To the station, a little above the highway level, three paths lead. On the road itself the village cart which had taken Madame Clemenceau's baggage, leisurely jogged. The lady herself, instructed by her confederate Hedwig that there was no alarm to be apprehended from the studio, strolled along a more circuitous but pleasanter way. Her husband and his pupil were, as usual, shut up in "the workshop." The studio had been changed for some new fancy of the crack-brained pair; they had packed aside the plans and models and had set up a lathe, a forge and a miniature foundry. To the clang of hammer and the squeak of file was added the detonation now and then of some explosive which did not emit the sharp sound or pungent smoke of gunpowder or the more modern substitutes' characteristic fumes.
At each shock, Cesarine had trembled like the guilty. They had told her that she was born in St. Petersburg when her mother was startled by the blowing up of the street in front of their house by an infernal machine intended to obliterate the Czar; in the sledge in which he was supposed to be riding, a colonel of the chevalier-gardes, who resembled him, had been injured, but the incident was kept hushed up.
One of the old servants whose age entitled his maunderings to respect among his superstitious fellows had, thereupon, prophesied that the new-born babe would end its life by violence.
"It is time I should quit the house," she muttered, drawing her veil over her eyes, of which the lids nervously trembled. "I cannot hear those pop-guns without consternation."
She hurried forth without a regret, and passed, as a hundred times before, the family vault in the cemetery, where her murdered infant reposed, without a farewell glance, although she might never see the place again.
On coming within sight of the station, she perceived a solitary figure, that of a man, in a fashionable caped cloak, crossing the fields in the same direction as hers. It was probably the viscount going to it separately in order not to compromise her and give a clue to the true cause of her flight.
Sometimes the unexpected comes to the help of the wicked. Incredible as it appeared, she received, on the eve of her departure, a telegram from Paris. At first she thought it a device of Viscount Gratian's to cover her elopement, but it was not possible for him to have imagined the appeal. It was from her uncle, who, traveling in France, and intending to pay her a visit since she was married honorably, was stricken with a malady. He awaited her at a hotel. Even Von Sendlingen could not have drawn up this message too simple not to be genuine and too precise in the genealogical allusions not to be a Russian's and a Dobronowska's.
She regarded this cloak as the act of her "fate"—the evil person's providence. She handed the paper to Hedwig to be given to her husband as an explanation at a later hour.
Cesarine was still watching him when she saw him disappear suddenly. It was in crossing an unnailed plank thrown across a drain-cutting. This must have turned or broken under his feet unexpectedly, for his fall was complete. In the ditch which received him, darkness ruled but it seemed to Cesarine that more shadows than one were engaged in deadly strife, standing deep in the mire. They wore the aspect of the demons dragging down a soul in an infernal bog.
What increased the horror was the silence in which the tragedy was enacted; probably the unfortunate Gratian had been seized by the throat as soon as he dropped confused into the assassin's clutches.
Halfway between this scene and the dismayed looker on, another shadow rose and appeared to take the direction to accost her instead of hurrying to the victim's succor. This made him resemble an accomplice, and, breaking the spell, Cesarine hurried on without the power to force a scream for help from her choking throat.
At that moment, while a strong fascination kept her head turned toward the field, a long beam from the locomotive's head-light shot across it. It fell for an instant on the solitary form and though its arm made an upward movement to obscure its face, she believed that she recognized her husband.
Clemenceau on her track! Clemenceau, in concord with the bravest who had smothered her gallant in the mud! she had scorned him too much! He was capable even of cowardly acts, of being revenged for this renewed disgrace upon his ill-fated house!
This time her feet were unchained and she flew up the hill. She thought of nothing but to escape the double revenge of the husband she wronged, and Von Sendlingen whom she had cheated.
She took her ticket mechanically and entered a coach marked for "Ladies Only."
They whisked toward Paris swiftly, before any sinister face looked in at the window, or she had time to reflect. In her pocket was the real case of the sight-drafts for which she had palmed a duplicate filled with cut paper, upon the unlucky viscount. She was rich enough to make a home wherever money reigns—a broad enough domain.
The arrival of her relative and the summons to his sick-bed made her pause in her movements suddenly altered by the death of the viscount. She was almost happy in her foresight by which she had defrauded him and his associates. Now, the loss of him stood by itself; she was free to use the money as she pleased. She feared Von Sendlingen but little, since she would have a good start of him if he pursued.
Should she keep on or see her uncle? Pity for him, a stranger, perhaps dying in a hotel, most inhospitable shelter to an invalid, did not enter her heart. She had seen her lover murdered without a spark of communication, and was now glad that he could never call her to account for the theft. But a vague expectation of benefiting by the pretense of affection—the desire to have some support in case of Von Sendlingen attacking—the excuse and cover her ministration at the sick-bed would afford, all these reasons united to guide her to the Hotel de l'Aigle aux deux Becs, in the rue Caumartin.
Her uncle was no longer there. His stroke of paralysis had frightened the proprietor who suggested his removal to a private hospital, but M. Dobronowska had preferred to be attended to in the house, a little out of St. Denis, of an acquaintance. It was Mr. Lesperon's, the abode of a once noted poetess, whose husband had enjoyed Dobronowska's hospitality in Finland and who had tried to repay the obligation.
Cesarine recalled the name; this lady had been a friend of her aunt's and she felt she would not be intruding. After playing the nurse, by which means she could ascertain whether she would be remembered generously in the patient's will, she could continue her flight or retrace her steps.
Under cover of Hedwig, she could learn, secretly if she preferred it, all that occurred at Montmorency. She found her grand-uncle broken with age and serious attack; he was delighted by her beauty and to hear that she was so happy in her married life! Evidently he was rich, and she had not acted foolishly in going to see him.
Madame Lesperon and her husband recalled her grandmother—whose death she did not describe—and her aunt, over whose fate they politely blurred the rather lurid tints. Madame Lesperon, as became a poetess, saw the loveliness of Clemenceau's idea of separation in marrying his cousin and expressed a wish to compliment him face-to-face. Cesarine was not so sure that he would come to town to escort her home, he was so engrossed in an important project.
She let three days pass without writing a line, alleging that she had not the heart while her dear uncle was in danger and that her husband knew, of course, where she was piously engaged.
The next morning, Madame Lesperon, a regular reader of the newspapers in expectation of the announcement of her poems having at last been commended by the Academie, came up to the sick-room with the Debats.
"Ah, sly puss," said she, with a smile, "let me congratulate you. One can know now why you were so close about your husband's mysterious project. Rejoice, dear, for all France rejoices with you."
Cesarine stared all her wonder. The newspapers trumpeting her husband's name and not in the satirical tone in which the people hail a disaster to a George Dandin.
"The privately appointed committee which has been for some weeks thoroughly investigating the marvelous invention—a revolution in truth—in gunnery, at the Villa Reine-Claude, Montmorency, have deposited a preliminary report at the Ministry of War. We are not at liberty to state more than the prodigious result. On a miniature scale, but which could be enlarged from millimetres to miles without, we are assured, affecting the demonstration, it has been proved that the new gun will throw solid shot twelve miles and its special shell nearly fifteen. The model target was a row of pegs representing piles strongly driven into clay, a little apart, with the interstices filled with racks of stones. Two of the new-shaped projectiles dropped on this mark, left not enough wood to make a match and enough stone to strike a light upon it, while not a splinter of the missile could be found. Judge what would happen if they had fallen on a regiment or into a city. Thanks to the unremitting devotion of this son of France, his country can regard with complacency the monstrous preparations for unprovoked war which a rival realm is ostentatiously making."
The other journals repeated the paragraph in much the same language. The evening edition added that the happy inventor would not have to wait long for his reward. The Emperor, always a connoisseur in artillery, had sent him ten thousand francs from his private purse simply as a faint token of appreciation. "Those familiar with what, in these rapid times, is the ancient history of Paris, may remember that a stain was attached to the name of Clemenceau. In his son, it will shine untarnished, and go down to posterity glorious with lustre."
"What a fool I have been," thought Cesarine. "I fled with a silly fellow who had no more sense than to fall into a trap, for a paltry handful of drafts that may not be paid on presentation, and desert a husband who will be one of the millionaire-inventors of his country!"
Reflecting in the night, she radically reversed her programme.
Her uncle had recovered from the stroke but the physician warned him that the next would kill him. He was happy in the cares of the Lesperons and his grandniece, none of whom would be forgotten when the hour struck for him to leave his worldly goods. Cesarine could quit him in confidence of a handsome inheritance at not a distant day.
Her flight and absence were commendable in the world's most censorious eyes. Only one thought perplexed her: was it her husband who had officiated at the execution of her gallant? If so, her lie would not hold. But in doubt a shameless sinner chooses to brazen it out.
"I should be a confirmed imbecile to let this chance go and not resume my authorized position. Ah, his time, without infamy, I can preside at the board where the high officials will gladly sit—I shall have generals at my feet, perhaps a marshal! Yes, I will go home and brazen it out!"
WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY.
Ten days after the sudden departure of Madame Clemenceau from her residence, a little before daybreak, Hedwig came down through the house to draw up the blinds and open the windows. She carried a small night-lamp and was not more than half awake.
It was the noise of the great invention which had turned the tranquil group of villas and cherry orchards into a rendezvous for the singular admixture of artilleries and scientific luminaries. The peaceful villa entertained a selection of them nightly and it is astonishing how heartily the military men ate and the professors drank, for the enthusiasm had turned all heads.
Hedwig entered the fine old drawing-room where the symposium had been held. It was a capacious room, not unlike an English baronial hall, the doorways and windows were furnished with old Gobelin tapestry and the heavy furniture was of mahogany, imported when France drew generously on her colonies. The long table had been roughly cleared after supper by the summary process of bundling all the plates up in the cloth. On it had been replaced, for the final debate, drawings and models of the guns considered absolute after the novel Clemenceau Cannon. On a pedestal-pillar stood a large clock, representing, with figures at the base, the forge of Vulcan; his Cyclops had hammered off six strokes a little preceding the servant's entrance.
"A quarter past six," she said, yawning. "It will soon be light."
She drew the curtains and pulled the cord which caused the shade to roll itself up in each of the three tall windows, before returning to the table where she had left her now useless lamp. With a half-terrified look, she began to arrange the pretty little cannon, exquisitely modeled in nickel and bronze, and miniature shot, shell, chain-shot, etc., which she handled with a curiosity rather instinctive than studied. In the midst of her mechanically executed work, she was startled by a gentle rapping on the plate-glass of a window. The sight of a face in the grey morning glimmer startled her still more, but, luckily, she recognized it. After hesitation, she crossed the room in surprise and unbolted the two sashes, which opened like double doors.
"Hedwig!" said a woman's voice warily speaking, "open to me!"
The girl held the sashes widely apart, muttering:
"The mistress! why the mischief has she come back when we were getting on so nicely."
But, letting the new-comer pass her, she tried to smoothe her face, and don the smile as stereotyped in servants as in ballet-dancers, while she continued the letting in of the daylight to gain time to recover her countenance.
Cesarine threw off a cloak, trimmed with fur, and more suitable for a colder season, but it was a sable with a sprinkling of isolated white hairs most peculiar and a present from her granduncle. She tottered and seemed weak, for she had concluded that an affection of illness would aid her re-entrance. As Hedwig extinguished the lamp, she sank into an arm-chair. She curiously glanced around and inhaled with a questioning flutter of the nostrils the lasting odor of cigars and Burgundy, which the air retained. In this gloomy apartment where she had often sat alone, sure not to be disturbed, the suggestion of uproarious jollity hurt her dignity. A singular way to express sorrow and shame at the loss of a wife by calling in boon companions! This did not seem like Felix Clemenceau, sober and austere, thus to drown care in champagne.
"Are you alone, girl?" she inquired, looking round with a powerful impression that the house had unexpected inmates.
"Yes. No one is up yet in the house," responded Hedwig, sharing her mistress' uneasiness, though from a less indefinite reason; "at all events, nobody has come down yet. But how did you see that it was I who came in here before the shades were drawn up?"
"Well, I had made a little peep-hole to see what my husband and his fellow conspirator were about, in the time before they shut themselves up in their studio. But, if it is my turn to put questions," she went on with some offended dignity, "how is it that the back door is bolted as well as barred and that I have had to sneak in like a malefactor?"
"If you please, madame, it is the rule to be very careful about fastening up, since you went away."
"Oh, on the principle of locking the stable-door when the steed—"
"Oh! they fear the loss of something which, without offense, I may say, they esteem more highly than you."
Hedwig answered without even a little impertinence and the other did not resent what sounded discourteous.
"Then they do not lock up to keep me out?" she questioned.
"It might be a little bit that way, too."
"It is a new habit. Did the master suggest it?"
"Not the master altogether, madame, but his partner."
"Eh! do you mean Antonino? Monsieur had already lifted him up to be his associate, his confidant, his friend, to the exclusion of his lawful friend and confidant, his wife—and now, does he make him his partner?"
"No, madame; though he has a good fat share in the enterprise. It is M. Daniels who found the funds for the new company in which the master is engaged, and he manages the house to leave the master all his time to go on inventing and entertaining the grand folks we have to dinner."
"Mr. Daniels! not the old Jew who played that queer straight trumpet at Munich—"
"Yes, the turkophone! Ah, he has no need to go about the music halls now—he is, if not rich, the man who leads rich men by the nose, to come and deposit their superfluous cash in our strong-box."
And she pointed fondly to a large iron-clamped coffin which occupied the space between two of the windows. It was a novelty, for Cesarine did not recollect seeing it before. Continuing her survey, it seemed to her that she noticed a different arrangement of the ornaments than when she was queen here, and that the fresh flowers in the vases and two palmettoes in urns were placed with a taste the German maid had never shown.
"Let me see! this Jewish Orpheus had a daughter—"
"Exactly; she never leaves him. She has rooms within his just the same as at our house in Munich. It appears that Jew parents trust their pretty daughters no farther than they can see them. But I do not blame M. Daniels," went on Hedwig, enthusiastically, "she is so lovely!"
Cesarine rose partly, supporting herself with her hands on the arms of the chair. Her eyes flashed like blue steel and her whole frame vibrated with kindled rage.
"Do you mean to tell me, girl, that Mademoiselle Rebecca—as her name went, I think—is now the mistress of my house?"
"In your absence," returned Hedwig, drawlingly, "somebody had to preside, for neither the master, the old gentleman nor M. Antonino take the head of the dinner-table with the best grace. It is true that our guests are not very particular if the wine flows freely. I do not think the young lady likes the position, for I know the old, be-spectacled professors are as pestering with their attentions as the insolent officers. She would have been so delighted at the relief promised by your return that she would run to meet you and you would not have been repulsed at the door."
"I daresay," replied Madame Clemenceau, frowning, and tapping the waxed wood floor impatiently with her foot. "I did not care to announce my return home with a flourish of trumpets. I was not averse to taking the house by surprise, and seeing what a transformation has gone on since I went away. Besides, it is desirable, not to say necessary, that I should speak with you before seeing the others."
Hedwig pouted a little.
"You ought to have written to me, madame, as we were agreed, I thought; I have been on tenderhooks because of your silence. I did not even guess where you were."
"I did not wish it known for a while, and even then, it appears, I spoke too soon," said Cesarine gloomily.
"You did not want me to know, madame?" questioned the servant in surprise and with a trace of suspicion.
"Not even you," and hanging her head, she sank into meditation, not pleasant, to judge by her hopeless expression.
The servant, who had the phlegmatic brain of her people, was stupefied for a little time, then, recovering some vivacity, she inquired hesitatingly as though she was never at her ease with the subtle woman.
"Is madame going away without more than a glance around?"
"Why do you talk such nonsense?" queried her mistress, looking up abruptly.
The girl intimated that the mysterious entrance portended secrecy to be preserved. And, again, the lady had come without baggage, even so much as in eloping from home. But Madame Clemenceau explained, with the most natural air in the world, that she had walked over from the railway station, where her impedimenta remained.
"Walked half a mile?" ejaculated Hedwig, who knew that the speaker had been vigorous enough at Munich, but, since her marriage, and living at Montmorency, she had assumed the popular air of a semi-invalid, "So you are strong in health again?"
"Yes; but I have been very unwell," replied the lady, sinking back in the chair as she remembered the course she had intended to adopt. "I was very nearly at death's door," she sighed. "I really believed that I should nevermore see any of you, my poor husband and you others. Do you think that anything hut a severe ailment could excuse me for my strange silence—my apparently wicked absence?"
Hedwig went on going through the form of dusting the huge metal-bound chest, which had attracted the mistress' eyes as a new article of furniture. Had her husband turned miser since Fortune had whirled on her wheel at his door as soon as she quitted it? It was not Hedwig's place, and it was not in her power to solve enigmas, so she answered nothing.
"My uncle was terribly afflicted," said the lady.
Hedwig's incredulous tone implied that she had not believed in the authenticity of the telegram.
"Yes; my granduncle. He was within an ace of dying, and the shock made me so bad, after nursing him toward recovery, it was I who stood in peril of death. My friends sent for a priest and I confessed."
The girl opened her eyes in wonder and a kind of derision, for she did not belong to the aristocratic creed.
"Confessed?" reiterated she; "ah, yes; people confess when they are very bad. Was it a complete confession, madame?" she saucily inquired.
"Complete as all believers should make when on the brink of the grave," replied Madame Clemenceau, in her gravest tone to repress the tendency to frivolity, for she had not resented the incredulity as regarded herself.
"I dare say," said Hedwig, who certainly had one of her lucid intervals, "it is as when a body is traveling, one is in such a hurry that something is forgotten. You went away so sharply that you forgot to say good-bye to the master! if you spoke at all! Whatever did the father-confessor say?"
"He gave me very good advice."
"Which you are following, madame?"
"When one not only has seen death smite another beside one but flit close by oneself, I assure you, girl, it forces one to reflect. Oh, how dreadful the nights are in the sick chamber, with a night-light dimly burning and the sufferer moaning and tossing! Then my turn came to occupy the patient's position, and it was frightful. Can you not see I am much altered—horrid, in fact?"
Hedwig shook her head; without flattery, well as her mistress assumed the air of languor, her figure had not been affected by any event since the slaying of the Viscount Gratian, and her countenance was unmarred by any change except a trifling pallor.
"Yes; after my uncle grew better, I was indisposed and should have died but for the cares of an old friend, Madame Lesperon the Female Bard. But you would not know this favorite of the Muses. You are not poetically inclined, Hedwig!" she added, laughingly. Rising with animation, "but that makes no matter! I am glad to see you home again. I thought of you, Hedwig, and I have bought you something pretty to wear on your days out—bought it in Paris, too."
"Is that so?" exclaimed the girl, much less absent and saucy in the curl of her lip; "you are always kind."
"Yes; they are in my new trunk, for which you had better send the gardener at once. He is not forgotten either. There is a set of jewelry, too, in the old Teutonic style. They say now in Paris that any idea of war between France and Prussia is absurd, and there is a revulsion in feeling—the vogue is all for German things. I am not sorry that I know how to dress in their style, and I have some genuine Rhenish jewelry, which become me very well."
"I see that madame has indeed not altered," remarked Hedwig, plentifully adorned with smiles, as the sunshine streamed into the grave apartment. "You have fresh projects of captivating the men!" Cesarine smiled also, and nodded several times.
"Here?" cried the girl, in surprise.
"Certainly here, since I understand you are receiving company in shoals."
"That is all over now, madame, and I am sorry, for the callers were very generous to me. It appears that the War Ministry do not approve of strangers running about Montmorency and into the abode of the great inventor of ordinances—"
"Ordnance, child," corrected Madame Clemenceau.
"And the house is sealed up, as you found it, against all comers. We have nobody here for you to try graces upon except Mademoiselle Rebecca's papa—and he being a Jew, you must not go near him, fresh from the confessional."
Madame Clemenceau seemed to be musing.
"I forgot—there's young M. Antonino," continued the servant.
Cesarine made a contemptuous gesture, expressive of the conquest being too easy.
"Such sallow youth are best left to platonic love, it's more proper, and to them, quite as entertaining."
"Well, madame," said Hedwig, like a cheap Jack, holding up the last of his stock, "they are the only men I can offer you; for, since we have been firing off guns and cannon, our neighbors have moved away right and left—we are so lonely. No servant would stay a week!"
"Those the only men?" said the returned fugitive; "Hedwig, this is not polite for your master."
"Oh, madame, a husband never counts."
"You are very much mistaken. He does count—his money, I suppose, if that is his cash-box." And, yielding to her girlish curiosity, she went over to the steel-plated chest and avariciously contemplated it,
"Not at all, madame. That is where they lock up the writings and drawings about the new gun!"
"Oh, what do they say?"
"Nothing a Christian can make head or tail of," returned the servant reservedly. "They write now in a hand no honest folk ever used. An old man who ought to have known better—the Jew—he taught the master, and they call it siphon—"
"Cipher, I suppose? It appears the newspapers are right!" resumed the lady. "He is a great man!" and she clapped her hands.
Hedwig regarded her puzzled, till her brow unwrinkling at last, she exclaimed:
"Upon my word, I believe you have fallen in love with master."
"You might have said: I am still in love. That is why I return to his side."
"If you tell him that is the reason," said this speaker, who used much Teutonic frankness to her superiors, "you will astonish him more than you did me by popping in this morning. He will not believe you."
Madame Clemenceau smiled as those women do who can warp men round to their way of thinking.
"But he will! Besides, if it is a difficult task, so much the better—when a deed is impossible, it tempts one."
"Well, as far as I can see, madame, that is an odd idea for you to have had when far away from master."
"Pish! did you never hear the saying that 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder?' Oh, girl, I had so much deep meditation as I stared at the dim night-light," and she shuddered and looked a little pale.
"Well, madame, I should have rolled over and shut my eyes," said the matter-of-fact maid.
There was more truth in the lady's speech than her hearer gave her credit for. She was no exception to the rule that the wives of great inventors almost never properly appreciate them. By the light of his success, breaking forth like the sun, she feared that the greatest error of her life had been made when she miscomprehended him. In her dreams as well as her insomnia, it was Clemenceau that she beheld, and not the gallants who had flashed across her uneven path, not even the viscount, whose spoil was her nest-egg. Alas! it was a mere atom to the solid ingot which her misunderstood husband's genius had ensured. She had perhaps lost the substance in snapping at the shadow.
"Any way, I love my husband," she proceeded, moaning aloud, and resting her chin in the hollow of her hand—the elbow on the table, to which she had returned and where she was seated. "I am sure now."
"No doubt," said the servant, unconsciously holding the feather duster as a soldier holds his rifle; "madame has heard about our great discoveries in artillery? They are revo—revolutionizing—oof! What a mouthful—the military world!"
"Yes; I read the newspaper accounts during my convalescence," replied Madame Clemenceau.
"Then you fell in love with your husband because of his cannon," said Hedwig, laughing. "I do not see what connection there is between them, and, in fact," reflecting a little and suddenly laughing more loudly, "I hear that cannons produce breaches rather than re-union. Well, after all, if cannons do not further love, its a friend to glory and riches! The Emperor, some of our visitors said, is very fond of artillery, and he will give master immense contracts from the report of the examining committee being so favorable."
"Really, Hedwig, you are becoming quite learned from the association with scientists. What long words you use!
"That's nothing," said the servant, complacently.
"There is no word difficult in French to a German. but I can tell you that, as we cannot live on air, and these promises do not bear present fruit, master has been forced to sell this house."
"Eh! why is that? I like the place well enough."
"You were not here to be consulted, madame, and, we wanted the money. Master does not wish to be obliged to M. Daniels and, besides, he, too, does not get in the cash for his company any too rapidly. Master ran into debt while making his guns and cannon, and we have been pinched for ready money."
"I am glad to hear it!" ejaculated Cesarine, without spitefulness, and with more sincerity than she had spoken previously.
The girl stared without understanding.
"I have money—cash—to help him, and it will be far more proper for him to be obliged to his wife than to strangers. Besides, I should not tax him with usurious interest," she said maliciously.
"Money, madame," said the servant with her widely opened eyes still more distending.
"I have two hundred thousand francs, that is, nearly as many marks, coming from my good uncle who is a little late in doing me a kindness—but my attention touched him. But do I not hear steps—somebody at last moving in the house?"
"Very likely," replied the servant tranquilly, "but nobody will come in here, before master has breakfast. Since he stores his secrets in that chest, and no company drops in, this is a hermitage. Mademoiselle Rebecca is not one of the prying sort."
Madame Clemenceau, who had risen with more nervous anxiety than she cared to display to the servants, stood by her chair, looking toward the door.
"Has he talked about me, sometimes?"
"Master? never—not before me, anyway, madame."
"Yet you gave him the telegram that explained all?"
"Yes, madame; but not until some time after your departure and when master had returned from a promenade alone. I know he was alone, because M. Antonino was racing about to show him some of his wonderful experiments."
Beyond a doubt, it was Clemenceau who had stood witness to the tragedy in the meadow. Hence his inattention to the Russian's despatch, which he naturally would disbelieve, and probably to her prolonged absence.
It was humiliating that he had not searched for her.
"What! no allusion to my stay—no hint of my possible return?"
"His silence has been perfect as the grave. Next morning after you left and did not return, master looked at the cover which I had from habit placed for you, and remarked: 'Oh, by the way, you will have another to lay to-morrow, as we shall have two guests for, I hope, a long time.' He meant the Danielses, madame. Their coming made it a little livelier for him and M. Antonino."
"It looks like a plot," murmured Cesarine, indignantly, as she pictured the happy reunions out of which she had been displaced in memory—not even her untouched plate left as memento! her chair taken by Rebecca Daniels!
"Mr. Daniels is like M. Antonino, too!" continued Hedwig. "Not only is he getting up the company for the master's inventions, but for the young gentleman's—he has made such a marvel of a rifle—they put a tin box into it, and lo! you can fire three hundred shots as quick as a wink! I walk in terror since I heard of it! and I touch things as if they would go off and make mince-meat of me in the desert to it."
"Never mind that!" cried Madame Clemenceau, testily.
"Although the connection between piping at music halls and enchanting the bulls and bears of the Bourse is not clear to me, I can understand how M. Daniels, as a financial agent, should be lodging under our roof, but his daughter—"
"She is our housekeeper, and, to tell the plain truth, madame, we have lived nicely, although money was scarce, since she ruled the roost. Ah, these Jews are clever managers!"
Cesarine did not like the earnest tone of praise and hastened to say bluntly:
"I suppose, then, she threw the spell over him again which once before, at Munich, caused him, a tame bookworm, to fight for her like a king-maker?"
"Mademoiselle Rebecca! she act the fascinatress!" exclaimed Hedwig, with a burst of indignation.
"What is there extraordinary, pray, in a husband, apparently deserted by his wife, paying attention to another handsome young woman?"
"Why, madame, you must forget that master is the most honorable gentleman as ever was, and that Mademoiselle Rebecca is a perfect lady!" Then, perceiving that her enthusiasm on the latter head was not welcome to the hearer, Hedwig, added: "but it does not matter. We are receiving no more company, lest the great secret leak out, and so we don't need a lady at the table. She is going away with her father, who is to open the Rifle Company's offices in Paris, and that's all!"
"It is quite enough!" remarked the other, frowning.
"What is the last word about him?" inquired the servant, "the viscount-baron, I mean."
"M. de Terremonde?"
"Yes; you haven't said a word about him."
"Do you not know?" began Cesarine, shuddering as the scene in the twilight arose before her on the background of the sombre side of the room.
"He was not likely to return hereabouts. Master might have tried the new rifle upon him," with a suppressed laugh.
"Well, if you do not know, I need only say that I am perfectly ignorant of his whereabouts. I went to town without his escort, and I suppose—if he has disappeared," she concluded with emphasis, "that he has gone on a journey of pleasure, or is dead."
"Dead," uttered Hedwig, shuddering in her turn, "in what a singular tone you say that word."
"What concern is it of mine?" questioned Madame Clemenceau, pursing up her lips to conceal a little fluttering from the dread she felt at the effectual way in which her lover had been removed from mortal knowledge. "I do not mind declaring that, if I am given any choice in the matter, I should prefer his taking the latter course."
Hedwig's teeth chattered so that the other looked hard at her till she faltered the explanation:
"Your way of saying things, madame, gives me cold shivers up and down the back—ugh! Why, that gentleman was over head and ears in love with you!"
"That is why he probably went under so quickly, and could not keep his head above water!"
"I thought you liked him a goodish bit—"
An explosion, very sharp and peculiarly splitting the air, resounded under the windows and caused Cesarine to clap her hands to her ears in terror.
THE REVOLUTION IN ARTILLERY.
"Oh, what is that?" muttered Cesarine, with white lips.
Hedwig laughed, but going to the window, calmly replied:
"It is only the master—no, it is M. Antonino, who is trying the rifle they invented. Isn't it funny, though—it does not use powder or anything of that sort—it does not shoot out fire, but only the bullet, and there's no smoke! I never heard of such a thing, and I call it magic!"
"A gun without powder, and no fire or smoke," repeated Madame Clemenceau. "It is, indeed, a marvel!" and she approached the window in uncontrollable curiosity. "Is he going to shoot again?"
"Well, he gets an appetite by popping at the sparrows before breakfast. He is not much of a marksman like master, who is dead on the center, every military officer says—but, in the morning, the birds' wings are heavy with dew, and he makes a very pretty bag now and then. What must the sparrows think to be killed and not smell any powder!"
"I wish you would tell him to go farther, or leave off!" said Cesarine, looking out at the young man with the light rifle, fascinated but fearing.
"The obedience will be more prompt if you would tell him, madame," returned the maid, "for M. Antonino would do anything for you. To think that there should really be something that frightens you!"
"After my illness, I am afraid of everything."
"Very well, I will stop him."
Opening the window, Hedwig called to the Italian by name, and said, on receiving his answer:
"Please not to shoot any more!"
"Why not?" came the reply in the mellow voice of the Italian.
"Come in and you'll learn." But she shut the window to intimate that he was to enter the house by the door as he had issued, and hastily returned to her mistress.
The latter had tottered to the side-board, and seized a decanter, but, in the act of pouring out a glass of water, she paused suspiciously.
"Is this good to drink?" she warily inquired.
"Of course, though you are quite right—they do juggle with a lot of queer acids and the like dangerous stuff here! They give me the warning sometimes after their swim-posiums, as they call the sociables, not to touch anything till they come down, for poisons are about. Ugh! But do not drink so much cold water so early in the morning—it is unhealthy. If it were only good beer, now, it would not matter! Ach, Muechen!" and Hedwig vulgarly smacked her lips.
"After my illness I have been always thirsty, and, sometimes, I seem to have infernal fires in my bosom!" sighed Madame Clemenceau, putting down the glass with a hand so hot that the crystal was clouded with steam.
Her teeth chattered, as a sudden chill followed the flush, and Hedwig shrank back in alarm—the beautiful face became transformed into such a close likeness to a wolf's. "You need not be scared any more, for he has come into the house. Here he is, too!" and she sprang to the door, as well to open it to M. Antonino, as to screen her mistress until she cared to reveal her presence.
Perhaps it was application to the work and not pining over the absence of Cesarine, but the Italian showed evidence of sleeplessness and his pallor had the unpleasant cast of the Southerners when out of spirits.
His eyes were enfevered and his lips dry and cracked. He carried a handsome fowling-piece, which presented, at first glance, no feature of dissimilarity to the usual pattern except that trigger and hammer were absent, and the rim of the barrel was not blackened from the recent discharge.
"What did you stop me for when I had hardly more than begun my sport and practice?" he inquired.
"Put down that devil's own gun, sir monsieur," said Hedwig, "if you please."
"Why, what's the matter?" said he, while obeying by standing the rifle in a corner. "I thought you Germans were all daughters or sweethearts of soldiers."
"Ay, and most of us women would make as good soldiers as they have here; but I was speaking because you gave a shock to madame."
Stepping aside, Antonino discovered Madame Clemenceau, who smiled softly.
"Oh, madame!" ejaculated Antonino, at the height of astonishment, not unmixed with gladness. "I beg your pardon; I am very sorry—I mean glad—that is, I was not aware—if I had had any idea you were home—"
"You could not have known," she answered in a gentle voice. "I was too eager to get back, to delay to send a line. As for the noise, another time it might not matter, but I came here by an early morning train and I had no rest before I started. I am very fatigued and nervous, and the shot so sudden, surprised me. For a little while to come, I should like you to repeat your experiments with firearms at a distance from the house. Is—is that the new kind of rifle?" she inquired, with the timidity of a child introduced to the new watchdog.
"Yes, madame!" and his eyes blazing with pride, he proceeded, as he crossed the room and returned with the firearm, "it is altogether a new invention. Master is an innovator, indeed!"
"Do you object to showing it to me?" continued Cesarine, pleased that the enthusiasm gave an excuse for her not entering into an explanation of her absence which, even if more plausible than that Hedwig had doubtingly received, would require all of Antonino's affectionate faith in her to win credence. "I do not object. Even those experienced in the old weapons can inspect it and not learn much," he went on, with the same pride; "but I thought it frightened you!"
"It did—it does, but I ought to overcome such a ridiculous feeling! I, above all women, being a gun-inventor's wife! Is it loaded?" she asked, while hesitatingly holding out her hand to take it.
Hedwig had prudently backed over to the window which she held a little open to make a leap out for escape in case of accident. Her mistress took the rifle and turned it over and over; certainly, it resembled no gun she had ever handled before. Its simplicity daunted her and irritated her.
"It seems to have two barrels," she remarked, "although one is closed as if not to be used. Is it double-barrelled?"
"There are two barrels, or, more accurately speaking, a barrel for discharge of the projectile and a chamber for the explosive substance, which is the secret."
"Then you load by the muzzle, like the old-fashioned guns?"
"Oh, no; there is no load, no cartridge, as you understand it; only the missiles, and they are inserted by the quantity in the breach."
"And there is no trigger or hammer!" exclaimed Cesarine, not yet at the end of her wonder.
"Obsolete contrivances, always catching in the clothes or in the brambles, and causing the death or maiming of many an excellent man. We have changed all that by doing away with appendages altogether. This disc, when pressed, allows so much of the explosive matter to enter the barrel and it expels the missile by repeated expansions."
"How very, very curious!" exclaimed Madame Clemenceau, returning the piece to Antonino with the vexed air of one reluctantly giving up a puzzle to the solution of which a prize was attached. "I should like you to make it clear to me—"
"The government forbids!" said the Italian, smiling, and assuming a look of preternatural solemnity to make the lady smile and Hedwig laugh respectfully. "And, then, the company we are getting up, lays a farther prohibition on us. However, you are in the arcana—you are one of the privileged, I suppose, and if M. Clemenceau does not expressly bar my lessons, you shall learn how to knock over sparrows for your cat."
"You will instruct me?"
"That is nice of you, and I am so sorry at having interrupted your experiments."
"Thanks; but we have long since gone beyond the experimental stage. I was only trying a new bullet that I fancy the shape of. I ask your pardon for having given you a fright." He took her hand and kissed it. She beckoned to Hedwig as soon as it was released, and smiled kindly on him as she left the room with her servant to dress befittingly to show herself to Mademoiselle Rebecca. Had it been only her husband to face, she might have been content to look dusty with travel as she had to Antonino.
"How you delight that poor gentleman," observed Hedwig, between pity and admiration. "You would witch an angel."
"I am only practicing to enchant my husband, you dull creature!" said Cesarine merrily. "He is a great man, and I have been proud of him from the first."
TRULY A MAN.
Long after Madame Clemenceau had left the room, the Italian stood in the same position as he had taken after kissing her hand. The mild voice from the pallid but little changed beauty thrilled him as formerly, and went far towards making him as mad as he had been ten days before when she had dropped, like an extinguished star, out of that small system. In her absence, he had regained quiet and some coolness, and believed he had conquered the treasonable passion which threatened his benefactor with disgrace. Had she not disgraced him as it was; had she not run away with another lover?
Clemenceau had not said one word to his associate about the telegram from Paris, which he seemed not to believe, or of the note beginning: "The faithless one," by which Von Sendlingen had been warned of Gratian's absconding and which he instructed Hedwig to place where her master must see it. Hence, the view by Clemenceau of the stamping out of the Viscount-baron, for his accomplices had not let the chance pass when he stumbled into their ambush, in order to see if the Frenchman in jealous spite would assail him.
Clemenceau had recognized his wife and he divined that the lonely man making for the same point was the villain, without understanding into what deathpit he had fallen.
At the juncture of his being about hurrying after his wife, he heard the half-strangled wretch's outcry and the low appeal of humanity overpowering the hoarse summons of revenge in his bosom. But when he arrived at the broken footway bridge, all was over. A little farther, he fancied he saw a shadow in an osier bed, but when he waded to it, all was hushed. He called, but no sound responded. All seemed a vision—victim and assassins.
And his wife was flying, by the train which had merely stopped to take her up. As every resident is known at these suburban stations, he refrained from an inquiry which would have made him a laughing-stock.
Since Cesarine had returned, the conflict of duty and passion would be resumed and he felt sure that he had been defeated before. Reflecting profoundly, he could come to no other conclusion than that he ought to shun the dangerous traitress.
As he lifted his head, less troubled after arriving at this resolution, he was not sorry to see that Clemenceau had silently entered the room.
"Oh, is it you, my dear master?" he exclaimed.
It was not easy on that placid brow to read whether he knew of Cesarine's return or not.
"Well, are you satisfied with your test this morning?" inquired he. "Have you succeeded with the bullets of the new shape?"
"I believe so," answered Antonino, "for the modifications which you suggested, improved it in every point they dealt with. They go forth clean and the windage is much reduced."
"Is the range improved?"
"At fourteen hundred metres I put two elongated balls into an oak so deeply that I could not dig them out with my knife. They struck very closely to one another. It is a hundred metres greater distance. Inserting the bullets by the mass of twenty-five and firing the two took four seconds. I was less careful about marking where the others struck, and one that I discharged on my return near the house broke and went badly askew. With bullets made by regular moulders, such an accident should not happen."
"Have you any left? Let me see."
Antonino took two bullets from his waistcoat pocket; they were unlike the ordinary globules, and resembled the long, pointed cylinders of modern guns. With a pair of pocket plyers, he broke one to exhibit the interior to Clemenceau; it was composed of two metals in curiously shaped segments and a chamber in one end contained a loose ball of another and heavier metal, on the principle of the quick-silver enhancing the force of the blow of the "loaded" executioner's sword. All had a novel aspect, but the chief inventor was familiar with the arrangement.
"By the cavity in it I have reduced the weight of three to two," went on Antonino. "I am in hopes to put in fifty or sixty bullets at a time without making the arm too heavy, and that would suffice, considering that the replacement of the mass of projectiles requires no appreciable time, while the supply of explosive, liquefied air suffices for three hundred discharges. The repetition of the emissive force does not jar the gun, and the metal of our alloy does not show a strain although the gauge induces a pressure of fifty thousand pounds per square inch if it were accumulated."
"And the injection valve?"
"It works as easily by pressure on the disc, which replaces the trigger, perfectly."
"That was your idea."
"After you put me on the track," returned the Italian, gratefully. "Oh, I am still very ignorant in these matters."
"Not more than I, a few months ago. I had not handled a firearm until—" he checked himself and frowned; then, tranquilly resuming, he said: "Labor, and you will reach the goal!"
Antonino looked on silently as his instructor took the gun and inserted the bullet, but when he was going over to the open window, with the evident intention to fire off into the garden, he followed and laid his hand on his arm, saying animatedly:
"Do not fire!"
"Why not?" returned Clemenceau, but without astonishment. "We live in a desert since we have frightened our neighbors away. For two leagues around, nobody is about at this hour and everybody within our walls is accustomed to the noise of the gas exploding."
"Not everybody," remonstrated Antonino. "Madame Clemenceau has returned home and the sound frightens her because so strange."
"It is so. That's another matter," replied the inventor, putting the rifle down in the corner without haste.
"Did you know it? Have you seen her?" cried Antonino, struck by the remarkable unconcern of his master.
"I knew of it by seeing her, yes, as I was coming down stairs a while since—she was going to her rooms from this one, with her maid."
"It's a lucky thing that Mademoiselle Daniels refused to occupy them!" exclaimed Antonino. "Why did you not speak to your wife?"
"Because I can have nothing to say to her and she would speak to me nothing but lies," said Clemenceau in so severe and convinced a tone that the young man remained silent, hurt at the judgment pronounced upon his idol by its own high-priest. "What are you brooding over?" he inquired, after an embarrassing pause.
"My dear master, I think that I ought to ask leave of absence since I have finished the work of designing the bullet most fit for the gas-rifle."
"Do you ask leave of me, at your age, as of a schoolmaster?"
The relations between the adopted son and the architect, who had mistaken his bent and become an innovator in artillery, had been affectionate, and on the younger man's side respectful. He had never taken any serious steps without asking his consent.
"Well, where did you think of going?" asked Clemenceau.
"To show the rifle and projectile complete? No, we can test the latter at the new series of firing experiments before the Ordnance Committee. The Minister of War and the Emperor will not thank you for disturbing them for so little. It was the great gun they wanted. They are wedded to the Chassepot for the soldier's gun and, besides, the government musket factories are opposed to so great a novelty."
"I need exercise—action—the open air," persisted the Italian.
Clemenceau shook his head. Only the day before, the young man had called himself the happiest soul in the world and did not wish to quit tranquil Montmorency.
"Well, after you have had your fling, would you hasten back?"
"I—I fear not, master," said he. "I daresay if you and M. Daniels should approve, I might have a situation to travel for the Clemenceau Rifle Company, for some months, in England or America—and explain the value of your invention."
"You wish to be my trumpeter, eh?" said the Frenchman, sadly smiling. "But what is to become of me during your absence and of M. Daniels? Remember that I have nobody to understand me, sympathize with me, become endeared to me, and aid me!"
"I, alone?" repeated the Italian, affected by the melancholy tone common to the man of one idea who must, to concentrate his thoughts, set aside other ties of union with his race.
"Do you doubt it?"
Antonino felt no doubt. He would be the most to be deplored among men if he were not fond of Clemenceau after all that he had done for him. He was an orphan vagrant, next to a beggar, when he had been housed by him, kept, and highly educated. Then, too, with a frankness not common among born brothers, the Frenchman had associated him in all his labors for the revolution in the science of artillery—the greatest since Bacon discovered gunpowder. All that he was, he owed to the man before him.
"Believe me, father," he said, earnestly, "I esteem and venerate you!"
"And yet you keep secrets from me!" reproached Clemenceau.
"I—I have no secrets."
"I see you are too serious."
"I am only sorrowful—sorrowful at quitting you."
"Why should you do it, I repeat?"
"I am never merry—happiness is not my portion," faltered Antonino, not knowing what answer to make.
"That's nothing. Better now than later! At your age, unhappiness is easily borne—it is only what the sporting gentlemen call a preliminary canter. Wait till you come to the actual race!"
"I am not fit to dwell with others—with grave, earnest men; I am too nervous and impressionable."
"Because you come of an excitable race, and your childhood was passed in too deep poverty. You will grow out of all that, gradually. Stay here; oh, keep with me, for I have need of you and you require a companion-soul, soothing like mine. The kind of disappointment you experience is not to be cured by change of place. You carry it with you, and distance increases and strengthens it, and whenever you meet the object again to whom was due the vexation you will perceive that you went on the journey for no good."
Antonino looked at the speaker as one regards the mind-reader who has answered to the point. Clemenceau fixed him with his serene, unvarying eyes, and continued, in an emotionless voice, like a statue, speaking:
"You are in love—and you love my wife."
Antonino started away and involuntarily lifted his hands in a position of defense. Averting his eyes and unclenching his fists, he muttered sullenly:
"What makes you suppose that?"
"I saw it was so."
At the end of a silence more burdensome than any before the younger man found his voice and, as though tears interfered with his utterance, said pathetically, and indistinctly:
"Do you not acknowledge, master, now, that I must go; for when I am far away, perhaps you will forgive the ingrate!"
Looking at the young man of two-and-twenty, Clemenceau knew by his own infatuation at the same tender age with the same woman, that he had nothing to forgive him for—little to reproach him. It was youth that was to blame, and it had loved. No matter who that Cytherean priestess was, he must have adored her whether sister, wife or daughter of dearest friend, teacher and paternal patron. But it was clear from the grief that had made the youth a melancholy man that he was honorable.
Grief is never, when the outcome of remorse, a useless or evil feeling. It is a fair-fighting adversary which has only to be overcome to be a sure ally, always ready to defend and protect its victor. In his own terse language, that of a mathematician and mechanician who knew no words of double meaning.
Clemenceau told the Italian this.
"With your youth and your grief, such a spirit as yours and such a friend as you have in me, Anto," he said, "you possess the weapons of Achilles."
Antonino thought he was mocking at him and frowned.
"You think I am sneering? Or merely laughing at you? Alas, it is a long while since I indulged in laughter. It was this woman, with whom you have fallen in love, who froze the laugh forever on my lips! she would have been the death of me if I had not overruled her and exterminated her within my breast. How I loved her! how I have suffered through her—enough to be our united portions of future pain—suffer you no more, therefore. You are too young, tender and credulous to try a fall with that creature. She must have divined long ago that you were enamored of her. She is not too clear-sighted in all things, but she sees such effects by intuition. It is very probable that she has returned to this house on your account, so suddenly. I could guess that she was on the eve of flight, but not that she would return. She always needs fresh sensations to make herself believe that she is alive, for she is more lifeless than those whom she robbed of life."
Antonino did not understand the allusion, for he had never felt less like dying than since Cesarine had been seen again.
"I mean that she sends the chill of death into the soul, heart and brain of man, and it congeals the marrow in his bones!" said Clemenceau, energetically. "You may say that if she is a wicked woman and if, whatever her defense, her absence covers some evil step, I ought to separate from her. It is all the present state of the law allows. But while her absence would have prevented you, or another friend, from meeting her, still she would have borne my name. That name I am doubly bound to make honorable, for it was stained with blood—that of one of her ever-accursed race. My father won an illustrious name and, her ancestress, whom he married, was dragging it publically in the mud amid all the scandals of society, when he slew her on her couch of gilded infamy. Ashamed of this name—not because he was indicated under it, but because she had so vilified it—his greatest desire to the friends who visited him in the condemned cell, was to have me, his son, change it. They had me brought up at a distance under the name of Claudius Ruprecht. It might even have happened that another country than that of my birth would receive the glory which a heaven-sent idea is to bestow upon France. Now, I am more than ever determined that her venom shall not sully me. She may cause a little ridicule to arise, but that I can scorn. The laugh at Montmorency will not reach Paris, far less echo around the globe! For a long time I hoped to enlighten her and redeem her, but I have failed. But I am bound to enlighten you and save you, am I not? From the feeling you harbor can spring only an additional shame for Cesarine, and certain, perhaps irreparable woe for you. Stop, turn about and look the other way. A man of twenty, who may naturally live another three-score years and work during two of them, who would talk to you of that nonsense, love's sorrow? That was all very well once, when the world revolved slowly and there was little to be done by the people who blocked nobody's way. But these are busy times and things to be done cannot wait till you finish loving and wailing, or till you die of a broken heart without having done anything for your fellow men."
"Bravo!" exclaimed the sympathetical and easily aroused Italian, grasping the speaker by the hand and pressing it with revived energy. "My excellent leader, you are right!"
"And by and by," said the other, with an effort, as though he had to master inward commotion, "when you win a prize from your own country and you look for household joys more agreeably to reward you, you may find one not far from here at this moment to be your wife. For, generally, the bane is near the antidote—the serpent is crushed under the heel next the beneficent plant which heals the bite."
"Rebecca?" questioned the young man in amazement. "But if I can read her heart as you do mine, master, Rebecca Daniels loves you."
"She admires me and pities me, Antonino," replied Clemenceau, hastily, as if wishful to elude the question. "She does not love me. Besides, that is of no consequence. I have no room for love again—always provided that I have once loved. Passion often has the honor of being confounded with the purer feeling, especially in the young. Did I love that monster—for she is a monster, Antonino—I might forgive, for love excuses everything—that is true love, but it is rare as virtue—common sense and all that is truth. To the altar of love, many are called, but few elected, and all are not fit.
"I see you are not convinced, because the dog that bit me is so shapely, and graceful and wears so silky a coat! Such dogs are mad and their bite in the heart is fatal and agonizing unless one at once applies the white hot cautery. The seam remains—from time to time it aches—but the victim's life is saved that he may save, serve, gladden his fellow men. Would you rather I should weep, or force a smile, and appear happy for a period? In any case, since I have cured the injury and she is in my house again, I shall not retaliate on her. But if she threatens to become a public danger—if she bares her poisonous fangs to harm my friend—my son—another—let her beware!"
"Master," stammered Antonino, beginning to see the temptress in the new light, as Felix had often shown him other objects to which he had been blind, "you may or may not judge her too harshly, but you certainly judge me too leniently. Better to let me go away, and far, or at least, since you began the revelation, make the evidence complete of your trust and esteem."
Clemenceau saw that the young man still believed in Cesarine, but he did not care to tell him all he knew of her. Had he been told that she had encouraged Gratian to flee with her and had abandoned him at the first danger, without lifting a finger to save him, or her voice to procure him succor, he might loathe and hate her; but Clemenceau meant to say nothing. Such revelations, and denunciations are permissible alone to wrath, revenge, or despair, in the man whose heart is still bleeding from the wound made in it so that his outburst is sealed by his blood.
"No, Antonino, by my mouth no one shall ever know all that woman has done—or what victories I have won over myself—in severe wrestlings."
"I see you have forgiven her," said the Italian, advancing the virtue in which he was deficient.
"I have expunged her from my heart," answered Clemenceau firmly. "She is a picture on only one page of my life-book, and I do not open it there. Knowing my secret, you are the last person to whom I shall speak of Cesarine's misdeeds. I wish your deliverance, like mine, to be owed to your will, but you are free and have been forewarned, so that you will have less effort to make than I. Let the scarlet woman go by and do not step across her path. Between two smiles, she will dishonor you or deal death to you! She slays like a dart of Satan. That is all you need know. But, as, indeed, you deserve a token of esteem and confidence from your frankness, affection and labors, I will give you one."
Having seated himself, he drew from an inner pocket a paper written in odd characters.
"The time of my giving you the proof of trust should make it more sacred and precious still. I have found the solution of the last problem over which we pored. You know that while we discovered the means of imprisoning the gas in a concentrated form of scarcely appreciable bulk, it was not always our obedient slave, we had the fear that sometimes it would not submit to being liberated by piecemeal but would now and then disrupt its containing chamber in impatience, and then the holder would certainly die, choked if the fragments of the gun had not fatally lacerated him. After many days and nights, I have found the simple means to render the gas innocuous except in the direction to which we direct its flow. I have written out the formula, in the minutest particulars and in the cipher which you and I alone understand. In the same way we two share the secret of this safe."
He handed Antonino a peculiar key and he went to unlock the coffer which had aroused Madame Clemenceau's curiosity.
"Lock it up with the other papers," concluded the inventor. "I appoint you its keeper while I live—my heir and the carrier out of the work after my decease, should I die before having proved what I consign there. What matters it now if my material form disappears when my spirit lives on in thee! Well," he said, as Antonino returned, after closing and fastening the chest, "do you need any farther proof of the confidence I have in you?"
Antonino grasped his hand and wrung it fondly When both had recovered calmness, they went on speaking of their work, which might be considered past the stage when the projector is racked by misgivings. They went into the breakfast-room together, prepared to bear the singular meeting with the errant wife whose return was so unexpected. But she preferred not to take the step so soon, and, as Rebecca also kept away, warned by Hedwig, who might appear at the board, the three men took their meal together.
THE MAN OF MANY MASKS.
From dawn a stranger had been wandering about Montmorency. Armed with a large sun-umbrella and a Guid-Joanne, his copiously oiled black side-whiskers glistening in the sun, showing large teeth in a friendly grin to wayfarers of all degrees, one did not need to hear his strong accent of the people of Marseilles to know that he was a son of the South. Probably having made a fortune in shipping, in oils or wines, he was utilizing his holiday by touring in the north of his country, forced to admire, but still pugnaciously asseverating that no garden equalled his city park and no main street his Cannebiere. He seemed to have no destination in particular; he stopped here and there at random, and used a large and powerful field-glass, slung by a patent leather strap over his brawny shoulders, to study the points in the wide landscape. Now and then he made notes in his guide-book, but with a good-humored listlessness which would have disarmed the most suspicious of military detectives. On descending the hillside, he did not scruple to stop to chat with a nurse maid or two out with the children, and to open his hand as freely to give the latter some silver as he had opened his heart to the girl—all with an easy, hearty laugh, and the oily accent of his fellow-countrymen.
He exchanged the time of day with the clerks hurrying to the railroad station; he did not disdain to ask the roadmender, seated on a pile of stones, how his labor was getting on, and where he would work next week; he leaned on the gate to listen as if enrapt to the groom and gardener of a neighbor of Clemenceau's, regretting that the hubbub of cracking guns and other ominous explosions was driving their master from home. Then, rattling his loose silver, and whistling a fisher's song, which he must have picked up off the Hyeres, he paused before the gateway of the house which had become the Ogre's Cave of Montmorency, and read half aloud the placard nailed on a board to a tree and announcing that the property was in the open market.
"The Reine-Claude Villa, eh!" muttered he to himself. "The name pleases me! I must go in and see if it is worth the money. To say nothing," he added still more secretly, "of the mistress having returned this morning. I wonder how she had the courage to walk along the road in the dawn, when she might have met the ghost of our poor Gratian von Linden-hohen-Linden!"
This acquaintance with the unpublished story of Madame Clemenceau rather contradicted the aspect and accent of a Marseillais, and, although the black whiskers did not remind one of Von Sendlingen when we saw him at Munich, than of his clear shaven, wrinkled face as the Marchioness de Letourlagneau pianist, it was not so with the burly figure, more robust than corpulent.
He opened the gate without ringing and stepped inside on the gravel path winding up to the pretty but not lively house.
"Attention," he muttered suddenly, in a military tone. "Here is our own little spy in the camp—Hedwig. It will be as well she does not recognize me without my cue."
Running his large red hand over his whiskers, he jovially accosted the girl, after adjusting his formidable accoutrement field-glass, guide-book, case and heavy watch chain, adorned with a compass and a pedometer. She stood on the porch before the windows of the room into which her mistress had entered so early in the morning.
"What do you seek, monsieur?" she challenged, after an unfavorable glance upon the stranger who had greatly offended her idea of dignity by not ringing and waiting at the portals to be officially admitted.
"Pardon me, young lady," the man said, with the southern accent so strong that a flavor of garlic at once pervaded the air, "but I did not think that your papa and mamma and the family were in the house, seeing that it is for sale."
"Young lady? My papa? Let me tell you that I am the housemaid here and if you have intended to jest—"
"Jest! purchasing a house, and rather large gardens, is no jest, not in the environs of Paris!" returned the visitor. "Is it you who are to show the property?"
"No. If you will wait, I will tell master," said Hedwig, not at all flattered by being pretendedly taken for "the daughter of the house."
She turned round, made the half-circuit of the house, and entered the breakfast-room where the three gentlemen were still in debate.
"A gentleman, to see the house, with a view to purchase, eh?" said Clemenceau. "Very well, I will go into the drawing-room and speak with him. Is your mistress having a nap?"
"Then, be so good as to tell her that somebody has come about the house, and as such inquirers are sure to be supplied by their wives with formidable lists of questions about domestic details, I should be obliged by her coming down to send the person away satisfied."
He followed Hedwig on the way up through the house as far as the drawing-room door, where his path branched off. Entering, he threw open the double window-sashes and politely asked the gentleman to make use of this direct road, with an apology for suggesting it. But he had seen at a glance that this kind of happy-go-lucky tourist was not of the ceremonious strain.
"It is you, monsieur," began the latter, taking the seat pointed out to him and immediately swinging one leg, mounted on the other knee, with the utmost nonchalance, "it is you who are the proprietor of this pretty place?"
"Yes; my name is Clemenceau, at your service."
"Then, monsieur, I am—where the plague have I put my card-case—I am Guillaume Cantagnac, lately in business as a notary, but for the present, at the head of an enterprise for the purchase of landed estates, and their development by high culture for the ground and superior structures instead of their antiquated houses. I read in the Moniteur des Ventes, and on the placard at your gates, that you are willing to dispose of this residence and the land appertaining thereunto. I am not on business this morning, but taking a little pleasure-trip—no, not pleasure-trip—God forbid I should find any pleasure now! I mean a little tour for distraction after a great sorrow that has befallen me."
The stout man, though he could have felled a bull with a blow of his leg-of-mutton fist, seemed about to break down in tears. But, burying his empurpled nose in a large red handkerchief, he passed off his emotion in a potent blast which made the ornaments on the mantel-shelf quake, and resumed in an unsteady voice:
"I would have made a note and deferred to another day seeing the property you offer and learning its area, value, situation, advantages and defects—for there is always some flaw in a terrestrial paradise, ha, ha! But your hospitable gate was on the latch—such an inviting expression was on the face of a rather pretty servant girl on your porch—faith! I could not resist the temptation to make the acquaintance of the happy owner of this Eden! and lo! I am rewarded by the power to go home to Marseilles and tell my companion domino-players in the Cafe Dame de la Garde that I saw the renowned constructor of the new cannon—M. Felix Clemenceau, with whom the Emperor has spoken about the defense of our beloved country!"
Clemenceau could only bow under this deluge of words.
"M. Clemenceau, will you honor me with the clasp of the hand?"
The host allowed his hand to disappear from view in the enormous one presented, timidly.
"Ah! in case of the universal European War, they are talking about, France will have need of such men as you!"
The embarrassing situation for the modest inventor was altered for the better by the entrance of Antonino, who darted a keen glance upon the genial stranger.
"How do you do?" cried the latter, nodding kindly. "Your son, I suppose, M. Clemenceau?"
"By adoption. I am hardly of the age to have a son as old as that!"
"I beg your pardon! I see now, that it is brain-work that has worn you out a little. But, bless you, that will all get smoothed out when you begin to enjoy the windfall of fortune! I dare say now you are selling out because the Emperor offers you a piece of one of his parks, wanting you to live near him. And I presume this bright young gentleman is of the same profession? Has he, too, invented a great gun?"
"He is the author of several not inconsiderable inventions," replied Clemenceau for Antonino, who was not delighted with the stranger's ways, had gone to look out of the nearest window, although it necessitated his rudely turning his back on him.
"Any cannon among them?"
"No, M. Cant—Cant—"
"Cantagnac; only a very notable bullet of novel shape."
"A bullet, dear me! a bullet! a novel bullet! what an age we are living in, to be sure! I applaud you, young man, and you must allow me to say to my companions in the Cafe de la Garde at Marseilles, that I shook the hand of the inventor of the new bullet!" But as Antonino did not make a responsive movement, he had to add, unabashed: "before I go, I mean! But allow me to say, gentlemen, that though I am only a commonplace notary, and a retired one, at that, ha, ha! a buyer of houses to modernize, and land to improve in cultivation; though lowly, and very ill-informed on the great questions which occupy you, yet I venture to assert that I take the greatest interest in your labors. I would give half—aye, three-quarters of my possessions toward your success. My life should be yours if it were useful in any way, although that would be a small gift, as it has no value in my own eyes. I had a son, M. Clemenceau—an only son, tall, dark, handsome and, though he took after me, bright—like this young gentleman of talent here!" He flourished the voluminous red handkerchief again. "In an evil hour, I let him go on a holiday excursion and he chose the Rhine. His boyish gallantry caused him to champion a waitress on a steamboat, whom a bullying German officer of the Landsturm had chucked under the chin. High words were exchanged—my boy challenged the giant, who did not understand our way among gentlemen of settling such matters—he knocked my hopeful one overboard—no, gentlemen, he was not drowned, but he never recovered from the mortification of being laughed at. He came home but to die—in the following year, poor, sensitive soul! His mother never held her head up again, and I—" he blew his nose with a tremendous peal, "I—I beg your pardon for forgetting my business, again."
"Not at all!" exclaimed Clemenceau, while Antonino, angry at having misjudged the bereaved parent, offered him the hand he had previously refused.
"I thank you both," said M. Cantagnac, hastening to dry his tears which might have seemed of the crocodile sort when they had time to remember he had been a notary. "This is not my usual bearing! Three years ago I was called the Merry One, for I was always laughing, but now"—he gave a great gulp at a sob like a rosy-gilled salmon taking in a fly and abruptly said:
"So you want to sell your house, with all belongings? Which are—"
"About twelve acres, mostly young wood, but some rocky ground ornamental enough, which will never be productive. Do you mind getting the plan, Antonino? It is hanging up in my study."
Antonino went out, not sorry to be beyond earshot of the boisterous negotiator.
"Young wood, eh?" repeated the latter, "humph! lots of stony ground! ahem! yet it is pretty and so near town. I wonder you sell it."
"I want ready money," returned Clemenceau, bluntly.
"So we all do, ha, ha! But you surely could raise on it by mortgage."
"I have tried that."
"The deuce you have! That's strange, when the Emperor said your discovery—"
"It is a gold mine, but like gold mines, it has plunged the discoverer into debt."
"I dare say it would! and I suppose it is not so certain-sure as the newspapers assert—"
"I beg your pardon, it is beyond all doubt," replied Clemenceau, sharply.
STRIKE NOT WOMAN, EVEN WITH ROSES.
"Stop a bit," said M. Cantagnac, pulling a newspaper out of his pocket. "This is a journal I picked up in the cars. I always do that. There is sure to be some passenger to throw them down and so I never buy any myself when I am traveling, ha, ha! Well, in this very sheet, there is a long article about you. It is called 'The Ideal Cannon' and the writer declares that the experiment was a great hit, ha, ha! and he undertakes to explain the new system."
Clemenceau smiled contemptuously. He was not one of those to make a secret public property on which a nation's salvation might depend. In such momentous matters, he would have had arsenals, armories, navy yards and military museums labeled over the door:
"Speech is silver, silence is of gold; Death unto him who dares the tale unfold!"
"Ah, he wouldn't know everything, of course. However, he makes out that you obtain the wonderful result by fixing essential oils in a special magazine and that you managed to project a solid shot to the prodigious distance of—of—" he referred to the newspaper—"fifteen miles by means of—of—I do not understand these jaw-breaking scientific terms. Is it not nitroglycerine?"
"I do not use them myself," remarked Clemenceau, dryly.
"But he adds—look here!" continued the worthy Man from Marseilles, regretfully, "that what you managed to perform with your model and material, specially prepared by yourself, could not be attained on the proper scale in a war campaign. He goes on to say that the scientific world await the explanation of the means to obtain such power as, heretofore, the pressure of liquefied gases has been but some five hundred pounds to the square inch, about a tenth of that of explosives now used. It is admitted, however, that there may be something in your increase of effectiveness by reiterated emissions—" He began to stammer, as if he were speaking too glibly, but his auditor took no alarm. "He continues that, up to this day, gases have failed as propelling powers from their instantaneous explosions."
"The writer is correct," said Clemenceau, a little warmed, "or, rather, he had foundation for his criticism when he wrote. The powerful agent was not perfectly controllable at the period of my last official experiments, but that is not the case at present. This enormous, almost incalculable power is so perfectly under my thumb, monsieur, that not only is it manageable in the largest cannon, but it is suitable for a parlor pistol, which a child might play with."
"Wonderful!" ejaculated Cantagnac, with undoubted sincerity, for his eyes gleamed.
"In solving that last enigma, I found the power became more strong when curbed. Consequently, the gun that would before have carried fifteen miles, may send twenty, and the ball, if not explosible, might ricochet three."
"Wonderful!" cried the Marseillais again, who displayed very deep interest in the abstruse subject for a retired notary.
"The bullet, or shell, or ball—all the projectiles are perfected now!" went on Clemenceau, triumphantly, "and were I surrounded by a million of men, or had I an impregnable fortress before me, a battery of my cannon would finish the struggle in not more than four hours."
"Why, this is a force of nature, not man's work," said Cantagnac, through his grating teeth, as though the admiration were extracted from him. "I do not see how any army or any fort could resist such instruments."
"No, monsieur, not one."
"Would not all the other nations unite against your country?"
"What would that matter, when, I repeat, the number of adversaries would not affect the question?"
"What a dreadful thing! I beg your pardon, but I go to church and I have had 'Love one another!' dinned into my ears. What is to become of that precept, eh?"
"It is what I should diffuse by my cannon," returned Clemenceau.
"By scattering the limbs of thousands of men, ha, ha!" but his laugh sounded very hollow, indeed.
"Not so; by destroying warfare," was the inventor's reply. "War is impious, immoral and monstrous, and not the means employed in it. The more terrible they are, the sooner will come the millennium. On the day when men find that no human protection, no rank, no wealth, no influential connections, nothing can shield them from destruction by hundreds of thousands, not only on the battlefield, but in their houses, within the highest fortified ramparts, they will no longer risk their country, homes, families and bodies, for causes often insignificant or dishonest. At present, all reflecting men who believe that the divine law ought to rule the earth, should have but one thought and a single aim: to learn the truth, speak it and impress it by all possible means wherever it is not recognized. I am a man who has frittered away too much of his time on personal tastes and emotions, and I vow that I shall never let a day pass without meditating upon the destination whither all the world should move, and I mean to trample over any obstacle that rises before me. The time is one when men could carouse, amuse themselves, doze and trifle—or keep in a petty clique. The real society will be formed of those who toil and watch, believe and govern."
"I see, monsieur, that you cherish a hearty hatred for the enemies of the student and the worker," said the ex-notary, not without an inexplicable bitterness, "and that you seek the suppression of the swordsman."
"You mistake—I hate nobody," loftily answered Clemenceau. "If I thought that my country would use my discovery to wage an unjust war, I declare that I should annihilate the invention. But whatever rulers may intend, my country will never long carry on an unfair war and it is only to make right prevail that France should be furnished with irresistible power."
While listening, Cantagnac had probably considered that raillery was not proper to treat such exaltation, for he changed his tone and noisily applauded the sentiments.
"Capital, capital! that's what I call sensible talk! And do you believe that I would leave a man, a patriot, in temporary embarrassment when he has discovered the salvation of our country? Why, this house will become a sight for the world and his wife to flock unto! I am proud that I have stood within the walls and I shall tell the domino-players of the Cafe—but never mind that now! To business! Between ourselves, are you particularly fond of this house?"
"It is my only French home, where I brought my bride, where my child was born—where the great child of my brain came forth—"
"Enough! we can arrange this neatly. It is my element to smooth matters over. Something is in the air about a company to 'work' your minor inventions in firearms, eh? good! I engage, from my financial connections, to find you all funds required; I shall charge twenty-five per cent. on the profits, and never interfere with your scientific department, which I do not understand, anyway. There is no necessity of our seeing one another in the business, but I do want to put my shoulder to the wheel—wheel of Fortune, eh? ha, ha!" and he rubbed his large hands gleefully till they fairly glowed.
There was no resisting openness like this, and Clemenceau heartily thanked the volunteer "backer," as is said in monetary circles.
"That's very kind; but the proposal has previously been made to me by an old friend, an Israelite who also has connections with the principal bankers. But these transactions take time, on a large scale and to embrace the world. Meanwhile, although he would readily and easily find me temporary accommodation, the pressure on me is not acute enough for me to accept a helping hand."
"I understand: you would not be in difficulties if you were another kind of man. Let us say no more about it. As the company will be a public one, I suppose, I can take shares. About this mortgage over our heads, is some bank holding it?"
"Well, no; my wife has it, as part of the marriage portion, or rather my gift. I have sent for her to step down to discuss the matter with you."
"Happy to see the lady," said Cantagnac, pulling out his whiskers and adjusting the points of his collar. "We will discuss it, with an eye to your interests, monsieur."
It was clear that M. Cantagnac had not enchanted Antonino, for he had taken care not to bring the plan of the house; it was brought, but by another hand. On seeing the lady, the Marseillais bowed with exaggerated politeness of the old school and stammered his compliments.
"No, no;" Clemenceau hastened to say, "this is not the lady of the house, but a guest who, however, will show you the place."
It was Rebecca Daniels. As always happens with the Jews, whose long, oval faces are not improved by mental trouble, she looked less captivating than when she had shone as the star of the Harmonista Music-hall; but, nevertheless, she was, for the refined eye, very alluring. She accepted the task imposed on her with a gentle smile, although it was evident that in her quick glance she had summed up the visitor's qualities without much favor for him.
While Cantagnac was bowing again and fumbling confusedly with his hat, Rebecca laid the plan on the table and whispered to Clemenceau:
"Do you know that she is here again?"
He nodded, whereupon her features, which had been animated, fell back into habitual calm.
"She sends word by Hedwig, whom I intercepted, that she wants to see you before seeing this purchaser of the house. I need not urge you to keep calm?"
"Come this way, please, monsieur," said Rebecca, lightly, as if fully at ease, and she led Cantagnac out of the room.
Left to himself, with the notification of the important interview overhanging him, the host pondered. He had at the first loved Rebecca, and it was strange to him now that he had let Cesarine outshine her. He had acted like an observer, who takes a comet for a planet shaken out of its course. Since he loved the Jewess with a holier flame than ever the Russian kindled, he perceived which was the true love. This is not an earthly fire, but a divine spirit; not a chance shock, but the union of two souls in unbroken harmony.
It is possible that Von Sendlingen in transmitting to Clemenceau the notice by the butler's wife, that the Viscount Gratian was to aid her in flight, but which as plainly revealed the wife's flight, had expected the angered husband to execute justice on the betrayer. Human laws could have absolved him if he had slain the couple at sight, but Clemenceau, after the example of his father, had resolved not to transgress the divine mandate again, even in this cause. He would have separated the congenial spirits of cunning and deceit, but not by striking a blow, and the rebuke to Cesarine would have been so scathing she would never have had the impudence to see him again. Not by murder did he mean to liberate himself.
On seeing that heaven had taken the parting of the gallant and the wanton into its hand, he had simply forbore to intervene. On the one hand, he let Gratian's mysterious and stealthy assassins stifle him and the other, Cesarine, run to the railroad station unhailed. The one deserved death as the other deserved oblivion.
This woman was of the world and would be a clod when no longer living—her essence would remain to inspirit some other evil woman—the same malignity in a beautiful shape which appeared in Lais, Messalina, Lucrezia Borgia, the Medici, Ninon, Lecouvreur, Iza, not links of a chain, but the same gem, a little differently set.
But Rebecca's was an ethereal spirit eternal. Thinking of her he could believe himself young and comely again and loving forever in another sphere. This was the being whom he would eternally adore, whether he or she were the first to quit the earth.
Here lay the consolation. Cesarine, like all evil, was transient; Rebecca, like all good, everlasting.
"Let her come," said he at last, lifting his head slowly and no longer troubled. "She need not fear. I shall bear in mind the Oriental proverb Daniels quoted: 'Do not beat a woman, even with roses!'"
Hardly were the words formed in his mind than his wife appeared as though by that mind reading, frequent in married couples—she had waited for this assurance of her personal safety to be mentally formed.
In the short time given her toilet, she had performed wonders. Perhaps, with a surprising effort of her will, she had snatched some rest, for her eyes wore the fresh, pellucid gleam after prolonged slumber. Her cheeks were smooth and by artifice, seemed to wear the virginal down. Easy and graceful as ever, she affected a slight constraint, which agreed with a pretence of avoiding his glances.
"You must be astonished to see me!" she exclaimed, for he did not say a word of greeting.
No man could have looked less astonished, and, with the greatest evenness of tone, he answered:
"You ought to know that nothing you do astonishes me."
"But I remember—I wrote you a long letter explaining my absence and the necessity of my sudden departure—the despatch from my poor uncle's secretary—I ordered it to be given you—it explained my sudden departure—"
"Hedwig gave me the paper," he said shortly.
"But my letter, saying I had nursed him to convalescence and had fallen ill myself? You had time to reply but you did not do so."
"I received no letter," he said, like a speaking machine.
"Dear, dear, how could that be!" she muttered, tapping her foot on the head of the tiger-skin rug.
"Perhaps it arises from your never writing me any," he said, but without bitterness.
"Oh, I could swear—"
"It is of no consequence either way."
"Since you did not reply, I came to you although it was at a great risk. I would not tell you that I was leaving a sickroom for fear it would fill you with too great pain or too great hope."
"How witty you are!"
"Would you not be happy if I died?"
"If you were in a dying state, somebody might have written for you—Madame Lesperon or your uncle," speaking as if the persons were fabulous creatures.
"Oh, my granduncle is well known at the Russian Embassy, and Madame and M. Lesperon remember your lamented father distinctly."
He bit his lip as if he detested hearing his father spoken of by her.
"Madame wanted to write to you—she expected you to come for me, like any other husband, but I knew you were not like other husbands, and would not come."
She was sincere; women always speak out when boldness is an excuse.
"You mistake," he interrupted, "I would have come, under the belief that on your death bed, you would have confession to make or desires to express which a husband alone should hear."
"What do you suppose?" cried Cesarine, trying to forget that the speaker must have seen the death of her lover—whether he connived at it or not—and her flight, whether he facilitated it or not.
"I do not suppose anything, but I remember and I forsee."
"Do you mean to say that you do not feel ill-will because I have come back?"
"Madame Clemenceau, this house is ours—as much yours as mine. That is why I asked you to come down here, for it is necessary to sell it."
"Why am I charged with the business?"
"Because you have an interest in it. Half of all I own is yours."
"But you long ago repaid my share, and generously!"
"Not in the eyes of the law, and it pleases me that you should do this."
"But I do not need anything. My uncle was pleased at my nursing him back to health; his children have been unkind to him, and he has transferred to me some property in France, a handsome income! Grant to me a great pleasure—of which I am not worthy," she went on tearfully, "but you will have the more merit, then! Let me lend you any sum of which you have need."
"I thank you, but I have already refused a thousand times the amount from an unsullied hand!" returned Clemenceau, emphatically.
"That Jewess'!" she exclaimed, with a great change in her bearing.
"Hush! strangers present!" and in uttering this talismanic cue between married people, he pointed to the shadow on the curtains.
Rebecca had concluded her pilotage of M. Cantagnac and it was he whom Clemenceau soon after presented to his wife.
"Let me add, M. Cantagnac, that you must be my guest as long as you stay at Montmorency, for the hotels are conducted solely for the excursionists who come out of Paris and their accommodations would not please you. You are expected to sit down to dinner with us at one o'clock, country fashion and I will order a bedroom ready also."
"Gracious heavens! you are really too good!" exclaimed Cantagnac, lifting his hands almost devoutly.
DEMON AND ARCH-DEMON.
After one sharp slighting look at the visitor, Madame Clemenceau had withdrawn her senses within herself, so to say, to come to a conclusion on the singular conduct of her husband. His cold scorn daunted her, and filled her with dread. Had not the Jewess been on the spot, whom she believed to be a rival once more, however high was her character and Hedwig's eulogy, she would have prudently fled again without fighting. She had the less reason to stay, as the house was to be sold, in a manner of speaking, from under her feet.
Yet the Marseillais was worth more than a passing glance. When alone with the lady, whom he regarded steadfastly, a radical change took place in his carriage, and he who had been so easy and oily became stiff, stern and rigid. It was the attitude no longer of a secret agent, wearing the mien and mask of his profession, but of a military spy, who stands before a subordinate when disguise is superfluous.
"Truly, she is more bewitching than when I first knew her," he muttered between his close teeth, as if he admired with awe and suppressed breath. "What a pretty monster she is!"
Feeling that his view was weighing upon her, Madame Clemenceau suddenly looked up. It seemed to her that something in the altered and insolent bearing was not unknown to her but the recollection was hazy, and the black whiskers perplexed.
"Did you speak, monsieur?" she said, to give herself countenance.
"I spoke nothing," he replied still in the smooth accent which was not familiar to her. "A man of business like myself, feels bound, if he has any natural turning that way, to become a physiognomist and thought-reader in order not to pay too dearly for bargains; I am happy to say that I rarely blunder."
"Then you can read my disposition?" exclaimed Cesarine mockingly.
"I knew it before."
"Indeed! then you would do me a great service, monsieur, if you would tell me how it strikes you, as an average man. For I assure you," she went on, taking a seat without pointing out one to him, "that some days I do not understand myself, a most humiliating thing, though ancient wisdom acknowledged that the hardest thing is self-knowledge."
"If you authorize me to be outspoken, madame, I will enlighten you," returned Cantagnac.
"Do not let me be in your way!" impertinently.
"It is the most simple thing, for your entire character is described in these four words: venal, ferocious, frivolous and insubmissive!"
She sprang to her feet with quivering lips and flashing eyes, while he, like a statue, lowered upon its pedestal, calmly sank upon an arm-chair. Then, looking round and listening to make certain that they had no observers, he leaned both elbows on the table and fixed his sea-blue eyes on the startled lady.