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Title: Dross
Author: Merriman, Henry Seton, 1862-1903
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dross" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcriber's note:

      The table of contents is not part of the original book.



DROSS

by

HENRY SETON MERRIMAN

Author of
"With Edged Tools," "The Sowers," Etc.



[Illustration: I WAS MAKING PRETENCE, IN A SHALLOW WAY NO DOUBT, TO
 STUDY THE PAPERS ON THE TABLE. AND LUCILLE STANDING BEFORE MY DESK WAS
 LOOKING DOWN AT MY BENT HEAD, NOTING PERHAPS THE GREY HAIRS THERE.
 THUS WE REMAINED FOR A MINUTE IN SILENCE.]



Herbert S. Stone & Co.
Chicago and New York
MDCCCXCIX
Copyright, MDCCCXCVI
by Herbert S. Stone & Company



CONTENTS

Chapter     Page 
        
        I.  Mushrooms                  1 
       II.  Monsieur                  13 
      III.  Madame                    25 
       IV.  Disqualified              36 
        V.  C'est la Vie              49 
       VI.  A Glimpse of Home         60 
      VII.  In Provence               72 
     VIII.  In Paris                  83 
       IX.  Finance                   95 
        X.  The Golden Spoon         107 
       XI.  Theft                    118 
      XII.  Ruin                     130 
     XIII.  The Shadow Again         141 
      XIV.  A Little Cloud           153 
       XV.  Flight                   165 
      XVI.  Exile                    177 
     XVII.  On the Track             189 
    XVIII.  A Dark Horse             201 
      XIX.  Sport                    213 
       XX.  Underhand                223 
      XXI.  Checkmate                234 
     XXII.  Home                     245 
    XXIII.  Wrecked                  256 
     XXIV.  An Explanation           267 
      XXV.  Paris Again              277 
     XXVI.  Above the Snow Line      289 
    XXVII.  The Hand of God          300 
   XXVIII.  The Links                312 
     XXIX.  At La Pauline            324 



Chapter I

Mushrooms

     "La célébrité est comme le feu, qui brûle de près et
     illumine de loin."


Under a glorious sky, in the year 1869, Paris gathered to rejoice in
the centenary of the birth of the First Napoleon. A gathering this of
mushroom nobility, soldiery and diplomacy, to celebrate the hundredth
anniversary of the greatest mushroom that ever sprang to life in the
hotbed of internecine strife.

"Adventurers all," said John Turner, the great Paris banker, with whom
I was in the Church of the Invalides; "and yonder," he added,
indicating the Third Napoleon, "is the cleverest."

We had pushed our way into the gorgeous church, and now rubbed elbows
with some that wore epaulettes on peaceful shoulders. There were
ladies present, too. Did not the fair beings contribute to the rise
and fall of that marvellous Second Empire? Representatives of almost
every European power paid homage that day to the memory of a little
Corsican officer of artillery.

As for me, I went from motives of curiosity, as, no doubt, went many
others, if indeed all had so good a call. In my neighbourhood, for
instance, stood a stout gentleman in court uniform, who wept aloud
whenever the organ permitted his grief to be audible.

"Who is that?" I inquired of my companion.

"A Legitimist, who would perhaps accept a Napoleonic post," replied
John Turner, in his stout and simple way.

"And is he weeping because the man who was born a hundred years ago is
dead?"

"No! He is weeping because that man's nephew may perchance note his
emotion."

One could never tell how dense or how acute John Turner really was.
His round, fat face was always immobile and fleshy--no wrinkle, no
movement of lip or eyelid, ever gave the cue to his inmost thought. He
was always good-natured and indifferent--a middle-aged bachelor who
had found life not hollow, but full--of food.

Nature having given me long legs (wherewith to give the slip to my
responsibilities, and also to the bailiffs, as many of my female
relatives have enjoyed saying), I could look over the heads of the
majority of people present, and so saw the Emperor Napoleon III for
the first time in my life. The mind is, after all, a smaller thing
than those who deny the existence of that which is beyond their
comprehension would have us believe. At that moment I forgot to think
of all that lay behind those dull, extinguished eyes. I forgot that
this was a maker of history, and one who will be placed by
chroniclers, writing in the calm of the twentieth century, only second
to his greater uncle among remarkable Frenchmen, and merely wondered
whether Napoleon III perceived the somewhat obtrusive emotion of my
neighbour in the court uniform.

But a keener observer than myself could scarce have discerned the
information on the still, pale features of the Emperor, who, indeed,
in his implacability always reminded me more of my own countrymen than
of the French. The service was proceeding with that cunning rise and
fall of voice and music which, I take it, has won not a few emotional
souls back to the Mother Church. Suddenly John Turner chuckled in a
way that fat people have.

"Laughing at your d--d piano-case," he explained.

I had told him shortly before how I had boarded the Calais boat at
Dover in the form and semblance of a piano, snugly housed in one of
Messrs. Erard's cases, while my servant engaged in pleasant converse
on the quay the bailiff who had been set to watch for me: this, while
they were actually slinging me on board. The picture of the surprise
of my fellow-passengers when Loomer gravely unscrewed me and I emerged
from my travelling-carriage in mid-channel had pleased John Turner
vastly. Indeed, he told the story to the end of his days, and even
brought that end within hail at times by an over-indulgence in
apoplectic mirth. He chuckled at it now in the midst of this solemn
service. But I, more easily moved perhaps by outward show and pomp,
could only think of our surroundings. The excitement of giving my
creditors the slip was a thing of the past; for those were rapid days,
and I no laggard, as many took care to tell me, on the heel of the
flying moment.

The ceremony in which we were taking part was indeed strange enough to
rivet the attention of any who witnessed it--strange, I take it, as
any historical scene of a century that saw the rise and fall of
Napoleon I. Strange beyond belief, that this dynasty should arise from
ashes as cold as those that Europe heaped on St. Helena's dead, to
celebrate the birth of its founder!

Who would have dared to prophesy fifty years earlier that a second
Emperor should some day sit upon the throne of France? Who would have
ventured to foretell that this capricious people, loathing as they did
in 1815 the name of Buonaparte, should one day choose by universal
suffrage another of that family to rule over them?

Few of those assembled in the great tomb were of devout enough mind to
take much heed of the service now proceeding at the altar, where the
priest droned and the incense rose in slow clouds towards the dome. We
all stared at each other freely enough, and in truth the faces of
many, not to mention bright uniforms and brilliant names, warranted
the abstraction from holy thought and fervour. The old soldiers lining
the aisle had fought, some at Inkerman, some at Solferino, some in
Mexico, that land of ill-omen. The generals of all nations, mixing
freely in the crowd, bowed grimly enough to each other. They had met
before.

It was indeed a strange jumble of prince and pauper, friend and foe,
patriot and adventurer. And the face that drew my gaze oftenest was
one as still and illegible now as it was on the morning of January 11,
four years later, when I bowed before it at Chiselhurst.

The Third Napoleon, with eyes that none could read--a quiet,
self-possessed enigma--passed down the aisle between his ranked
soldiers, and the religious part of the day's festivities was over.
Paris promised to be _en fête_ while daylight lasted, and at night a
display of fireworks of unprecedented splendour was to close the
festive celebration. There is no lighter heart than that which beats
within the narrow waistcoat of the little Parisian bourgeois, unless
indeed it be that in the trim bodice of madame his wife; and even
within the church walls we could hear the sound of merriment in the
streets.

When the Emperor had gone we all moved towards the doors of the
church, congratulating each other, embracing each other, laughing and
weeping all in one breath.

One near to me seized my hand.

"You are English!" he cried.

"I am."

"Then embrace me."

We embraced.

"Waterloo"--he called it Vatterlo--"is forgotten. It is buried in the
Crimea," cried this emotional son of Gaul. He was a stout man who had
partaken of garlic at déjeûner.

"It is," I answered.

And we embraced again. Then I got away from him. It was gratifying but
inexpedient to be an Englishman at that moment, and John Turner, whose
clothes were made in Paris, silently denied me and edged away. Others
seemed desirous of burying Waterloo also, but I managed the obsequies
of that great victory with a shake of the hand.

"Vive l'Empereur!" they cried. "Long live Napoleon!"

And I shouted as loud as any. Whatever one may think, it is always
wise to agree with the mob.

On the steps of the church I found John Turner awaiting me.

"Finished embracing your new-found friend?" he asked me, with a
shortness which may have been a matter of breath. At all events, it
was habitual with this well-fed philosopher.

"We were forgetting Waterloo," I answered.

At that moment a merry laugh behind us made me turn. It was not
directed towards myself, and was doubtless raised by some incident
which had escaped our notice. The mere fact that this voice was raised
in merriment did not make me wheel round on my heel as if I had been
shot. It was the voice itself--some note of sympathy which I seemed to
have always known and yet never to have heard until this moment. A
strange thing--the reader will think--to happen to a man in his
thirties, who had knocked about the world, doing but little good
therein, as some are ready and even anxious to relate.

Strange it may be, but it was true. I seemed to have known that voice
all my life--and it was only the merry laugh of a heedless girl.

Has any listened to the prattle of the schoolroom without hearing at
odd moments the tone of some note that is not girlish--the voice of
the woman speaking gravely through the chatter of the child?

I seemed to hear that note now, and turning, found the owner of the
voice within touch of me. She was tall and slim, with a certain fresh
immaturity, which was like the scent of the first spring flowers in my
own Norfolk woods at home. Flower-like, too, was her face--somewhat
long and narrow, with a fair flush on it of youth, health and
happiness. The merriest eyes in the world were looking laughingly into
the face of an old gentleman at her side, smiling, happy eyes of
innocent maidenhood. And yet here again I saw the woman in the girl. I
saw a gracious lady, knowing life, and being yet pure, having learned
of good and evil only to remember the good. For the knowledge of evil
is like vaccine--it causes disturbance only when hidden impurity
awaits it.

"Come," said John Turner, taking my arm, "no one else wants to forget
Waterloo."

I went with him a little. Then I paused.

"Who is the young lady coming down the steps behind us?"

John Turner, looking over his shoulder, gave a grunt.

"Old De Clericy and his daughter," he answered. "One of the families
that are too old to keep pace with the times."

[Illustration: "WHO IS THE YOUNG LADY COMING DOWN THE STEPS BEHIND US?"]

We walked on a little.

"There is a chance for you--wants a secretary," muttered my companion.

"Does he?" I exclaimed, stopping. "Then introduce me."

"Not I."

"Why?"

"Can't introduce a man who came across in a piano-case," he answered,
with a laugh, which made me remember that this was a man of station
and some standing in Paris, while I was but a vagabond and
ne'er-do-well.

"Then I'll introduce myself," I said, hastily.

John Turner shrugged his broad shoulders and walked on. As for me, I
stopped and on the impulse of the moment turned.

Monsieur and Mademoiselle de Clericy were coming slowly towards me,
and more than one looked at the fair young girl with a franker
admiration than I cared about, while she was happily unconscious of
it. It would seem that she must lately have left the convent, for the
guileless pink and white of that pure life lingered on her face, while
her eyes danced with an excitement out of all proportion to the
moment. What should she know of Napoleon I, and how rejoice for France
when she knew but little of the dark days through which the great
general had brought that land?

I edged my way towards them through the crowd without pausing to
reflect what I was about to do. I had run away from my creditors, it
is true, but was not called upon to work for my living. The Howards
had not done much of that, so far as I knew; though many of my
ancestors, if one may credit the old portraits at home, had fought for
rights, and even wrongs, with considerable spirit and success.

The throng was a well-dressed one, and consequently of a cold and evil
temper if one worked against it. I succeeded, however, in reaching
Monsieur de Clericy and touched his arm. He turned hastily, as one
possessing foes as well as friends, and showed me a most benevolent
countenance, kindly and sympathetic even when accosted by a total
stranger.

"Monsieur de Clericy?" I asked.

He peered up at me with pleasant, short-sighted eyes while returning
my salute.

"But yes. Am I happy enough to be able to do anything for Monsieur?"

He spoke in a high, thin voice that was almost childlike, and a
feeling of misgiving ran through me that one so young and
inexperienced as Mademoiselle de Clericy should be abroad on such a
day with no better escort than this old man.

"Pardon my addressing you," I said, "but I hear that you are seeking
a secretary. I only ask permission to call at your hotel and apply for
the post."

"But, mon grand monsieur," he said with a delightful playfulness,
spreading out his hands in recognition of my height and east-country
bulk, "this is no time to talk of affairs. To-day we are at pleasure."

"Not all, Monsieur; some are busy enough," I replied, handing him my
card, which he held close to his eyes, after the manner of one who has
never possessed long or keen sight.

"What determination!" he exclaimed, with an old man's tolerance. "Mon
Dieu! these English allies of ours!"

"Well!" he said, after a pause, "if Monsieur honours me with such a
request, I shall be in and at your service from ten o'clock to-morrow
morning."

He felt in his pocket and handed me a card with courtesy. It was quite
refreshing to meet such a man in Paris in 1869--so naïve, so
unassuming, so free from that aggressive self-esteem which
characterized Frenchmen before the war. Since I had arrived in the
capital under the circumstances that amused John Turner so consumedly,
I had been tempted to raise my fist in the face of every second
flaneur I met on the boulevard.

Again I joined my English friend, who was standing where I had left
him, looking around him with a stout, good-natured tolerance.

"Well," he asked, "have you got the situation?"

"No; but I am going to call to-morrow morning at ten o'clock and
obtain it."

"Umph!" said John Turner; "I did not know you were such a scoundrel."



Chapter II

Monsieur

     "La destinée a deux manières de nous briser; en se refusant
     à nos désirs et en les accomplissant."


To some the night brings wiser or at all events a second counsel. For
myself, however, it has never been so. In the prosecution of such
small enterprises as have marked a life no more eventful than those
around it, I have always awakened in the morning of the same mind as I
was when sleep laid its quiet hand upon me. It seems, moreover, that I
have made just as many as but no more mistakes than my neighbours.
Taking it likewise as a broad generality, the balance seems, in my
experience, to tell quite perceptibly in favour of those who make up
their minds and hold to that decision firmly, rather than towards such
men as seek counsel of the multitude and trim their sail to the tame
breeze of precedent.

"Always go straight for a jump," my father had shouted to me once,
years ago, while I sat up in a Norfolk ditch and watched my horse
disappear through a gap in the next hedge.

I awoke on the morning after the centenary fêtes without any doubt in
my mind--being still determined to seek a situation for which I was
unfitted.

Having quarrelled with my father, who obstinately refused to pay a few
debts such as no young man living in London could, with self-respect,
avoid, I was still in the enjoyment of a small annual income left to
me by a mother whom I had never seen--upon whose grave in the old,
disused churchyard at Hopton I had indeed been taught to lay a few
flowers before I fully realised the meaning of such tribute. That my
irate old sire had threatened to cut me off with as near an approach
to one shilling as an entail would allow had not given me much
anxiety. The dear old gentleman had done so a hundred times before--as
early, indeed, as my second term at Cambridge, where he had
considerably surprised the waiter at the Bull by a display of honest
British wrath.

It was, in all truth, necessary that I should do something--should
find one of those occupations (heavily salaried) for which, I make no
doubt, as many incompetent youths seek to-day as twenty-five years
ago.

"What you want," John Turner had said, when I explained my position to
him, "is no doubt something that will enable a gentleman to live like
a lord."

Now, Monsieur de Clericy was probably prepared to give two hundred
pounds a year to his secretary. But it was with Mademoiselle--and I
did not even know her Christian name--that I was anxious to treat.
What would she give?

It was, I remember, a lovely morning. What weather these Napoleons
had, from Austerlitz down to the matchless autumn of 1870!

The address printed in the corner of Monsieur de Clericy's card was
unknown to me, although I was passably acquainted with the Paris
streets. The Rue des Palmiers was, I learnt, across the river, and, my
informant added, lay between the boulevard and the Seine. This was a
part of the bright city which Haussmann and Napoleon III had as yet
left untouched--a quarter of quiet, gloomy streets and narrow alleys.
The sun was shining on the gay river as I crossed the bridge of the
Holy Fathers, and the water seemed to dance and laugh in the morning
air. The flags were still flying, for these jolly Parisians are always
loth to take in their bunting. It was, indeed, a gay world in which I
moved that morning.

The Hôtel Clericy I found at the end of the Rue des Palmiers, which
short street the great house closed. Indeed, the Rue des Palmiers was
but an avenue of houses terminated by the gloomy abode of the
Clericys. The house was built behind a high stone wall broken only by
a railed doorway.

I rang the bell and heard its tinkle far away within the dwelling. A
covered way led from the street to the house, and I followed on the
heels of the servant, a smart young Parisian, looking curiously at the
little garden which in London would have been forlorn and smutty. Here
in Paris bright flowers bloomed healthily and a little fountain
plashed with that restful monotony which ever suggests the patios of
Spain.

The young man was one of those modern servants who know their
business.

"Monsieur's name?" he said, sharply.

"Howard."

We were within the dimly lighted hall, with its scent of old carpets
and rusting armour, and he led the way upstairs. He threw open the
drawing-room door and mentioned my name in his short, well-trained
way. There was but one person in the large room, and she did not hear
the man's voice; for she was laughing herself, and was at that moment
chasing a small dog around the room. The little animal, which entered
gaily into the sport, was worrying a dainty handkerchief in his teeth,
and so engaged was he in this destructive purpose that he ran straight
into my hands. I rescued the bedraggled piece of cambric and stood
upright to find mademoiselle standing before me with mirth and a
certain dignified self-possession in her eyes.

[Illustration: "THANK YOU, MONSIEUR," SHE SAID, TAKING THE
HANDKERCHIEF FROM MY HAND.]

"Thank you, Monsieur," she said, taking the handkerchief from my hand.
It was evident that she did not recognise me as the stranger who had
accosted her father on the previous day.

I explained my business in as few words as possible.

"The servant," I added, "made a mistake in bringing me to this room. I
did not mean to trouble Mademoiselle; my business is with M. de
Clericy. I am applying for the post of secretary."

She looked at me with a quick surprise, and her eyes lighted on my
clothes with some significance, which made me think that perhaps
Monsieur de Clericy gave less even than two hundred pounds a year to
his amanuensis.

"Ah!" she said, with her thought apparent in her candid eyes. "My
father is at present in his study--engaged, I believe, with Monsieur
Miste."

"Miste?" I echoed, for the name was no less peculiar than her way of
pronouncing it. She seemed to look for some sign that I knew this man.

"Yes--your predecessor."

"Ah! a secretary--a man-machine that writes."

She shook her head with a happy laugh, sinking, as it were, into an
air of interest, which gave a sharp feeling that I had perhaps been
forestalled in other matters by the man called Miste. She looked at
me with such candid eyes, however, that the thought seemed almost a
sacrilege, offered gratuitously to innocence and trustfulness. Her
face was, indeed, a guarantee that if her maiden fancy had been
touched, her heart was at all events free from that deeper feeling
which assuredly leaves its mark upon all who suffer it.

The name of Monsieur de Clericy's former secretary in some way grated
on my hearing, so that instead of retiring from the presence of
mademoiselle as my manners bade me do, I lingered, seeking opportunity
to continue the conversation.

"I do not wish to intrude on Monsieur de Clericy," I said. "It is
perhaps inexpedient that the new machine should be seen of the old."

Mademoiselle laughed, and again I caught the deep silver note of
sympathy in her voice that was so new and yet familiar. In laughter
the soul surely speaks.

"The word scarcely describes Monsieur Miste," retorted she.

"Does any single word describe him?"

For a moment she reflected. She was without self-consciousness, and
spoke with me, a stranger, as easily as she talked to her father.

"A single word?" she echoed. "Yes--a chimera."

At this moment the sound of voices in the corridor made further delay
impossible.

"Perhaps Mademoiselle will allow me to ring for the servant to conduct
me to Monsieur de Clericy's study," I said.

"I will show you the room," replied she; "its door is never closed to
me. I hear voices, which probably betoken the departure of Monsieur
Miste."

The sound, indeed, came distinctly enough to our ears, but it was of
one voice only, the benevolent tones of the Vicomte de Clericy,
followed by his pleasant laugh. If Miste made reply, the words must
have been uttered softly, for I heard them not. I opened the door, and
mademoiselle led the way.

A man was descending the broad staircase which I had lately mounted--a
slim man, who stepped gently. He did not turn, but continued his way,
disappearing in the gloom of the large entrance hall. I gathered a
quick impression of litheness and a noiseless footfall, of a sleek,
black head, and something stirring within me, which was stronger than
curiosity. I wondered why he was quitting the Vicomte's service. Such
was my first sight of Charles Miste, and my first knowledge of his
existence.

The Vicomte had returned to his room, closing the door behind him,
upon which mademoiselle now tapped lightly.

"Father," I heard her say as she entered, "a gentleman wishes to see
you."

As I passed her, I caught the scent of some violets she wore in her
dress, and the spring-like freshness of the odour seemed a part of
herself.

The Vicomte received me so graciously that he and not I might have
been the applicant for a situation. Bowing, he peered at me with
short-sighted eyes.

"The English gentleman of yesterday," he said, indicating a chair.

"I took you at your word, Monsieur," I replied, "and now apply for the
post of secretary."

Taking the chair he placed at my disposal, I awaited his further
pleasure. He had seated himself at the writing-table, and was
fingering a pen with thoughtfulness or perhaps hesitation. The table,
I noticed, was bare of the litter which usually cumbers the desk of a
busy man. The calendar lying at his elbow was an ornamental cardboard
trifle, embellished with cupids and simpering shepherdesses--such as
girls send to each other at the New Year. The surroundings, in fact,
were indicative rather of a trifling leisure than of important
affairs. The study and writing-table seemed to me to suggest a
pleasant fiction of labours, to which the Vicomte retired when he
desired solitude and a cigarette. I wondered what my duties might be.

After a pause, the old gentleman raised his eyes--the kindest eyes in
the world--to my face, and I perceived beneath his white lashes a
great benevolence, in company with a twinkling sense of humour.

"Does Monsieur know anything of the politics of this unfortunate
country?" he asked, and he leant forward, his elbows on the bare
writing-table, his attitude suggesting the kind encouragement which a
great doctor will vouchsafe to a timid patient. The old Frenchman's
manner, indeed, aroused in me that which I must be allowed to call my
conscience--a cumbrous machine, I admit, hard to set going and soon
running down. The sport of this adventure, entered into in a spirit of
devilry, seemed suddenly to have shrunk to the dimensions of a
somewhat sorry jest. It was, I now reflected, but a poor game to
deceive an innocent girl and an old man as guileless. Innocence is a
great safeguard.

"Monsieur," I answered, on the spur of the moment, "I have no such
qualities as you naturally seek in a secretary. I received my
education at Eton and at Cambridge University. If you want a secretary
to bowl you a straight ball, or pull a fairly strong oar, I am your
man, for I learnt little else. I possess, indeed, the ordinary
education of an English gentleman, sufficient Latin to misread an
epitaph or a motto, and too little Greek to do me any harm. I have,
however, a knowledge of French, which I acquired at Geneva, whither my
father sent me when I--er--was sent down from Cambridge. I have again
quarrelled with my father. It is an annual affair. We usually quarrel
when the hunting ends. This time it is serious. I have henceforth to
make my way in the world. I am, Monsieur, what you would call a bad
subject."

The tolerance with which my abrupt confession was received only made
me the more self-reproachful. The worst of beginning to tell the truth
is that it is so hard to stop. I could not inform him that I had
fallen in love with a tone in his daughter's voice, with a light in
her eyes--I, who had never made serious love to any woman yet. He
would only think me mad.

There were in truth many matters with which I ought to have made the
Vicomte acquainted. My quarrel with my father, for instance, had
originated in my refusal to marry Isabella Gayerson--a young lady with
landed estates and a fortune of eighty thousand pounds. I merely
informed Monsieur, I confess, that my father and I had fallen out over
money matters. Cannot most marriages arranged by loving parents be so
described? To my recitation the old gentleman listened with much
patience, and when I had partially eased my soul he merely nodded,
saying:

"My question is not yet answered, mon ami. Do you know aught of French
politics?"

"Absolutely nothing," was my answer, made in all honesty. And I
thought I was speaking my own dismissal.

Monsieur de Clericy leant back in his chair with a shrug of the
shoulders.

"Well," he muttered, half to himself, "perhaps it is of little
consequence. You understand, Monsieur," he continued in a louder tone,
looking at me kindly, "I like you. I may say it without impertinence,
because I am an old man and you are young. I liked you as soon as I
saw you yesterday. The duties for which I require a secretary are
light. It is chiefly to be near me when I want you. I have my little
estates in the South, in the Bourbonnais, and near to Orleans. I
require some one to correspond with my agents, to travel perhaps to my
lands when a question arises which the bailiffs cannot settle
unaided."

Thus he spoke for some time, and my duties, as he detailed them,
sounded astonishingly light. Indeed, he paused occasionally as if
seeking to augment them by the addition of trivial household tasks.

"Madame, the Vicomtesse," he said, "will also be glad to avail herself
of your services."

The existence of this lady was thus made known to me for the first
time. I have wondered since why, in this conversation, we with one
accord ignored the first question in such affairs--namely, the salary
paid by Monsieur to his secretary.

"I should require you," he said finally, "to live in the Hôtel Clericy
while we are in Paris."

Some years earlier, during a hunting expedition in Africa, I had
stalked a lion all night and far into the following day. On finally
obtaining a sight of my prey, I found him old, disease-stricken and
half-blind. The feelings of that moment I have never forgotten. A
sensation near akin to it--a sort of shame attaching to a pursuit
unworthy of a sportsman--came to me again now, when I was told that I
might live under the roof that sheltered Mademoiselle de Clericy.

"You hesitate," said the Vicomte. "I am afraid it is an essential. I
must have you always at hand."



Chapter III

Madame

     "En paroles ou en actions, être discret, c'est s'abstenir."


It is to be presumed that the reader knows the usual result of such a
tussle with the conscience as that upon which I now entered. At
various turning points in a chequered career I have met my conscience
thus face to face, and am honest enough to confess that the victory
has not always fallen to that ghostly monitor.

After favouring me with his ultimatum, the Vicomte looked at me
expectantly. I thought of Mademoiselle de Clericy's presence in that
old house. Who was I to turn my back on the good things that the gods
gave me? I hate your timid man who looks behind him on an unknown
road.

"As Monsieur wills," I said, and with a sigh, almost of relief I
thought, my companion rose.

"We will seek the Vicomtesse," he said. "My wife will have pleasure in
making your acquaintance. And to-morrow you shall have my answer."

"Ah!" thought I; "the Vicomtesse decides it."

And I followed Monsieur de Clericy towards the door.

"It is half-past eleven," he said, looking at his modest silver watch.
"We shall find Madame in her boudoir."

This apartment, it appeared, was situated beyond the drawing-room, of
which we now passed the door. Below us was the great square hall, dark
and gloomy; for its windows had been heavily barred in the old
stirring times, and but little light filtered through the ironwork. At
the head of the stairs was a gallery completely surrounding the
quadrangle, and from this gallery access was gained to all the
dwelling rooms.

The Vicomte tapped at the door of Madame's room, and without waiting
for an answer passed in. I, having purposely lingered, did not hear
the few words spoken upon the threshold, and only advanced when bidden
to do so by my companion.

[Illustration: "MONSIEUR HOWARD NATURALLY WISHED TO BE PRESENTED TO YOU."]

An elderly lady stood by the window, having just risen from the broad
seat thereof, which was littered with the trifles of a lady's
work-basket. The Vicomtesse was obviously many years younger than her
husband--a trim woman of fifty or thereabouts, with crinkled grey hair
and the clear brown complexion of the Provençale. Beneath the grey
hair there looked out at me the cleverest eyes I have ever seen in a
human head. I bowed, made suddenly aware that I stood in the
presence of an individuality, near an oasis--as it were--in the dreary
desert of human commonplace. And strange to say, at the same moment my
conscience laid itself down to sleep. Madame la Vicomtesse de Clericy
was a woman capable of guarding those near and dear to her.

"Monsieur Howard," explained her husband, looking at me, with his
white fingers nervously intertwined, "is desirous of filling the post
left vacant by the departure of our friend Charles Miste. We have had
a little talk on affairs. It is possible that we may come to a
mutually satisfactory arrangement. Monsieur Howard naturally wished to
be presented to you."

Madame bowed, her clear dark eyes resting almost musingly on my face.
She waited for me to speak, whereas nine women out of ten would have
broken silence.

"I have explained to Monsieur le Vicomte," I hastened to say, "that I
have none of the requisite qualifications for the post, and that my
female relatives--my aunts, in fact--looked upon me as a _mauvais
sujet_."

She smiled, and her eyes sought the lace-work held in her busy
fingers. Mademoiselle de Clericy had, I remembered, worn a piece of
such dainty needlework at her throat on the previous morning. I
learnt to look for that piece of ever-growing lace-work in later days.
Madame was never without it, and worked quaint patterns, learnt in a
convent on the pine-clad slopes of Var.

"Monsieur Howard," went on the Vicomte, "is a gentleman of position in
his own country on the east coast of England. He has, however, had a
difference--a difference with his father."

The eyes were raised to my face for a brief moment.

"In the matter of a marriage of convenience," I added, giving the
plain truth on the impulse of the moment, or under the influence,
perhaps, of Madame de Clericy's glance. Then I recollected that this
was a different story from that tale of a monetary difficulty which I
had related to Madame's husband ten minutes earlier. I glanced at him
to see whether he had noticed the discrepancy, but was instantly
relieved of my anxiety, so completely was the old man absorbed in an
affectionate and somewhat humble contemplation of his wife. It was
easy to see how matters stood in the Clericy household, and I
conceived a sudden feeling of relief that so delicate a flower as
Mademoiselle de Clericy should have so capable a guardian in the
person of her mother. Evil takes that shape in which it is first held
up to our vision. Incompetent and careless mothers are in fact
criminals. Mademoiselle de Clericy had one near to her who could at
all events clothe necessary knowledge in a reassuring garment.

"A marriage of convenience," repeated Madame, speaking for the first
time. "It is so easy to be mistaken in such matters, is it not?"

"As easy for the one as for the other, Madame," replied I. "And it was
I, and not my father, who was most intimately concerned."

She looked at me with a little upward nod of the head and a slow, wise
smile. One never knows whence some women gather their knowledge of the
world.

"Monsieur knows Paris?" she asked.

"As an Englishman, Madame."

"Then you only know the worst," was her comment.

She did not ask me to be seated. It was, I suspected, the hour for
déjeûner. For this household was evidently one to adhere to
old-fashioned customs. There was something homelike about this
pleasant lady. Her presence in a room gave to the atmosphere something
refined and womanly, which was new to one who, like myself, had lived
mostly among men. Indeed, my companions of former days--no saints, I
admit--would have been surprised could they have seen me bowing and
making _congés_ to this elderly lady like a dancing master. Moreover,
the post I sought was lapsing into a domestic situation, for which my
antecedents eminently unfitted me, nor did I pretend to think
otherwise. Had I reached the age of discretion? Is there indeed such
an age? I have seen old men and women who make one doubt it. At
thirty-one does a man begin to range himself? "Ah, well!" thought I,
"_vogue la galère_." I had made a beginning, and in Norfolk they do
not breed men who leave a quest half accomplished.

For a moment I waited, and Madame seemed to have nothing more to say.
I had not at that time, nor indeed have I since, acquired that polish
of the world which takes the form of a brilliant, and I suspect
insincere, manner in society. I had no compliments ready. I therefore
took my leave.

The Vicomte accompanied me to the top of the stairs, and there made
sure that the servants were awaiting my departure in the hall.

"To-morrow morning," he said, with a friendly touch on my arm, "you
shall have my answer."

With this news then I returned to my comfortable quarters in John
Turner's _appartement_ in the Avenue d'Antan. I found that great
banker about to partake of luncheon, which was served to him at
midday, after the fashion of the country of his adoption. During my
walk across the river and through the gardens of the Tuileries--at
that time at the height of their splendour--I had not reflected very
deeply on the matter in hand. I had thought more of Mademoiselle de
Clericy's bright eyes than aught else.

"Good morning," said my host, whom I had not seen before going out.
"Where have you been?"

"To the Vicomte de Clericy's."

"The devil you have! Then you are not so stolid as you look."

And he laughed as he shook out his table napkin. His thought was only
half with me, for he was looking at the menu.

"Arcachon oysters!" he added; "the best in the world! I hate your
bloated natives. Give me a small oyster."

"Give me a dozen," I answered, helping myself from the dish at my
elbow.

"And did the Vicomte kick you downstairs?" asked my host, as he
compounded in the dip of his plate a wonderful mixture of vinegar and
spices.

"No. He is going to consider my application, and will give me his
answer to-morrow morning."

John Turner set down the vinegar bottle and looked across the table at
me with an expression of wonder on his broad face.

"Well, I never! Did you see Madame? Clever woman, Madame. Gives
excellent dinners."

"Yes; I was presented to her."

"Ah! A match for you, Mr. Dick. Did you notice her feet?"

"I noticed that they were well shod."

"Just so!" muttered John Turner, who was now engaged in gastronomic
delights. "In France a clever woman is always _bien chaussée_. Her
brains run to her toes. In England it is different. If a woman has a
brain it undermines her morals or ruins her waist."

"Only the plain women," suggested I, who had passed several seasons in
London not altogether in vain.

"A pretty woman is never clever--she is too wise," said John Turner,
stolidly, and he sipped his chablis.

The mysterious sauce with which this great gastronome flavoured his
oysters was now prepared, while I, it must be confessed, had consumed
my portion, and John Turner relapsed into silence. I watched him as he
ate delicately, slowly, with a queer refinement. Many are ready to
talk of some crafts under the name of art, which must now, forsooth,
be spelt with a capital letter--why, I know no more than the artists.
John Turner had his Art, and now exercised it. I always noticed that
during the earlier and more piquant courses of a meal he was cynical
and apt to give speech on matters of human meanness and vanity not
unknown to many who are silent about them. Later on, when the dishes
became more succulent, so would his views of life sweeten and acquire
a mellower flavour. His round face now began to beam more pleasantly
at me across the well-served table, like a rich autumn moon rising
over a fat land.

"Pity it is," he said, as he placed a lamb cutlet on my plate, "that
you and your father cannot agree."

"Pity that the guv'nor is so unreasonable," I answered.

"I do not suppose there is any question of reason on either side,"
rejoined my companion, with a laugh. "But I think you might make a
little more allowance. You must remember that we old fellows are not
so wise and experienced as our youngers and betters. I know he is a
hot-blooded old reprobate--that father of yours. I thumped him at Eton
for it half a century ago. And you're a worthy son to him, I make no
doubt--you have his great chin. But you are all he has, Dick--don't
forget that now and remember it too late. Have another cutlet?"

"Thanks."

"Gad! I'd give five hundred a year for your appetite and digestion.
Think of that old man, my boy, down in Norfolk at this time of year,
with nobody to swear at but the servants. Norfolk is just endurable
in October, when game and 'longshore herrings are in. But now--with
lamb getting muttony--poor old chap!"

"Well," I answered, "he could not eat me if I was at home. But I'll go
back in the autumn. I generally make it up before the First."

"What a beautiful thing is filial love," murmured my companion, with a
stout sigh, as he turned his attention to the matter of importance on
the plate before him; and indeed--with its handicap of fifty years--I
think his appetite put my hearty craving for food to shame.

We talked of other things for a while--of matters connected with the
gay town in which we found ourselves. We discussed the merits of the
wine before us, and it was not until later in the course of the repast
that John Turner again reverted to my affairs. If these portions of
our talk alone are reported, the reader must kindly remember that they
are at all events relevant to the subject, however unworthy, of this
narrative.

"So," said my stout companion when the coffee was served, "you are
tricking the father so that you may make love to the daughter?"

This view of the matter did not commend itself to my hearing. Indeed,
the truth so often gives offence that it is no wonder so few deal in
it. A quick answer was on my tongue, but fortunately remained there.
I--who had never been too difficult in such matters--did not like
something in my friend's voice that savoured of disrespect towards
Mademoiselle de Clericy. In a younger man I might have been tempted to
allow such a hint to develop into something stronger which would offer
me the satisfaction of throwing the speaker down the stairs. But John
Turner was not a man to quarrel with, even when one was in the wrong.
So I kept silence and burnt my lips at my coffee cup.

"Well," he went on placidly, "Mademoiselle Lucille is a pretty girl."

"Lucille," I said. "Is that her name?"

He cocked his eye at me across the table.

"Yes--a pretty name, eh?"

"It is," I answered him, with steady eyes. "I never heard a
prettier."



Chapter IV

Disqualified

     "Rêver c'est le bonheur; attendre c'est la vie."


The Vicomte de Clericy's answer was favourable to my suit, and I duly
received permission to install myself in the apartments lately vacated
by Charles Miste--whoever he may have been.

"And what, sir, is to become of me?" inquired my servant, when I
instructed him to pack my clothes and made known to him my movements
in the immediate future. I had forgotten Loomer. A secretary could
scarcely come into residence attended by a valet, rejoicing in the
usual direct or indirect emoluments, and possessing that abnormal
appetite which only belongs to the man servant living in the kitchen.
I told him, therefore, that his future was entirely his own, and that
while his final fate was unquestionable, the making of his earthly
career remained, for the present, in his own hands. In fact, I gave
him permission to commence at once his descent to that bourne whither,
I feared, his footsteps would tend.

Mr. Loomer was good enough to evince signs of emotion, and from a
somewhat confused speech, I gathered that he refused to go to Avernus
until he could make the journey in my service and at my heels.
Ultimately it was agreed, however, that he should seek a temporary
situation--he was a man of many talents, and as handy in the stable as
in a gentleman's dressing-room--and remain therein until I should
require his services again. As it happened, I had sufficient ready
cash to pay him his wages, with an additional sum to compensate for
the brevity of his notice to quit a sorry service. He took the money
without surprise. It is surely a sign of good breeding to receive
one's due with no astonishment.

"Can't you keep me on, sir?" he pleaded a last time, when I had proved
by a gift of a pair of hunting boots (which were too small for me)
that we really were about to part.

"My good Loomer, I am going into service myself. I always said I could
black a boot better than you."

As I left the room I heard the worthy domestic mutter something about
"pretty work," and "a Howard of Hopton," and made no doubt that he
regretted less the fall of my ancestral dignity than the loss to
himself of a careless and easily robbed master. At all events I had
been under the impression that I possessed a fuller store of linen
than that which emerged from my travel-stained trunks when these were
unpacked later in the day in the Rue des Palmiers.

As for that matter of ancestral dignity, it gave me no trouble. Such a
possession comes, I think, to little harm while a man keeps it in his
own hands, and only falls to pieces when it gets into the grasp of a
bad woman. Have we not seen half a dozen, nay, a dozen, such débâcles
in our own time? And I contend that the degenerate scion of a great
house who goes to the wrong side of the footlights for his wife is a
criminal, and deserves all that may befall him. I bade my friend, John
Turner, farewell, he standing stoutly in his smoking-room after
luncheon, and prophesying a discouraging and darksome future for one
so headstrong.

"You're going to the devil," he said, "though you think you are
running after an angel."

"I am going to earn my own livelihood," answered I, with a laugh,
lighting the last excellent cigar I was to have from his box for some
time, "and make my idle ancestors turn in their graves. I am going to
draw emoluments of not less than one hundred and fifty pounds per
annum."

I drove across the river with my simple baggage, and was in due course
installed in my apartments. With these there was no fault to
find--indeed, they were worthy of a better inmate. A large and airy
bedroom looking out over the garden where the foliage, as I have said,
had none of the mournful sables worn by the trees in London. The room
was beautifully furnished. Even one who knew more of saddles than of
Buhl and Empire could see that at a glance. Moreover, I noted that
every ornament or handle of brass shone like gold.

"Madame's eyes have been here," thought I; "the clever eyes."

Adjacent to the bedroom was the study, which the Vicomte had pointed
out as being assigned to his secretary--adjoining as it did the room
whither he himself retired at times--not, as I suspected, to engage in
any great labours there.

While I was in my bedroom, the smart young Paris servant came in,
looked carelessly at my trunks, and was for withdrawing, when I
stopped him.

"Is it the buckles you are afraid of?" I said. "Beware rather of the
strap."

Therewith I threw my keys on the table before him and went into my
study. When I revisited my room later I found everything neatly placed
within the drawers and the empty trunks removed.

There were upon my study table a number of books and papers, placed
there with such evident intention that I took cognizance of them,
judging them to be the accounts rendered by the Vicomte's various
estates. So far as a cursory examination could prove it, I judged that
we had to deal with but clumsy scoundrels, and in France in those days
scoundrels were of fine fleur, I can tell you, while every sort of
villainy flourished there.

I was engaged with these books when the Vicomte entered, after
knocking at the door. He referred to this courteous precaution by a
little gesture indicating the panel upon which his knuckle had
sounded.

"You see," he said, "this room is yours. Let us begin as we intend to
go on."

If I was a queer secretary, here at all events was an uncommon master.

We fell to work at once, and one or two questions requiring immediate
investigation came under discussion. I told him my opinion of his
stewards; for I hated to see an old man so cheated. I lived, it will
be remembered, in a glass house, and naturally was forever reaching my
hand towards a stone. The Vicomte laughed in his kindly way at what he
was pleased to term my high-handedness.

"Mon Dieu!" he cried; "what a grasp of steel. But they will be
surprised--the bourgeois. I have always been so tolerant. I have ruled
by kindness."

"He who rules by kindness is the slave of thieves," I answered,
penning the letter we had decided to indite.

The Vicomte laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he said, "so long as we begin as we intend to go on."

Such in any case was the beginning, and this my introduction to the
duties I had undertaken. They seemed simple enough, and especially so
to one who was no novice at the administration of an estate. For my
father, in his softer moments--when, in fact, he had been brought to
recognize that my vices were at least hereditary--had initiated me
into the working of a great landed holding.

At seven o'clock we dined. Mademoiselle wore a white dress with a
broad yellow ribbon round her girlish waist. Her sleeves--I suppose it
was the fashion of the period--were wide and flowing, and her arms and
hands were those of a child.

Madame de Clericy, I remember, did not talk much, saying little more,
indeed, than such polite words as her position of hostess rendered
necessary. The burden of the conversation rested chiefly with her aged
husband, who sustained it simply and cheerily. His chief aim at this,
and indeed at all times, seemed to be to establish an agreeable and
mutual ease. I have seldom seen in a man, and especially in an old
man, such consideration for the feelings of others.

Lucille's clear laugh was ever ready to welcome some little
pleasantry, and she joined occasionally in the talk. I listened more
to the voice than to the words. Her gay humour found something
laughable in remarks that sounded grave enough, and I suddenly felt a
hundred years old. As she walked demurely into the dining-room on her
father's arm, I thought in truth that she would rather have skipped
and run thither.

During dinner mention was made of the Baron Giraud, and I learnt that
that financier was among the Vicomte's friends. The name was not new
to me, although the Baron's personality was unknown.

The Baron was one of the mushrooms of that day--a nobleman of finance,
a true product of Paris, highly respected and honoured there. John
Turner knew him well, and was ponderously silent respecting him.

"But why," asked Lucille, when her father had delivered a little
oration in favour of the rich man, "does Monsieur Giraud dye his
hair?"

There was a little laugh and a silence at this display of naïve
wisdom. Then it was Madame who spoke.

"No doubt he feels himself unworthy to wear it white," she said,
rising from the table.

I was given to understand that the remainder of the evening was my
own, and the Vicomte himself showed me the small staircase descending
from the passage between my study and his own, and presented me with
a key to the door at the foot of it. This door, he explained, opened
to a small passage running between the Rue des Palmiers and the Rue
Courte. It would serve me for egress and entry at any time without
reference to the servants or disturbance to the house.

"I would not give the key to the first comer," he added.

I learnt later that he and I alone had access to the door of which the
servants had no key, nor ever passed there. The same evening I availed
myself of my privilege and went to my club, where over a foolish game
of chance I won a year's salary.

Such was the beginning of my career in the service of the Vicomte de
Clericy. During the weeks that followed I found that there was, in
fact, plenty for me to do were the estates to be properly worked--to
be administered as we Englishmen are called upon to treat our property
to-day, that is to say, like a sponge, to be squeezed to its last
drop. I soon discovered that the Vicomte was in the hands of
old-fashioned stewards, who, besides feathering their own nests, were
not making the best of the land. My conscience, it must be admitted,
was at work again--and I had thought it finally vanquished.

Here was I, admitted to the Hôtel Clericy--welcomed in the family
circle, and trusted there in the immediate vicinity of and with daily
access to as innocent and trusting a soul as ever stepped from a
French convent. I--a wolf who had not hitherto even troubled to cover
my shaggy sides with a fleece. What could I do? Lucille was so gay, so
confiding, in a pretty girlish way which never altered as we came to
know each other better. Madame was so placid and easy-going--in her
stout black silk dress, with her lace-work. Monsieur de Clericy gave
me his confidence so unreservedly--what could I do but lapse into
virtue? And I venture to think that many a blacker sheep than myself
would have blanched in the midst of so pure a flock.

One evening Madame asked me to join the family circle in the
drawing-room. The room was very pretty and homelike--quite unlike our
grim drawing-room at Hopton, where my father never willingly set foot
since its rightful owner had passed elsewhere. There were flowers in
abundance--their scent filled the air--from the Var estate in
Provence, which had been Madame's home and formed part of the _dot_
she brought into the diminishing Clericy coffers. Two lamps
illuminated the room rather dimly, and a pair of candles stood on the
piano.

[Illustration: "YOU ARE SAD," SAID LUCILLE, WITH A LITTLE LAUGH, "WITH
YOUR FACE IN YOUR HAND COMME ÇA."]

Monsieur de Clericy played a game at bezique with Madame, who chuckled
a good deal at her own mistakes with the cards, and then asked Lucille
for some music. The girl sat down at the piano, and there, to her own
accompaniment, without the printed score, sang such songs of Provence
as tug at the heart strings, one knows not why. There seemed to be a
wail in the music--and in slurring, as it were, from one note to the
other--a trick such Southern songs demand--I heard the tone I loved.

Madame listened while she worked. The Vicomte dropped gently to sleep.
I sat with my elbow on my knee and looked at the carpet. And when the
voice rose and fell, I knew that none other had the same message for
me.

"You are sad," said Lucille, with a little laugh, "with your face in
your hand, comme ça."

And she imitated my position and expression with a merry toss of the
head. "Are you thinking of your sins?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle," answered I, truthfully enough.

Many evenings I passed thus in the peaceful family circle--and always
Lucille sang those gaily sad little songs of Provence.

The weeks slipped by, and the outer world was busy with great doings,
while we in the Rue des Palmiers seemed to stand aside and watch the
events go past.

The Emperor--than whom no greater man lived at the middle of the
present century--was losing health, and, with that best of human
gifts, his grasp over his fellowmen. The dogs were beginning to
collect--the dogs that are ever in readiness to fall on the stricken
lion.

I marvelled to discover how little the Vicomte interested himself in
politics. One other discovery only did I make respecting my patron; I
found that he loved money.

My conscience, as I have said, was busy at this time, and the burden
of my deception began to weigh upon my mind as if I had been a mere
schoolboy, and no man of the world. I might, however, have borne the
burden easily enough if chance had not favoured the right.

I was one morning writing in Monsieur de Clericy's study, when the
door was impetuously thrown open and Lucille came running in. "Ah!"
she said, stopping, "only you."

"That is all, Mademoiselle."

She was turning to go when on an impulse of the moment I called to
her.

"Mademoiselle!" She turned and slowly came back. With a little laugh
she stood in front of me seated at the great table. She took up a
quill pen, which I had laid aside a moment earlier, and played with
it.

"What are you writing?" she asked, looking down at the papers before
me--"your own history?"

As she spoke the pen escaped from her fingers and fell upon my papers,
leaving ink stains there.

"There," she cried, with a laugh of mock despair, "I have spoilt your
life."

"No; but you have altered its appearance," I answered. "Mademoiselle,
I have something to say to you. When I came here I deceived your
father. I told him that I was ruined--that my father had disowned
me--that I was forced to earn my own livelihood. It was untrue--I
shall one day be as rich as your father."

"Then why did you come here?" asked the girl, for a moment grave.

"To be near you."

And she broke into a laugh, shaking her head.

"I saw you in the crowd at the Fête Napoleon--I heard your voice.
There is no one in the world like you. I fell in love, Mademoiselle."

Still she laughed, as if I were telling her an amusing story.

"And it is useless," I pursued, somewhat bitterly, perhaps. "I am too
old?"

There was a little mirror on the mantelpiece. She ran and fetched it
and held it in front of my face.

"Look," she cried merrily. "Yes, hundreds of years!"

With a laugh and flying skirts she ran from the room.



Chapter V

C'est la Vie

     "Les querelles ne dureraient pas longtemps si le tort
     n'était d'un côté."


Monsieur Alphonse Giraud, unlike many men, had an aim in life--a daily
purpose with which he rose in the morning at, it must be admitted, a
shockingly late hour--without which he rarely sought his couch even
when it was not reached until the foolish birds were astir.

The son of the celebrated Baron Giraud sought, in a word, to be
mistaken for an Englishman--and what higher ambition could we, who
modestly set such store upon our nationality, desire him to cherish?

In view of this praiseworthy object, Alphonse Giraud wore a mustache
only, and this--oh! inconsistency of great minds--he laboriously
twirled heavenwards in the French fashion. It was, in fact, the
guileless Alphonse's chief tribulation that, however industriously he
cultivated that devil-may-care upward sweep, the sparse ornament to
his upper lip invariably drooped downwards again before long. In the
sunny land of France it is held that the mustache worn "en croc" not
only confers upon its possessor an air of distinction, but renders
that happy individual particularly irresistible in the eyes of the
fair. Readers of modern French fiction are aware that the heroes of
those edifying tales invariably wear the mustache "hardiment
retroussée," which habit doubtless adds a subtle charm to their
singularly puerile and fatuous conversation imperceptible to the mere
reader.

Alphonse Giraud was a small man, and would have given a thousand
pounds for another inch, as he frankly told his friends. His outward
garments were fashioned in London, whence also came his hats, gloves
and boots. But within all these he was hopelessly and absolutely
French. The English boots trod the pavement--they knew no other path
in life--in a manner essentially Gallic. The check trousers, of a
pattern somewhat loud and startling, had the mincing gait in them of
any "pantalon de fantasie," purchased à prix fixe in the Boulevard St.
Germain, across the water. It is useless to lift a Lincoln and Bennett
from a little flat-topped head, cut, as they say, to the rat and
fringed all over with black, upright hair.

But young Giraud held manfully to his purpose, and even essayed to
copy the attitudes of his own groom, a thin-legged man from Streatham,
who knew a thing or two, let him tell you, about a 'oss. There was no
harm in Alphonse. There is, indeed, less harm in Frenchmen than
they--sad dogs!--would have you believe. They are, as a rule,
domesticated individuals, with a pretty turn for mixing a salad.
Within the narrow but gay waistcoat of this son of Paris there beat as
kind a little eager French heart as one may wish to deal with.

"Bon Dieu!" Alphonse would exclaim, when convinced that he had been
robbed or cheated. "What will you? I am like that. I daresay the poor
devil wanted the money badly--and I do not miss it."

There is a charity that gives, and another that allows the needy to
take.

It was the Baron Giraud's great desire that Alphonse should be a
gentleman of the great world, moving in his narrow orbit in the first
circles of Parisian society, which was nothing to boast of in those
days, and has steadily declined ever since. To attain such an
eminence, the astute financier knew as well as any that only one thing
was really necessary--namely, money. This he gave to his son with an
open hand, and only gasped when he heard whither it went and how
freely Alphonse spent it.

"There is plenty more," he said, "behind." And his little porcine eyes
twinkled amid their yellow wrinkles. "I am a man of substance. You
must be a man of position. But do not lend to the wrong people. Rather
give to the right and be done with it. They will take it--bon Dieu!
You need not shake your head. There is no man who will refuse money if
you offer him enough."

And who shall say that the Baron Giraud was wrong?

A young man possessing a light heart and a heavy purse will never want
a friend in this kind world of ours. And Alphonse Giraud possessed,
moreover, a few of the better sort of friends, who had well-filled
purses of their own, and wanted nothing from him but his gay laugh and
good-fellowship. These were true friends, who did not scruple to tell
him, when they encountered him in the Bois de Boulogne, afoot or on
horseback, that while the right-hand side of his mustache was most
successfully en croc, the other extremity of the ornament pointed
earthwards. And, let it be remembered, that to tell a man of a defect
in his personal appearance is always a doubtful kindness.

"Ah, heavens!" Alphonse would exclaim to these true comrades, "I have
evil luck, and two minutes ago I bowed to the beautiful Comtesse de
Peudechose in her buggy."

Alphonse affected the society of Englishmen, was a member of the clubs
frequented by the sons of Albion resident in Paris, and sought the
society of the young gentlemen of the Embassy. It was in the
apartments of one of these that he made the acquaintance of Phillip
Gayerson, a young fellow intended for the diplomatic service. Phillip
Gayerson, be it known at once, was the brother of that Isabella
Gayerson to whose hand, heart and estate the present chronicler was
accredited by a fond father, and about whom, indeed, he had quarrelled
with the author of his being.

The name of Dick Howard being at that time unknown to the little
Frenchman, Alphonse Giraud made no mention of it to Gayerson a
self-absorbed man, who had probably forgotten my existence at this
time.

My countryman, as I afterwards learned, had come to Paris with the
object of learning the language, which by reason of its subtlety lends
itself most readily to diplomatic purposes, the most expressive
language, to my thinking, that the world has yet evolved, not
excepting the much-vaunted tongue in which Homer wrote. Phillip and I
had been boys together, and of all the comrades of my youth I should
have selected him the last to distinguish himself in statecraft. He
was a quiet, unobservant, and, as previously noted, self-absorbed man,
with a sense of the picturesque, which took the form of mediocre
water-colour sketching. His appearance was in his favour, for he was
visibly a gentleman; a man, moreover, of refined thought and habit,
whom burly Norfolk squires dubbed effeminate.

Alphonse Giraud liked him--the world is sunny to those who look at it
through sunny eyes--and took him up, as the saying goes, without
hesitation. He procured for him an invitation to a semi-state ball,
held, as some no doubt remember, in the autumn of 1869. It was Lucille
de Clericy's first ball, and Giraud renewed there a childish
friendship with one whose hair he confessed to have pulled in the
unchivalrous days of his infancy.

Alphonse, who was of a frank nature, as are many of his countrymen,
told Madame de Clericy, whom he escorted to the refreshment room after
dancing with her daughter, that he loved Lucille.

"But my dear Alphonse," retorted that lady, "you had forgotten her
existence until this evening."

This objection to his passion the lightsome Alphonse waived aside with
a perfectly gloved little hand.

"But," he answered earnestly, "unknown to myself her vision must
always have been _here_."

And he touched his shirt-front with the tips of his fingers gently,
remembering the delicacy of his linen.

"It is an angel!" he added, with an upward glance of his bright little
eyes, and tossed off a glass of champagne cup.

Madame de Clericy sipped her coffee slowly, and said nothing; but her
eyes travelled downward from the crown of her companion's head to his
dapper feet. And during that scrutiny there is little doubt that she
reckoned the value of Monsieur Alphonse Giraud. What she saw was a
pleasant spoken young man, plus twenty thousand pounds a year. No
wonder the Vicomtesse smiled softly.

"And I," went on the Frenchman in half humorous humility, "what am I?
Not clever, not handsome, not even tall!"

The lady shrugged her shoulders.

"_C'est la vie_," she said; a favourite reflection with her.

"Yes, and life and I are equal," replied Alphonse, with his gay laugh.
"We are both short! And now I wish to present to you and to Lucille my
best friend, Phillip Gayerson. He stands over there by the table, he
in English clothes. He only arrived in Paris ten days ago, and speaks
French indifferently. But he is charming, quite charming, my dearest
friend."

"Did you know him before he came to Paris?"

"Oh, no! Excuse me. I will bring him."

Madame made no remark, but watched Giraud with her quiet smile as he
went to seek this dear friend of eight days' standing.

Phillip Gayerson was distinguished by a slight shyness. It was as
little known or understood in Paris in the decadent days of the Second
Empire as it is now in the time of our own social collapse in England.

Thus, when the introduction was complete, Phillip Gayerson found that
he had nothing to say to this elderly French lady, and was glad when
Lucille came up, radiant on the arm of her partner. Alphonse presented
his friend at once, and here Phillip felt more at his ease, being a
better dancer than talker, and asked for the honour of a waltz without
delay.

"I have but two left," answered Mademoiselle de Clericy, with a gay
glance of happiness towards her mother. "They are at the end of the
programme, and I promised to reserve them for Monsieur Howard."

She handed him her engagement card, in frank confirmation of this
statement.

"R. H.," said Gayerson, deciphering the initials Lucille herself had
scribbled. "If this is Dick Howard I will take the first of his two
dances, and risk the consequence. It will not be the first time that
Dick and I have fallen out."

[Illustration: "THEN YOU KNOW MR. HOWARD?" SAID LUCILLE, WITH ANOTHER
GLANCE AT HER MOTHER. "YES," ... ANSWERED GAYERSON, BUT HAD NO TIME
FOR MORE, FOR THE NEXT DANCE WAS GIRAUD'S, WHO WAS ALREADY BOWING
BEFORE HER, AS BEFORE A DEITY.]

He wrote his name over mine, and returned the card to its owner.

"Then you know Mr. Howard?" said Lucille, with another glance at her
mother.

"Yes," ... answered Gayerson, but had no time for more, for the next
dance was Giraud's, who was already bowing before her, as before a
deity.

Madame de Clericy made a little movement, as if to speak to Gayerson,
but that young gentleman failed to see the gesture, and moved away to
find his partner for the coming waltz.

With the great people gathered at this assembly we have nothing to do,
though the writer and the reader, no doubt, love to rub elbows with
such lofty persons, if it be only in a public room. Many of them, be
it noted, were not nearly so important as they considered themselves,
and the greatness of some was built upon a base too frail to withstand
the storm and stress of the coming years.

Through the brilliant throng Lucille moved gaily and happily, taking,
with the faith of youth, dross for gold, and a high head for the token
of a noble heart. When Phillip Gayerson claimed his dance he found her
a little tired, but still dazzled and excited by the brilliance of the
occasion.

"Is it not splendid?" she exclaimed, taking his arm. "It is my first
ball. I am sure I shall never be too old to dance, as mother says she
is. Is it not absurd to say such a thing?"

Gayerson laughed, and as was his wont--a habit, indeed, with many shy
men--came straight to the point.

"Do you know Dick Howard, then?" he asked.

"Yes, a little. Has he arrived? This is his dance, you know."

"I cannot tell you if he has arrived, Mademoiselle," answered the
Englishman, in his halting French. "I know him at home--in Norfolk. I
was not aware that he was in Paris. But he will not be here to-night."

"Why?"

"Because his father is dead."

Lucille said nothing. She obeyed the movements of his arm, and they
danced, mingling with that gay throng, where the feet were lighter
than the hearts, we may be sure. They went through the whole dance in
silence, as Phillip afterwards told me--and he tried in vain to engage
Lucille's full attention to matters of passing interest.

"We must find my mother," she said at length, when the music had
ceased. "Mr. Howard does not know. He has been travelling in the South
with my father. His letters have not been forwarded to him."

Phillip Gayerson guided his partner through the laughing throng.

"It will be bad news for Dick," he said, "for his father has left him
penniless."

"I understood," observed Lucille, looking attentively at her bouquet,
"that he was wealthy."

"No. He quarrelled with his father, who left him without a sou. But
Howard knew it before he quitted England."

Lucille did not speak again until they had joined her mother, to whom
she said something so hurriedly that Gayerson did not catch the import
of her words.

At this moment I entered the room, and made my way towards them,
feeling more fit for my bed than a ball-room, for I had travelled
night and day to dance a waltz with Lucille. As I approached, Gayerson
bowed to the ladies and took his departure.

"My dance, Mademoiselle," I said, "if you have been so kind as to
remember it."

"Yes," answered Lucille, coldly as it seemed, "but I am tired, and we
are going home."

I looked towards Madame, and saw something in her face, I knew not
what.

"Your arm, mon ami," she said, lifting her hand; "we had better go
home."



Chapter VI

A Glimpse of Home

     "Pour rendre la société commode il faut que chacun conserve
     sa liberté."


Those who have rattled over the cobble stones of old Paris will
understand that we had no opportunity of conversation during our drive
from the Tuileries to the Rue des Palmiers. Lucille, with her white
lace scarf half concealing her face, sat back in her corner with
closed eyes and seemed to be asleep. As we passed the street lamps
their light flashing across Madame's face showed her to be alert,
attentive and sleepless. On crossing the Pont Napoleon I saw that the
sky behind the towers of Notre Dame was already of a pearly grey. The
dawn was indeed at hand, and the great city, wrapped in a brief and
fitful slumber, would soon be rousing itself to another day of gaiety
and tears, of work and play, of life and death.

The Rue des Palmiers was yet still. A sleepy servant opened the door,
and we crept quietly upstairs, lest we should disturb the Vicomte,
who, tired from his great journey, had retired to bed while I changed
my clothes for the Imperial ball.

"Good-night," said Lucille, without looking round at the head of the
stairs. Madame followed her daughter, but I noticed that she gave me
no salutation.

I turned to my study, of which the door stood open, and where a shaded
lamp discreetly burned. I threw aside my coat and attended to the
light. My letters lay on the table, but before I had taken them up the
rustle of a woman's dress in a gallery drew my attention elsewhere.

It was Madame, who came in bearing a small tray, whereon stood wine
and biscuits.

"You are tired out," she said. "You had no refreshment at the
Tuileries. You must drink this glass of wine."

"Thank you, Madame," I answered, and turned to my letters, among which
were a couple of telegrams. But she laid her quiet hand upon them and
pointed with the other to the glass that she had filled. She watched
me drink the strong wine, which was, indeed, almost a cordial, then
took up the letters in her hands.

"My poor friend," she said, "there is bad news for you here. You must
be prepared."

Handing me the letters, she went to the door, but did not quit the
room. She merely stood there with her back turned to me, exhibiting a
strange, silent patience while I slowly opened the letters and read
that my father and I had quarrelled for the last time.

It was I who moved first and broke the silence of that old house. The
daylight was glimmering through the closed jalousies, making stripes
of light upon the ceiling.

"Madame," I said, "I must go home--to England--by the early train,
this morning! May I ask you to explain to Monsieur le Vicomte."

"Yes," she answered, turning and facing me. "Your coffee will be ready
at seven o'clock. And none of us will come downstairs until after your
departure. At such times a man is better alone--is it not so? For a
woman it is different."

I extinguished the useless lamp, and we passed round the gallery
together. At the door of my bedroom she stopped, and turning, laid her
hand--as light as a child's--upon my arm.

"What will you, my poor friend?" she said, with a queer little smile.
"_C'est la vie._"

It is not my intention to dwell at length upon my journey to England
and all that awaited me there. There are times in his life when--as
Madame de Clericy said, with her wise smile--a man is better alone.
And are there not occasions when the most eloquent of us is best
dumb?

I had for travelling companion on the bright autumn morning when I
quitted Paris my father's friend, John Turner--called suddenly to
England on matters of business. He gave a grunt when he saw me in the
Northern station.

"Better have taken my advice," he said, "to go home and make it up
with your father, rather than stay here to run after that girl with
the pretty hair--at your time of life. Avoid quarrels and seek a
reconciliation--that is my plan. Best way is to ask the other chap to
dinner and do him well. What are you going home for now? It is too
late."

As, indeed, I knew without the telling. For when I reached Hopton my
father had already been laid in the old churchyard beneath the shadow
of the crumbling walls of the ruined church, which is now no longer
used. They have built a gaudy new edifice farther inland, but so long
as a Howard owns Hopton Hall, we shall, I think, continue to lie in
the graveyard nearer to the sea.

I suppose we are a quarrelsome race, for I fell foul of several
persons almost as soon as I arrived. The lawyers vowed that there were
difficulties--but none, I protest, but what such parchment minds as
theirs would pause to heed. One thing, however, was certain. Did I not
read it in black and white myself? My obstinate old father--and, by
gad! I respect him for it--had held to his purpose. He had left me
penniless unless I consented to marry Isabella Gayerson. The estate
was bequeathed in trust, to be administered by said trustees during my
lifetime, unless I acceded to a certain matrimonial arrangement
entertained for me. Those were the exact words. So Isabella had no
cause to blush when the will was published abroad. And we may be sure
that the whole county knew it soon enough, and vowed that they had
always thought so.

"If one may inquire the nature of the matrimonial arrangement so
vaguely specified?"... said the respectable Norwich solicitor who,
like all his kind, had a better coat than his client, for those who
live on the vanity and greed of their neighbours live well.

"One may," I replied, "and one may go to the devil and ask him."

The lawyer gave a dry laugh as he turned over his papers, and I make
no doubt charged some one for his wounded feelings.

So the secret was kept between me and the newly raised stone in Hopton
churchyard. And I felt somehow that there was a link between us in the
fact that my father had kept the matter of our quarrel from the mouths
of gossips and tattlers, leaving it to my honour to obey or disobey
him, and abide by the result.

I am not one of those who think it right to remember their dead as
saints who lived a blameless life, and passed away from a world that
was not good enough for them. Is it not wiser to remember them as they
were, men and women like ourselves, with faults in number, and a
half-developed virtue or two, possessing something beyond copybook
good or evil, which won our love in life, and will keep their memory
green after death? I did not fall into the error of thinking that
death had hallowed wishes which I had opposed in life; and while
standing by my father's grave, where he lay, after long years, by the
side of the fair girl whom I had called mother, I respected him for
having died without changing his opinion, while recognising no call to
alter mine.

The hall, it appeared, was to be held at my disposal to live in
whenever I so wished, but I was forbidden to let it. A young solicitor
of Yarmouth, working up, as they say, a practice, wrote to me in
confidence, saying that the will was an iniquitous one, and presuming
that I intended to contest its legality. He further informed me that
such work was, singularly enough, a branch of the profession of which
he had made a special study. I replied that persons who presumed
rendered themselves liable to kicks, and heard no more from Yarmouth.

The neighbours were kind enough to offer me advice or hospitality,
according to their nature, neither of which I felt inclined, at that
time, to accept, but made some small return for their good will by
inviting them to extend their shooting over the Hopton preserves,
knowing that my poor old sire would turn in his grave were the birds
allowed to go free.

Among others I received a letter from Isabella Gayerson, conveying the
sympathy of her aged father and mother in my bereavement.

"As for myself," she wrote, "you know, Dick, that no one feels more
keenly for you at this time, and wishes more sincerely that she could
put her sympathy to some practical use. The hall must necessarily be
but a sad and lonely dwelling for you now, and we want you to
recollect that Fairacre is now, as at all times, a second home, where
an affectionate welcome awaits you."

So wrote the subject of our quarrel, and in a like friendly tone I
made reply. Whether Isabella was aware of the part she had played in
my affairs, wiser heads must decide for themselves. If such was the
case, she made no sign, and wrote at intervals letters of a spirit
similar to that displayed in the paragraph above transcribed. On such
affairs, men are but poor prophets in the strange country of a woman's
mind. A small experience of the sex leads me, however, to suggest
that, as a rule, women--ay, and schoolgirls--have a greater knowledge
of such matters of the heart than they are credited with--that,
indeed, women usually err on the side of knowing too much--knowing, in
a word, facts that do not exist.

So disgusted was I with the whole business that I turned my back on
the land of my birth and left the lawyers to fight over their details.
I appointed a London solicitor to watch my interests, who smiled at my
account of the affair, saying that things would be better settled
among members of the legal profession--that my ways were not theirs.
For which compliment I fervently thanked him, and shook the dust of
London from off my feet.

The Vicomte de Clericy had notified to me by letter that my post would
be held vacant and at my disposal for an indefinite period, but that
at the same time my presence would be an infinite relief to him. This
was no doubt the old gentleman's courteous way of putting it, for I
had done little enough to make my absence of any note.

Travelling all night, I arrived in the Rue des Palmiers at nine
o'clock one morning, and took coffee as usual in my study. At ten
o'clock Monsieur de Clericy came to me there, and was kind enough to
express both sympathy at my bereavement and pleasure at my return. In
reply I thanked him.

"But," I added, "I regret that I must resign my post."

"Resign," cried the old gentleman. "Mon Dieu! do not talk of it. Why
do you think of such a thing?"

"I am no secretary. I have never had the taste for such work nor a
chance of learning to do it."

The Vicomte looked at me thoughtfully.

"But you are what I want," he replied. "A man--a responsible man, and
not a machine."

"Bah," said I, shrugging my shoulders, "what are we doing--work that
any could do. What am I wanted for? I have done nothing but write a
few letters and frighten a handful of farmers in Provence."

The Vicomte de Clericy coughed confidentially.

"My dear Howard," he answered, looking at the door to make sure that
it was closed. "I am getting an old man. I am only fit to manage my
affairs while all is tranquil and in order. Tell me--as man to
man--will things remain tranquil and in order? You know as well as I
do that the Emperor has a malady from which there is no recovery. And
the Empress, ah! yes--she is a clever woman. She has spirit. It is not
every woman who would take this journey to Egypt to open the Suez
Canal and make that great enterprise a French undertaking. But has a
woman ever governed France successfully--from the boudoir or the
throne? Look back into history, my dear Howard, and tell me what the
end of a woman's government has always been."

It was the first time that my old patron had named politics in my
hearing, or acknowledged their bearing upon the condition of private
persons in France. His father had been of the emigration. He himself
had been born in exile. The family prestige was but a ghost of its
former self--and I had hitherto treated the subject as a sore one and
beyond my province.

The Vicomte had sat down at my table. As for me, I was already on the
broad window seat, looking down into the garden. Lucille was there
upbraiding a gardener. I could see the nature of their conversation
from the girl's face. She was probably wanting something out of
season. Women often do. The man was deprecatory, and pointed
contemptuously towards the heavens with a rake. There was a long
silence in the room which was called my study.

"I think, mon ami," said my companion at length, "that there is
another reason."

"Yes," answered I, bluntly, "there is."

I did not look round, but continued to watch Lucille in the garden.
The Vicomte sat in silence--waiting, no doubt, for a further
explanation. Failing to get this, he said, rather testily as I
thought:

"Is the reason in the garden, my friend, that your eyes are fixed
there?"

"Yes, it is. It is scolding the gardener. And I think I am better away
from the Hôtel Clericy, Monsieur le Vicomte."

The old man slowly rose and came to the window, standing behind me.

"Oh--la, la!" he muttered in his quaint way--an exclamation
uncomplimentary to myself; for our neighbours across channel reserve
the syllables exclusively for their disasters.

We looked down at Lucille, standing amid the chrysanthemums, lending
to their pink and white bloom a face as fresh as any of the flowers.

"But it is a child, mon ami," said the Vicomte, with his tolerant
smile.

"Yes--I ought to know better, I admit," answered I, rising and
attending to the papers on the writing table, and I laughed without
feeling very merry. I sat down and began mechanically to work. At all
events, my conscience had won this time--and if the Vicomte pressed
me to stay, he did so with full knowledge of the danger.

The window was open. The Evil One prompted Lucille at that moment to
break into one of those foolish little songs of Provence, and the
ink dried on my pen.

[Illustration: STANDING AMID THE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, LENDING TO THEIR PINK
AND WHITE BLOOM A FACE AS FRESH AS ANY OF THE FLOWERS.]

The Vicomte broke the silence that followed.

"The ladies are going away for the winter months," he said. "They are
going to Draguignan, in Var. At all events, stay with me until they
return."

"I cannot think why you ever took me."

"An old man's fancy, mon cher. You will not forsake me."

"No."



Chapter VII

In Provence

     "Autant d'amoureux, autant d'amours; chacun aime comme il
     est."


The chateau of La Pauline stands at the head of the valley of the
Nartubie in the department of Var, and looks down upon Draguignan, the
capital of that division of France. La Pauline, and its surrounding
lands formed the _dot_ of the Vicomtesse de Clericy, and the products
of its rich terraces were of no small account in the family revenues.

It was to this spot that Lucille and her mother repaired in the month
of December. Not far away the Baron Giraud had his estate--the modern
castle of "Mon Plaisir," with its little white turret, its porcelain
bas-reliefs in brilliant colours let into the walls, its artificial
gardens ornamented with gold and silver balls, and summer-houses of
which the windows were glazed with playful fancy that outdid nature in
clothing the prospect in the respective hues of spring, summer, autumn
and winter.

Very different from this was the ancient chateau of La Pauline,
perched half-way up the mountain on a table-land--its grey stone face
showing grimly against a sombre background of cypress trees. The house
was built, as the antiquarians of Draguignan avow, of stone that was
hewn by the Romans for less peaceful purposes. That an ancient
building must have stood here would, indeed, be to some extent
credible, from the fact that in front of the house lies a lawn of that
weedless turf which is only found in this country in such places as
the Arena at Fréjus. In the center of the lawn stands a sun
dial--grey, green and ancient--a relic of those days when men lived by
hours, and not by minutes, as we do to-day. It is all of the old
world--of that old, old world of France beside which our British
antiquities are, with a few exceptions, youthful. This was the
birthplace of Madame de Clericy and of Lucille herself. Hither the
ladies always returned with a quiet joy. There is no more peaceful
spot on earth than La Pauline, chiefly, perhaps, because there is
nothing in nature so still and lifeless as an olive grove. Why, by the
way, do the birds of the air never build their nests in these
trees--why do they rarely rest and never ring there? Behind La
Pauline--so close, indeed, that the little chapel stands in the grey
hush of the trees, guarded, of course, by a sentinel circle of
cypresses--rise the olive terraces and stretch up, tier above tier,
till the pines are reached. Below the grey house the valley opens out
like a fan, and far away to the south the rugged crags of Roquebrune
stand out against a faint blue haze, which is the Mediterranean.

No better example of Peace on Earth is to be found than La Pauline
after sunset, at which time the olive groves are a silver
fairyland--when the chapel bell tinkles in vain for the faithful to
come to vespers--when the stout old placid curé sits down
philosophically in the porch to read the office to himself, knowing
well that a hot day in the vineyards turns all footsteps homewards.

When the ladies are in residence at the chateau, it is a different
matter. Then, indeed, the curé lays aside his old soutane and dons
that fine new clerical habit presented to him by Mademoiselle Lucille
at the time of her first communion, when the Bishop of Fréjus came to
Draguignan, and the whole valley assembled to do him honour there.

The ladies came, as we have said, in December, and at the gate the
curé met them as usual--making there, as was his custom, a great
hesitation as to kissing Lucille, now that she was a demoiselle of the
great world, having--the rogue!--shaved with extraordinary care for
that very purpose, a few hours earlier. Indeed, it is to be feared
that the good curé did not always present so cleanly an appearance as
he did on the arrival of the ladies. Here the family lived a quiet
life among the peasants, who loved them, and Lucille visited them in
their cottages, taking what simple hospitality they could offer her
with a charm and appetite unrivalled, as the parishioners themselves
have often told the writer. In these humble homes she found children
with skins as white, with hair as fair and bright, as her own, and if
the traveller wander so far from the beaten track, he can verify my
statement. For in Var, by some racial freak--which, like all such
matters, is in point of fact inexplicable--a large proportion of the
people are of fair or ruddy complexions.

Had the Vicomtesse desired it, the neighbourhood offered society of a
loftier, and, as some consider, more interesting, nature, but that
lady did not hold much by social gatherings, and it was only from a
sense of duty that she invited a few friends, about the time of
Lucille's birthday--her twenty-first birthday, indeed--to pass some
days at La Pauline.

These friends were bidden for the 26th December, and among them were
the Baron Giraud and his son Alphonse.

Alphonse arrived on horseback in a costume which would have done
credit to the head-groom of a racing stable. The right-hand twist of
his mustache was eminently successful, but the left-hand extremity
drooped with a lamentable effect, which he was not able to verify
until after he had greeted the ladies, whom he met in the garden, as
he rode toward the chateau.

"My father," he cried, as he descended from the saddle, "that dear old
man, arrives on the instant. He is in a carriage--a close carriage,
and he smokes. Picture it to yourselves--when there is this air to
breathe--when there are horses to ride. Madame la Vicomtesse"--he took
that lady's hand--"what a pleasure! Mademoiselle Lucille--as beautiful
as ever."

"Even more so," replied Lucille with her gay laugh. "What exquisite
riding-boots! But are they not a little tight, Alphonse?"

For Lucille could not perceive why playmates should suddenly begin to
monsieur and mademoiselle each other after years of intimacy. This was
the rock in that path which Alphonse, like the rest of us, found
anything but smooth. Lucille was so gay. It is difficult to make
serious love to a person who is not even impressed by English
riding-boots.

[Illustration: "WHAT EXQUISITE RIDING-BOOTS! BUT ARE THEY NOT A LITTLE
TIGHT, ALPHONSE?"]

At this moment the Baron's carriage appeared on the zig-zag road below
the chateau, and Madame de Clericy's face assumed an expression of
placid resignation. In due time the vehicle, with its gorgeous
yellow wheels, reached the level space upon which the party stood. The
Baron Giraud emerged from the satin-lined recesses of the dainty
carriage like a stout caterpillar from a rose, a stumpy little man
with no neck and a red face. A straggling dyed mustache failed to hide
an unpleasant mouth, with lips too red and loose. Cunning little dark
eyes relieved the countenance of the Baron Giraud from mere animalism.
They were intelligent little eyes, that looked to no high things and
made no mistake in low places. But the Baron Giraud did not make one
proud of the human race. This was a man who handled millions with
consummate skill and daring, and by a certain class of persons he was
almost worshipped. Personally, a 'longshore loafer who can handle a
boat with the same intrepidity is to me a pleasanter object, though
skill of any description must command a certain respect.

There were other guests to whom the Baron was presently introduced,
and towards these he carried himself with the pomposity and hauteur
which are only permissible to the very highest rank of new wealth.
Lucille, as I learnt from Monsieur Alphonse later--indeed, our
friendship was based on the patience with which I listened to his talk
of that young lady--was dressed on this particular afternoon in white,
but such matters as these bungled between two men will interest no
one. Her hair she wore half in curls, according to the hideous custom
of that day. Is it not always safe to abuse the old fashion? And at no
time safer than the present, when the whole world gapes with its
great, foolish mouth after every novelty. I remember that Lucille
looked pretty enough; but you, mesdames, who laugh at me, are no doubt
quite right, and a thousand times more beautiful in your mannish
attire.

The guests presently dispersed in the shady garden, and the Baron
accepted Madame's offer of refreshment on the terrace, whither a
servant brought a tray of liqueurs. The pleasant habit of afternoon
tea had not yet been introduced across the channel, and French ladies
had still something to learn.

"Ah, Madame!" said the Baron Giraud in a voice that may be described
as metallic, inasmuch as it was tinny, "these young people!"

With a wave of his thick white hand he indicated Alphonse and Lucille,
who had wandered down an alley entirely composed of orange trees,
where, indeed, a yellow glow seemed to hover, so thickly hung the
fruit on the branches. Madame followed the direction of his glance
with a non-committing bow of the head.

"I shall have to ask Monsieur le Vicomte what he proposes doing in the
way of a 'dot,'" pursued the financier with a cackling laugh, which
was not silvery, though it savoured of bullion. The Vicomtesse smiled
gravely, and offered the Baron one of those little square biscuits
peculiar to Fréjus.

"Madame knows nothing of such matters?"

"Nothing," answered she, meeting the twinkling eyes.

"Ah!" murmured the Baron, addressing, it would seem, the distant
mountains. "Such details are not, of course, for the ladies. It is the
other side of the question"--he laid his hand upon his waistcoat--"the
side of the affections--the heart, my dear Vicomtesse, the heart."

"Yes," answered Madame, looking at him with that disquieting straight
glance of hers--"the heart."

In the mean time--in the orange alley--Alphonse was attempting to get
a serious hearing from Lucille, and curiously enough was making use of
the same word as that passing between their elders on the terrace
above them.

"Have you no heart?" he cried, stamping his foot on the mossy turf,
"that you always laugh when I am serious--have you no heart, Lucille?"

"I do not know what you mean by heart," answered the girl with a
little frown, as if the subject did not please her. And wiser men than
Alphonse Giraud could not have enlightened her.

"Then you are incapable of feeling," he cried, spreading out his hands
as if in invocation to the trees to hear him.

"That may be, but I do not see that it is proved by the fact that I am
not always grave. You, yourself, are gay enough when others are by,
and it is then that I like you best. It is only when we are alone that
you are--tragic. Is that--heart, Alphonse? And are those who laugh
heartless? I doubt it."

"You know I love you," he muttered gloomily, and the expression on his
round face did not seem at home there.

"Well," she answered, with a severity gathered heaven knows whence--I
cannot think they taught it to her in the convent--"you have told me
so twice since you became aware of my continued existence at the ball
last month. But you are hopelessly serious to-day. Let us go back to
the terrace."

She stooped and picked up an orange that had fallen, throwing it
subsequently along the smooth turf for her dog to chase.

"See," she said gaily, "Talleyrand will scarcely trouble to run now.
He is so stout and dignified. He is afraid that the country dogs
should see him. It is Paris. Paris spoils--so much."

"You know my father's plans concerning us," said Alphonse, after a
pause, which served to set aside Talleyrand and the orange.

"The Baron's plans are, I am told, wonderful, but"--she paused and
gave a little laugh--"I do not understand finance."

They walked up the steps together, between the trim borders, where
spring flowers were already breaking into bud. On the terrace they
found the Vicomtesse and the Baron Giraud. A servant was going towards
the house carrying carelessly a small silver salver. The Baron was
standing with an unopened envelope in his hand.

"You will permit me, Madame," they heard him say with his strident
little self-satisfied laugh. "A man of affairs is the slave of the
moment. And the affairs of state are never still. A great country
moves even in its sleep."

Having the permission of Madame, he tore open the envelope, enjoying
the importance of the moment. But his face changed as soon as his
glance fell on the paper.

"The government has fallen," he gasped, with white lips and a face
wherefrom the colour faded in blotches. He seemed to forget the
ladies, and looked only at his son. "It may mean--much. I must go to
Paris at once. The place is in an uproar. Mon Dieu--where will it
end!"

He excused himself hurriedly, and in a few minutes his carriage
rattled through the grey stone gateway.

"An uproar in Paris," repeated Lucille, anxiously, when she was alone
with her mother. "What does he mean? Is there any danger? Will papa be
safe?"

"Yes," answered the Vicomtesse quietly; "he will be safe, I think."



Chapter VIII

In Paris

     "Le plus grand art d'un habile homme est celui de savior
     cacher son habileté."


It will be necessary to dwell to a certain extent on those events of
the great world that left their mark on the obscure lives of which the
present history treats. An old man may be excused for expressing his
opinion--or rather his agreement with the opinions of greater
minds--that our little existence here on earth is but part of a great
scheme--that we are but pawns moved hither and thither on a vast
chess-board, and that, while our vision is often obscured by some
knight or bishop or king, whose neighbourhood overshadows us, yet our
presence may affect the greater moves as certainly as we are affected
by them.

I first became aware of the fact that my existence was amenable to
every political wind that might blow a week or so after Lucille went
to La Pauline, without, indeed, vouchsafing an explanation of her
sudden coldness.

In my study I was one evening smoking, and, I admit it, thinking of
Lucille--thinking very practically, however. For I was reflecting
with satisfaction over some small improvements I had effected--with a
Norfolk energy which, no doubt, gave offence to some--during the short
time that the Vicomte and I had passed in the Provençal chateau. I had
the pleasant conviction that Lucille's health could, at all events,
come to no harm from a residence in one of the oldest castles in
France. No very lover-like reflections, the high-flown will cry. So be
it. Each must love in his own way. "Air and water--air and water!" the
Vicomte had cried when he saw the men at work under my directions.
"You Englishmen are mad on the subject."

While I was engaged in these thoughts the old gentleman came to my
room, and in the next few minutes made known to me a new and
unsuspected side of his character. His manner was singularly alert. He
seemed to be years younger.

"I said I should want a man at my side--young and strong," he began,
seating himself. "Let us understand each other, Mr. Howard."

"By all means."

He gave a little laugh, and leaning forward took a quill pen from my
writing-table, disliking idle fingers while he talked.

"That time has come, my friend. Do you mean to stand by me?"

[Illustration: "LET US UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER, MR. HOWARD."]

"Yes."

"You are a man of few words," he answered, looking at me with a new
keenness which sat strangely on his benign features. "But I want no
more. The government has fallen--the doctors say the Emperor's life is
not worth that!"

And he snapped his finger and thumb, glancing at the clock. It was
eight o'clock. We had dined at half-past six.

"Can you come with me now? I want to show you the state of Paris--the
condition of the people, the way of their thoughts. One cannot know
too much of the ... people--for they will some day rule the world."

"And rule it devilish badly," I added, putting my papers together.

"We shall be late in returning," the Vicomte said to the servant who
held the carriage door. I had heard--through my thoughts--the stamping
of the horses in the courtyard and the rattle of the harness, but took
no great note of them, as the Vicomte had the habit of going out in
the evening. I noticed we never crossed the river during our silent
drive. A river has two sides, just as a street, and one of them is
usually in the shade. It was among the shadows that our business lay
this evening.

"You know," said the Vicomte, as we climbed the narrow staircase of a
quiet house in the neighbourhood of the great wine stores that adjoin
the Jardin des Plantes--"you know that this is the day of the
talkers--the Rocheforts, the Pyats--the windbags. Mon Dieu, what
nonsense! But a windbag may burst and do harm. One must watch these
gentry."

Republicanism was indeed in the air at this time. And has not history
demonstrated that those who cry loudest for a commonwealth are such as
wish to draw from that wealth and add nothing to it? The reddest
Republican is always the man who has nothing to lose and all to gain
by a social upheaval.

I was not surprised, therefore, when we found ourselves in a room full
of bad hats and unkempt heads. A voice was shouting their
requirements. I knew that they wanted a wash more than anything else.

The room was a large, low one, and looked larger through an atmosphere
blue with smoke and the fumes of absinthe. The Vicomte--a little man,
as I have said--slipped in unperceived. I was less fortunate, being of
a higher stature. I saw that my advent did not pass unobserved on the
platform, where a party of patriots sat in a row, like the Christy
Minstrels, showing the soles of their boots to all whom it might
concern. In this case a working cobbler would have been deeply
interested, as in a vast field of labour. The Vicomte slipped a few
yards away from me, and the shoulders of his fellow-countrymen
obscured him. I could find no such retreat, for your true Socialist
never has much to recommend him to the notice of society, being
usually a poor, mean man to look at, who seeks to add a cubit to his
stature by encouraging the growth of his hair.

One such stood on the platform, mouthing the bloodthirsty periods of
his creed. He caught sight of me.

"Ah!" he cried, "here is a new disciple. And a hardy one! _Un grand
gaillard_, my brethren, who can strike a solid blow for liberty,
equality and fraternity. Say, brother, you are with us; is it not so?"

"If you open the casements, not otherwise," I answered. The French
crowd is ever ready for blood or laughter. I have seen the Republic
completely set in the background by a cat looking in a window and
giving voice to the one word assigned to it by nature. Some laughed
now, and the orator deemed it wise to leave me in peace. I took
advantage of my obscurity to look around me, and was duly edified by
what I saw. The Paris _vaurien_ is worth less than any man on earth,
and these were choice specimens from the gutter.

We were wasting our time in such a galley, and as I thus reflected a
note was slipped into my hand.

"Follow me, but not at once." I read and hid the paper in my pocket.
Without staring about me too much, I watched the Vicomte make his way
towards a door half hidden by a dirty curtain--another to that by
which we had entered. Thither I followed him after a decent
interval--no one molesting me. One of the patriots on the platform
seemed to watch me with understanding, and when I reached the
curtained doorway, my glance meeting his, he dismissed me with his
eyelids.

I found myself in a dark passage, and with his gentle laugh the
Vicomte took my arm.

"All that out there," he whispered, "is a mere blind. It is in the
inner room that they act. Out there they merely talk. Come with me.
Gently--there are two steps--my dear Howard. These are the men--he
paused with his fingers on the handle of a door--who will rule France
when the Emperor is dead or deposed."

With that we entered, and those assembled--some sitting at a table,
others standing about the room--saluted the Vicomte de Clericy almost
as a leader. Some of the faces I knew--indeed, they are to be found in
the illustrated histories of France. The thoughts of others were known
to me, for many were journalists of repute--men of advanced views and
fiery pens. Perhaps, after all, I knew as little of the Vicomte de
Clericy as of any man there. For he seemed to have laid aside that
pleasant and garrulous senility which had awakened my dull conscience.

Although he did not deliver a speech during the proceedings, as did
some, his attitude was rather that of a leader than of a mere
on-looker. Here was no mere watching, thought I. My patron was known
to all, and went from group to group talking in the ear of many. There
was, indeed, much talking as I have always found in the world, and but
little listening. The Vicomte introduced me to some of his friends.

"Mr. Howard," he said, "an English gentleman who is kind enough to act
as my secretary. Mr. Howard is too wise to trouble himself with
politics."

And I thought some of them had a queer way of looking at me.

"A deceiver or a dupe?" I heard one ask another, trusting too far the
proverbial dulness of British ears.

The topic of the evening was, of course, the fall of the ministry--a
matter of great moment at that time, and, it may be, through all the
ages--though a recital of its possible effects would be but dull
reading to-day. When a chain is riven, the casual on-looker takes but
small interest in the history of each link. This event of December,
1869, was in truth an important link in the chain of strange events
that go to make up the history of the shortest and most marvellous of
the great dynasties of the world.

I stood among those politicians and wondered what the greatest of
their race at that time living thought of these matters in the
Tuileries Palace hard by. I could picture him sitting, as was his
wont--a grave man with a keen sense of humour--with his head a little
on one side, his large, still face drawn and pale--the evidence of his
malady around his dull eyes. Was the game played out? The greatest
since that so gloriously won--so miserably lost at length--by his
uncle. The Bonapartes were no common men--and it was no common blood
that trickled unstanched ten years later into the sand of the African
veldt, leaving the world the poorer of one of its greatest races.

I gathered that the fall of the ministry was no great surprise to
these men assembled in this inner room. They formed, so far as I could
discover, a sort of administration--a committee which gathered the
opinions of the more intelligent citizens of the larger towns of
France--a head-center of news and public thought. Their meeting place
was furnished without ostentation, and in excellent taste.

These were no mere adventurers, but men of position and wealth, who
had somewhat to lose and every desire to retain the same. They did not
rave of patriotism, nor was there any cant of equality and fraternity.
It seemed rather that, finding themselves placed in stirring times,
they deemed it wise to guide by some means or other the course of
events into such channels as might ensure safety to themselves and
their possessions. And who can blame them for such foresight? Patriots
are, according to my experience, men who look for a substantial _quid
pro quo_. They serve their country with the view of making their
country serve them.

Whatever the usual deliberations of the body among whom I found myself
might be, the all-absorbing topic of the evening set all else aside.

"We approach the moment," cried one, a young man with a lisping
intonation and great possessions, as I afterwards learnt. "Now is the
time for all to do as I have done. I have sent everything out of the
country. I and my sword remain for France."

He spoke truly. He and his sword now lie side by side--in French soil.

"Let all do the same," growled an old man, with eyes flashing beneath
his great white brows.

"All who know," suggested one, significantly. Whereupon arose a great
discussion, and many names were uttered that were familiar to
me--among others, indeed, that of my friend, John Turner. I noticed
that many laughed when his name was mentioned.

"Oh!" they cried. "You may leave John Turner to care for his own
affairs. _Il est fin celui-là._"

Again a familiar name fell on my ears, and this was received with
groans and derisive laughter. It was that of the Baron Giraud. I
gathered that there was question of warning certain financiers and
rich persons outside of this circle of some danger known only to the
initiated. Indeed, the wealthy were sending their money out of the
country as fast and as secretly as possible.

"No, no," cried the young man I have mentioned; "the Baron Giraud--a
fine Baron, heaven knows!--has risen with the Empire--nor has he been
over-scrupulous as to whom he trod underfoot. With the Empire he must
fall."

And one and all fell to abusing the Baron Giraud. He was a thief, and
a despoiler of the widow and orphan. His wealth had been acquired not
honestly, but at the expense,--nay, at the ruin--of others. He was an
unwholesome growth of a mushroom age--a bad man, whose god was gold
and gain his only ambition.

"If such men are to grow in France and govern her, then woe to
France," cried one prophetic voice.

Indeed, if half we heard was true of the Baron Giraud, he must have
been a fine scoundrel, and I had little compunction in agreeing that
he deserved no consideration at the hands of honest men. The cooler
heads deemed it wise to withhold from the Baron certain details of the
public feeling, not out of spite, but because such knowledge could not
be trusted in notoriously unscrupulous hands. He would but turn it to
money.

For the greater safety, all present bound themselves upon honour not
to reveal the result of their deliberations to certain named persons,
and the Baron Giraud had the privilege of heading this list. I was
surprised that no form of mutual faith was observed. These men seemed
to trust each other without so much as a word--and indeed, what
stronger tie can men have than the common gain?

"We are not conspirators," said one to me. "Our movements are known."

And he nodded his head in the direction of the Tuileries. I made no
doubt that all, indeed, was known in that quarter, but the fatalist
who planned and schemed there would meet these men the next day with
his gentle smile, betraying nothing.

As my interest became aroused by these proceedings, I became aware of
the Vicomte's close scrutiny. It seemed that he was watching
me--noting the effect of every speech and word.

"You were interested," he said, casually, as we drove home smoking our
cigars.

"Yes."

He looked out of the carriage window for some time, and then, turning,
he laid his hand on my knee.

"And it is not a game," he said, with his little laugh, which somehow
sounded quite different--less senile, less helpless. "It is not a
game, my friend!"



Chapter IX

Finance

     "Il n'est pas si dangereux de faire du mal à la plupart des
     hommes que de leur faire trop de bien."


We have seen how the Baron Giraud was called suddenly away from those
pleasures of the country, which he had taken up too late in life, as
many do, to the busy--ay, and stormy--scenes of Paris existence during
the winter before the great war. It was perhaps a week later--one
morning, in fact, soon after the New Year--that my business bade me
seek the Vicomte in his study adjoining my own. These two apartments,
it will be remembered, were separated by two doors and a small
intervening corridor. In the days when the Hôtel Clericy was built,
walls had ears, and every keyhole might conceal a watching eye.
Builders understood the advantage of privacy, and did not construct
rooms where every movement and every spoken word may be heard in the
adjoining chambers.

No sound had come to me, and I had no reason for supposing the Vicomte
engaged at so early an hour. But as I entered the room, after
knocking and awaiting his permission as usual, I saw that some one
was leaving it by the other door. His back was presented to my sight,
but there was no mistaking the slim form and a nonchalant carriage.
Charles Miste again! And only the back of him once more.

"I have had a visit from my late secretary," said the Vicomte,
casually, and without looking up from his occupation of opening some
letters. There was no reason to suppose that he had seen me glance
towards the closing door, recognising him who went from it.

We were still engaged with the morning's correspondence, when a second
visitor was announced, and almost on the heels of the servant a little
fat man came puffing into the room, red-faced and agitated.

"Ah! Heaven be thanked that I have found you in," he gasped, and
although it was a cold morning, he wiped his pasty brow with a
gorgeous silk handkerchief whereupon shone the largest coronet
obtainable.

His face was quite white and flaccid, like the unbaked loaves into
which I had poked inquiring fingers in my childhood, and there was an
unwholesome look of fear in his little bright eyes. The Baron had been
badly scared, and lacked the manhood to conceal his panic.

"Ah! Mon Dieu, mon Dieu!" he gasped again, and looked at me with
insolent inquiry. He was, it must be remembered, a very rich man, and
could afford to be ill-mannered. "I must see you, Vicomte."

"You do see me, my friend," replied the old nobleman, in his most
amiable manner. "And at your service."

"But--" and the fluttering handkerchief indicated myself.

"Ah! Let me introduce you. Monsieur Howard, my secretary--the Baron
Giraud."

I bowed as one only bows to money-bags, and the Baron stared at me.
Only very rich or very high-born persons fully understand the
introductory stare.

"You may speak before Monsieur Howard," said the Baron, quietly. "He
is not a secretary _pour rire_."

Had Miste been a secretary _pour rire_, I wondered?

I drew forward a chair and begged the Baron to be seated. He accepted
my invitation coldly, and seating himself seemed to lose nothing in
stature. There are some men who should always be seated. It is, of
course, a mistake to judge of one's neighbour at first sight, but it
seemed to me that the Baron Giraud only wanted a little courage to be
a first-class scoundrel. He fumbled in his pocket, glancing furtively
at me the while. At length he found a letter, which he handed to the
Vicomte.

"I have received that," he said. "It is anonymous, as you will see,
and cleverly done. There is absolutely no clue. It was sent to my
place of business, and my people there telegraphed for me in Provence.
Of course I came at once. One must sacrifice everything to affairs."

Naturally I acquiesced fervently, for the last remark had been thrown
to me for my good.

The Vicomte was looking for his spectacles.

"But, my friend," he said, "it is atrociously written. One cannot
decipher such a scrawl as this."

In his impatience the Baron leant forward, and taking the paper from
my patron, handed it to me.

"Here," he said, "the secretary--read it aloud."

Nothing loth, I read the communication in my loudest voice. The world
holds that a loud voice indicates honesty or a lack of brain, and the
Baron was essentially of that world. The anonymous letter was a
warning that a general rising against the rule of the Emperor was
imminent, and that in view of the probable state of anarchy that would
ensue, wise men should not delay in transferring their wealth to more
stable countries. Precisely--in a word--the information that it had
been decided to withhold from the recipient of the letter.

[Illustration: THE BARON BLEW AND PUFFED LIKE A PRIZE-FIGHTER WHEN I
HAD FINISHED THE PERUSAL. "THERE," HE CRIED; "I RECEIVE A LETTER LIKE
THAT--I, THE BARON GIRAUD--OF THE HIGH FINANCE."]

The Baron blew and puffed like a prize-fighter when I had finished the
perusal.

"There," he cried; "I receive a letter like that--I, the Baron
Giraud--of the high finance."

"My poor friend, calm yourself," urged the Vicomte.

It is easy enough to tell another to calm himself, but who among us
can compass such a frame of mind when he is hit in a vital spot? The
Baron wiped his forehead nervously.

"But," he said, "is it true?"

The Vicomte spread out his hands, and never glanced at me as an
ordinary man would have done towards one who shared his knowledge.

"Who can tell--but yes! So far as human foresight goes--it is true
enough."

"Then what am I to do?"

I stared at the great financier asking such a question. Assuredly he,
of all men, needed no one's counsel in a matter of money.

"Do as I have done," said the Vicomte; "send your money out of the
country."

An odd look came over the Baron's face. He glanced from one of us to
the other--with the cunning, and somewhat the look, of a cat. The
Vicomte was blandly indifferent. As for me, I had, I am told, a hard
face in those days--hardened by weather and a disbelief in human
nature which has since been modified.

"It is a responsibility that you take there," said the financier.

"I take no responsibility. A man of my years, of my retired life,
knows little of such matters." (I thought he looked older as he
spoke.) "I only tell you what I have done with my small possessions."

The Baron shook his head with a sly scepticism. After all, the
cheapest cunning must suffice for money-making, for I dare swear this
man had little else.

"But how?" he said.

"In bank notes, by hand," was the Vicomte's astonishing answer. And
the Baron laughed incredulously. It seems that the highest aim of the
high finance is to catch your neighbour telling the truth by accident.
It would almost be safe to tell the truth always, so rarely is it
recognised.

It was not until the Vicomte produced his bankbook and showed the
amounts paid in and subsequently withdrawn that the Baron Giraud
believed what he had been told. My duties, it may be well to mention
in passing, had no part in the expenditure of the Vicomte de Clericy.
I had only to deal with the income derived from the various estates,
and while being fully aware that large sums had been placed within
the hands of his bankers, I had not troubled to be curious respecting
the ultimate destination of such moneys. My patron possessed, as has
already been intimated, a lively--nay, an exaggerated--sense of the
value of money. He was, indeed, as I remember thinking at this time,
somewhat of a miser, loving money for its own sake, and not, as did
the Baron Giraud, merely for the grandeur and position to be purchased
therewith.

"But I am not like you," said the financier at length.

"No; you have a thousand louis for every one that I possess."

"But I have nothing solid--no lands, no estates except my chateau in
Var."

His panic had by no means subsided, and presently he found himself on
the verge of tears--a pitiable, despicable object. The Vicomte--soothing
and benevolent--went on to explain more fully the position of his own
affairs. He told us that on information received from a sure source he
had months earlier concluded that the Emperor's illness was of a more
serious nature than the general public believed.

"You, my dear friend," he said, "engaged as you have been in the
affairs of the outside world--the Suez Canal, Mexico, the
Colonies--have perhaps omitted to watch matters nearer home. While
looking at a distant mountain one may fall over a little stone--is it
not so?"

He had, he informed us, withdrawn his small interest in such
securities as depended upon the stability of the Government, but that
for men occupying a public position, either by accident of birth
or--and he bowed in his pleasant way towards the Baron--by the force
of their genius, to send their money out of France by the ordinary
financial channels would excite comment, and perhaps hasten the crisis
that all good patriots would fain avoid. He talked thus collectedly
and fairly while the Baron Giraud could but wipe his forehead with a
damp handkerchief and gasp incoherent exclamations of terror.

"I could realize a couple of million," said the financier, "in two
days, but there is much that I cannot sell just now--the fall of the
government makes it necessary to hold much that I could have sold at a
profit a fortnight ago."

The Vicomte was playing with a quill pen. How well I knew the action!
It seemed that the millionaire was recovering from his shock, of which
re-establishment the outward and visible sign was a dawning gleam of
cunning in the eyes.

"But I have no one I can trust," he said; and I almost laughed, so
well the words bespoke the man. "It is different for you," he added;
"you have--Monsieur."

And he glanced keenly at me. Indeed, we were a queer trio; and I began
to think that I was as big a scoundrel as my maiden aunts maintained.

"I would trust Mr. Howard with all my possessions," said the old
Vicomte, looking at me almost affectionately; "but in this matter I
have found another messenger, less valuable to me personally, less
necessary to my comfort and daily happiness, but equally trustworthy."

"And if I gave him twenty million francs to take abroad for me--?"
suggested the great financier.

"Then, my friend, we should be in the same boat--that is all."

"_Your_ boat," said the Baron, with an unpleasant laugh.

Monsieur de Clericy shrugged his shoulders and smiled. This grave
political crisis had rejuvenated him, and he seemed to rise to meet
each emergency with a buoyancy that sat strangely on white hairs.

They talked together upon the fascinating topic, while I, who had no
part in the game, sat and listened. The Baron was very cunning, and,
as it seemed to me, very contemptible. With all the vices that are
mine, I thank heaven that I have never loved money; for that love, it
seems, undermines much that is manly and honest in upright hearts.
Money, it will be remembered, was at the root of the last quarrel I
had with my father--the last fatal breach, which will have to be
patched up in another world. Money has, as it will be seen by such as
care to follow me through these pages, dogged my life from beginning
to end. I have run my thick head against those pursuing it, each in
his different manner, getting lamentably in their way, and making
deadly enemies for myself.

Monsieur de Clericy, in his frank and open way, gave fuller details of
his own intentions. It seemed that his possessions were at that moment
in the house--in a safe hiding-place; that the messenger was to make
several journeys to London, carrying at one time a sum of money which
would be no very pleasant travelling companion. A safe depository
awaited the sums in England, and, in due course, reinvestment would
follow. Money, it will be suspected, was by now beginning to be
somewhat of a red rag for me, and I thought I saw some signs of its
evil influence over my kindly patron. He spoke of it almost as if
there were nothing else on earth worth a man's consideration. In the
heat of argument he lowered his voice, and was no longer his open,
genial self.

What astonished me most, however, was the facility with which the
Baron made a catspaw of him. For the old Vicomte slowly stepped down
as it were from his high standpoint of indifference, and allowed
himself to be interested in the financier's schemes. It was out of
keeping with the attitude which my patron had assumed a few days
earlier at the meeting which we had attended, and I was more than ever
convinced that the Vicomte was too old and too simple to hold his own
in a world of scoundrels.

The Baron led him on from one admission to another, and at last it was
settled that twenty millions of francs were to be brought to the Hôtel
Clericy and placed in the Vicomte's keeping. To my mind the worst part
of the transaction lay in the fact that the financier had succeeded in
saddling my patron with a certain moral responsibility which the old
man was in no way called upon to assume.

"Then," he said, "I may safely leave the matter thus in your hands? I
may sleep to-night?"

"Ah!" replied the other. "Yes--you may sleep, my friend."

"And Monsieur shares the responsibility?" added the upstart, turning
to me.

"Of course--for all I am worth," was my reply, and I did not at the
time think that even the Vicomte, whose faculties were keener in such
matters, saw the sarcasm intended by the words.

"Then I am satisfied," the Baron was kind enough to say; and I thought
that his low origin came suddenly to the fore in the manner in which
he bowed. A low origin is like an hereditary disease--it will bear no
strain.

"By the way," he said, pausing near the door, having risen to go, "you
have not told me the name of your trusted messenger."

And before the Vicomte opened his lips the answer flashed across my
mind.

"Charles Miste," he said.



Chapter X

The Golden Spoon

     "Nous avons tous assez de force pour supporter les maux
     d'autrui."


A few days later I received a letter from Madame de Clericy. "I
write," it ran, "to tell you of the satisfaction that Lucille and I
have found in the improvements you initiated here. I laugh--mon
ami--when I think of all that you did in three days. It seems as if a
strong and energetic wind--such as I imagine your English breezes to
be--had blown across my old home, leaving it healthier, purer, better;
leaving also those within it somewhat breathless and surprised. I
suppose that many Englishmen are like you, and suspect that they will
some day master the world. We have had visitors, among others Alphonse
Giraud, whom I believe you do not yet know. If contrasts are mutually
attractive, then you will like him. I wonder if you know, or suspect,
that he is more or less an acknowledged aspirant to Lucille's hand,
but--"

Madame de Clericy had run her pen through the last word, leaving it,
however, legible. And here she began a new subject, asking me, indeed,
to write and give her news of the Vicomte. I am no indoor man or
subtle analyst of a motive--much less of a woman's motive, if, indeed,
women are so often possessed of such, as some believe--but the
obliterated word and Madame de Clericy's subsequent embarkation on a
new subject made me pause while I deciphered her letter.

It had originally been arranged that the Vicomte should follow the
ladies to La Pauline, leaving me in Paris to attend to my duties, but
the sudden political crisis led to a delay in his departure. In truth,
I gathered from Madame's letter that he must have written to her
saying that the visit was at present impossible. Madame, in fact,
asked me to advise her by return of the state of the Vicomte's health,
and plainly told me that if business matters were worrying him she
would return to Paris without delay.

And if Madame returned she would bring Lucille with her, and thus put
an end to the aspirations of Alphonse Giraud, for the prosecution of
which the seclusion of La Pauline afforded excellent opportunity. I
had but to write a word to bring all this about. Did Madame de Clericy
know all that she placed within my power? Did she know, and yet place
it there purposely? Who can tell? I remembered Lucille's
coldness--her departure without one word of explanation. I recollected
that the twenty million francs at that moment in the Hôtel Clericy
would, in due course, be part of Alphonse Giraud's fortune. I was
mindful, lastly, that in England we are taught to ride straight, and I
sat down and wrote to Madame that her husband was in good health, and
that I quite hoped to see him depart in a few days for La Pauline. I
will not deny that the letter went into the post-box followed by a
curse.

We may, however, write letters and post them. We may--if we be great
men--indite despatches and give them into the hands of trusty
messengers, and a little twirl of Fortune's wheel will send all our
penmanship to the winds.

While I was smoking a pipe and deciphering a long communication
received from the gentleman who further entangled my affairs in
England, a visitor was announced to me.

"Monsieur Alphonse Giraud."

"Why?" I wondered as I rose to receive this gentleman. "Why, Monsieur
Alphonse Giraud?"

He was already in the doorway, and, I made no doubt, had conceived an
ultra-British toilet for the occasion. For outwardly he was more
English than myself. He came forward, holding out his hand, and I
thought of Madame's words. Were we to become friends?

"Monsieur Howard," he said, "I have to apologise. Mon Dieu!--to think
that you have been in Paris three months, and I have never called to
place myself at your disposition! And a friend of Alfred Gayerson, of
that good, stout John Turner--of half a dozen hardy English friends of
mine."

I was about to explain that his oversight had a good excuse in the
fact that my existence must have been unknown to him, but he silenced
me with his two outstretched hands, waving a violent negation.

"No--no!" he said, smiting himself grievously on the chest. "I have no
excuse. You say that I was ignorant of your existence--then it was my
business to find it out. Ignorance is often a crime. An English
gentleman--a sportsman--a fox-hunter! For you chase the fox, I know. I
see it in your brown face. And you belong to the English Jockey
Club--is it not so?"

I admitted that it was so, and Alphonse Giraud's emotion was such that
he could only press my hand in silence.

"Ah, well!" he cried almost immediately, with the utmost gaiety. "We
have begun late, but that is no reason why it should not be a good
friendship--is it?"

And he took the chair I offered with such hearty good-will that my
cold English sympathy was drawn towards him.

"I came but yesterday from the South," he went on. "Indeed, from La
Pauline, where I have been paying a delightful visit. Madame de
Clericy--so kind--and Mademoiselle Lucille--"

He twisted up the unsuccessful side of his mustache, and gave a quick
little sigh. Then he remembered his scarf, and attended to the
horseshoe pin that adorned it.

"You know my father," he said, suddenly, "the--er--Baron Giraud. He
has been more fortunate than myself in making your acquaintance
earlier."

I bowed and said what was necessary.

"A kind man--a dear man," said the Baron's son. "But no sportsman.
Figure to yourself--he fears an open window."

He laughed and shrugged his little shoulders.

"I dare say many Englishmen would not understand him."

"I am not of those," replied I. "I understand him and appreciate his
many able qualities."

From which it will be seen that I can lie as well as any man.

"The poor dear has been called to Paris, on his affairs. Not that I
understand them. I have no head for affairs. Even my tailor cheats
me--but what will you? He can cut a good coat, and one must forgive
him. My father's hotel in the Champs Elysées is uninhabitable at the
moment. The whitewashers!--and they sing so loud and so false, as
whitewashers ever do. The poor man is desolated in an _appartement_ in
the Hôtel Bristol. I am all right. I have my own lodging--a mere
bachelor kennel--where I hope to see you soon and often."

He threw his card on the table, rising to go, and timing his departure
with that tact and grace which is only compassed by Frenchmen or
Spaniards.

Scarcely had I regained my room, after duly admiring Alphonse Giraud's
smart dog-cart, when the servant again appeared. The Baron Giraud had
arrived to see the Vicomte, who happened to be out. The affairs of the
Baron were urgent, and he desired to see me--was, indeed, awaiting me
with impatience in Monsieur de Clericy's study.

Thither I hastened, and found the great financier in that state of
perturbation and perspiration which the political crisis seemed to
have rendered chronic. He was, however, sufficiently himself to
remember that I was a paid dependent.

"How is this?" he cried. "I call to see the Vicomte on important
affairs, and he is out."

"It is," I replied, "that the Vicomte de Clericy is not a man of
affairs, but a gentleman of station and birth--that this is not an
office, but a nobleman's private house."

And I suppose I looked towards the door, for the Baron gasped out
something that might have been an apology, and looked redder in the
face.

"But, my good sir," he whined distractedly, "it is a matter of the
utmost gravity. It is a crisis in the money market. A turn of the
wheel may make me a poor man. Where is the Vicomte? Where are my
twenty million francs?"

"The Vicomte has gone out, as is his custom before déjeûner, and your
twenty millions are, so far as I know, safe in this house. I have not
the keeping of either."

"But you took the responsibility," snapped the Baron.

"For all that I am worth--namely, one hundred and twenty pounds a
year, out of which I have to find my livery."

"Can you go out and find the Vicomte? I will wait here," asked the
Baron, in the utmost distress. It is indeed love that makes the world
go round--love of money.

"I know where he is usually to be found," was my reply, "and can go
and seek him. I will return here in half an hour if I fail to find
him."

"Yes--yes; go, my good sir--go! And God be with you!" With which
inappropriate benediction he almost pushed me out of the room.

On making inquiries of the servants, I found my task more difficult
than I had anticipated. Monsieur de Clericy had not taken the
carriage, as was his habit. He had gone out on foot, carrying, as the
butler told me, a bundle of papers in his hand.

"They had the air of business papers of value--so closely he held
them," added the man.

He had taken the direction of the Boulevard, with the intention, it
appeared, of calling a cab. I hurried, however, to the Vicomte's
favourite club, and learned that he had not been seen there. His
habits being more or less known to me, I prosecuted my search in such
quarters as seemed likely, but without success.

At the Cercle de l'Union I ran against John Turner, who was reading
the _Times_ there.

"Ah!" he said, "young Howard. Come to lunch, I suppose. You look
hungry--gad, what a twist you had that day! Just in time. I can tell
you what is worth eating."

"Thanks; you know such advice is wasted on a country boor like myself.
No; I came seeking the Vicomte de Clericy. Have you seen him?"

"Ah! you are still with old Clericy; thought you were up to some
mischief--so d--d quiet. Then Mademoiselle is kind?"

"Mademoiselle is away," I answered. "Do you know anything of the Baron
Giraud?"

"Do I know anything of the devil," growled John Turner, returning to
the perusal of his newspaper. "Are he and old Clericy putting their
heads together? I would not trust Giraud with ten sous so far as the
club door."

"Exactly!"

"Then he and old Clericy _are_ at it--are they?" said John Turner,
looking at me over the _Times_ with his twinkling eyes. "And you,
Monsieur, _le secrétaire_, are anxious about your patron. Ha, ha! You
have a lot to learn yet, Master Dick."

I looked impatiently at the clock. Twenty minutes had already been
wasted in my fruitless search.

"Then you haven't seen de Clericy?"

"No--my good boy--I haven't. And if you cannot find him you may be
sure that it is because he does not want to be found."

The words followed me as I left the room. It seemed that John Turner
believed in no man.

There was nothing for it but to return to the Rue des Palmiers, and
tell the Baron that I had failed to find my patron. The cab I had
hired was awaiting me, and in a few minutes I was rattling across the
bridge of the Holy Fathers.

"Monsieur le Vicomte returned a few minutes ago," the butler told me.
"He has gone to the study, and is now with the Baron Giraud. The
Vicomte asked that you should go to him at once."

The atmosphere of the old house seemed gloomy and full of foreboding
as I ran up the stairs. The servant stood at the open door and watched
me. In that unknown world behind the green baize door more is known
than we suspect, and there is often no surprise there when we who live
above stairs are dumbfounded.

In my haste I forgot to knock at Monsieur de Clericy's door before
opening it--indeed, I think it was ajar.

"My good friend," I heard as I entered the room, "collect yourself. Be
calm. We are together in a great misfortune--the money has been
stolen!"

The voice was that of my patron. I went in and closed the door behind
me. For it seemed, to my fancy, that there were other doors ajar upon
the landing, and listeners on the stairs.

The two old men were facing each other, the one purple in the visage,
with starting eyes, the other white and quiet.

"Stolen?" echoed the Baron in a thick voice, and with a wild look
round the room. "Then I am ruined!"

The old Vicomte spread out his trembling hands in despair, a gesture
that seemed to indicate a crumbling away of the world beneath us.

The Baron Giraud turned and looked at me. He did not recognise me for
quite ten seconds.

[Illustration: "IT IS DEATH," I ANSWERED, WITH MY HAND INSIDE THE
BARON'S SHIRT. "WHO STOLE THAT MONEY?" THE VICOMTE LOOKED AT ME.
"CHARLES MISTE," HE SAID.]

"Then it is not you," he said, thickly. "As you are there. You did not
steal it."

"No--I did not steal it," I answered quietly, for there was a look in
his face that I did not understand, while it frightened me. Suddenly
his eyes shot red--his face was almost black. He fell forward into my
arms, and I tore his collar off as I laid him to the ground.

"Ah, mon Dieu, mon Dieu!" the Vicomte was crying as he ran hither and
thither, wringing his hands, while I attended, unskillfully enough, to
the stricken man. "Ah, mon Dieu! what is this?"

"It is death," I answered, with my hand inside the Baron's shirt. "Who
stole that money?"

The Vicomte looked at me.

"Charles Miste," he said.



Chapter XI

Theft

     "La fortune ne laisse rien perdre pour les hommes heureux."


I thus returned Alphonse Giraud's visit sooner than either of us
anticipated, for I had to go and tell him what had happened in the Rue
des Palmiers. I delivered my news in as few words as possible, and
cannot tell how he took the evil tidings, for when I had spoken I
walked to the window, and there stood looking down into the street.

"Have you told me all?" asked Giraud at length, wondering, perhaps,
that I lingered.

"No."

I turned and faced him, the little French dandy, in his stiff collar
and patent-leather boots--no bigger than a girl's. The politeness of
our previous intercourse seemed to have fallen away from us.

"No--I have not told you all. It seems likely that you, like myself,
have been left a poor man."

"Then we have one reason more for being good friends," said Giraud, in
his quick French way.

He rose and looked round the room.

"All the same, I have had a famous time," he said. "Come, let us go to
my father."

We found the Hôtel Clericy in that state of hushed expectation which
follows the dread visit in palace and hut alike. The servants seemed
to have withdrawn to their own quarters to discuss the event in
whispers there. We found the Vicomte in my study, still much agitated
and broken. He was sitting in my chair, the tears yet wet upon his
wrinkled cheek. There was a quick look of alertness in his eyes, as if
the scythe had hissed close by in reaping the mature grain.

"Ah! my poor boy--my poor boy," he cried when he saw Alphonse, and
they embraced after the manner of their race.

"And it is all my fault," continued the broken old man, wringing his
hands and sinking into his chair again.

"No!" cried Alphonse, with characteristic energy. "We surely cannot
say that, without questioning--well--a wiser judgment than ours."

He paused, and perhaps remembered dimly some of the teaching of a
good, simple bourgeoise who had died before her husband fingered gold.
I sought to quiet the Vicomte also. Old men, like old clothes, need
gentle handling. I sat down at my table and began to write.

"What are you doing?" asked the Vicomte, sharply.

"I am telegraphing to Madame de Clericy to return home."

There was a silence in the room while I wrote out the message and
despatched it by a servant. The Vicomte made no attempt to stop me.

"Here," he said, when the door was closed--and he handed Giraud the
key of his own study. "The doctors and--the others--have placed him in
my room--that is the key. You must consider this house as your own
until the funeral is over; your poor father's house, I know, is in
disorder."

Monsieur de Clericy would have it that the Baron should be buried from
the Rue des Palmiers, which Alphonse Giraud recognised as in some sort
an honour, for it proclaimed to the world the esteem in which the
upstart nobleman was held in high quarters.

"I am glad," said my patron, with that air of fatherliness which he
wore towards me from the first, "that you have telegraphed for my
wife--the house is different when she is in it. When can she be here?"

"It is just possible that she may be with us to-morrow at this
time--by driving rapidly to Toulon."

"With promptitude," muttered the Vicomte, musingly.

"Yes--such as one may expect from Madame."

The Vicomte looked up at me with a smile.

"Ah!--you have discovered that. One is never safe with you men who
know horses. You find out so much from observation."

But I think it is no great thing to have discovered that one may
usually look for prompt action in men and women of a quiet tongue.

Lucille's name was not mentioned between us. My own desires and
feelings had been pushed into the background by the events of the last
few days, and he is but half a man who cannot submit cheerfully to
such treatment at the hand of Fate from time to time.

During the day we learnt further details respecting the theft of the
money, amounting in all to rather more than eight hundred thousand
pounds of our coinage. Miste, it appeared, had been instructed to
leave Paris by the eight o'clock train that morning for London, taking
with him a large sum. The Vicomte had handed him the money the
previous evening.

"I carelessly replaced the remainder in the drawer of my
writing-table," my patron told us, "before the eyes of that scoundrel.
I went to the drawer this morning, having been uneasy about so large a
sum--it was arranged that I should see Miste off from the Gare du
Nord. Figure to yourselves! The drawer was empty. I hastened to the
railway station. Miste was, of course, not there."

And he rocked himself backwards and forwards in the chair. What
trouble men take for money--what trouble it brings them! So distressed
was he that it would perhaps have been wiser to change the current of
his thoughts, but there was surely work here for an idle man like
myself to do.

"How was the money to be conveyed?" I asked.

"In cheques of ten thousand pounds each, drawn by John Turner on
various European and American bankers in favour of myself."

"And you had indorsed these cheques?"

"No."

"Then how can Miste realise them?" I asked.

"By forgery--my friend," replied the Vicomte sadly. Which was true
enough. I thought of Monsieur Miste's graceful figure--of his slim
neck, and longed to get my fingers around it. I had only seen his
back, after all--and had a singular desire to know the look of his
face. I am no great reader, but have met some words which go well with
the thoughts I harboured at this time of Monsieur Charles Miste, for I
could

    "Read rascal in the motions of his back,
    And scoundrel in the subtle sliding knee."

Seeing that I had risen, the Vicomte asked me where I was going, in a
tone of anxiety which I had noted in his voice of late, and, in my
vanity, attributed to the fact that he was in some degree dependent
upon myself.

"I am going to see John Turner, and then I am going to seek Charles
Miste until I find him."

Before I knew what had happened, Alphonse Giraud was shaking my hand,
and would have embraced me had he not remembered in time his English
clothes, and the reserve of manner usually observed inside such
habiliments.

"Ah! my friend," he said, desperately, "the world is large."

"Yes; but not roomy enough for Monsieur Charles Miste and your humble
servant."

I spent the remainder of the day with John Turner, who was cynical
enough about the matter, but gave me, nevertheless, much valuable
information.

"You may be sure," he said, "that I did not sign the cheques until
Clericy and the Baron had handed over the equivalent in notes and
gold. One man's scare is another man's profit."

And my stout friend chuckled. He heard my plans and laughed at them.

"Very honourable and fine, but out of date," he said. "You will not
catch him, but you will, no doubt, enjoy the chase immensely, and in
the mean time you will leave a clear field for Alphonse Giraud _auprès
de_ Mademoiselle."

I instituted inquiries the same evening, and determined to await the
result before setting off to seek Miste in person. Nor will I deny
that this decision was brought about, in part, by the reflection that
Madame de Clericy and Lucille might arrive the following morning.

At the Lyons station the next morning I had the satisfaction of seeing
the two ladies step from the Marseilles express. Lucille would
scarcely look at me. During the drive to the Rue des Palmiers I
acquainted Madame with the state of affairs, and she listened to my
recital with a grave attention and a quiet occasional glance into my
face which would have made it difficult to tell aught but the truth.

When we reached home Alphonse Giraud had gone out; the Vicomte was
still in his room. He had slept little and was much disturbed, the
valet told us. As we mounted the stairs, I saw the two ladies glance
instinctively towards the closed door of the Vicomte's study. We are
all curious respecting death and vice. Madame went straight to her
husband's apartment. At the head of the stairs the door of the
morning-room stood open. It was the family rendezvous, where we
usually found the ladies at the luncheon hour.

Lucille went in there, leaving the door open behind her. I have always
rushed at my fences, and have had the falls I merited. I followed
Lucille into the sunlit room. She must have heard my footsteps, but
took no notice--walking to the window, and standing there, rested her
two hands on the sill while she looked down into the garden.

"Mademoiselle!"

She half turned her head with a little haughty toss of it, looking not
at me, but at the ground beneath my feet.

"Well, Monsieur?"

"In what have I offended you?"

She shrugged her shoulders, and I, looking at her as she stood with
her back to me, knew again and always that the world contained but
this one woman for me.

"Since I told you of my feeling towards yourself," I went on, "and was
laughed at for my pains, I have been careful not to take advantage of
my position in the house. I have not been so indiscreet again."

She was playing with the blind-cord in an attitude and humour so
youthful that I had a sort of tugging at the heart.

"Perhaps, though," I continued, "I have offended in my very
discretion. I should have told you again--that I love you--that you
might again enjoy the joke."

She stamped her foot impatiently.

"Of course," she said, "you are cleverer than I--you can be sarcastic,
and say things I do not know how to answer."

"You can at least answer my question--Mademoiselle."

She turned and faced me with angry eyes.

"Well--then. I do not like the ways of English gentlemen."

"Ah!"

"You told me that you were not poor, but rich--that you had not become
my father's secretary because such a situation was necessary, but--but
for quite another reason."

"Yes."

"And I learn immediately afterwards from Mr. Gayerson that you are
penniless, and must work for your living."

"Merely because Alfred Gayerson knew more than I did," I replied. "I
did not know that my father in the heat of a passing quarrel had made
such a will--or, indeed, could make it if he so desired. I was not
aware of this when I spoke to you--and, knowing it now, I must ask you
to consider my words unsaid. You may be sure that I shall not refer
to them again, even with the hope of making you merry."

She laughed suddenly.

"Oh," she said, "I find plenty to amuse me--thank you. You need not
give yourself the trouble. _D'ailleurs_," she paused and looked at me
with a quick and passing gravity, "that has never been your rôle,
Monsieur l'Anglais--you are not fitted for it."

She pulled a long face--such as mine, no doubt, appeared in her
eyes--and left me.

I had business that took me across the Seine during the morning, and
lunched at a club--so did not again see the ladies until later in the
day. The desire of speech with Alphonse Giraud on a matter connected
with his father's burial took me back to the Rue des Palmiers in the
afternoon, when I learnt from the servant that the Baron's son had
returned, and was, so far as he knew, still in the house. I went to
the drawing-room and there found Madame alone.

"I am seeking Monsieur Alphonse Giraud," I said.

"Whose good genius you are."

"Not that I am aware of, Madame."

"No," she said, slowly, "that is just it. In a crowded street the
strongest house does not know how many weaker buildings are leaning
against it. Alphonse Giraud is not a strong house. He will lean
against you if you permit it. So be warned."

"By my carelessness," I answered, "I have done Alphonse Giraud a great
injury--I have practically ruined him. Surely the least I can do is to
attempt to recover for him that which he has lost."

Madame de Clericy was of course engaged in needlework. I never saw her
fingers idle. It appeared that at this moment she had a difficult
stitch to execute.

"One never knows," she said, without looking up, "what is the least or
the most that men can do. We women look at things in a different
light, and therefore cannot say what is right or what is wrong; it is
better that men should judge for themselves."

"Yes," I said.

"Of course," said Madame de Clericy quietly, "if you recover
Alphonse's fortune you will earn his gratitude, for without it the
Vicomte would never recognise his pretensions to Lucille's hand."

"Of course," I answered; and Madame's clever eyes were lifted to my
face for a moment.

"You think it the least you can do?"

"I do," said I. "Can you tell me if Alphonse Giraud is in this
house?"

[Illustration: MADAME LOOKED AT ME AGAIN. AND I MADE MY INQUIRIES
ELSEWHERE.]

"No; I cannot."

"Perhaps Mademoiselle Lucille--"

"Perhaps. You can ask her--if you like."

Madame looked at me again. And I made my inquiries elsewhere.



Chapter XII

Ruin

     "Il ne faut regarder dans ses amis que la seule vertu qui
     nous attache à eux."


If the Baron Giraud was unable in the nature of human affairs to take
his wealth with him, it accompanied him, at all events, to the grave,
where feathers made a fine show of grief, where priests growled
consolatory words, and cherub-faced boys swung themselves and censers
nonchalantly along. Some who owed their wealth to Giraud sent their
empty carriages to mourn his decease; others, with a singular sense of
fitness, despatched wreaths of tin flowers to be laid upon his grave.

The Vicomte had been early astir that morning; indeed, I heard him
moving before daylight in the room where the coffin was. I was glad
when that same morning dawned, for my kind old patron seemed unhinged
by these events, and could not keep away from the apartment where the
Baron lay.

There was, of course, no keeping him from the funeral, which ceremony
I also attended, and if ever earth was laid to earth it was when we
consigned the great financier to his last resting-place. Alphonse
Giraud, in his absurd French way, embraced me when the last carriage
drove away from the gates of Père la Chaise.

"And now, mon ami," he said, with a sigh of relief, "let us go and
lunch at the club."

He meant no disrespect towards his departed sire. It was merely that
his elastic nature could not always be at a tension. His quick bright
face was made for smiles, and naturally relaxed to that happy state.
He clapped me on the back.

"You are my best friend," he cried.

And I had, indeed, arranged the funeral for him. Those who had
honoured the ceremony with their presence showed much sympathy for
Alphonse. They pressed his hand; some of them embraced him. A
few--elderly men with daughters--told him that they felt like fathers
towards him. All this Alphonse received with a bland innocence which
his Parisian education had no doubt taught him.

When they were gone, rattling away in their new carriages, he looked
after them with a laugh.

"And now," he said, "for ruin. I wonder what it will be like--new at
all events. And we all live for novelty nowadays. There is the price
of a luncheon at the club, however. Come, my friend, let us go
there."

"One change you must, at all events, be prepared for," I said, as we
stepped into his carriage. "A change of friends."

Alphonse understood and laughed. Cynicism is an arid growth, found to
perfection on the pavement, and this little Frenchman wore his boots
out thereon.

During luncheon my host recovered his spirits; although, to do him
justice, he was melancholy enough when he remembered his recent loss.
Once or twice he threw down his knife and fork, and for quite three
minutes all food and drink were nauseous to him.

"Ah!" he cried, "that poor old man. It tears the heart to think of
him."

He sat for a few moments with his chin in the palm of his hand, and
then slowly took up again the things of this life, wielding them
heartily enough.

"I wonder," he went on in a reflective voice, "if I did my duty
towards him. It was not difficult, only to make a splash and spend
money, and I did that--beautifully!"

"Coffee and chartreuse," he said to the waiter, when we had finished.
"And leave the bottle on the table. You know," he added, addressing
me, his face beaming with conscious pride, his hand laid impressively
on my arm--"you know this club drinks chartreuse in claret glasses.
It is our great distinguishing feature."

While religiously observing this law we fell to discussing the future.

"One cannot," observed my companion, philosophically, "bring on the
thunder-storm, however heavy the air may be. One can only gasp and
wait. I suppose the crash will come soon enough. But tell me how I
stand; I have not had time to think the last few days."

He had, indeed, thought only of others.

"We have," answered I, "done all that is possible to stop the payment
of these cheques; but a clever villain might succeed in realising them
one by one in different parts of the world, and thus outwit us."

"I wonder how it is," said my companion, afloat on a side issue like
any woman, "that a fool like myself--an incompetent ass with no
brains, eh?--always finds such a friend as you."

He leant forward and tapped me on the chest in his impulsive way, as
if sounding that part of me.

"A solid man," he added, apparently satisfied with the investigation.

"I do not know," answered I, truthfully enough; "unless it be that
solid men are fools enough to place themselves in such a position."

"How have you placed yourself in such a position? When you have
finished that cup of coffee--you have no sugar, by the way--you have
but to take your hat and--'_Bon jour._' You leave me still in your
debt."

With a few quick gestures he illustrated his argument, so that I saw
myself--somewhat stiff and British, with my hat upon my head--quit the
room, having wished him good day, and leaving him overwhelmed in my
debt in a chair.

"I told your father that I would share the responsibility as regarded
the safety of his money," I replied. "It was said only half in
earnest, but he took it seriously."

"Ah! the poor, dear man! He always took money matters seriously," put
in Alphonse.

"I am, at all events, going to try to recover your wealth for you.
Besides, I have a singular desire to twist the neck of Monsieur
Charles Miste. I ought to have known that the Vicomte was too old to
be trusted with the arrangement of affairs such as that. Your father
knew it, but thought that I was taking an active part in the matter. I
was a fool."

"Ah!" said Alphonse Giraud. "We are all fools, _mon cher_, or knaves."

And long afterwards, remembering the words, I recognised that truth
often bubbles to the lips of irresponsible people.

I told him of my plans, which were simple enough, for I had called in
the aid of men whose profession it was to deal with scoundrels. It is
only until we know vice that we think it complicated or interesting.
There is really no man so simple as your thorough scoundrel. A picture
all shade is less difficult to comprehend than one where light and
shade are mingled. I had only asked to be put on the track of Charles
Miste, for evil men, like water, run in one channel and one direction
only. I wished to deal with him myself, law or no law. Indeed, there
had been a sufficiency of law and lawyers in my affairs already.

"And I will help you," exclaimed Alphonse Giraud, when he had heard,
not without interruption, my proposed plan of campaign. "I will go
with you."

"No; you cannot do that. You may be sure that Miste has accomplices
who will, of course, watch you, and warn him the moment they suspect
you of being on the right scent. Whereas I am nobody. Miste does not
even know me. I wish I knew him."

And I remembered with regret how ignorant I was.

"Besides," I added, "you surely have other calls. The Vicomte requires
some one near him--the ladies will be glad of your advice and
assistance."

He was scarcely the man to whom I should have applied for either, but
one can never tell with women. Some of them look up to us when we know
in our hearts that we are no better than asses.

We talked of details which may well be omitted here, for the majority
of them were based upon assumptions subsequently to be proved
erroneous. It seemed that Alphonse Giraud had almost given up hope of
recovering his lost wealth, and as I raised this anew in his breast so
his face grew graver. A great hope makes a grave face.

"You must not," he said, "make me believe that, unless you have a good
foundation for your own faith."

"Oh, no!" I answered, and instinctively changed the subject. His
gravity disturbed me.

But he returned to his thought again and again.

"It is not the money," he said at length, when I, who knew what was
coming, could no longer hold him. "It is--" he paused, his face
suddenly red as he looked hard into his coffee-cup. "It is Lucille."

I made no answer, and it was Alphonse who spoke again, after a pause.

"What a hard face you have, mon ami!" he said. "I never noticed it
before. I pity that poor Miste, you know--if you catch him."

The same evening I spoke to my old patron, whom I found in the
morning-room, where he sat alone and in meditation. The doors of his
own study were still locked, and no one was allowed to enter there.
His manner was so feverish and unnatural that I almost abandoned my
project of leaving the Rue des Palmiers.

"Ah!" he said, "what a terrible day--and that poor Alphonse! How did
you leave him?"

I thought of Alphonse as I had left him, smiling under his mourning
hat-band, waving a black glove gaily to me in farewell.

"Oh," I answered, "Alphonse will soon be himself again."

"Ah, my friend," exclaimed the Vicomte, after a sorrowful pause. "The
surprises of life are all unpleasant. Pfuit!" he spread out his hands
suddenly as if indicating a quick flight, "and I lose a friend and
four hundred thousand francs in the twinkling of an eye. To think that
a mere shock can kill a man as it killed the poor Baron."

"He had no neck, and systematically ate too much," I said. "I am now
going to see if we cannot repair some of the harm that has been done."

"How?" asked the old man, with all the suspicion that had recently
come into his character.

"I am going to look for Miste."

He shook his head.

"Very quixotic, but quite useless," said he; and then set himself to
dissuade me from my quest with every argument that he could bring to
bear upon me. Some of these, indeed, I thought he might well have
omitted.

"We cannot spare you at this time, when the political world is so
disturbed, and internal affairs are on the brink of catastrophe. We
cannot spare you, I, the Vicomtesse--Lucille. It was only last night
that she was rejoicing at your presence with us in our time of
trouble. I shall tell her that you wish to leave us, and she will, I
am sure, dissuade you."

Which threat he carried out, as will be recorded later. I was,
however, fixed in my determination, and only gave way in so far as to
promise to return as soon as possible. These details are recorded thus
at length, as they are all links of a chain which pieced itself
together later in my life. Such links there are in the story of every
human existence, and no incident seems to stand quite alone.

After dinner that evening I went to my own study, leaving the Vicomte
to join the ladies in the drawing-room without me. So far as I was
able I had arranged during the last few days the affairs which had
been confidingly placed in my care, and desired to leave books and
papers in such a condition that a successor could at once take up the
thread of management.

The Vicomte was so disturbed at the mention of my departure that the
topic had been carefully avoided during dinner, though I make no doubt
that he knew my purpose in refusing to go to the drawing-room.

I was at work in my room--between the two tall candles--when the
rustle of a woman's dress in the open doorway made me look up. Lucille
had come into the room--her eyes bright, her cheeks flushed. And I
knew, or thought I knew, her thoughts.

"My father tells me that you are going to leave us," she said in her
impetuous way.

"Yes, Mademoiselle."

"I have come to ask you not to do so. You may--think what you like."

I did not look at her, but guessed the expression of her determined
lips.

"And you are too proud," I said, "to explain. You think that I, like a
schoolboy, am going off in a fit of wounded vanity--pleased to cause a
little inconvenience, and thus prove my own importance. You think that
it is yourself who sends me away, and your father cannot afford to
lose my services at this time. You consider it your duty to suppress
your own feelings, and tread under foot your own pride--to serve the
Vicomte. Your pride further prompts you to give me permission to
think what I like of you. Thank you, Mademoiselle."

I was making pretence, in a shallow way no doubt, to study the papers
on the table, and Lucille standing before my desk was looking down at
my bent head, noting perhaps the grey hairs there. Thus we remained
for a minute in silence.

Then turning, she slowly left the room, and I would have given five
years of my life to see the expression of her face.



Chapter XIII

The Shadow Again

     "Qui ne craint pas la mort craint donc la vie."


As I sat in my study, the sounds of the house gradually ceased, and
the quiet of night settled down between its ancient walls. It seemed
to me at times that the Vicomte was moving in his own room. I knew,
however, that the passage between us was locked on both sides. My old
patron had said nothing to me on the subject, but I had found the door
bolted and the key removed. I never was the man to intrude upon
another's privacy, and respected the Vicomte's somewhat
incomprehensible humour at this time.

I scarcely knew at what hour I at last went to bed; but the oil in my
lamp was nearly exhausted and the candles had burnt low. Taking up one
of these, I went to my bedroom, pausing at the head of the black
staircase to listen as one instinctively does in a great silence. The
household was asleep. A faint patter broke the stillness; Lucille's
dog--a small white shadow in the gloom--came towards me from her
bedroom, outside of which he slept. He looked up at me with a
restrained jerk of the tail, for we were always friends, and his
expression said:

"Anything wrong?"

He glanced back over his shoulder to Lucille's door, as if to intimate
that his own charge was, at all events, safe; then he passed me, and
pressed his inquiring nose to the threshold of the Vicomte's study
door. He was a singular little dog, with a deep sense of
responsibility, which he only laid aside in Lucille's presence. In
which he resembled his betters. Men are usually at ease of mind in the
presence of one woman only. At night I often heard him blowing the
dust from his nostrils at the threshold of my door, whither he came to
satisfy himself that I was in my room and all well in the house before
he sought his own mat.

When I went softly to my bedroom he was still sniffing at the study
door.

I must have slept a couple of hours only when my door handle was
quietly turned, and, being a light sleeper, I became aware of a
presence in the room before a touch was laid upon my shoulder. It was
Madame de Clericy.

"Where is my husband?" she asked, and added: "I thought he was sitting
up with you."

"No; I have been alone all the evening," answered I, with a quick
feeling of uneasiness.

"I do not think that he is in the house at all," said Madame, moving
towards the door. "Will you get up and dress? You will find me in the
morning-room."

Lighting my candle, this woman of few words left me. The dawn was
creeping up over the opposite roof and through the open window; the
freshness of the March air made me shiver as I hurried into my
clothes. In the morning-room I found Madame de Clericy.

"Mother," Lucille had once said to me, "always rises to the occasion,
but the process is not visible."

"Come quietly," said Madame, speaking, as indeed was her habit in
regard to myself, with a certain kindness and sympathy--"come quietly;
for Lucille is asleep. I have been to see."

She took it for granted that she and I should consider Lucille before
all else, and the assumption gave me pleasure. Although she said
"Come," she stood aside and allowed me to lead the way. We naturally
went first to the study. The door was locked. At the entrance from my
own room we were again met by bars.

"Can you break it open?" asked Madame.

"Not without noise. Let us make sure that he is not elsewhere in the
house first."

Together we went up and down the old dwelling, and I traversed many
corridors and chambers for the first time. We found nothing. It was
beginning to get light when we returned to my study.

"Shall I break open the door?" I asked, when I had unbarred the
shutters.

"Yes," answered Madame.

The door was a solid one of walnut, and not to be broken open by mere
pressure. While I was moving some of the chairs in order to give
myself a run, Lucille came into the room. She had hurried on a
dressing-gown and her hair was all down her back, but she was much too
simple-minded to think that such things mattered at such a moment.

"What is it?" she cried. "What _are_ you doing?"

Madame explained, and the two stood hand in hand while I made ready to
burst in upon the mystery that lay behind that closed door.

I took a run, and brought my shoulder to bear just above the lock,
wrenching the four screws out of the wood by the force of the blow. I
staggered into the dark passage beyond, with a sore shoulder and my
heart in my mouth. Madame and Lucille followed. I tried the handle of
the door leading from the passage to the Vicomte's study. The key had
not been turned.

"I will go in alone," I said, laying a hand on Madame's arm, who gave
me a candle and made no attempt to follow me.

[Illustration: MADAME EXPLAINED, AND THE TWO STOOD HAND IN HAND WHILE
I MADE READY TO BURST IN UPON THE MYSTERY THAT LAY BEHIND THAT CLOSED
DOOR.]

After all, the precaution was unnecessary, for the room was empty.

"You may come," I said; and the ladies stood in the dimly lighted
chamber. None of us had entered there since the Baron Giraud had come
to occupy it in his coffin. The dust was thick on the writing-table.
Some flowers, broken from the complimentary wreaths, lay on the floor.
The air was heavy. I kicked the withered lilies towards the fireplace,
and looked carefully round the room. The furniture was all in order.
Madame went to the window and threw it open. A river steamer, moving
cautiously in the dawning light, cast its booming note over the
housetops towards us. The frog in the fountain--a family friend--was
croaking comfortably in the courtyard below us.

"Lucille, my child," said Madame, quietly, "go back to bed. Your
father is not in the house. It will explain itself to-morrow."

But the face that Madame turned towards me, when her daughter had
reluctantly left us, was not one that looked for a pleasant solution
to the mystery. It is said that wherever a man may be cast he makes a
little world around him. But it seemed rather that for me a world of
hope and fear and interest and suspense was forming itself, despite
me, encompassing me about so that I could not escape it.

"I will go out," I said to Madame, and left her abruptly. I had no
plan or intention--for where could I seek the Vicomte at that
hour--but a great desire came over me to get away from this gloomy
house, where trouble seemed to move and live.

The streets were empty. I walked slowly to the _quai_, and then,
turning to the left, approached the palace of the D'Orsays, which
stood then, though to-day, in a fine irony, the broken walls alone
remain, amid the new glory of republican Paris. I knew I was going in
the wrong direction, and at length, with a queer feeling of shame,
turned and crossed to the Isle St. Louis.

Of course, the Vicomte had not done away with himself! The idea was
absurd. Aged men do not lay violent hands upon themselves. It was
different for Pawle, a friend of mine, who had shot himself as he
descended the club stairs, a ruined man. Nevertheless, I walked
instinctively towards the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and past that
building to the little square house--like a roadside railway
station--where Paris keeps her nameless dead.

Half guiltily I went in at one door and out by the other. Two men lay
on the slates--the lowest of the low--and even the sanctifying hand of
death could not allay the conviction that the world must necessarily
be the richer for their removal from it. I came away and walked
towards the river again. Standing on one of the bridges, I never knew
which, I looked down at the slow green water. As I stood a municipal
guard passed me with a suspicious glance. The clocks of the city
struck six in a solemn jangle of tones. The boats were moving on the
river--the great unwieldy barges as big as a ship. The streets were
now astir. Paris seemed huge and as populous as an ant-hill. I felt
the hopelessness of seeking unaided one who purposely hid himself in
its streets.

I went back to the Morgue and made some inquiries of the attendant
there. Nay, I did more--for why should a man be coward enough to shut
his eyes to patent fact?--I gave my name and address to the courteous
official and asked him to send for me should any news come his way. It
was plain enough that the Vicomte de Clericy had of late been in such
a state of mind that the worst fears must needs be kept in view.

I went back to the Faubourg St. Germain and crept quietly into the
house of my patron by the side door, of which he himself had given me
the key. Despite my noiseless tread, Madame was waiting for me at the
head of the stairs.

"Nothing?" she asked.

"Nothing," replied I, and avoided her persistent eyes. To share an
unspoken fear is akin to the knowledge of a common crime.

At nine o'clock I sought John Turner in his apartment in the Avenue
D'Antan, almost within a stone's throw of the British Embassy. There
are some to whom one naturally turns in time of trouble and
perplexity, while the existence of others who are equally important in
their own estimation is at such moments forgotten. Our fellows seem to
move around us in a circle--some step out of the rank and touch us as
they pass--one, if it please God, comes out and stands beside us. John
Turner had, I suppose, touched me in passing. He was at breakfast when
I was shown into his presence.

"You are looking fresh and well," he said, in his abrupt way, "so I
suppose you are engaged in some mischief."

"Not exactly. But what I began in play is continuing in earnest."

"Yes," he said, looking at me with his easy smile while he dropped a
piece of sugar into his coffee-cup. "Yes; young men are fond of
walking into streams without ascertaining the depth on the farther
side."

"I suppose you were young yourself once?" retorted I, bringing forward
a chair.

"Yes--but I was always fat. Women always laughed at me behind my back.
And, with a woman half the fun is to let you know her intention as
she passes. I returned the compliment in my sleeve."

"I do not see what women have to do in this matter," said I.

"No--but I do. How is Mademoiselle this morning? Sit down; have a cup
of coffee, and tell me all about her."

I sat down, and related to him the events of the past night. Turner's
face was grave enough when I had finished, and I saw him note with
some surprise that he had allowed his coffee to get cold.

"I don't like the sound of it," he said. "One never knows with a
Frenchman--he is never too old to talk of his mother, or make an ass
of himself."

The English banker was of the greatest assistance to me during that
most anxious day. But we found no clew, nor discovered any reason for
the Vicomte's disappearance. I went back in the evening to the Hôtel
Clericy, and there found Madame de Clericy and Lucille awaiting me,
with that calmness which is admirable when there is nothing else but
waiting to be done.

It was at eight o'clock in the evening that the explanation came, from
a source as natural as it was unexpected. A letter was delivered by
the postman for Madame de Clericy, who at once recognized her
husband's unsteady handwriting. She crossed the room, and stood
beside me while she opened the envelope. Lucille, seeing the action,
frowned, as I thought. I was still under displeasure--still learning
that the better sort of woman will not forgive deception so long as
she herself is its motive, as cheap cynics would have us believe.

Madame read the letter with that self-repression which was habitual to
her, and made me ever wonder what her youth had been. Lucille and I
watched her in silence.

"There," she said, and gave me the letter to pass to Lucille, who
received it from my hand without taking her eyes from her mother's
face. Then I quitted the room, leaving the two women alone. Madame
followed me presently to the study, and there gave me the Vicomte's
last letter to read. It was short and breathed of affection.

"Do not seek for me," it ran. "I cannot bear my great misfortunes, and
the world will, perhaps, be less cruel to two women who have no
protector."

Madame handed me the envelope, which bore the Passy postmark, and I
read her thoughts easily enough.

I saw John Turner again that evening, also Alphonse Giraud, who had
called at the Hôtel Clericy during the day. With these gentlemen I set
off the next morning for Passy, taking passage in one of those little
river steamers which we had all seen a thousand times, without
thinking of a nearer acquaintance.

"This is gay," cried Alphonse, on whom the sunshine had always an
enlivening effect, as we sped along. "This is what you call
sport--_n'est ce pas_? For you are a maritime race, is it not so,
Howard?"

"Yes," answered I, "we are a maritime race."

"And figure to yourself this is the first time that I am afloat on
anything larger than a ferry-boat."

During our short trip Alphonse fully decided that if his fortune
should be recovered he would buy a yacht.

"Do you think you can recover it?" he asked quite wistfully, his mind
full of this new scheme, and oblivious to the mournful object of our
journey.

At Passy we were received with shrugging shoulders and outspread
hands.

No, such an old gentleman had not been seen--but the river was large
and deep. If one wanted--mon Dieu!--one could do such a thing easily
enough. To drag the river--yes--but that cost money. Ten francs a day
for each man. It was hard work out there in the stream. And if one
found something--name of a dog--it turned on the stomach.

We arranged that two men should drag the river, and, after a weary
day, went back to Paris no wiser than we came.

In this suspense a week passed, while I, unwilling to touch my
patron's papers until we had certain news of his death, could render
little assistance to Madame de Clericy and Lucille. That the latter
resented anything in the nature of advice or suggestion was soon made
clear enough to me. Nay! she left no doubt of her distrust, and showed
this feeling whenever we exchanged words.

"It is a small thing upon which to condemn a man, Mademoiselle," I
said to her one morning when chance left us together. "I told you what
I thought to be the truth. Fate ruled that I was after all a poor
man--but I have not been proved a liar."

"I do not understand you," she answered, with hard eyes. "You are such
a strange mixture of good and bad."

An hour afterwards I received a telegram advising me that the body of
the Vicomte de Clericy had been found in the river at Passy.



Chapter XIV

A Little Cloud

     "Rien ne nous rend si grand qu'une grande douleur."


Alphonse Giraud and I--between whom had sprung up that friendship of
contrasts which Madame de Clericy had foreseen--were in constant
communication. My summons brought him to the Hôtel Clericy at once,
where he found the ladies already apprised of their bereavement. He
and I set off again for Passy, by train this time, as our need was
more urgent. I despatched instructions to the Vicomte's lawyer to
follow by the next train--bringing the undertaker with him. There was
no heir to my patron's titles, but it seemed necessary to observe
every formality at this the dramatic extinction of a long and noble
line.

As we drove through the streets, the newsboys were shrieking some
tidings which we had neither time nor inclination to inquire into at
that moment. It was a hot July day, and Paris should have been half
empty, but the pavements were crowded.

"What is the matter?" I said to Alphonse Giraud, who was too busy with
his horse to look about. "See the faces of the men at the cafés--they
are wild with excitement and some look scared. There is news afoot."

"My good friend," returned Giraud, "I was in bed when your note
reached me. Besides, I only read the sporting columns of the papers."

So we took train to Passy, without learning what it was that seemed to
be stirring Paris as a squall stirs the sea.

At Passy there was indeed grim work awaiting us. The Préfet himself
was kind enough to busy himself in a matter which was scarcely within
his province. He had instructed the police to conduct us to his house,
where he received us most hospitably.

"Neither of you is related to the Vicomte?" he said, interrogatively;
and we stated our case at once.

"It is well that you did not bring Madame with you," he said. "You
forbade her to come?"

And he looked at me with a keenness which, I trust, impressed the
police official for whose benefit it was assumed.

"I begged her to remain in Paris."

"Ah!" and he gave a significant laugh. "However--so long as she is not
here."

He was a white-faced man, who looked as if he had been dried up by
some blanching process. One could imagine that the heart inside him
was white also. In his own eyes it was evident that he was a vastly
clever man. I thought him rather an ass.

"You know, gentlemen," he said, as he prepared his papers, "the
recognition of the body is a mere formality."

"Then let us omit it, Monsieur le Préfet," exclaimed Alphonse, with
characteristic cheerfulness; but the remark was treated with contempt.

"In July, gentlemen," went on the Préfet, "the Seine is warm--there
are eels--a hundred animalculæ--a score of decomposing elements.
However, there are the clothes--the contents of Monsieur le Vicomte's
pockets--a signet ring. Shall we go? But first take another glass of
wine. If the nerves are sensitive--a few drops of Benedictine?"

"If I may have it in a claret glass," said Alphonse, and he launched
into a voluble explanation, to which the Préfet listened with a thin,
transparent smile. I thought that he would have been better pleased
had some of the Vicomte's titled friends come to observe this
formality. But one's grand friends are better kept for fine weather
only, and the official had to content himself with the company of a
private secretary and the son of a ruined financier.

Alphonse and I had no difficulty in recognizing the small belongings
which had been extracted from my old patron's sodden clothing. In the
letter case was a letter from myself on some small matter of business.
I pointed this out, and signed my name a second time on the yellow and
crinkled paper for the further satisfaction of the lawyer. Then we
passed into an inner room and stood in the presence of the dead man.
The recognition was, as the Préfet had said, a painful formality.
Alphonse Giraud and I swore to the clothing--indeed, the linen was
marked plainly enough--and we left the undertaker to his work.

Giraud looked at me with a dry smile when we stood in the fresh air
again.

"You and I, Howard," he said, "seem to have got on the seamy side of
life lately."

And during the journey I saw him shiver once or twice at the
recollection of what we had seen. His carriage was awaiting us at the
railway station. Alphonse had been brought up in a school where horses
and servants are treated as machines. The man who stood at the horse's
head was, however, anything but mechanical, for he ran up to us as
soon as we emerged from the crowded exit.

[Illustration: "À BERLIN--À BERLIN."]

"Monseiur le Baron!" he cried excitedly, with a dull light in his eyes
that made a man of him, and no servant. "Has Monsieur le Baron
heard the news--the great tidings?"

"No--we have heard nothing. What is your news?"

"The King of Prussia has insulted the French Ambassador at Ems. He
struck him on the face, as it is said. And war has been declared by
the Emperor. They are going to march to Berlin, Monsieur!"

As he spoke two groups of men swaggered arm in arm along the street.
They were singing "Partant pour la Syrie," very much out of tune.
Others were crying "À Berlin--à Berlin!"

Alphonse Giraud turned and looked at me with a sudden rush of colour
in his cheeks.

"And I, who thought life a matter of coats and neckties," he said,
with that quick recognition of his own error that first endeared him
to me and made him the better man of the two.

We stood for a few minutes watching the excited groups of men on the
Boulevard. At the cafés the street boys were selling newspapers at a
prodigious rate, and wherever a soldier could be seen there were many
pressing him to drink.

"In Berlin," they shouted, "you will get sour beer, so you must drink
good red wine when it is to be had." And the diminutive bulwarks of
France were ready enough, we may be sure, to swallow Dutch courage.

"In Berlin!" echoed Giraud, at my side. "Will it end there?"

"There or in Paris," answered I, and lay no claim to astuteness, for
the words were carelessly uttered.

We drove through the noisy streets, and Frenchmen never before or
since showed themselves to such small advantage--so puerile, so petty,
so vain. It was "Berlin" here and "Berlin" there, and "Down with
Prussia" on every side. A hundred catchwords, a thousand raised
voices, and not one cool head to realize that war is not a game. The
very sellers of toys in the gutter had already nicknamed their wares,
and offered the passer a black doll under the name of Bismarck, or a
monkey on a stick called the King of Prussia.

It was with difficulty that I brought Alphonse Giraud to a grave
discussion of the pressing matter we had in hand, for his superficial
nature was open to every wind that blew, and now swayed to the tempest
of martial ardour that swept across the streets of Paris.

"I think," he said, "I will buy myself a commission. I should like to
go to Berlin. Yes--Howard, _mon brave_, I will buy myself a
commission."

"With what?"

"Ah--mon Dieu!--that is true. I have no money. I am ruined. I forgot
that."

And he waved a gay salutation of the whip to a passing friend.

"And then, also," he added, with a face suddenly lugubrious, "we have
the terrible business of the Vicomte. Howard--listen to me--at all
costs the ladies must never see _that_--must never know. Dieu! it was
horrible. I feel all twisted here--as when I smoked my first cigar."

He touched himself on the chest, and with one of his inimitable
gestures described in the air a great upheaval.

"I will try to prevent it," I answered.

"Then you will succeed, for your way of suggesting might easily be
called by another name. And it is not only the women who obey you. I
told Lucille the other day that she was afraid of you, and she blazed
up in such a fury of denial that I felt smaller than nature has made
me. Her anger made her more beautiful than ever, and I was stupid
enough to tell her so. She hates a compliment, you know."

"Indeed, I have never tried her with one."

Alphonse looked at me with grave surprise.

"It is a good thing," he said, "that you do not love her. Name of God!
where should I be?"

"But it is with Madame and not Mademoiselle Lucille that we shall have
to do this afternoon," I said hastily.

Although he was more or less acknowledged as an aspirant to Lucille's
hand, Giraud refused to come within the door when we reached the Hôtel
Clericy.

"No," he answered; "they will not want to see me at such a time. It is
only when people want to laugh that I am required."

I found Madame quite calm, and all her thoughts were for Lucille. The
more a man is brought into contact with maternal love, even if it bear
in no way upon his own life, the better he will be for it--for this is
surely the loftiest of human feelings.

My own mother having died when I was but an infant, it had never been
my lot to live in intimacy with women, until fate guided me to the
Hôtel Clericy.

At no time had I felt such respect for that quiet woman, Madame de
Clericy, as on this afternoon when widowhood first cast its sable veil
over her.

"Lucille," she said at once, "must not be allowed to grieve for me.
She has her own sorrow to bear, for she loved her father dearly. Do
not let her have any thought for me."

And later, when the gods gave me five minutes alone with Lucille
herself--

"You must not," she said, her face drawn and white, her lips
quivering, "you must not let mother think that this is more than I can
bear. It falls heavier upon her."

I blundered on somehow during those two days, making, no doubt, a
hundred mistakes; for what comfort could I offer? What pretence could
I make to understand the feelings of these ladies? My task was not so
difficult as I had anticipated in regard to the grim coffin lying at
Passy. To spare the other, both ladies agreed with me separately that
the Vicomte should be buried from Passy as quietly as possible, and
Lucille overlooked the fact that the suggestion came from such an
unwelcome source as myself.

So, amid the wild excitement of July, 1870, we laid Charles Albert
Malaunay, Vicomte de Clericy, to rest among his ancestors in the
little church of Senneville, near Nevers. The war fever was at its
height, and all France convulsed with passionate hatred for the
Prussian.

It is not for one who has found his truest friends--ay, and his
keenest enemies--in France to say aught against so great and gifted a
people. But it seems, as I look back now, that the French were ripe in
1870 for one of those strokes by which High Heaven teaches nations
from time to time through the world's history that human greatness is
a small affair.

There are no people so tolerant of folly as the Parisians. It walks
abroad in the streets of the great city with such unblushing
self-satisfaction--such a brazen sense of its own superiority--that
any Englishman must long to import a hundred London street boys, with
their sense of ridicule and fearless tongue. At all times the world
has possessed an army of geniuses whose greatness consists of faith
and not of works--of faith in themselves which takes the outward form
of weird clothing, long hair, and a literary or artistic pose. Paris
streets were so full of such in 1870 that all thoughtful men could
scarce fail to recognise a nation in its decadence.

"The asses preponderate in the streets," said John Turner to me. "You
may hear their bray in every café, and France is going to the devil."

And indeed the voices raised in the drinking dens were those of the
fool and the knave.

I busied myself with looking into the money affairs of my poor patron,
and found them in great disorder. All the ready cash had fallen into
the hands of Miste. Some of the estates, as, indeed, I already knew,
yielded little or nothing. The commerce of France was naturally
paralysed by the declaration of war, and no one wanted a vast old
house in the Faubourg St. Germain--a hotbed of Legitimism where no
good Buonapartist cared to own a friend or show his face.

I disguised nothing from Madame de Clericy, whom indeed it was hard to
deceive.

"Then," she said, "there is no money."

We were in my study, where I was seated at the table, while Madame
moved from table to mantelpiece with a woman's keen sight for the
blemishes to be found in a bachelor's apartment.

"For the moment you are in need of ready money--that is all. If the
war is brought to a speedy termination, all will be set right."

"And if the war is not brought to a speedy termination--you are a
second-rate optimist, _mon ami_--what then?"

"Then I shall have to find some expedient."

She looked at me probingly. The windows were open, and we heard the
cries of the newsboys in the streets.

"Hear!" she said; "they are shouting of victories."

I shrugged my shoulders.

"You mean," said the Vicomtesse slowly, "that they will shout of
victories until the Prussians are in sight of Paris."

"The Parisians will pay two sous for good news, and nothing at all for
evil tidings," I answered.

Thus we lived for some weeks, through the heat of July--and I could
neither leave Paris nor give thought to Charles Miste. That scoundrel
was, however, singularly quiet. No cheque had been cashed, and we
knew, at all events, that he had realised none of his stolen wealth.
On the tenth of July the Ollivier Ministry fell. Things were going
from bad to worse. At the end of the month the Emperor quitted St.
Cloud to take command of the army. He never came to France again.



Chapter XV

Flight

     "Repousser sa croix, c'est l'appesantir."


During the first week of August the excitement in Paris reached its
greatest height, and culminated on the Saturday after the battle of
Weissenburg. Of this defeat John Turner had, as I believe, the news
before any other in Paris. Indeed, the evil tidings came to the city
from the English _Times_. The stout banker, whose astuteness I had
never doubted, displayed at this time a number of those
qualities--such as courage, cool-headedness and foresight--to which we
undoubtedly owe our greatness in the world. We are, as our neighbours
say, a nation of shopkeepers, but we keep a rifle under the counter. A
man may prove his courage in the counting-house as effectually as on
the field of battle.

"These," I said to Turner, "are stirring times. I suppose you are very
anxious."

I had passed before the Bourse in coming to the Avenue d'Antan, and
had, as I spoke, a lively recollection of the white-faced and
panic-stricken financiers assembled there. For one franc that these
men had at stake, it was probable that John Turner had a thousand.

"Yes--I am anxious," he said, quietly. "These are stirring times, as
you say; they stimulate the appetite wonderfully, and, I think, help
the digestion."

As he spoke a clerk came into the room without knocking--his eyes
bright with excitement. He gave John Turner a note, which that stout
gentleman read at a glance, and rose from the breakfast table.

"Come with me," he said, "and you will see some history."

We drove rapidly to the Bourse, through crowded streets, and there I
witnessed a scene of the greatest excitement that it has been my lot
to look upon; for it has pleased God to keep me from any battle-field.

Above a sea of hats a score of tricolour flags fluttered in the dusty
air, and wild strains of the Marseillaise dominated the roar and
babble of a thousand tongues wagging together. The steps of the great
building were thronged with men, and on the bases of the statuary
orators harangued high heaven, for no man had the patience to listen.

"What is it?" I asked my companion.

"News of a French victory; but it wants confirmation."

[Illustration: A MAN CLAMBERED ON THE BOX BESIDE THE COACHMAN. "I WILL
SING YOU THE MARSEILLAISE!" HE SHOUTED.]

Some who could sing, and others who only thought they could, were
shouting the Marseillaise from any elevation that presented itself--an
omnibus or a street refuse-box served equally well for these
musicians.

"How on earth these people have ever grown to a great nation!"
muttered John Turner, who sat in his carriage. A man clambered on the
box beside the coachman.

"I will sing you the Marseillaise!" he shouted.

"Thank you," replied John Turner.

But already the humour of the throng was changing, and some began to
reflect. In a few minutes doubt swept over them like a shower of rain,
and the expression of their faces altered. Almost immediately it was
announced that the news of the victory had been a hoax.

"I am going to my office," said Turner, curtly. "Come and see me
to-morrow morning. I may have some advice to give you."

In the evening I saw Madame, and told her that things were going badly
on the frontier; but I did not know that the Germans were, at the time
of speaking, actually on French territory, and that MacMahon had been
beaten at Metz.

"Get the women out of the country," said John Turner to me the next
morning, "and don't bother me."

I went back to the Hôtel Clericy and there found Alphonse Giraud. He
was in the morning-room with the two ladies.

"I have come," he said, "to bid you all good-by, as I was just telling
these ladies.

"You remember," he went on, taking my hand and holding it in his
effusive French way--"you remember that I said I would buy myself a
commission? The good God has sent me one, but it is a rifle instead of
a sword."

"Alphonse has volunteered to fight as a common soldier!" cried
Lucille, her face glowing with excitement. "Is it not splendid? Ah, if
I were only a man!"

Madame looked gravely and almost apprehensively at her daughter. She
did not join in Giraud's proud laugh.

"There is bad news," she said, looking at my face. "What is it?"

"Yes, there is bad news, and it is said that Paris is to be placed
under martial law. You and Mademoiselle must leave."

Alphonse protested that it was only a temporary reverse, and that
General Frossard had but retreated in order to strike a harder blow.
He nodded and winked at me, but I ignored his signals; for I have
never held that women are dolls or children, that the truth must be
withheld from them because it is unpleasant.

So Alphonse Giraud departed to fight for his country. He was drafted
into a cavalry regiment, "together with some grooms and hostlers from
the stables of the Paris Omnibus Company," as he wrote to me later in
good spirits. He proved himself, moreover, a brave soldier as well as
a true and honest French gentleman.

Madame de Clericy and Lucille made preparations for an early
departure, but were averse to quitting Paris until such time as
necessity should drive them into retreat. I saw nothing of John Turner
at this time, but learnt from others that he was directing the course
of his great banking house with a steady hand and a clear head. I
wanted money, but did not go to him, knowing that he would require
explanations which I was in no wise prepared to give him. Instead I
telegraphed to my lawyer in London, who negotiated a loan for me,
mortgaging, so far as I could gather from his technical
communications, my reversion of Hopton in case Isabella Gayerson
should marry another than myself. The money was an absolute necessity,
for without it Madame and Lucille could not leave France, and I took
but little heed of the manner in which it was procured.

It was in the evening of August 28th, a few hours after General
Trochu's decree calling upon foreigners to quit Paris, that I sought a
consultation with Madame. The Vicomtesse came to my study, divining
perhaps that what I had to say to her were better spoken in the
absence of Lucille.

"You wish to speak to me, _mon ami_," she said.

In reply I laid before her the proclamation issued by General Trochu.
In it all foreigners were warned to leave, and persons who were not in
a position to "_faire face à l'ennemi_" invited to quit Paris. She
glanced through the paper hurriedly.

"Yes," she said; "I understand. You as a foreigner cannot stay."

"I can stay or go," I replied; "but I cannot leave you and
Mademoiselle in Paris."

"Then what are we to do?"

I then laid before her my plan, which was simple enough in itself.

"To England?" said Madame de Clericy, when I had finished, and in her
voice I detected that contempt for our grey country which is held by
nearly all Frenchwomen. "Has it come to that? Is France then unsafe?"

"Not yet--but it may become so. The Germans are nearer than any one
allows himself to suppose."

I saw that she did not believe me. Madame de Clericy was not very
learned, and it is probable that her history was all forgotten. Paris
had always seemed to her the centre of civilisation and safely
withdrawn from the perils of war or internal disorder.

I begged her to leave the capital, and painted in lurid colours the
possible effects of further defeat and the resulting fall of the
French Empire.

"See," I said, opening the drawer of my writing table, "I have the
money here. All is prepared, and in England I have arranged for your
reception at a house which, if it is not palatial, will at all events
be comfortable."

"Where is the house?"

"At a place called Hopton, on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk. It
stands empty and quite ready for your reception. The servants are
there."

"And the rent?" said she, without looking at me. "Is that within our
means?"

"The rent will be almost nominal," I replied. "That can be arranged
without difficulty. Many of our English country houses are now
neglected. It is the fashion for our women, Madame, to despise a
country life. They prefer to wear out themselves and their best
attributes on the pavement."

Madame smiled.

"Everything is so strong about you," she said; "especially your
prejudices. And this house to which we are to be sent--is it large? Is
it well situated? May one inquire?"

I could not understand her eyes, which were averted with something
like a smile.

"It is one of the best situated houses in England," I answered,
unguardedly, and Madame laughed outright.

"My friend," she said, "one reason why I like you is that you are not
at all clever. This house is yours, and you are offering Lucille and
me a home in our time of trouble--and I accept."

She laid her hand, as light as a leaf, on my shoulder, and when I
looked up she was gone.

On the morning of Saturday, September 3d, I received a note from John
Turner.

"If you have not gone--go!" he wrote.

Our departure had been fixed for a later date, but the yacht of an
English friend had been lying in the port of Fécamp at my disposal for
some days. We embarked there the same evening, having taken train at
the St. Lazare station within two hours of the receipt of John
Turner's warning. The streets of Paris, as we drove through them, were
singularly quiet, and men passing their friends on the pavement nodded
in silence, without exchanging other greeting. Hope seemed at last to
have folded her wings and fled from the bright city. Some indefinable
knowledge of coming catastrophe hovered over all.

It was a quiet sunset that clothed sea and sky with a golden
splendour as we steamed out of Fécamp harbour that evening. I walked
on the deck of the trim yacht with its captain until a late hour, and
looked my last on the white cliffs and headlands of the doomed land
about midnight--the hour at which the news was spreading over France,
as black, swift and terrible as night itself, that hope was dead, that
the whole army had been captured at Sedan, and the Emperor himself
made prisoner. All this, however, we did not learn until we landed in
England, although I have no doubt that John Turner knew it when he
gave us so sharp a warning.

The weather was favourable to us, and the ladies came on deck the next
morning in a calm sea as we sped past the North Foreland between the
Goodwin Lightships and the land. It was a lovely morning, and the sea
all stripes of deep blue and green, and even yellow where the great
sand banks of the Thames estuary lay beneath the rippled surface.

Lucille thought but little of England, as she judged it from the tame
bluffs of Thanet.

"Are these the famous white cliffs of England?" she said to the
captain, for she rarely addressed herself unnecessarily to me. "Why
they are but one quarter of the height of those of St. Valéry that I
saw from the cabin window last night."

The captain, a simple man, sought to prove that England had
counterbalancing advantages. He knew not that in certain humours a
woman will find fault with anything. I thought that Mademoiselle took
exception to the poor cliffs because they were those of my native
land.

Madame proved more amenable to reason, however, and the captain, whose
knowledge of French was not great, made an easier convert of her than
of Lucille, who spoke English prettily enough, while her mother knew
only the one tongue.

"There is bad weather coming," said the captain to me later in the
day. "And I wish the tide served for Lowestoft harbour earlier than
ten o'clock."

We anchored just astern of the coast-service gunboat, and a few
hundred yards south of the pier at Lowestoft, awaiting the rise of the
tide. At eleven o'clock we moved in, and passing through the dock into
the river, anchored there for the night. I gave Madame the choice of
passing the night on board and going ashore to the hotel, as it was
too late to drive to Hopton. She elected to remain on board.

As ill fortune would have it, the evil weather foreseen by the captain
came upon us in the night, and daylight next morning showed a grey and
hopeless sea, with lowering clouds and a slantwise rain driving
across all. The tide was low when the ladies came on deck, and the
muddy banks of the river looked dismal enough, while the flat
meadowland stretched away on all sides into a dim and mournful
perspective of mist and rain.

The Hopton carriage was awaiting us at the landing-stage, and to those
unaccustomed to such work the landing in a small boat no doubt
presented difficulties and dangers of which we men took no account.
The streets of Lowestoft were sloppy and half-deserted as we drove
through them. A few fishermen in their oilskins seemed to emphasise
the wetness and dismalness of England as they hurried down to the
harbour in their great sea-boots. On the uplands a fine drizzle veiled
the landscape, and showed the gnarled and sparse trees to small
advantage.

Lucille sat with close-pressed lips and looked out of the streaming
windows. There were unshed tears in her eyes, and I grimly realised
the futility of human effort. All my plans had been frustrated by a
passing rain.

At home, however, I found all comfortable enough, and fires alight in
the hall and principal rooms.

It was late in the day that I came upon Lucille alone in the
drawing-room. She was looking out of the window across the bleak
table-land to the sea.

"I am sorry, Mademoiselle," I said, suddenly conscious of the stiff
bareness of my ancestral home, "that things are not brighter. I have
done my best."

"Thank you," she said, and there was still resentment in her voice.
"You have been very kind."

She stood for a few moments in silence, and then turning flashed an
angry glance at me.

"I do not know who constituted you our protector," she said
scornfully.

"Fate, Mademoiselle."



Chapter XVI

Exile

     "Il y a donc des malheurs tellement bien cachés que ceux qui
     en sont la cause, ne les devinent même pas."


The first to show kindness to the ladies exiled at Hopton was Isabella
Gayerson, who, in response to a letter from the rightful owner of the
old manor house, called on Madame de Clericy. Isabella's pale face,
her thin-lipped, determined mouth and reserved glance seem to have
made no very favourable impression on Madame, who indeed wrote of her
as a disappointed woman, nursing some sorrow or grievance in her
heart.

With Lucille, however, Isabella speedily inaugurated a friendship, to
which Lucille's knowledge of English no doubt contributed largely, for
Isabella knew but little French.

"Lucille," wrote Madame to me, for I had returned to London in order
to organise a more active pursuit of Charles Miste, "Lucille admires
your friend Miss Gayerson immensely, and says that the English
_demoiselles_ suggest to her a fine and delicate porcelain--but it
seems to me," Madame added, "that the grain is a hard one."

So rapid was the progress of this friendship that the two girls often
met either at Hopton or at Little Corton, two miles away, where
Isabella, now left an orphan, lived with an elderly aunt for her
companion.

Girls, it would appear, possess a thousand topics of common interest,
a hundred small matters of mutual confidence, which conduce to a
greater intimacy than men and boys ever achieve. In a few weeks
Lucille and Isabella were at Christian names, and sworn allies, though
any knowing aught of them would have inclined to the suspicion that
here, at all events, the confidences were not mutual, for Isabella
Gayerson was a woman in a thousand in her power of keeping a discreet
counsel. I, who have been intimate with her since childhood, can boast
of no great knowledge to this day of her inward hopes, thoughts and
desires.

The meetings, it would appear, took place more often at Hopton than in
Isabella's home.

"I like Hopton," she said to Lucille one day, in her quiet and
semi-indifferent way. "I have many pleasant associations in this
house. The squire was always kind to me."

"And I suppose you played in these sleepy old rooms as a child," said
Lucille, looking round at the portraits of dead and gone Howards,
whose mistakes were now forgotten. "Yes."

Lucille waited, but the conversation seemed to end there naturally.
Isabella had nothing more to tell of those bygone days. And, unlike
other women, when she had nothing to say she remained silent.

"Did you know Mr. Howard's mother?" asked Lucille presently. "I have
often wondered what sort of woman she must have been."

"I did not know her," was the answer, made more openly. It was only in
respect to herself that Isabella cultivated reticence. It is so easy
to be candid about one's neighbour's affairs. "Neither did he--it was
a great misfortune."

"Is it not always a great misfortune?"

"Yes--but in this case especially so."

"How? What do you mean, Isabella?" asked Lucille, in her impulsive
way. "You are so cold and reserved. Are all Englishwomen so? It is so
difficult to drag things out of you."

"Because there is nothing to drag."

"Yes, there is. I want to know why it was such a special misfortune
that Mr. Howard should never have known his mother. You may not be
interested in him, but I am. My mother is so fond of him--my father
trusted him."

"Ah!"

"There, again," cried Lucille, with a laugh of annoyance. "You say
'Ah!' and it means nothing. I look at your face and it says nothing.
With us it is different--we have a hundred little exclamations--look
at mother when she talks--but in England when you say 'Ah!' you seem
to mean nothing.."

Lucille laughed and looked at Isabella, who only smiled.

"Well?"

"Well," answered Isabella, reluctantly, "if Mr. Howard's mother had
lived he might have been a better man."

"You call him Mr. Howard," cried Lucille, darting into one of those
side issues by which women so often reach their goal. "Do you call him
so to his face?"

"No."

"What do you call him?" asked Lucille, with the persistence of a child
on a trifle.

"Dick."

"And yet you do not like him?"

"I have never thought whether I like him or not--one does not think of
such questions with people who are like one's own family."

"But surely," said Lucille, "one cannot like a person who is not
good?"

"Of course not," answered the other, with her shadowy smile. "At least
it is always so written in books."

[Illustration: "YOU SAY 'AH!' AND IT MEANS NOTHING. I LOOK AT YOUR
FACE AND IT SAYS NOTHING."]

After this qualified statement Isabella sat with her firm white hands
clasped together in idleness on her lap. She was not a woman to fill
in the hours with the trifling occupation of the work-basket, and yet
was never aught but womanly in dress, manner, and, as I take it,
thought. Lucille's fingers, on the contrary, were never still, and
before she had lived at Hopton a fortnight she had half a dozen small
protégées in the village for whom she fashioned little garments.

It was she who broke the short silence--her companion seemed to be
waiting for that or for something else.

"Do you think," she asked, "that mother trusts Mr. Howard too much?
She places implicit faith in all he says or does--just as my father
did when he was alive."

Isabella--than whom none was more keenly alive to my many
failings--paused before she answered, in her measured way:

"It all depends upon his motive in undertaking the management of your
affairs."

"Oh--he is paid," said Lucille, rather hurriedly. "He is paid, of
course."

"This house is his; the land, so far as you can see from any of the
windows, is his also. He has affairs of his own to manage, which he
neglects. A mere salary seems an insufficient motive for so deep an
interest as he displays."

Lucille did not answer for some moments. Indeed, her needlework seemed
at this moment to require careful attention.

"What other motive can he have?" she asked at length, indifferently.

"I do not understand the story of the large fortune that slipped so
unaccountably through his fingers," murmured Isabella, and her
hearer's face cleared suddenly.

"Alphonse Giraud's fortune?"

"Yes," said Isabella, looking at her companion with steady eyes,
"Monsieur Giraud's fortune."

"It was stolen, as you know--for I have told you about it--by my
father's secretary, Charles Miste."

"Yes; and Dick Howard says that he will recover it," laughed Isabella.

"Why not?"

"Why not, indeed? He will have good use for it. He has always been a
spendthrift."

"What do you mean?" cried Lucille, laying down her work. "What can you
mean, Isabella?"

"Nothing," replied the other, who had risen, and was standing by the
mantelpiece looking down at the wood fire with one foot extended to
its warmth. "Nothing--only I do not understand."

It would appear that Isabella's lack of comprehension took a more
active form than that displayed in the conversation reported, _tant
bien que mal_, from subsequent hearsay. Indeed, it has been my
experience that when a woman fails to comprehend a mystery--whether it
be her own affair or not--it is rarely for the want of trying to sift
it.

That Isabella Gayerson made further attempt to discover my motives in
watching over Madame de Clericy and Lucille was rendered apparent to
me not very long afterwards. It was, in fact, in the month of
November, while Paris was still besieged, and rumours of Commune and
Anarchy reached us in tranquil England, that I had the opportunity of
returning in small part the hospitality of Alphonse Giraud.

Wounded and taken prisoner during the disastrous retreat upon the
capital, my friend obtained after a time his release under promise to
take no further part in the war, a promise the more freely given that
his hurt was of such a nature that he could never hope to swing a
sword in his right hand again.

This was forcibly brought home to me when I met Giraud at Charing
Cross station, when he extended to me his left hand.

"The other I cannot offer you," he cried, "for a sausage-eating
Uhlan, who smelt shockingly of smoke, cut the tendons of it."

He lifted the hand hidden in a black silk handkerchief worn as a
sling, and swaggered along the platform with a military air and
bearing far above his inches.

We dined together, and he passed that night in my rooms in London,
where I had a spare bed. He evinced by his every word and action that
spontaneous affection which he had bestowed upon me. We had, moreover,
a merry evening, and only once, so far as I remember, did he look at
me with a grave face.

"Dick," he then said, "can you lend me a thousand francs? I have not
one sou."

"Nor I," was my reply. "But you can have a thousand francs."

"The Vicomtesse writes me that you are supplying them with money
during the present standstill in France. How is that?" he said,
putting the notes I gave him into his purse.

"I do not know," I answered; "but I seem to be able to borrow as much
as I want. I am what you call in Jewry. I have mortgaged everything,
and am not quite sure that I have not mortgaged you."

We talked very gravely of money, and doubtless displayed a vast
ignorance of the subject. All that I can remember is, that we came to
no decision, and laughingly concluded that we were both well sped down
the slope of Avernus.

It had been arranged that we should go down to Hopton the following
day, where Giraud was to pass a few weeks with the ladies in exile.
And I thought--for Giraud was transparent as the day--that the wounded
hand, the bronze of battle-field and camp, and the dangers lived
through, aroused a hope that Lucille's heart might be touched. For
myself, I felt that none of these were required, and was sure that
Giraud's own good qualities had already won their way.

"She can, at all events, not laugh at this," he said, lifting the hurt
member, "or ridicule our great charge. Oh, Dick, _mon ami_, you have
missed something," he cried, to the astonishment of the porters in
Liverpool Street station. "You have missed something in life, for you
have never fought for France! Mon Dieu!--to hear the bugle sound the
charge--to see the horses, those brave beasts, throw up their heads as
they recognised the call--to see the faces of the men! Dick, that was
life--real life! To hear at last the crash of the sabres all along the
line, like a butler throwing his knife-box down the back stairs."

We reached Hopton in the evening, and I was not too well pleased to
find that Isabella had been invited to dine, "to do honour," as
Lucille said, to a "hero of the great retreat."

"We knew also," added Madame, addressing me, "that such old friends as
Miss Gayerson and yourself would be glad to meet."

And Isabella gave me a queer smile.

During dinner the conversation was general and mostly carried on in
English, in which tongue Alphonse Giraud discovered a wealth of
humour. In the drawing-room I had an opportunity of speaking to Madame
de Clericy of her affairs, to which report I also begged the attention
of Lucille.

It appeared to me that there was in the atmosphere of my own home some
subtle feeling of distrust or antagonism against myself, and once I
thought I intercepted a glance of understanding exchanged by Lucille
and Isabella. We were at the moment talking of Giraud's misfortunes,
which, indeed, that stricken soldier bore with exemplary cheerfulness.

"What is," he asked, "the equivalent of our sou when that coin is used
as the symbol of penury?" and subsequently explained to Isabella with
much vivacity that he had not a brass farthing in the world.

During the time that I spoke to Madame of her affairs, Alphonse and
Isabella were engaged in a game of billiards in the hall, where stood
the table; but their talk seemed of greater interest than the game,
for I heard no sound of the balls.

The ladies retired early, Isabella passing the night at Hopton, and
Alphonse and I were left alone with our cigars. In a few moments I was
aware that the feeling of antagonism against myself had extended
itself to Alphonse Giraud, who smoked in silence, and whose gaiety
seemed suddenly to have left him. Not being of an expansive nature, I
omitted to tax Giraud with coldness--a proceeding which would, no
doubt, have been wise towards one so frank and open.

Instead I sat smoking glumly, and might have continued silent till
bedtime had not a knocking at the door aroused us. The snow was lying
thickly on the ground, and the flakes drove into the house when I
opened the door, expecting to admit the coast guardsman, who often
came for help or a messenger in times of shipwreck. It was, however, a
lad who stood shaking himself in the hall--a telegraph messenger from
Yarmouth, who, having walked the whole distance, demanded six
shillings for his pains, and received ten, for it was an evil night.

I opened the envelope, and read that the message had been despatched
that evening by the manager of a well-known London bank:

"Draft for five thousand pounds has been presented for
acceptance--compelled to cash it to-morrow morning."

"Miste is astir at last," I said, handing the message to Giraud.



Chapter XVII

On the Track

     "Le vrai moyen d'être trompé c'est de se croire plus fin que
     les autres."


I stole out of the house before daybreak the next morning, and riding
to Yarmouth, took a very early and (with perhaps a subtle
appropriateness) a very fishy train to London.

So ill equipped was I to contend with a financier of Miste's force
that I did not even know the hour at which the London banks opened for
business. A general idea, however, that half-past ten would make quite
a long enough day for such work made me hope to be in time to
frustrate or perchance to catch red-handed this clever miscreant.

The train was due to arrive at Liverpool Street station at ten
o'clock, and ten minutes after that hour I stepped from a cab at the
door of the great bank in Lombard Street.

"The manager," I said, hurriedly, to an individual in brass buttons
and greased hair, whose presence in the building was evidently for a
purely ornamental purpose. I was shown into a small glass room like a
green-house, where sat two managers, as under a microscope--a living
example of frock-coated respectability and industry to half a hundred
clerks who were ever peeping that way as they turned the pages of
their ledgers and circulated in an undertone the latest chop-house
tale.

"Mr. Howard," said the manager, with his watch in his hand. "I was
waiting for you."

"Have you cashed the draft?"

"Yes--at ten o'clock. The payee was waiting on the doorstep for us to
open. The clerk delayed as long as possible, but we could not refuse
payment. Hundred-pound notes as usual. Never trust a man who takes it
in hundred-pound notes. Here are the numbers. As hard as you can to
the Bank of England and stop them! You may catch him there."

He pushed me out of the room, sending with me the impression that
inside the frock-coat, behind the bland gold-rimmed spectacles, there
was yet something left of manhood and that vague quality called fight,
which is surely hard put to live long between four glass walls.

The cabman, who perhaps scented sport, was waiting for me though I had
paid him, and as I drove along Lombard Street I thought affectionately
of Miste's long thin neck, and wondered whether there would be room
for the two of us in the Bank of England.

The high-born reader doubtless has money in the Funds, and knows
without the advice of a penniless country squire that the approach to
the Bank of England consists of a porch through which may be discerned
a small courtyard. Opening on this yard are three doors, and that
immediately opposite to the porch gives entrance to the department
where gold and silver are exchanged for notes.

As I descended from the cab I looked through the porch, and there,
across the courtyard, I saw the back of a man who was pushing his way
through the swing doors. Charles Miste again! I paid the cabman, and
noting the inches of the two porters in their gorgeous livery,
reflected with some satisfaction that Monsieur Miste would have to
reckon with three fairly heavy men before he got out of the courtyard.

There are two swing doors leading into the bank, and the man passing
in there glanced back as he crossed the second threshold, giving me,
however, naught but the momentary gleam of a white face. Arrived in
the large room I looked quickly around it. Two men were changing
money, a third bent over the table to sign a note. None of these could
be Charles Miste. There was another exit leading to the body of the
building.

"Has a gentleman passed through here?" I asked a clerk, whose
occupation seemed to consist in piling sovereigns one upon another.

"Yes," he said, through his counting.

"Ah!" thought I. "Now I have him like a rat in a trap."

"He cannot get through?" I said.

"Can't he--you bet," said the young man with much humour.

I hurried on, and at last found the exit to Lothbury.

"Has a gentleman just passed out this way?" I inquired of a porter,
who looked sleepy and dignified.

"Three have passed out this five minutes--old gent with a squint,
belongs to Coutts's--tall fair man--tall dark man."

"The dark one is mine," I said. "Which way?"

"Turned to the left."

I hurried on with a mental note that sleepy men may see more than they
appear to do. Standing on the crowded pavement of Lothbury, I realised
that Madame de Clericy was right, and I little better than a fool. For
it was evident that I had been tricked, and that quite easily by
Charles Miste. To seek him in the throng of the city was futile, and
an attempt predestined to failure. I went back, however, to the bank,
and handed in the numbers of the stolen notes. Here again I learnt
that to refuse payment was impossible, and that all I could hope was
that each note changed would give me a clue as to the whereabouts of
the thief. Each forward step in the matter showed me more plainly the
difficulties of the task I had undertaken, and my own incapacity for
such work. Nothing is so good for a man's vanity as contact with a
clever scoundrel.

I resolved to engage the entire services of some one who, without
being a professed thief-catcher, could at all events meet Charles
Miste on his own slippery ground. With the help of the bank manager, I
found one, named Sander, an accountant, who made an especial study of
the shadier walks of finance, and this man set to work the same
afternoon. It was his opinion that Miste had been confined in Paris by
the siege, and had only just effected his escape, probably with one of
the many permits obtained from the American Minister at this time by
persons passing themselves as foreigners.

The same evening I received information from an official source that a
man answering to my description of Miste had taken a ticket at
Waterloo station for Southampton. The temptation was again too strong
for one who had been brought up in an atmosphere and culture of sport.
I set off by the mail train for Southampton, and amused myself by
studying the faces of the passengers on the Jersey and Cherbourg
boats. There was no sailing for Havre that night. At Radley's Hotel,
where I had secured a room, I learnt that an old gentleman and lady
with their daughter had arrived by the earlier train, and no one else.
At the railway station I could hear of none answering to my
description.

If Charles Miste had entered the train at Waterloo station, he had
disappeared in his shadowy way en route.

During the stirring months of the close of 1870, men awoke each
morning with a certain glad expectancy. For myself--even in my
declining years--the stir of events in the outer world and near at
home is preferable to a life of that monotony which I am sure ages
quickly those that live it. Circumstances over which I exercised but a
nominal control--a description of human life it appears to me--had
thrown my lot into close connection with France, that "light-hearted
heroine of tragic story"; and at this time I watched with even a
greater eagerness than other Englishmen the grim tragedy slowly
working to its close in Paris.

It makes an old man of me to think that some of those who watched the
stupendous events of '70 are now getting almost too old to preserve
the keenest remembrance of their emotions, while many of the actors
on that great stage have passed beyond earthly shame or glory. Keen
enough is my own memory of the thrill with which I opened my
newspaper, morning after morning, and read that Paris still held out.

Before quitting London, I had heard that the French had recaptured the
small town of Le Bourget, in the neighborhood of Paris, and were
holding it successfully against the Prussian attack. Telegraphic
communication with Paris itself had long been suspended, and we,
watchers on the hither side, only heard vague rumours of the doings
within the ramparts. It appeared that each day saw an advance in the
organisation of the defence. The distribution of food was now carried
out with more system, and the defenders of the capital were confident
alike of being able to repel assault and withstand a siege.

The Empress had long been in England, whither, indeed, she had fled,
with the assistance of a worthy and courageous gentleman, her American
dentist, within a few hours of our departure from Fécamp. The Emperor,
a broken man bearing the seed of death, had been allowed to join her
at Chiselhurst, thus returning to the land where he had found asylum
in his early adversity. It is strange how the Buonapartes, from the
beginning to the close of their wondrous dynasty, had to deal with
England.

The first of that great line died a captive to English arms, the last
perished fighting our foes.

"Paris has not fallen yet, has it, sir?" the waiter asked me when he
brought my breakfast on the following day--and I think the world
talked of little else than Paris that rainy morning. For the siege had
now lasted six weeks, and the ring of steel and iron was closing
around the doomed city.

The London newspapers had not arrived, so the morning news was passed
from mouth to mouth with that eagerness which is no respecter of
persons. Strangers spoke to each other in the coffee-room, and no man
hesitated to ask a question of his neighbour--the whole world seemed
akin. In those days Southampton was the port of discharge for the
Indian liners, and the hotel was full, every table being occupied. I
looked over the bronzed faces of these administrators, by sword and
pen, of our great empire, and soon decided that Charles Miste was not
among them. The wisdom that cometh in the morning had, in fact, forced
me to conclude that the search for the miscreant was better left in
the hands of Mr. Sander and his professional assistants.

[Illustration: "IT IS THE LADY WHO ARRIVED YESTERDAY," ANSWERED THE
WAITER.]

At the breakfast table I received a telegram from Sander informing me
that Paris still held out. He wired me this advice according to
arrangement; for he had decided that Miste, feeling, like all
Frenchmen, ill at ease abroad, was only awaiting the surrender to
return to Paris, and there begin more active measures to realise his
wealth. As soon, therefore, as the city fell I was to hasten thither
and there meet Sander.

The arrival of my message occasioned a small stir in the room, and
many keen glances were directed towards me as I read it. I handed it
to my nearest neighbour, explaining that he in turn was at liberty to
pass the paper on. It was not long before the waiter came to me with
the request that he might make known to a young French lady travelling
alone any news that would interest one of her nationality.

"Certainly," answered I. "Take the telegram to her that she may read
it for herself."

"But, sir, she knows no English, and although I understand a little
French, I cannot speak it."

"Then bring me the telegram, and point out to me the lady."

"It is the lady who arrived yesterday," answered the waiter. "She
came, as I understand, with an old lady and gentleman, but they have
left this morning for the Isle of Wight, and she remains alone."

He indicated the fair traveller, and I might have guessed her
nationality from the fact that, unlike the Englishwomen present, she
was breakfasting in her hat. She was a pretty woman--no longer quite
young--with a pale oval face and deep brown hair. As I approached she,
having breakfasted, was drawing her veil down over her face, and
subsequently attended to her hat with pretty, studied movements of the
hands and arms which were essentially French.

She returned my bow with quiet self-possession, and graciously looked
to me to speak.

"The waiter tells me," I said in French, "that I am fortunate enough
to possess some news which may be of interest to you."

"If it is news of France, Monsieur, I am _sur des épingles_ until I
hear it."

I laid the telegram before her, and she looked at it with a pretty
shake of the head which wafted to me some faint and pleasant scent.

"Translate, if you please," she said. "I blush for an ignorance of
which you might have spared me the confession."

It was a pretty profile that bent over the telegram, and I wished that
I had arrived sooner, before she had lowered her veil. She followed my
translation with a nod of the head, but did not raise her eyes.

"And this word?" pointing out the name of my agent with so keen an
interest that she touched my hand with her gloved fingers. "This word
'Sander,' what is that?"

"That," I answered, "is the name of my agent, 'Sander,' the sender of
the telegram."

"Ah--yes, and he is in London? Yes."

"And is he reliable?--excuse my pertinacity, Monsieur--you know, for a
Frenchwoman--who has friends at the front--" she gave a little shiver.
"Mon Dieu! it is killing."

She gave a momentary glance with wonderful eyes, which made me wish
she would look up again. I wondered whom she had at the front.

"Yes, he is reliable," I answered. "You may take this news,
Mademoiselle, as absolutely true."

And then, seeing that she was traveling alone, I made so bold as to
place my poor services at her disposal. She answered very prettily, in
a low voice, and declined with infinite tact. She had no reason, she
said, at the moment to trespass on my valuable time, but if I would
tell my name she would not fail to avail herself of my offer should
occasion arise during her stay in England. I gave her my card, and as
her attitude betokened dismissal, returned to my table, accompanied
thither by the scowls of some of the young military gentlemen present.

Had I been a younger fellow, open to the fire of any dark eyes, I
might have surrendered at discretion to the glance that accompanied
her parting bow. As it was, I left her, desiring strongly that she
might have need of my service. For reasons which the reader knows, all
Frenchwomen were of special interest in my eyes, and this young lady
wielded a strong and lively charm, to which I was fully alive so soon
as she raised her deep eyes to mine.



Chapter XVIII

A Dark Horse

     "Le plus grand art d'un habile homme est celui de savoir
     cacher son habileté."


Later in the day I was ignominiously recalled to London.

"Useless to remain in Southampton. First note has been changed in
London," Sander telegraphed to me.

While lunching at the hotel, I learnt from the waiter that the young
French lady had received letters causing her to change her plans, and
that she had left hurriedly for Dover, the waiter thought.

Sander came to see me the same evening at my club in London.

"There are at least two in it--probably three," he said. "The note was
changed at Cook's office, in the purchase of two tourist tickets to
Baden-Baden, which can, of course, be resold or used in part only. It
was done by an old man--wore a wig, they tell me--but he was genuine;
not a young man in disguise, I mean."

If Mr. Sander knew more he did not take me further into his
confidence. He was a pale-faced, slight man, having the outward
appearance of a city clerk. But the fellow had a keen look, and there
was something in the lines of his thin, determined lips that gave one
confidence. I saw that he did not reciprocate this feeling. Indeed, I
think he rather despised me for a thick-headed country bumpkin.

He glanced around the gorgeously decorated smoking-room of the club
with a look half-contemptuous and half-envious, and sat restlessly in
the luxurious arm-chair native to club smoking-rooms, as one
cultivating a Spartan habit of life.

"It is probable," he said bluntly, "that you are being watched."

"Yes--I know the bailiffs keep their eye on me."

"I suppose you are not going away to shoot or anything like that?"

"I can go to France and look after Madame de Clericy's property,"
answered I, and the prospect of a change of scene was not unpleasant
to me. For, to tell the truth, I was ill at ease at this time, and
while in England fell victim to a weak and unmanly longing to be at
Hopton. For, however strong a man's will may be, it seems that one
woman in his path must have the power to inspire him with such a
longing that he cannot free his mind of thoughts of her, nor
interest himself in any other part of the world but that which she
inhabits. Thus, to a grey-haired man who surely might have been wiser,
it was actual misery to be in England and not at Hopton, where
Alphonse Giraud was no doubt happy enough in the neighbourhood of the
woman we both loved.

[Illustration: "IT IS PROBABLE," HE SAID BLUNTLY, "THAT YOU ARE BEING
WATCHED."]

"Yes," said Sander to me, after long thought. "Do that. I shall get on
better if you are out of England."

The man's air, as I have said, inspired confidence; and I, seeking an
excuse to be moving, determined to obey him without delay. Moreover, I
was beginning to realise more and more the difficulties of my task,
and the remembrance of what had passed at Hopton made failure
singularly distasteful.

The Vicomtesse had property in the Morbihan, to which I could
penetrate without great risk of arrest. We had heard nothing from the
agent in charge of this estate since the outbreak of war, and it
seemed probable that the man had volunteered for active service in one
of the Breton regiments, raised in all haste at this time.

Writing a note to Madame, I left England the next day, intending to be
absent a week or ten days. My journey was uneventful, and needs not to
be detailed here.

During the writer's absence in stricken France, Miss Isabella
Gayerson, who seemed as restless as himself, suddenly bethought
herself to open her London house and fill it with guests. It must be
remembered that this lady was an heiress, and, if report be true, more
than one needy nobleman offered her a title and that which he called
his heart, only to meet with a cold refusal. I who know her so well
can fancy that these disinterested gentlemen hesitated to repeat the
experiment. It is vanity that too often makes a woman consent at last
(though sometimes Love may awake and do it), and I think that Isabella
was never vain.

"I have good reason to be without vanity," she once said in my
hearing, but I do not know what she meant. The remark, as I remember,
was made in answer to Lucille, who happened to say that a woman can
dress well without being vain, and laughingly gave Isabella as an
example.

Isabella's chief reason in coming to London during the winter was a
kind one--namely, to put a temporary end to an imprisonment in the
country which was irksome to Lucille. And I make no doubt the two
ladies were glad enough to avail themselves of this opportunity of
seeing London. God made the country and men the towns, it is said; and
I think they made them for the women.

On returning to London I found letters from Madame de Clericy
explaining this change of residence, and in the same envelope a note
from Isabella (her letters were always kinder than her speech),
inviting me to stay in Hyde Park Street.

"We are sufficiently old friends," she wrote, "to allow thus of a
general invitation, and if it shares the usual fate of such, the fault
will be yours, and not mine."

The letter was awaiting me at the club, and I deemed it allowable to
call in response the same afternoon. The news of Lucille's engagement
to Alphonse Giraud was ever dangling before my eyes, and I wished to
get the announcement swallowed without further suspense.

Alphonse, a perfect squire of dames, was engaged in dispensing thin
bread and butter when I entered the room, feeling, as I feel to this
day, somewhat out of place and heavy amid the delicate ornaments and
flowers of a lady's drawing-room. My reception was not exactly warm,
and I was struck by the pallor of Isabella's face, which, however,
gave place to a more natural colour before long. Madame alone showed
gladness at the sight of me, and held out both her hands in a welcome
full of affection. I thought Lucille's black dress very becoming to
her slim form.

We talked, of course, of the war, before which all other topics faded
into insignificance at that time--and I had but disquieting news from
France. The siege had now lasted seven weeks, and none knew what the
end might be. The opportunity awaited the Frenchman, but none rose to
meet it. France blundered on in the hands of political mediocrities,
as she has done ever since.

I gathered that Alphonse was staying in the house, and wondered at the
news, considering that Isabella knew him but slightly. It was the
Vicomtesse who gave me the information, with one of her quiet glances
that might mean much or nothing. For myself, I confess they usually
possessed but small significance--men being of a denser (though
perhaps deeper) comprehension than women, who catch on the wing a
thought that flies past such as myself, and is lost.

I could only conclude that Isabella was seeking the happiness of her
new-found friend in thus offering Giraud an opportunity, which he
doubtless seized with avidity.

Isabella was kind enough to repeat her invitation, which, however, I
declined with Madame's eye upon me and Lucille's back suddenly turned
in my direction. Lucille, in truth, was talking to Alphonse, and gaily
enough. He had the power of amusing her, in which I was deficient, and
she was always merry.

While we were thus engaged, a second visitor was announced, but I did
not hear his name. His face was unknown to me--a narrow, foxy face it
was--and the man's perfect self-assurance had something offensive in
it, as all shams have. I did not care for his manner towards
Isabella--which is, however, as I understand, quite _à la mode
d'aujourd'hui_--a sort of careless, patronising admiration, with no
touch of respect in it.

He made it quite apparent that he had come to see the young mistress
of the house, and no one else, acknowledging the introductions to the
remainder of the company with a scant courtesy. He talked to Isabella
with a confidential inclination of his body towards her as they sat on
low chairs with a small table between them, and it was easy to see
that she appreciated the attention of this middle-aged man of the
world.

"You see, Miss Gayerson," I heard him say with a bold glance, for he
was one of those fine fellows who can look straight enough at a woman,
but do not care to meet the eye of a man. "You see, I have taken you
at your word. I wonder if you meant me to."

"I always mean what I say," answered Isabella; and I thought she
glanced in my direction to see whether I was listening.

"A privilege of your sex--also to mean what you don't say."

At this moment Madame spoke to me, and I heard no more, but we may be
sure that his further conversation was of a like intellectual and
noteworthy standard. There was something in the man's lowered tone and
insinuating manner that made me set him down as a lawyer.

"Do you notice," said Madame to me, "that Lucille is in better
spirits?"

"Yes--I notice it with pleasure. Good spirits are for the young--and
the old."

"I suppose you are right," said Madame. "Before the business of life
begins, and after it is over."

Apropos of business, I gave the Vicomtesse at this time an account of
my journey to Audierne, and was able to inform her that I had brought
back money with me sufficient for her present wants.

While I was thus talking I heard, through my own speech, that Isabella
invited the stranger to dine on the following Thursday.

"I have another engagement," he answered, consulting a small
note-book. "But that can be conveniently forgotten."

Isabella seemed to like such exceedingly small social change, for she
smiled brightly as he rose to take his leave.

To the Vicomtesse he paid a pretty little compliment in French,
anticipating much enjoyment on the following Thursday in improving
upon his slight acquaintance. He shook hands with me, his gaze fixed
on my necktie. He then bowed to Lucille and Alphonse, who were talking
together at the end of the room, and made a self-possessed exit.

"Who is your friend?" I asked Isabella bluntly, when the door was
closed.

"A Mr. Devar. Does he interest you?"

There was something in Isabella's tone that betokened a readiness, or
perhaps a desire, to fight Mr. Devar's battles. Had I been a woman, or
wiser than I have ever proved myself, I should, no doubt, have ignored
this challenge instead of promptly meeting it by my answer:

"I cannot say he does."

"You seem to object to him," she said sharply. "Please remember that
he is a friend of mine."

"He cannot be one of long standing," I was foolish enough to answer.
"For he is not an East Country man, and I never heard of him before."

"As a matter of fact," said Isabella, "I met him at a ball in town
last week, and he asked permission to call."

I gave a short laugh, and Isabella looked at me with calm defiance in
her eyes. It was, of course, no business of mine, which knowledge
probably urged me on to further blunders.

Isabella's mental attitude was a puzzle to me. She was ready enough
to supply information respecting Mr. Devar, whose progress towards
intimacy had, to say the least of it, been rapid. But she supplied, as
I thought, from a small store. She alternately allayed and aroused an
anxiety which was natural enough in so old a friend, and to a man who
had moved among adventurers nearly all his life. Alfred Gayerson, her
brother and my earliest friend, was now in Vienna. Isabella had no one
to advise her. She was, I suppose, a forerunner of the advanced young
women of to-day, who, with a diminutive knowledge of the world culled
from the imaginative writings of females as ignorant, are pleased to
consider themselves competent to steer a clean course over the shoals
of life.

Isabella had had, as I understood, a certain experience of the
ordinary fortune-hunters of society--pleasant enough fellows, no
doubt, but lacking self-respect and manhood--and it seemed
extraordinary that her eyes should be closed to Mr. Devar's manifold
qualifications to the title.

"Perhaps," she said at length, "you also will do us the pleasure of
dining with us on Thursday, as you appear to be so deeply interested
in Mr. Devar despite your assurances to the contrary."

"I shall be most happy to do so," answered I--ungraciously, I
fear--and there arose a sudden light, almost of triumph, to her
usually repressed glance.

Alphonse Giraud acceded to my suggestion that he should walk with me
towards my club. His manner towards me had been reserved and
unnatural, and I wished to get to the bottom of his feeling in respect
to one whom he had always treated as a friend. Isabella was the only
person to suggest an objection to my proposal, reminding Alphonse,
rather pointedly, that he had but time to dress for dinner.

"Well," I said, when we were turning into Piccadilly, "Miste has begun
to give us a scent at last."

"It is not so much in Monsieur Miste as in the money that I am
interested," answered Giraud, swinging his cane, and looking about him
with a simulated interest in his surroundings.

"Ah!"

"Yes; and I am beginning to be convinced that I shall never see
either."

"Indeed."

"Let us quit an unpleasant subject," said the Frenchman, after a
pause, and in the manner of one seeking to avoid an impending quarrel.
"What splendid horses you have in England! See that pair in the
victoria? one could not tell them apart. And what action!"

"Yes," I answered, lamely enough; "we have good enough horses."

And before I could return to the subject, which no longer drew us
together, but separated us, he dragged out his watch and hurriedly
turned back, leaving me with a foolish and inexplicable sense of
guilt.



Chapter XIX

Sport

     "L'amour du mieux t'aura interdit le bien."


"Do I look as if I had come out of Paris in a balloon?" said John
Turner, in answer to my suggestion that he had made use of a method of
escape at that time popular. "No, I left by the Creteil gate, without
drum or trumpet, or anything more romantic than a _laissez-passer_
signed by Favre. There will be the devil to pay in Paris before
another week has passed, and I am not going to disburse."

"In what way will he want paying?" I asked.

"Well," answered John Turner, dragging at the knees of his trousers,
which garments invariably incommoded his stout legs, "Well, the
Government of National Defence is beginning to show that it has been
ill-named. Before long they will be replaced by a Government of
National Ruin. The ass in the streets is wanting to bray in the Hôtel
de Ville, and will get there before he has finished."

"You are well out of it," said I, "and do not seem to have suffered by
the siege."

"Next to being a soldier it is good to be a banker in time of war,"
said Turner, pulling down his waistcoat, which, indeed, had been in no
way affected by the privations currently reported to be the lot of the
besieged Parisians.

"What about Miste?" he added, abruptly.

"I have seen his back again, I do not believe the man has a face."

And I told my astute friend of my failure to catch Charles Miste at
the Bank of England.

"Truth is," commented the banker, "that Monsieur Miste is an
uncommonly smart rogue. You must be careful--when he does show you his
face, have a care. And if you take my advice you will leave this
little business to the men who know what they are about. It is not
every one who knows the way to tackle a fellow carrying a loaded
revolver. By the way, do you carry such a thing yourself?"

"Never had one in my life."

"Then buy one," said Turner. "I always wear one--in a pocket at the
back, where neither I nor any one else can get at it. Sorry you could
not come to luncheon," he continued. "I wanted to have a long talk
with you."

He settled himself in the large arm-chair, which he completely filled.
I like a man to be bulky in his advancing years.

[Illustration: "WAITER, TAKE THIS GENTLEMAN'S ORDER. YOU YOUNG FELLOWS
CANNOT SMOKE WITHOUT DRINKING, NOWADAYS--HORRID BAD HABIT. WAITER,
BRING ME THE SAME."]

"Take that chair," he said, "and this cigar. I suppose you want
something to drink. Waiter, take this gentleman's order. You young
fellows cannot smoke without drinking, nowadays--horrid bad habit.
Waiter, bring me the same."

When we were alone, John Turner sat smoking and looking at me with
beady, reflective eyes.

"You know, Dick," he said at length, "I have got you down in my will."

"Thanks--but you will last my time."

"Then it is no good, you think?" he inquired, with a chuckle.

"Not much."

"You want it now?" he suggested.

"No."

"Your father's son," commented my father's friend. "Stubborn and rude.
A true Howard of Hopton. I have got you down in my will, however, and
I'm going to interfere in your affairs. That is why I sent for you."

I smoked and waited.

"I take it," he went on in his short and breathless way, "that things
are at a standstill somewhat in this position. If you marry Isabella
Gayerson, you will have with her money, which is a tidy fortune, four
thousand a year. If you don't have the young woman, you can live at
Hopton, but without a sou to your name. You want to marry
Mademoiselle, who thinks you are too old and too big a scoundrel.
That is Mademoiselle's business. Giraud junior is also in love with
Mademoiselle Lucille, who would doubtless marry him if he had the
wherewithal. In the mean time she is coy--awaiting the result of your
search. You are seeking Giraud's money, so that he may marry
Mademoiselle of the bright eyes--you understand that, I suppose?"

"Thoroughly."

"That is all right. It is best to have these affairs clearly stated.
Now, why the devil do you not ask Isabella to marry you--"

"To begin with, she would not have me," I interrupted.

"Nice girl, capable of a deep and passionate affection--I know these
quiet women--two thousand five hundred a year."

"She wouldn't have me."

"Then ask her, and when she has refused you, fight the validity of
your father's will."

"But she might not refuse me," said I. "She hates me, though! I know
that. There is no one on earth with such a keen scent for my faults."

"Ye-es," said Turner slowly. "Well?"

"She might think it her duty to accept me on account of the will."

"Have you ever known a woman weigh duty against the inclination of her
own heart?"

"I know little about women," replied I, "and doubt whether you know
more."

"That is as may be. And you wouldn't marry Isabella for two thousand a
year?"

"Not for twenty thousand," replied I, half in my wineglass.

"Virtuous young man! Why?"

I looked at Turner and laughed.

"A slip of a French girl," he muttered contemptuously. "No bigger
round than the calf of my leg."

And I suppose he only spoke the truth.

He continued thus to give me much good advice, to which, no doubt, had
I been prudent, I should have listened with entire faith. But my
friend, like other worldly wiseacres, had many theories which he
himself failed to put into practice. And as he spoke there was a
twinkle in his eye, and a tone of scepticism in his voice, as if he
knew that he was but whistling to the wind.

Then John Turner fell to abusing Miste and Giraud and the late poor
Vicomte as a parcel of knaves and fools.

"Here am I," he cried, "with a bundle of my signatures being hawked
about the world by a thief, and cannot stop one of them. Every one
knows that my paper is good; the drafts will be negotiated from
pillar to post like a Bank of England note, and the account will not
be closed for years."

It was a vexatious matter for so distinguished a banker to be mixed
in, and I could give him but little comfort. While I was still with
him, however, a letter was brought to me which enlightened us
somewhat. This communication was from my agent Sander, and bore the
Brussels postmark.

"This Miste," he wrote, "is no ordinary scoundrel, but one who will
want most careful treatment, or we shall lose the whole amount. I have
now arrived at the conclusion that he has two accomplices, and one of
these in London; for I am undoubtedly watched, and my movements are
probably reported to Miste. Yourself and Monsieur Giraud are doubtless
under surveillance also. I am always on Miste's heels, but never catch
him up. It seems quite clear, from the inconsequence of his movements,
that he is endeavouring to meet an accomplice, but that my presence so
close upon his heels repeatedly scares them apart. He receives letters
and telegrams at the Poste Restante, under the name of Marcel. So
close was I upon his track, that at Bruges I caused him to break his
appointment by a few hours only. He sent off a telegram, and made
himself scarce only two hours before my arrival. This is a large
affair, and we must have great patience. In the mean time, I think it
probable that Miste will not endeavour to cash any more drafts. He
only wants sufficient for current expenses, and will probably
endeavour to negotiate the whole amount to some small foreign
government in guise of a loan."

"That is what he will do," affirmed John Turner. "Persia or China of a
needy South American state."

It pleased me at times to think that I could guess Lucille's thoughts,
and indeed she made it plain at this time that she cherished some
grudge against me. It was, I suppose, only natural that she should
suspect me of lukewarmness in a search which, if successful, would
inevitably militate to my own discomfiture. Alphonse Giraud was
doubtless awaiting, with a half-concealed impatience, the moment when
he might honourably press his suit. Thus, Charles Miste held us all in
the hollow of his hand, and the news I had received was as important
to others as to myself.

I therefore hurried to Hyde Park Street, and had the good fortune to
find all the party within. I made known the contents of Sander's
letter, adding thereto, for the benefit of the ladies, John Turner's
comments and my own suspicions.

"We shall catch him yet!" cried Alphonse, forgetting in the excitement
of the moment the dignified reserve which had of late stood between
us. "Bravo, Howard! we shall catch him yet."

He wrung my hand effusively, and then, remembering himself, glanced at
Isabella, as I thought, and lapsed into attentive and suspicious
silence.

Having made my report I withdrew, and at the corner of the street was
nearly run over by a private hansom cab, at that time a fashionable
vehicle among men about town. I caught a glimpse of a courteous gloved
hand, and Mr. Devar's face wreathed in the pleasantest of smiles.

"You omitted to tell me at what hour you dine," was the remark with
which Mr. Devar made his entrance. He refused to accept a chair, and
took his stand on the hearth-rug without monopolising the fire, and
with perfect ease and a word for every one.

"As I drove here I passed your friend Mr. Howard," he said presently,
and Isabella said "Ah!"

"Yes, and he looked somewhat absorbed."

Mr. Devar waited, and after a pause, kindly continued to interest
himself in so unworthy a subject.

"Did you not tell me," he remarked, "that Mr. Howard is engaged on
some--er--quixotic enterprise--the search for a fortune he has lost?"

"The fortune is Monsieur Giraud's," said the lady of the house.

Devar turned to Alphonse with a bow appropriately French.

"Then I congratulate Monsieur on his--possibilities."

His manner of speech was suggestive of a desire to conceal a glibness
which is usually accounted a fault.

"And I hope that Mr. Howard's obvious absorption was not due
to--discouragement."

"On the contrary," answered Isabella, "Mr. Howard has just given us a
most hopeful report."

"Has he caught the thief?"

"No; but his agent, a Mr. Sander, writes from Brussels that he has
traced the thief to the Netherlands, and there seems to be some
probability that he will be taken."

"My experience of thieves," said Mr. Devar airily, "has been small.
But I imagine they are hard to take when they once get away. Mr.
Howard is, I fear, wasting his time."

Isabella answered nothing to this, though her pinched lips seemed to
indicate a doubt whether such a waste was in reality going forward.

"Our neighbour's enterprise usually appears to be a waste of time,
does it not?" he said, with the large tolerance of a man owning to
many failings.

Alphonse shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands with a
gesture of helplessness, further accentuated by the bandage on his
wrist.

"I do not so much want to catch the thief as to possess myself of the
money," he said.

"You are charitable, Monsieur Giraud."

"No--I am poor."

Devar laughed in the pleasantest manner imaginable.

"And of course," he said, indicating the Frenchman's maimed hand,
which was usually in evidence, "you are unable to undertake the search
yourself?"

"As yet."

"Then you intend ultimately to join in the chase--you are a great
sportsman, I hear?"

The graceful compliment was not lost upon Alphonse, who beamed upon
his interlocutor.

"In a small way--in a small way," he answered. "Yes, when they strike
a really good scent I shall follow, wounds or no wounds."

At this Mr. Devar expressed some concern, and made himself
additionally agreeable. He refused still to be seated, saying that he
had but come to ascertain the dinner hour on the following Thursday.
Nevertheless, he prolonged his stay and made himself vastly
fascinating.



Chapter XX

Underhand

     "Le doute empoisonne tout et ne tue rien."


As I walked through the park towards Isabella's house on the evening
of the dinner-party, Devar's hansom cab dashed past me and stopped a
few yards farther on. The man must have had sharp eyes to recognise me
in a London haze on a November evening. Devar leapt from his cab and
came towards me.

"Shall I walk with you or will you drive with me?" he said.

Placed between two evil alternatives, I suggested that it would be
better for his health to walk with me--hoping, although it was a dry
night, that his shiny boots were too precious or tight for such
exercise. Mr. Devar, however, made a sign to the groom to follow, and
slipped his hand engagingly within my arm.

"Glad of the chance of a walk," he said. "Wish I was a free man like
you, Howard, London would not often see me!"

"What would?" I asked, for I like to know where vermin harbours.

"Ah!"--he paused, and, as I thought, glanced at me. "The wide world.
Should like, for instance, a roving commission such as yours--to look
for a scoundrel with a lot of money-bags, who may be in London or
Timbuctoo."

I walked on in silence, never having had quick speech or the habit of
unburthening my soul to the first listener.

"Not likely to stay in London in November if he is a man of sense as
well as enterprise," he added, jerking up the fur collar of his coat.

We walked on a little farther.

"Suppose you have no notion where he is?" said my bland companion, to
which I made no articulate reply.

"_Do_ you know?" he asked at length, as one in a corner.

"Do you _want_ to know?" retorted I.

"Oh--no," with a laugh.

"That is well," said I finally. And we walked on for a space in
silence, when my companion changed the conversation with that ease of
manner under the direct snub which only comes from experience. Mr.
Devar was certainly a good-natured person, for he forgave my rudeness
as soon as it was uttered.

I know not exactly how he compassed it, but he restored peace so
effectually that before we reached Hyde Park Street he had forced me
to invite him to lunch with me at my club on the following Saturday.
This world is certainly for the thick-skinned.

We entered Isabella's drawing-room, therefore, together, and a picture
of brotherly love.

"Force of good example," explained Mr. Devar airily. "I saw Howard
walking and walked with him."

There were assembled the house-party only, Devar and I being the
guests of the evening. Isabella frowned as we entered together. I
wondered why.

Devar attached himself to Alphonse Giraud, whom he led aside under
pretext of examining a picture.

"Monsieur Giraud," he then said to him in French, "as a man of affairs
I cannot but deplore your heedlessness."

He was a much older man than Giraud, and had besides the gift of
uttering an impertinence as if under compulsion.

"But, my dear sir--" exclaimed Alphonse.

"Either you do not heed the loss of your fortune or you are blind."

"You mean that I cannot trust my friend," said Alphonse.

Mr. Devar spread out his hands in denial of any such meaning.

"Monsieur Giraud," he said, "I am a man of the world, and also a
lawyer. I suppose I am as charitable as my neighbours. But it is never
wise to trust a single man with a large sum of money. None of us knows
his own weakness. Put not thy neighbour into temptation."

Which sounded like Scripture, and doubtless passed as such. Mr. Devar
nodded easily, smiled like an advertisement of dentifrice, and moved
back to the centre of the room. It naturally fell to him to offer his
arm to the hostess, while Madame accompanied me to the dining-room.
Alphonse and Lucille paired off, as it seemed to me, very naturally.

As we passed down the stairs I fell into thought, and made a mental
survey of all these people as they stood in respect to myself.
Alphonse had progressed, as was visible on his telltale face, from
suspicion to something near hostility. Isabella--always a puzzle--was
more enigmatic than ever; for she showed herself keenly alive to my
faults, and made no concealment of her distrust, though she threw open
her house to me with a persistent and almost anxious hospitality. Here
was no friend. Had I, in Isabella, an enemy? Of Devar, all that I
could conclude was that he was suspicious. His interest in myself was
less gratifying than the deepest indifference. In Madame de Clericy I
had one who wished to be my friend, but her attitude towards me was
inscrutable. She seemed to encourage Alphonse. Did she, like the rest
of them, suspect me of seeking to frustrate his suit by withholding
his fortune? She merely looked at me, and would say no word. And of
Lucille, what could I think but that she hated me?

At dinner we spoke of the siege, and of those sad affairs of France
which drew all men's thoughts at this time. Mr. Devar was, I remember,
well informed on the points of the campaign, and seemed to talk of
them with equal facility in French and English; but I disliked the
man, and determined to make my thoughts known to Isabella.

It was no easy matter to outstay Mr. Devar, but, asserting my position
as an old friend, this was at last accomplished. When we were left
alone, Alphonse must have divined my intention in the quick way that
was natural to him; for he engaged Lucille and her mother in a
discussion of the latest news, which he translated from an evening
paper. Indeed, Lucille and he put their heads together over the
journal, and seemed to find it damnably amusing.

"Isabella," I said, "will you allow me to make some inquiries
concerning this man Devar before you ask him to your house again?"

"Are you afraid that Mr. Devar will interfere with your own private
schemes?" she replied, in that tone of semi-banter which she often
assumed towards me when we were alone.

"Thanks--no. I am quite capable of taking care of myself, so far as
Mr. Devar is concerned. It is--if you will believe it--in regard to
yourself that I have misgivings. I look upon myself as in some sort
your protector."

She looked at me, and gave a sudden laugh.

"A most noble and competent protector!" she said, in her biting way,
"when you are always fortune-hunting, or else in France taking care of
beauty in distress."

She glanced across the room towards Lucille in a manner strangely
cold.

"Why do you encourage this man?" I asked, returning to the subject
from which Isabella had so easily glided away. "He is not a gentleman.
Seems to me the man is a--dark horse!"

"Well, you ought to know," said Isabella, with a promptness which made
me reflect that I was no match for the veriest schoolgirl in a warfare
of words.

[Illustration: "A MOST NOBLE AND COMPETENT PROTECTOR!" SHE SAID, IN
HER BITING WAY, "WHEN YOU ARE ALWAYS FORTUNE-HUNTING, OR ELSE IN
FRANCE TAKING CARE OF BEAUTY IN DISTRESS."]

"I did not understand," continued Isabella, looking at me under her
lashes, "that you looked upon yourself as my protector. It is rather
an amusing thought!"

"Oh! I do not pretend to competence," answered I; "I know you to be
cleverer, and quite capable of managing your own affairs. If there was
anything you wanted, no doubt you could get it better without my
assistance than with it."

"No doubt," put in Isabella, with a queer curtness.

"But my father looked upon you rather in the light I mentioned. He was
very fond of you, and thought much of your welfare, and--"

"You think the burden should be hereditary," she interrupted again,
but she smiled in a manner that softened the acerbity of her words.

"No, Dick," she said, "you are better at your fortune-hunting."

"It is not for myself," I said too hurriedly; for Isabella had always
the power to make me utter hasty words, involving me in some quarrel
in which I invariably fared badly.

"Who knows?"

"You think that if the fortune fell into my hands, the temptation
would be too strong for a poor man like myself?" I inquired.

"Poor by choice!" The words were hardly audible, for Isabella was
busying her fingers with some books that lay on the table between us.
It may have been the effect of the lamp shade, but I thought her
colour heightened when I glanced at her face.

"It is hard to believe that you are honestly seeking a fortune, which,
when found, will enable another man to marry Lucille," she said
significantly, without looking at me. And I suppose she knew that
which was in my heart.

"Some day," I retorted, "you will have to apologise for having said
that!"

"Then others will need to do the same! Lucille herself does not
believe in you."

"Yes," I answered, "others will have to do the same, and thank you for
it."

"Lucille will not," answered Isabella, with a note of triumph in her
voice, "for she had reason to distrust you in Paris."

"You seem to be on very confidential terms with Mademoiselle."

"Yes," she answered, looking at me with quiet defiance.

"Is the confidence mutual, Isabella?" asked I, rising to go; and
received no answer.

When I bade good-night to Madame de Clericy, she was standing alone at
the far end of the room.

"Ah! mon ami," she said, as she gave me her hand, "I think you are
blinder than other men. Women are not only clothes. We have feelings
of our own, which spring up without the help of any man--in despite of
any, perhaps--remember that."

Which I confess was Greek to me, and sent me on my way with the
feeling of a hunter who, in following one all-absorbing quarry through
the forest, and hearing on all sides a suppressed rustle or hushed
movement, pauses to wonder whence they come and what they mean.

"Tell me," said Alphonse, who helped me with my heavy coat, "if you
have news of Miste or propose to follow him. I will accompany you."

He said it awkwardly, after the manner of one avowing an unworthy
suspicion of which he is ashamed. So Alphonse Giraud was to follow me
and watch my every movement, treating me like a servant unworthy of
trust. I made answer, promising to advise him of any such intention;
for Giraud's company was pleasant under any circumstances, and there
would be some keen sport in running Miste to earth with him beside me.

Thus I came away from Isabella's house with the conviction that she
and no other was my most active enemy. It was Isabella who had
poisoned Giraud's mind against me. He was too simple and honest to
have conceived unaided such thoughts as he now harboured. Moreover, he
was, like many good-hearted people, at the mercy of every wind that
blows, and, like the chameleon, took his colour from his environments.

It was to no other than Isabella that I owed Lucille's coldness, and I
shrewdly suspected some ulterior motive in the action that transferred
the home of the distressed ladies--for a time at least--from my house
at Hopton to her own house in London. Madame de Clericy and Lucille
were no longer my guests, but hers; and each day diminished their debt
towards me and made them more beholden to Isabella.

"I know," Lucille had said to me one day, "that you despise us for
being happier in London than at Hopton; we are conscious of your
contempt."

And with a laugh she linked arms with Madame de Clericy, who hastened
to say that Hopton was no doubt charming in the spring.

I had long ago discovered that Lucille ruled her mother's heart,
where, indeed, no other interest entered. This visit to Isabella's
town house had, it appears, been arranged by the two girls, Madame
acquiescing, as she acquiesced in all that was for her daughter's
happiness.

In whatsoever line I moved, Isabella seemed to stand in my path ready
to frustrate my designs and impede my progress. And Isabella Gayerson
had been my only playmate in childhood--the companion of my youth,
and, if the matter had rested with me, might have remained the friend
of my whole lifetime.

As I walked down Oxford Street (for in those days I could not afford a
cab, my every shilling being needed to keep open Hopton and pay the
servants there) I pondered over these things, and quite failed to
elucidate them. And writing now, after many stormy years, and in quiet
harbour at Hopton, I still fail to understand Isabella; nor can I tell
what it is that makes a woman so uncertain in her friendships.

Then my thoughts returned to Mr. Devar, where the necessity for action
presented difficulties more after my own heart.

I went to the club and there wrote a letter to Sander, who was still
in the Netherlands, asking him if he knew aught of a gentleman calling
himself Devar, who appeared to me to be no gentleman, who spoke French
like any Frenchman, and had the air of a prosperous scoundrel.



Chapter XXI

Checkmate

     "L'honneur n'existe que pour ceux qui ont de l'honneur."


Two or three days later I received a telegram from Sander, couched in
the abrupt language affected by that keen-witted individual:

"Ask John Turner if he knows Devar."

The great banker's affairs were at this time of such moment that it
seemed inconsiderate to trouble him with my difficulties. Also I was
beginning to learn a lesson which has since been more fully impressed
on my mind--namely, that there is only one person whose interest in
one's affairs is continuous and sincere--namely, one's self. John
Turner was a kind friend, and one who, I believe, bestowed a great
affection upon a very unworthy object; but at such a time, when France
seemed to be crumbling away in the sight of men, it was surely asking
too much that I should expect him to turn his thoughts to me. I
called, however, at the hotel where he had established himself, and
there learnt from his valet that my friend was in the habit of
quitting his temporary abode early in the day, not to return until
evening.

"Where does he lunch?" I asked.

"Sometimes at one place, sometimes at another--wherever they have a
good _chef_, sir," the man replied.

I bethought me of my own club and its renown. Come peace or war, I
knew that John Turner never missed his meals. I left a note asking him
to take luncheon with me at the club on the following day, to discuss
matters of importance and meet a mutual acquaintance. I invited him
fifteen minutes later than the hour named to Mr. Devar, and in the
evening received his acceptance. As I was walking down St. James
Street the next morning I met Alphonse Giraud.

"Will you lunch with me at the club," I said, "to-day, at one. I want
to give you every facility to carry out your scheme to keep an eye on
me."

Poor Alphonse blushed and hung his head.

"John Turner will be there," I said, with a laugh, "and perhaps we may
hear something that will interest you--at all events, he will talk of
money, since you are so absorbed in it."

So my luncheon party formed itself into a rather queer _partie carrée_;
for I knew John Turner's contempt for Alphonse, and hoped that he
might cherish a yet stronger feeling against Devar.

At the hour appointed that gentleman arrived, and was pleased to be
very gracious and patronising. His manner towards me was that of a man
of the world who is kindly disposed towards a country bumpkin. I
received him in the smaller smoking-room, where we were alone, and
were still sitting there when Alphonse came. It was quite evident that
the little Frenchman appreciated the great English club.

"Now, in Paris," he said, "we copy all this. But it is not the same
thing. We have our clubs, but they are quite different--they are but
cafés--and why?"

He looked at us in the deepest distress.

"Because," I suggested, "you are by nature too sociable. Frenchman
cannot meet without being polite to each other, so the independence of
a club is lost. Englishmen can share a cabin, and still be distant."

"The furniture is the same," said Giraud, looking round with a
reflective eye, "but there is a different feeling in the air. It is
different from the Paris clubs. Do you know Paris, Monsieur Devar?"
Devar paused.

"Of course, I have been there," he replied, looking at the carpet.
"What Englishman has not?"

[Illustration: "MR. DEVAR," REPEATED TURNER, "LET ME DRAW YOUR
ATTENTION TO THE DOOR!"]

And he was still saying pleasant things of the capital, when the
button-boy brought me John Turner's card. I told him to bring the
gentleman upstairs, and remember still the odd feeling in the throat
with which I heard Turner's step.

The door was thrown open. The boy announced Mr. John Turner, and for a
brief moment Devar's eye meeting mine told me that I had another enemy
in the world. The man's face was mottled, and he sat quite still. I
rose and shook hands with John Turner, who had not yet recovered his
breath. Alphonse--ever polite and affable--did the same. Then I turned
and said:

"Let me introduce to you Mr. Devar--Mr. John Turner."

Turner's face, at no time expressive, did not change.

"Ah!" he said, slowly--"Mr. Devar of Paris."

There was a short silence, during which the two men looked at each
other, and Alphonse shuffled from one foot to the other in an intense
desire to keep things pleasant and friendly in circumstances dimly
adverse.

"Mr. Devar," repeated Turner, "let me draw your attention to the
door!"

There was nothing dramatic about my old friend. He never forgot his
stoutness, and always carried it with dignity. He merely jerked his
thumb towards the door by which he had entered.

Devar must have known Turner better than I did. Perhaps he knew the
sterner side of a character of which I had only experienced the
kindness and friendship, for he stood with a white face, and never
looked at Giraud or myself. Then he shrugged his shoulders and walked
slowly towards the door, his face wearing the sickly smile of the
vanquished.

"Is that what you invited me for?" asked my old friend, when the door
had closed behind Devar.

"Partly."

"But I suppose we are to have some luncheon?"

"Yes; there is some luncheon."

"Then let us go to it," said Turner, with his watch in his hand. But
before we had reached the door, Alphonse had placed himself in
Turner's way, looking as tall as he could.

"Mr. Devar is my friend," he cried, with a dramatic gesture and a
fierce snatch at that side of his mustache which invariably failed him
at crucial moments.

"Then, my dear Giraud," said Turner, laying his fatherly hand on the
Frenchman's shoulder, "say nothing about it. It is no matter for
pride. Devar was once my clerk, and would now be doing penal servitude
if I had not let him off. Shall we go to luncheon?"

But Alphonse was not to be mollified, and during a meal, of which
Turner duly appreciated the merits, concealed his annoyance with a
tact truly French. He was a little more formal in his speech--a little
more ceremonious in manner, and John Turner ignored these signs with a
placid assurance for which I was grateful.

"Where did you pick up Devar?" asked the banker, when the edge of his
appetite had been blunted by cold game pie.

"He picked me up," answered I; and went on to explain how this
gentleman had forced himself upon us, and how Sander had given me a
plain hint how to rid myself of him.

"Of course," said John Turner, "he is in league with Miste, and has
been keeping him informed of your movements. If you see Devar again,
kick him. I had that pleasure myself once, but I'm afraid you will
never get the chance. The man has had a finger in every Anglo-French
swindle of the last ten years. He dares not show his face in Paris."

We continued to talk of Mr. Devar and his liabilities, of which the
least seemed to be the risk of a kicking from myself. The man had, it
appeared, sailed too near the wind of fraud on several occasions, and
John Turner held him in the hollow of his hand.

Alphonse, however, was not to be appeased. His honour had, as he
imagined, been assailed by this insult to one upon whom he had
bestowed his friendship, and he took no part in our talk when it was
of Devar.

Turner did not stay long after we had finished our wine.

"No," he said, "if I do not keep moving I shall go to sleep."

When he had left us, Alphonse showed a restlessness which soon
culminated in departure, and I sat down to write to Sander. The rapid
exit (which ultimately proved to be as complete as it was sudden) of
Mr. Devar could not fail to have some bearing on the quest in which
Sander was engaged, and I now recapitulated in mind many suspicious
incidents connected with the well-dressed adventurer who had so easily
found an entrée to Isabella's house.

Alphonse went, as I later learnt, straight to Hyde Park Street, and
found Isabella alone. For Madame de Clericy and Lucille were regular
in their attendance at a neighbouring Roman Catholic Church, whither
many Frenchwomen resorted at this time to pray for their friends and
country.

"Howard," said Alphonse, "has grossly insulted Mr. Devar. In my
country such an incident would not pass without bloodshed."

And he related, with considerable fire, the scene in the smoking-room
at the club.

"But it was Mr. Turner and not Dick who insulted Mr. Devar."

"That is true, but Howard planned the whole--it was a trick, a trap."

"A clever trap," said Isabella, with her incomprehensible smile. "I
did not know that Dick had the wit."

"Mr. Turner appears to have known Devar before," explained Alphonse,
"and seemed to have some cause for complaint against him, though I do
not believe all he said. And now Howard wantonly insults one of your
friends, a gentleman who has dined in this house. He takes too much
upon himself. If you will only say the word, Miss Gayerson, I will
quarrel with Howard myself."

And Isabella, as Alphonse subsequently told me, received this offer
with an ill-concealed smile.

"Dick is not afraid of the responsibility," she said, and did not
appear so resentful as her champion.

"But why did he do it?"

Isabella did not answer at once, and Alphonse, whose good heart
invariably tricked his temper, made a suggestion.

"Is it because he thought Mr. Devar no fit friend for yourself, Miss
Gayerson?"

Isabella laughed derisively before she did me another wrong.

"He does not trouble about me or my affairs," she answered. "No, it is
because Mr. Devar is too clever a person to be a welcome observer of
Dick's actions. Dick probably knows that Mr. Devar is an expert in
money matters, and less easy to deceive than yourself and a few
ignorant and trusting women."

"You mean in the matter of my fortune?"

"Yes," replied the friend of my childhood. "It is probable that Mr.
Devar suspects what others suspect. But you are so simple, Monsieur
Giraud!"

Alphonse shrugged his shoulders.

"It is not that--Mademoiselle," he said with his light laugh. "It is
that I am a fool."

Isabella was not looking at him, but at her quiet hands clasped
together on her lap.

"We all know," she said, "that Dick is supplying Madame de Clericy
with money that does not come from her estates. Whence does it come?"

"You suggest," said Alphonse, "that Howard has recovered my money and
is supporting Madame de Clericy and Lucille with it."

What answer Isabella would have made to this I know not, for it was at
this moment that the servant threw open the door and ushered me into a
silence which was significant even to one of no very quick
understanding. I saw that Alphonse Giraud was agitated and caught a
singular gleam in Isabella's eyes. I suppose she was one of those
women who take pleasure in stirring up strife between men. Her cheeks
had a faint pink flush on them that made her suddenly beautiful. I had
never noticed her looks before.

It was Alphonse who spoke first.

"There are several points, Monsieur," he said, angrily, "upon which I
demand an explanation."

"All right--but I am not going to quarrel with you, Giraud."

I looked very straight at Isabella, whose eyes, however, did not fall
under mine. But I think she knew that I blamed her for this.

"You have insulted a friend of Miss Gayerson's."

"A matter," was my reply, "which rests between Miss Gayerson and
myself. I have rid her house of a scoundrel--that is all."

I thought Isabella was going to speak, but she closed her pale lips
again and glanced at Alphonse.

"You have been supplying Madame de Clericy with money during the last
six months?" said he.--"Yes."

"Your own money?"--"Most certainly"--and I was soft-hearted enough to
omit reminding him that he owed me a thousand francs.

"You have repeatedly told me," pursued Alphonse, who seemed to be
nursing his anger into an artificial life, "that you are penniless.
Whence comes this money?"

"I borrowed it."

"And if Madame de Clericy fails to repay you, you will be ruined?"

"Precisely."

"And you ask me to believe that," laughed Giraud, scornfully.

"No," answered I, going towards the door, for my temper was rising,
and there remained but that way of avoiding a quarrel. "You may do as
you like."

As I turned to close the door I caught sight of Isabella's face, and
it wore a look that took me back to school holidays, when she and I
wandered in the Hopton woods together, and were, I dare say,
sentimental enough.



Chapter XXII

Home

     "Les plus généreux sont toujours ceux qui n'ont rien."


The events in France, stupendous in themselves, seemed to have shaken
the nerves of nations. That great sleeping Bear of the North roused
itself, and in its clumsy awakening put a heavy paw through the Treaty
of Paris. The Americans--our brothers in thought, speech and energetic
purpose--raised a great cry against us in that we had allowed the
ill-fated Alabama to leave our shores equipped for destruction. There
was a spirit of strife and contention in the atmosphere of the world.
Friendly nations nursed an imaginary grievance against their
neighbours, and those that had one brought it out, as a skeleton from
a cupboard, and inspected it in public.

In a school playground the rumour of a fight stirs latent passions,
and doubles many a peaceful fist. France and Prussia, grasping each
other by the throat, seemed to have caused such an electric
disturbance in the atmosphere of Europe, and many Englishmen were for
fighting some one--they did not care whom.

During this disturbed spring of 1871, Madame de Clericy and Lucille
returned to Hopton, where a warm and pleasant April made them admit
that the English climate was not wholly bad. For my own part, it is in
the autumn that I like Hopton best, when the old cock pheasants call
defiance to each other in the spinneys, and the hedgerows rustle with
life.

The ladies were kind enough to make known to me their amended opinion
of England when I went down to my home, soon after Easter; and indeed
I thought the old place looking wonderfully homelike and beautiful,
with the young green about its gray walls and the sense of spring in
the breeze that blew across the table-land.

I arrived unexpectedly; for some instinct told me that it would be
better to give Isabella no notice of my coming into her neighbourhood.
As I rode up the avenue I saw Lucille, herself the incarnation of
spring, moving among the flowers. She turned at the sound of the
horse's tread, and changed colour when she recognised me. A flush--I
suppose of anger--spread over her face.

"I have come, Mademoiselle," I said, "with good news for you. You may
soon return home now, and turn your back forever on Hopton."

"I am not so ungrateful as you persist in considering me," she said,
with vivacity, "and I like Hopton."

The gardener came forward to take my horse, and we walked towards the
house together.

"I am grateful to you, Monsieur Howard," said Lucille, in a softer
voice than I had yet heard her use towards me--and in truth I knew
every tone of it--"for all that you have done for mother--for us, I
mean. You have been a friend in need."

This sudden change of manner was rather bewildering, and I made no
doubt that the victim of it was dumb and stupid enough to arouse any
woman's anger. But Lucille was always too quick for me, and by the
time I began to understand her humour it changed and left me far
behind.

"Where have you been all these months?" she asked, almost as if the
matter interested her. "And why have you not written?"

"I have been chasing a chimera, Mademoiselle."

"Which you will never catch."

"Which I shall never abandon," answered I, quite failing to emulate
her lightness of tone.

When we went indoors and found Madame with her lace-work in the
morning-room upstairs, with the windows overlooking the sea--the room,
by the way, where I now sit and write--Lucille's manner as abruptly
changed again.

"Mother," she said, "here is Monsieur Howard, our benefactor."

"I am glad, mon ami, that you have come," were Madame's words of
welcome. And after the manner of good housewives she then inquired
when and where I had last eaten.

I had brought a number of the illustrated journals of the day, and
with the aid of these convinced even Lucille that the flight from
Paris had not been an unnecessary precaution. Upon the heels of the
horror of the long siege had followed the greater disorder of the
Commune, when brave men were shot down by the insurgent National
Guard, and all Paris was at the mercy of the rabble. Indeed, this
Reign of Terror must ever remain a blot on the civilisation of the
century and the history of the French people.

It was apparent to me that while Madame de Clericy, who was of a more
philosophic nature, accepted exile and dependence on myself without
great reluctance, Lucille chafed under the knowledge that they were
for the moment beholden to me. I had, as a matter of fact, come at
Madame's request, who could make but little of the English newspapers,
and thirsted for tidings from Paris. The respectable Paris newspapers
had one after the other been seized and stopped by the Commune, while
the postal service had itself collapsed.

The Vicomtesse also wished for details of her own affairs, and had
written to me respecting a sale of some property in order to raise
ready money and pay off her debt towards myself. It was with a view of
discussing these questions that I had journeyed down to Hopton. So at
least I persuaded myself to believe, and knew, at the sight of Lucille
among the gnarled old trees, that the self-deception was a thin one.
Alphonse had gone to France, being now released from his parole, so I
was spared the sight of Lucille and him together.

Madame, however, would not allow me to make my report until we had
dined, and we spent the intervening hour in talk of Paris, and the
extraordinary events passing there. The ladies, as indeed ladies
mostly are, were staunch Royalists, and while evincing but little
sympathy for the fallen Buonapartes, learnt with horror of the rise of
Anarchy and Republicanism in Paris.

"My poor country," exclaimed Madame. "It will be impossible to live in
France again."

And Lucille's eyes lighted up with anger when I told her of the plots
to assassinate the Duc D'Aumale--that brave soldier and worthiest
member of his family--merely because he was of the Royal race.

All Europe awaited at this time the fall of the desperate Communards,
who held Paris and defied the government of Versailles, while experts
vowed that the end could not be far off. It seemed impossible that a
rabble under the command of first one and then another adventurer
could hold the capital against disciplined troops, and I, like the
majority of onlookers, underestimated the possible duration of this
second siege. However, my listeners were consoled with the prospect of
returning to their beloved France before the summer passed.

Madame, as I remember, made a great feast in honour of my coming, and
the old butler, who had served my father and still called me Master
Dick, with an admonishing shake of the head, brought from the cellar
some great vintage of claret which Madame said could not have been
bettered from the cave at La Pauline.

Again at dinner I thought there was a change in Lucille, who deferred
to me on more than one occasion, and listened to my opinion almost as
if it deserved respect. After dinner she offered to sing, which she
had rarely done since the last sad days in Paris, and once more I
heard those old songs of Provence that melt the heart.

It was when Lucille was tired that Madame asked me to make my report,
and I produced the books. I had made a rough account showing Madame's
liability to myself, and can only repeat now the confession made long
ago that it was an infamous swindle. Madame had no head for figures,
as she had, indeed, a hundred times informed me, and I knew well that
she had no money to pay me. I had lived in this lady's house a paid
dependant only in name and treated as an honoured guest. A time of
trouble and distress having come to them, what could I do but help
such friends to the best of my power, seeking to avoid any hurt to
their pride?

I explained the figures to Madame de Clericy, whose bright quick eyes
seemed to watch my face rather than the paper as my pen travelled down
it. I began to feel conscious, as I often did in her presence, that I
was but a clumsy oaf; and, furthermore, suspected that Lucille was
watching me over the book she pretended to read.

"And this," said the Vicomtesse, when I had finished, "is how we stand
towards each other?"--

"Yes, Madame."

And I dared not raise my eyes from the books before me. The Vicomtesse
rose and moved towards the fireplace, where the logs burned brightly,
for the spring evenings are cold on the East Coast, and we are glad
enough to burn fires. She held my dishonest account in her hand and
quietly dropped it into the fire.

"You are right, mon ami," she said, with a smile. "What we owe you
cannot be set down on paper--but it was kind of you to try."

Lucille had risen to her feet. Her glance flashed from one to the
other.

"Mother," she said coldly, "what have you done? How can we now pay Mr.
Howard?"

Madame made no reply, reserving her defence--as the lawyers have
it--until a fitter occasion. This presented itself later in the
evening when mother and daughter were alone. Indeed, the Vicomtesse
went to Lucille's room for the purpose.

"Lucille," she said, "I wish you would trust Mr. Howard as entirely as
I do."

"But no one trusts him," answered Lucille, and her slipper tapped the
floor. "Alphonse does not believe that he is looking for the money at
all. It was for his own ends that he dismissed Mr. Devar, who was so
hurt that he has never appeared since. And you do not know how he
treated Isabella."

"How did he treat Isabella?" asked Madame quietly, and seemed to
attach some importance to the question.

"He--well, he ought to have married her."

"Why?" asked Madame.

"Oh--it is a long story, and Isabella has only told me parts of it.
She dislikes him, and with good cause."

Madame stood with one arm resting on the mantelpiece, the firelight
glowing on her black dress. Her clever speculative eyes were fixed on
the smouldering logs of driftwood. Lucille was moving about the room,
exhibiting by her manner that impatience which the mention of my name
seemed ever to arouse.

"Do not be hasty in judging," said the elder woman with a tolerance
that few possess. "Isabella may have cause for complaint against him,
or she may be suffering from wounded vanity. A woman's vanity is the
rudder that shapes her course through life. If it be injured, the
course will be a crooked one. Isabella is a disappointed woman--one
sees it in her face. Of the two I prefer to trust Dick Howard, and
wish that you could do the same. We know nothing of what may have
passed between them, and can therefore form no opinion. One person
alone knows, and that is John Turner. He is coming to stay here with
Dick in a fortnight. Ask him to judge."

Madame continued thus to plead my cause, while I, no doubt, slept
peacefully enough under the same roof, for I have never known what it
is to lie awake with my troubles. One damning fact the Vicomtesse
could not disguise, namely, that she was for the moment dependent upon
me.

"I would rather," said Lucille, "that it had been Alphonse."

To which Madame made no reply. She was a wise woman in that she never
asked a confidence of her daughter, in whose happiness, I know, the
interest of her life was centred. It is a great love that
discriminates between curiosity and anxiety.

Lucille, however, wanted no help in the management of her life or the
guidance of her heart, and made this clear to Madame. Indeed, she had
of late begun to exercise somewhat of a sway over her mother, and
appeared to be the ruling spirit; for youth is a force in itself. For
my own part, however, I have always inclined to the belief that it is
the quiet member of the family who manages and guides the household
from the dim background of social obscurity. And although Madame de
Clericy appeared to be mastered by her quick-witted, quick-spoken
daughter, it was usually her will and not Lucille's that gained the
victory in the end.

Lucille defended her absent friend with much spirit, and fought that
lady's battles for her, protesting that Isabella had been ill used,
and the victim of an unscrupulous adventurer. She doubtless said hard
things of me, which have now been forgotten, for the lady who took my
heart so quickly, and never lost her hold of it, was at this time
spontaneous in thought and word, and quick to blame or praise.

[Illustration: WHEN MADAME WAS AT HER PRAYERS, A SWIFT, WHITE FORM
HURRIED INTO THE ROOM, AND HELD HER FOR A MOMENT IN A QUICK EMBRACE.]

Mother and daughter parted for the night with a colder kiss than
usual, and half an hour later, when Madame was at her prayers, a
swift white form hurried into the room, held her for a moment in a
quick embrace, and was gone before Madame could rise from her knees.

On the following afternoon, some hours after my departure, Isabella
came to Hopton; and the dear friends, between whom there had never
been a difference, had, as it appeared, a quarrel which sent Isabella
home with close-pressed lips, and hurried Lucille to her room, her
eyes angry and tearful. But the subject of the disagreement was not
myself--nor, indeed, was any definite explanation ever given as to why
the two fell out.



Chapter XXIII

Wrecked

     "Il ne faut confier son secret qu' à celui qui n'a pas
     cherché à le deviner."


"I do not care whether Paris is in the hands of the Communards or the
other bunglers so long as the Bank of France holds good," said John
Turner; and, indeed, I afterwards learnt that his whole fortune
depended on this turn of the wheel.

We were travelling down to Hopton, and it was the last week of May. We
bore to Madame de Clericy the news that at last the government troops
had made their entry into Paris and were busy fighting in the streets
there, hunting from pillar to post the remnant of the Communard
rabble. The reign of terror which had lasted two and a half months was
ended, and Paris lay like a ship that having passed through a great
storm lies at last in calm water, battered and beaten. Priceless
treasures had perished by the incendiarism of the wild mob--the
Tuileries were burnt, the Louvre had barely escaped a like fate. The
matchless Hôtel de Ville had vanished, and a thousand monuments and
relics were lost for ever. Paris would never be the same again.
Anarchy had swept across it, razing many buildings and crushing out
not a few of those qualities of good taste and feeling which had
raised Frenchmen to the summit of civilisation before the Empire fell.

John Turner was in good humour, for he had just learnt that, owing to
the wit and nerve of one man, the Bank of France had stood untouched.
With it was saved the house of Turner & Co., of Paris and London. The
moment my friend's affairs were on a safe footing he placed himself at
my service to help with the Vicomtesse de Clericy's more complicated
difficulties. I was glad to avail myself of the assistance of one
whose name was a by-word for rectitude and stability. Here, at all
events, I had a colleague whose word could not be doubted by Isabella,
of whose father John Turner had been a friend as well as of my own.

"Heard any more of Miste?" inquired Turner, while the train stood at
Ipswich station; for he was much too easy-going to shout conversation
during the progress of our journey.

"Sander writes that he has nearly caught him twice, and singularly
enough has done better since you gave Mr. Devar his _congé_."

"Nothing singular about that. Devar was in the swindle and kept Miste
advised of your movements. But there is some one else in it, too."

"A third person?"

"Yes," answered Turner. "A third person. I have been watching the
thing, Dick, and am not such a fat old fool as you take me for. It was
neither Miste nor Devar who cashed that draft. If you catch Miste you
will probably catch some one else, too, some knight-errant of finance,
or I am much mistaken."

At this moment the train moved on, and my friend composed his person
for a sleep which lasted until we reached Saxmundham.

"I suppose," said my companion, waking up there, "that Mademoiselle of
the _beaux yeux_ is to marry Alphonse when the fortune is recovered?"

"I suppose so," answered I, and John Turner closed his eyes again with
a queer look.

In the station enclosure at Lowestoft we found Alphonse Giraud
enjoying himself immensely on the high seat of a dog-cart,
controlling, with many French exclamations, and a partial success, the
movements of a cob which had taken a fancy to progress backwards round
and round the yard.

"It is," he explained, with a jerky salutation of the whip, "the
Sunday-school treat departing for Yarmouth. They marched in here with
a brass band--too much--Whoa! _le petit_, whoa!--too much for our
feelings. There--_bonjour_, Monsieur Turner--how goes it? There--now
we stand still.

"Not for long," said Turner, doubtfully; "and I never get in or out of
anything when it is in motion."

With the assistance of sundry idle persons we held the horse still
enough for my friend to take his seat beside Alphonse, while I and the
luggage found place behind them. We dashed out of the gate at a speed
and risk which gave obvious satisfaction to our driver, and our
progress up the narrow High Street was a series of hairbreadth
escapes.

"It is a pleasure," said Alphonse, airily, as we passed the lighthouse
and the cob settled down into a steady trot, "to drive such a horse as
this."

"No doubt," said Turner; "but next time I take a cab."

We arrived at the Manor House in time for luncheon, and were received
by the ladies at the door. Lucille, I remember, looked grave, but it
appeared that the Vicomtesse was in good spirits.

"Then the news is true," she cried, before we had descended from our
high places.

"Yes, Madame, for a wonder good news is true," answered Turner, and he
stood bareheaded, after the manner of his adopted country, while he
shook hands.

On this occasion we all frankly spoke French, for to John Turner this
language was second nature. We had plenty to talk of during luncheon,
and learnt much from the Paris banker which had never appeared in the
newspapers. He had, indeed, passed through a trying ordeal, and that
with an imperturbable nerve and coolness of head. He made, however,
little of his own difficulties, and gave all his attention to Madame's
affairs. Whenever he made mention of my name I saw Lucille frown.

After luncheon we went to the garden, which extends from the grim old
house to the cliff-edge, and is protected on either side by a double
rank of Scotch firs, all twisted and gnarled by the winter winds--all
turning westward, with a queer effect as of raised shoulders and
shivering limbs.

Within the boundary we have always, however, succeeded in growing such
simple flowers as are indigenous to British soil--making a gay
appearance and filling the air with clean-smelling scents.

"Your garden," said Madame, touching my arm as we passed out of the
dining-room window, "always suggests to me the English character--not
much flower, but a quantity of tough wood."

Alphonse joined us, and embarked at once on the description of an
easterly gale such as are too common on this coast, but new to him and
grand enough in its onslaught. For the wind hurls itself unchecked
against the cliff and house after its career across the North Sea.

Lucille and John Turner had walked slowly away together down the
narrow path running from the house to the solid entrenchment of turf
that stands on the cliff edge, covered with such sparse grass and herb
as the sand and spray may nourish.

"It is pleasant," Lucille said, as they went from us, "to have some
one to talk French with."

She was without her hat or gloves, and I saw the sunlight gleaming on
her hair.

"You have Alphonse Giraud," said Turner, in his blunt way.

Lucille shrugged her shoulders.

"And Howard, from time to time," added the banker, who, having
received permission to smoke a cigar, was endeavouring to extract a
penknife from his waistcoat pocket.

"Who talks French with the understanding of an Englishman," said
Lucille, quickly.

"You do not like Englishmen?"

"I like honest ones, Monsieur," said Lucille, looking across the sea.

"Ah!"

"Oh, yes--I know," cried Lucille, impatiently. "You are one of Mr.
Howard's partisans. They are so numerous and so ready to speak for
him--and he will never speak for himself."

"Then," said John Turner, smoking placidly, "let us agree to differ on
that point."

But Lucille had no such intention.

"Does Mr. Howard ask you--you and mother, and sometimes Alphonse--to
fight his battles for him and to sing his praises to me?"

Turner did not answer at once.

"Well?" she inquired, impatiently.

"I was just thinking how long it is since Dick Howard mentioned your
name to me--about three months, I believe."

Lucille walked on with her head erect.

"What have you against him?" asked Turner, after a short silence.

"It was from your house that Mr. Howard came to us. He came to my
father assuring him that he was poor, which he told me afterwards was
only a subterfuge and false pretence. I then learnt from Mr. Gayerson
that this was not the truth. I suppose Mr. Howard thought that a
woman's affection is to be bought by gold."

"All that can be explained, Mademoiselle."

"Then explain it, Monsieur."

"Let Howard do it," said Turner, pausing to knock the ash from his
cigar.

"I do not care for Mr. Howard's explanations," said Lucille, coldly.
"One never knows what to believe. Is he rich or poor?"

[Illustration: "I WAS JUST THINKING HOW LONG IT IS SINCE DICK HOWARD
MENTIONED YOUR NAME TO ME--ABOUT THREE MONTHS, I BELIEVE." LUCILLE
WALKED ON WITH HER HEAD ERECT.]

"He is which he likes."

Lucille gave a scornful laugh.

"He could be rich to-morrow if he would do as I advise him," grunted
Turner.

"What is that, Monsieur?"

"Marry money and a woman he does not love."

They walked on for some moments in silence, and came to the turf
entrenchment raised against the wind, as against an assaulting army.
They passed through a gangway, cut in the embankment, to one of the
seats built against the outer side of it. Below them lay the clean
sands, stretching away on either side in unbroken smoothness--the
sands of Corton.

"And why will he not take your advice?" asked Lucille.

"Because he is a pig-headed fool--as his father was before him. It is
all his father's fault, for placing him in such an impossible
position."

"I do not understand," said Lucille.

John Turner crossed his legs with a grunt of obesity.

"It is nevertheless simple, Mademoiselle," he said; "father and son
quarrelled because old Howard, who was as obstinate as his son, made
up his mind that Dick should marry Isabella Gayerson. Plenty of money,
adjoining estates, the old story of misery with many servants. Dick,
being his father's son, at once determined that he would do no such
thing, and there was a row royal. Dick went off to Paris, in debt and
heedless of the old man's threat to cut him off with a shilling. He
had never cared for Isabella, and was not going to sell his liberty
for the sake of a ring fence. His own words, Mademoiselle. At Paris
sundry things happened to him, of which you probably know more than
I."

He glanced up at Lucille, who was picking blades of grass from the
embankment against which he leant. Her eyelids flickered, but she made
no reply.

"Then," went on John Turner, "his father died suddenly, and it
transpired that the hot-headed old fool had made one of those wills
which hot-headed old fools make for the special delectation of
novelists and lawyers. He had left Dick penniless, unless he consented
to marry Isabella. When Dick told your father he was poor, he was well
within the limits of the truth, although he did it, as I understand,
to gain his own ends. When he told you a different story, he merely
assumed that this quarrel, like others, would end in a reconciliation.
He felt remorseful that he had practised a mild deception on your
father, and wished to clear his conscience. Death intervened at this
moment, and placed our young friend in the uncomfortable position of
having told untruths all round. You probably know better than I do,
Mademoiselle, why he got himself into this hobble."

But Lucille would make no such admission.

"But you ignore Isabella," she cried, impatiently, "you and Mr.
Howard."

"She will not allow us to do that, my dear young lady."

"Is she to wait with folded hands until Mr. Howard decides whether he
is inclined to marry her or not?"

"There is no waiting in the question," said John Turner. "Dick made up
his mind long ago, in the lifetime of his father, and Isabella must be
aware of his decision. Besides, Mademoiselle, you can judge for
yourself. Is there any love lost between them, think you?"

"No."

"Is there any reason why they should be miserable if they do not want
to be?"

"Isabella could not be more miserable than she is now, though she
hides it well."

"Ah," said John Turner, thoughtfully. "Is that so? I wonder why."

Lucille shrugged her shoulders. She either could not or would not
answer.

"Too much money," suggested Turner.

"When women have plenty of money they usually want something that
cannot be bought."

Lucille frowned.

"And now you are angry, Mademoiselle," said John Turner, placidly,
"and I am not afraid. I will make you still more angry."

He rose heavily, and stood, cigar in hand, looking out to sea--his
round face puckered with thought.

"Mademoiselle Lucille," he said, slowly, "I have known some men and
quite a number of women who have sacrificed their happiness to their
pride. I have known them late in life, when the result had to be lived
through. They were not good company. If pride or love must go
overboard, Mademoiselle, throw pride."



Chapter XXIV

An Explanation

     "La discretion défend de questionner, la délicatesse défend
     même de deviner."


We were a quiet party that evening, Madame having decided to ask no
one to meet us. It was like a piece of the old Paris life, for all had
met for better or worse in that city, and spoke the language of the
once brilliant capital.

Madame insisted that I should take the head of the table, she herself
occupying a chair at the foot, which had remained vacant as long as I
could remember. So I sat for the first time in the seat of my
ancestors, whence my father had issued his choleric mandates, only, I
fear, to be answered as hotly.

"You are quiet, Monsieur," said Lucille, who sat at my right hand, and
I thought her glance searched my face in a way that was new.

"Say he is dull," put in Alphonse, whose gaiety was at high-water
mark. "_Ce cher_ Dick--he is naturally so."

And he laughed at me with his old look of affection.

"Mademoiselle means that I am duller than usual," I suggested.

"No," said Lucille, "I meant what I said."

"As always?" inquired Alphonse, in a low voice aside.

"As always," she answered, gravely. And I think she only spoke the
truth.

We did not sit long over our wine, and John Turner reserved his cigar
until a later opportunity.

"I'll play you a game of billiards," he said, looking at me.

In the drawing-room we found Lucille already; at the piano.

"I have some new songs," she said, "from the Basque country. I wonder
if you will prefer them to the old."

I was crossing the room towards Madame, and a silence made me pause
and look towards the piano. Lucille was addressing me--and no doubt I
was clumsy enough to betray my surprise.

"I think I shall prefer the old ones, Mademoiselle," I answered.

She was fingering the pages carelessly, and Alphonse, who was always
quick at such matters, stepped forward.

"As the songs are new the pages will require turning."

"Thank you," answered Lucille, rather coldly as I thought, and Madame
looked at me with a queer expression of impatience, as if I had done
something amiss. She took up her book and presently closed her eyes.
John Turner did the same, and I, remembering that he was a heavy
breather, went up to him.

"I am ready to beat you at billiards," I said.

Lucille and Alphonse were so much engaged at the piano as to be
apparently oblivious to our departure. I suppose that they were
grateful to us in their hearts for going.

My friend did not play long or skilfully, and I, like all
ne'er-do-wells, played a fair game in those days.

"Yes," he said, when handsomely beaten, "you evidently play on
Sundays. Let us sit down and smoke."

I could not help noticing that the music had ceased. Lucille and
Alphonse were probably talking together in low voices at the piano
while Madame kindly slept.

"Don't scowl at me like that," said John Turner, "but take one of
these cigars."

We sat down, and smoked for some time in silence.

"It is one thing," said my companion at length, "to give a man a fair
chance, and another to throw away your own."

"What do you mean?"

"Why marry Mademoiselle to a weak-kneed fellow like Giraud?"

"He is not a weak-kneed fellow," I interrupted, "and can sit a horse
as well as any man in the county."

"Life does not consist of sitting on horses."

"And he has proved himself a brave soldier."

"A man may be a brave soldier and make a poor fight of his life,"
persisted Turner. "Besides, it is against her will."

"Against her will?"

"Yes," said John Turner. "She wants to marry quite a different man."

"That may be," answered I, "but it is none of my business. I have no
influence with Mademoiselle, who is one of my enemies. I have many."

"No--you haven't," said Turner, stoutly. "You have but one, and she is
a clever one. Isabella Gayerson is a dangerous foe, my boy. She has
poisoned the minds of Lucille and Alphonse against you. She has tried
to do the same by the Vicomtesse, and failed. She encouraged and
harboured Devar in order to annoy you. You and I start for Paris
to-morrow afternoon. Take my advice and ride over to Little Corton
to-morrow morning. See Isabella, and have it out with her. Talk to her
as you would to a man. Life would be so much simpler if people would
only recognise that sex is only a small part of it. Tell her you will
see her d----d before you marry her, or words to that effect. It is
all a matter of vanity or money. I'm going to bed. Good-night. My
apologies to the ladies."

He took his candle, and left me with half a cigar to smoke.

I was up betimes the next morning, and set off on horseback through
the quiet lanes soon after breakfast. Little Corton stands a mile
inland, and two miles nearer to Lowestoft than the old Manor House of
Hopton. Between the houses there is little pasture land, and I rode
through fresh green corn with the dew still on it. The larks--and they
are nowhere so numerous as on our sea-bound uplands--were singing a
blithe chorus. The world was indeed happy that May morning.

The sight of the homely red walls of Little Corton nestling among the
elms brought to my mind a hundred memories of the past days, wherein
Isabella's parents had ever accorded a welcome to myself--a
muddy-booted boy then, with but an evil reputation in the
country-side.

Isabella had gone out, they told me, but as she had taken neither hat
nor gloves, the servants opined that she could not be far away. I went
in search, and found her in the beech wood. She had taken her morning
letters there, and read them as she walked, her dress stirring the
dead leaves. She did not hear my footstep until I was close upon her.

"Ah! have you come to tell me that Lucille and Alphonse are engaged?"
she asked, without even bidding me good morning. In her eyes, usually
quiet and reserved, there was a look of great expectancy.

"No."

She folded her letters slowly, and as we walked side by side her quiet
eyes came slantwise to my face in a searching glance. She asked no
other question, however, and left the burthen of the silence with me.
There was a rustic seat near to us, and with one accord we went to it
and sat down. Isabella seemed to be breathless, I know not why, and
her bodice was stirred by the rapidity of her breathing. I noticed
again that my old playmate was prettier than I had ever suspected--a
strongly-built woman, upright and of a fine, graceful figure.

"Don't beat about the bush," John Turner had advised, and I remembered
his words now.

"Isabella," I said, awkwardly enough, as I stirred the dead leaves
with my whip, "Isabella, do you know the terms of my father's will?"

She did not answer at once, and, glancing in her direction, I saw
that she had flushed like a schoolgirl.

[Illustration: "ISABELLA," I SAID, AWKWARDLY ENOUGH, AS I STIRRED THE
DEAD LEAVES WITH MY WHIP, "ISABELLA, DO YOU KNOW THE TERMS OF MY
FATHER'S WILL?" SHE DID NOT ANSWER AT ONCE, AND, GLANCING IN HER
DIRECTION, I SAW THAT SHE HAD FLUSHED LIKE A SCHOOLGIRL.]

"Yes," she answered at length.

"I am penniless unless you marry me."

"Yes--I know."

Her voice was quiet and composed. Isabella was younger than I, but in
her presence I always felt myself her inferior and junior, as, no
doubt, I had always been in mind though not in years.

"You have always been my enemy, Isabella."

"Why should I be that?" she asked.

"I suppose it is on account of the squire's will."

"I care nothing for that."

"Then, if you are not my enemy, if you do not hate me--I do not
recollect doing you an injury--if you do not hate me, why have you
poisoned Lucille's mind against me and made Alphonse distrust me? Why
did you encourage Devar, whom you knew to be my enemy?"

"So you have ridden over in order to bring these charges against me,"
answered Isabella, in her coldest voice; "and you came at a time when
you knew you would find me alone, so as to do it the more
effectually."

"I am letting you know that I am aware that you dislike me, and want
to be told why. Do you remember long ago at the gate over there
leading to Drake's Spinney? It was the first time you had put your
hair up and had a long dress on. I was a clumsy oaf and did not know
that those things made such a difference. I gave you a push as you
were climbing over, and you fell."

"Yes," said Isabella; "I remember."

"You hurt yourself, and cried, and said you hated me then. And I
believe you did, for you have never been the same since. That was
fourteen years ago, Isabella--my first year at Cambridge. You were
eighteen then."

"Yes," answered Isabella, in a chilly voice. "You have all your dates
very correct, and a simple addition sum will tell you that I am
thirty-two now--a middle-aged woman, whose hair is turning grey!
Thirty-two!"

And I was too stupid, or too wise, to tell her that she did not look
it.

"I do not know," I said instead, "why you should have turned against
me then, and remembered so long a mere boyish jest; for I thought we
were to be good friends always--as we had been--and never dreamt that
a few hairpins could make us different."

Isabella sat with her still, white hands clasped in her lap, and
looked towards the gate that had caused this childish breach; but I
could not see the expression on her face.

"My father," I went on, determined to speak out that which was in my
mind, "had no business to make such a will, which could only lead to
trouble. And I should have been a scoundrel had I sacrificed your
happiness to my own cupidity--or, rather, had I attempted to do so.
You might have thought it your duty to take me, Isabella, had I asked
you to, for the sake of the money--though you have always spared me
any doubts as to your opinion of me. You have always known my faults,
and been less charitable towards them than anyone else. I should have
been a scoundrel indeed had I asked you to sacrifice yourself."

She sat quite still, and was breathing quietly now.

"So I came to talk it over with you--as old friends, as if we were two
men."

"Which we are not," put in Isabella, with her bitter laugh; and God
knows what she meant.

"We were placed in an impossible position by being thus asked to marry
against our will. I did not ever think of you in that way--think of
loving you, I mean. And you have made it plain enough, of course, that
you do not love me. On the contrary--"

"Of course," she echoed, in a queer, tired voice. "On the contrary."

I somehow came to a stop, and sat mutely seeking words. At last,
however, I broke the silence.

"Then," I said, making an effort to speak lightly and easily, "we
understand each other now."--

"Yes," she answered; "we understand each other now."

I rose, for there seemed nothing more to be said, and yet feeling that
I was no further on--that there was something yet misunderstood
between us.

"And we are friends again, Isabella."

I held out my hand, and, after a momentary pause, she placed her
fingers in it. They were cold.--"Yes, I suppose so," she said, and her
lips were quivering.

I left her slowly, and with a feeling of reluctance. My way lay over
the gate, where fourteen years earlier I had made that mistake. As I
climbed it, I looked back. Isabella had turned sideways on the seat,
and her face was hidden in her arms folded on the back of it. She
seemed to be weeping. I stood for a minute or two in indecision. Then,
remembering how she disliked me, went slowly on to the stable, and
found my horse.



Chapter XXV

Paris Again

     "Le courage commence l'oeuvre et ... "


The same afternoon John Turner and I quitted Hopton. I with a heavy
enough heart, which, _d'ailleurs_, I always carried when leaving
Lucille. There was, however, work to be done, and a need for instant
action is one of the surest antidotes to sad thought. I was engaged,
moreover, in affairs intimately concerning Lucille. A man, it appears,
whose heart is taken from him, is best employed in doing something for
the woman who has it. No other occupation will fully satisfy him.

We journeyed to London, and there took the night train to Paris,
crossing the Channel in a boat crowded with Frenchmen, who had
contented themselves with deploring their country's evil day from
across seas. As we drove through the streets of Paris in the early
morning, John Turner sat looking out of the window of a cab. Never,
surely, has a city been so wasted and destroyed.

"The d----d fools; the d----d fools!" my companion muttered under his
breath. And I believe the charred walls of each ruined landmark burnt
into his soul.

I left John Turner in his rooms in the Avenue d'Antan, where
everything seemed to be in order, and drove across to the Quartier St.
Germain. It was my intention to dwell in the Hôtel Clericy until that
house could be made habitable for the ladies. The _concierge_, I
found, had been killed in one of the sorties, and his wife had, with
the quick foresight of her countrywomen, secured the safety of the
house by letting a certain portion of it in apartments to the officers
of the National Guard as soon as the Commune was declared.

These gentlemen (one arrogant captain, I was informed, sold cat's meat
in times of peace) had lived with a fine military freedom, and left
marks of their boots on all the satin chairs. They had made a practice
of throwing cigar ends and matches on the carpets, had stabbed a few
pictures and bespattered the walls with wine, but a keen regard for
their own comfort had prevented further wanton damage, and all could
be repaired within a few days.

The woman made me some coffee, and while I was drinking it brought me
a telegram.

"Sander wires that he has run Miste to earth in Nice. Wait for me. I
follow by day mail."

The message was from Alphonse Giraud.

I laboured all day in Madame's interests, and re-engaged some of the
servants who had been scattered by the war and Commune, and a fear,
perhaps, of acknowledging any sympathy for the nobility.

In the evening I met Alphonse Giraud on his arrival at the Gare du
Nord, and found him in fine feather, carrying a stick of British oak,
which he had bought, he told me, for Miste's back.

"It will not be a matter of hitting each other with walking sticks," I
answered.

We drove across to the Lyons station, and took the night mail to
Marseilles. It was my second night out of bed. But I was hardy in
those days, and can still thank God that I am stronger than many of my
contemporaries.

"Confound you!" cried Alphonse to me the next morning as the train
raced down the valley of the Loire. "You have slept all night!"

"Of course."

"And I not a wink--when each moment brings us nearer to Miste. You are
no sportsman after all, Dick."

"He is the best sportsman who has the coolest head," replied I,
sleepily.

We arrived at Nice in the afternoon. The very pavement smelt of heat.
At the station a man came up to me, and, raising his hat, spoke my
name. He handed me a letter, which I read then and there.

"The bearer is watching Miste in Nice. I am going to stop the passages
by Ventimiglia and the Col di Tende. Miste has evidently appointed to
meet his confederate at Genoa. Two passages have been taken on the
steamer sailing Saturday thence to Buenos Ayres."

The letter was unsigned, but the handwriting that of my astute agent,
Sander. Things were beginning to look black for Monsieur Miste. I saw
plainly enough that Sander was thinking only of the money, and meant
to catch both the thieves. The bearer of the letter, who was a
Frenchman, said that he had his eye on Miste, who was staying in the
old inn of the Chapeau Rouge at the top of the Quai Massena, and
passed for a commercial traveller there.

"Monsieur must not molest my charge," he said. "Mr. Sander has so
ordered. It is probable that Miste has in his possession only a
portion of the money."

[Illustration: "ARE WE MEN?" RETORTED ALPHONSE, IN RESPONSE, AS HE
WRESTLED WITH HIS SHIRT COLLAR, "OR ARE WE SCHOOLGIRLS? TELL ME THAT,
MR. THE POLICEMAN!"]

We went to the Hôtel des Anglais, and there wrote fictitious names in
the police register; for it was impossible to be too careful.
Alphonse, in his zeal, would have written himself down an Englishman
had I not remonstrated, and told him that the ordinary housefly could
have in its mind no doubt as to his nationality. So he borrowed the
name of a friend who had gone to Pondicherry. Our orders were to keep
within the hotel garden, and thus in masterly inactivity we passed the
afternoon and evening. The heat was intense, and the gay town
deserted. Indeed, one half of the shops were closed.

I went to bed early, and was already asleep when a great rapping
aroused me. It was Sander's colleague, who came into my room, and
dismissed the waiter who had brought him thither. Alphonse, aroused by
the clamour, appeared on the scene, making use of a door of
communication connecting our rooms.

"Quick, Messieurs!" the man said. "Into your clothes. I will tell you
my news as you dress. My man," he went on, acting valet as he spoke,
"has left by the night diligence for St. Martin Lantosque. But, tell
me, are these gentlemen good for forty miles on horseback to-night?"

"Are we men?" retorted Alphonse, in response, as he wrestled with his
shirt collar, "or are we schoolgirls? Tell me that, Mr. the Policeman!"

"You can only hope to do it on horseback," continued the man. "It is
sixty kilometres, and for thirty of them you mount. No carriage
ascends at the trot. The diligence is the quickest on the road. It
proceeds at the trot where the hired carriages go at a snail's pace.
You hire horses--they are your own. You beat them--_hein_!"

And he made a gesture descriptive of a successful and timely arrival.

"It is my custom," he went on, confidentially, "to make sure that my
patients are comfortably in bed at night. I go this evening to the
Chapeau Rouge--Monsieur knows the house--facing the river; wine
excellent--drainage leaves to be desired. Well, I find our friend is
absent--has taken his luggage. He has vanished--_Pfui_! I know he is
safe at eight o'clock--at ten he is gone. There are no trains. This
man wants to get to Italy, I know. There is no boat. One way remains.
To take the diligence to St. Martin Lantosque, five miles from the
frontier, at the head of the valley of the Vesubie--to walk over the
pass; it is but a footpath, and now buried under the snow--to reach
the wildest part of northern Italy, and, if the good God so will it,
arrive at Entraque. Thence by way of Cuneo and Savona one takes the
train to Genoa. I inquire at the diligence office. It is as I
suspected. Miste is in the diligence. He is now"--the man paused to
consult his watch--"between La Tourette and Levens. It is 11:30. The
diligence was twenty minutes late in starting. Our friend has two
hours and ten minutes start of these gentlemen."

By way of reply we made greater haste, and, in truth, were aided
therein by our new ally, who, if he possessed a busy tongue, had
fingers as active.

"The horses," he continued, "await us in the Rue Paradis, just behind
here--a quiet street--good horses of two comrades of mine in the
mounted gendarmerie who are away on furlough. If necessary, you can
leave them at the Hôtel des Alpes, at St. Martin, and write me word.
If the horses come to harm, I know these gentlemen will not let my
comrades suffer."

Here Alphonse, who had borrowed the money from me earlier in the day,
produced two notes of five hundred francs, and pressed them
unavailingly on the agent.

As we walked rapidly towards the Rue Paradis, our masterful friend
gave us particulars of the road.

"It is," he said, "the route de Levens. Monsieur knows it--well, no
matter! They say it was built hundreds of years before the Romans
came. One ascends this bank of the river until the road divides, then
to the left through the village of St. André. After two kilometres one
finds one's self in a gorge--the cliffs on either side of many hundred
feet. There are places where the sunlight never enters. It is an
ascent always--follows La Tourette, a fortified village high above the
road on the right. Then the road becomes dangerous. There are places
between Levens and St. Jean de la Rivière where to make a false step
is to fall a thousand feet. One hears the Vesubie roaring far below,
but the river is invisible--it is dark even at midday. The great
cliffs are unbroken by a tree or a pathway. This is the Col du Dragon,
a great height. In descending one passes through a long tunnel cut in
the rock, and that is half-way. At St. Jean de la Rivière you will
find yourselves in the valley of the Vesubie. Here, again, one mounts
continually by the side of the river. The road is a dangerous one, for
there are landslips and chutes of stone--at times the whole roadway is
swept down into the river."

The man, with the quick gestures of his people, described all so
graphically that I could see the road and its environments as he
traversed it in imagination.

"Before long, however, one sees Venanson," he went on, "a church and
village on a point of rock far above the river. At a turn of the road
Venanson is left behind; and in front, three thousand feet above the
sea, surrounded by snow mountains, lies St. Martin Lantosque. The air
is cold, the people are different from the Niçois--it is another
world. These gentlemen have a wonderful ride before them, and there is
a moon. If I were a younger man--but there! I am married, and have
two children. Also I am afraid of my wife. Mon Dieu! I make no
concealment of it. My comrades know that I fear nothing that comes in
the way of our business; but I tremble before my wife--a little woman
as high as my elbow. What will you? A tongue!--_Pstt_!"

And with his forefinger he described in the air the descent of a fork
of lightning.

"These are the horses, gentlemen."

And indeed he had done us well.

"Your comrades," I said, "must be fine fellows," as I climbed up the
side of a horse as tall as one of my own hunters at home.

We were soon on the road, which was plain enough, and Alphonse had
crammed a handful of the hotel matches into his pocket in case we
should have to climb the sign posts.

My companion, it may be imagined, was in high good humour, and sat on
the top of his great charger in a state of ebullient excitement worthy
of a schoolboy on his first mount.

"Ah!" he cried, as we clattered along the dusty road before the great
mad-house, "this is sport, my friend. Surely, fox-hunting cannot beat
this?"

"'Tis rather like riding to covert, but we cannot tell what sport this
fox will give us."

The police horses were heavy footed, and wore part of their
professional accoutrement, so we made a military clatter which
obviously pleased the brave soul of my companion.

We had to make all speed, and yet spare no care, for should we make a
false turn there would be no stopping Monsieur Miste on this side of
the frontier. There were, fortunately, many carts on the road with
teams of four or five horses, carrying vast loads of produce from the
outlying villages to Nice. Of the drivers of these we made careful
inquiries, though we often had to wake them for the purpose, as they
lay asleep on the top of the load of hay or straw. One of these men
thanked us for arousing him, and would have detained us to relate a
tale of some carter who, at a spot called the "Saut du Français," had
been thrown thus, as he slept, from the summit of his hay cart, and
was broken to pieces on the rock two thousand feet below.

As we topped the Col du Dragon the day broke, and lighted up the white
peaks in front of us with a pink glow. The vast snow-capped range of the
Alpes Maritimes was stretched out before us like a panorama--behind us
the Mediterranean lay in a blue and perfect peace. The air was cool and
clear as spring water.

Alphonse Giraud pulled off his hat as he looked around him.

"Blessed Name," he cried, "what a world the good God made when He was
busy with it."

Our horses threw up their heads, and answered to the voice with a
willingness that made us wish we had a shorter journey before us.

At St. Jean de la Rivière we rested them for fifteen minutes. The
villagers were already astir, and we learnt that we had as yet gained
only half an hour on the diligence.

There was no doubt about the road now, for we were enclosed in a
narrow valley, with only the great thoroughfare built above the river,
and that not too securely. We made good speed, and soon sighted
Venanson, a queer village perched above all vegetation on the spur of
a mountain.

At a turn of the road we seemed suddenly to quit France, and wheel
into Switzerland. The air was Alpine, and the vegetation that of the
higher valleys there. It was near seven o'clock when we approached St.
Martin Lantosque, a quaint brown village of wood, clustering around a
domed church.

We soon found the Hôtel des Alpes, which was but a sorry inn of no
great cleanliness. The proprietor, a white-faced man, watched us
descend without enthusiasm.

"What time did the diligence come in?" I asked him.

"These gentlemen have ridden," he said pleasantly.

He was joined at this moment by a person who seemed to be a waiter,
though he was clad more like a stable help.

I repeated my question at a shout, and the attendant, placing his lips
against the innkeeper's ear, issued another edition of it in a voice
that awakened an echo far across the vale, and startled the tired
horses.

"The patron is deaf," explained the servant.

"You don't say so," I answered.

We gave these people up as hopeless, and Alphonse had the brilliant
idea of applying at the post-office across the way. Here we found an
intelligent man. Miste had arrived by the diligence. He had sent a
telegram to Genoa. He had posted a letter; and, after a hurried
breakfast at the hotel, he had set off half an hour ago by the bridle
path to the Col di Finestra, alone and on foot.



Chapter XXVI

Above the Snow Line

     ".... le temps l'achève."


Before setting out we had a light breakfast at the Hôtel des Alpes,
where we were informed by several other persons, and on two further
occasions by the waiter that the "patron" was deaf. Indeed, the
village had no other news.

The postmaster had ordered a carriage, which, however, could only take
us two miles on our road, for this ceased at that distance, and only a
bad bridle path led onward to Italy.

Alphonse was by this time beginning to feel the effects of his long
ride and sleepless night; for he had not closed his eyes, while I had
snatched a priceless hour of sleep. Moreover, the hardships of the
campaign had rendered him less equal to a sudden strain than a man in
good condition. He kept up bravely, however, despite a great thirst
which at this time assailed him, and sent him to the brook at the side
of the path much too often for his good.

We entered at once upon a splendid piece of mountain scenery, and
soon left behind us the vivid green of the upper valley. To our left a
sheer crag rose from the valley in one unbroken slope, and in front
the mountains seemed to close and bar all progress. We had five
thousand feet to climb from the frontier stone, and I anticipated
having to accomplish the larger part of it alone. They had warned us
that we should find eight feet of snow at the summit of the pass.

Miste had assuredly been hard pressed to attempt such a passage alone,
and bearing, as he undoubtedly did, a large sum of money. The man had
a fine nerve, at all events; for on the other side he would plunge
into the wildest part of northern Italy, where the human scum that
ever hovers on frontiers had many a fastness. Villainy always requires
more nerve than virtue.

I meant, however, to catch Mr. Charles Miste on the French side of the
Chapel of the Madonna di Finestra.

We trod our first snow at an altitude of about five thousand feet. The
spring, it will be remembered, was a cold one in 1870, and the snow
lay late that year. At last, on turning a corner, we saw about two
miles ahead of us a black form on the white ground, and I confess my
heart stood still.

Alphonse, who had no breath for words, grasped my arm, and we stood
for a moment watching Miste, for it could be no other. The sun was
shining on the great snow-field, and the man's figure was the one dark
spot there. He was evidently tired, and made but slow progress.

"I am not going to lose him now," I said to Alphonse. "If you cannot
keep up with me, say so, and I will go on alone."

"You go at your own pace," answered the Frenchman, with admirable
spirit, "and I will keep up till I drop. I mean to be in at the death
if I can."

Miste never turned, but continued his painful, upward way. He was a
light stepper, as his shallow footprints betokened; but I saw with
grim delight that each step of mine overlapped his measure by a couple
of inches.

There is nothing so still as the atmosphere of a summit, and in this
dead silence we hurried on. Giraud's laboured breathing alone broke
it. I glanced at him, and saw that his face was of a pasty white and
gleaming with perspiration. Poor Alphonse had not much more in him. I
slackened pace a little.

"We are gaining on him, every step tells," said I encouragingly, but
it was clear that my companion would soon drop.

We went on in silence for nearly half an hour and gained visibly on
Miste, who never looked back or paused. At the end of the time we were
within a mile of him, and only spoke in whispers, for at such an
altitude sound travels far. Every moment that Miste was ignorant of
the pursuit was invaluable to us. I could see clearly now that it was
he and no other; the man's back was familiar to me, and his lithe
springy gait.

"Have you a revolver?" whispered Giraud as we stumbled on.

"Not I."

"Then take mine, I cannot--last--much longer."

Supposing that Miste should be in better training than myself!
Supposing that when he turned and saw us he should be able to increase
his pace materially, he would yet escape me!

I stretched out my hand and took the revolver, which was of a familiar
pattern. I made up my mind to shoot Miste sooner than lose him, for
the chase had been a long one, and my blood was hot.

We were gaining on him still, and the heat of the day made him slacken
his pace. The sun beat down on us from a cloudless sky. My lips and
throat were like dry leather. Alphonse had long been cooling his with
snow. We did not care to speak now. All our hearts were in our eyes;
at any moment Miste might turn.

Suddenly Alphonse lagged behind. I glanced at him, and he pointed
upward, so I went on. It was difficult enough to breathe at such an
altitude, and my heart kept making matters worse by leaping to my
throat and choking me. I felt giddy at times, and shivered, though the
perspiration ran off my face like rain.

I was within three hundred yards of Miste now, and Alphonse was
somewhere behind me, I could not pause to note how far. We were near
the summit, and the world seemed to contain but three men. My breath
was short, and there was clockwork going in my head.

Then at length Miste turned. He took all in at a glance, probably
recognising us. At all events he had no doubt of our business there;
for he hurried on, and I could see his hand at his jacket pocket.
Still I gained on him.

"Beer against absinthe," I remember thinking.

There was an unbroken snow-field ahead of us, the sheer side of a
mountain with the footpath cut across it--a strip of blue shadow.

After ten minutes of rapid climbing, Miste turned at length, and
waited for me. He had a cool head; for he carefully buttoned his coat
and stood sideways, presenting as small a target as possible.

He raised his revolver and covered me.

"He won't fire yet," thought I, forty yards below him, and I advanced
quickly.

He stood covering me for a few seconds, and then lowered his arm and
waited for me. In such an atmosphere we could have spoken in ordinary
tones, but we had nothing to say. Monsieur Miste and I understood each
other without need of words.

"Fire, you fool!" cried Giraud behind me--nearer than I had suspected.

I was within twenty yards of Miste now; the man had a narrow, white
face, and was clean shaven. I saw it only for a moment, for the
revolver came up again.

"He is probably a bad shot, and will miss first time," I thought
quickly, as I crept upward. The slope was steep at this point.

I saw the muzzle of the revolver quiver--a sign, no doubt, that he was
bearing on the trigger. Then there was a flash, and the report, as it
seemed, of a cannon. I staggered back, and dropped on one knee. Miste
had hit me in the shoulder. I felt the warm blood running down within
my clothes, and had a queer sensation of having fallen from a great
height.

"I'll kill him!--I'll kill him!" I found myself repeating in a silly
way, as I got to my feet again.

No sooner was I up than Miste fired again, and I heard the bullet
whistle past my ear. At this I whipped out Giraud's revolver, for I
thought the next shot would kill me. The scoundrel let me have it a
third time, and tore a piece out of my cheek; the pain of it was
damnable. I now stood still and took a careful sight, remembering, in
a dull way, to fire low. I aimed at his knees. Monsieur Charles Miste
leapt two feet up into the air, fell face forwards, and came sliding
down towards me, clutching at the snow with both hands.

I was trying to stop my two wounds, and began to be conscious of a
swimming in the head. In a moment Giraud was by my side, and clapped a
handful of snow on my cheek. He had been through the winter's
campaign, and this was no new work for him. He tore open my shirt and
pressed snow on the wound in my shoulder, from which the blood was
pumping slowly. I was in a horrid plight, but in my heart knew all the
while that Miste had failed to kill me.

Giraud poured some brandy into my mouth, and I suppose that I was
nearly losing consciousness, for I felt the spirit running into me
like new life.

In a minute or two we began to think of Miste, who was lying on his
face a few yards away.

"All right now?" asked Alphonse, cheerily.

"All right," I answered, rising and going towards the black form of my
enemy.

We turned him over. The eyes were open--large, liquid eyes, of a
peculiarly gentle expression. I had seen them before, in Radley's
Hotel at Southampton, under a gay little Parisian hat. I was down on
my knees in the snow in a moment--all cold with the thought that I had
killed a woman.

But Charles Miste was a man--and a dead one at that. My relief was so
great that I could have shouted aloud. Miste had therefore been within
my grasp at Southampton, only eluding me by a clever trick, carried
out with consummate art. The dead face seemed to wear a smile as I
looked at it.

Alphonse opened the man's shirt, and we looked at the small blue hole
through which my bullet had found his heart. Death must have been very
quick. I closed the gentle eyes, for they seemed to look at me from a
woman's face.

"And now for his pockets!" I said, hardening my heart.

We turned them out one by one. His purse contained but little, and in
an inner pocket some Italian silver, for use across the frontier. He
had thought of everything, this careful scoundrel. In a side pocket,
pinned to the lining of it, I found a flat packet enveloped in
newspaper. This we unfolded hastily. It contained a number of papers.
I opened one of them--a draft for five thousand pounds, drawn by John
Turner on Messrs. Sweed & Carter of New York! I counted the drafts
aloud and had a long task, for they numbered seventy-nine.

[Illustration: "AND NOW FOR HIS POCKETS!" I SAID, HARDENING MY HEART.]

"That," I said, handing them to Giraud, "is the half of your fortune.
If we have luck we shall find the remainder in Sander's hands at
Genoa."

And Alphonse Giraud must needs embrace me, hurting my shoulder most
infernally, and pouring out a rapid torrent of apology and
self-recrimination.

"I listened when it was hinted to me that you were not honest," he
cried, "that you were not seeking the money at all, or that you had
already recovered it! I have watched you as if you were a thief--Mon
Dieu, what a scoundrel I have been."

"At all events you have the money now."

"Yes." He paused, fingering the papers, while he thoughtfully looked
down into the valley. "Yes, Dick--and it cannot buy me what I want."

Thus we are, and always shall be, when we possess at length that for
which we have long yearned.

We made a further search in Miste's pockets, and found nothing. The
man's clothing was of the finest, and his linen most clean and delicate.
I had a queer feeling of regret that he should be dead--having wanted
his life these many months and now possessing it. Ah--those accomplished
desires! They stalk through life behind us--an army of silent ghosts.
For months afterwards I missed him--incomprehensible though this may
appear. A good foe is a tonic to the heart. Some of us are virtuous for
the sake of our friends--others pay the tribute to their foes.

There was still plenty of work for us to do, though neither was in a
state to execute it. My left arm had stiffened right down to the
fingers, which kept closing up despite my endeavours to keep life and
movement in them. The hurt in my cheek had fortunately ceased
bleeding, and Giraud bound it up with Miste's handkerchief. I recall
the scent of the fine cambric to this day, and when I smell a like
odour see a dead man lying on a snow-field.

We composed Miste in a decent attitude, with his slim hands crossed on
his breast, and then turned our steps downward towards St. Martin
Lantosque. To one who had never known a day's illness, the fatigue
consequent upon the loss of so much blood was particularly irksome,
and I cursed my luck many a time as we stumbled over the snow. Giraud
would not let me finish the brandy in his flask, but kept some for an
emergency.

The peasants were at work in the fields when we at length reached the
valley, and took no heed of us. We told no one of Miste lying alone on
the snow far above, but went straight to the gendarmerie, where we
found the chief--a sensible man, himself an old soldier--who heard our
story to an end without interruption, and promised to give us all
assistance. He sent at once for the doctor, and held my shoulder
tenderly while the ball was taken from it. This he kept, together with
Miste's revolver, and indeed acted throughout with the greatest
shrewdness and good sense. As an old campaigner he strongly urged me
to remain quietly at St. Martin for a few days until the fever which
inevitably follows a bullet wound should have abated; but, on learning
that it was my intention to proceed at once to Genoa, placed no
difficulty in my way.

Knowing that I should find Sander at Genoa, where I could be tended,
Giraud decided to remain at St. Martin Lantosque until Miste had been
buried and all formalities observed.

So I set forth alone about midday--in a private carriage placed at my
disposal by some local good Samaritan--feeling like a worm and no
man.



Chapter XXVII

The Hand of God

     "Chacun ne comprend que ce qu'il retrouve en soi."


Mr. Sander only made a mistake common to Englishmen when he underrated
the capacity of his neighbour. Hearing from his colleague in Nice that
Miste had left that city for St. Martin Lantosque, with us upon his
heels, Sander concluded that our quarry would escape us, and with
great promptitude set forth to Cuneo to await his arrival there.

Before leaving Genoa, however, my agent took steps to ensure the
transmission of his correspondence, and a telegram despatched by
Giraud from St. Martin, after my departure thence, duly reached the
addressee at Cuneo. On arriving, therefore, at Genoa, and going to the
Hôtel de Gênes there, I found, not Mr. Sander, but a telegraphic
message from him bidding me await his return.

"At what time," I asked the waiter, "arrives the next train from
Cuneo?"

"At eight o'clock, signor."

I looked at the clock. It was now seven.

"There is a steamer sailing this evening for South America," I said.

"Yes, signor; with many passengers from this hotel."

"At what time?"

"At seven o'clock--even now."

A minute later I was driving down to the docks--my swimming head full
of half-matured ideas of bribing some one to delay the steamer. Then
came the blessed reflection that, in the absence of Miste, his
confederate would certainly not depart alone. I knew enough of their
tactics to feel sure that instead of taking passage in the steamer
this man (who could only be a subordinate to that master in cunning
who had shot me) must perforce await his chief's arrival.

Nevertheless, I bade the man drive as quickly as the vile pavement
would allow, thinking to board the steamer at all events and
scrutinise the faces of her passengers. We rattled through the narrow
and tortuous streets, reaching the port in time to see the last rope
cast off from the great vessel as she swung round to seaward. I
hurried to the pierhead, and reached the extremity of the port before
the _Principe Amadeo_, which had to move with circumspection amid the
shipping.

The passengers were assembled on deck, taking what many of them
doubtless knew to be a last look at their native land. The lowering
sun cast a glow over city and harbour, while a great silence hovered
over all. The steamer came quite close to the pierhead. I could have
tossed a letter on her deck.

Suddenly my heart stood still as my gaze lighted on the form of an old
man who stood at the stern-rail a little apart from his
fellow-passengers. He stood with his back turned towards me looking up
to the lighthouse. Every line of his form, his attitude, the very
locks of thin, white hair were familiar to me. This was the Vicomte de
Clericy, and no other--the man whose funeral I had attended at
Senneville six months ago. I did not cry out, or rub my eyes, or feel
unreal, as people do in books. I knew that I was my sober self, and
yonder was the Vicomte de Clericy. But I thought that the pier was
moving and not the steamer, and bumped awkwardly against my neighbour,
who looked at me curiously and apologised.

The old man by the stern-rail slowly turned and showed me his
face--bland, benevolent, short-sighted. I can swear that it was the
Vicomte de Clericy, though the world has only my word for it; that
Lucille's father--dead, buried and mourned--stood on the deck of the
steamer _Principe Amadeo_ as she steamed out into the Gulf of Genoa on
the evening of the 30th of May, 1871.

The precious moments slipped by, the great steamer glided past me. I
heard the engine-room gong. The screw stirred the clear water, and I
was left gazing stupidly at the receding form of my old patron as he
stood with his placid hands clasped behind him.

It was some time before I left the spot; for my wounds had left me
weak, and I have never had that quickness of brain which enables men
to see the right course, and take it in a flash of thought.

The steamer had gone--was, indeed, now growing smaller on the
horizon--and on board of her the Vicomte de Clericy. There was no
gainsaying it. I had seen him with my own eyes, but why had he done
this thing?

My shoulder throbbed painfully. I was sick at heart, and could not
bring my mind to bear upon any one subject. The cab-driver had
followed as far as he could, and now stood beckoning to me with his
whip. I went back, and bade him drive me to the hotel; for I had not
been in bed for three nights, and had a strong desire to get and
remain there until this great fatigue should at length leave me.

Of what followed I have but a dim recollection; indeed, remember
little from that time until I awoke in a bedroom at the Hôtel de Gênes
and found a gentle pink and white face, surrounded by a snowy cap,
bending over my bed.

"What time is it, and what day, my sister?" I asked, and was gently
commanded to hold my tongue. She gave me a spoonful of something with
no taste to it, without so much as asking me whether I wanted it.
Indeed, this gentle person treated me as a child, as, moreover, I
think women always treat such men as are wholly in their power.

"You must keep quiet," she said. "See, I will read to you!" and taking
a book from her pocket read aloud the Psalms in a cunning sing-song
voice that sent me to sleep.

When I awoke again the nun was still in the room, and, with her,
Sander, talking the most atrocious French. A queer contrast. One of
the world worldly, a moth that battened on the seamy side; the other
far above the wickedness of men.

"Hush!" I heard her say. "He is awake, and must not hear of your
affairs."

And she turned away from poor Sander, with his shrewd air, as from the
world and the iniquity thereof.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked at her placid back, which,
indeed, she gave him unceremoniously enough, with a hopeless contempt.
Womanhood had earned, it appeared, his profoundest scorn as
unbusinesslike and incompetent. Nunhood simply astounded him.

"Look here, my sister!" he said, plucking impatiently at her demure
sleeve, and even in my semi-consciousness I smiled at the sound of the
words from his cockney lips.

"Well?" she answered, turning her unruffled glance upon him.

Sander lowered his voice and talked hurriedly in her ear. But she only
shook her head. How small the things of this world are to those who
look with honest eyes beyond it!

"Well, I _must_ tell him--there!" exclaimed Sander, angrily, and he
made a step towards the bed. But she laid her hand on his arm and held
him. It was a queer picture.

"Let me go," he said. "I know best."

Her face flushed suddenly, and the nun stood before the detective.

"No," she replied quietly, "you do not know best. I am mistress here.
Will you kindly go?"

She went to the door and held it open for him, her actions and words
belying the meek demeanour which belongs to her calling, and which she
never laid aside for a moment.

So with a hopeless mien Sander left the room, and my nurse came
towards the bed.

"That," she said, softly, "is a very stupid man."

"He is not generally considered so, my sister."

She paid as little heed to my words as a nurse to the prattle of a
child.

"You have moved," she said, "and this bandage is ruffled. You must try
to lie quieter, for you have a nasty wound in your shoulder. I know,
for I have been through the war. How came you by such a hurt now that
peace has been declared?"

"The other man came by a worse one, for he is dead."

"Then the good God forgive you. But you must keep quiet. See--I will
read to you."

And out came the book again in its devotional black cover. She read
for a long while, but I paid no heed to her voice, nor fell under its
sleepy spell. Presently she closed the pages with a pious look of
reproach.

"You are not attending," she said.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because I was wondering what cause you had to fall out with my agent,
Mr. Sander, who is not so stupid as you think."

"He is one of those," she answered primly, "who do not know how to
behave in a sick room. He foolishly wanted to talk to you of
affairs--when you are not well enough. Affairs--to a sick man!"

"Who should be thinking of the affairs of another world, my sister."

"Those always should come first," she answered, with downcast eyes.

"And of what did Mr. Sander want to speak?" I asked.

She looked up with a gleam of interest. Beneath the demure bib of her
professional apron there beat still a woman's heart. Sister Renée
wanted to tell me the news herself.

"Oh," she answered, "it is nothing that will interest you. You are not
even an Italian--only an Englishman."

"That is all, my sister."

"But all Genoa is on the housetops about it."

"Ah!"

"Yes. Never has there been so great a catastrophe; but you have no
friends here, so it will not affect you."

"Therefore, I may be the more safely told. I am not affected by great
catastrophes from a humane point of view."

"Well," she said, busying herself about the room with quick and
noiseless movements, "but it is always terrible to hear of such a
thing when one reflects that we are all so unprepared."

"For what, my sister?"

"For death," she answered, with a look of awe in the most innocent
eyes in the world.

"But who is dead?"

"Three hundred people," she answered. "The passengers and crew of the
_Principe Amadeo_--a large steamer that sailed last night from Genoa,
with emigrants for South America."

"And all are drowned?" I asked, after a pause, thankful that my face
was in the shadow of the curtain.

"All, except two of the crew. The steamer had only left the harbour an
hour before, and all the passengers were at dinner. There came, I
think, a fog, and in the darkness a collision occurred. The _Principe
Amadeo_ went down in five minutes."

She spoke quietly, and with that calm which religion, doubtless, gave
her. Indeed, her only thought seemed to be that these people had
passed to their account without the ministrations of the church.

She soon left me, having my promise to sleep quietly and at once.
Soeur Renée, despite her grey hairs and the wrinkles that the years
(for her life seemed purged of other cause) had left, was an easy
victim to deception.

I did not sleep, but lay awake for many hours, turning over in my mind
the events that had followed each other so quickly. And one thought
came ever uppermost--namely, that in the smallest details of our
existence a judgment far superior to ours must of necessity be at
work. This wiser judgment I detected in the chance, as some will call
it, that sent Sister Renée to me with this news. For if Sander had
told me of the sinking of the _Principe Amadeo_ I must assuredly, in
the heat of the moment, have disclosed to him, in return, my knowledge
that the Vicomte de Clericy was on board of her when she sailed from
Genoa. Whereas, now that I had time to reflect, I saw clearly that
this news belonged to Madame de Clericy alone, and was in nowise the
business of Mr. Sander. That keen-witted man had faithfully performed
the duty on which he had been employed--namely, to enable me to lay my
hands on Charles Miste. One half of the money--a fortune in
itself--had been recovered. There remained, therefore, nothing but to
pay Mr. Sander and bid him farewell.

I was, however, compelled to await the arrival of Alphonse Giraud, who
telegraphed to me that he was still in Nice. I did not know until long
after that he had been formally arrested there for his participation
in the chase of Miste that ended in that ill-starred miscreant's
death. Nor did I learn, until months had elapsed, that my good friend
John Turner had also hastened to Nice, taking thither with him a great
Parisian lawyer to defend me in the trial that took place while I lay
ill at Genoa. Sister Renée, moreover, had not laid aside her womanly
guile when she took the veil, for she concealed from me with perfect
success that I was under guard night and day in my bedroom at the
Hôtel de Gênes. What had I done to earn such true friends or deserve
such faithful care?

The trial passed happily enough, and Alphonse arrived at Genoa ere I
had been there a week. He had delayed little in realising with a
boyish delight one of his recovered drafts for five thousand pounds.
He repaid such loans as I had been able to make him, settled accounts
with Sander, and greatly relieved my mind by seeing him depart. For I
felt in some sort a criminal myself, and the secret, which had by the
merest accident been thrust upon me, discomfited me under the keen eye
of the expert.

The weather was exceedingly hot, and sickness raged unchecked in the
city. A fortnight elapsed, during which Giraud was my faithful
attendant. The doctor who had been called in, the first of his craft
with whom I had had business, a Frenchman and a clever surgeon,
restored me to a certain stage of convalescence, but could not get
beyond it.

"Where do you live," he asked me one day, with a grave face, "when you
are at home?"

"In Suffolk, on the east coast of England."

"Where the air is different from this."

"As different as sunrise from afternoon," I answered, with a sudden
longing for the bluff, keen air of Hopton.

"Are you a good sailor?" he asked.

"I spent half my boyhood on the North Sea."

He walked to the window and stood there in deep thought.

"Then," he said at length, "go home at once by steamer from here, and
stay there. Your own country will do more for you than all the doctors
in Italy."



Chapter XXVIII

The Links

     "La plus grande preuve d'abnégation que donne l'amitié,
     c'est de vivre à coté de l'amour."


Earlier in this record mention has been made--and, indeed, the
reader's attention called thereto--of certain events which, in the
light of subsequent knowledge, pieced themselves together like links
of a chain into one complete whole.

During the quiet months that closed the year of the Commune I dwelt at
Hopton, Isabella being away, and Little Corton in the care of a
housekeeper. Leisure was thus afforded me for the task of piecing
together these links of the past.

It was hard at first to realise that those few moments passed on the
pierhead at Genoa did not form part of my illness and the dreamy
memories of that time. But having always been of a matter of fact mind
I allowed myself no illusions in this respect, and this strange detail
of an incomprehensible life forced itself upon my understanding at
length when the inexplicable became dimly legible.

In my native air I soon picked up strength, forgetting, in truth, my
wounds and illness before the shooting season. Nevertheless, I throw a
gun up to my shoulder less nimbly than I did before Miste's bullet
found its billet among the muscles of my arm.

Madame de Clericy and Lucille had returned to Paris, but, the former
wrote me, were anxious to get away from the capital, which no longer
offered a pleasant home to avowed Legitimists. Madame still entrusted
me with the management of her affairs, which I administered _tant bien
que mal_ by correspondence, and the harvest promised to be such a good
one as to set our minds at rest respecting the immediate future.

Alphonse Giraud passed a few days, from time to time, with the ladies,
but he being a poor correspondent, and I no better, we had but little
knowledge of each other at this time.

Madame, I observed, made but brief reference to Lucille now. "Alphonse
is with us," she would write, and nothing else; or "Lucille keeps well
and is ever gay," with which scant details I had to content myself.

Twice she invited me to pass some days, or weeks, if it could be so
arranged, at the Rue des Palmiers, and twice I refused. For in truth I
scarcely wished to meet Madame de Clericy until my chain was pieced
together and I could lay before her a tale of evidence that had no
weak link in it.

In the month of September I journeyed to Paris, staying there but two
days, and so arranging my movements that I met neither Madame de
Clericy and her daughter nor Alphonse. I succeeded beyond my
expectations in forging an important link.

"Perhaps, as you cannot leave your estates just now," Madame had
written, "you will come to us at La Pauline towards the end of the
vintage. Indeed, my friend, I must ask you to make an effort to do so,
for I learn that the harvest will be a heavy one, and your judgment
will be required in financial matters since you are so good as to
place it at our disposal."

To this I had returned a vague answer, thinking that before that time
Alphonse might have news to tell us which would alter many
arrangements and a few lives. For now that he had recovered a greater
part of his vast wealth there could, assuredly, be no reason for
further delay in pressing his suit _auprès de_ Lucille.

I had, by the way, propounded to John Turner the problem that would
arise in the case of our having to conclude that Miste's confederate
had perished in the ill-fated _Principe Amadeo_, taking out of this
world, if he could not carry it to the next, the remainder of Giraud's
fortune.

"Within five years," he answered me, "Giraud will be repaid the value
of the missing drafts, for we have now a sufficient excuse to stop
payment of them, assuming, as we may safely do, that the bills were
lost at sea."

In the same letter my old friend imparted some news affecting myself.

"I am," he wrote, "getting on in years, and fatter. In view of these
facts I have made a will leaving you, by the way, practically my heir.
A man who could refuse to marry such a pretty girl as Isabella
Gayerson, with such an exceedingly pretty fortune as she possesses,
deserves to have money troubles; so I bequeath 'em to you."

Towards the end of September Madame again wrote to me with the
information that they were installed at La Pauline for the winter, and
begged me to name the day when I could visit them. With due
deliberation I accepted this invitation, and wrote to Giraud in Paris
that I was about to pass through that city, and would much like to see
him as often as possible.

"You know, Dick," he said to me, when we had dined together at his
club, "it is better fun being ruined. All this money--Mon Dieu--what a
trouble it is!"

"Yes," answered I--and the words came from my heart--"it only brings
ill fortune to those that have it."

Nevertheless, Alphonse Giraud was quite happy in the recovery of his
wealth, and took much enjoyment in its expenditure on others. Never,
surely, beat a more generous heart than Giraud's, for whom to spend
his money on a friend was the greatest known happiness.

"You remember," he cried, "how we used to drink our Benedictine in
claret glasses only. Ah! what it is to be young, _n'est ce pas_! and
to think that we shall one day get all we want!"

His quick face darkened suddenly, and all the boyishness vanished from
it.

"I have been," he said, "a famous fool--and thou art another, my
grim-faced Englishman. But I have found out my folly, and discover
that there is still happiness in this world--enough to go on with, at
all events."

I rose to bid him good-night, for I had to make an early start the
next morning.

"I only hope, mon ami," he said, taking my hand in his small fingers,
"that the good God will show you soon what a fool you have been."

I arrived at Draguignan late on the following evening, and put up at
the Hôtel Bertin there, than which the traveller will find no better
accommodation in Provence. I had not named the hour or day of my
proposed arrival at La Pauline, knowing that the affairs of Madame de
Clericy might delay me in Paris, which, in fact, they did.

The next morning I set out on foot for the Chateau of La Pauline by
the road passing through the vineyards and olive groves lately
despoiled of their fruit. The rich hues of autumn were creeping up the
mountains, where the cool air of the upper slopes preserved the
verdure longer than in the sunburnt valley. The air was light and
fresh, with a brisk breeze from the west. The world seemed instinct
with fruition and the gathering of that which had been sown with toil
and carefulness. Is it the world that fits itself to our humour, or
does the Creator mould our thoughts with wind and sky, light and
shade?

As I neared the Chateau my heart sank within me, for I had but evil
news for the lady whom I respected above all women, save one--and how
would Madame take my tidings? It seemed best to ask her to speak to me
alone, for much that I had to relate was surely for the wife's ear,
and would need to be tempered to the daughter's hearing. This
expedient was, however, spared me, for as I approached the old Chateau
I noted the presence of some one in the trellis-covered summerhouse at
the eastern end of the terrace, and caught the flutter of what seemed
to be a white handkerchief. It was, I soon perceived, Madame at her
lace-work--and alone.

Leaving the road I took a path through the olive groves and came upon
Madame, not however by surprise, for she saw me approaching and laid
aside her work.

"So you have come at last," she said, holding out her kind hand.

We went into the vine-grown hut and sat down, Madame looking at me
with deep speculation.

"You are a strong man, mon ami," she said. "For one sees no signs in
your face of what you have gone through."

But it was not of myself that I had come to talk. The tale had to be
told to Madame de Clericy, and being a plain-spoken Englishman and no
hero of a book, I purposed telling it briefly without allegory or
symbol.

"Madame," I said, "it was not Miste who took the money. It was not the
Baron Giraud that we buried from the Rue des Palmiers. It was not the
Vicomte de Clericy that we found in the Seine near Passy and laid to
earth in the churchyard at Senneville."

And I saw that the Vicomtesse thought me mad.

"My poor friend," she said, with the deepest pity in her voice,
"why do you talk like that, and what do you mean?"

[Illustration: THE VICOMTESSE TURNED A LITTLE IN HER CHAIR, AND,
LEANING HER ELBOW ON THE TABLE, SHOWED ME ONLY HER PROFILE AS SHE SAT,
WITH HER CHIN IN THE PALM OF HER HAND, LOOKING DOWN INTO THE VALLEY.]

"I only mean, Madame, that no man is safe in temptation, and that
money is the greatest of all. I would not trust myself with ten
million francs. I would not now trust any man on earth."

"Why?"

And I thought that in Madame's eyes there was already the light of
understanding. For a moment I paused, and she said quickly:

"Is my husband alive?"

"No, Madame."

The Vicomtesse turned a little in her chair, and, leaning her elbow on
the table, showed me only her profile as she sat, with her chin in the
palm of her hand, looking down into the valley.

"Tell me all you know," she said. "I will not interrupt you; but do
not pity me."

"The Baron Giraud did my old patron a great wrong when, in his selfish
fear, he placed that great fortune in his care. For it appears that no
man may trust himself where money is concerned, and no other has a
right to tempt him. So far as we can judge, the Vicomte had all that
he could want. I know he had more money than he cared to spend. You
are aware, Madame, that I had the greatest respect and admiration for
your husband. During the months that we were in daily intercourse he
endeared himself to me by a hundred kindnesses, a thousand tokens of
what I hope was affection."

Madame nodded briefly, and I hastened on with my narrative, for
suspense is the keenest arrow in the quiver of human suffering.

"What I have learnt has been gathered with the greatest care from many
sources, and what I now tell you is neither known nor suspected by any
other on earth. If you so desire, the knowledge can well remain the
property of two persons only."

"My friend," Madame said on the impulse of the kindest heart in the
world, "I think your strength lies in the depth of your thought for
others."

"The Vicomte was tempted," I went on. "He had in his nature a latent
love of money. The same is in many natures, but the majority have
never the opportunity of gratifying it. He did what ninety-nine out of
a hundred other men would have done--what I think I should have done
myself. He yielded. He had at hand a ready tool and the cleverest aid
in Charles Miste, who actually carried the money, but for some
reason--possibly because he was unable to forge the necessary
signatures--could not obtain the cash for the drafts without the
Vicomte's assistance. Unconsciously, I repeatedly prevented their
meeting, and thus frustrated the design."

All the while Madame sat and looked down into the valley. Her
self-command was infinite, for she must have had a thousand questions
to ask.

"It was, I think, my patron's intention to go to the New World with
his great wealth and there begin life afresh--this, however, is one of
the details that must ever remain incomprehensible. Possibly when the
temptation gripped him he ceased to reflect at all--else he must
assuredly have recognised all that he was sacrificing for the mere
possession of money that he could never live to spend. Men usually pay
too high a price for their desires. In order to carry out his scheme
he conceived and accomplished--with a strange cunning, which develops,
I am told, after crime--a clever ruse."

Madame turned and looked at me for a moment.

"We must think of him, Madame," I explained, "as one suffering from a
mental disease; for the love of money in its acute stages is nothing
else, lacking, as it assuredly does, common sense. The most singular
part of his mental condition was the rapidity and skill with which he
turned events to his own advantage, and seized each opportunity for
the furtherance of his ends. The Baron Giraud died at the Hôtel
Clericy--here was a chance. The Vicomte, with a cunning which was
surely unnatural--you remember his strange behaviour at that time,
how he locked himself in his study for hours together--took therefore
the Baron's body from the coffin, dressed it in his own garments,
placed in the clothing his own purse, and pocket-book, and cast the
body into the Seine. I have had the coffin that we laid in Père la
Chaise exhumed and opened. It contained only old books from the upper
shelves in the study in the Rue des Palmiers. The Vicomte must have
packed it thus when he took the Baron's body--doubtless with Miste's
clever aid--and threw it into the river for us to find and identify."

"Yes," said Madame, slowly, "he was cleverer than any suspected. I
knew that."

"The body," I went on, for my tale was nearly done, "which we found at
Passy and buried at Senneville was undoubtedly that of the Baron
Giraud. This, however, is the only detail of my story which I am
unable to assert as a positive fact."

"Of the rest you have no doubt?" Madame asked, slowly. And I shook my
head.

"Is it not possible," she suggested, with that quiet sureness of
judgment which, I think, is rarely given to women, "that Miste is
alone responsible and the criminal? Of course, I cannot explain the
Baron Giraud's disappearance--but it is surely possible that Miste
may have murdered the Vicomte and thrown his body into the Seine."

"No, Madame, there has been no murder done."

"You are sure?"

"I have, since the war, seen the Vicomte alive and well."



Chapter XXIX

At La Pauline

     "Le plus lent à promettre est toujours le plus fidèle à
     tenir."


The tale was thus told to her whom it most concerned, clearly and
without reservation. The details are, however, known to the patient
reader, and call for no recapitulation here. When Madame de Clericy
heard the end of it--namely, the sad fate of the unfortunate _Principe
Amadeo_ and all, save two, on board that steamer--she sat in silence
for some moments, and indeed made no comment at any other time.
Assuredly none was needed, nor could any human words add to or detract
from that infallible Divine judgment which had so ruled our lives.

For when one who is dear to us has forfeited our love by one of those
great and sorrowful alterations of the mind, scarce amounting to
madness, and yet near akin to it, which, alas! are frequently enough
brought about by temptation or an insufficient self control--surely,
then, it is only Heaven's kindness that takes from us the erring one
and leaves but a brief memory of his fall. Has not a great writer
said that a dead sorrow is better than a living one?

I rose to my feet and stood for a moment in the doorway of the
summerhouse, intending to leave Madame with her dead grief. But as I
crossed the threshold her quiet voice arrested me.

"Mon ami!" she said, and, as I paused without looking round, presently
went on--well pleased, perhaps, that I should not see her face.

"One mistake you make in the kindness of your heart, for you are a
stern man with a soft heart, as many English are--you grieve too much
for me. Of course, it is a sorrow--but it is not the great sorrow. You
understand?"

"I think so."

"That came to me many years ago, and was not connected with the
Vicomte de Clericy, but with one who had no title beyond that of
gentleman--and I think there is none higher. It is an old story, and
one that is too often enacted in France, where convenience is placed
before happiness and money above affection. My life has been,
well--happy. Lucille has made it so. And I have an aim in existence
which is in itself a happiness--to make Lucille's life a happy one, to
ensure her that which I have missed, and to avoid a mistake made by
generation after generation of women--namely, to believe that love
comes to us after marriage. It never does so, my friend--never.
Tolerance may come, or, at the best, affection--which is making an
ornament of brass and setting it up where there should be gold--or
nothing."

I stood, half turning my back to Madame, looking down into the
valley--not caring to meet the quiet eyes that had looked straight
into my heart long ago in the room called the boudoir of the house in
the Rue des Palmiers, and had ever since read the thoughts and desires
which I had hidden from the rest of the world. Madame knew, without
any words of mine, that I also had one object in existence, and that
the same as hers--namely, that Lucille's life should be a happy one.

"There is no task so difficult," said Madame, half talking, as I
thought, to herself, "unless it be undertaken by the one man who can
do it without an effort--no task so difficult as that of making a
woman happy. Even her mother cannot be sure of the wisdom of
interference. I always remember some words of your friend, John
Turner, 'When in doubt, do nothing,' and he is a wise man, I think."

The Vicomtesse was an economist of words, and explained herself no
further. We remained for some moments in silence, and it was she who
at length broke it.

"Thank you," she said, "for all your thought and care in verifying
the details of the story you have told me."

"I might have kept it from you, Madame," answered I, "and thus spared
you some sorrow. Perhaps you had been happier in ignorance."

"I think, my dear friend, I am better knowing it. Shall we tell
Lucille?"

I turned and looked at Madame, whose manner bespoke my attention.
There was more in the words than a single question--indeed, I thought
there were many questions.

"That shall be as you decide."

"I ask your opinion, mon ami?"

"I am not in favour of keeping any secrets from Mademoiselle."

For a time Madame seemed lost in thought.

"If you go to the chateau," she said at length, taking up her
lace-work as she spoke, "you will find Lucille either in the garden or
the chapel, where she daily tends the flowers. Tell her anything--you
please."

I left Madame and walked slowly across the garden. Lucille was not
among the gay flower-borders. I passed by the old sun-dial and into
the shade of the trees that stood by the moat, where the frogs
chattered incessantly in the cool shadows. I never hear the sound now
but something stirs in my breast, which is not regret nor yet entire
happiness, but that strange blending of the two which is far above
the mere earthly understanding of the latter state.

In the shadow of the cypress trees I approached the chapel quietly, of
which the door and windows were alike thrown open. Standing in the
cool shadow of the porch I saw that Lucille was not busy with the
flowers, but having completed her task, knelt for a moment before the
altar, raising to heaven a face surely as pure as that of any angel
there.

I sat down in the porch to wait.

Presently Lucille rose from her knees and turning came towards me. I
thought, as I always did on seeing her after an absence short or long,
that I had never really loved her until that moment.

I looked for some expression of surprise in her eyes, but it seemed
that she must have known who had entered before she turned. Instead I
saw in her face a strange new tenderness that set my heart beating.
She gave me her hand with a gesture of shyness that was likewise
unknown to me.

"Why do you look at me like that?" she asked, sharply.

"I was wondering what your thought was as you came towards me,
Mademoiselle."

"Ah!" she answered, with a shake of the head.

[Illustration: "ME VOILÀ, IF YOU WANT ME"]

"It could not have been that you were glad to see me here? Yet, one
would almost have thought--"

She broke into a light laugh.

"It is so easy to think wrong," she said.

I had sat down again, hoping that she would do the same; but she
remained standing a few yards away from me, her shoulder against the
grey old wall of the porch. She was looking out into the shadow of the
trees, and to be near her was a greater happiness than I can tell.

"Do you find it easy to think wrong, Mademoiselle?"

"Yes," she answered, gently.

"And I also."

We remained silent for a few minutes, and the chatter of the frogs in
the moat sounded pleasant and peaceful.

"What have you thought that was wrong?" asked Lucille at length.

"I thought that you loved Alphonse Giraud, and would marry him."

Lucille stood and never looked at me.

"Was I wrong, Mademoiselle?"

"Yes--and I told Alphonse so from the beginning, but he did not
believe me until lately."

"I thought it was he," I said.

"No--nor any like him. If ever I did--either of those things--it would
need to be a man--one of strong will who would be master, not only of
me, but of men; one whom I should always think wiser and stronger and
braver than any other."

I looked at her, and saw nothing but her profile and the gleam of a
sun-ray on her hair.

"Am I a man, Mademoiselle?"

There was a silence, a long one, I thought it.

"Yes," she answered at last, barely audible; and as she spoke stepped
out into the broken shade of the cypress trees. She went a few paces
away from me--then came slowly back and stood before me. Her face was
quite colourless, but there was that in her eyes that brings heaven
down to earth.

"_Me voilà_," she said, with a queer little gesture of
self-abandonment. "_Me voilà_, if you want me."





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