He raised a haggard face to mine. "You know best," he said. "They tore your coat off, and one of them ripped your riding-boot from top to sole; but the blow Empress struck you is your only hurt, and she all but missed you at that. Had she hit you fairly—but, oh, hell! Do you want to get up?"
I said I would in a moment,... and that is all I remember that night, all I remember clearly, though it seems to me that once I heard drums beating in the distance; and perhaps I did.
Dawn was breaking when I awoke. Speed, partly dressed, lay beside me, sleeping heavily. I looked around at the pretty boudoir where I lay, at the silken curtains of the bed, at the clouds of cupids on the painted ceiling, flying through a haze of vermilion flecked with gold.
Raising one hand, I touched with tentative fingers my tightly bandaged head, then turned over on my side.
There were my torn clothes, filthy and smeared with sawdust, flung over a delicate, gilded chair; there sprawled my battered boots, soiling the polished, inlaid floor; a candle lay in a pool of hardened wax on a golden rococo table, and I saw where the smouldering wick had blistered the glazed top. And this was her room! Vandalism unspeakable! I turned on my snoring comrade.
"Idiot, get up!" I cried, hitting him feebly.
He was very angry when he found out why I had awakened him; perhaps the sight of my bandaged head restrained him from violence.
"Look here," he said, "I've been up all night, and you might as well know it. If you hit me again—" He hesitated, stared around, yawned, and rubbed his eyes.
"You're right," he said, "I must get up."
He stumbled to the floor, bathed, grumbling all the while, and then, to my surprise, walked over to a flat trunk which stood under the window and which I recognized as mine.
"I'll borrow some underwear," he remarked, viciously.
"What's my trunk doing here?" I demanded.
"Madame de Vassart had them bring it."
"Had who bring it?"
"Horan and McCadger—before they left."
"Before they left? Have they gone?"
"I forgot," he said, soberly; "you don't know what's been going on."
He began to dress, raising his head now and then to gaze out across the ocean towards Groix, where the cruiser once lay at anchor.
"Of course you don't know that the circus has gone," he remarked.
"Gone!" I echoed, astonished.
"Gone to Lorient."
He came and sat down on the edge of the gilded bedstead, buttoning his collar thoughtfully.
"Buckhurst is in town again with a raft of picturesque ruffians," he said. "They marched in last night, drums beating, colors unfurled—the red rag, you know—and the first thing they did was to order Byram to decamp."
He began to tie his cravat, with a meditative glance at the gilded mirror.
"I was here with you. Kelly Eyre came for me—Madame de Vassart took my place to watch you—"
A sudden heart-beat choked me.
"—So I," he continued, "posted off to the tent, to find a rabble of communist soldiers stealing my balloon-car, ropes, bag, and all. I tell you I did what I could, but they said the balloon was contraband of war, and a military necessity; and they took it, the thieving whelps! Then I saw how matters were going to end, and I told the governor that he'd better go to Lorient as fast as he could travel before they stole the buttons off his shirt.
"Scarlett, it was a weird sight. I never saw tents struck so quickly. Kelly Eyre, Horan, and I harnessed up; Grigg stood guard over the props with a horse-pistol. The ladies worked like Trojans, loading the wagons; Byram raged up and down under the bayonets of those bandits, cursing them as only a man who never swears can curse, invoking the Stars and Stripes, metaphorically placing himself, his company, his money-box, and his camuel under the shadow of the broad eagle of the United States.
"Oh, those were gay times, Scarlett. And we frightened them, too, because nobody attempted to touch anything."
Speed laughed grimly, and began to pace the floor, casting sharp glances at me.
"Byram's people, elephant and all, struck the road a little after three o'clock this morning, in good order, not a tent-peg nor a frying-pan missing. They ought to be in Lorient by early afternoon."
"Gone!" I repeated, blankly.
"Gone. Curious how it hurt me to say good-bye. They're good people—good, kindly folk. I've grown to care for them in these few months ... I may go back to them ... some day ... if they want a balloonist ... or any kind of a thing."
"You stayed to take care of me?" I said.
"Partly.... You need care, especially when you don't need it." He began to laugh. "It's only when you're well that I worry."
I lay looking at him, striving to realize the change that had occurred in so brief a time—trying to understand the abrupt severing of ties and conditions to which, already, I had become accustomed—perhaps attached.
"They all sent their love to you," he said. "They knew you were out of danger—I told them there was no fracture, only a slight concussion. Byram came to look at you; he brought your back salary—all of it. I've got it."
"Byram came here?"
"Yes. He stood over there beside you, snivelling into his red bandanna. And Miss Crystal and Jacqueline stood here.... Jacqueline kissed you."
After a moment I said: "Has Jacqueline gone with them?"
There was another pause, longer this time.
"Of course," I said, "Byram knows that my usefulness as a lion-tamer is at an end."
"Of course," said Speed, simply.
"He wants you for the horses," added Speed. "But you can do better than that."
"I don't know,... perhaps."
"Besides, they sail to-day from Lorient. The governor made money yesterday—enough to start again. Poor Byram! He's frantic to get back to America; and, oh, Scarlett, how that good old man can swear!"
"Help me to sit up in bed," I said; "there—that's it! Just wedge those pillows behind my shoulders."
"Of course. I'm going to dress. Speed, did you say that little Jacqueline went with Byram?"
He looked at me miserably.
"Yes," he said.
I was silent.
"Yes," he repeated, "she went, lugging her pet cat in her arms. She would go; the life has fascinated her. I begged her not to—I felt I was disloyal to Byram, too, but what could I do? I tell you, Scarlett, I wish I had never seen her, never persuaded her to try that foolish dive. She'll miss some day—like the other one."
"It's my fault more than yours," I said. "Couldn't you persuade her to give it up?"
"I offered to educate her, to send her to school, to work for her," he said. "She only looked at me out of those sea-blue eyes—you know how the little witch can look you through and through—and then—and then she walked away into the torch-glare, clasping her cat to her breast, and I saw her strike a fool of a soldier who pretended to stop her! Scarlett, she was a strange child—proud and dainty, too, with all her rags—you remember—a strange, sweet child—almost a woman, at times, and—I thought her loyal—"
He walked to the window and stared moodily at the sea.
"Meanwhile," I said, quietly, "I am going to get up."
He gave me a look which I interpreted as, "Get up and be damned!" I complied—in part.
"Oh, help me into these things, will you?" I said, at length; and instantly he was at my side, gentle and patient, lacing my shoes, because it made my head ache to bend over, buttoning collar and cravat, and slipping my coat on while I leaned against the tumbled bed.
"Well!" I said, with a grimace, and stood up, shakily.
"Well," he echoed, "here we are again, as poor little Grigg says."
"With our salaries in our pockets and our possessions on our backs."
"And no prospects," he added, gayly.
"Not a blessed one, unless we count a prospect of trouble with Buckhurst."
"He won't trouble us unless we interfere with him," observed Speed, drumming nervously on the window.
"But I'm going to," I said, surprised.
"Going to interfere?" he asked, wheeling to scowl at me.
"Why? We're not in government employ. What do we care about this row? If these Frenchmen are tired of battering the Germans they'll batter each other, and we can't help it, can we?"
"We can help Buckhurst's annoying Madame de Vassart."
"Only by getting her to leave the country," said Speed. "She will understand that, too." He paused, rubbing his nose reflectively. "Scarlett, what do you suppose Buckhurst is up to?"
"I haven't an idea," I replied. "All I know is that, in all probability, he came here to attempt to rob the treasure-trains—and that was your theory, too, you remember?"
And I continued, reminding Speed that Buckhurst had collected his ruffianly franc company in the forest; that the day the cruiser sailed he had appeared in Paradise to proclaim the commune; that doubtless he had signalled, from the semaphore, orders for the cruiser's departure; that a few hours later his red battalion had marched into Paradise.
"Yes, that's all logical," said Speed, "but how could Buckhurst know the secret-code signals which the cruiser must have received before she sailed? To hoist them on the semaphore, he must have had a code-book."
I thought a moment. "Suppose Mornac is with him?"
Speed fairly jumped. "That's it! That's the link we were hunting for! It's Mornac—it must be Mornac! He is the only man; he had access to everything. And now that his Emperor is a prisoner and his Empress a fugitive, the miserable hound has nothing to lose by the anarchy he once hoped to profit by. Tell me, Scarlett, does the tail wag the dog, after all? And which is the dog, Buckhurst or Mornac?"
"I once thought it was Buckhurst," I said.
"So did I, but—I don't know now. I don't know what to do, either. I don't know anything!"
I began to walk about the room, carefully, for my knees were weak, though I had no headache.
"It's a shame for a pair of hulking brutes like you and me to desecrate this bedroom," I muttered. "Mud on the floor—look at it! Sawdust and candle-wax over everything! What's that—all that on the lounge? Has a dog or a cat been rolling over it? It's plastered with tan-colored hairs!"
"Lion's hairs from your coat," he observed, grimly.
I looked at them for a moment rather soberly. They glistened like gold in the early sunshine.
Speed opened his mouth to say something, but closed it abruptly as a very faint tapping sounded on our door.
I opened it; Sylvia Elven stood in the hallway.
"Oh," she said, in ungracious astonishment, "then you are not on the grave's awful verge,... are you?"
"I hope you didn't expect to discover me there?" I replied, laughing.
"Expect it? Indeed I did, monsieur,... or I shouldn't be here at sunrise, scratching at your door for news of you. This," she said, petulantly, "is enough to vex any saint!"
"Any other saint," I corrected, gravely. "I admit it, mademoiselle, I am a nuisance; so is my comrade. We have only to express our deep gratitude and go."
"Go? Do you think we will let you go, with all those bandits roaming the moors outside our windows? And you call that gratitude?"
"Does Madame de Vassart desire us to stay?" I asked, trying not to speak too eagerly.
Sylvia Elven gave me a scornful glance.
"Must we implore you, monsieur, to protect us? We will, if you wish it. I know I'm ill-humored, but it's scarcely daybreak, and we've sat up all night on your account—Madame de Vassart would not allow me to go to bed—and if I am brusque with you, remember I was obliged to sleep in a chair—and I hope you feel that you have put me to very great inconvenience."
"I feel that way ... about Madame de Vassart," I said, laughing at the pretty, pouting mouth and sleepy eyes of this amusingly exasperated young girl, who resembled a rumpled Dresden shepherdess more than anything else. I added that we would be glad to stay until the communist free-rifles took themselves off. For which she thanked me with an exaggerated courtesy and retired, furiously conscious that she had not only slept in her clothes, but that she looked it.
"That was Madame de Vassart's companion, wasn't it?" asked Speed.
"Yes, Sylvia Elven ... I don't know what she is—I know what she was—no, I don't, either. I only know what Jarras says she was."
Speed raised his eyebrows. "And what was that?"
"Actress, at the Odeon."
"Never heard of her being at the Odeon," he said.
"You heard of her as one of that group at La Trappe?"
"Well, when I was looking for Buckhurst in Morsbronn, Jarras telegraphed me descriptions of the people I was to arrest at La Trappe, and he mentioned her as Mademoiselle Sylvia Elven, lately of the Odeon."
"That was a mistake," said Speed. "What he meant to say was that she was lately a resident of the Odeonsplatz. He knew that. It must have been a telegraphic error."
"How do you know?" I asked, surprised.
"Because I furnished Jarras with the data. It's in her dossier."
"Odeon—Odeonsplatz," I muttered, trying to understand. "What is the Odeonsplatz? A square in some German city, isn't it?"
"It's a square in the capital of Bavaria—Munich."
"But—but she isn't a German, is she? Is she?" I repeated, staring at Speed, who was looking keenly at me, with eyes partly closed.
There was a long silence.
"Well, upon my soul!" I said, slowly, emphasizing every word with a noiseless blow on the table.
"Didn't you know it? Wait! Hold on," he said, "let's go slowly—let's go very slowly. She is partly German by birth. That proves nothing. Granted that Jarras suspected her, not as a social agitator, but as a German agent. Granted he did not tell you what he suspected, but merely ordered her arrest with the others—perhaps under cover of Buckhurst's arrest—you know what a secret man, the Emperor was—how, if he wanted a man, he'd never chase him, but run in the opposite direction and head him off half-way around the world. So, granted all this, I say, what's to prove Jarras was right?"
"Does her dossier prove it? You have read it."
"Well, her dossier was rather incomplete. We knew that she went about a good deal in Paris—went to the Tuileries, too. She was married once. Didn't you know even that?"
"Married!" I exclaimed.
"To a Russian brute—I've forgotten his name, but I've seen him—one of the kind with high cheek-bones and black eyes. She got her divorce in England; that's on record, and we have it in her dossier. Then, going back still further, we know that her father was a Bavarian, a petty noble of some sort—baron, I believe. Her mother's name was Elven, a Breton peasant; it was a mesalliance—trouble of all sorts—I forget, but I believe her uncle brought her up. Her uncle was military attache of the German embassy to Paris.... You see how she slipped into society—and you know what society under the Empire was."
"Speed," I said, "why on earth didn't you tell me all this before?"
"My dear fellow, I supposed Jarras had told you; or that, if you didn't know it, it did not concern us at all."
"But it does concern—a person I know," I said, quickly, thinking of poor Kelly Eyre. "And it explains a lot of things—or, rather, places them under a new light."
"Well, for one thing, she has consistently lied to me. For another, I believe her to be hand-in-glove with Karl Marx and the French leaders—not Buckhurst, but the real leaders of the social revolt; not as a genuine disciple, but as a German agent, with orders to foment disorder of any kind which might tend to embarrass and weaken the French government in this crisis."
"You're inclined to believe that?" he asked, much interested.
"Yes, I am. France is full of German agents; the Tuileries was not exempt—you know it as well as I. Paris swarmed with spies of every kind, high and low in the social scale. The embassies were nests of spies; every salon a breeding spot of intrigue; the foreign governments employed the grande dame as well as the grisette. Do you remember the military-balloon scandal?"
"Indistinctly.... Some poor devil gave a woman government papers."
"Technically they were government papers, but he considered them his own. Well, the woman who received those papers is down-stairs."
He gave a short whistle of astonishment.
"You are sure, Scarlett?"
"Then, if you are certain, that settles the question of Mademoiselle Elven's present occupation."
I rose and began to move around the room restlessly.
"But, after all," I said, "that concerns us no longer."
"How can it concern two Americans out of a job?" he observed, with a shrug. "The whole fabric of French politics is rotten to the foundation. It's tottering; a shake will bring it down. Let it tumble. I tell you this nation needs the purification of fire. Our own country has just gone through it; France can do it, too. She's got to, or she's lost!"
He looked at me earnestly. "I love the country," he said; "it's fed me and harbored me. But I wouldn't lift a finger to put a single patch on this makeshift of a government; I wouldn't stave off the crash if I could. And it's coming! You and I have seen something of the rottenness of the underpinning which props up empires. You and I, Scarlett, have learned a few of the shameful secrets which even an enemy to France would not drag out into the daylight."
I had never seen him so deeply moved.
"Is there hope—is there a glimmer of hope to incite anybody while these conditions endure?" he continued, bitterly.
"No. France must suffer, France must stand alone in terrible humiliation, France must offer the self-sacrifice of fire and mount the altar herself!
"Then, and only then, shall the nation, purified, reborn, rise and live, and build again, setting a beacon of civilized freedom high as the beacon we Americans are raising,... slowly yet surely raising, to the glory of God, Scarlett—to the glory of God. No other dedication can be justified in this world."
About nine o'clock we were summoned by a Breton maid to the pretty breakfast-room below, and I was ashamed to go with my shabby clothes, bandaged head, and face the color of clay.
The young countess was not present; Sylvia Elven offered us a supercilious welcome to a breakfast the counterpart of which I had not seen in years—one of those American breakfasts which even we, since the Paris Exposition, are beginning to discard for the simpler French breakfast of coffee and rolls.
"This is all in your honor," observed Sylvia, turning up her nose at the array of poached eggs, fragrant sausages, crisp potatoes, piles of buttered toast, muffins, marmalade, and fruit.
"It was very kind of you to think of it," said Speed.
"It is Madame de Vassart's idea, not mine," she observed, looking across the table at me. "Will the gentleman with nine lives have coffee or chocolate?"
The fruit consisted of grapes and those winy Breton cider-apples from Bannalec. We began with these in decorous silence.
Speed ventured a few comments on the cultivation of fruit, of which he knew nothing; neither he nor his subject was encouraged.
Presently, however, Sylvia glanced up at him with a malicious smile, saying: "I notice that you have been in the foreign division of the Imperial Military Police, monsieur."
"Why do you think so?" asked Speed, calmly.
"When you seated yourself in your chair," said Sylvia, "you made a gesture with your left hand as though to unhook the sabre—which was not there."
Speed laughed. "But why the police? I might have been in the cavalry, mademoiselle; for that matter, I might have been an officer in any arm of the service. They all carry swords or sabres."
"But only the military police and the gendarmerie wear aiguilettes," she replied. "When you bend over your plate your fingers are ever unconsciously searching for those swinging, gold-tipped cords—to keep them out of your coffee-cup, monsieur."
The muscles in Speed's lean, bronzed cheeks tightened; he looked at her keenly.
"Might I not have been in the gendarmerie?" he asked. "How do you know I was not?"
"Does the gendarmerie wear the sabre-tache?"
"No, mademoiselle, but—"
"Do the military police?"
"No—that is, the foreign division did, when it existed."
"You are sitting, monsieur," she said, placidly, "with your left foot so far under the table that it quite inadvertently presses my shoe-tip."
Speed withdrew his leg with a jerk, asking pardon.
"It is a habit perfectly pardonable in a man who is careful that his spur shall not scratch or tear a patent-leather sabre-tache," she said.
I had absolutely nothing to say; we both laughed feebly, I believe.
I saw temptation struggling with Speed's caution; I, too, was almost willing to drop a hint that might change her amusement to speculation, if not to alarm.
So this was the woman for whose caprice Kelly Eyre had wrecked his prospects! Clever—oh, certainly clever. But she had made the inevitable slip that such clever people always make sooner or later. And in a bantering message to her victim she had completed the chain against herself—a chain of which I might have been left in absolute ignorance. Impulse probably did it—reasonless and perhaps malicious caprice—the instinct of a pretty woman to stir up memory in a discarded and long-forgotten victim—just to note the effect—just to see if there still remains one nerve, one pulse-beat to respond.
"Will the pensive gentleman with nine lives have a little more nourishment to sustain him?" she asked.
Looking up from my empty plate, I declined politely; and we followed her signal to rise.
"There is a Mr. Kelly Eyre," she said to Speed, "connected with your circus. Has he gone with the others?"
"Really?" she mused, amiably. "I knew him as a student in Paris, when he was very young—and I was younger. I should have liked to have seen him—once more."
"Did you not see him?" I asked, abruptly.
Her back was toward me; very deliberately she turned her pretty head and looked at me over her shoulder, studying my face a moment.
"Yes, I saw him. I should have liked to have seen him—once more," she said, as though she had first calculated the effect on me of a different reply.
She led the way into that small room overlooking the garden where I had been twice received by Madame de Vassart. Here she took leave of us, abandoning us to our own designs. Mine was to find a large arm-chair and sit down in it, and give Speed a few instructions. Speed's was to prowl around Paradise for information, and, if possible, telegraph to Lorient for troops to catch Buckhurst red-handed.
He left me turning over the leaves of the "Chanson de Roland," saying that he would return in a little while with any news he might pick up, and that he would do his best to catch Buckhurst in the foolish trap which that gentleman had set for others.
Tiring of the poem, I turned my eyes toward the garden, where, in the sunshine, heaps of crisped leaves lay drifted along the base of the wall or scattered between the rows of herbs which were still ripely green. The apricots had lost their leaves, so had the grapevines and the fig-trees; but the peach-trees were in foliage; pansies and perpetual roses bloomed amid sere and seedy thickets of larkspurs, phlox, and dead delphinium.
On the wall a cat sat, sunning her sleek flanks. Something about the animal seemed familiar to me, and after a while I made up my mind that this was Ange Pitou, Jacqueline's pet, abandoned by her mistress and now a feline derelict. Speed must have been mistaken when he told me that Jacqueline had taken her cat; or possibly the home-haunting instinct had brought the creature back, abandoning her mistress to her fortunes.
If I had been in my own house I should have offered Ange Pitou hospitality; as it was, I walked out into the sunny garden and made courteous advances which were ignored. I watched the cat for a few moments, then sat down on the bench. The inertia which follows recovery from a shock, however light, left me with the lazy acquiescence of a convalescent, willing to let the world drift for an hour or two, contented to relax, apathetic, comfortable.
Seaward the gulls sailed like white feathers floating; the rocky ramparts of Groix rose clear-cut against a horizon where no haze curtained the sea; the breakers had receded from the coast on a heavy ebb-tide, and I saw them in frothy outline, noiselessly churning the shallows beyond the outer bar.
And then my reverie ended abruptly; a step on the gravel walk brought me to my feet.... There she stood, lovely in a fresh morning-gown deeply belted with turquoise-shells, her ruddy hair glistening, coiled low on a neck of snow.
For the first time she showed embarrassment in her greeting, scarcely touching my hand, speaking with a new constraint in a voice which grew colder as she hesitated.
"We were frightened; we are so glad that you were not badly hurt. I thought you might find it comfortable here—of course I could not know that you were not seriously injured."
"That is fortunate for me," I said, pleasantly, "for I am afraid you would not have offered this shelter if you had known how little injured I really was."
"Yes, I should have offered it—had I reason to believe you would have accepted. I have felt that perhaps you might think what I have done was unwarranted."
"I think you did the most graciously unselfish thing a woman could do," I said, quickly. "You offered your best; and the man who took it cannot—dare not—express his gratitude."
The emotion in my voice warned me to cease; the faintest color tinted her cheeks, and she looked at me with beautiful, grave eyes that slowly grew inscrutable, leaving me standing diffident and silent before her.
The breeze shifted, bringing with it the hollow sea-thunder. She turned her head and glanced out across the ocean, hands behind her, fingers linked.
"I have come here into your garden uninvited," I said.
"Shall we sit here—a moment?" she suggested, without turning.
Presently she seated herself in one corner of the bench; her gaze wandered over the partly blighted garden, then once more centred on the seaward skyline.
The color of her hands, her neck, fascinated me. That flesh texture of snow and roses, firmly and delicately modelled, which sometimes is seen with red hair, I had seen once before in a picture by a Spanish master, but never, until now, in real life.
And she was life incarnate in her wholesome beauty—a beauty of which I had perceived only the sad shadow at La Trappe—a sweet, healthy, exquisite woman, moulded, fashioned, colored by a greater Master than the Spanish painter dreaming of perfection centuries ago.
In the sun a fragrance grew—the subtle incense from her gown—perhaps from her hair.
"Autumn is already gone; we are close to winter," she said, under her breath. "See, there is nothing left—scarcely a blossom—a rose or two; but the first frost will scatter the petals. Look at the pinks; look at the dead leaves. Ah, tristesse, tristesse! The life of summer is too short; the life of flowers is too short; so are our lives, Monsieur Scarlett. Do you believe it?"
She was very still for a while, her head bent toward the sea. Then, without turning: "Have you not always believed it?"
"Then ... why do you believe it ... now?"
"Because, since we have become friends, life seems pitiably short for such a friendship."
She smiled without moving.
"That is a ... very beautiful ... compliment, monsieur."
"It owes its beauty to its truth, madame."
"And that reply is illogical," she said, turning to look at me with brilliant eyes and a gay smile which emphasized the sensitive mouth's faint droop. "Illogical, because truth is not always beautiful. As example: you were very near to death yesterday. That is the truth, but it is not beautiful at all."
"Ah, madame, it is you who are illogical," I said, laughing.
"I?" she cried. "Prove it!"
But I would not, spite of her challenge and bright mockery.
In that flash all of our comradeship returned, bringing with it something new, which I dared not think was intimacy.
Yet constraint fell away like a curtain between us, and though she dominated, and I was afraid lest I overstep limits which I myself had set, the charm of her careless confidence, her pretty, undissembled caprices, her pleasure in a delicately intimate badinage, gave me something of a self-reliance, a freedom that I had not known in a woman's presence for many years.
"We brought you here because we thought it was good for you," she said, reverting maliciously to the theme that had at first embarrassed her. "We were perfectly certain that you have always been unfit to take care of yourself. Now we have the proofs."
"Mademoiselle Elven said that you harbored us only because you were afraid of those bandits who have arrived in Paradise," I observed.
"Afraid!" she said, scornfully. "Oh, you are making fun of me now. Indeed, when Mr. Buckhurst came last night I had my men conduct him to the outer gate!"
"Did he come last night?" I asked, troubled.
"Yes." She shrugged her pretty shoulders.
"That unspeakable creature, Mornac, was with him. I had no idea he was here; had you?"
I was silent. Did Mornac mean trouble for me? Yet how could he, shorn now of all authority?
The thought seemed to occur to her, too, and she looked up quickly, asking if I had anything to fear.
"Only for you," I said.
"For me? Why? I am not afraid of such men. I have servants on whom I can call to disembarrass me of such people." She hesitated; the memory of her deception, of what she had suffered at Buckhurst's hands, brought a glint of anger into her beautiful eyes.
"My innocence shames me," she said. "I merited what I received in such company. It was you who saved me from myself."
"A noble mind thinks nobly," I said. "Theirs is the shame, not yours, that you could not understand treachery—that you never can understand it. As for me, I was an accident, which warned you in time that all the world was not as good and true as you desired to believe it."
She sat looking at me curiously. "I wonder," she said, "why it is that you do not know your own value?"
"My value—to whom?"
"To ... everybody—to the world—to people."
"Am I of any value to you, madame?"
The pulsing moments passed and she did not answer, and I bit my lip and waited. At last she said, coolly: "A man must appraise himself. If he chooses, he is valuable. But values are comparative, and depend on individual taste.... Yes, you are of some value to me,... or I should not be here with you,... or I should not find it my pleasure to be here—or I should not trust you, come to you with my petty troubles, ask your experience to help me, perhaps protect me."
She bent her head with adorable diffidence. "Monsieur Scarlett, I have never before had a friend who thought first of me and last of himself."
I leaned on the back of the bench, resting my bandaged forehead on my hand.
She looked up after a moment, and her face grew serious.
"Are you suffering?" she asked. "Your face is white as my sleeve."
"I feel curiously tired," I said, smiling.
"Then you must have some tea, and I will brew it myself. You shall not object! No—it is useless, because I am determined. And you shall lie down in the little tea-room, where I found you that day when you first came to Trecourt."
"I shall be very happy to do anything—if you are there."
"Even drink tea when you abhor it? Then I certainly ought to reward you with my presence at the rite.... Are you dizzy? You are terribly pale.... Would you lean on my arm?"
I was not dizzy, but I did so; and if such deceit is not pardonable, there is no justice in this world or in the next.
The tea was hot and harmless; I lay thinking while she sat in the sunny window-corner, nibbling biscuit and marmalade, and watching me gravely.
"My appetite is dreadful in these days," she said; "age increases it; I have just had my chocolate, yet here am I, eating like a school-girl.... I have a strange idea that I am exceedingly young,... that I am just beginning to live. That tired, thin, shabby girl you saw at La Trappe was certainly not I.... And long before that, before I knew you, there was another impersonal, half—awakened creature, who watched the world surging and receding around her, who grew tired even of violets and bonbons, tired of the companionship of the indifferent, hurt by the intimacy of the unfriendly; and I cannot believe that she was I.... Can you?"
"I can believe it; I once saw you then," I said.
She looked up quickly. "Where?"
"The day that they received the news from Mexico. You sat in your carriage before the gates of the war office."
"I remember," she said, staring at me. Then a slight shudder passed over her.
Presently she said: "Did you recognize me afterward at La Trappe?"
"Yes,... you had grown more beautiful."
She colored and bent her head.
"You remembered me all that time?... But why didn't you—didn't you—" She laughed nervously. "Why didn't we know each other in those years? Truly, Monsieur Scarlett, I needed a friend then, if ever;... a friend who thought first of me and last of himself."
I did not answer.
"Fancy," she continued, "your passing me so long ago,... and I totally unconscious, sitting there in my carriage,... never dreaming of this friendship which I ... care for so much!... Do you remember at La Trappe what I told you, there on the staircase?—how sometimes the impulse used to come to me when I saw a kindly face in the street to cry out, 'Be friends with me!' Do you remember?... It is strange that I did not feel that impulse when you passed me that day in Paris—feel it even though I did not see you—for I sorely needed kindness then, kindness and wisdom; and both passed by, at my elbow,... and I did not know." She bent her head, smiling with an effort. "You should have thrown yourself astride the horse and galloped away with me.... They did those things once, Monsieur Scarlett—on this very spot, too, in the days of the Saxon pirates."
The whirring monotone of the spinning-wheel suddenly filled the house; Sylvia was singing at her wheel:
"Woe to the maids of Paradise! Yvonne! Twice have the Saxons landed; twice! Yvonne! Yet shall Paradise see them thrice, Yvonne! Yvonne! Marivonik!"
"The prophecy of that Breton spinning song is being fulfilled," I said. "For the third time we Saxons have come to Paradise, you see."
"But this time our Saxons are not very formidable," she said, raising her beautiful gray eyes; "and the gwerz says, 'Woe to the maids of Paradise!' Do you intend to bring woe upon us maids of Paradise—do you come to carry us off, monsieur?"
"If you will go with—me," I said, smiling.
"All of us?"
"Only one, madame."
She started to speak, then her eyes fell. She laughed uncertainly. "Which one among us, if you please—mizilour skler ha brillant deuz ar fidelite?"
"Met na varwin Ket Kontant, ma na varwan fidel," I said, slowly, as the words of the song came back to me. "I shall choose only the fairest and loveliest, madame. You know it is always that way in the story." My voice was not perfectly steady, nor was hers when she smiled and wished me happiness and a long life with the maid of Paradise I had chosen, even though I took her by force.
Then constraint crept in between us, and I was grimly weighing the friendship this woman had given me—weighing it in the balance against a single hope.
Once she looked across at me with questioning eyes in which I thought I read dawning disappointment. It almost terrified me.... I could not lose her confidence,... I could not, and go through life without it.... But I could live a hopeless life to its end with that confidence.... And I must do so,... and be content.
"I suppose," said I, thinking aloud, "that I had better go to England."
"When?" she asked, without raising her head.
"In a day or two. I can find employment there, I think."
"Is it necessary that you find employment ... so soon?"
"Yes," I said, with a meaningless laugh, "I fear it is."
"What will you do?"
"Oh, the army—horses—something of that kind. Riding-master, perhaps—perhaps Scotland Yard. I may not be able to pick and choose.... If I ever save enough money for the voyage, perhaps you would let me come, once in a long while, to pay my respects, madame?"
"Yes,... come, if you wish."
She said no more, nor did I. Presently Sylvia appeared with a peasant woman, and the young countess went away, followed by the housekeeper with her keys at her girdle.
I rose and walked to the window; then, nerveless and depressed, I went out into the garden again to smoke a cigar.
The cat had disappeared; I traversed the garden, passed through the side wicket, and found myself on the cliffs. Almost immediately I was aware of a young girl, a child, seated on the rocks, her chin propped on her hands, the sea-wind blowing her curly elf-locks across her cheeks and eyes. A bundle tied in a handkerchief lay beside her; a cat dozed in her lap, its sleek fur stirring in the wind.
"Jacqueline!" I said, gently.
She raised her head; the movement awakened the cat, who stood up in her lap, stretching and yawning vigorously.
"I thought you were to sail from Lorient to-day?"
The cat stopped purring from her knees; the child rose, pushing back her hair from her eyes with both hands.
"Where is Speed?" she asked, drowsily.
"Did you want to see him, Jacqueline?"
"That is why I returned."
"To see Speed?"
"And you are going to let the others sail without you?"
"And give up the circus forever, Jacqueline?"
"Just because you want to see Speed?"
"Only for that."
She stood rubbing her eyes with her small fists, as though just awakened.
"Oui," she said, without emotion, "c'est comme ca, m'sieu. Where the heart is, happiness lies. I left the others at the city gate; I said, 'Voyons, let us be reasonable, gentlemen. I am happy in your circus; I am happy with Speed; I can be contented without your circus, but I cannot be contented without Speed. Voila!'... and then I went."
"You walked back all the way from Lorient?"
"Bien sur! I have no carriage—I, Jacqueline." She stretched her slim figure, raised her arms slowly, and yawned. "Pardon," she murmured, "I have slept in the gorse—badly."
"Come into the garden," I said; "we can talk while you rest."
She thanked me tranquilly, picked up her bundle, and followed me with a slight limp. The cat, tail up, came behind.
The young countess was standing at the window as we approached in solemn single file along the path, and when she caught sight of us she opened the door and stepped out on the tiny porch.
"Why, this is our little Jacqueline," she said, quickly. "They have taken your father for the conscription, have they not, my child? And now you are homeless!"
"I think so, madame."
"Then you will stay with me until he returns, won't you, little one?"
There was a moment's pause; Jacqueline made a grave gesture. "This is my cat, madame—Ange Pitou."
The countess stared at the cat, then broke out into the prettiest peal of laughter. "Of course you must bring your cat! My invitation is also for Ange Pitou, you understand."
"Then we thank you, and permit ourselves to accept, madame," said Jacqueline. "We are very glad because we are quite hungry, and we have thorns from the gorse in our feet—" She broke off with a joyous little cry: "There is Speed!" And Speed, entering the garden hurriedly, stopped short in his tracks.
The child ran to him and threw both arms around his neck. "Oh, Speed! Speed!" she stammered, over and over again. "I was too lonely; I will do what you wish; I will be instructed in the graces of education—truly I will. I am glad to come back—and I am so tired, Speed. I will never go away from you again.... Oh, Speed, I am contented!... Do you love me?"
"Dearly, little sweetheart," he said, huskily, trying to steady his voice. "There! Madame the countess is waiting. All will be well now." He turned, smiling, toward the young countess, and lifted his hat, then stepped back and fixed me with a blank look of dismay, which said perfectly plainly that he had unpleasant news to communicate. The countess, I think, saw that look, too, for she gave me an almost imperceptible nod and took Jacqueline's hand in hers.
"If there are thorns in your feet we must find them," she said, sweetly. "Will you come, Jacqueline?"
"Yes, madame," said the child, with an adoring smile at Speed, who bent and kissed her upturned face as she passed.
They went into the house, the countess holding Jacqueline's thorn-scratched hand, the cat following, perfectly self-possessed, to the porch, where she halted and sat down, surveying the landscape with dignified indifference.
"Well," said I, turning to Speed, "what new deviltry is going on in Paradise now?"
"Preparations for train-wrecking, I should say," he replied, bluntly. "They are tinkering with the trestle. Buckhurst's ragamuffins have just seized the railroad station at Rose-Sainte-Anne, where the main line crosses, you know, near the ravine at Lammerin. I was sure there was something extraordinary going to happen, so I went down to the river, hailed Jeanne Rolland, the passeuse, and had her ferry me over to Bois-Gilbert. Then I made for the telegraph, gave the operator ten francs to let me work the keys, and called up the arsenal at Lorient. But it was no use, Scarlett, the governor of Lorient can't spare a soldier—not a single gendarme. It seems that Uhlans have been signalled north of Quimper, and Lorient is frantic, and the garrison is preparing to stand siege."
"You mean," I said, indignantly, "that they're not going to try to catch Buckhurst and Mornac?"
"That's what I mean; they're scared as rabbits over these rumors of Uhlans in the west and north."
"Well," said I, disgusted, "it appears to me that Buckhurst is going to get off scot-free this time—and Mornac, too! Did you know that Mornac was here?"
"Know it? I saw him an hour ago, marshalling a new company of malcontents in the square—a bad lot, Scarlett—deserters from Chanzy's army, from Bourbaki, from Garibaldi—a hundred or more line soldiers, dragoons without horses, francs-tireurs, Garibaldians, even a Turco, from Heaven knows where—bad soldiers who disgrace France—marauders, cowardly, skulking mobiles—a sweet lot, Scarlett, to be let loose in Madame de Vassart's vicinity."
"I think so, too," I said, seriously.
"And I earnestly agree with you," muttered Speed. "That's all I have to report, except that your friend, Robert the Lizard, is out yonder flat on his belly under a gorse-bush, and he wants to see you."
"The Lizard!" I exclaimed. "Come on, Speed. Where is he?"
"Yonder, clothed in somebody's line uniform. He's one of them. Scarlett, do you trust him? He has a rifle."
"Yes, yes," I said, impatiently. "Come on, man! It's all right; the fellow is watching Buckhurst for me." And I gave Speed a nervous push toward the moors. We started, Speed ostentatiously placing his revolver in his side-pocket so that he could shoot through his coat if necessary. I walked beside him, closely scanning the stretch of open moor for a sign of life, knowing all the while that it is easier to catch moon-beams in a net than to find a poacher in the bracken. But Speed had marked him down as he might mark a squatting quail, and suddenly we flushed him, rifle clapped to his shoulder.
"None of that, my friend," growled Speed; but the poacher at sight of me had already lowered the weapon.
I greeted him frankly, offering my hand; he took it, then his hard fist fell away and he touched his cap.
"I have done what you wanted," he said, sullenly. "I have the company's rolls—here they are." He dragged from his baggy trousers pockets a mass of filthy papers, closely covered with smeared writing. "Here is the money, too," he said, fishing in the other pocket; and, to my astonishment, he produced a flattened, soiled mass of bank-notes. "Count it," he added, calmly.
"What money is that?" I asked, taking it reluctantly.
"Didn't you warn me to get that box—the steel box that Tric-Trac sat down on when he saw me?"
"Is that money from the box?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, m'sieu. I could not bring the box, and there had been enough blood shed over it already. Besides, when Buckhurst broke it open there was only a bit of iron for the scrap-heap left."
I touched Speed's arm to call his attention; the poacher shrugged his shoulders and continued: "Tric-Trac made no ceremony with me; he told me that he and Buckhurst had settled this Dr. Delmont, and the other—the professor—Tavernier."
"Murdered them?" muttered Speed.
"Dame!—the coup du Pere Francois is murder, I suppose."
Speed turned to me. "That's the argot for strangling," he said, grimly.
"Go on," I motioned to the poacher. "How did you get the money?"
"Oh, pour ca—in my turn I turned sonneur," he replied, with a savage smile.
A sonneur, in thieves' slang, is a creature of the footpad type who, tripping his victim flat, seizes him by the shoulders and beats his head against the pavement until he renders him unconscious—if he doesn't kill him.
"It was pay-day," continued the Lizard. "Buckhurst opened the box and I heard him—he hammered it open with a cold chisel. I was standing guard on the forest's edge; I crept back, hearing the hammering and the little bell ringing the Angelus of Tric-Trac. It was close to dusk; by the time he got into the box it was dark in the woods, and it was easy to jump on his back and strike—not very hard, m'sieu—but, I tell you, Buckhurst lay for two days with eyes like a sick owl's! He knew one of his own men had done it. He never said a word, but I know he thinks it was Tric-Trac.... And when he is ready—bon soir, Tric-Trac!"
He drew his right hand across his corded throat with a horridly suggestive motion. Speed watched him narrowly.
I asked the poacher why Buckhurst had come to Paradise, and why his banditti had seized the railroad at Rose-Sainte-Anne.
"Ah," cried the Lizard, with a ferocious leer, "that is the kernel under the limpet's tent! And I have uncovered it—I, Robert Garenne, bon sang de Jesu!"
He stretched out his powerful arm toward the sea. "Where is that cruiser, m'sieu? Gone? Yes, but who sent her off? Buckhurst, with his new signal-book! Where? In chase of a sea-swallow, or a frigate (bird). Who knows? Listen, messieurs! We are to wreck the train for Brest to-night. Do you comprehend?"
"Where?" I asked, quietly.
"Just where the trestle at Lammerin crosses the ravine below the house of Josephine Tanguy."
Speed looked around at me. "It's the treasure-train from Lorient. They're probably sending the crown diamonds back to Brest in view of the Uhlans being seen near Quimper."
"On a false order?"
"I believe so. I believe that Buckhurst sent the cruiser to Brest, and now he's started the treasure-trains back to Brest in a panic."
"That is the truth," said the Lizard; "Tric-Trac told me. They have the code-book of Mornac." His eyes began to light up with that terrible anger as the name of his blood enemy fell from his lips; his nose twitched; his upper lip wrinkled into a snarl.
I thought quietly for a moment, then asked the poacher whether there was a guard at the semaphore of Saint-Yssel.
"Yes, the soldier Rolland, who says he understands the telegraph—a sot from Morlaix." He hesitated and looked across the open moor toward Paradise. "I must go," he muttered; "I am on guard yonder."
I offered him my hand again; he took it, looking me sincerely in the eyes.
"Let your private wrongs wait a little longer," I said. "I think we can catch Buckhurst and Mornac alive. Do you promise?"
"Y-es," he replied.
"Strike, then, like a Breton!"
We struck palms heavily. Then he turned to Speed and motioned him to retire.
Speed walked slowly toward a half-buried bowlder and sat down out of ear-shot.
"For your sake," said the poacher, clutching my hand in a tightening grip—"for your sake I have let Mornac go—let him pass me at arm's-length, and did not strike. You have dealt openly by me—and justly. No man can say I betrayed friendship. But I swear to you that if you miss him this time, I shall not miss—I, Robert the Lizard!"
"You mean to kill Mornac?" I asked.
His eyes blazed.
"Ami," he said, "I once spoke of 'a little red deer,' and you half understood me, for you are wise in strange ways, as I am."
"I remember," I said.
His strong fingers closed tighter on my hand. "Woman—or doe—it's all one now; and I am out of prison—the prison he sent me to! Do you understand that he wronged me—me, the soldier Garenne, in garrison at Vincennes; he, the officer, the aristocrat?"
He choked, crushing my hand in a spasmodic grip. "Ami, the little red deer was beautiful—to me. He took her—the doe—a silly maid of Paradise—and I was in irons, m'sieu, for three years."
He glared at vacancy, tears falling from his staring eyes.
"Your wife?" I asked, quietly.
He dropped my numbed fingers and rubbed his eyes with the back of his big hand.
"Then Jacqueline is not your little daughter?" I asked, gravely.
"Hers—not mine. That has been the most terrible of all for me—since she died—died so young, too, m'sieu—and all alone—in Paris. If he had not done that—if he had been kind to her. And she was only a child, ami, yet he left her."
All the ferocity in his eyes was gone; he raised a vacant, grief-lined visage to meet mine, and stood stupidly, heavy hands hanging.
Then, shoulders sloping, he shambled off into the thicket, trailing his battered rifle.
When he was very far away I motioned to Speed.
"I think," said I, "that we had better try to do something at the semaphore if we are going to stop that train in time."
The telegraph station at the semaphore was a little, square, stone hut, roofed with slate, perched high on the cliffs. A sun-scorched, wooden signal-tower rose in front of it; behind it a line of telegraph poles stretched away into perspective across the moors. Beyond the horizon somewhere lay the war-port of Lorient, with its arsenal, armed redoubts, and heavy bastions; beyond that was war.
While we plodded on, hip deep, through gorse and thorn and heath, we cautiously watched a spot of red moving to and fro in front of the station; and as we drew nearer we could see the sentry very distinctly, rifle slung muzzle down, slouching his beat in the sunshine.
He was a slovenly specimen, doubtless a deserter from one of the three provincial armies now forming for the hopeless dash at Belfort and the German eastern communications.
When Speed and I emerged from the golden gorse into plain view the sentinel stopped in his tracks, shoved his big, red hands into his trousers pockets, and regarded us sulkily.
"What are you going to do with this gentleman?" whispered Speed.
"Reason with him, first," I said; "a louis is worth a dozen kicks."
The soldier left his post as we started toward him, and advanced, blinking in the strong sunshine, meeting us half-way.
"Now, bourgeois," he said, shaking his unkempt head, "this won't do, you know. Orders are to keep off. And," he added, in a bantering tone, "I'm here to enforce them. Allons! En route, mes amis!"
"Are you the soldier Rolland?" I asked.
He admitted that he was with prompt profanity, adding that if we didn't like his name we had only to tell him so and he would arrange the matter.
I told him that we approved not only his name but his personal appearance; indeed, so great was our admiration for him that we had come clear across the Saint-Yssel moor expressly to pay our compliments to him in the shape of a hundred-franc note. I drew it from the soiled roll the Lizard had intrusted to me, and displayed it for the sentinel's inspection.
"Is that for me?" he demanded, unconvinced, plainly suspicious of being ridiculed.
"Under certain conditions," I said, "these five louis are for you."
The soldier winked. "I know what you want; you want to go in yonder and use the telegraph. What the devil," he burst out, "do all you bourgeois want with that telegraph in there?"
"Has anybody else asked to use it?" I inquired, disturbed.
"Anybody else?" he mimicked. "Well, I think so; there's somebody in there now—here, give your hundred francs or I tell you nothing, you understand!"
I handed him the soiled note. He scanned it with the inborn distrust of the true malefactor, turned it over and over, and finally, pronouncing it "en regle," shoved it cheerfully into the lining of his red forage cap.
"A hundred more if you answer my questions truthfully," I said, amiably.
"'Cre cochon!" he blurted out; "fire at will, comrade! I'll sell you the whole cursed semaphore for a hundred more! What can I do for you, captain?"
"Who is in that hut?"
"A lady—she comes often—she gives ten francs each time. Zut!—what is ten francs when a gentleman gives a hundred! She pays me for my complaisance—bon! Place aux dames! You pay me better—bon! I'm yours, gentlemen. War is war, but money pulls the trigger!"
The miserable creature cocked his forage-cap with a toothless smirk and twisted his scant mustache.
"Who is this lady who pays you ten francs?" I asked.
"I do not know her name—but," he added, with an offensive leer, "she's worth looking over by gentlemen like you. Do you want to see her? She's in there click-clicking away on the key with her pretty little fingers—bon sang! A morsel for a king, gentlemen."
"Wait here," I said, disgusted, and walked toward the stone station. The treacherous cur came running after me. "There's a side door," he whispered; "step in there behind the partition and take a look at her. She'll be done directly: she never stays more than fifteen minutes. Then you can use the telegraph at your pleasure, captain."
The side door was partly open; I stepped in noiselessly and found myself in a small, dusky closet, partitioned from the telegraph office. Immediately the rapid clicking of the Morse instrument came to my ears, and mechanically I read the message by the sound as it rattled on under the fingers of an expert:
"—Must have already found out that the signals were not authorized by the government. Before the Fer-de-Lance returns to her station the German cruiser ought to intercept her off Groix. Did you arrange for this?"
There was a moment's silence, then back came rattling the reply in the Morse code, but in German:
"Yes, all is arranged. The Augusta took a French merchant vessel off Pont Aven yesterday. The Augusta ought to pass Groix this evening. You are to burn three white lights from Point Paradise if a landing-party is needed. It rests with you entirely."
Another silence, then the operator in the next room began:
"You say that Lorient is alarmed by rumors of Uhlans, and therefore sends the treasure-train back to Brest. The train, you assure me, carries the diamonds of the crown, bar-silver, gold, the Venus of Milo, and ten battle-flags from the Invalides. Am I correct?"
"The insurgents here, under an individual in our pay, one John Buckhurst, are preparing to wreck the train at the Lammerin trestle.
"If the Augusta can reach Point Paradise to-night, a landing-party could easily scatter these insurgents, seize the treasures, and re-embark in safety.
"There is, you declare, nothing to fear from Lorient; the only thing, then, to be dreaded is the appearance of the Fer-de-Lance off Groix. She is not now in sight; I will notify you if she appears. If she does not come I will burn three white lights in triangle on Paradise headland."
A short pause, then:
"Are there any Prussian cavalry near enough to help us?"
And the answer:
"Prussian dragoons are scouting toward Bannalec. I will send a messenger to them if I can. This is all. Be careful. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," clicked the instrument in the next room. There was a rustle of skirts, a tap of small shoes on the stone floor. I leaned forward and looked through the little partition window; Sylvia Elven stood by the table, quietly drawing on her gloves. Her face was flushed and thoughtful.
Slowly she walked toward the door, hesitated, turned, hurried back to the instrument, and set the switch. Then, without seating herself, she leaned over and gave the station call, three S's.
"I forgot to say that the two Yankee officers of military police, Scarlett and Speed, are a harmless pair. You have nothing to fear from them. Good-bye."
And the reply:
"Watch them all the same. Be careful, madame, they are Yankees. Good-bye."
When she had gone, closing the outer door behind her, I sprang to the key, switched on, rattled out the three S's and got my man, probably before he had taken three steps from his table.
"I forgot to say," I telegraphed, using a light, rapid touch to imitate Sylvia's—"I forgot to say that, in case the treasure-train is held back to-night, the Augusta must run for the English Channel."
"What's that?" came back the jerky reply.
"Donnerwetter!" rattled the wires. "The entire French iron-clad fleet is looking for her."
"And I hope they catch her," I telegraphed.
"Are you crazy?" came the frantic reply. "Who are you?"
"A Yankee, idiot!" I replied. "Run for your life, you hopeless ass!"
There was, of course, no reply, though I sent a few jocular remarks flying after what must have been the most horrified German spy south of Metz.
Then, at a venture, I set the switch on the arsenal line, got a quick reply, and succeeded in alarming them sufficiently, I think, for in a few moments I was telegraphing directly to the governor of Lorient, and the wires grew hot with an interchange of observations, which resulted in my running to the locker, tumbling out all the signal bunting, cones, and balls, sorting five flags, two red cones, and a ball, and hastening out to the semaphore.
Speed and the soldier Rolland saw me set the cones, hoist away, break out the flags on the halyards, and finally drop the white arm of the semaphore.
I had set the signal for the Fer-de-Lance to land in force and wipe Buckhurst and his grotesque crew from the face of the earth.
"Rolland," I said, "here is another hundred francs. Watch that halyard and guard it. To-night you will string seven of those little lamps on this other halyard, light them, hoist them, and then go up that tower and light the three red lamps on the left."
"'Tendu," he said, promptly.
"If you do it I will give you two hundred francs to-morrow. Is it a bargain?"
The soldier broke out into a torrent of promises which I cut short.
"That lady will never come here again, I think. If she does, she must not touch those halyards. Do you hear? If she offers you money, remember I will double it. But, Rolland, if you lie to me I will have you killed as the Bretons kill pigs; you understand how that is done?"
He said that he understood, and followed us, fawning and whining his cowardly promises of fidelity until we ordered the wretch back to the post which he had already twice betrayed, and would certainly betray again if the opportunity offered.
Walking fast over the springy heath, I told Speed briefly what I had done—that the treasure-train would not now leave Lorient, that as soon as the Fer-de-Lance came in sight of the semaphore Buckhurst's game must come to an end.
Far ahead of us we saw the flutter of a light dress on the moor; Sylvia Elven, the spy, was going home; and from the distance, across the yellow-flowered gorse, her gay song floated back to us:
"Those who die for a maid Are paid; Those who die for a creed God-speed; Those who die for their own dear land Shall stand forever on God's right hand!—"
"A spy!" muttered Speed.
"I think," said I, "that she had better leave Paradise at once. Oh, the little fool, to risk all for a caprice—for a word to the poor fellow she ruined! Vanity does it every time, Speed."
"I don't understand what you mean," he said.
"No, and I can't explain," I replied, thinking of Kelly Eyre. "But Sylvia Elven is running a fearful risk here. Mornac knows her record. Buckhurst would betray her in a moment if he thought it might save his own skin. She ought to leave before the Fer-de-Lance sights the semaphore and reads the signal to land in force."
"Then you'll have to tell her," he said, gloomily.
"I suppose so," I replied, not at all pleased. For the prospect of humiliating her, of proving to this woman that I was not as stupid as she believed me, gave me no pleasure. Rather was I sorry for her, sorry for the truly pitiable condition in which she must now find herself.
As we reached the gates of Trecourt, dusty and tired from our moorland tramp, I turned and looked back. My signal was still set; the white arm of the semaphore glistened like silver against a brilliant sky of sapphire. Seaward I could see no sign of the Fer-de-Lance.
"The guns I heard at sea must have been fired from the German cruiser Augusta," I suggested to Speed. "She's been hovering off the coast, catching French merchant craft. I wish to goodness the Fer-de-Lance would come in and give her a drubbing."
"Oh, rubbish!" he said. "What the deuce do we care?"
"It's human to take sides in this war, isn't it?" I insisted.
"Considering the fashion in which France has treated us individually, it seems to me that we may as well take the German side," he said.
"Are you going to?" I asked.
He hesitated. "Oh, hang it all, no! There's something about France that holds us poor devils—I don't know what. Barring England, she's the only human nation in the whole snarling pack. Here's to her—damn her impudence! If she wants me she can have me—empire, kingdom, or republic. Vive anything—as long as it's French!"
I was laughing when we entered the court; Jacqueline, her big, furry cat in her arms, came to the door and greeted Speed with:
"You have been away a very long time, and the thorns are all out of my arms and my legs, and I have been desiring to see you. Come into the house and read—shall we?"
Speed turned to me with an explanatory smile. "I've been reading the 'Idyls' aloud to her in English," he said, rather shyly. "She seems to like them; it's the noble music that attracts her; she can't understand ten words."
"I can understand nearly twenty," she said, flushing painfully.
Speed, who had no thought of hurting her, colored up, too.
"You don't comprehend, little one," he said, quickly. "It was in praise, not in blame, that I spoke."
"I knew it—I am silly," she said, with quick tears trembling in her eyes. "You know I adore you, Speed. Forgive me."
She turned away into the house, saying that she would get the book.
"Look here, Speed," I said, troubled, "Jacqueline is very much like the traditional maid of romance, which I never believed existed—all unspoiled, frankly human, innocently daring, utterly ignorant of convention. She's only a child now, but another year or two will bring something else to her."
"Don't you suppose I've thought of that?" he said, frowning.
"I hope you have."
"Well, I have. When I find enough to do to keep soul and body friendly I'm going to send her to school, if that old ruffian, her father, allows it."
"I think he will," I said, gravely; "but after that?"
"After she's educated and—unhappy?"
"She isn't any too happy now," he retorted.
"Granted. But after you have spent all your money on her, what then?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you'll have no child to deal with, but a woman in full bloom, a woman fairly aquiver with life and intelligence, a high-strung, sensitive, fine-grained creature, whose educated ignorance will not be educated innocence, remember that! And I tell you, Speed, it's the heaviest responsibility a man can assume."
"I know it," he replied.
"Then it's all right, if you do know it," I said, cheerfully. "All I can say is, I am thankful she isn't to spend her life in the circus."
"Or meet death there," he added. "It's not to our credit that she escapes it."
Jacqueline came dancing back to the porch, cat under one arm, book under the other, so frankly happy, so charmingly grateful for Speed's society, that the tragedy of the lonely child touched me very deeply. I strove to discover any trace of the bar sinister in her, but could not, though now I understood, from her parentage, how it was possible for a poacher's child to have such finely sculptured hands and feet. Perhaps her dark, silky lashes and hair were Mornac's, but if this was so, I trusted that there the aristocratic blood had spent its force in the frail body of this child of chance.
I went into the house, leaving them seated on the porch, heads together, while in a low monotone Speed read the deathless "Morte d'Arthur."
Daylight was waning.
Out of the west a clear, greenish sky, tinged with saffron tints, promised a sea-wind. But the mild land-breeze was still blowing and the ebb-tide flowing as I entered the corridor and glanced at the corner where the spinning-wheel stood. Sylvia sat beside it, reading in the Lutheran Bible by the failing light.
She raised her dreamy eyes as I passed; I had never seen her piquantly expressive face so grave.
"May I speak to you alone a moment, after dinner?" I asked.
"If you wish," she replied.
I bowed and started on, but she called me back.
"Did you know that Monsieur Eyre is here?"
"Oui, monsieur. He returns with an order from the governor of Lorient for the balloon."
I was astonished, and asked where Eyre had gone.
"He is in your room," she said, "loading your revolver. I hope you will not permit him to go alone to Paradise."
"I'll see about that," I muttered, and hurried up the stairs and down the hallway to my bedchamber.
He sprang to the door as I entered, giving me both hands in boyish greeting, saying how delighted they all were to know that my injury had proved so slight.
"That balloon robbery worried me," he continued. "I knew that Speed depended on his balloon for a living; so as soon as we entered Lorient I went to our consul, and he and I made such a row that the governor of Lorient gave me an order for the balloon. Here it is, Mr. Scarlett."
His heightened color and excitement, his nervous impetuosity, were not characteristic of this quiet and rather indifferent young countryman of mine.
I looked at him keenly but pleasantly.
"You are going to load my revolver, and go over to Paradise and take that balloon from these bandits?" I asked, smiling.
"An order is all right, but it is the more formal when backed by a bullet," he said.
"Do you mean to tell me that you were preparing to go over into that hornet's nest alone?"
He shrugged his shoulders with a reckless laugh.
"Give me my revolver," I said, coldly.
His face fell. "Let me take it, Mr. Scarlett," he pleaded; but I refused, and made him hand me the weapon.
"Now," I said, sternly, "I want to know what the devil you mean by attempting suicide? Do you suppose that those ruffians care a straw for you and your order? Kelly, what's the matter with you? Is life as unattractive as all that?"
His flushed and sullen face darkened.
"If you want to risk your life," I said, "you have plenty of chances in your profession. Did you ever hear of an aged aeronaut? Kelly, go back to America and break your neck like a gentleman."
He darted a menacing glance at me, but there was nothing of irony in my sober visage.
"You appear here," I said, "after the others have sailed from Lorient. Why? To do Speed this generous favor? Yes—and to do yourself the pleasure of ending an embittered life under the eyes of the woman who ruined you."
The boy flinched as though I had struck him in the face. For a moment I expected a blow; his hands clinched convulsively, and he focussed me with blazing eyes.
"Don't," I said, quietly. "I am trying to be your friend; I am trying to save you from yourself, Kelly. Don't throw away your life—as I have done. Life is a good thing, Kelly, a good thing. Can we not be friends though I tell you the truth?"
The color throbbed and throbbed in his face. There was a chair near him; he groped for it, and sat down heavily.
"Life is a good thing," I said again, "but, Kelly, truth is better. And I must tell you the—well, something of the truth—as much as you need know ... now. My friend, she is not worth it."
"Do you think that makes any difference?" he said, harshly. "Let me alone, Scarlett. I know!... I know, I tell you!"
"Do you mean to tell me that you know she deliberately betrayed you?" I demanded.
"Yes, I know it—I tell you I know it!"
"And ... you love her?"
"Yes." He dropped his haggard face on his arms a moment, then sat bolt upright. "Truth is better than life," he said, slowly. "I lied to you and to myself when I came back. I did come to get Speed's balloon, but I came ... for her sake,... to be near her,... to see her once more before I—"
"Yes, I understand, Kelly."
He winced and leaned wearily back.
"You are right," he said; "I wanted to end it,... I am tired."
I sat thinking for a moment; the light in the room faded to a glimmer on the panes.
"Kelly," I said, "there remains another way to risk your neck, and, I think, a nobler way. There is in this house a woman who is running a terrible risk—a German spy whose operations have been discovered. This woman believes that she has in her pay the communist leader of the revolt, a man called Buckhurst. She is in error. And she must leave this house to-night."
Eyre's face had paled. He bent forward, clasped hands between his knees, eyes fastened on me.
"There will be trouble here to-night—or, in all probability, within the next twenty-four hours. I expect to see Buckhurst a prisoner. And when that happens it will go hard with Mademoiselle Elven, for he will turn on her to save himself.... And you know what that means;... a blank wall, Kelly, and a firing-squad. There is but one sex for spies."
A deadly fear was stamped on his bloodless face. I saw it, tense and quivering, in the gray light of the window.
"She must leave to-night, Kelly. She must try to cross into Spain. Will you help her?"
He nodded, striving to say "yes."
"You know your own risk?"
"Her company is death for you both if you are taken."
He stood up very straight. In what strange forms comes happiness to man!
LIKE HER ANCESTORS
A sense of insecurity, of impending trouble, seemed to weigh upon us all that evening—a physical depression, which the sea-wind brought with its flying scud, wetting the window-panes like fine rain.
At intervals from across the moors came the deadened rolling of insurgent drums, and in the sky a ruddy reflection of a fire brightened and waned as the fog thickened or blew inland—an ominous sign of disorder, possibly even a reflection from that unseen war raging somewhere beyond the obscured horizon.
It may have been this indefinable foreboding that drew our little company into a temporary intimacy; it may have been the immense loneliness of the sea, thundering in thickening darkness, that stilled our voices to whispers.
Eyre, ill at ease, walked from window to window, looking at the luminous tints on the ragged edges of the clouds; Sylvia, over her heavy embroidery, lifted her head gravely at moments, to glance after him when he halted listless, preoccupied, staring at Speed and Jacqueline, who were drawing pictures of Arthur and his knights by the lamp-lit table.
I leaned in the embrasure of the southern window, gazing at my lighted lanterns, which dangled from the halyards at Saint-Yssel. The soldier Rolland had so far kept his word—three red lamps glimmered through a driving mist; the white lanterns hung above, faintly shining.
Full in the firelight of the room sat the young Countess, lost in reverie, hands clasping the gilt arms of her chair. At her feet dozed Ange Pitou.
The dignity of a parvenu cat admitted for the first time to unknown luxury is a lesson. I said this to the young Countess, who smiled dreamily, watching the play of color over the drift-wood fire. A ship's plank was burning there, tufted with golden-green flames. Presently a blaze of purest carmine threw a deeper light into the room.
"I wonder," she said, "what people sailed in that ship—and when? Did they perish on this coast when their ship perished? A drift-wood fire is beautiful, but a little sad, too." She looked up pensively over her shoulder. "Will you bring a chair to the fire?" she asked. "We are burning part of a great ship—for our pleasure, monsieur. Tell me what ship it was; tell me a story to amuse me—not a melancholy one, if you please."
I drew a chair to the blaze; the drift-wood burned gold and violet, with scarcely a whisper of its velvet flames.
"I am afraid my story is not going to be very cheerful," I said, "and I am also afraid that I must ask you to listen to it."
She met my eyes with composure, leaned a little toward me, and waited.
And so, sitting there in the tinted glare, I told her of the death of Delmont and of Tavernier, and of Buckhurst's share in the miserable work.
I spoke in a whisper scarcely louder than the rustle of the flames, watching the horror growing in her face.
I told her that the money she had intrusted to them for the Red Cross was in my possession, and would be forwarded at the first chance; that I hoped to bring Buckhurst to justice that very night.
"Madame, I am paining you," I said; "but I am going to cause you even greater unhappiness."
"Tell me what is necessary," she said, forming the words with tightened lips.
"Then I must tell you that it is necessary for Mademoiselle Elven to leave Trecourt to-night."
She looked at me as though she had not heard.
"It is absolutely necessary," I repeated. "She must go secretly. She must leave her effects; she must go in peasant's dress, on foot."
"It is better that I do not tell you, madame."
"Tell me. It is my right to know."
"Not now; later, if you insist."
The young Countess passed one hand over her eyes as though dazed.
"Does Sylvia know this?" she asked, in a shocked voice.
"And you are going to tell her?"
"This is dreadful," she muttered.... "If I did not know you,... if I did not trust you so perfectly,... trust you with all my heart!... Oh, are you certain she must go? It frightens me; it is so strange! I have grown fond of her.... And now you say that she must go. I cannot understand—I cannot."
"No, you cannot understand," I repeated, gently; "but she can. It is a serious matter for Mademoiselle Elven; it could not easily be more serious. It is even perhaps a question of life or death, madame."
"In Heaven's name, help her, then!" she said, scarcely controlling the alarm that brought a pitiful break in her voice.
"I am trying to," I said. "And now I must consult Mademoiselle Elven. Will you help me?"
"What can I do?" she asked, piteously.
"Stand by that window. Look, madame, can you see the lights on the semaphore?"
"Count them aloud."
She counted the white lights for me, then the red ones.
"Now," I said, "if those lights change in number or color or position, come instantly to me. I shall be with Mademoiselle Elven in the little tea-room. But," I added, "I do not expect any change in the lights; it is only a precaution."
I left her in the shadow of the curtains, and passed through the room to Sylvia's side. She looked up quietly from her embroidery frame, then, dropping the tinted silks and needles on the cloth, rose and walked beside me past Eyre, who stood up as we came abreast of him.
Sylvia paused. "Monsieur Eyre," she said, "I have a question to ask you ... some day," and passed on with a smile and a slight inclination of her head, leaving Eyre looking after her with heavy eyes.
When we entered the little tea-room she passed on to the lounge and seated herself on the padded arm; I turned, closed the door, and walked straight toward her.
She glanced up at me curiously; something in my face appeared to sober her, for the amused smile on her lips faded before I spoke.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I am sorry to tell you," I said—"sorry from my heart. You are not very friendly to me, and that makes it harder for me to say what I have to say."
She was watching me intently out of her pretty, intelligent eyes.
"What do you mean?" she asked, guardedly.
"I mean that you cannot stay here," I said. "And you know why."
The color flooded her face, and she stood up, confronting me, exasperated, defiant.
"Will you explain this insult?" she asked, hotly.
"Yes. You are a German spy," I said, under my breath.
There was no color in her face now—nothing but a glitter in her blue eyes and a glint from the small, white teeth biting her lower lip.
"French troops will land here to-night or to-morrow," I went on, calmly. "You will see how dangerous your situation is certain to become when Buckhurst is taken, and when it is understood what use you have made of the semaphore."
She winced, then straightened and bent her steady gaze on me. Her courage was admirable.
"I thank you for telling me," she said, simply. "Have I a chance to reach the Spanish frontier?"
"I think you have," I replied. "Kelly Eyre is going with you when—"
"He? No, no, he must not! Does he know what I am?" she broke in, impetuously.
"Yes, mademoiselle; and he knows what happens to spies."
"Did he offer to go?" she asked, incredulously.
"Mademoiselle, he insists."
Her lip began to tremble. She turned toward the window, where the sea-fog flew past in the rising wind, and stared out across the immeasurable blackness of the ocean.
Without turning her head she said: "Does he know that it may mean his death?"
"He has suffered worse for your sake!" I said, bitterly.
"What?" she flashed out, confronting me in an instant.
"You must know that," I said—"three years of hell—prison—utter ruin! Do you dare deny you have been ignorant of this?"
For a space she stood there, struck speechless; then, "Call him!" she cried. "Call him, I tell you! Bring him here—I want him here—here before us both!" She sprang to the door, but I blocked her way.
"I will not have Madame de Vassart know what you did to him!" I said. "If you want Kelly Eyre, I will call him." And I stepped into the hallway.
Eyre, passing the long stone corridor, looked up as I beckoned; and when he entered the tea-room, Sylvia, white as a ghost, met him face to face.
"Monsieur," she said, harshly, "why did you not come to that book-store?"
He was silent. His face was answer enough—a terrible answer.
"Monsieur Eyre, speak to me! Is it true? Did they—did you not know that I made an error—that I did go on Monday at the same hour?"
His haggard face lighted up; she saw it, and caught his hands in hers.
"Did you think I knew?" she stammered. "Did you think I could do that? They told me at the usine that you had gone away—I thought you had forgotten—that you did not care—"
"Care!" he groaned, and bowed his head, crushing her hands over his face.
Then she broke down, breathless with terror and grief.
"I was not a spy then—truly I was not, Kelly. There was no harm in me—I only—only asked for the sketches because—because—I cared for you. I have them now; no soul save myself has ever seen them—even afterward, when I drifted into intrigue at the Embassy—when everybody knew that Bismarck meant to force war—everybody except the French people—I never showed those little sketches! They were—were mine! Kelly, they were all I had left when you went away—to a fortress!—and I did not know!—I did not know!"
"Hush!" he groaned. "It is all right—it is all right now."
"Do you believe me?"
"Yes, yes. Don't cry—don't be unhappy—now."
She raised her head and fumbled in her corsage with shaking fingers, and drew from her bosom a packet of papers.
"Here are the sketches," she sobbed; "they have cost you dear! Now leave me—hate me! Let them come and take me—I do not want to live any more. Oh, what punishment on earth!"
Her suffering was unendurable to the man who had suffered through her; he turned on me, quivering in every limb.
"We must start," he said, hoarsely. "Give me your revolver."
I drew it from my hip-pocket and passed it to him.
"Scarlett," he began, "if we don't reach—"
A quick rapping at the door silenced him; the young Countess stood in the hallway, bright-eyed, but composed, asking for me.
"The red and the white lights are gone," she said. "There are four green lights on the tower and four blue lights on the halyards."
I turned to Eyre. "This is interesting," I said, grimly. "I set signals for the Fer-de-Lance to land in force. Somebody has changed them. You had better get ready to go."
Sylvia had shrunk away from Eyre. The Countess looked at her blankly, then at me.
"Madame," I said, "there is little enough of happiness in the world—so little that when it comes it should be welcomed, even by those who may not share in it."
And I bent nearer and whispered the truth.
Then I went to Sylvia, who stood there tremulous, pallid.
"You serve your country at a greater risk than do the soldiers of your King," I said. "There is no courage like that which discounts a sordid, unhonored death. You have my respect, mademoiselle."
"Sylvia!" murmured the young Countess, incredulously; "you a spy?—here—under my roof?"
Sylvia unconsciously stretched out one hand toward her.
Eyre stepped to her side, with an angry glance at Madame de Vassart.
"I—I love you, madame," whispered Sylvia. "I only place my own country first. Can you forgive me?"
The Countess stood as though stunned; Eyre passed her slowly, supporting Sylvia to the door.
"Madame," I said, "will you speak to her? Your countries, not your hearts, are at war. She did her duty."
"A spy!" repeated the Countess, in a dull voice. "A spy! And she brings this—this shame on me!"
Sylvia turned, standing unsteadily. For a long time they looked at each other in silence, their eyes wet with tears. Then Eyre lifted Sylvia's hand and kissed it, and led her away, closing the door behind.
The Countess still stood in the centre of the room, transfixed, rigid, staring through her tears at the closed door. With a deep-drawn breath she straightened her shoulders; her head drooped; she covered her face with clasped hands.
Standing there, did she remember those who, one by one, had betrayed her? Those who first whispered to her that love of country was a narrow creed; those who taught her to abhor violence, and then failed at the test—Bazard, firing to kill, going down to death under the merciless lance of an Uhlan; Buckhurst, guilty of every crime that attracted him; and now Sylvia, her friend, false to the salt she had eaten, false to the roof above her, false, utterly false to all save the land of her nativity.
And she, Eline de Trecourt, a soldier's daughter and a Frenchwoman, had been used as a shield by those who were striking her own mother-land—the country she once had denied; the country whose frontiers she knew not in her zeal for limitless brotherhood; the blackened, wasted country she had seen at Strasbourg; the land for which the cuirassiers of Morsbronn had died!
"What have I done?" she cried, brokenly—"what have I done that this shame should come upon me?"
"You have done nothing," I said, "neither for good nor evil in this crisis. But Sylvia has; Sylvia the spy. That a man should give up his life for a friend is good; that a woman offer hers for her country is better. What has it cost her? The friendship of the woman she worships—you, madame! It has cost her that already, and the price may include her life and the life of the man she loves. She has done her duty; the sacrifice is still burning; I pray it may spare her and spare him."
I walked to the door and laid my hand on the brass knob.
"The world is merciless to failures," I said. "Yet even a successful spy is scarcely tolerated among the Philistines; a captured spy is a horror for friends to forget and for enemies to destroy in righteous indignation. Madame, I know, for I have served your country in Algiers as a spy,... not from patriotism, for I am an alien, but because I was fitted for it in my line of duty. Had I been caught I should have looked for nothing but contempt from France; from the Kabyle, for neither admiration nor mercy. I tell you this that you may understand my respect for this woman, whose motives are worthy of it."
The Countess looked at me scornfully. "It is well," she said, "for those who understand and tolerate treachery to condone it. It is well that the accused be judged by their peers. We of Trecourt know only one tongue. But that is the language of truth, monsieur. All else is foreign."
"Where did the nobility learn this tongue—to our exclusion?" I asked, bluntly.
"When our forefathers faced the tribunals!" she flashed out. "Did you ever hear of a spy among us? Did you ever hear of a lie among us?"
"You have been taught history by your peers, madame," I said, with a bow; "I have been taught history by mine."
"The sorry romance!" she said, bitterly. "It has brought me to this!"
"It has brought others to their senses," I said, sharply.
"To their knees, you mean!"
"Yes—to their knees at last."
"To the guillotine—yes!"
"No, madame, to pray for their native land—too late!"
"I think," she said, "that we are not fitted to understand each other."
"It remains," I said, "for me to thank you for your kindness to us all, and for your generosity to me in my time of need.... It is quite useless for me to dream of repaying it.... I shall never forget it.... I ask leave to make my adieux, madame."
She flushed to her temples, but did not answer.
As I stood looking at her, a vivid flare of light flashed through the window behind me, crimsoning the walls, playing over the ceiling with an infernal radiance. At the same instant the gate outside crashed open, a hubbub of voices swelled into a roar; then the outer doors were flung back and a score of men sprang into the hallway, soldiers with the red torch-light dancing on rifle-barrels and bayonets.
And before them, revolver swinging in his slender hand, strode Buckhurst, a red sash tied across his breast, his colorless eyes like diamonds.
Speed and Jacqueline came hurrying through the hall to where I stood; Buckhurst's smile was awful as his eyes flashed from Speed to me.
Behind him, close to his shoulder, the torch-light fell on Mornac's smooth, false face, stretched now into a ferocious grimace; behind him crowded the soldiers of the commune, rifles slung, craning their unshaven faces to catch a glimpse of us.
"Demi-battalion, halt!" shouted an officer, and flung up his naked sabre.
"Halt," repeated Buckhurst, quietly.
Madame de Vassart's servants had come running from kitchen and stable at the first alarm, and now stood huddled in the court-yard, bewildered, cowed by the bayonets which had checked them.
"Buckhurst," I said, "what the devil do you mean by this foolery?" and I started for him, shouldering my way among his grotesque escort.
For an instant I looked into his deadly eyes; then he silently motioned me back; a dozen bayonets were levelled, forcing me to retire, inch by inch, until I felt Speed's grip on my arm.
"That fellow means mischief," he whispered. "Have you a pistol?"
"I gave mine to Eyre," I said, under my breath. "If he means us harm, don't resist or they may take revenge on the Countess. Speed, keep her in the room there! Don't let her come out."
But the Countess de Vassart was already in the hall, facing Buckhurst with perfect composure.
Twice she ordered him to leave; he looked up from his whispered consultation with Mornac and coolly motioned her to be silent.
Once she spoke to Mornac, quietly demanding a reason for the outrage, and Mornac silenced her with a brutal gesture.
"Madame," I said, "it is I they want. I beg you to retire."
"You are my guest," she said. "My place is here."
"Your place is where I please to put you!" broke in Mornac; and to Buckhurst: "I tell you she's as guilty as the others. Let me attend to this and make a clean sweep!"
"Citizen Mornac will endeavor to restrain his zeal," observed Buckhurst, with a sneer. And then, as I looked at this slender, pallid man, I understood who was the dominant power behind the curtain; and so did Speed, for I felt him press my elbow significantly.
He turned and addressed us, suavely, bowing with a horrid, mock deference to the Countess:
"In the name of the commune! The ci-devant Countess de Vassart is accused of sheltering the individual Scarlett, late inspector of Imperial Police; the individual Speed, ex-inspector of Imperial Gendarmes; the individual Eyre, under general suspicion; the woman called Sylvia Elven, a German spy. As war-delegate of the commune, I am here to accuse!"
There was a silence, then a low, angry murmur from the soldiers, which grew louder until Buckhurst turned on them. He did not utter a word, but the sullen roar died out, a bayonet rattled, then all was still in the dancing torch-light.
"I accuse," continued Buckhurst, in a passionless voice, "the individual Scarlett of treachery to the commune; of using the telegraph for treacherous ends; of hoisting signals with the purpose of attracting government troops to destroy us. I accuse the individual Speed of aiding his companion in using the telegraph to stop the government train, thus depriving the commune of the funds which rightfully belong to it—the treasures wrung from wretched peasants by the aristocrats of an accursed monarchy and a thrice-accursed empire!"
A roaring cheer burst from the excited soldiers, drowning the voice of Buckhurst.
"Silence!" shouted Mornac, savagely. And as the angry voices were stilled, one by one, above the banging of rifle-stocks and the rattle of bayonets, Buckhurst's calm voice rose in a sinister monotone.
"I accuse the woman Sylvia Elven of communication with Prussian agents; of attempted corruption of soldiers under my command. I accuse the citoyenne Eline Trecourt, lately known as the Countess de Vassart, of aiding, encouraging, and abetting these enemies of France!"