, now violet; the copper pot, swinging from the crane, began to steam, then to simmer.

"Papa!"

"De quoi!" growled the poacher.

"Were you out last night?"

"Dame, I've just come in."

"Is there anything?"

The poacher gave me an oblique and evil glance, then coolly answered: "Three pheasant, two partridges, and a sea-trout in the net-shed. All are drawn."

So swiftly she worked that the pink light had scarcely deepened to crimson when the poacher, laying the gun tenderly in the blankets of Jacqueline's tumbled bed, came striding back to the table where a sea-trout smoked on a cracked platter, and a bowl of bread and milk stood before each place.

We ate silently. Ange Pitou, the yellow cat, came around with tail inflated. There were fishbones enough to gratify any cat, and Ange Pitou made short work of them.

The poacher bolted his food, sombre eyes brooding or stealing across the room to the bed where his gun lay. Jacqueline, to my amazement, ate as daintily as a linnet, yet with a fresh, hearty unconsciousness that left nothing in her bowl or wooden spoon.

"Schist?" inquired the poacher, lifting his tired eyes to me. I nodded. So he brought a jug of cold, sweet cider, and we all drank long and deeply, each in turn slinging the jug over the crooked elbow.

The poacher rose, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and made straight for his new gun.

"You two," he said, with a wave of his arm, "you settle it among yourselves. Jacqueline, is it true that Le Bihan saw woodcock dropping into the fen last night?"

"He says so."

"He is not a liar—usually," observed the poacher. He touched his beret to me, flung the fowling-piece over his shoulder, picked up a canvas bag in which I heard cartridges rattling, stepped into his sabots, and walked away. In a few moments the hysterical yelps of a dog, pleased at the prospect of a hunt, broke out from the net-shed.

Jacqueline placed the few dishes in a pan of hot water, wiped her fingers, daintily, and picked up Ange Pitou, who promptly acknowledged the courtesy by bursting into a crackling purring.

"Show me the swimming-suit," she said, shyly.

I drew it out of the satchel and laid it across my knees.

"Oh, it has a little tail behind—like a fish!" she cried, enchanted. "I shall look like the silver grilse of Quimperle!"

"Do you think you can swim in those scales?" I asked.

"Swim? I—Jacqueline? Attendez un peu—you shall see!"

She laughed an excited, confident little laugh and hugged Ange Pitou, who closed his eyes in ecstasy sheathing and unsheathing his sharp claws.

"It is almost sunrise," I said.

"It lacks many minutes to sunrise," she replied. "Ask Ange Pitou. At sunrise he leaves me; nothing can hold him; he does not bite or scratch, he just pushes and pulls until my arms are tired. Then he goes. It is always so."

"Why does he do that?"

"Ask him. I have often asked, but he never tells me—do you, my friend? I think he's a moor-sprite—perhaps a devil. Do devils hate all kinds of water?"

"No, only holy water," I replied.

"Well, then, he's something else. Look! Look! He is beginning! See him push to get free, see him drive his furry head into my hands. The sun is coming up out of the sea! It will soon be here."

She opened her arms; the cat sprang to the doorstep and vanished.

Jacqueline looked at the swimming-suit, then at me. "Will you go down to the beach, M'sieu Scarlett?"

But I had not traversed half the strip of rock and hard sand before something flew past—a slim, glittering shape which suddenly doubled up, straightened again, and fell headlong into the thundering surf.

The waves hurled her from crest to crest, clothing her limbs in froth; the singing foam rolled her over and over, stranding her on bubbling sands, until the swell found her again, lifted her, and tossed her seaward into the wide, white arms of the breakers.

Back to land she drifted and scrambled up on the beach, a slender, drenched figure, glistening and flashing with every movement.

Dainty of limb as a cat in wet grass, she shook the spray from her fingers and scrubbed each palm with sand, then sprang again headlong into the surf; there was a flash, a spatter, and she vanished.

After a long, long while, far out on the water she rose, floating.

Now the red sun, pushing above the ocean's leaden rim, flung its crimson net across the water. String after string of white-breasted sea-ducks beat to windward from the cove, whirling out to sea; the gray gulls flapped low above the shoal and settled in rows along the outer bar, tossing their sun-tipped wings; the black cormorant on the cliff craned its hideous neck, scanning the ocean with restless, brilliant eyes.

Tossed back once more upon the beach like an opalescent shell, Jacqueline, ankle-deep in foam, looked out across the flaming waters, her drenched hair dripping.

From the gorse on cliff and headland, one by one the larks shot skyward like amber rockets, trailing a shower of melody till the whole sky rained song. The crested vanneaux, passing out to sea, responded plaintively, flapping their bronze-green wings.

The girl twisted her hair and wrung it till the last salt drop had fallen. Sitting there in the sands, idle fingers cracking the pods of gilded sea-weed, she glanced up at me and laughed contentedly. Presently she rose and walked out to a high ledge, motioning me to follow. Far below, the sun-lit water shimmered in a shallow basin of silver sand.

"Look!" she cried, flinging her arms above her head, and dropped into space, falling like a star, down, down into the shallow sea. Far below I saw a streak of living light shoot through the water—on, on, closer to the surface now, and at last she fairly sprang into the air, quivering like a gaffed salmon, then fell back to float and clear her blue eyes from her tangled hair.

She gave me a glance full of malice as she landed, knowing quite well that she had not only won, but had given me a shock with her long dive into scarce three feet of water.

Presently she climbed to the sun-warmed hillock of sand and sat down beside me to dry her hair.

A langouste, in his flaming scarlet coat of mail, passed through a glassy pool among the rocks, treading sedately on pointed claws; the lancons tunnelled the oozing beach under her pink feet, like streams of living quicksilver; the big, blue sea-crabs sidled off the reef, sheering down sideways into limpid depths. Landward the curlew walked in twos and threes, swinging their long sickle bills; the sea-swallows drove by like gray snow-squalls, melting away against the sky; a vitreous living creature, blazing with purest sapphire light, floated past under water.

Ange Pitou, coveting a warm sun-bath in the sand, came wandering along pretending not to see us; but Jacqueline dragged him into her arms for a hug, which lasted until Ange Pitou broke loose, tail hoisted but ears deaf to further flattery.

So Jacqueline chased Ange Pitou back across the sand and up the rocky path, pursuing her pet from pillar to post with flying feet that fell as noiselessly as the velvet pads of Ange Pitou.

"Come to the net-shed, if you please!" she called back to me, pointing to a crazy wooden structure built above the house.

As I entered the net-shed the child was dragging a pile of sea-nets to the middle of the floor.

"In case I fall," she said, coolly.

"Better let me arrange them, then," I said, glancing up at the improvised trapeze which dangled under the roof-beams.

She thanked me, seized a long rope, and went up, hand over hand. I piled the soft nets into a mattress, but decided to stand near, not liking the arrangements.

Meanwhile Jacqueline was swinging, head downward, from her trapeze. Her cheeks flamed as she twisted and wriggled through a complicated manoeuvre, which ended by landing her seated on the bar of the trapeze a trifle out of breath. With both hands resting on the ropes, she started herself swinging, faster, faster, then pretended to drop off backward, only to catch herself with her heels, substitute heels for hands, and hang. Doubling back on her own body, she glided to her perch beneath the roof, shook her damp hair back, set the trapeze flying, and curled up on the bar, resting as fearlessly and securely as a bullfinch in a tree-top.

Above her the red-and-black wasps buzzed and crawled and explored the sun-scorched beams. Spiders watched her from their silken hammocks, and the tiny cliff-mice scuttled from beam to beam. Through the open door the sunshine poured a flood of gold over the floor where the bronzed nets were spread. Mending was necessary; she mentioned it, and set herself swinging again, crossing her feet.

"You think you could drop from there into a tank of water?" I asked.

"How deep?"

"Say four feet."

She nodded, swinging tranquilly.

"Have you any fear at all, Jacqueline?"

"No."

"You would try whatever I asked you to try?"

"If I thought I could," she replied, naively.

"But that is not it. I am to be your master. You must have absolute confidence in me and obey orders instantly."

"Like a soldier?"

"Exactly."

"Bien."

"Then hang by your hands!"

Quick as a flash she hung above me.

"You trust me, Jacqueline?"

"Yes."

"Then drop!"

Down she flashed like a falling meteor. I caught her with that quick trick known to all acrobats, which left her standing on my knee.

"Jump!"

She sprang lightly to the heap of nets, lost her balance, stumbled, and sat down very suddenly. Then she threw back her head and laughed; peal on peal of deliciously childish laughter rang through the ancient net-shed, until, overhead, the passing gulls echoed her mirth with querulous mewing, and the sea-hawk, towering to the zenith, wheeled and squealed.



XIII

FRIENDS

At seven o'clock that morning the men in the circus camp awoke, worried, fatigued, vaguely resentful, unusually profane. Horan was openly mutinous, and announced his instant departure.

By eight o'clock a miraculous change had taken place; the camp was alive with scurrying people, galvanized into hopeful activity by my possibly unwarranted optimism and a few judiciously veiled threats.

Clothed with temporary authority by Byram, I took the bit between my teeth and ordered the instant erection of the main tents, the construction of the ring, barriers, and benches, and the immediate renovating of the portable tank in which poor little Miss Claridge had met her doom.

I detailed Kelly Eyre to Quimperle with orders for ten thousand crimson hand-bills; I sent McCadger, with Dawley, the bass-drummer, and Irwin, the cornettist, to plaster our posters from Pont Aven to Belle Isle, and I gave them three days to get back, and promised them a hundred dollars apiece if they succeeded in sticking our bills on the fortifications of Lorient and Quimper, with or without permission.

I sent Grigg and three exempt Bretons to beat up the country from Gestel and Rosporden to Pontivy, clear across to Quiberon, and as far east as St. Gildas Point.

By the standing-stones of Carnac, I swore that I'd have all Finistere in that tent. "Governor," said I, "we are going to feature Jacqueline all over Brittany, and, if the ladies object, it can't be helped! By-the-way, do they object?"

The ladies did object, otherwise they would not have been human ladies; but the battle was sharp and decisive, for I was desperate.

"It simply amounts to this," I said: "Jacqueline pulls us through or the governor and I land in jail. As for you, Heaven knows what will happen to you! Penal settlement, probably."

And I called Speed and pointed at Jacqueline, sitting on her satchel, watching the proceedings with amiable curiosity.

"Speed, take that child and rehearse her. Begin as soon as the tent is stretched and you can rig the flying trapeze. Use the net, of course. Horan rehearsed Miss Claridge; he'll stand by. Miss Crystal, your good-will and advice I depend upon. Will you help me?"

"With all my heart," said Miss Crystal.

That impulsive reply broke the sullen deadlock.

Pretty little Mrs. Grigg went over and shook the child's hand very cordially and talked broken French to her; Miss Delany volunteered to give her some "Christian clothes"; Mrs. Horan burst into tears, complaining that everybody was conspiring to injure her and her husband, but a few moments later she brought Jacqueline some toast, tea, and fried eggs, an attention shyly appreciated by the puzzled child, who never before had made such a stir in the world.

"Don't stuff her," said Speed, as Mrs. Horan enthusiastically trotted past bearing more toast. "Here, Scarlett, the ladies are spoiling her. Can I take her for the first lesson?"

Byram, who had shambled up, nodded. I was glad to see him reassert his authority. Speed took the child by the hand, and together they entered the big white tent, which now loomed up like a mammoth mushroom against the blue sky.

"Governor," I said, "we're all a bit demoralized; a few of us are mutinous. For Heaven's sake, let the men see you are game. This child has got to win out for us. Don't worry, don't object; back me up and let me put this thing through."

The old man shoved his hands into his trousers-pockets and looked at me with heavy, hopeless eyes.

"Now here's the sketch for the hand-bill," I said, cheerfully, taking a pencilled memorandum from my pocket. And I read:

"THE PATRIOTIC ANTI-PRUSSIAN REPUBLICAN CIRCUS, MORE STUPENDOUS, MORE GIGANTIC, MORE OVERPOWERING THAN EVER! GLITTERING, MARVELLOUS, SOUL-COMPELLING!"

"What's 'soul-compelling'?" asked Byram.

"Anything you please, governor," I said, and read on rapidly until I came to the paragraph concerning Jacqueline:

"THE WONDER OF EARTH AND HEAVEN! THE UNUTTERABLY BEAUTIFUL FLYING MERMAID! CAUGHT ON THE COAST OF BRITTANY! WHAT IS SHE? FISH? BIRD? HUMAN? DIVINE? WHO KNOWS? THE SCIENTISTS OF FRANCE DO NOT KNOW!! THE SCIENTISTS OF THE WORLD ARE CONFOUNDED! IS SHE A LOST SOUL FROM THE SUNKEN CITY OF KER-YS? 50,000 FRANCS REWARD FOR THE BRETON WHO CAN PROVE THAT SHE DID NOT COME STRAIGHT FROM PARADISE!!!"

"That's a damn good bill," said Byram, suddenly.

He was so seldom profane that I stared at him, worried lest his misfortunes had unbalanced him. But a faint, healthy color was already replacing the pallor in his loose cheeks, a glint of animation came into his sunken eyes. He lifted his battered silk hat, replaced it at an angle almost defiant, and scowled at Horan, who passed us sullenly, driving the camel tentwards with awful profanity.

"Don't talk such langwidge in my presence, Mr. Horan," he said, sharply; "a camuel is a camuel, but remember: 'kind hearts is more than cornets,' an' it's easier for that there camuel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a cussin' cuss to cuss his way into Kingdom Come!"

Horan, who had betrayed unmistakable symptoms of insubordination that morning, quailed under the flowing rebuke. He was a man of muscular strength and meagre intellect; words hit him like trip-hammers.

"Certainly, governor," he stammered, and spoke to the camel politely, guiding that enraged and squealing quadruped to his manger with a forced smile.

With mallet, hammer, saw, and screw-driver I worked until noon, maturing my plans all the while. These plans would take the last penny in the treasury and leave us in debt several thousand francs. But it was win or go to smash now, and personally I have always preferred a tremendous smash to a slow and oozy fizzle.

A big pot of fragrant soup was served to the company at luncheon; and it amused me to see Jacqueline troop into the tent with the others and sit down with her bit of bread and her bowl of broth.

She was flushed and excited, and she talked to her instructor, Speed, all the while, chattering like a linnet between mouthfuls of bread and broth.

"How is she getting on?" I called across to Speed.

"The child is simply startling," he said, in English. "She is not afraid of anything. She and Miss Crystal have been doing that hair-raising 'flying swing' without rehearsal!"

Jacqueline, hearing us talking in English, turned and stared at me, then smiled and looked up sweetly at Speed.

"You seem to be popular with your pupil," I said, laughing.

"She's a fine girl—a fine, fearless, straight-up-and-down girl," he said, with enthusiasm.

Everybody appeared to like her, though how much that liking might be modified if prosperity returned I was unable to judge.

Now all our fortunes depended on her. She was not a ballon d'essai; she was literally the whole show; and if she duplicated the sensational success of poor little Miss Claridge, we had nothing to fear. But her troubles would then begin. At present, however, we were waiting for her to pull us out of the hole before we fell upon her and rent her professionally. And I use that "we" not only professionally, but with an attempt at chivalry.

Byram's buoyancy had returned in a measure. He sat in his shirt-sleeves at the head of the table, vigorously sopping his tartine in his soup, and, mouth full, leaned forward, chewing and listening to the conversation around him.

Everybody knew it was life or death now, that each one must drop petty jealousies and work for the common salvation. An artificial and almost feverish animation reigned, which I adroitly fed with alarming allusions to the rigor of the French law toward foreigners and other malefactors who ran into debt to French subjects on the sacred soil of France. And, having lived so long in France and in the French possessions, I was regarded as an oracle of authority by these ambulant professional people who were already deadly homesick, and who, in eighteen months of Europe, had amassed scarcely a dozen French phrases among them all.

"I'll say one thing," observed Byram, with dignity; "if ever I git out of this darn continong with my circus, I'll recooperate in the undulatin' medders an' j'yful vales of the United States. Hereafter that country will continue to remain good enough for me."

All applauded—all except Jacqueline, who looked around in astonishment at the proceedings, and only smiled when Speed explained in French.

"Ask maddermoselle if she'll go home with us?" prompted Byram. "Tell her there's millions in it."

Speed put the question; Jacqueline listened gravely, hesitated, then whispered to Speed, who reddened a trifle and laughed.

Everybody waited for a moment. "What does she say?" inquired Byram.

"Oh, nothing; she talked nonsense."

But Jacqueline's dignity and serene face certainly contradicted Speed's words.

Presently Byram arose, flourishing his napkin. "Time's up!" he said, with decision, and we all trooped off to our appointed labors.

Now that I had stirred up this beehive and set it swarming again, I had no inclination to turn drone. Yet I remembered my note to the Countess de Vassart and her reply. So about four o'clock I made the best toilet I could in my only other suit of clothes, and walked out of the bustling camp into the square, where the mossy fountain splashed under the oaks and the children of Paradise were playing. Hands joined, they danced in a ring, singing:

"Barzig ha barzig a Goneri Ari e mab roue gand daou pe dri"—

"Little minstrel-bard of Coneri The son of the King has come with two or three— Nay, with a whole bright flock of paroquets, Crimson, silver, and violet."

And the children, in their white coiffes and tiny wooden shoes, moved round and round the circle, in the middle of which a little lad and a little lass of Paradise stood motionless, hand clasping hand.

The couplet ended, the two children in the middle sprang forward and dragged a third child out of the circle. Then the song began again, the reduced circle dancing around the three children in the middle.

"—The son of the King has come with two or three— Nay, with a whole bright flock of paroquets, Crimson, silver, and violet."

It was something like a game I had played long ago—in the age of fable—and I lingered, touched with homesickness.

The three children in the middle took a fourth comrade from the circle, crying, "Will you go to the moon or will you go to the stars?"

"The moon," lisped the little maid, and she was led over to the fountain.

"The stars," said the first prisoner, and was conducted to the stone bridge.

Soon a small company was clustered on the bridge, another band at the fountain. Then, as there were no more to dance in a circle, the lad and lassie who had stood in the middle to choose candidates for the moon and stars clasped hands and danced gayly across the square to the group of expectant children at the fountain, crying:

"Baradoz! Baradoz!" (Paradise! Paradise!)

and the whole band charged on the little group on the bridge, shouting and laughing, while the unfortunate tenants of the supposed infernal regions fled in every direction, screaming:

"Pater noster Dibi doub! Dibi doub! Dibi doub!"

Their shouts and laughter still came faintly from the tree-shaded square as I crossed the bridge and walked out into the moorland toward the sea, where I could see the sun gilding the headland and the spouting-rocks of Point Paradise.

Over the turning tide cormorants were flying, now wheeling like hawks, now beating seaward in a duck-like flight. I passed little, lonely pools on the moor, from which snipe rose with a startling squak! squak! and darted away inland as though tempest blown.

Presently a blue-gray mass in mid-ocean caught my eye. It was the island of Groix, and between it and Point Paradise lay an ugly, naked, black shape, motionless, oozing smoke from two stubby funnels—the cruiser Fer-de-Lance! So solidly inert lay the iron-clad that it did not seem as if she had ever moved or ever could move; she looked like an imbedded ledge cropping up out of the sea.

Far across the hilly moorland the white semaphore glistened like a gull's wing—too far for me to see the balls and cones hoisted or the bright signals glimmering along the halyards as I followed a trodden path winding south through the gorse. Then a dip in the moorland hid the semaphore and at the same moment brought a house into full view—a large, solid structure of dark stone, heavily Romanesque, walled in by an ancient buttressed barrier, above which I could see the tree-tops of a fruit-garden.

The Chateau de Trecourt was a fine example of the so called "fortified farm"; it had its moat, too, and crumbling wing-walls, pierced by loop-holes and over-hung with miniature battlements. A walled and loop-holed passageway connected the house with another stone enclosure in which stood stable, granary, cattle-house, and sheepfold, all of stone, though the roofs of these buildings were either turfed or thatched. And over them the weather-vane, a golden Dorado, swam in the sunshine.

One thing I noticed as I crossed the unused moat on a permanent bridge: the youthful Countess no longer denied herself the services of servants, for I saw a cloaked shepherd and his two wolf-like and tailless sheep-dogs watching the flock scattered over the downs; and there were at least half a dozen farm servants pottering about from stable to granary, and a toothless porter to answer the gate-bell and pilot me past the tiny loop-holed lodge-turret to the house. There was also a man, lying belly down in the bracken, watching me; and as I walked into the court I tried to remember where I had seen his face before.

The entire front of the house was covered with those splendid orange-tinted tea-roses that I had noticed in Paradise; thicket on thicket of clove-scented pinks choked the flower-beds; and a broad mat of deep-tinted pansies lay on the lawn, spread out for all the world like a glorious Eastern rug.

There was a soft whirring in the air like the sound of a humming-bird close by; it came from a spinning-wheel, and grew louder as a servant admitted me into the house and guided me to a sunny room facing the fruit garden.

The spinner at the wheel was singing in an undertone—singing a Breton "gwerz," centuries old, retained in memory from generation to generation:

"Woe to the Maids of Paradise, Yvonne! Twice have the Saxons landed; twice! Yvonne! Yet must Paradise see them thrice! Yvonne! Yvonne! Marivonik."

Old as were the words, the melody was older—so old and quaint and sweet that it seemed a berceuse fashioned to soothe the drowsing centuries, lest the memories of ancient wrongs awake and rouse the very dead from their Gothic tombs.

All the sad history of the Breton race was written in every minor note; all the mystery, the gentleness, the faith of the lost people of Armorica.

And now the singer was intoning the "Gwerz Ar Baradoz"—the "Complaint of Paradise"—a slow, thrilling miserere, scarcely dominating the velvet whir of the spinning-wheel.

Suddenly the melody ceased, and a young Bretonne girl appeared in the doorway, courtesying to me and saying in perfect English: "How do you do, Mr. Scarlett; and how do you like my spinning songs, if you please?"

The girl was Mademoiselle Sylvia Elven, the marvellously clever actress from the Odeon, the same young woman who had played the Alsacienne at La Trappe, as perfectly in voice and costume as she now played the Bretonne.

"You need not be astonished at all," she said, calmly, "if you will only reflect that my name is Elven, which is also the name of a Breton town. Naturally, I am a Bretonne from Elven, and my own name is Duhamel—Sylvenne Duhamel. I thought I ought to tell you, so that you would not think me too clever and try to carry me off on your horse again."

I laughed uncertainly; clever women who talk cleverly always disturb me. Besides, somehow, I felt she was not speaking the truth, yet I could not imagine why she should lie to me.

"You were more fluent to the helpless turkey-girl," she suggested, maliciously.

I had absolutely nothing to say, which appeared to gratify her, for she dimpled and smiled under her snowy-winged coiffe, from which a thick gold strand of hair curled on her forehead—a sad bit of coquetry in a Bretonne from Elven, if she told the truth.

"I only came to renew an old and deeply valued friendship," she said, with mock sentimentality; "I am going back to my flax now."

However, she did not move.

"And, by-the-way," she said, languidly, "is there in your intellectual circus company a young gentleman whose name is Eyre?"

"Kelly Eyre? Yes," I said, sulkily.

"Ah."

She strolled out of the room, hesitated, then turned in the doorway with a charming smile.

"The Countess will return from her gallop at five."

She waited as though expecting an answer, but I only bowed.

"Would you take a message to Mistaire Kelly Eyre for me?" she asked, sweetly.

I said that I would.

"Then please say that: 'On Sunday the book-stores are closed in Paris.'"

"Is that what I am to say?"

"Exactly that."

"Very well, mademoiselle."

"Of course, if he asks who told you—you may say that it was a Bretonne at Point Paradise."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing, monsieur."

She courtesied and vanished.

"Little minx," I thought, "what mischief are you preparing now?" and I rested my elbow on the window-sill and gazed out into the garden, where apricot-trees and fig-trees lined the winding walks between beds of old-fashioned herbs, anise, basil, caraway, mint, sage, and saffron.

Sunlight lay warm on wall and gravel-path; scarlet apples hung aloft on a few young trees; a pair of trim, wary magpies explored the fig-trees, sometimes quarrelling, sometimes making common cause against the shy wild-birds that twittered everywhere among the vines.

I fancied, after a few moments, that I heard the distant thudding of a horse's hoofs; soon I was sure of it, and rose to my feet expectantly, just as a flushed young girl in a riding-habit entered the room and gave me her gloved hand.

Her fresh, breezy beauty astonished me; could this laughing, gray-eyed girl with her silky, copper-tinted hair be the same slender, grave young Countess whom I had known in Alsace—this incarnation of all that is wholesome and sweet and winning in woman? What had become of her mission and the soiled brethren of the proletariat? What had happened?

I looked at her earnestly, scarcely understanding that she was saying she was glad I had come, that she had waited for me, that she had wanted to see me, that she had wished to tell me how deeply our tragic experience at La Trappe and in Morsbronn had impressed her. She said she had sent a letter to me in Paris which was returned, opened, with a strange note from Monsieur Mornac. She had waited for some word from me, here in Paradise, since September; "waited impatiently," she added, and a slight frown bent her straight brows for a moment—a moment only.

"But come out to my garden," she said, smiling, and stripping off her little buff gauntlets. "There we will have tea a l'Anglaise, and sunshine, and a long, long, satisfying talk; at least I will," she added, laughing and coloring up; "for truly, Monsieur Scarlett, I do not believe I have given you one second to open your lips."

Heaven knows I was perfectly content to watch her lips and listen to the music of her happy, breathless voice without breaking the spell with my own.

She led the way along a path under the apricots to a seat against a sunny wall, a wall built of massive granite, deeply thatched with fungus and lichens, where, palpitating in the hot sun, the tiny lizards lay glittering, and the scarlet-banded nettle-butterflies flitted and hovered and settled to sun themselves, wings a-droop.

Here in the sunshine the tea-rose perfume, mingling with the incense of the sea, mounted to my head like the first flush of wine to a man long fasting; or was it the enchantment of her youth and loveliness—the subtle influence of physical vigor and spiritual innocence on a tired, unstrung man?

"First of all," she said, impulsively, "I know your life—all of it in minute particular. Are you astonished?"

"No, madame," I replied; "Mornac showed you my dossier."

"That is true," she said, with a troubled look of surprise.

I smiled. "As for Mornac," I began, but she interrupted me.

"Ah, Mornac! Do you suppose I believed him? Had I not proof on proof of your loyalty, your honor, your courtesy, your chivalry—"

"Madame, your generosity—and, I fear, your pity—overpraises."

"No, it does not! I know what you are. Mornac cannot make white black! I know what you have been. Mornac could not read you into infamy, even with your dossier under my own eyes!"

"In my dossier you read a sorry history, madame."

"In your dossier I read the tragedy of a gentleman."

"Do you know," said I, "that I am now a performer in a third-rate travelling circus?"

"I think that is very sad," she said, sweetly.

"Sad? Oh no. It is better than the disciplinary battalions of Africa."

Which was simply acknowledging that I had served a term in prison.

The color faded in her face. "I thought you were pardoned."

"I was—from prison, not from the battalion of Biribi."

"I only know," she said, "that they say you were not guilty; that they say you faced utter ruin, even the possibility of death, for the sake of another man whose name even the police—even Monsieur de Mornac—could never learn. Was there such a man?"

I hesitated. "Madame, there is such a man; I am the man who was."

"With no hope?"

"Hope? With every hope," I said, smiling. "My name is not my own, but it must serve me to my end, and I shall wear it threadbare and leave it to no one."

"Is there no hope?" she asked, quietly.

"None for the man who was. Much for James Scarlett, tamer of lions and general mountebank," I said, laughing down the rising tide of bitterness. Why had she stirred those dark waters? I had drowned myself in them long since. Under them lay the corpse of a man I had forgotten—my dead self.

"No hope?" she repeated.

Suddenly the ghost of all I had lost rose before me with her words—rose at last after all these years, towering, terrible, free once more to fill the days with loathing and my nights with hell eternal,... after all these years!

Overwhelmed, I fought down the spectre in silence. Kith and kin were not all in the world; love of woman was not all; a chance for a home, a wife, children, were not all; a name was not all. Raising my head, a trifle faint with the struggle and the cost of the struggle, I saw the distress in her eyes and strove to smile.

"There is every hope," I said, "save the hopes of youth—the hope of a woman's love, and of that happiness which comes through love. I am a man past thirty, madame—thirty-five, I believe my dossier makes it. It has taken me fifteen years to bury my youth. Let us talk of Mornac."

"Yes, we will talk of Mornac," she said, gently.

So with infinite pains I went back and traced for her the career of Buckhurst, sparing her nothing; I led up to my own appearance on the scene, reviewed briefly what we both knew, then disclosed to her in its most trivial detail the conference between Buckhurst and myself in which his cynical avowal was revealed in all its native hideousness.

She sat motionless, her face like cold marble, as I carefully gathered the threads of the plot and gently twitched that one which galvanized the mask of Mornac.

"Mornac!" she stammered, aghast.

I showed her why Buckhurst desired to come to Paradise; I showed her why Mornac had initiated her into the mysteries of my dossier, taking that infernal precaution, although he had every reason to believe he had me practically in prison, with the keys in his own pocket.

"Had it not been for my comrade, Speed," I said, "I should be in one of Mornac's fortress cells. He overshot the mark when he left us together and stepped into his cabinet to spread my dossier before you. He counted on an innocent man going through hell itself to prove his innocence; he counted on me, and left Speed out of his calculations. He had your testimony, he had my dossier, he had the order for my arrest in his pocket.... And then I stepped out of sight! I, the honest fool, with my knowledge of his infamy, of Buckhurst's complicity and purposes—I was gone.

"And now mark the irony of the whole thing: he had, criminally, destroyed the only bureau that could ever have caught me. But he did his best during the few weeks that were left him before the battle of Sedan. After that it was too late; it was too late when the first Uhlan appeared before the gates of Paris. And now Mornac, shorn of authority, is shut up in a city surrounded by a wall of German steel, through which not one single living creature has penetrated for two months."

I looked at her steadily. "Eliminate Mornac as a trapped rat; cancel him as a dead rat since the ship of Empire went down at Sedan. I do not know what has taken place in Paris—save what all now know that the Empire is ended, the Republic proclaimed, and the Imperial police a memory. Then let us strike out Mornac and turn to Buckhurst. Madame, I am here to serve you."

The dazed horror in her face which had marked my revelations of Buckhurst's villanies gave place to a mantling flush of pure anger. Shame crimsoned her neck, too; shame for her credulous innocence, her belief in this rogue who had betrayed her, only to receive pardon for the purpose of baser and more murderous betrayal.

I said nothing for a long time, content to leave her to her own thoughts. The bitter draught she was draining could not harm her, could not but act as the most wholesome of tonics.

Hers was not a weak character to sink, embittered, under the weight of knowledge—knowledge of evil, that all must learn to carry lightly through life; I had once thought her weak, but I had revised that opinion and substituted the words "pure in thought, inherently loyal, essentially unsuspicious."

"Tell me about Buckhurst," I said, quietly. "I can help you, I think."

The quick tears of humiliation glimmered for a second in her angry eyes; then pride fell from her, like a stately mantle which a princess puts aside, tired and content to rest.

This was a phase I had never before seen—a lovely, natural young girl, perplexed, troubled, deeply wounded, ready to be guided, ready for reproof, perhaps even for that sympathy without which reproof is almost valueless.

She told me that Buckhurst came to her house here in Paradise early in September; that while in Paris, pondering on what I had said, she had determined to withdraw herself absolutely from all organized socialistic associations during the war; that she believed she could do the greatest good by living a natural and cheerful life, by maintaining the position that birth and fortune had given her, and by using that position and fortune for the benefit of those less fortunate.

This she had told Buckhurst, and the rascal appeared to agree with her so thoroughly that, when Dr. Delmont and Professor Tavernier arrived, they also applauded the choice she made of Buckhurst as distributer of money, food, and clothing to the provincial hospitals, now crowded to suffocation with the wreck of battle.

Then a strange thing occurred. Dr. Delmont and Professor Tavernier disappeared without any explanation. They had started for St. Nazaire with a sum of money—twenty thousand francs, locked in the private strong-box of the Countess—to be distributed among the soldiers of Chanzy; and they had never returned.

In the light of what she had learned from me, she feared that Buckhurst had won them over; perhaps not—she could not bear to suspect evil of such men.

But she now believed that Buckhurst had used every penny he had handled for his own purposes; that not one hospital had received what she had sent.

"I am no longer wealthy," she said, anxiously, looking up at me. "I did find time in Paris to have matters straightened; I sold La Trappe and paid everything. It left me with this house in Paradise, and with means to maintain it and still have a few thousand francs to give every year. Now it is nearly gone—I don't know where. I am dreadfully unhappy; I have such a horror of treachery that I cannot even understand it, but this ignoble man, Buckhurst, is assuredly a heartless rascal."

"But," I said, patiently, "you have not yet told me where he is."

"I don't know," she said. "A week ago a dreadful creature came here to see Buckhurst; they went across the moor toward the semaphore and stood for a long while looking at the cruiser which is anchored off Groix. Then Buckhurst came back and prepared for a journey. He said he was going to Tours to confer with the Red Cross. I don't know where he went. He took all the money for the general Red Cross fund."

"When did he say he would return?"

"He said in two weeks. He has another week yet."

"Is he usually prompt?"

"Always so—to the minute."

"That is good news," I said, gayly. "But tell me one thing: do you trust Mademoiselle Elven?"

"Yes, indeed!—indeed!" she cried, horrified.

"Very well," said I, smiling. "Only for the sake of caution—extra, and even perhaps useless caution—say nothing of this matter to her, nor to any living soul save me."

"I promise," she said, faintly.

"One thing more: this conspiracy against the state no longer concerns me—officially. Both Speed and I did all we could to warn the Emperor and the Empress; we sent letters through the police in London, we used the English secret-service to get our letters into the Emperor's hand, we tried every known method of denouncing Mornac. It was useless; every letter must have gone through Mornac's hands before it reached the throne. We did all we dared do; we were in disguise and in hiding under assumed names; we could not do more.

"Now that Mornac is not even a pawn in the game—as, indeed, I begin to believe he never really was, but has been from the first a dupe of Buckhurst—it is the duty of every honest man to watch Buckhurst and warn the authorities that he possibly has designs on the crown jewels of France, which that cruiser yonder is all ready to bear away to Saigon.

"How he proposes to attempt such a robbery I can't imagine. I don't want to denounce him to General Chanzy or Aurelles de Palladine, because the conspiracy is too widely spread and too dangerous to be defeated by the capture of one man, even though he be the head of it.

"What I want is to entrap the entire band; and that can only be done by watching Buckhurst, not arresting him.

"Therefore, madame, I have written and despatched a telegram to General Aurelles de Palladine, offering my services and the services of Mr. Speed to the Republic without compensation. In the event of acceptance, I shall send to London for two men who will do what is to be done, leaving me free to amuse the public with my lions. Meanwhile, as long as we stay in Paradise we both are your devoted servants, and we beg the privilege of serving you."

During all this time the young Countess had never moved her eyes from my face—perhaps I was flattered—perhaps for that reason I talked on and on, pouring out wisdom from a somewhat attenuated supply.

And I now rose to take my leave, bowing my very best bow; but she sat still, looking up quietly at me.

"You ask the privilege of serving me," she said. "You could serve me best by giving me your friendship."

"You have my devotion, madame," I said.

"I did not ask it. I asked your friendship—in all frankness and equality."

"Do you desire the friendship of a circus performer?" I asked, smiling.

"I desire it, not only for what you are, but for what you have been—have always been, let them say what they will!"

I was silent.

"Have you never given women your friendship?" she asked.

"Not in fifteen years—nor asked theirs."

"Will you not ask mine?"

I tried to speak steadily, but my voice was uncertain; I sat down, crushed under a flood of memories, hopes accursed, ambitions damned and consigned to oblivion.

"You are very kind," I said. "You are the Countess de Vassart. A man is what he makes himself. I have made myself—with both eyes open; and I am now an acrobat and a tamer of beasts. I understand your goodness, your impulse to help those less fortunate than yourself. I also understand that I have placed myself where I am, and that, having done so deliberately, I cannot meet as friends and equals those who might have been my equals if not friends. Besides that, I am a native of a paradox—a Republic which, though caste-bound, knows no caste abroad. I might, therefore, have been your friend if you had chosen to waive the traditions of your continent and accept the traditions of mine. But now, madame, I must beg permission to make my adieux."

She sprang up and caught both my hands in her ungloved hands. "Won't you take my friendship—and give me yours—my friend?"

"Yes," I said, slowly. The blood beat in my temples, almost blinding me; my heart hammered in my throat till I shivered.

As in a dream I bent forward; she abandoned her hands to me; and I touched a woman's hands with my lips for the first time in fifteen years.

"In all devotion and loyalty—and gratitude," I said.

"And in friendship—say it!"

"In friendship."

"Now you may go—if you desire to. When will you come again?"

"When may I?"

"When you will."



XIV

THE PATH OF THE LIZARD

About nine o'clock the next morning an incident occurred which might have terminated my career in one way, and did, ultimately, end it in another.

I had been exercising my lions and putting them through their paces, and had noticed no unusual insubordination among them, when suddenly, Timour Melek, a big Algerian lion, flew at me without the slightest provocation or warning.

Fortunately I had a training-chair in my hand, on which Timour had just been sitting, and I had time to thrust it into his face. Thrice with incredible swiftness he struck the iron-chair, right, left, and right, as a cat strikes, then seized it in his teeth. At the same moment I brought my loaded whip heavily across his nose.

"Down, Timour Melek! Down! down! down!" I said, steadily, accompanying each word with a blow of the whip across the nose.

The brute had only hurt himself when he struck the chair, and now, under the blows raining on his sensitive nose, he doubtless remembered similar episodes in his early training, and shrank back, nearly deafening me with his roars. I followed, punishing him, and he fled towards the low iron grating which separated the training-cage from the night-quarters.

This I am now inclined to believe was a mistake of judgment on my part. I should have driven him into a corner and thoroughly cowed him, using the training-chair if necessary, and trusting to my two assistants with their irons, who had already closed up on either side of the cage.

I was not in perfect trim that morning. Not that I felt nervous in the least, nor had I any lack of self-confidence, but I was not myself. I had never in my life entered a lion-cage feeling as I did that morning—an indifference which almost amounted to laziness, an apathy which came close to melancholy.

The lions knew I was not myself—they had been aware of it as soon as I set foot in their cage; and I knew it. But my strange apathy only increased as I went about my business, perfectly aware all the time that, with lions born in captivity, the unexpected is always to be expected.

Timour Melek was now close to the low iron door between the partitions; the other lions had become unusually excited, bounding at a heavy gallop around the cage, or clinging to the bars like enormous cats.

Then, as I faced Timour, ready to force him backward through the door into the night-quarters, something in the blank glare of his eyes seemed to fascinate me. I had an absurd sensation that he was slipping away from me—escaping; that I no longer dominated him nor had authority. It was not panic, nor even fear; it was a faint paralysis—temporary, fortunately; for at that instant instinct saved me; I struck the lion a terrific blow across the nose and whirled around, chair uplifted, just in time to receive the charge of Empress Khatoun, consort of Timour.

She struck the iron-bound chair, doubling it up like crumpled paper, hurling me headlong, not to the floor of the cage, but straight through the sliding-bars which Speed had just flung open with a shout. As for me, I landed violently on my back in the sawdust, the breath knocked clean out of me.

When I could catch my breath again I realized that there was no time to waste. Speed looked at me angrily, but I jerked open the grating, flung another chair into the cage, leaped in, and, singling out Empress Khatoun, I sailed into her with passionless thoroughness, punishing her to a stand-still, while the other lions, Aicha, Marghouz, Timour, and Genghis Khan snarled and watched me steadily.

As I emerged from the cage Speed asked me whether I was hurt, and I gasped out that I was not.

"What went wrong?" he persisted.

"Timour and that young lioness—no, I went wrong; the lions knew it at once; something failed me, I don't know what; upon my soul, Speed, I don't know what happened."

"You lost your nerve?"

"No, not that. Timour began looking at me in a peculiar way—he certainly dominated me for an instant—for a tenth of a second; and then Khatoun flew at me before I could control Timour—"

I hesitated.

"Speed, it was one of those seconds that come to us, when the faintest shadow of indecision settles matters. Engineers are subject to it at the throttle, pilots at the helm, captains in battle—"

"Men in love," added Speed.

I looked at him, not comprehending.

"By-the-way," said Speed, "Leo Grammont, the greatest lion-tamer who ever lived, once told me that a man in love with a woman could not control lions; that when a man falls in love he loses that intangible, mysterious quality—call it mesmerism or whatever you like—the occult force that dominates beasts. And he said that the lions knew it, that they perceived it sometimes even before the man himself was aware that he was in love."

I looked him over in astonishment.

"What's the matter with you?" he asked, amused.

"What's the matter with you?" I demanded. "If you mean to intimate that I have fallen in love you are certainly an astonishing ass!"

"Don't talk that way," he said, good-humoredly. "I didn't dream of such a thing, or of offending you, Scarlett."

It struck me at the same moment that my irritable and unwarranted retort was utterly unlike me.

"I beg your pardon," I said. "I don't know exactly what is the matter with me to-day. First I quarrel with poor old Timour Melek, then I insult you. I've discovered that I have nerves; I never before knew it."

"Cold flap-jacks and cider would have destroyed Hercules himself in time," observed Speed, following with his eyes the movements of a lithe young girl, who was busy with the hoisting apparatus of the flying trapeze. The girl was Jacqueline, dressed in a mended gown of Miss Delany's.

"At times," muttered Speed, partly to himself, "that little witch frightens me. There is no risk she dares not take; even Horan gets nervous; and when that bull-necked numbskull is scared there's reason for it."

We walked out into the main tent, where simultaneous rehearsals were everywhere in progress; and I picked up the ring-master's whip and sent it curling after "Briza," a harmless, fat, white mare on which pretty Mrs. Grigg was sitting expectantly. Round and round the ring she cantered, now astride two horses, now guiding a "spike," practising assiduously her acrobatics. At intervals, far up in the rigging overhead, I caught glimpses of Miss Crystal swinging on her trapeze, watching the ring below.

Byram came in to rehearse the opening processional and to rebuke his dearest foe, the unspeakable "camuel," bestridden by Mrs. Horan as Fatima, Queen of the Desert. Speed followed, squatted on the head of the elephant, ankus on thigh, shouting, "Hout! Mail! Djebe Noain! Mail the hezar! Mail!" he thundered, triumphantly, saluting Byram with lifted ankus as the elephant ambled past in a cloud of dust.

"Clear the ring!" cried Byram.

Miss Delany, who was outlining Jacqueline with juggler's knives, began to pull her stock of cutlery from the soft pine backing; elephant, camel, horses trampled out; Miss Crystal caught a dangling rope and slid earthward, and I turned and walked towards the outer door with Byram.

As I looked back for an instant I saw Jacqueline, in her glittering diving-skin, calmly step out of her discarded skirt and walk towards the sunken tank in the middle of the ring, which three workmen were uncovering.

She was to rehearse her perilous leap for the first time to-day, and I told Speed frankly that I was too nervous to be present, and so left him staring across the dusky tent at the slim child in spangles.

I had an appointment to meet Robert the Lizard at noon, and I was rather curious to find out how much his promises were worth when the novelty of his new gun had grown stale. So I started towards the cliffs, nibbling a crust of bread for luncheon, though the incident of the morning had left me small appetite for food.

The poacher was sunning himself on his doorsill when I came into view over the black basalt rocks. To my surprise, he touched his cap as I approached, and rose civilly, replying to my greeting with a brief, "Salute, m'sieu!"

"You are prompt to the minute," I said, pleasantly.

"You also," he observed. "We are quits, m'sieu—so far."

I told him of the progress that Jacqueline was making; he listened in silence, and whether or not he was interested I could not determine.

There was a pause; I looked out across the sun-lit ocean, taking time to arrange the order of the few questions which I had to ask.

"Come to the point, m'sieu," he said, dryly. "We have struck palms."

Spite of my training, spite of the caution which experience brings to the most unsuspicious of us, I had a curious confidence in this tattered rascal's loyalty to a promise. And apparently without reason, too, for there was something wrong with his eyes—or else with the way he used them. They were wonderful, vivid blue eyes, well set and well shaped, but he never looked at anybody directly except in moments of excitement or fury. At such moments his eyes appeared to be lighted up from behind.

"Lizard," I said, "you are a poacher."

His placid visage turned stormy.

"None of that, m'sieu," he retorted; "remember the bargain! Concern yourself with your own affairs!"

"Wait," I said. "I'm not trying to reform you. For my purposes it is a poacher I want—else I might have gone to another."

"That sounds more reasonable," he admitted, guardedly.

"I want to ask this," I continued: "are you a poacher from necessity, or from that pure love of the chase which is born in even worse men than you and I?"

"I poach because I love it. There are no poachers from necessity; there is always the sea, which furnishes work for all who care to steer a sloop, or draw a seine, or wield a sea-rake. I am a pilot."

"But the war?"

"At least the war could not keep me from the sardine grounds."

"So you poach from choice?"

"Yes. It is in me. I am sorry, but what shall I do? It's in me."

"And you can't resist?"

He laughed grimly. "Go and call in the hounds from the stag's throat!"

Presently I said:

"You have been in jail?"

"Yes," he replied, indifferently.

"For poaching?"

"Eur e'harvik rous," he said in Breton, and I could not make out whether he meant that he had been in jail for the sake of a woman or of a "little red doe." The Breton language bristles with double meanings, symbols, and allegories. The word for doe in Breton is karvez; or for a doe which never had a fawn, it is heiez; for a fawn the word is karvik.

I mentioned these facts to him, but he only looked dangerous and remained silent.

"Lizard," I said, "give me your confidence as I give you mine. I will tell you now that I was once in the police—"

He started.

"And that I expect to enter that corps again. And I want your aid."

"My aid? For the police?" His laugh was simply horrible. "I? The Lizard? Continue, m'sieu."

"I will tell you why. Yesterday, on a visit to Point Paradise, I saw a man lying belly down in the bracken; but I didn't let him know I saw him. I have served in the police; I think I recognize that man. He is known in Belleville as Tric-Trac. He came here, I believe, to see a man called Buckhurst. Can you find this Tric-Trac for me? Do you, perhaps, know him?"

"Yes," said the Lizard, "I knew him in prison."

"You have seen him here?"

"Yes, but I will not betray him."

"Why?"

"Because he is a poor, hunted devil of a poacher like me!" cried the Lizard, angrily. "He must live; there's enough land in Finistere for us both."

"How long has he been here in Paradise?"

"For two months."

"And he told you he lived by poaching?"

"Yes."

"He lies."

The Lizard looked at me intently.

"He has played you; he is a thief, and he has come here to rob. He is a filou—a town rat. Can he bend a hedge-snare? Can he line a string of dead-falls? Can he even snare enough game to keep himself from starving? He a woodsman? He a poacher of the bracken? You are simple, my friend."

The veins in the poacher's neck began to swell and a dull color flooded his face.

"Prove that he has played me," he said.

"Prove it yourself."

"How?"

"By watching him. He came here to meet a man named Buckhurst."

"I have seen that man Buckhurst, too. What is he doing here?" asked the Lizard.

"That is what I want you to find out and help me to find out!" I said. "Voila! Now you know what I want of you."

The sombre visage of the poacher twitched.

"I take it," said I, "that you would not make a comrade of a petty pickpocket."

The poacher uttered an oath and shook his fist at me. "Bon sang!" he snarled, "I am an honest man if I am a poacher!"

"That's the reason I trusted you," said I, good-humoredly. "Take your fists down, my friend, and think out a plan which will permit me to observe this Monsieur Tric-Trac at my leisure, without I myself being observed."

"That is easy," he said. "I take him food to-day."

"Then I was right," said I, laughing. "He is a Belleville rat, who cannot feed himself where there are no pockets to pick. Does he know a languste from a linnet? Not he, my friend!"

The Lizard sat still, head bent, knees drawn up, apparently buried in thought. There is no injury one can do a Breton of his class like the injury of deceiving and mocking.

If Tric-Trac, a man of the city, had come here to profit by the ignorance of a Breton—and perhaps laugh at his stupidity!

But I let the ferment work in the dark blood of the Lizard, leaving him to his own sombre logic, undisturbed.

Presently the Lizard raised his head and fixed his bright, intelligent eyes on me.

"M'sieu," he said, in a curiously gentle voice, "we men of Paradise are called out for the army. I must go, or go to jail. How can I remain here and help you trap these filous?"

"I have telegraphed to General Chanzy," I said, frankly. "If he accepts—or if General Aurelles de Palladine is favorable—I shall make you exempt under authority from Tours. I mean to keep you in my service, anyway," I added.

"You mean that—that I need not go to Lorient—to this war?"

"I hope so, my friend."

He looked at me, astonished. "If you can do that, m'sieu, you can do anything."

"In the meanwhile," I said, dryly, "I want another look at Tric-Trac."

"I could show you Tric-Trac in an hour—but to go to him direct would excite his suspicion. Besides, there are two gendarmes in Paradise to conduct the conscripts to Lorient; there are also several gardes-champetre. But I can get you there, in the open moorland, too, under everybody's noses! Shall I?" he said, with an eager ferocity that startled me.

"You are not to injure him, no matter what he does or says," I said, sharply. "I want to watch him, not to frighten him away. I want to see what he and Buckhurst are doing. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Then strike palms!"

We struck vigorously.

"Now I am ready to start," I said, pleasantly.

"And now I am ready to tell you something," he said, with the fierce light burning behind his blue eyes. "If you were already in the police I would not help you—no, not even to trap this filou who has mocked me! If you again enter the police I will desert you!"

He licked his dry lips.

"Do you know what a blood-feud is?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then understand that a man in a high place has wronged me—and that he is of the police—the Imperial Military police!"

"Who?"

"You will know when I pass my fagot-knife into his throat," he snarled—"not before."

The Lizard picked up his fishing-rod, slung a canvas bag over his stained velveteen jacket, gathered together a few coils of hair-wire, a pot of twig-lime, and other odds and ends, which he tucked into his broad-flapped coat-pocket. "Allons," he said, briefly, and we started.

The canvas bag on his back bulged, perhaps with provisions, although the steel point of a murderous salmon-gaff protruded from the mouth of the sack and curved over his shoulder.

The village square in Paradise was nearly deserted. The children had raced away to follow the newly arrived gendarmes as closely as they dared, and the women were in-doors hanging about their men, whom the government summoned to Lorient.

There were, however, a few people in the square, and these the Lizard was very careful to greet. Thus we passed the mayor, waddling across the bridge, puffing with official importance over the arrival of the gendarmes. He bowed to me; the Lizard saluted him with, "Times are hard on the fat!" to which the mayor replied morosely, and bade him go to the devil.

"Au revoir, donc," retorted the Lizard, unabashed. The mayor bawled after him a threat of arrest unless he reported next day in the square.

At that the poacher halted. "Don't you wish you might get me!" he said, tauntingly, probably presuming on my conditional promise.

"Do you refuse to report?" demanded the mayor, also halting.

"Et ta soeur!" replied the poacher; "is she reporting at the caserne?"

The mayor replied angrily, and a typical Breton quarrel began, which ended in the mayor biting his thumb-nail at the Lizard and wishing him "St. Hubert's luck"—an insult tantamount to a curse.

Now St. Hubert was a mighty hunter, and his luck was proverbially marvellous. But as everything goes by contrary in Brittany, to wish a Breton hunter good luck was the very worst thing you could do him. Bad luck was certain to follow—if not that very day, certainly, inexorably, some day.

With wrath in his eyes the Lizard exhausted his profanity, stretching out his arm after the retreating mayor, who waddled away, gesticulating, without turning his head.

"Come back! Toad! Sourd! V-Snake! Bat of the gorse!" shouted the Lizard. "Do you think I'm afraid of your spells, fat owl of Faouet? Evil-eyed eel! The luck of Ker-Ys to you and yours! Ho fois! Do you think I am frightened—I, Robert the Lizard? Your wife is a camel and your daughter a cow!" The mayor was unmarried, but it didn't matter. And, moreover, as that official was now out of ear-shot, the Lizard turned anxiously to me.

"Don't tell me you are superstitious enough to care what the mayor said," I laughed.

"Dame, m'sieu, we shall have no luck to-day. To-morrow it doesn't matter—but if we go to-day, bad luck must come to us."

"To-day? Nonsense!"

"If not, then another day."

"Rubbish! Come on."

"Do you think we could take precautions?" he asked, furtively.

"Take all you like," I said; "rack your brains for an antidote to neutralize the bad luck, only come on, you great gaby!"

I knew many of the Finistere legends; out of the corner of my eye I watched this stalwart rascal, cowed by gross superstition, peeping about for some favorable sign to counteract the luck of St. Hubert.

First he looked up at the crows, and counted them as they passed overhead cawing ominously—one—two—three—four—five! Five is danger! But wait, more were coming: one—two—three—four—five—six—seven—! A loss! Well, that was not as bad as some things. But hark! More crows coming: one—two—three! Death!

"Jesu!" he faltered, ducking his head instinctively. "I'll look elsewhere for signs."

The signs were all wrong that morning; first we met an ancient crone with a great pack of fagots on her bent back, and I was sure he could have strangled her cheerfully, because there are few worse omens for a hunter of game or of men. Then he examined the first mushroom he found, but under the pink-and-pearl cap we saw no insects crawling. The veil, too, was rent, showing the poisonous, fluted gills; and the toadstool blackened when he cut it with the blade of his fagot-knife.

He tried once more, however, and searched through the gorse until he found a heavy lizard, green as an emerald. He teased it till it snapped at the silver franc in my hand; its teeth should have vanished, but when he held out his finger the creature bit into it till the blood spurted.

Still I refused to turn back. What should he do? Then into his mind crept a Pouldu superstition. It was a charm against evil, including lightning, black-rot, rheumatism, and "douleurs" of other varieties.

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