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´╗┐Title: Barlasch of the Guard
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 "Barlasch of the Guard" ***

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BARLASCH OF THE GUARD


By Henry Seton Merriman



     "And they that have not heard shall understand"



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

     I.       ALL ON A SUMMER'S DAY
     II.      A CAMPAIGNER
     III.     FATE
     IV.      THE CLOUDED MOON
     V.       THE WEISSEN ROSS'L
     VI.      THE SHOEMAKER OF KONIGSBERG
     VII.     THE WAY OF LOVE
     VIII.    A VISITATION
     IX.      THE GOLDEN GUESS
     X.       IN DEEP WATER
     XI.      THE WAVE MOVES ON
     XII.     FROM BORODINO
     XIII.    IN THE DAY OF REJOICING
     XIV.     MOSCOW
     XV.      THE GOAL
     XVI.     THE FIRST OF THE EBB
     XVII.    A FORLORN HOPE
     XVIII.   MISSING
     XIX.     KOWNO
     XX.      DESIREE'S CHOICE
     XXI.     ON THE WARSAW ROAD
     XXII.    THROUGH THE SHOALS
     XXIII.   AGAINST THE STREAM
     XXIV.    MATHILDE CHOOSES
     XXV.     A DESPATCH
     XXVI.    ON THE BRIDGE
     XXVII.   A FLASH OF MEMORY
     XXVIII.  VILNA
     XXIX.    THE BARGAIN
     XXX.     THE FULFILMENT



CHAPTER I. ALL ON A SUMMER'S DAY.



     Il faut devoir lever les yeux pour regarder ce qu'on aime.

A few children had congregated on the steps of the Marienkirche at
Dantzig, because the door stood open. The verger, old Peter Koch--on
week days a locksmith--had told them that nothing was going to happen;
had been indiscreet enough to bid them go away. So they stayed, for they
were little girls.

A wedding was in point of fact in progress within the towering walls of
the Marienkirche--a cathedral built of red brick in the great days of
the Hanseatic League.

"Who is it?" asked a stout fishwife, stepping over the threshold to
whisper to Peter Koch.

"It is the younger daughter of Antoine Sebastian," replied the verger,
indicating with a nod of his head the house on the left-hand side of the
Frauengasse where Sebastian lived. There was a wealth of meaning in the
nod. For Peter Koch lived round the corner in the Kleine Schmiedegasse,
and of course--well, it is only neighbourly to take an interest in those
who drink milk from the same cow and buy wood from the same Jew.

The fishwife looked thoughtfully down the Frauengasse where every house
has a different gable, and none of less than three floors within the
pitch of the roof. She singled out No. 36, which has a carved stone
balustrade to its broad verandah and a railing of wrought-iron on either
side of the steps descending from the verandah to the street.

"They teach dancing?" she inquired.

And Koch nodded again, taking snuff.

"And he--the father?"

"He scrapes a fiddle," replied the verger, examining the lady's basket
of fish in a non-committing and final way. For a locksmith is almost
as confidential an adviser as a notary. The Dantzigers, moreover, are a
thrifty race and keep their money in a safe place; a habit which was to
cost many of them their lives before the coming of another June.

The marriage service was a long one and not exhilarating. Through the
open door came no sound of organ or choir, but the deep and monotonous
drawl of one voice. There had been no ringing of bells. The north
countries, with the exception of Russia, require more than the ringing
of bells or the waving of flags to warm their hearts. They celebrate
their festivities with good meat and wine consumed decently behind
closed doors.

Dantzig was in fact under a cloud. No larger than a man's hand,
this cloud had risen in Corsica forty-three years earlier. It had
overshadowed France. Its gloom had spread to Italy, Austria, Spain; had
penetrated so far north as Sweden; was now hanging sullen over Dantzig,
the greatest of the Hanseatic towns, the Free City. For a Dantziger
had never needed to say that he was a Pole or a Prussian, a Swede or a
subject of the Czar. He was a Dantziger. Which is tantamount to having
for a postal address a single name that is marked on the map.

Napoleon had garrisoned the Free City with French troops some years
earlier, to the sullen astonishment of the citizens. And Prussia had not
objected for a very obvious reason. Within the last fourteen months the
garrison had been greatly augmented. The clouds seemed to be gathering
over this prosperous city of the north, where, however, men continued to
eat and drink, to marry and to be given in marriage as in another city
of the plain.

Peter Koch replaced his snuff-stained handkerchief in the pocket of his
rusty cassock and stood aside. He murmured a few conventional words
of blessing, hard on the heels of stronger exhortations to the waiting
children. And Desiree Sebastian came out into the sunlight--Desiree
Sebastian no more.

That she was destined for the sunlight was clearly written on her face
and in her gay, kind blue eyes. She was tall and straight and slim,
as are English and Polish and Danish girls, and none other in all the
world. But the colouring of her face and hair was more pronounced than
in the fairness of Anglo-Saxon youth. For her hair had a golden tinge in
it, and her skin was of that startlingly milky whiteness which is only
found in those who live round the frozen waters. Her eyes, too, were of
a clearer blue--like the blue of a summer sky over the Baltic sea. The
rosy colour was in her cheeks, her eyes were laughing. This was a bride
who had no misgivings.

On seeing such a happy face returning from the altar the observer might
have concluded that the bride had assuredly attained her desire; that
she had secured a title; that the pre-nuptial settlement had been safely
signed and sealed.

But Desiree had none of these things. It was nearly a hundred years ago.

Her husband must have whispered some laughing comment on Koch, or
another appeal to her quick sense of the humorous, for she looked into
his changing face and gave a low, girlish laugh of amusement as they
descended the steps together into the brilliant sunlight.

Charles Darragon wore one of the countless uniforms that enlivened the
outward world in the great days of the greatest captain that history has
seen. He was unmistakably French--unmistakably a French gentleman, as
rare in 1812 as he is to-day. To judge from his small head and clean-cut
features, fine and mobile; from his graceful carriage and slight limbs,
this man was one of the many bearing names that begin with the fourth
letter of the alphabet since the Terror only.

He was merely a lieutenant in a regiment of Alsatian recruits; but that
went for nothing in the days of the Empire. Three kings in Europe had
begun no farther up the ladder.

The Frauengasse is a short street, made narrow by the terrace that each
house throws outward from its face, each seeking to gain a few inches
on its neighbour. It runs from the Marienkirche to the Frauenthor, and
remains to-day as it was built three hundred years ago.

Desiree nodded and laughed to the children, who interested her. She was
quite simple and womanly, as some women, it is to be hoped, may succeed
in continuing until the end of time. She was always pleased to see
children; was glad, it seemed, that they should have congregated on the
steps to watch her pass. Charles, with a faint and unconscious reflex of
that grand manner which had brought his father to the guillotine, felt
in his pocket for money, and found none.

He jerked his hand out with widespread fingers, in a gesture indicative
of familiarity with the nakedness of the land.

"I have nothing, little citizens," he said with a mock gravity; "nothing
but my blessing."

And he made a gay gesture with his left hand over their heads, not the
act of benediction, but of peppering, which made them all laugh. The
bride and bridegroom passing on joined in the laughter with hearts as
light and voices scarcely less youthful.

The Frauengasse is intersected by the Pfaffengasse at right angles,
through which narrow and straight street passes much of the traffic
towards the Langenmarkt, the centre of the town. As the little bridal
procession reached the corner of this street, it halted at the approach
of some mounted troops. There was nothing unusual in this sight in the
streets of Dantzig, which were accustomed now to the clatter of the
Saxon cavalry.

But at the sight of the first troopers Charles Darragon threw up his
head with a little exclamation of surprise.

Desiree looked at him and then turned to follow the direction of his
gaze.

"What are these?" she murmured. For the uniforms were new and
unfamiliar.

"Cavalry of the Old Guard," replied her husband, and as he spoke he
caught his breath.

The horsemen vanished into the continuation of the Pfaffengasse, and
immediately behind them came a travelling carriage, swung on high
wheels, three times the size of a Dantzig drosky, white with dust.
It had small square windows. As Desiree drew back in obedience to a
movement of her husband's arm, she saw a face for an instant--pale and
set--with eyes that seemed to look at everything and yet at something
beyond.

"Who was it? He looked at you, Charles," said Desiree.

"It is the Emperor," answered Darragon. His face was white. His eyes
were dull, like the eyes of one who has seen a vision and is not yet
back to earth.

Desiree turned to those behind her.

"It is the Emperor," she said, with an odd ring in her voice which none
had ever heard before. Then she stood looking after the carriage.

Her father, who was at her elbow--tall, white-haired, with an
aquiline, inscrutable face--stood in a like attitude, looking down the
Pfaffengasse. His hand was raised before his face with outspread fingers
which seemed rigid in that gesture, as if lifted hastily to screen his
face and hide it.

"Did he see me?" he asked in a low voice which only Desiree heard.

She glanced at him, and her eyes, which were clear as a cloudless sky,
were suddenly shadowed by a suspicion quick and poignant.

"He seemed to see everything, but he only looked at Charles," she
answered. For a moment they all stood in the sunshine looking towards
the Langenmarkt where the tower of the Rathhaus rose above the high
roofs. The dust raised by the horses' feet and the carriage wheels
slowly settled on their bridal clothes.

It was Desiree who at length made a movement to continue their way
towards her father's house.

"Well," she said with a slight laugh, "he was not bidden to my wedding,
but he has come all the same."

Others laughed as they followed her. For a bride at the church-door, or
a judge on the bench, or a criminal on the scaffold-steps, need make but
a very small joke to cause merriment. Laughter is often nothing but the
froth of tears.

There were faces suddenly bleached in the little group of
wedding-guests, and none were whiter than the handsome features of
Mathilde Sebastian, Desiree's elder sister, who looked angry, had
frowned at the children, and seemed to find this simple wedding too
bourgeois for her taste. She carried her head with an air that told the
world not to expect that she should ever be content to marry in such
a humble style, and walk from the church in satin slippers like any
daughter of a burgher.

This, at all events, was what old Koch the locksmith must have read in
her beautiful, discontented face.

"Ah! ah!" he muttered to the bolts as he shot them. "But it is not the
lightest hearts that quit the church in a carriage."

So simple were the arrangements that bride and bridegroom and
wedding-guests had to wait in the street while the servant unlocked
the front door of No. 36 with a great key hurriedly extracted from her
apron-pocket.

There was no unusual stir in the street. The windows of one or two of
the houses had been decorated with flowers. These were the houses of
friends. Others were silent and still behind their lace curtains, where
there doubtless lurked peeping and criticizing eyes--the house of a
neighbour.

The wedding-guests were few in number. Only one of them had a
distinguished air, and he, like the bridegroom, wore the uniform of
France. He was a small man, somewhat brusque in attitude, as became
a soldier of Italy and Egypt. But he had a pleasant smile and that
affability of manner which many learnt in the first years of the great
Republic. He and Mathilde Sebastian never looked at each other: either
an understanding or a misunderstanding.

The host, Antoine Sebastian, played his part well enough when he
remembered that he had a part to play. He listened with a kind attention
to the story of a very old lady, who it seemed had been married herself,
but it was so long ago that the human interest of it all was lost in a
pottle of petty detail which was all she could recall. Before the story
was half finished, Sebastian's attention had strayed elsewhere, though
his spare figure remained in its attitude of attention and polite
forbearance. His mind had, it would seem, a trick of thus wandering away
and leaving his body rigid in the last attitude that it had dictated.

Sebastian did not notice that the door was open and all the guests were
waiting for him to lead the way.

"Now, old dreamer," whispered Desiree, with a quick pinch on his arm,
"take the Grafin upstairs to the drawing-room and give her wine. You are
to drink our healths, remember."

"Is there wine?" he asked with a vague smile. "Where has it come from?"

"Like other good things, my father-in-law," replied Charles with his
easy laugh, "it comes from France."

They spoke together thus in confidence, in the language of that same
sunny land. But when Sebastian turned again to the old lady, still
recalling the details of that other wedding, he addressed her in German,
offering his arm with a sudden stiffness of gesture which he seemed to
put on with the change of tongue.

They passed up the low time-worn steps arm-in-arm, and beneath the high
carved doorway, whereon some pious Hanseatic merchant had inscribed
his belief that if God be in the house there is no need of a watchman,
emphasizing his creed by bolts and locks of enormous strength, and bars
to every window.

The servant in her Samland Sunday dress, having shaken her fist at the
children, closed the door behind the last guest, and, so far as the
Frauengasse was concerned, the exciting incident was over. From the open
window came only the murmur of quiet voices, the clink of glasses at the
drinking of a toast, or a laugh in the clear voice of the bride herself.
For Desiree persisted in her optimistic view of these proceedings,
though her husband scarcely helped her now at all, and seemed a
different man since the passage through the Pfaffengasse of that dusty
travelling carriage which had played the part of the stormy petrel from
end to end of Europe.



CHAPTER II. A CAMPAIGNER.



     Not what I am, but what I Do, is my Kingdom.

Desiree had made all her own wedding-clothes. "Her poor little
marriage-basket," she called it. She had even made the cake which was
now cut with some ceremony by her father.

"I tremble," she exclaimed aloud, "to think what it may be like in the
middle."

And Mathilde was the only person there who did not smile at the
unconscious admission. The cake was still under discussion, and the
Grafin had just admitted that it was almost as good as that other cake
which had been consumed in the days of Frederick the Great, when the
servant called Desiree from the room.

"It is a soldier," she said in a whisper at the head of the stairs. "He
has a paper in his hand. I know what that means. He is quartered on us."

Desiree hurried downstairs. In the entrance-hall, a broad-built little
man stood awaiting her. He was stout and red, with hair all ragged at
the temples, almost white. His eyes were lost behind shaggy eyebrows.
His face was made broader by little whiskers stopping short at the level
of his ear. He had a snuff-blown complexion, and in the wrinkles of his
face the dust of a dozen campaigns seemed to have accumulated.

"Barlasch," he said curtly, holding out a long strip of blue paper. "Of
the Guard. Once a sergeant. Italy, Egypt, the Danube."

He frowned at Desiree while she read the paper in the dim light that
filtered through the twisted bars of the fanlight above the door.

Then he turned to the servant who stood, comely and breathless, looking
him up and down.

"Papa Barlasch," he added for her edification, and he drew down his left
eyebrow with a jerk, so that it almost touched his cheek. His right
eye, grey and piercing, returned her astonished gaze with a fierce
steadfastness.

"Does this mean that you are quartered upon us?" asked Desiree without
seeking to hide her disgust. She spoke in her own tongue.

"French?" said the soldier, looking at her. "Good. Yes. I am quartered
here. Thirty-six, Frauengasse. Sebastian; musician. You are lucky to get
me. I always give satisfaction--ha!"

He gave a curt laugh in one syllable only. His left arm was curved
round a bundle of wood bound together by a red pocket-handkerchief not
innocent of snuff. He held out this bundle to Desiree, as Solomon may
have held out some great gift to the Queen of Sheba to smooth the first
doubtful steps of friendship.

Desiree accepted the gift and stood in her wedding-dress holding the
bundle of wood against her breast. Then a gleam of the one grey eye that
was visible conveyed to her the fact that this walnut-faced warrior was
smiling. She laughed gaily.

"It is well," said Barlasch. "We are friends. You are lucky to get me.
You may not think so now. Would this woman like me to speak to her in
Polish or German?"

"Do you speak so many languages?"

He shrugged his shoulders and spread out his arms as far as his many
burdens allowed. For he was hung round with a hundred parcels and
packages.

"The Old Guard," he said, "can always make itself understood."

He rubbed his hands together with the air of a brisk man ready for any
sort of work.

"Now, where shall I sleep?" he asked. "One is not particular, you
understand. A few minutes and one is at home--perhaps peeling the
potatoes. It is only a civilian who is ashamed of using his knife on a
potato. Papa Barlasch, they call me."

Without awaiting an invitation he went forward towards the kitchen. He
seemed to know the house by instinct. His progress was accompanied by
a clatter of utensils like that which heralds the coming of a carrier's
cart.

At the kitchen door he stopped and sniffed loudly. There certainly was
a slight odour of burning fat. Papa Barlasch turned and shook an
admonitory finger at the servant, but he said nothing. He looked round
at the highly polished utensils, at the table and floor both alike
scrubbed clean by a vigorous northern arm. And he was kind enough to nod
approval.

"On a campaign," he said to no one in particular, "a little bit of
horse thrust into the cinders on the end of a bayonet--but in times of
peace..."

He broke off and made a gesture towards the saucepans which indicated
quite clearly that he was between campaigns--inclined to good living.

"I am a rude fork," he jerked to Desiree over his shoulder in the
dialect of the Cotes du Nord.

"How long will you be here?" asked Desiree, who was eminently practical.
A billet was a misfortune which Charles Darragon had hitherto succeeded
in warding off. He had some small influence as an officer of the
head-quarters' staff.

Barlasch held up a reproving hand. The question, he seemed to think, was
not quite delicate.

"I pay my own," he said. "Give and take--that is my motto. When you have
nothing to give... offer a smile."

With a gesture he indicated the bundle of firewood which Desiree still
absent-mindedly carried against her white dress. He turned and opened a
cupboard low down on the floor at the left-hand side of the fireplace.
He seemed to know by an instinct usually possessed by charwomen and
other domesticated persons of experience where the firewood was kept.
Lisa gave a little exclamation of surprise at his impertinence and his
perspicacity. He took the firewood, unknotted his handkerchief, and
threw his offering into the cupboard. Then he turned and perceived for
the first time that Desiree had a bright ribbon at her waist and on her
shoulders; that a thin chain of gold was round her throat and that there
were flowers at her breast.

"A fete?" he inquired curtly.

"My marriage fete," she answered. "I was married half an hour ago."

He looked at her beneath his grizzled brows. His face was only capable
of producing one expression--a shaggy weather-beaten fierceness. But,
like a dog which can express more than many human beings, by a hundred
instinctive gestures he could, it seemed, dispense with words on
occasion and get on quite as well without them. He clearly disapproved
of Desiree's marriage, and drew her attention to the fact that she was
no more than a schoolgirl with an inconsequent brain, and little limbs
too slight to fight a successful battle in a world full of cruelty and
danger.

Then he made a gesture half of apology as if recognizing that it was no
business of his, and turned away thoughtfully.

"I had troubles of that sort myself," he explained, putting together the
embers on the hearth with the point of a twisted, rusty bayonet,
"but that was long ago. Well, I can drink your health all the same,
mademoiselle."

He turned to Lisa with a friendly nod and put out his tongue, in the
manner of the people, to indicate that his lips were dry.

Desiree had always been the housekeeper. It was to her that Lisa
naturally turned in her extremity at the invasion of her kitchen by Papa
Barlasch. And when that warrior had been supplied with beer it was with
Desiree, in an agitated whisper in the great dark dining-room with its
gloomy old pictures and heavy carving, that she took counsel as to where
he should be quartered.

The object of their solicitude himself interrupted their hurried
consultation by opening the door and putting his shaggy head round the
corner of it.

"It is not worth while to consult long about it," he said. "There is a
little room behind the kitchen, that opens into the yard. It is full of
boxes. But we can move them--a little straw--and there!"

With a gesture he described a condition of domestic peace and comfort
which far exceeded his humble requirements.

"The blackbeetles and I are old friends," he concluded cheerfully.

"There are no blackbeetles in the house, monsieur," said Desiree,
hesitating to accept his proposal.

"Then I shall resign myself to my solitude," he answered. "It is quiet.
I shall not hear the patron touching on his violin. It is that which
occupies his leisure, is it not?"

"Yes," answered Desiree, still considering the question.

"I too am a musician," said Papa Barlasch, turning towards the kitchen
again. "I played a drum at Marengo."

And as he led the way to the little room in the yard at the back of the
kitchen, he expressed by a shake of the head a fellow-feeling for the
gentleman upstairs, whose acquaintance he had not yet made, who occupied
his leisure by touching the violin.

They stood together in the small apartment which Barlasch, with the
promptitude of an experienced conqueror, had set apart for his own
accommodation.

"Those trunks," he observed casually, "were made in France"--a mental
note which he happened to make aloud, as some do for better remembrance.
"This solid girl and I will soon move them. And you, mademoiselle, go
back to your wedding."

"The good God be merciful to you," he added under his breath when
Desiree had gone.

She laughed as she mounted the stairs, a slim white figure amid the
heavy woodwork long since blackened by time. The stairs made no sound
beneath her light step. How many weary feet had climbed them since they
were built! For the Dantzigers have been a people of sorrow, torn by
wars, starved by siege, tossed from one conqueror to another from the
beginning until now.

Desiree excused herself for her absence and frankly gave the cause. She
was disposed to make light of the incident. It was natural to her to be
optimistic. Both she and Mathilde made a practice of withholding from
their father's knowledge the smaller worries of daily life which sour so
many women and make them whine on platforms to be given the larger woes.

She was glad to note that her father did not attach much importance
to the arrival of Papa Barlasch; though Mathilde found opportunity to
convey her displeasure at the news by a movement of the eyebrows.

Antoine Sebastian had applied himself seriously now to his role of host,
so rarely played in the Frauengasse. He was courteous and quick to see
a want or a possible desire of any one of his guests. It was part of his
sense of hospitality to dismiss all personal matters, and especially a
personal trouble, from public attention.

"They will attend to him in the kitchen, no doubt," he said with that
grand air which the dancing academy tried to imitate.

Charles hardly noted what Desiree said. So sunny a nature as his might
have been expected to make light of a minor trouble, more especially the
minor trouble of another. He was unusually thoughtful. Some event of the
morning had, it would appear, given him pause on his primrose path. He
glanced more than once over his shoulder towards the window, which stood
open. He seemed at times to listen.

Suddenly he rose and went to the window. His action caused a brief
silence, and all heard the clatter of a horse's feet and the quick
rattle of a sword against spur and buckle.

After a glance he came back into the room.

"Excuse me," he said, with a bow towards Mathilde. "It is, I think, a
messenger for me."

And he hurried downstairs. He did not return at once, and soon the
conversation became general again.

"You," said the Grafin, touching Desiree's arm with her fan, "you, who
are now his wife, must be dying to know what has called him away. Do not
consider the 'convenances,' my child."

Desiree, thus admonished, followed Charles. She had not been aware of
this consuming curiosity until it was suggested to her.

She found Charles standing at the open door. He thrust a letter into his
pocket as she approached him, and turned towards her the face that
she had seen for a moment when he drew her back at the corner of the
Pfaffengasse to allow the Emperor's carriage to pass on its way. It
was the white, half-stupefied face of one who has for an instant seen a
vision of things not earthly.

"I have been sent for by the... I am wanted at head-quarters," he said
vaguely. "I shall not be long..."

He took his shako, looked at her with an odd attempt to simulate
cheerfulness, kissed her fingers and hurried out into the street.



CHAPTER III. FATE.


     We pass; the path that each man trod
     Is dim; or will be dim, with weeds.

When Desiree turned towards the stairs, she met the guests descending.
They were taking their leave as they came down, hurriedly, like persons
conscious of having outstayed their welcome.

Mathilde listened coldly to the conventional excuses. So few people
recognize the simple fact that they need never apologize for going away.
Sebastian stood at the head of the stairs bowing in his most Germanic
manner. The urbane host, with a charm entirely French, who had dispensed
a simple hospitality so easily and gracefully a few minutes earlier,
seemed to have disappeared behind a pale and formal mask.

Desiree was glad to see them go. There was a sense of uneasiness, a
vague unrest in the air. There was something amiss. The wedding party
had been a failure. All had gone well and merrily up to a certain
point--at the corner of the Pfaffengasse, when the dusty travelling
carriage passed across their path. From that moment there had been a
change. A shadow seemed to have fallen across the sunny nature of the
proceedings; for never had bride and bridegroom set forth together with
lighter hearts than those carried by Charles and Desiree Darragon down
the steps of the Marienkirche.

During its progress across the whole width of Germany, the carriage
had left unrest behind it. Men had travelled night and day to stand
sleepless by the roadside and see it pass. Whole cities had been kept
astir till morning by the mere rumour that its flying wheels would be
heard in the streets before dawn. Hatred and adoration, fear and that
dread tightening of the heart-strings which is caused by the shadow of
the superhuman, had sprung into being at the mere sound of its approach.

When therefore it passed across the Frauengasse, throwing its dust upon
Desiree's wedding-dress, it was only fulfilling a mission. When it
broke in upon the lives of these few persons seeking dimly for their
happiness--as the heathen grope for an unknown God--and threw down
carefully constructed plans, swept aside the strongest will and crushed
the stoutest heart, it was only working out its destiny. The dust
sprinkled on Desiree's hair had fallen on the faces of thousands
of dead. The unrest that entered into the quiet little house on the
left-hand side of the Frauengasse had made its way across a thousand
thresholds, of Arab tent and imperial palace alike. The lives of
millions were affected by it, the secret hopes of thousands were
undermined by it. It disturbed the sleep of half the world, and made men
old before their time.

"More troops must have arrived," said Desiree, already busying herself
to set the house in order, "since they have been forced to billet this
man with us. And now they have sent for Charles, though he is really on
leave of absence."

She glanced at the clock.

"I hope he will not be late. The chaise is to come at four o'clock.
There is still time for me to help you."

Mathilde made no answer. Their father stood near the window. He was
looking out with thoughtful eyes. His face was drawn downwards by a
hundred fine wrinkles. It was the face of one brooding over a sorrow
or a vengeance. There was something in his whole being suggestive of a
bygone prosperity. This was a lean man who had once been well-seeming.

"No!" said Desiree gaily, "we were a dull company. We need not disguise
it. It all came from that man crossing our path in his dusty carriage."

"He is on his way to Russia," Sebastian said jerkily. "God spare me to
see him return!"

Desiree and Mathilde exchanged a glance of uneasiness. It seemed that
their father was subject to certain humours which they had reason to
dread. Desiree left her occupation and went to him, linking her arm in
his and standing beside him.

"Do not let us think of disagreeable things to-day," she said. "God will
spare you much longer than that, you depressing old wedding-guest!"

He patted her hand which rested on his arm and looked down at her with
eyes softened by affection. But her fair hair, rather tumbled, which met
his glance must have awakened some memory that made his face a marble
mask again.

"Yes," he said grimly, "but I am an old man and he is a young one. And I
want to see him dead before I die."

"I will not have you think such bloodthirsty thoughts on my
wedding-day," said Desiree. "See, there is Charles returning already,
and he has not been absent ten minutes. He has some one with him--who is
it? Papa... Mathilde, look! Who is it coming back with Charles in such a
hurry?"

Mathilde, who was setting the room in order, glanced through the lace
curtains.

"I do not know," she answered indifferently. "Just an ordinary man."

Desiree had turned away from the window as if to go downstairs and meet
her husband. She paused and looked back again over her shoulder towards
the street.

"Is it?" she said rather oddly. "I do not know--I--"

And she stood with the incompleted sentence on her lips waiting
irresolutely for Charles to come upstairs.

In a moment he burst into the room with all his usual exuberance and
high spirit.

"Picture to yourselves!" he cried, standing in the doorway with his arms
extended before him. "I was hurrying to head-quarters when I ran into
the embrace of my dear Louis--my cousin. I have told you a hundred times
that he is brother and father and everything to me. I am so glad that he
should come to-day of all days."

He turned towards the stairs with a gesture of welcome, still with
his two arms outheld, as if inviting the man, who came rather slowly
upstairs, to come to his embrace and to the embrace of those who were
now his relations.

"There was a little suspicion of sadness--I do not know what it was--at
the table; but now it is all gone. All is well now that this unexpected
guest has come. This dear Louis."

He went to the landing as he spoke, and returned bringing by the arm a
man taller than himself and darker, with a still brown face and steady
eyes set close together. He had a lean look of good breeding.

"This dear Louis!" repeated Charles. "My only relative in all the world.
My cousin, Louis d'Arragon. But he, par exemple, spells his name in two
words."

The man bowed gravely--a comprehensive bow; but he looked at Desiree.

"This is my father-in-law," continued Charles breathlessly. "Monsieur
Antoine Sebastian, and Desiree and Mathilde--my wife, my dear
Louis--your cousin, Desiree."

He had turned again to Louis and shook him by the shoulders in the
fulness of his joy. He had not distinguished between Mathilde and
Desiree, and it was towards Mathilde that D'Arragon looked with a polite
and rather formal repetition of his bow.

"It is I... I am Desiree," said the younger sister, coming forward with
a slow gesture of shyness.

D'Arragon took her hand.

"I have been happy," he said, "in the moment of my arrival."

Then he turned to Mathilde and bowed over the hand she held out to him.
Sebastian had come forward with a sudden return of his gracious and
rather old-world manner. He did not offer to shake hands, but bowed.

"A son of Louis d'Arragon who was fortunate enough to escape to
England?" he inquired with a courteous gesture.

"The only son," replied the new-comer.

"I am honoured to make the acquaintance of Monsieur le Marquis," said
Antoine Sebastian slowly.

"Oh, you must not call me that," replied D'Arragon with a short laugh.
"I am an English sailor--that is all."

"And now, my dear Louis, I leave you," broke in Charles, who had rather
impatiently awaited the end of these formalities. "A brief half-hour and
I am with you again. You will stay here till I return."

He turned, nodded gaily to Desiree and ran downstairs.

Through the open windows they heard his quick, light footfall as he
hurried up the Frauengasse. Something made them silent, listening to it.

It was not difficult to see that D'Arragon was a sailor. Not only had he
the brown face of those who live in the open, but he had the attentive
air of one whose waking moments are a watch.

"You look at one as if one were the horizon," Desiree said to him
long afterwards. But it was at this moment in the drawing-room in the
Frauengasse that the comparison formed itself in her mind.

His face was rather narrow, with a square chin and straight lips. He was
not quick in speech like Charles, but seemed to think before he spoke,
with the result that he often appeared to be about to say something, and
was interrupted before the words had been uttered.

"Unless my memory is a bad one, your mother was an Englishwoman,
monsieur," said Sebastian, "which would account for your being in the
English service."

"Not entirely," answered d'Arragon, "though my mother was indeed English
and died--in a French prison. But it was from a sense of gratitude that
my father placed me in the English service--and I have never regretted
it, monsieur."

"Your father received kindnesses at English hands, after his escape,
like many others."

"Yes, and he was too old to repay them by doing the country any service
himself. He would have done it if he could--"

D'Arragon paused, looking steadily at the tall old man who listened to
him with averted eyes.

"My father was one of those," he said at length, "who did not think that
in fighting for Bonaparte one was necessarily fighting for France."

Sebastian held up a warning hand.

"In England--" he corrected, "in England one may think such things. But
not in France, and still less in Dantzig."

"If one is an Englishman," replied D'Arragon with a smile, "one may
think them where one likes, and say them when one is disposed. It is one
of the privileges of the nation, monsieur."

He made the statement lightly, seeing the humour of it with a
cosmopolitan understanding, without any suggestion of the boastfulness
of youth. Desiree noticed that his hair was turning grey at the temples.

"I did not know," he said, turning to her, "that Charles was in Dantzig,
much less that he was celebrating so happy an occasion. We ran against
each other by accident in the street. It was a lucky accident that
allowed me to make your acquaintance so soon after you have become his
wife."

"It scarcely seems possible that it should be an accident," said
Desiree. "It must have been the work of fate--if fate has time to think
of such an insignificant person as myself and so small an event as my
marriage in these days."

"Fate," put in Mathilde in her composed voice and manner, "has come to
Dantzig to-day."

"Ah!"

"Yes. You are the second unexpected arrival this afternoon."

D'Arragon turned and looked at Mathilde. His manner, always grave and
attentive, was that of a reader who has found an interesting book on a
dusty shelf.

"Has the Emperor come?" he asked.

Mathilde nodded.

"I thought I saw something in Charles's face," he said reflectively,
looking back through the open door towards the stairs where Charles had
nodded farewell to them. "So the Emperor is here, in Dantzig?"

He turned towards Sebastian, who stood with a stony face.

"Which means war," he said.

"It always means war," replied Sebastian in a tired voice. "Is he again
going to prove himself stronger than any?"

"Some day he will make a mistake," said D'Arragon cheerfully. "And then
will come the day of reckoning."

"Ah!" said Sebastian, with a shake of the head that seemed to indicate
an account so one-sided that none could ever liquidate it. "You are
young, monsieur. You are full of hope."

"I am not young--I am thirty-one--but I am, as you say, full of hope. I
look to that day, Monsieur Sebastian."

"And in the mean time?" suggested the man who seemed but a shadow of
someone standing apart and far away from the affairs of daily life.

"In the mean time one must play one's part," returned D'Arragon, with
his almost inaudible laugh, "whatever it may be."

There was no foreboding in his voice; no second meaning in the words. He
was open and simple and practical, like the life he led.

"Then you have a part to play, too," said Desiree, thinking of Charles,
who had been called away at such an inopportune moment, and had gone
without complaint. "It is the penalty we pay for living in one of the
less dull periods of history. He touches your life too."

"He touches every one's life, mademoiselle. That is what makes him so
great a man. Yes. I have a little part to play. I am like one of the
unseen supernumeraries who has to see that a door is open to allow the
great actors to make an effective entree. I am lent to Russia for the
war that is coming. It is a little part. I have to keep open one small
portion of the line of communication between England and St. Petersburg,
so that news may pass to and fro."

He glanced towards Mathilde as he spoke. She was listening with an
odd eagerness which he noted, as he noted everything, methodically and
surely. He remembered it afterwards.

"That will not be easy, with Denmark friendly to France," said
Sebastian, "and every Prussian port closed to you."

"But Sweden will help. She is not friendly to France."

Sebastian laughed, and made a gesture with his white and elegant hand,
of contempt and ridicule.

"And, bon Dieu! what a friendship it is," he exclaimed, "that is based
on the fear of being taken for an enemy."

"It is a friendship that waits its time, monsieur," said D'Arragon
taking up his hat.

"Then you have a ship, monsieur, here in the Baltic?" asked Mathilde
with more haste than was characteristic of her usual utterance.

"A very small one, mademoiselle," he answered. "So small that I could
turn her round here in the Frauengasse."

"But she is fast?"

"The fastest in the Baltic, mademoiselle," he answered. "And that is why
I must take my leave--with the news you have told me."

He shook hands as he spoke, and bowed to Sebastian, whose generation was
content with the more formal salutation. Desiree went to the door, and
led the way downstairs.

"We have but one servant," she said, "who is busy."

On the doorstep he paused for a moment. And Desiree seemed to expect him
to do so.

"Charles and I have always been like brothers--you will remember that
always, will you not?"

"Yes," she answered with her gay nod. "I will remember."

"Then good-bye, mademoiselle."

"Madame," she corrected lightly.

"Madame, my cousin," he said, and departed smiling.

Desiree went slowly upstairs again.



CHAPTER IV. THE CLOUDED MOON.



  Quand on se mefie on se trompe, quand on ne se mefie pas, on est
trompe.

Charles Darragon had come to Dantzig a year earlier. He was a
lieutenant in an infantry regiment, and he was twenty-five. Many of his
contemporaries were colonels in these days of quick promotion, when men
lived at such a rate that few of them lived long. But Charles was too
easy-going to envy any man.

When he arrived he knew no one in Dantzig, had few friends in the army
of occupation. In six months he possessed acquaintances in every street,
and was on terms of easy familiarity with all his fellow-officers.

"If the army of occupation had more officers like young Darragon," a
town councillor had grimly said to Rapp, "the Dantzigers would soon be
resigned to your presence."

It seemed that Charles had the gift of popularity. He was open and
hearty, hail-fellow-well-met with the new-comers, who were numerous
enough at this time, quick to understand the quiet men, ready to make
merry with the gay. Regarding himself, he was quite open and frank.

"I am a poor devil of a lieutenant," he said, "that is all."

Reserve is fatal to popularity, yet friendship cannot exist without
it. Charles had, it seemed, nothing to hide, and was indifferent to the
secrets of others. It is such people who receive many confidences.

"But it must go no farther..." a hundred men had said to him.

"My friend, by to-morrow I shall have forgotten all about it," he
invariably replied, which men remembered afterwards and were glad.

A certain sort of friendship seemed to exist between Charles Darragon
and Colonel de Casimir--not without patronage on one side and a slightly
constraining sense of obligation on the other. It was de Casimir who
had introduced Charles to Mathilde Sebastian at a formal reception at
General Rapp's. Charles, of course, fell in love with Mathilde, and out
again after half-an-hour's conversation. There was something cold and
calculating about Mathilde which held him at arm's length with as much
efficacy as the strictest duenna. Indeed, there are some maidens who
require no better chaperon for their hearts than their own heads.

A few days after this introduction Charles met Mathilde and Desiree in
the Langgasse, and he fell in love with Desiree. He went about for
a whole week seeking opportunity to tell her without delay what had
happened to him. The opportunity presented itself before long; for
one morning he saw her walking quickly towards the Kuh-brucke with her
skates swinging from her wrist. It was a sunny, still, winter morning,
such as temperate countries never know. Desiree's eyes were bright
with youth and happiness. The cold air had slightly emphasized the rosy
colour of her cheeks.

Charles caught his breath at the sight of her, though she did not happen
to perceive him. He called a sleigh and drove to the barracks for his
own skates. Then to the Kuh-brucke, where a reach of the Mottlau was
cleared and kept in order for skating. He overpaid the sleigh-driver and
laughed aloud at the man's boorish surprise. There was no one so happy
as Charles Darragon in all the world. He was going to tell Desiree that
he loved her.

At first Desiree was surprised, as was only natural. For she had
not thought again of the pleasant young officer introduced to her by
Mathilde. They had not even commented on him after he had made his gay
bow and gone.

She had of course thought of these things in the abstract when her
busy mind had nothing more material and immediate to consider. She had
probably arranged how some abstract person should some day tell her of
his love and how she should make reply. But she had never imagined the
incident as it actually happened. She had never pictured a youth in a
gay uniform looking down at her with ardent eyes as he skated by her
side through the crisp still air, while the ice sang a high clear song
beneath their feet in accompaniment to his hurried laughing words of
protestation. He seemed to touch life lightly and to anticipate nothing
but happiness. In truth, it was difficult to be tragic on such a
morning.

These were the heedless days of the beginning of the century, when men
not only threw away their lives, but played ducks-and-drakes with their
chances of happiness in a manner quite incomprehensible to the careful
method of human thought to-day. Charles Darragon lived only in the
present moment. He was in love with her. Desiree must marry him.

It was quite different from what she had anticipated. She had looked
forward to such a moment with a secret misgiving. The abstract person
of her thoughts had always inspired her with a painful shyness and an
indefinite, breathless fear. But the lover who was here now in the flesh
by her side inspired none of these feelings. On the contrary, she felt
easy and natural and quite at home with him. There was nothing alarming
about his flushed face and laughing eyes. She was not at all afraid of
him. She even felt in some vague way older than he, though he had just
told her that he was twenty-five, and four years her senior.

She accepted the violets which he had hurriedly bought for her as he
came through the Langenmarkt, but she would not say that she loved him,
because she did not. She was in most ways quite a matter-of-fact person,
and she was of an honest mind. She said she would think about it. She
did not love him now--she knew that. She could not say that she would
not learn to love him some day, but there seemed no likelihood of it at
present. Then he would shoot himself! He would certainly shoot himself
unless she learnt to love him! And she asked "When?" and they both
laughed. They changed the subject, but after a time they came back to
it; which is the worst of love--one always comes back to it.

Then suddenly he began to assume an air of proprietorship, and burst
into a hundred explanations of what fears he felt for her; for her
happiness and welfare. Her father was absent-minded and heedless. He
was not a fit guardian for her. Was she not the prettiest girl in all
Dantzig--in all the world? Her sister was not fond enough of her to care
for her properly. He announced his intention of seeing her father the
next day. Everything should be done in order. Not a word must be hinted
by the most watchful neighbour against the perfect propriety of their
betrothal.

Desiree laughed and said that he was progressing rather rapidly. She had
only her instinct to guide her through these troubled waters; which was
much better than experience. Experience in a woman is tantamount to a
previous conviction against a prisoner.

Charles was grave, however; a rare tribute. He was in love for the
first time, which often makes men quite honest for a brief period--even
unselfish. Of course, some men are honest and unselfish all their lives;
which perhaps means that they remain in love--for the first time--all
their lives. They are rare, of course. But the sort of woman with whom
it is possible to remain in love all through a lifetime is rarer.

So Charles waylaid Antoine Sebastian the next day as he went out of the
Frauenthor for his walk in the morning sun by the side of the frozen
Mottlau. He was better received than he had any reason to expect.

"I am only a lieutenant," he said, "but in these days, monsieur, you
know--there are possibilities."

He laughed gaily as he waved his gloves in the direction of Russia,
across the river. But Sebastian's face clouded, and Charles, who was
quick and sympathetic, abandoned that point in his argument almost
before the words were out of his lips.

"I have a little money," he said, "in addition to my pay. I assure you,
monsieur, I am not of mean birth."

"You are an orphan?" said Sebastian curtly.

"Yes."

"Of the... Terror?"

"Yes; I--well, one does not make much of one's parentage in these rough
times--monsieur."

"Your father's name was Charles--like your own?"

"Yes."

"The second son?"

"Yes, monsieur. Did you know him?"

"One remembers a name here and there," answered Sebastian, in his stiff
manner, looking straight in front of him.

"There was a tone in your voice--," began Charles, and, again perceiving
that he was on a false scent, broke off abruptly. "If love can make
mademoiselle happy--," he said; and a gesture of his right hand seemed
to indicate that his passion was beyond the measure of words.

So Charles Darragon was permitted to pay his addresses to Desiree in the
somewhat formal manner of a day which, upon careful consideration,
will be found to have been no more foolish than the present. He made no
inquiries respecting Desiree's parentage. It was Desiree he wanted, and
that was all. They understood the arts of love and war in the great days
of the Empire.

The rest was easy enough, and the gods were kind. Charles had even
succeeded in getting a month's leave of absence. They were to spend
their honeymoon at Zoppot, a little fishing-village hidden in the pines
by the Baltic shore, only eight miles from Dantzig, where the Vistula
loses itself at last in the salt water.

All these arrangements had been made, as Desiree had prepared her
trousseau, with a zest and gaiety which all were invited to enjoy. It is
said that love is an egoist. Charles and Desiree had no desire to keep
their happiness to themselves, but wore it, as it were, upon their
sleeves.

The attitude of the Frauengasse towards Desiree's wedding was only
characteristic of the period. Every house in Dantzig looked askance upon
its neighbour at this time. Each roof covered a number of contending
interests.

Some were for the French, and some for the conqueror's unwilling ally,
William of Prussia. The names above the shops were German and Polish.
There are to-day Scotch names also, here as elsewhere on the Baltic
shores. When the serfs were liberated it was necessary to find surnames
for these free men--these Pauls-the-son-of-Paul; and the nobles of
Esthonia and Lithuania were reading Sir Walter Scott at the time.

The burghers of Dantzig ("They must be made to pay, these rich
Dantzigers," wrote Napoleon to Rapp) trembled for their wealth, and
stood aghast by their empty counting-houses; for their gods had been
cast down; commerce was at a standstill. There were many, therefore,
who hated the French, and cherished a secret love of those bluff British
captains--so like themselves in build, and thought, and slowness of
speech--who would thrash their wooden brigs through the shallow seas,
despite decrees and threats and sloops-of-war, so long as they could lay
them alongside the granaries of the Vistula. Lately the very tolls had
been collected by a French customs service, and the wholesale smuggling,
to which even Governor Rapp--that long-headed Alsatian--had closed his
eyes, was at an end.

Again, the Poles who looked on Dantzig as the seaport of that great
kingdom of Eastern Europe which was and is no more, had been assured
that France would set up again the throne of the Jagellons and the
Sobieskis. There was a Poniatowski high in the Emperor's service and
esteem. The Poles were for France.

The Jew, hurrying along close by the wall--always in the shadow--traded
with all and trusted none. Who could tell what thoughts were hidden
beneath the ragged fur cap--what revenge awaited its consummation in the
heart crushed by oppression and contempt?

Besides these civilians there were many who had a military air within
their civil garb. For the pendulum of war had swung right across from
Cadiz to Dantzig, and swept northwards in its wake the merchants of
death, the men who live by feeding soldiers and rifling the dead.

All these were in the streets, rubbing shoulders with the gay epaulettes
of the Saxons, the Badeners, the Wurtembergers, the Westphalians, and
the Hessians, who had been poured into Dantzig by Napoleon during the
months when he had continued to exchange courteous and affectionate
letters with Alexander of Russia. For more than a year the broad-faced
Bavarians (who have borne the brunt of every war in Central Europe) had
been peaceably quartered in the town. Half a dozen different tongues
were daily heard in this city of the plain, and no man knew who might
be his friend and who his enemy. For some who were allies to-day were
commanded by their kings to slay each other to-morrow.

In the wine-cellars and the humbler beer-shops, in the great houses of
the councillors, and behind the snowy lace curtains of the Frauengasse
and the Portchaisengasse a thousand slow Northerners spoke of these
things and kept them in their hearts. A hundred secret societies passed
from mouth to mouth instruction, warning, encouragement. Germany has
always been the home of the secret society. Northern Europe gave birth
to those countless associations which have proved stronger than
kings and surer than a throne. The Hanseatic League, the first of the
commercial unions which were destined to build up the greatest empire of
the world, lived longest in Dantzig.

The Tugendbund, men whispered, was not dead but sleeping. Napoleon, who
had crushed it once, was watching for its revival; had a whole army of
his matchless secret police ready for it. And the Tugendbund had had its
centre in Dantzig.

Perhaps, in the Rathskeller itself--one of the largest wine stores in
the world, where tables and chairs are set beneath the arches of the
Exchange, a vast cave under the streets--perhaps here the Tugendbund
still encouraged men to be virtuous and self-denying for no other or
higher purpose than the overthrow of the Scourge of Europe. Here the
richer citizens have met from time immemorial to drink with solemnity
and a decent leisure the wines sent hither in their own ships from the
Rhine, from Greece and the Crimea, from Bordeaux and Burgundy, from
the Champagne and Tokay. This is not only the Rathskeller, but the real
Rathhaus, where the Dantzigers have taken counsel over their afternoon
wine from generation to generation, whence have been issued to all the
world those decrees of probity and a commercial uprightness between
buyer and seller, debtor and creditor, master and man, which reached to
every corner of the commercial world. And now it was whispered that
the latter-day Dantzigers--the sons of those who formed the Hanseatic
League: mostly fat men with large faces and shrewd, calculating eyes;
high foreheads; good solid men, who knew the world, and how to make
their way in it; withal, good judges of a wine and great drinkers, like
that William the Silent, who braved and met and conquered the European
scourge of mediaeval times--it was whispered that these were reviving
the Tugendbund.

Amid such contending interests, and in a free city so near to several
frontiers, men came and went without attracting undesired attention.
Each party suspected a new-comer of belonging to the other.

"He scrapes a fiddle," Koch had explained to the inquiring fishwife. And
perhaps he knew no more than this of Antoine Sebastian. Sebastian was
poor. All the Frauengasse knew that. But the Frauengasse itself was
poor, and no man in Dantzig was so foolish at this time as to admit that
he had possessions.

This was, moreover, not the day of display or snobbery. The king of
snobs, Louis XVI., had died to some purpose, for a wave of manliness had
swept across human thought at the beginning of the century. The world
has rarely been the poorer for the demise of a Bourbon.

The Frauengasse knew that Antoine Sebastian played the fiddle to gain
his daily bread, while his two daughters taught dancing for that same
safest and most satisfactory of all motives.

"But he holds his head so high!" once observed the stout and
matter-of-fact daughter of a Councillor. "Why has he that grand manner?"

"Because he is a dancing-master," replied Desiree with a grave
assurance. "He does it so that you may copy him. Chin up. Oh! how fat
you are."

Desiree herself was slim enough and as yet only half grown. She did not
dance so well as Mathilde, who moved through a quadrille with the air of
a duchess, and threw into a polonaise or mazurka a quiet grace which was
the envy and despair of her pupils. Mathilde was patient with the slow
and heavy of foot, while Desiree told them bluntly that they were fat.
Nevertheless, they were afraid of Mathilde, and only laughed at Desiree
when she rushed angrily at them, and, seizing them by the arms, danced
them round the room with the energy of despair.

Sebastian, who had an oddly judicial air, such as men acquire who are
in authority, held the balance evenly between the sisters, and
smiled apologetically over his fiddle towards the victim of Desiree's
impetuosity.

"Yes," he would reply to watching mothers, who tried to lead him to say
that their daughter was the best dancer in the school: "Yes, Mathilde
puts it into their heads, and Desiree shakes it down to their feet."

In all matters of the household Desiree played a similar part. She was
up early and still astir after nine o'clock at night, when the other
houses in the Frauengasse were quiet, if there were work to do.

"It is because she has no method," said Mathilde, who had herself a
well-ordered mind, and that quickness which never needs to hurry.



CHAPTER V. THE WEISSEN ROSS'L.



     The moth will singe her wings, and singed return,
     Her love of light quenching her fear of pain.

There are quite a number of people who get through life without
realizing their own insignificance. Ninety-nine out of a hundred persons
signify nothing, and the hundredth is usually so absorbed in the message
which he has been sent into the world to deliver that he loses sight of
the messenger altogether.

By a merciful dispensation of Providence we are permitted to bustle
about in our immediate little circle like the ant, running hither and
thither with all the sublime conceit of that insect. We pick up, as he
does, a burden which on close inspection will be found to be absolutely
valueless, something that somebody else has thrown away. We hoist it
over obstructions while there is usually a short way round; we fret and
sweat and fume. Then we drop the burden and rush off at a tangent to
pick up another. We write letters to our friends explaining to them what
we are about. We even indite diaries to be read by goodness knows whom,
explaining to ourselves what we have been doing. Sometimes we find
something that really looks valuable, and rush to our particular
ant-heap with it while our neighbours pause and watch us. But they
really do not care; and if the rumour of our discovery reach so far as
the next ant-heap, the bustlers there are almost indifferent, though a
few may feel a passing pang of jealousy. They may perhaps remember our
name, and will soon forget what we discovered--which is Fame. While we
are falling over each other to attain this, and dying to tell each other
what it feels like when we have it, or think we have it, let us pause
for a moment and think of an ant--who kept a diary.

Desiree did not keep a diary. Her life was too busy for ink. She had had
to work for her daily bread, which is better than riches. Her life had
been full of occupation from morning till night, and God had given her
sleep from night till morning. It is better to work for others than to
think for them. Some day the world will learn to have a greater respect
for the workers than for the thinkers, who are idle, wordy persons,
frequently thinking wrong.

Desiree remembered the siege and the occupation of Dantzig by French
troops. She was at school in the Jopengasse when the Treaty of
Tilsit--that peace which was nothing but a pause--was concluded. She
had seen Luisa of Prussia, the good Queen who baffled Napoleon. Her
childhood had passed away in the roar of siege-guns. Her girlhood, in
the Frauengasse, had been marked by the various woes of Prussia, by each
successive step in the development of Napoleon's ambition. There were
no bogey-men in the night-nursery at the beginning of the century. One
Aaron's rod of a bogey had swallowed all the rest, and children buried
their sobs in the pillow for fear of Napoleon. There were no ghosts in
the dark corners of the stairs when Desiree, candle in hand, went to bed
at eight o'clock, half an hour before Mathilde. The shadows on the wall
were the shadows of soldiers--the wind roaring in the chimney was
like the sound of distant cannon. When the timid glanced over their
shoulders, the apparition they looked for was that of a little man in a
cocked hat and a long grey coat.

This was not an age in which the individual life was highly valued. Men
were great to-day and gone to-morrow. Women were of small account. It
was the day of deeds and not of words.

Desiree had never been oppressed by a sense of her own importance, which
oppression leaves its mark on many a woman's face in these times. She
had not, it would seem, expected much from life; and when much was
given to her she received it without misgivings. She was young and
light-hearted, and she lived in a reckless age.

She was not surprised when Charles failed to return. The chaise that was
to carry them to Zoppot stood in the Frauengasse on the shady side of
the street in the heat of the afternoon for more than an hour. Then she
ran out and told the driver to go back to his stables.

"One cannot go for a honeymoon alone," she explained airily to her
father, who was peevish and restless, standing by the window with the
air of one who expects without knowing what to expect. "It is, at all
events, quite clear that there is nothing for me to do but wait."

She made light of it, and laughed at her father's grave face. Mathilde
said nothing, but her silence seemed to suggest that this was no more
than she had foretold, or at all events foreseen. She was too proud or
too generous to put her thoughts into words. For pride and generosity
are often confounded. There are many who give because they are too proud
to withhold.

Desiree got her needlework and sat by the open window awaiting Charles.
She could hear the continuous clatter of carts on the quay, and the
voices of the men working in the great granaries across the river.

The whole city seemed to be astir, and men hurried to and fro in even
the quiet Frauengasse, while the clatter of cavalry and the heavy rumble
of gun carriages could be heard over the roofs from the direction of the
Langenmarkt. There was a sense of hurry in the dusty air. The Emperor
had arrived, and the magic of his name lifted men out of themselves. It
seemed nothing extraordinary to Desiree that her life should be taken up
by this whirlwind, and carried on she knew not whither.

At dinner-time Charles had not returned. Antoine Sebastian dined at
half-past four, in the manner of Northern Europe; but his daughters
provided his table with the lighter meats of France, which he preferred
to the German cuisine. Sebastian's dinner was an event in the day,
though he ate sparingly enough, and found a mental rather than a
physical pleasure in the ceremonious sequence of courses.

It was now too late to think of going to Zoppot. After dinner Mathilde
and Desiree prepared the rooms which had been destined for the
occupation of the married pair after the honeymoon.

"We shall have to omit Zoppot, that is all," said Desiree cheerfully,
and fell to unpacking the bridal clothes which had been so merrily laid
in the trunks.

At half-past six a soldier brought a hurried note from Charles.

"I cannot return to-night, as I am about to start for Konigsberg," he
wrote. "It is a commission which I could not refuse if I wished to. You,
I know, would have me go and do my duty."

There was more which Desiree did not read aloud. Charles had always
found it easy enough to tell Desiree how much he loved her, and was
gaily indifferent to the ears of others. But she seemed to be restrained
by some feeling which had found birth in her heart during her wedding
day. She said nothing of Charles's protestations of love.

"Decidedly," she said, folding the letter, and placing it in her
work-basket, "Fate is interfering in our affairs to-day."

She turned to her work again without further complaint, almost with
a sense of relief. Mathilde, whose steady grey eyes saw everything,
penetrating every thought, glanced at her with a suddenly aroused
interest. Desiree herself was half surprised at the philosophy with
which she met this fresh misfortune.

Antoine Sebastian had never acquired the habit of drinking tea in the
evening, which had found favour in these northern countries bordering
on Russia. Instead, he usually went out at this time to one of the many
wine-rooms or Bier Halles in the town to drink a slow and meditative
glass of beer with such friends as he had made in Dantzig. For he was a
lonely man, whose face was quite familiar to many who looked for a bow
or a friendly salutation in vain.

If he went to the Rathskeller it was on the invitation of a friend; for
he could not afford to pay the vintage of that cellar, though he drank
the wine with the slow mouthing of a connoisseur when he had it.

More often than not he took a walk first, passing out of the Frauenthor
on to the quay, where he turned to left or right and made his way back
through one or other of the town gates, by devious narrow streets
to that which is still called the Portchaisengasse though chairs and
carriers have long ceased to pass along it. Here, on the northern
side of the street is an old inn, "Zum weissen Ross'l," with a broken,
ill-carved head of a white horse above the door. Across the face of the
house is written, in old German letters, an invitation:

                    Gruss Gott.  Tritt ein!
                    Bring Gluck herein.

But few seemed to accept it. Even a hundred years ago the White Horse
was behind the times, and fashion sought the wider streets.

Antoine Sebastian was perhaps ashamed of frequenting so humble a house
of entertainment, where for a groschen he could have a glass of beer.
He seemed to make his way through the narrower streets for some purpose,
changing his route from day to day, and hurrying across the wider
thoroughfares with the air of one desirous to attract but little
attention. He was not alone in the quiet streets, for there were many
in Dantzig at this time who from wealth had fallen to want. Many
counting-houses once noisy with prosperity were now closed and silent.
For five years the prosperous Dantzig had lain crushed beneath the iron
heel of the conqueror.

It would seem that Sebastian had only waited for the explanation of
Charles's most ill-timed absence to carry out his usual programme. The
clock in the tower of the Rathhaus had barely struck seven when he took
his hat and cloak from the peg near the dining-room door. He was so
absorbed that he did not perceive Papa Barlasch seated just within the
open door of the kitchen. But Barlasch saw him, and scratched his head
at the sight.

The northern evenings are chill even in June, and Sebastian fumbled with
his cloak. It would appear that he was little used to helping himself in
such matters. Barlasch came out of the kitchen when Sebastian's back
was turned and helped him to put the flowing cloak straight upon his
shoulders.

"Thank you, Lisa, thank you," said Sebastian in German, without looking
round. By accident Barlasch had performed one of Lisa's duties, and
the master of the house was too deeply engaged in thought to notice
any difference in the handling or to perceive the smell of snuff that
heralded the approach of Papa Barlasch. Sebastian took his hat and went
out closing the door behind him, and leaving Barlasch, who had followed
him to the door, standing rather stupidly on the mat.

"Absent-minded--the citizen," muttered Barlasch, returning to the
kitchen, where he resumed his seat on a chair by the open door. He
scratched his head and appeared to lapse into thought. But his brain was
slow as were his movements. He had been drinking to the health of the
bride. He thumped himself on the brow with his closed fist.

"Sacred-name-of-a-thunderstorm," he said. "Where have I seen that face
before?"

Sebastian went out by the Frauenthor to the quay. Although it was dusk,
the granaries were still at work. The river was full of craft and the
roadway choked by rows and rows of carts, all of one pattern, too big
and too heavy for roads that are laid across a marsh.

He turned to the right, but found his way blocked at the corner of the
Langenmarkt, where the road narrows to pass under the Grunes Thor. Here
the idlers of the evening hour were collected in a crowd, peering over
each other's shoulders towards the roadway and the bridge. Sebastian
was a tall man, and had no need to stand on tip-toe in order to see the
straight rows of bayonets swinging past, and the line of shakos rising
and falling in unison with the beat of a thousand feet on the hollow
woodwork of the drawbridge.

The troops had been passing out of the city all the afternoon on the
road to Elbing and Konigsberg.

"It is the same," said a man standing near to Sebastian, "at the Hohes
Thor, where they are marching out by the road leading to Konigsberg by
way of Dessau."

"It is farther than Konigsberg that they are going," was the significant
answer of a white-haired veteran who had probably been at Eylau, for he
had a crushed look.

"But war is not declared," said the first speaker.

"Does that matter?"

And both turned towards Sebastian with the challenging air that invites
opinion or calls for admiration of uncommon shrewdness. He was better
clad than they. He must know more than they did. But Sebastian looked
over their heads and did not seem to have heard their conversation.

He turned back and went another way, by side streets and the little
narrow alleys that nearly always encircle a cathedral, and are still
to be found on all sides of the Marienkirche. At last he came to the
Portchaisengasse, which was quiet enough in the twilight, though he
could hear the tramp of soldiers along the Langgasse and the rumble of
the guns.

There were only two lamps in the Portchaisengasse, swinging on
wrought-iron gibbets at each end of the street. These were not yet
alight, though the day was fading fast, and the western light could
scarcely find its way between the high gables which hung over the road
and seemed to lean confidentially towards each other.

Sebastian was going towards the door of the Weissen Ross'l when some
one came out of the hostelry, as if he had been awaiting him within the
porch.

The new-comer, who was a fat man with baggy cheeks and odd, light blue
eyes--the eyes of an enthusiast, one would say--passed Sebastian, making
a little gesture which at once recommended silence, and bade him turn
and follow. At the entrance to a little alley leading down towards
the Marienkirche the fat man awaited Sebastian, whose pace had not
quickened, nor had his walk lost any of its dignity.

"Not there to-night," said the man, holding up a thick forefinger and
shaking it sideways.

"Then where?"

"Nowhere to-night," was the answer. "He has come--you know that?"

"Yes," answered Sebastian slowly, "for I saw him."

"He is at supper now with Rapp and the others. The town is full of his
people. His spies are everywhere. There are two in the Weissen Ross'l
who pretend to be Bavarians. See! There is another--just there."

He pointed the thick forefinger down the Portchaisengasse where it
widens to meet the Langgasse, where the last remains of daylight,
reflected to and fro between the houses, found freer play than in the
narrow alley where they stood.

Sebastian looked in the direction indicated. An officer was walking away
from them. A quick observer would have noticed that his spurs made no
noise, and that he carried his sword instead of allowing it to clatter
after him. It was not clear whence he had come. It must have been from a
doorway nearly opposite to the Weissen Ross'l.

"I know that man," said Sebastian.

"So do I," was the reply. "It is Colonel de Casimir."

With a little nod the fat man went out again into the Portchaisengasse
in the direction of the inn, as if he were keeping watch there.



CHAPTER VI. THE SHOEMAKER OF KONIGSBERG.



     Chacun ne comprend que ce qu'il trouve en soi.

Nearly two years had passed since the death of Queen Luisa of Prussia.
And she from her grave yet spake to her people--as sixty years later she
was destined to speak to another King of Prussia, who said a prayer by
her tomb before departing on a journey that was to end in Fontainebleau
with an imperial crown and the reckoning for all time of the seven years
of woe that followed Tilsit and killed a queen.

Two years earlier than that, in 1808, while Luisa yet lived, a
few scientists and professors of Konigsberg had formed a sort of
Union--vague enough and visionary--to encourage virtue and discipline
and patriotism. And now, in 1812, four years later, the memory of Luisa
still lingered in those narrow streets that run by the banks of the
Pregel beneath the great castle of Konigsberg, while the Tugendbund,
like a seed that has been crushed beneath an iron heel, had spread its
roots underground.

From Dantzig, the commercial, to Konigsberg, the kingly and the learned,
the tide of war rolled steadily onwards. It is a tide that carries
before it a certain flotsam of quick and active men, keen-eyed,
restless, rising--men who speak with a sharp authority and pay from a
bottomless purse. The arrival of Napoleon in Dantzig swept the first of
the tide on to Konigsberg.

Already every house was full. The high-gabled warehouses on the
riverside could not be used for barracks, for they too had been crammed
from floor to roof with stores and arms. So the soldiers slept where
they could. They bivouacked in the timber-yards by the riverside. The
country-women found the Neuer Markt transformed into a camp when they
brought their baskets in the early morning, but they met with eager
buyers, who haggled laughingly in half a dozen different tongues. There
was no lack of money, however.

Cartloads of it were on the road.

The Neuer Markt in Konigsberg is a square, of which the lower side is a
quay on the Pregel. The river is narrow here. Across it the country is
open. The houses surrounding the quadrangle are all alike--two-storied
buildings with dormer windows in the roof. There are trees in front. In
front of that which is now Number Thirteen, at the right-hand corner,
facing west, sideways to the river, the trees grow quite close to the
windows, so that an active man or a boy might without great risk leap
from the eaves below the dormer window into the topmost branches of the
linden, which here grows strong and tough, as it surely should do in the
fatherland.

A young soldier, seeking lodgings, who happened to knock at the door of
Number Thirteen less than thirty hours after the arrival of Napoleon at
Dantzig, looked upward through the shady boughs, and noted their growth
with the light of interest in his eye. It would almost seem that the
house had been described to him as that one in the Neuer Markt against
which the lindens grew. For he had walked all round the square between
the trees and houses before knocking at this door, which bore no number
then, as it does to-day.

His tired horse had followed him meditatively, and now stood with
drooping head in the shade. The man himself wore a dark uniform, white
with dust. His hair was dusty and rather lank. He was not a very tidy
soldier.

He stood looking at the sign which swung from the doorpost, a relic
of the Polish days. It bore the painted semblance of a boot. For in
Poland--a frontier country, as in frontier cities where many tongues are
heard--it is the custom to paint a picture rather than write a word. So
that every house bears the sign of its inmate's craft, legible alike to
Lithuanian or Ruthenian, Swede or Cossack of the Don.

He knocked again, and at last the door was opened by a thickly-built
man, who looked, not at his face, but at his boots. As these wanted no
repair he half closed the door again and looked at the newcomer's face.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"A lodging."

The door was almost closed, when the soldier made an odd and, as it
would seem, tentative gesture with his left hand. All the fingers were
clenched, and with his extended thumb he scratched his chin slowly from
side to side.

"I have no lodging to let," said the bootmaker. But he did not shut the
door.

"I can pay," said the other, with his thumb still at his chin. He had
quick, blue eyes beneath the shaggy hair that wanted cutting. "I am very
tired--it is only for one night."

"Who are you?" asked the bootmaker.

The soldier was a dull and slow man. He leant against the doorpost with
tired gestures before replying.

"Sergeant in a Schleswig regiment, in charge of spare horses."

"And you have come far?"

"From Dantzig without a halt."

The shoemaker looked him up and down with a doubting eye, as if there
were something about him that was not quite clear and above-board. The
dust and fatigue were, however, unmistakable.

"Who sent you to me, anyway?" he grumbled.

"Oh, I do not know," was the half-impatient answer; "the man I lodged
with in Dantzig or another, I forget. It was Koch the locksmith in the
Schmiedegasse. See, I have money. I tell you it is for one night. Say
yes or no. I want to get to bed and to sleep."

"How much do you pay?"

"A thaler--if you like. Among friends, one is willing to pay."

After a short minute of hesitation the shoemaker opened the door wider
and came out.

"And there will be another thaler for the horse, which I shall have
to take to the stable of the wood-merchant at the corner. Go into the
workshop and sit down till I come."

He stood in the doorway and watched the soldier seat himself wearily on
a bench in the workshop among the ancient boots, past repair, one would
think, and lean his head against the wall.

He was half asleep already, and the bootmaker, who was lame, shrugged
his shoulders as he led away the tired horse, with a gesture half of
pity, half of doubting suspicion. Had it suggested itself to his mind,
and had it been within the power of one so halt and heavy-footed to turn
back noiselessly, he would have found his visitor wide-awake enough,
hurriedly opening every drawer and peering under the twine and needles,
lifting every bale of leather, shaking out the very boots awaiting
repair.

When the dweller in Number Thirteen returned, the soldier was asleep,
and had to be shaken before he would open his eyes.

"Will you eat before you go to bed?" asked the bootmaker not unkindly.

"I ate as I came along the street," was the reply. "No, I will go to
bed. What time is it?"

"It is only seven o'clock--but no matter."

"No, it is no matter. To-morrow I must be astir by five."

"Good," said the shoemaker. "But you will get your money's worth. The
bed is a good one. It is my son's. He is away, and I am alone in the
house."

He led the way upstairs as he spoke, going heavily one step at a time,
so that the whole house seemed to shake beneath his tread. The room was
that attic in the roof which has a dormer window overhanging the linden
tree. It was small and not too clean; for Konigsberg was once a Polish
city, and is not far from the Russian frontier.

The soldier hardly noticed his surroundings, but sat down instantly,
with the abandonment of a shepherd's dog at the day's end.

"I will put a stitch in your boots for you while you sleep," said the
host casually. "The thread is rotten, I can see. Look here--and here!"

He stooped, and with a quick turn of the awl which he carried in his
belt he snapped the sewing at the join of the leg and the upper leather,
bringing the frayed ends of the thread out to view.

Without answering, the soldier looked round for the boot-jack, lacking
which, no German or Polish bedroom is complete.

When the bootmaker had gone, carrying the boots under his arm, the
soldier, left to himself, made a grimace at the closed door. Without
boots he was a prisoner in the house. He could hear his host at work
already, downstairs in the shop, of which the door opened to the stairs
and allowed passage to that smell of leather which breeds Radical
convictions.

The regular "tap-tap" of the cobbler's hammer continued for an hour
until dusk, and all the while the soldier lay dressed on his bed. Soon
after, a creaking of the stairs told of the surreptitious approach of
the unwilling host. He listened outside, and even tried the door, but
found it bolted. The soldier, open-eyed on the bed, snored aloud. At the
sound of the key on the outside of the door he made a grimace again. His
features were very mobile, for Schleswig.

He heard the bootmaker descend the stairs again almost noiselessly,
and, rising from the bed, he took his station at the window. All the
Langgasse would seem to be eating-houses. The basement, which has a
separate door, gives forth odours of simple Pomeranian meats, and every
other house bears to this day the curt but comforting inscription, "Here
one eats." It was only to be supposed that the bootmaker at the end of
his day would repair for supper to some special haunt near by.

But the smell of cooking mingling with that of leather told that he was
preparing his own evening meal. He was, it seemed, an unsociable man,
who had but a son beneath his roof, and mostly lived alone.

Seated near the window, where the sunset light yet lingered, the
Schleswiger opened his haversack, which was well supplied, and finding
paper, pens and ink, fell to writing with one eye watchful of the window
and both ears listening for any movement in the room below.

He wrote easily with a running pen, and sometimes he smiled as he wrote.
More than once he paused and looked across the Neuer Markt above the
trees and the roofs, towards the western sky, with a sudden grave
wistfulness. He was thinking of some one in the west. It was assuredly
not of war that this soldier wrote. Then, again, his attention would be
attracted to some passer in the street below. He only gave half of his
attention to his letter. He was, it seemed, a man who as yet touched
life lightly; for he was quite young. But, nevertheless, his pen, urged
by only half a mind that had all the energy of spring, flew over the
paper. Sowing is so much easier than reaping.

Suddenly he threw his pen aside and moved quickly to the window which
stood open. The shoemaker had gone out, closing the door softly behind
him.

It was to be expected that he would turn to the left, upwards towards
the town and the Langgasse, but it was in the direction of the river
that his footsteps died away. There was no outlet on that side except by
boat.

It was almost dark now, and the trees growing close to the window
obscured the view. So eager was the lodger to follow the movements of
his landlord that he crept in stocking-feet out on to the roof. By lying
on his face below the window he could just distinguish the shadowy form
of a lame man by the river edge. He was moving to and fro, unchaining a
boat moored to the steps, which are more used in winter when the Pregel
is a frozen roadway than in summer. There was no one else in the Neuer
Markt, for it was the supper hour.

Out in the middle of the river a few ships were moored: high-prowed,
square-sterned vessels of a Dutch build trading in the Frische Haaf and
in the Baltic.

The soldier saw the boat steal out towards them. There was no other boat
at the steps or in sight. He stood up on the edge of the roof, and after
carefully measuring his distance, with quick eyes aglow with excitement,
he leapt lightly across the leafy space into the topmost boughs, where
he alighted in a forked branch almost without sound.

At dawn the next morning, while the shoemaker still slept, the soldier
was astir again. He shivered as he rose, and went to the window, where
his clothes were hanging from a rafter. The water was still dripping
from them. Wrapt in a blanket he sat down by the open window to write
while the morning air should dry his clothes.

That which he wrote was a long report--sheet after sheet closely
written. And in the middle of his work he broke off to read again the
letter that he had written the night before. With a quick, impulsive
gesture he kissed the name it bore. Then he turned to his work again.

The sun was up before he folded the papers together. By way of a
postscript he wrote a brief letter.

"DEAR C.--I have been fortunate, as you will see from the enclosed
report. His Majesty cannot again say that I have been neglectful. I was
quite right. It is Sebastian and only Sebastian that we need fear. Here
they are clumsy conspirators compared to him. I have been in the river
half the night listening at the open stern-window of a Reval pink to
every word they said. His Majesty can safely come to Konigsberg. Indeed,
he is better out of Dantzig. For the whole country is riddled with that
which they call patriotism, and we treason. But I can only repeat what
his Majesty disbelieved the day before yesterday--that the heart of the
ill is Dantzig, and the venom of it Sebastian. Who he really is and
what he is about you must find out how you can. I go forward to-day to
Gumbinnen. The enclosed letter to its address, I beg of you, if only in
acknowledgment of all that I have sacrificed."

The letter was unsigned, and bore the date, "Dawn, June 10." This and
the report, and that other letter (carefully sealed with a wafer)
which did not deal with war or its alarms, were all placed in one large
envelope. He did not seal it, however, but sat thinking while the sun
began to shine on the opposite houses. Then he withdrew the open letter,
and added a postscript to it:

"If an attempt were made on N.'s life--I should say Sebastian. If
Prussia were to play us false suddenly, and cut us off from France--I
should say nothing else than Sebastian. He is more dangerous than a
fanatic; for he is too clever to be one."

The writer shivered and laughed in sheer amusement at his own misery
as he drew on his wet clothes. The shoemaker was already astir, and
presently knocked at his door.

"Yes, yes," the soldier cried, "I am astir."

And as his host rattled the door he opened it. He had unrolled his long
cavalry cloak, and wore it over his wet clothes.

"You never told me your name," said the shoemaker. A suspicious man is
always more suspicious at the beginning of the day.

"My name," answered the other carelessly. "Oh! my name is Max Brunner."



CHAPTER VII. THE WAY OF LOVE.



   Celui qui souffle le feu s'expose a etre brule par les
etincelles.

It was said that Colonel de Casimir--that guest whose presence
and uniform lent an air of distinction to the quiet wedding in the
Frauengasse--was a Pole from Cracow. Men also whispered that he was in
the confidence of the Emperor. But this must only have been a manner of
speaking. For no man was ever admitted fully into the thoughts of that
superhuman mind.

De Casimir was left behind in Dantzig when the army moved forward.

"There will be a great battle," he said, "somewhere near Vilna--and I
shall miss it."

Indeed, every man was striving to get to the front. He who, himself, had
given a new meaning to human ambition seemed able to inspire not only
Frenchmen but soldiers of every nationality with fire from his own
consuming flame.

"Yes! madame," said de Casimir; for it was to Desiree that he spoke,
"and your husband is more fortunate than I. He is sure of a staff
appointment. He will be among the first. It will soon be over. To-morrow
war is to be declared."

They were in the street--not far from the Frauengasse, whence Desiree,
always practical, was hurrying towards the market-place. De Casimir had
seemed idle until he perceived her.

Desiree made a little movement of horror at the announcement. She did
not know that the fighting had already begun.

"Ah!" cried de Casimir with a reassuring smile. "You must be of good
cheer. There will be no war at all. I tell you that in confidence.
Russia will be paralyzed. I was going towards the Frauengasse when I
perceived you; to pay my respects to your father, to say a word to you.
Come--you are smiling again. That is right. You were so grave, madame,
as you hurried along with your eyes looking far away. You must not think
of Charles, if the thoughts make you look as you looked then."

His manner was kind and confidential and easy--inviting in response that
which the confidential always expect, a return in kind. It is either
hit or miss with such people; and de Casimir missed. He saw Desiree draw
back. She was young, and of that clear fairness of skin which seems to
let the thoughts out through the face so that any can read them. That
which her face expressed at that moment was a clear and definite refusal
to confide anything whatsoever in this little dark man who stood in
front of her, looking into her eyes with a deferential and sympathetic
glance.

"I know for certain," he said, "that Charles was well two days ago, and
that he is highly thought of in high quarters. I can tell you that, at
all events."

"Thank you," said Desiree. She had nothing against de Casimir. She had
only seen him once or twice, and she knew him to be Charles's friend,
and in some sense his patron. For de Casimir held a high position in
Dantzig. She was quite ready to like him since Charles liked him; but
she intended to do so at her own range. It is always the woman who
measures the distance.

Desiree made a little movement as if to continue on her way; and de
Casimir instantly stood aside, with a bow.

"Shall I find your father at home?" he asked.

"I think so. He was at home when I left," she answered, responding to
his salute with a friendly nod.

De Casimir watched her go and stood for a moment in reflection, as if
going over in his mind that which had passed between them.

"I must try the other one," he said to himself as he turned down the
Pfaffengasse. He continued his way at a leisurely pace. At the corner of
the Frauengasse he lingered in the shadow of the linden trees, and while
so doing saw Antoine Sebastian quit the door of No. 36, going in
the opposite direction towards the river, and pass out through the
Frauenthor on to the quay.

He made a little gesture of annoyance on being told by the servant that
Sebastian was out. After a moment's reflection, he seemed to make up his
mind to ignore the conventionalities.

"It is merely," he said in his friendly and confidential manner to the
servant, in perfect German, "that I have news from Monsieur Darragon,
the husband of Mademoiselle Desiree. Madame is out--you say. Well, then,
what is to be done?"

He had a most charming, grave manner of asking advice which few could
resist.

The servant nodded at him with a twinkle of understanding in her eye.

"There is Fraulein Mathilde."

"But... well, ask her if she will do me the honour of speaking to me for
an instant. I leave it to you...."

"But come in," protested the servant. "Come upstairs. She will see you;
why not?"

And she led the way upstairs. Papa Barlasch, sitting just within the
kitchen door, where he sat all day doing nothing, glanced upwards
through his overhanging eyebrows at the clink of spurs and the clatter
of de Casimir's sword against the banisters. He had the air of a
watchdog.

Mathilde was not in the drawing-room, and the servant left the visitor
there alone, saying that she would seek her mistress. There were one or
two books on the tables. One table was rather untidy; it was Desiree's.
A writing-desk stood in the corner of the room. It was locked--and the
lock was a good one. De Casimir was an observant man. He had time
to make this observation, and to see that there were no letters in
Desiree's work-basket; to note the titles of the books and the absence
of name on the flyleaf, and was looking out of the window when the door
opened and Mathilde came in.

This was a day when women were treated with a great show of deference,
while in reality they had but little voice in the world's affairs. De
Casimir's bow was deeper and more elaborate than would be considered
polite to-day. On standing erect he quickly suppressed a glance of
surprise.

Mathilde must have expected him. She was dressed in white, and her hair
was tied with a bright ribbon. In her cheeks, usually so pale, was a
little touch of colour. It may have been because Desiree was not near,
but de Casimir had never known until this moment how pretty Mathilde
really was. There was something in her eyes, too, which gripped his
attention. He remembered that at the wedding he had never seen her eyes.
They had always been averted. But now they met his with a troubling
directness.

De Casimir had a gallant manner. All women commanded his eager
respect, which they could assess at such value as their fancy painted,
remembering that it is for the woman to measure the distance. On the few
occasions of previous encounters, de Casimir had been empresse in his
manner towards Mathilde. As he looked at her, his quick mind ran back to
former meetings. He had no recollection of having actually made love to
her.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "for a soldier--in time of war--the conventions
may, perhaps, be slightly relaxed. I was told that you were alone--that
your father is out, and yet I persisted--"

He spread out his hands and laughed appealingly, begging her, it
would seem, to help him out of the social difficulty in which he found
himself.

"My father will be sorry--" she began.

"That is hardly the question," he interrupted; "I was thinking of your
displeasure. But I have an excuse, I assure you. I only ask a moment to
tell you that I have heard from Konigsberg that Charles Darragon is in
good health there, and is moving forward with the advance-guard to the
frontier."

"You are kind to come so soon," answered Mathilde, and there was an odd
note of disappointment in her voice. De Casimir must have heard it, for
he glanced at her again with a gleam of surprise in his eyes.

"That is my excuse, Mademoiselle," he said with a tentative emphasis, as
if he were feeling his way. He was an opportunist with all the quickness
of one who must live by his wits among others existing on the same
uncertain fare. He saw her flush, and again he hesitated as a wayfarer
may hesitate when he finds an easy road where he had expected to climb a
hill. What was the meaning of it? he seemed to ask himself.

"Charles does not interest you so much as he interests your sister?" he
suggested.

"He has never interested me much," she replied indifferently. She did
not ask him to sit down. It would not have been etiquette in an age
when women were by some odd misjudgment considered incapable of managing
their own hearts.

"Is that because he is in love, Mademoiselle?" inquired de Casimir with
a guarded laugh.

"Perhaps so."

She did not look at him. De Casimir had not missed this time. His air
of candid confidence had met with a quick response. He laughed again and
moved towards the door. Mathilde stood motionless, and although she said
no word, nor by any gesture bade him stay, he stopped on the threshold
and turned again towards her.

"It was my conscience," he said, looking at her over his shoulder, "that
bade me go."

Her face and her averted eyes asked why, but her straight lips were
silent.

"Because I cannot claim to be more interesting than Charles Darragon,"
he hazarded. "And you, Mademoiselle, confess that you have no tolerance
for a man who is in love."

"I have no tolerance for a man who is weakened by love. He should be
strengthened and hardened by it."

"To--?"

"To do a man's work in the world," said Mathilde coldly.

De Casimir was standing by the open door. He closed it with his foot.
He was professedly a man alert for the chance of a moment, which he
was content to grasp without pausing to look ahead. Should there be
difficulties yet unperceived, these in turn might present an opportunity
to be seized by the quick-witted.

"Then you would admit, Mademoiselle," he said gravely, "that there may
be good in a love that fights continually against ambition, and--does
not prevail."

Mathilde did not answer at once. There was an odd suggestion of
antagonism in their attitude towards each other--not irreconcilable, the
poets tell us, with love--but this is assuredly not the Love that comes
from Heaven and will go back there to live through eternity.

"Yes," said she at length.

"Such is my love for you," he said, his quick instinct telling him that
with Mathilde few words were best.

He only spoke the thoughts of his age; for ambition was the ruling
passion in men's hearts at this time. All who served the Great
Adventurer gave it the first place in their consideration, and de
Casimir only aped his betters. Though oddly enough the only two of
all the great leaders who were to emerge still greater from the coming
war--Ney and Eugene--thought otherwise on these matters.

"I mean to be great and rich, Mademoiselle," he added after a pause. "I
have risked my life for that purpose half a dozen times."

Mathilde stood looking across the room towards the window. He could
only see her profile and the straight line of her lips. She too was the
product of a generation in which men rose to dazzling heights without
the aid of women.

"I should not have troubled you with these details, Mademoiselle," he
said, watching her. His instinct was very keen, for not one woman in
a thousand, even in those days, would have admitted that love was a
detail. "I should not have mentioned it--had you not given me your
views--so strangely in harmony with my own."

Whatever his nationality, his voice was that of a Pole--rich, musical,
and expressive. He could have made, one would have thought, a very
different sort of love had he wished, or had he been sincere. But he was
an opportunist. This was the sort of love that Mathilde wanted.

He came a step nearer to her and stood resting on his sword--a lean hard
man who had seen much war.

"Until you opened my eyes," he said, "I did not know, or did not care to
know, that love, far from being a drag on ambition, may be a help."

Mathilde made a little movement towards him which she instantly
repressed. The heart is quicker, but the head nearly always has the last
word.

"Mademoiselle," he said--and no doubt he saw the movement and the
restraint--"will you help me now at the beginning of the war, and listen
to me again at the end of it--if I succeed?"

After all, he was modest in his demands.

"Will you help me? Together, Mademoiselle--to what height may we not
rise in these days?"

There was a ring of sincerity in his voice, and her eyes answered it.

"How can I help you?" she asked in a doubting voice.

"Oh, it is a small matter," was the reply. "But it is one in which the
Emperor is personally interested. Such things have a special attraction
for him. The human interest never fails to hold his attention. If I do
well, he will know it and remember me. It is a question, Mademoiselle,
of secret societies. You know that Prussia is riddled with them."

Mathilde did not answer. He studied her face, which was clean cut and
hard like a marble bust--a good face to hide a secret.

"It is my duty to watch here in Dantzig and to report to the Emperor.
In serving myself I could also perhaps serve a friend, one who might
otherwise run into danger--who may be in danger while you and I stand
here. For the Emperor strikes hard and quickly. I speak of your father,
Mademoiselle--and of the Tugendbund."

Still he could not see from the pale profile whether Mathilde knew
anything at all.

"And if I procure information for you?" asked she at length, in a quiet
and collected voice.

"You will help me to attain a position such as I could ask--even you--to
share with me. And you would do your father no harm. You would even
render him a service. For all the secret societies in Germany will not
stop Napoleon. It is only God who can stop him now, Mademoiselle. All
men who attempt it will only be crushed beneath the wheels. I might save
your father."

But Mathilde did not seem to be thinking of her father.

"I am hampered by poverty," de Casimir said, changing his ground. "In
the old days it did not matter. But now, in the Empire, one must be
rich. I shall be rich--at the end of this campaign."

Again his voice was sincere, and again her eyes responded. He made a
step forward, and gently taking her hand, he raised it to his lips.

"You will help me!" he said, and, turning abruptly on his heel, he left
her.

De Casimir's quarters were in the Langenmarkt. On returning to them, he
took from his despatch-case a letter which he turned over thoughtfully
in his hand. It was addressed to Desiree, and sealed carefully with a
wafer.

"She may as well have it," he said. "It will be as well that she should
be occupied with her own affairs."



CHAPTER VIII. A VISITATION.



     Be wiser than other people if you can, but do not tell them so.

Whenever Papa Barlasch caught sight of his unwilling host's face, he
turned his own aside with a despairing upward nod. Once or twice, during
the early days of his occupation of the room behind the kitchen in the
Frauengasse, he smote himself sharply on the brow, as if calling upon
his brain to make an effort. But afterwards he seemed to resign himself
to this lapse of memory, and the upward despairing nod gradually lost
intensity until at last he brought himself to pass Antoine Sebastian in
the narrow passage with no more emphatic notice than a scowl.

"You and I," he said to Desiree, "are the friends. The others--"

And his gesture seemed to permit the others to go hang if they so
desired. The army had gone forward, leaving Dantzig in that idle
restlessness which holds those who, finding themselves in a house of
sickness, are not permitted entry to the darkened chamber, but must
await the crisis elsewhere.

There were some busy enough in the commerce that must exist between a
huge army and its base, in the forwarding of war material and stores, in
accommodating the sick and sending out in return those who were to
fill the gaps. But the Dantzigers themselves had nothing to do. Their
prosperous trade was paralyzed. Those who had aught to sell had sold it.
The high-seas and the high-roads were alike blocked by the French. And
rumour, ever busy among those that wait, ran to and fro in the town.

The Emperor of Russia had been taken prisoner. Napoleon had been
checked at the passage of the Niemen. There had been a great battle at
Gumbinnen, and the French were in full retreat. Vilna had capitulated to
Murat, and the war was at an end. A hundred authentic despatches of the
morning were the subject of contemptuous laughter at the supper-table.

Lisa heard these tales in the market-place, and told Desiree, who,
as often as not, translated them to Barlasch. But he only held up his
wrinkled forefinger and shook it slowly from side to side.

"Woman's chatter!" he said. "What is the German for 'magpie'?"

And on being told the word, he repeated it gravely to Lisa. For he had
not only fulfilled his promise of settling down in the house, but had
assumed therein a distinct and clearly defined position. He was the
counsellor, and from his chair just within the kitchen he gave forth
judgment.

"And you," he said to Desiree one morning, when household affairs had
taken her to the kitchen, "you are troubled this morning. You have had a
letter from your husband?"

"Yes--and he is in good health."

"Ah!"

Barlasch glared at her beneath his brows, looking her up and down,
noting her quick movements, which had the uncertainty of youth.

"And now that he is gone," he said, "and that there is war, you are
going to employ yourself by falling in love with him, when you had all
the time before, and did not take advantage of it."

Desiree laughed at him and made no other answer. While she spoke to Lisa
he sat and watched them.

"It would be like a woman to do such a thing," he pursued. "They are
so inconvenient--women. They get married for fun, and then one fine
Thursday they find they have missed all the fun, like one who comes late
to the theatre--when the music is over."

He went to the table and examined the morning marketing, which Lisa
had laid out in preparation for dinner. Of some of her purchases he
approved, but he laughed aloud at a lettuce which had no heart, and at
such a buyer.

Then Desiree attracted his scrutiny again.

"Yes," he said, half to himself, "I see it. You are in love. Just
Heaven, I know! I have had them in love with me.... Barlasch."

"That must have been a long time ago," answered Desiree with her gay
laugh, only giving him half her attention.

"Yes, it was a century ago. But they were the same then as they are now,
as they always will be--inconvenient. They waited, however, till they
were grown up!"

And with his ever-ready accusing finger he drew Desiree's attention to
her own slimness. They were left alone for a minute while Lisa answered
a knock at the door, during which time Barlasch sat in grim silence.

"It is a letter," said Lisa, returning. "A sailor brought it."

"Another?" said Barlasch, with a gesture of despair.

"Can you give me news of Charles?" Desiree read, in a writing that was
unknown to her. "I shall wait a reply until midnight on board the
Elsa, lying off the Krahn-Thor." The letter bore the signature, "Louis
d'Arragon." Desiree turned slowly and went upstairs, carrying it folded
small in her closed hand.

She was alone in the house, for Mathilde was out and her father had not
yet returned from his evening walk. She stood at the head of the stairs,
where the last of the daylight filtered through the barred window, and
read the letter again. Then she turned and gave a slight start to see
Barlasch at the foot of the stairs beckoning to her. He made no attempt
to come up, but stood on the mat like a dog that has been forbidden the
upper rooms.

"Is it about your father?" he asked, in a hoarse whisper.

"No!"

He made a gesture commanding secrecy and silence. Then he went to close
the kitchen door and returned on tip-toe.

"It is," he explained, "that they are talking of him in the cafes. There
are many to be arrested to-morrow. They say the patron is one of them,
and employs himself in plotting. That his name is not Sebastian at all.
That he is a Frenchman who escaped the guillotine. What do I know? It is
the gossip of the cafes. But I tell it you because we are friends, you
and I. And some day I may want you to do something for me. One thinks
of one's self, eh? It is good to make friends. For some day one may want
them. That is why I do it. I think of myself. An old soldier. Of the
Guard."

With many gestures of tremendous import, and a face all wrinkled and
twisted with mystery, he returned to the kitchen.

Mathilde was not to return until late. She had gone to the house of the
old Grafin whose reminiscences had been a fruitful topic at Desiree's
wedding. After dining there she and the Grafin were to go together to
a farewell reception given by the Governor. For Rapp was bound for the
frontier with the rest, and was to go to the war as first aide-de-camp
to the Emperor.

Mathilde could not be back until ten o'clock. She, who was so quick and
quiet, had been much occupied in social observances lately, and had made
fast friends with the Grafin during the last few days, constantly going
to see her.

Desiree knew that what Barlasch had repeated as the gossip of the cafes
was in part, if not wholly, true. She and Mathilde had long known that
any mention of France had the instant effect of turning their father
into a man of stone. It was the skeleton in this quiet house that sat at
table with its inmates, a shadowy fourth tying their tongues. The rattle
of its bones seemed to paralyze Sebastian's mind, and at any moment he
would fall into a dumb and stricken apathy which terrified those about
him. At such times it seemed that one thought in his mind had swallowed
all the rest, so that he heard without understanding and saw without
perceiving.

He was in such a humour when he came back to dinner. He passed Desiree
on the stairs without speaking and went to his room to change his
clothes, for he never relaxed his formal habits. At the dinner-table he
glanced at her as a dog, knowing that he is ill, may be seen to glance
with a secret air at his master, wondering whether he is detected.

Desiree had always hoped that her father would speak to her when this
humour was upon him and tell her the meaning of it. Perhaps it would
come to-night, when they were alone. There was an unspoken sympathy
existing between them in which Mathilde took no share, which had even
shut out Charles as out of a room where there was no light, into which
Desiree and her father went at times and stood hand-in-hand without
speaking.

They dined in silence, while Lisa hurried about her duties, oppressed by
a sense of unknown fear. After dinner they went to the drawing-room as
usual. It had been a dull day, with great clouds creeping up from the
West. The evening fell early, and the lamps were already alight. Desiree
looked to the wicks with the eye of experience when she entered the
room. Then she went to the window. Lisa did not always draw the curtains
effectually. She glanced down into the street, and turned suddenly on
her heel, facing her father.

"They are there," she said. For she had seen shadowy forms lurking
beneath the trees of the Frauengasse. The street was ill-lighted, but
she knew the shadows of the trees.

"How many?" asked Sebastian, in a dull voice.

She glanced at him quickly--at his still, frozen face and quiescent
hands. He was not going to rise to the occasion, as he sometimes did
even from his deepest apathy. She must do alone anything that was to be
accomplished to-night.

The house, like many in the Frauengasse, had been built by a careful
Hanseatic merchant, whose warehouse was his own cellar half sunk beneath
the level of the street. The door of the warehouse was immediately under
the front door, down a few steps below the street, while a few more
steps, broad and footworn, led up to the stone veranda and the level of
the lower dwelling-rooms. A guard placed in the street could thus watch
both doors without moving.

There was a third door, giving exit from the little room where Barlasch
slept to the small yard where he had placed those trunks which were made
in France.

Desiree had no time to think. She came of a race of women of a brighter
intelligence than any women in the world. She took her father by the
arm and hastened downstairs. Barlasch was at his post within the kitchen
door. His eyes shone suddenly as he saw her face. It was said of Papa
Barlasch that he was a gay man in battle, laughing and making a hundred
jests, but at other times lugubrious. Desiree saw him smile for the
first time, in the dim light of the passage.

"They are there in the street," he said; "I have seen them. I thought
you would come to Barlasch. They all do--the women. In here. Leave him
to me. When they ring the bell, receive them yourself--with smiles. They
are only men. Let them search the house if they want to. Tell them he
has gone to the reception with Mademoiselle."

As he spoke the bell rang just above his head. He looked up at it and
laughed.

"Ah, ah!" he said, "the fanfare begins."

He drew Sebastian within and closed the door of his little room. Lisa
had already gone to answer the bell. When she opened the door three
men stepped quickly over the threshold, and one of them, thrusting her
aside, closed the door and turned the key. Desiree, in her white evening
dress, on the bottom step, just beneath the lamp that hung from the
ceiling, made them pause and look at each other. Then one of the three
came towards her, hat in hand.

"Our duty, Fraulein," he said awkwardly. "We are but obeying orders. A
mere formality. It will all be explained, no doubt, if the householder,
Antoine Sebastian, will put on his hat and come with us."

"His hat is not there, as you see," answered Desiree. "You must seek him
elsewhere."

The man shook his head with a knowing smile. "We must seek him in
this house," he said. "We will make it as easy for you as we can,
Fraulein--if you make it easy for us."

As he spoke he produced a candle from his pocket, and encouraged the
broken wick with his finger-nail.

"It will make it pleasanter for all," said Desiree cheerfully, "if you
will accept a candlestick."

The man glanced at her. He was a heavy man, with little suspicious eyes
set close together. He seemed to be concluding that she had outwitted
him--that Sebastian was not in the house.

"Where are the cellar-stairs?" he asked. "I warn you, Fraulein, it is
useless to conceal your father. We shall, of course, find him."

Desiree pointed to the door next to that giving entry to the kitchen. It
was bolted and locked. Desiree found the key for them. She not only gave
them every facility, but was anxious that they should be as quick as
possible. They did not linger in the cellar, which, though vast, was
empty; and when they returned, Desiree, who was waiting for them, led
the way upstairs.

They were rather abashed by her silence. They would have preferred
protestations and argument. Discussion always belittles. The smile
recommended by Papa Barlasch, lurking at the corner of her lips, made
them feel foolish. She was so slight and young and helpless, that a sort
of shame rendered them clumsy.

They felt more at home in the kitchen when they arrived there, and the
sight of Lisa, sturdy and defiant, reminded them of the authority upon
which Desiree had somehow cast a mystic contempt.

"There is a door there," said the heavy official, with a brusque return
of his early manner. "Come, what is that door?"

"That is a little room."

"Then open it."

"I cannot," returned Lisa. "It is locked."

"Aha!" said the man, with a laugh of much meaning. "On the inside, eh?"

He went to it, and banged on it with his fist.

"Come," he shouted, "open it and be done."

There was a short silence, during which those in the kitchen listened
breathlessly. A shuffling sound inside the door made the officer of the
law turn and beckon to his two men to come closer.

Then, after some fumbling, as of one in the dark, the door was unlocked
and slowly opened.

Papa Barlasch stood in a very primitive night-apparel within the door.
He had not done things by halves, for he was an old campaigner, and knew
that a thing half done is better left undone in times of war. He noted
the presence of Desiree and Lisa, but was not ashamed. The reason of it
was soon apparent. For Papa Barlasch was drunk, and the smell of drink
came out of his apartment in a warm wave.

"It is the soldier billeted in the house," explained Lisa, with a
half-hysterical laugh.

Then Barlasch harangued them in the language of intoxication. If he had
not spared Desiree's feelings, he spared her ears less now; for he was
an ignorant man, who had lived through a brutal period in the world's
history the roughest life a man can lead. Two of the men held him
with difficulty against the wall, while the third hastily searched the
room--where, indeed, no one could well be concealed.

Then they quitted the house, followed by the polyglot curses of
Barlasch, who was now endeavouring to find his bayonet amidst his
chaotic possessions.



CHAPTER IX. THE GOLDEN GUESS.



                              The golden guess
     Is morning star to the full round of truth.

Barlasch was never more sober in his life than when he emerged a minute
later from his room, while Lisa was still feverishly bolting the door.
He had not wasted much time at his toilet. In his flannel shirt, his
arms bare to the elbow, knotted and muscular, he looked like some rude
son of toil.

"One thinks of one's self," he hastened to explain to Desiree, fearing
that she might ascribe some other motive to his action. "Some day the
patron may be in power again, and then he will remember a poor soldier.
It is good to think of the future."

He shook his head pessimistically at Lisa as belonging to a sex liable
to error: instanced in this case by bolting the door too eagerly.

"Now," he said, turning to Desiree again, "have you any in Dantzig to
help you?"

"Yes," she answered rather slowly.

"Then send for him."

"I cannot do that."

"Then go for him yourself," snapped Barlasch impatiently.

He looked at her fiercely beneath his shaggy eyebrows.

"It is no use to be afraid," he said; "you are afraid--I see it in your
face. And it is never any use. Before they hammered on that door there,
my legs shook. For I am easily afraid--I. But it is never any use. And
when one opens the door, it goes."

He looked at her with a puzzled frown, seeking in vain, it may have
been, the ordinary symptoms of fear. She was hesitating but not afraid.
There ran blood in her veins which will for all time be associated by
history with a gay and indomitable courage.

"Come," he said sharply; "there is nothing else to do."

"I will go," said Desiree, at length, deciding suddenly to do the one
thing that is left to a woman once or twice in her life--to go to the
one man and trust him.

"By the back way," said Barlasch, helping her with the cloak that Lisa
had brought, and pulling the hood forward over her face with a jerk.
"Ah, I know that way. The patron is hiding in the yard. An old soldier
looks to the retreat--though the Emperor has saved us that, so far.
Come, I will help you over the wall, for the door is rusted."

The way, which Barlasch had perceived, led through the room at the back
of the kitchen to a yard, and thence through a door not opened by the
present occupiers of the old house, into a very labyrinth of narrow
alleys running downward to the river and round the tall houses that
stand against the cathedral walls.

The wall was taller than Barlasch, but he ran at it like a cat,
and Desiree standing below could see the black outline of his limbs
crouching on the top. He stooped down, and grasping her hands, lifted
her by the sheer strength of one arm, balanced her for an instant on the
wall, and then lowered her on the outer side.

"Run," he whispered.

She knew the way, and although the night was dark, and these narrow
alleys between high walls had no lamps, Desiree lost no time. The
Krahn-Thor is quite near to the Frauengasse. Indeed, the whole
of Dantzig occupied but a small space between the rivers in those
straitened days. The town was quieter than it had been for months, and
Desiree passed unmolested through the narrow streets. She made her way
to the quay, passing through the low gateway known as the door of the
Holy Ghost, and here found people still astir. For the commerce that
thrives on a northern river is paralyzed all the winter, and feverishly
active when the ice has gone.

"The Elsa," replied a woman, who had been selling bread all day on the
quay, and was now packing up her stall, "you ask for the Elsa. There is
such a ship, I know. But how can I say which she is? See, they lie right
across the river like a bridge. Besides, it is late, and sailors are
rough men."

Desiree hurried on. Louis d'Arragon had said that the ship was lying
near to the Krahn-Thor, of which the great hooded roof loomed darkly
against the stars above her. She was looking about her when a man came
forward with the hesitating step of one who has been told to wait the
arrival of some one unknown to him.

"The Elsa," she said to him; "which ship is it?"

"Come along with me, Mademoiselle," the man replied; "though I was not
told to look for a woman."

He spoke in English, which Desiree hardly understood; for she had never
heard it from English lips, and looked for the first time on one of that
race upon which all the world waited now for salvation. For the
English, of all the nations, were the only men who from the first had
consistently defied Napoleon.

The sailor led the way towards the river. As he passed the lamp burning
dimly above some steps, Desiree saw that he was little more than a boy.
He turned and offered her his hand with a shy laugh, and together they
stood at the bottom of the steps with the water lapping at their feet.

"Have you a letter," he said, "or will you come on board?"

Then perceiving that she did not understand, he repeated the question in
German.

"I will come on board," she answered.

The Elsa was lying in the middle of the river, and the boat into which
Desiree stepped shot across the water without sound of oars. The sailor
was paddling it noiselessly at the stern. Desiree was not unused to
boats, and when they came alongside the Elsa she climbed on board
without help.

"This way," said the sailor, leading her towards the deckhouse where
a light burned dimly behind red curtains. He knocked at the door and
opened it without awaiting a reply. In the little cabin two men sat at a
table, and one of them was Louis d'Arragon dressed in the rough clothes
of a merchant seaman. He seemed to recognize Desiree at once, though she
still stood without the door, in the darkness.

"You?" he said in surprise. "I did not expect you, madame. You want me?"

"Yes," answered Desiree, stepping over the combing. Louis's companion,
who was also a sailor, coarsely clad, rose and, awkwardly taking off his
cap, hurried to the door, murmuring some vague apology. It is not always
the roughest men who have the worst manners towards women.

He closed the door behind him, leaving Desiree and Louis looking at each
other by the light of an oil lamp that flickered and gave forth a greasy
smell. The little cabin was smoke-ridden, and smelt of ancient tar. It
was no bigger than the table in the drawing-room in the Frauengasse,
across which he had bowed to her in farewell a few days earlier, little
knowing when and where they were to meet again. For fate can always turn
a surprise better than the human fancy.

Behind the curtain, the window stood open, and the high, clear song of
the wind through the rigging filled the little cabin with a continuous
minor note of warning which must have been part of his life; for he must
have heard it, as all sailors do, sleeping or waking, night and day.

He was probably so accustomed to it that he never heeded it. But it
filled Desiree's ears, and whenever she heard it in after-life, in
memory this moment came again to her, and she looked back to it, as a
traveller may look back to a milestone at a cross-road, and wonder where
his journey might have ended had he taken another turning.

"My father," she said quickly, "is in danger. There is no one else in
Dantzig to whom we can turn, and--"

She paused. What was she going to add? She hesitated, and then was
silent. There was no reason why she should have elected to come to him.
At all events she gave none.

"I am glad I was in Dantzig when it happened," he said, turning to take
up his cap, which was of rough dark fur, such as seamen wear even in
summer at night in the Northern seas.

"Come," he added, "you can tell me as we go ashore."

But they did not speak while the sailor sculled the boat to the steps.
On the quay they would probably pass unnoticed, for there were many
strange sailors at this time in Dantzig, and Louis d'Arragon might
easily be mistaken for one of the French seamen who had brought stores
by sea from Bordeaux and Brest and Cherbourg.

"Now tell me," he said, as they walked side by side; and in voluble
French, Desiree launched into her story. It was rather incoherent, by
reason, perhaps, of its frankness.

"Stop--stop," he interrupted gravely, "who is Barlasch?"

Louis walked rather slowly in his stiff sea-boots at her side, and she
instinctively spoke less rapidly as she explained the part that Barlasch
had played.

"And you trust him?"

"Of course," she answered.

"But why?"

"Oh, you are so matter-of-fact," she exclaimed; "I do not know. Because
he is trustworthy, I suppose."

She continued the story, but suddenly stopped and looked up at him under
the shadow of her hood.

"You are silent," she said. "Do you know something about my father of
which I am ignorant? Is that it?"

"No," he answered, "I am trying to follow--that is all. You leave so
much to my imagination."

"But I have no time to explain things," she protested. "Every moment
is of value. I will explain all those things some other time. At this
moment all I can think of is my father and the danger he is in. If it
had not been for Barlasch, he would have been in prison by now. And as
it is, the danger is only half averted. For he, himself, is so little
help. All must be done for him. He will do nothing for himself while
this humour is upon him; you understand?"

"Partly," he answered slowly.

"Oh!" she exclaimed half-impatiently, "one sees that you are an
Englishman."

And she found time, even in her hurry, to laugh. For she was young
enough to float buoyant upon that sea of hope which ebbs in the course
of years and leaves men stranded on the hard facts of life.

"You forget," he said in self-defence.

"I forget what?"

"That a week ago I had never seen Dantzig, or your father, or your
sister, or the Frauengasse. A week ago I did not know that there was
anybody called Sebastian in the world--and did not care."

"Yes," she admitted thoughtfully, "I had forgotten that."

And they walked on in silence, a long way, till they came to the Gate of
the Holy Ghost.

"But you can help him to escape?" she said at length, as if following
the course of her own thoughts.

"Yes," he answered, and that was all.

They passed through the smaller streets in silence, and Desiree led the
way into a narrow alley running between the street of the Holy Ghost and
the Frauengasse.

"There is the wall to be climbed," she said; but, as she spoke, the door
giving exit to the alley was cautiously opened by Barlasch.

"A little oil," he whispered, "and it was soon done."

The yard was dark within, for there might be watchers at any of the
windows above them in the pointed gables that made patterns against the
star-lit sky.

"All is well," said Barlasch; "those sons of dogs have not returned, and
the patron is waiting in the kitchen, cloaked and ready for a journey.
He has collected himself--the patron."

He led the way through his own room, which was dark, save for a shaft
of lamp-light coming from the kitchen. He looked back keenly at Louis
d'Arragon.

"Salut!" he growled, scowling at his boots. "A sailor," he muttered
after a pause. "Good. She has her wits at the top of the basket--that
child."

Desiree was throwing back her hood and looking at her father with a
reassuring smile.

"I have brought Monsieur d'Arragon," she said, "to help us."

For Sebastian has not recognized the new-comer. He now bowed in his
stiff way, and began a formal apology, which D'Arragon cut short with a
quick gesture.

"It is the least I could do," he said, "in the absence of Charles. Have
you money?"

"Yes--a little."

"You will require money and a few clothes. I can get you a passage to
Riga or to Helsingborg to-night. From there you can communicate with
your daughter. Events will follow each other rapidly. One never knows
what a week may bring forth in time of war. It may be safe for you to
return soon. Come, monsieur, we must go."

Sebastian made a gesture with his outspread arms, half of protestation,
half of acquiescence. It was plain that he had no sympathy with these
modern, hurried methods of meeting the emergencies of daily life. A
valise, packed and strapped, lay on the table. D'Arragon weighed it in
his hand, and then lifted it to his shoulder.

"Come, monsieur," he repeated leading the way through Barlasch's room to
the yard. "And you," he added, addressing himself to that soldier, "shut
the door behind us."

With another gesture of protest Sebastian gathered his cloak round him
and followed. D'Arragon had taken Desiree so literally at her word
that he allowed her father no time for hesitation, nor a moment to say
farewell.

She was alone in the kitchen before she had realized that they were
going. In a minute Barlasch returned. She could hear him setting in
order the room which had been hurriedly disorganized in order to open
the door leading to the yard, where her father had concealed himself. He
was muttering to himself as he lifted the furniture.

Coming back into the kitchen, he found Desiree standing where he had
left her. Glancing at her, he scratched his grey head in a plebeian way,
and gave a little laugh.

"Yes," he said, pointing to the spot where D'Arragon had stood. "That
was a man, that you fetched to help us--a man. It makes a difference
when such as that goes out of the room--eh?"

He busied himself in the kitchen, setting in order that which remained
of the mise en scene of his violent reception of the secret police.
Suddenly he turned in his emphatic manner, and threw out his rugged
forefinger to hold her attention.

"If there had been some like that in Paris, there would have been no
Revolution. Za-za, za-za!" he concluded, imitating effectively the
buzz of many voices in an assembly. "Words and not deeds," Barlasch
protested. Whereas to-night, he clearly showed by two gestures, they had
met a man of deeds.



CHAPTER X. IN DEEP WATER.



     Le coeur humain est un abime qui trompe tous les calculs.

It is to be presumed that Colonel de Casimir met friends at the
reception given by Governor Rapp in the great rooms of the Rathhaus.
For there were many Poles present, and not a few officers of other
nationalities.

The army indeed that set forth to conquer Russia was not a
French-speaking army. Less than half of the regiments were of that
nationality, while Italians, Bavarians, Saxons, Wurtembergers,
Westphalians, Prussians, Swiss, and Portuguese went gaily forward on the
great venture. There were soldiers from the numerous petty states of the
German Confederation which acknowledged Napoleon as their protector,
for the good reason that they could not protect themselves against him.
Finally, there were those Poles who had fought in Spain for Napoleon,
hoping that in return he would some day set the ancient kingdom upon its
feet among the nations. Already the whisperers pointed to Davoust as the
future king of the new Poland.

Many present at the farewell reception of the Governor carried a sword,
though they were the merest civilians, plotting, counter-plotting,
and whispering a hundred rumours. Perhaps Rapp himself, speaking bluff
French with a German accent, was as honest as any man in the room,
though he lacked the polish of the Parisian and had not the subtlety of
the Pole. Rapp was not a shining light in these brilliant circles. He
was a Governor not for peace, but for war. His day was yet to come.

Such men as de Casimir shrugged their supple shoulders at his simple
talk. They spoke of him half-contemptuously as of one who had had a
thousand chances and had never taken them. He was not even rich, and he
had handled great sums of money. He was only a General, and he had slept
in the Emperor's tent--had had access to him in every humour. He might
do the same again in the coming campaign. He was worth cultivating. De
Casimir and his like were full of smiles which in no wise deceived the
shrewd Alsatian.

Mathilde Sebastian was among the ladies to whom these brilliant warriors
paid their uncouth compliments. Perhaps de Casimir was aware that her
measuring eyes followed him wherever he went. He knew, at all events,
that he could hold his own amid these adventurers, many of whom had
risen from the ranks; while others, from remote northern States, had
birth but no manners at all. He was easy and gay, carrying lightly that
subtle air of distinction which is vouchsafed to many Poles.

"Here to-day, Mademoiselle, and gone to-morrow," he said. "All these
eager soldiers. And who can tell which of us may return?"

If he had expected Mathilde to flinch at this reminder of his calling,
he was disappointed. Her eyes were hard and bright. She had had so few
chances of moving amidst this splendour, of seeing close at hand the
greatness which Napoleon shed around him as the sun its rays. She was
carried away by the spirit of the age. Anything was better, she felt,
than obscurity.

"And who can tell," whispered de Casimir with a careless and confident
laugh, "which of us shall come back rich and great?"

This brought the glance from her dark eyes for which his own lay
waiting. She was certainly beautiful, and wore the difficult dress of
that day with assurance and grace. She possessed something which the
German ladies about her lacked; something which many suddenly lack when
a Frenchwoman is near.

His manner, half respectful, half triumphant, betrayed an understanding
to which he did not refer in words. She had bestowed some favour upon
him--had acceded to some request. He hoped for more. He had overstepped
some barrier. She, who should have measured the distance, had allowed
him to come too close. The barriers of love are one-sided; there is no
climbing back.

"A hundred envious eyes are watching me," he said in an undertone as he
passed on; "I dare not stay longer. I am on duty to-night."

She bowed and watched him go. She was, it would seem, aware of that
fallen barrier. She had done nothing, had permitted nothing from
weakness. There was no weakness at all perhaps in Mathilde Sebastian.
She had the quiet manner of a skilled card-player with folded cards laid
face down upon the table, who knows what is in her hand and is waiting
for the foe to lead.

De Casimir did not see her again. In such a throng it would have been
difficult to find her had he so desired. But, as he had told her, he was
on duty to-night. There were to be a hundred arrests before dawn. Many
who were laughing and talking with the French officers to-night were
already in the grasp of Napoleon's secret police, and would drive
straight from the door of the Rathhaus to the town prison or to the old
Watch-house in the Portchaisengasse. Others, moving through the great
rooms with a high head, were already condemned out of their own bureaux
and escritoires now being rifled by the Emperor's spies.

The Emperor himself had given the order, before quitting Dantzig to take
command of the maddest and greatest enterprise conceived by the mind
of man. There was nothing above the reach of his mind, it seemed, and
nothing too low for him to bend down and touch. Every detail had been
considered by himself. He was like a man who, having an open wound on
his back, attends to it hurriedly before showing an undaunted face to
the enemy.

His inexorable finger had come down on the name of Antoine Sebastian,
figuring on all the secret reports--first in many.

"Who is this man?" he asked, and none could answer.

He had gone to the frontier without awaiting the solution to the
question. Such was his method now. He had so much to do that he could
but skim the surface of his task. For the human mind, though it be
colossal, can only work within certain limits. The greatest orator in
the world can only move his immediate hearers. Those beyond the inner
circle catch a word here and there, and imagination supplies the rest or
improves upon it. But those in the farthest gallery hear nothing and see
a little man gesticulating.

De Casimir was not entrusted with the execution of the Emperor's orders.
As a member of General Rapp's staff, resident in Dantzig since the
city's occupation by the French, he had been called upon to make
exhaustive reports upon the feeling of the burghers. There were many
doubtful cases. De Casimir did not pretend to be better than his
fellows. To some he had sold the benefit of the doubt. Some had paid
willingly enough for their warning. Others had put off the payment; for
there were many Jews, then as now, in Dantzig; slow payers requiring
something stronger than a threat to make them disburse.

De Casimir therefore quitted the Rathhaus among the first to go, and
walked through the busy streets to his rooms in the Langenmarkt,
where he not only lived but had a small office to which orderlies and
aides-de-camp came by day or night. Two sentries kept guard on the
pavement. Since the spring, this office had been one of the busiest
military posts in Dantzig. Its doors were open at all hours, and in
truth many of de Casimir's assistants preferred to transact their
business in the dark.

There might be some recalcitrant debtor driven by stress of circumstance
to clear his conscience to-night. It would be as well, de Casimir
thought, to be at one's post. Nor was he mistaken. Though it was only
ten o'clock, two men were awaiting his return, and, their business
despatched, de Casimir deemed it wise to send away his assistants.
Immediately after they had gone a woman came. She was half distracted
with fear, and the tears ran down her pallid cheeks. But she dried them
at the mention of de Casimir's price, and fell to abusing him.

"If your husband is innocent, there is all the more reason why he should
be grateful to me for warning him," he said, with a smile. And at last
the lady paid and went away.

The town clocks had struck eleven before another footstep on the
pavement made de Casimir raise his head. He did not actually expect any
one, but a certain surreptitiousness in the approach of this visitor,
and the low knock on the door, made him suspect that this was grist for
his mill.

He opened the door and, seeing that it was a woman, stepped back. When
she had entered, he closed the door while she stood watching him in the
dark passage, beneath the shadow of her hood. Knowing the value of such
small details, he locked the door rather ostentatiously and dropped the
key into his pocket.

"And now, madame," he said reassuringly, as he followed his visitor into
the room where a shaded lamp lighted his writing-table. She threw back
her hood, and it was Mathilde! The surprise on de Casimir's face was
genuine enough. Romance could not have brought about this visit, nor
love be its motive.

"Something has happened," he said, looking at her doubtfully.

"Where is my father?" was the reply.

"Unless there has been some mistake," he answered glibly, "he is at home
in bed."

She smiled contemptuously into his innocent face.

"There has been a mistake," she said; "they came to arrest him
to-night."

De Casimir made a gesture of anger and seemed to be mentally assigning a
punishment to some blunderer.

"And?" he asked, without looking at her.

"And he escaped."

"For the moment?"

"No; he has left Dantzig."

Something in her voice--the cold note of warning--made him glance
uneasily at her. This was not a woman to be deceived, and yet she was
womanly enough to fear deception and to resent her own fears, visiting
her anger on any who aroused them. In the flash of an eye he understood
her, and forestalled the words that were upon her lips.

"And I promised that he should come to no harm--I know that," he said
quickly. "At first I thought that it must have been a blunder, but on
reflection I am sure that it is not. It is the Emperor. He must have
given the order for the arrest himself, behind my back. That is his way.
He trusts no one. He deceives those nearest to him. I made out the list
of those to be arrested to-night, and your father's name was not on it.
Do you believe me? Mademoiselle, do you believe me?"

It was only natural in such a man to look for disbelief. The air he
breathed was infected by suspicion. No deception was too small for the
great man whom he served. Mathilde made no answer.

"You came here to accuse me of having deceived you," he said rather
anxiously. "Is that it?"

She nodded without meeting his eyes. It was not the truth. She had
come to hear his defence, hoping against hope that she might be able to
believe him.

"Mathilde," he asked slowly, "do you believe me?"

He came a step nearer, looking down at her averted face, which was oddly
white. Then suddenly she turned, without a sound, without lifting her
eyes--and was in his arms. It seemed that she had done it against her
will, and it took him by surprise. He had thought that she was trying
to attract his love because she believed in his capability to make his
fortune like so many soldiers of France; that she was only playing a
woman's subtle game. And, after all, she was like the rest--a little
cleverer, a little colder--but, like the rest.

While his arms were still round her, his quick mind leapt forward to the
future, wondering already to what end this would lead them. For a moment
he was taken aback. He was over the last of those barriers which are so
easy from the outside and unclimbable from within. She had thrust into
his hands a power greater than, for the moment, he knew how to wield. It
was characteristic of him to think first whither it would lead him, and
next how he could turn it to good account.

Some instinct told him that this was a different love from any that he
had met before. The same instinct made him understand that it was crying
aloud to be convinced; and, oddly enough, he had told her the truth.

"See," he said, "here is a copy of the list, and your father's name is
not on it. See, here is Napoleon's letter, expressing satisfaction with
my work here and in Konigsberg, where I have been served by an agent
of my own choosing. Many have climbed to a throne with less than that
letter for their first step. See...!" he opened another drawer. It was
full of money.

"See, again!" he said with a low laugh, and from an iron chest he
took two or three bags which fell upon the table with the discreet
unmistakable chink of gold. "That is the Emperor's. He trusts me, you
see. These bags are mine. They are to be sent back to France before I
follow the army to Russia. What I have told you is true, you see."

It was an odd way of wooing, but this man rarely made a mistake. There
are many women who, like Mathilde Sebastian, are readier to love success
than console failure.

"See," he said, after a moment's hesitation, opening another drawer
in his writing-table, "before I went away I had intended to ask you to
remember me."

As he spoke he drew a jewel-case from under some papers, and slowly
opened it. He had others like it in the drawer; for emergencies.

"But I never hoped," he went on, "to have an opportunity of seeing you
thus alone--to ask you never to forget me. You permit me?"

He clasped the diamonds round her throat, and they glittered on the
poor, cheap dress, which was the best she had. She looked down at them
with a catching breath, and for an instant the glitter was reflected in
her eyes.

She had come asking for reassurance, and he gave her diamonds; which
is an old tale told over and over again. For in human love we have to
accept not what we want, but what is given to us.

"No one in Dantzig," he said, "is so glad to hear that your father has
escaped as I am."

And, with the glitter still lurking in her dark-grey eyes, she believed
him. He drew her cloak round her, and gently brought her hood over her
hair.

"I must take you home," he said tenderly, "without delay. And as we go
through the streets you must tell me how it happened, and how you were
able to come to me."

"Desiree was not asleep," she answered; "she was waiting for me to
return, and told me at once. Then she went to bed, and I waited until
she was asleep. It was she who managed the escape."

De Casimir, who was locking the drawers of his writing-table, glanced up
sharply.

"Ah! but not alone?"

"No--not alone. I will tell you as we go through the streets."



CHAPTER XI. THE WAVE MOVES ON.



     La meme fermete qui sert a resister a l'amour sert aussi a le
rendre violent et durable.

It is only in war that the unexpected admittedly happens. In love and
other domestic calamities there is always a relative who knew it all the
time.

The news that Napoleon was in Vilna, hastily evacuated by the Russians
in full retreat, came as a surprise and not to all as a pleasant one, in
Dantzig.

It was Papa Barlasch who brought the tidings to the Frauengasse, one
hot afternoon in July. He returned before his usual hour, and sent Lisa
upstairs, with a message given in dumb show and interpreted by her into
matter-of-fact German, that he must see the young ladies without delay.
Far back in the great days of the monarchy, Papa Barlasch must have
been a little child in a peasant's hut on those Cotes du Nord where
they breed a race of Frenchmen startlingly similar to the hereditary foe
across the Channel, where to this day the men kick off their sabots at
the door and hold that an honest labourer has no business under a roof
except in stocking-feet and shirt-sleeves.

Barlasch had never yet been upstairs in the Sebastians' house, and
deemed it only respectful to the ladies to take off his boots on
the mat, and prowl to the kitchen in coarse blue woollen stockings,
carefully darned by himself, under the scornful immediate eye of Lisa.

He was in the kitchen when Mathilde and Desiree, in obedience to his
command, came downstairs. The floor in one corner of the room was
littered with his belongings; for he never used the table. "He takes
up no more room than a cat," Lisa once said of him. "I never fall over
him."

"She leaves her greasy plates here and there," explained Barlasch in
return. "One must think of one's self and one's uniform."

He was in his stocking-feet with unbuttoned tunic when the two girls
came to him.

"Ai, ai, ai," he said, imitating with his two hands the galloping of a
horse. "The Russians," he explained confidentially.

"Has there been a battle?" asked Desiree.

And Barlasch answered "Pooh!" not without contempt for the female
understanding.

"Then what is it?" she inquired. "You must remember we are not
soldiers--we do not understand those manoeuvres--ai, ai, like that."

And she copied his gesture beneath his scowling contempt.

"It is Vilna," he said. "That is what it is. Then it will be Smolensk,
and then Moscow. Ah, ah! That little man!"

He turned and took up his haversack.

"And I--I have my route. It is good-bye to the Frauengasse. We have been
friends. I told you we should be. It is good-bye to these ladies--and to
that Lisa. Look at her!"

He pointed with his curved and derisive finger into Lisa's eyes. And in
truth the tears were there. Lisa was in heart and person that which
is comprehensively called motherly. She saw perhaps some pathos in the
sight of this rugged man--worn by travel, bent with hardship and many
wounds, past his work--shouldering his haversack and trudging off to the
war.

"The wave moves on," he said, making a gesture, and a sound illustrating
that watery progress. "And Dantzig will soon be forgotten. You will be
left in peace--but we go on to--" He paused and shrugged his shoulders
while attending to a strap. "India or the devil," he concluded.

"Colonel Casimir has gone," he added in what he took to be an aside to
Mathilde. Which made her wonder for a moment. "I saw him depart with his
staff soon after daybreak. And the Emperor has forgotten Dantzig. It is
safe enough for the patron now. You can write him a letter to tell him
so. Tell him that I said it was safe for him to return quietly here, and
live in the Frauengasse--I, Barlasch."

He was ready now, and, buttoning his tunic, he fixed the straps across
his chest, looking from one to the other of the three women watching
him, not without some appreciation of an audience. Then he turned to
Desiree, who had always been his friend, with whom he now considered
that he had the soldier's bond of a peril passed through together.

"The Emperor has forgotten Dantzig," he repeated, "and those against
whom he had a grudge. But he has also forgotten those who are in prison.
It is not good to be forgotten in prison. Tell the patron that--to put
it in his pipe and smoke it. Some day he may remember an old soldier.
Ah, one thinks of one's self."

And beneath his bushy brows he looked at her with a gleam of cunning.
He went to the door and, turning there, pointed the finger of scorn at
Lisa, stout and tearful. He gave a short laugh of a low-born contempt,
and departed without further parley.

On the doorstep he paused to put on his boots and button his gaiters,
stooping clumsily with a groan beneath his burden of haversack and kit.
Desiree, who had had time to go upstairs to her bedroom, ran after him
as he descended the steps. She had her purse in her hand, and she thrust
it into his, quickly and breathlessly.

"If you take it," she said, "I shall know that we are friends."

He took it ungraciously enough. It was a silken thing with two small
rings to keep the money in place, and he looked at it with a grimace,
weighing it in his hand. It was very light.

"Money," he said. "No, thank you. To get drink with, and be degraded and
sent to prison. Not for me, madame. No, thank you. One thinks of one's
career."

And with a gruff laugh of worldly wisdom he continued his way down
the worn steps, never looking back at her as she stood in the sunlight
watching him, with the purse in her hand.

So in his old age Papa Barlasch was borne forward to the war on that
human tide which flooded all Lithuania, and never ebbed again, but sank
into the barren ground, and was no more seen.

As the slow autumn approached, it became apparent that Dantzig no longer
interested the watchers. Vilna became the base of operations. Smolensk
fell, and, most wonderful of all, the Russians were retiring on Moscow.
Dantzig was no longer on the route. For a time it was of the world
forgotten, while, as Barlasch had predicted, free men continued at
liberty, though their names had an evil savour, while innocent persons
in prison were left to rot there.

Desiree continued to receive letters from her husband, full of love and
war. For a long time he lingered at Konigsberg, hoping every day to be
sent forward. Then he followed Murat across the Niemen, and wrote of
weary journeys over the rolling plains of Lithuania.

Towards the end of July he mentioned curtly the arrival of de Casimir at
head-quarters.

"With him came a courier," wrote Charles, "bringing your dead letter. I
don't believe you love me as I love you. At all events, you do not seem
to tell me that you do so often as I want to tell you. Tell me what you
do and think every moment of the day...." And so on. Charles seemed
to write as easily as he talked, and had no difficulty in setting forth
his feelings. "The courier is in the saddle," he concluded. "De Casimir
tells me that I must finish. Write and tell me everything. How is
Mathilde? And your father? Is he in good health? How does he pass his
day? Does he still go out in the evening to his cafe?"

This seemed to be an afterthought, suggested perhaps by conversation
passing in the room in which he sat.

The other exile, writing from Stockholm, was briefer in his
communications.

"I am well," wrote Antoine Sebastian, "and hope to arrive soon after you
receive this. Felix Meyer, the notary, has instructions to furnish you
with money for household expenses."

It would appear that Sebastian possessed other friends in Dantzig, who
had kept him advised of all that passed in the city.

For neither Mathilde nor Desiree had obeyed Barlasch's blunt order to
write to their father. They did not know whither he had fled, neither
had they received any communication giving an address or a hint as to
his future movements. It would appear that the same direct and laconic
mind which had carried out his escape deemed it wiser that those left
behind should be in no position to furnish information.

In fairness to Barlasch, Desiree had made little of that soldier's part
in Sebastian's evasion, and Mathilde displayed small interest in such
details. She rather fastened, however, upon the assistance rendered by
Louis d'Arragon.

"Why did he do it?" she asked.

"Oh, because I asked him," was the reply.

"And why did you ask him?"

"Who else was there to ask?" returned Desiree, which was indeed
unanswerable.

Perhaps the question had been suggested to her by de Casimir, who, on
learning that Louis d'Arragon had helped her father to slip through the
Emperor's fingers, had asked the same in his own characteristic way.

"What could he hope to gain by doing it?" he had inquired as he
walked by Mathilde's side, along the Pfaffengasse. And he made other
interrogations respecting D'Arragon which Mathilde was no more able to
satisfy, as he accompanied her to the Frauengasse.

Since that time the dancing-lessons had been resumed to the music of a
hired fiddler, and Desiree had once more taken up her household task of
making both ends meet. She approached the difficulties as impetuously
as ever, and danced the stout pupils round the room with undiminished
energy.

"It seems no good at all, your being married," said one of these
breathlessly, while Desiree laughingly attended to her dishevelled hair.

"Why not?"

"Because you still make your own dresses and teach dancing," replied
the pupil, with a quick sigh at the thought of some smart bursch in the
Prussian contingent.

"Ah, but Charles will return a colonel, and I shall bow to you in a
silk dress from a chaise and pair--come, left foot first. You are not so
tired as you think you are."

For those that are busy, time flies quickly enough. And there is nothing
more absorbing than keeping the wolf from the door, else assuredly the
hungry thousands would find time to arise and rend the overfed few.

August succeeded a hot July and brought with it Sebastian's curt letter.
Sebastian himself--that shadowy father--returned to his home a few
hours later. He was not alone, for a heavier step followed his into the
passage, and Desiree, always quick to hear and see and act, coming to
the head of the stairs, perceived her father looking upwards towards
her, while his companion in rough sailor's clothes turned to lay aside
the valise he had carried on his shoulder.

Mathilde was close behind Desiree, and Sebastian kissed his daughters
with that cold repression of manner which always suggested a strenuous
past in which the emotions had been relinquished for ever as an
indulgence unfit for a stern and hard-bitten age.

"I took him away and now return him," said the sailor coming forward.
Desiree had always known that it was Louis, but Mathilde gave a little
start at the sound of the neat clipping French in the mouth of an
educated Frenchman so rarely heard in Dantzig--so rarely heard in all
broad France to-day.

"Yes--that is true," answered Sebastian, turning to him with a sudden
change of manner. There was that in voice and attitude which his hearers
had never noted before, although Charles had often evoked something
approaching it. It seemed to indicate that, of all the people with whom
they had seen their father hold intercourse, Louis d'Arragon was the
only man who stood upon equality with him.

"That is true--and at great risk to yourself," he said, not assigning,
however, so great an importance to personal danger as men do in these
careful days. As he spoke, he took Louis by the arm and by a gesture
invited him to precede him upstairs with a suggestion of camaraderie
somewhat startling in one usually so cold and formal as Antoine
Sebastian, the dancing-master of the Frauengasse.

"I was writing to Charles," said Desiree to D'Arragon, when they reached
the drawing-room, and, crossing to her own table, she set the papers in
order there. These consisted of a number of letters from her husband,
read and re-read, it would appear. And the answer to them, a clean sheet
of paper bearing only the date and address, lay beneath her hand.

"The courier leaves this evening," she said, with a queer ring of
anxiety in her voice, as if she feared that for some reason or another
she ran the risk of failing to despatch her letter. She glanced at the
clock, and stood, pen in hand, thinking of what she should write.

"May I enclose a line?" asked Louis. "It is not wise, perhaps, for me
to address to him a letter--since I am on the other side. It is a small
matter of a heritage which he and I divide. I have placed some money in
a Dantzig bank for him. He may require it when he returns."

"Then you do not correspond with Charles?" said Mathilde, clearing a
space for him on the larger table, and setting before him ink and pens
and paper.

"Thank you, Mademoiselle," he said, glancing at her with that light
of interest in his dark eyes which she had ignited once before by a
question on the only occasion that they had met. He seemed to detect
that she was more interested in him than her indifferent manner would
appear to indicate. "No, I am a bad correspondent. If Charles and I,
in our present circumstances, were to write to each other it could only
lead to intrigue, for which I have no taste and Charles no capacity."

"You seem to hint that Charles might have such a taste then," she said,
with her quiet smile, as she moved away leaving him to write.

"Charles has probably found out by this time," he answered with the
bluntness which he claimed as a prerogative of his calling and nation,
"that a soldier of Napoleon's who intrigues will make a better career
than one who merely fights."

He took up his pen and wrote with the absorption of one who has but
little time and knows exactly what to say. By chance he glanced towards
Desiree, who sat at her own table near the window. She was stroking
her cheek with the feather of her pen, looking with puzzled eyes at the
blank paper before her. Each time D'Arragon dipped his pen he glanced at
her, watching her. And Mathilde, with her needlework, watched them both.



CHAPTER XII. FROM BORODINO.



     However we brave it out, we men are a little breed.

War is the gambling of kings. Napoleon, the arch-gambler, from that
Southern sea where men, lacking cards or dice and the money to buy
either, will yet play a game of chance with the ten fingers that God
gave them for another purpose--Napoleon had dealt a hand with every
monarch in Europe before he met for the second time that Northern
adversary of cool blood who knew the waiting game.

It is only where the stakes are small that the leisurely players, idly
fingering the fallen cards, return in fancy to certain points--to this
trick trumped or that chance missed, playing the game over again. But
when the result is great it overshadows the game, and all men's thoughts
fly to speculation on the future. How will the loser meet his loss? What
use will the winner make of his gain?

The results of the Russian campaign were so stupendous to history that
the historians of the day, in their bewilderment, sought rather to
preserve these than the details of the war. Thus the student of to-day,
in piecing together an impression of bygone times, will inevitably find
portions of his picture missing. As a matter of fact, no one can say for
certain whether Alexander gently led Napoleon onward to Moscow or was
himself driven thither in confusion by the conqueror.

Perhaps each merely pushed on from day to day, as men who are not
Emperors must needs do in the stress of life. It is only in calm weather
that the eye is able to discern things afar off and make ready; but in
a storm the horizon is dimmed by cloud and spray. All Europe was so
obscured at this time. And even Emperors, being only men, could look no
farther than the immediate and urgent danger of the moment.

Napoleon's generals were scarcely social lights. Ney, the hero of the
retreat, the bravest of the brave, was a rough man who ate horseflesh
without troubling to cook it. Rapp, whose dogged defence of an abandoned
city is without compare in the story of war, had the manners and the
mind of a peasant. These gentlemen dealt more in deeds than in words.
They had not much to say for themselves.

As for the Russians, Russia remains at this time the one European
country unhampered and unharassed by a cheap press--the one country
where prominent men have a quiet tongue. A hundred years ago Russians
did great deeds, and the rest was silence. Neither Kutusoff nor
Alexander ever stated clearly whether the retreat to Moscow was
intentional or unavoidable; and these are the only men who knew. Perhaps
Napoleon knew; at all events, he thought he did, or pretended to
think it long afterwards at St. Helena, for Napoleon the Great was a
consummate liar.

Be that as it may, the Russians retreated, and the French advanced
farther and farther from their base. It was a great army--the greatest
ever seen. For Napoleon had eight monarchs serving with the eagles;
generals innumerable, many of them immortal--Davoust, the greatest
strategist; Prince Eugene, the incomparable lieutenant; Ney, the
fearless; four hundred thousand men. And they carried with them only
twenty days' provision.

They had marched from the Vistula, full of shipping, across the Pregel,
loaded with stores, to the Niemen, where there was no navigation.
Dantzig, behind them--that Gibraltar of the North--was stored with
provision enough for the whole army. But there was no transport; for the
roads of Lithuania were unsuitable for the heavy carts provided.

The country across the Niemen could scarce sustain its own sparse
population, and had nothing to spare for an invading army. This had once
been Poland, and was now inimical to Russia; but Russia did not care,
and the friendship of Lithuania was like many human friendships which we
make sacrifices to preserve--not worth having.

All the while the Russians retreated, and, stranger still, the French
followed them, eking out their twenty days' provision.

"I will make them fight a big battle, and beat them," said Napoleon;
"and then the Emperor will sue for peace."

But Barclay de Tolly continued to run away from that great battle. Then
came the news that Barclay had been deposed; that Kutusoff was coming
from the South to take command. It was true enough; and Barclay
cheerfully served in a subordinate position to the new chief. September
brought great hopes of a battle, for Kutusoff seemed to retreat with
less despatch, like a man choosing his ground--Kutusoff, that master of
the waiting game.

Early in September Murat, the impetuous leader of the pursuit,
complained to Nansouty that a cavalry charge had not been pushed home.

"The horses have no patriotism," replied Nansouty. "The men will fight
on empty stomachs, but not the horses."

An ominous reply at the beginning of a campaign, while communications
were still open.

At last, within a few days' march of Moscow, Kutusoff made a stand. At
last the great battle was imminent, after a hundred false alarms,
after many disappointed hopes. The country had been flat hitherto. The
Borodino, running in a wider valley than many of these rivers, which are
merely great ditches, seemed to offer possibilities of defence. It was
the only hope for Moscow.

"At last," wrote Charles to Desiree on September 6, "we are to have a
great battle. There has been much fighting the last few days, but I have
seen none of it. We are only eighty miles from Moscow. If there is a
great battle to-morrow we shall see Moscow in less than a week. For
we shall win. I have now found out from one who is near him that
the Emperor saw and remembered me the day he passed us in the
Frauengasse--our wedding-day, dearest. Nobody is too insignificant for
him to know. He thought that my marriage to you (for he knows that you
are French) would militate against the work I had been given to do in
Dantzig, so he gave orders for me to be sent at once to Konigsberg and
to continue the work there. De Casimir tells me that the Emperor is
pleased with me. De Casimir is the best friend I have; I am sure of
that. It is said that under the walls of Moscow the Emperor will dictate
his terms to Alexander. Every one wonders that Alexander of Russia did
not make proposals of peace when Vilna and Smolensk fell. In a week we
may be at Moscow. In a month I may be back at Dantzig, Desiree...."

And the rest would have been for Desiree's eyes alone, had it ever been
penned. For next in sacredness to heaven-inspired words are mere human
love letters; and those who read the love-letters of another commit a
sacrilege. But Charles never finished the letter, for the dawn surprised
him where he wrote in a shed by the miserable Kalugha, a streamlet
running to the Moskwa. And it was the dawn of September 7, 1812.

"There is the sun of Austerlitz," said Napoleon to those who were near
him when it arose. But it was not. It was the sun of Borodino. And
before it set the great battle desired by the French had been fought,
and eight French generals lay dead, while thirty more were wounded.
Murat, Davoust, Ney, Junot, Prince Eugene, Napoleon himself--all were
there; and all fought to finish a war which from the first had been
disliked. The French claimed it as a victory; but they gained nothing by
it, and they lost forty thousand killed and wounded.

During the night the Russians evacuated the position which they had
held, and lost, and retaken. They retreated towards Moscow, but Napoleon
was hardly ready to pursue.

These things, however, are history, and those who wish to know of them
may read them in another volume. While to the many orderly persons who
would wish to see everything in its place and the history-books on the
top shelf to be taken down and read on a future day (which will never
come), to such the explanation is due that this battle of Borodino is
here touched upon because it changed the current of some lives with
which we have to deal.

For battles and revolutions and historical events of any sort are the
jagged instruments with which Fate rough-hews our lives, leaving us to
shape them as we will. In other days, no doubt, men rough-hewed, while
Fate shaped. But as civilization advances men will wax so tender, so
careful of the individual, that they will never cut and slash, but move
softly, very tolerant, very easy-going, seeking the compromise that
brings peace and breeds a small and timid race of men.

Into such lives Fate comes crashing like a woodman with his axe, leaving
us to smooth the edges of the gaping wound and smile, and say that we
are not hurt; to pare away the knots and broken stumps; and hope that
our neighbour, concealing such himself, will have the decency to pretend
not to see.

Thus the battle of Borodino crashed into the lives of Desiree and
Mathilde, and their father, living quietly on the sunny side of the
Frauengasse in Dantzig. Antoine Sebastian was the first to hear the
news. He had, it seemed, special facilities for learning news at the
Weissen Ross'l, whither he went again now in the evening.

"There has been a great battle," he said, with so much more than his
usual self-restraint that Desiree and Mathilde exchanged a glance of
anxiety. "A man coming this evening from Dirschau saw and spoke with
the Imperial couriers on their way to Berlin and Paris. It was a great
victory, quite near to Moscow. But the loss on both sides has been
terrible."

He paused and glanced at Desiree. It was his creed that good blood
should show an example of self-restraint and a certain steadfast,
indifferent courage.

"Not so much among the French," he said, "as among the Bavarians and
Italians. It is an odd way of showing patriotism, to gain victories for
the conqueror. One hoped--" he paused and made a gesture with his right
hand, scarcely indicative of a staunch hope, "that the man's star might
be setting, but it would appear to be still in the ascendant. Charles,"
he added, as an afterthought, "would be on the staff. No doubt he only
saw the fighting from a distance."

Desiree, from whose face the colour had faded, nodded cheerfully enough.

"Oh yes," she answered, "I have no doubt he is safe. He has good
fortune."

For she was an apt pupil, and had already learnt that the world only
wishes to leave us in undisputed possession of our anxieties or sorrows,
however ready it may be to come forward and take a hand in good fortune.

"But there is no definite news," said Mathilde, hardly looking up from
the needlework at which her fingers were so deft and industrious.

"No."

"No news of Charles, I mean," she continued, "or of any of our friends.
Of Monsieur de Casimir, for instance?"

"No. As for Colonel de Casimir," returned Sebastian thoughtfully,
"he, like Charles, holds some staff appointment of which one does not
understand the scope. He is without doubt uninjured."

Mathilde glanced at her father not without suspicion. His grand manner
might easily be at times a screen. One never knows how much is perceived
by those who look down from a high place.

The town was quiet enough all that night. Sebastian must have heard the
news from some unofficial source, for none other seemed to know it. But
at daybreak the church bells, so rarely used in Dantzig for rejoicing,
awoke the burghers to the fact that the Emperor bade them make merry.
Napoleon gave great heed to such matters. In the churches of Lithuania
and farther on in Russia he had commanded the popes to pray for him at
their altars instead of for the Czar.

When Desiree came downstairs, she found a packet awaiting her. The
courier had come in during the night. This was more than a letter.
A number of papers had been folded in a handkerchief and bound with
string. The address was written on a piece of white leather cut from
the uniform of one who had fallen at Borodino, and had no more need of
sabretasche or trapping.

     "Madame Desiree Darragon--nee Sebastian,
                 Frauengasse 36,
                    Dantzig."

Desiree's heart stood still; for the writing was unknown to her. As she
cut the network of string, she thought that Charles was dead. When the
enclosed papers fell upon the table, she was sure of it; for they were
all in his writing. She did not pick and choose as one would who has
leisure and no very strong excitement, but took up the first paper and
read:

"Dear C.--I have been fortunate, as you will see from the enclosed
report. His Majesty cannot again say that I have been neglectful. I was
quite right. It is Sebastian and only Sebastian that we need fear. Here,
they are clumsy conspirators compared to him. I have been in the river
half the night, listening at the open stern window of a Reval pink to
every word they said. His Majesty can safely come to Konigsberg. Indeed,
he is better out of Dantzig. For the whole country is riddled with that
which they call patriotism, and we, treason. But I can only repeat what
His Majesty disbelieved the day before yesterday--that the heart of the
ill is Dantzig, and the venom of it Sebastian. Who he really is and
what he is about, you must find out how you can. I go forward to-day to
Gumbinnen. The enclosed letter to its address--I beg of you--if only in
acknowledgment of all that I have sacrificed."

The letter was unsigned, but the writing was the writing of Charles
Darragon, and Desiree knew what he had sacrificed--what he could never
recover.

There were two or three more letters addressed to "Dear C.," bearing no
signature, and yet written by Charles. Desiree read them carefully with
a sort of numb attention which photographed them permanently on her
memory like writing that is carved in stone upon a wall. There must be
some explanation in one of them. Who had sent them to her? Was Charles
dead?

At last she came to a sealed envelope addressed to herself by Charles.
Some other hand had copied the address from it in identical terms on
the piece of white leather. She opened and read it. It was the letter
written to her by Charles on the bank of the Kalugha river on the eve of
Borodino, and left unfinished by him. He must be dead. She prayed that
he might be.

She was alone in the room, having come down early, as was her wont, to
prepare breakfast. She heard Lisa talking with some one at the door--a
messenger, no doubt, to say that Charles was dead.

One letter still remained unread. It was in a different writing--the
writing on the white leather.

"Madame," it read, "The enclosed papers were found on the field by one
of my orderlies. One of them being addressed to you, furnishes a clue
to their owner, who must have dropped them in the hurry of the advance.
Should Captain Charles Darragon be your husband, I have the pleasure to
inform you that he was seen alive and well at the end of the day."
The writer assured Desiree of his respectful consideration, and wrote
"Surgeon" after his name.

Desiree had read the explanation too late.



CHAPTER XIII. IN THE DAY OF REJOICING.



     Truth, though it crush me.

The door of the room stood open, and the sound of a step in the passage
made Desiree glance up, as she hastily put together the papers found on
the battlefield of Borodino.

Louis d'Arragon was coming into the room, and for an instant, before his
expression changed, she saw all the fatigue that he must have endured
during the night; all that he must have risked. His face was usually
still and quiet; a combination of that contemplative calm which
characterises seafaring faces, and the clean-cut immobility of a racial
type developed by hereditary duties of self-restraint and command.

He knew that there had been a battle, and, seeing the papers on the
table, his eyes asked her the inevitable question which his lips were
slow to put into words.

In reply Desiree shook her head. She looked at the papers in quick
thought. Then she withdrew from them the letter written to her by
Charles--and put the others together.

"You told me to send for you," she said in a quiet, tired voice, "if I
wanted you. You have saved me the trouble."

His eyes were hard with anxiety as he looked at her. She held the
letters towards him.

"By coming," she added, with a glance at him which took in the dust,
and the stains of salt-water on his clothes, the fatigue he sought
to conceal by a rigid stillness, and the tension that was left by the
dangers he had passed through--daring all--to come.

Seeing that he looked doubtfully at the papers, she spoke again.

"One," she said, "that one on the stained paper, is addressed to me. You
can read it--since I ask you."

The letter told him, at all events, that Charles was not killed, and,
seeing his face clear as he read, she gave an odd, curt laugh.

"Read the others," she said. "Oh! you need not hesitate. You need not be
so particular. Read one, the top one. One is enough."

The windows stood open, and the morning breeze fluttering the curtains
brought in the gay sound of bells, the high clear bells of Hanseatic
days, rejoicing at Napoleon's new success--by order of Napoleon. A bee
sailed harmoniously into the room, made the circuit of it, and sought
the open again with a hum that faded drowsily into silence.

D'Arragon read the letter slowly from beginning to the unsigned end,
while Desiree, sitting at the table, upon which she leant one elbow,
resting her small square chin in the palm of her hand, watched him.

"Ah?" she exclaimed at length, with a ring of contempt in her voice, as
if at the thought of something unclean. "A spy! It is so easy for you to
keep still, and to hide all you feel."

D'Arragon folded the letter slowly. It was the fatal letter written
in the upper room in the shoemaker's house in Konigsberg in the Neuer
Markt, where the linden trees grow close to the window. In it Charles
spoke lightly of the sacrifice he had made in leaving Desiree on his
wedding-day, to do the Emperor's bidding. It was indeed the greatest
sacrifice that man can make; for he had thrown away his honour.

"It may not be so easy as you think," returned D'Arragon, looking
towards the door.

He had no time to say more; for Mathilde and her father were talking
together on the stairs as they came down. D'Arragon thrust the letters
into his pocket, the only indication he had time to give to Desiree of
the policy they must pursue. He stood facing the door, alert and quiet,
with only a moment in which to shape the course of more than one life.

"There is good news, Monsieur," he said to Sebastian. "Though I did not
come to bring it."

Sebastian pointed interrogatively to the open window, where the sound
of the bells seemed to emphasize the sunlight and the freshness of the
morning.

"No--not that," returned D'Arragon. "It is a great victory, they tell
me; but it is hard to say whether such news would be good or bad. It was
of Charles that I spoke. He is safe--Madame has heard."

He spoke rather slowly, and turned towards Desiree with a measured
gesture, not unlike Sebastian's habitual manner, and a quick glance to
satisfy himself that she had understood and was ready.

"Yes," said Desiree, "he was safe and well after the battle, but he
gives no details; for the letter was actually written the day before."

"With a mere word, added in postscriptum, to say that he was unhurt
at the end of the day," suggested Sebastian, already drawing forward
a chair with a gesture full of hospitality, inviting D'Arragon to be
seated at the simple breakfast-table. But D'Arragon was looking at
Mathilde, who had gone rather hurriedly to the window, as if to breathe
the air. He had caught a glimpse of her face as she passed. It was hard
and set, quite colourless, with bright, sleepless eyes. D'Arragon was
a sailor. He had seen that look in rougher faces and sterner eyes, and
knew what it meant.

"No details?" asked Mathilde in a muffled voice, without looking round.

"No," answered Desiree, who had noticed nothing. How much more clearly
we should understand what is going on around us if we had no secrets of
our own to defend!

In obedience to Sebastian's gesture, D'Arragon took a chair, and even
as he did so Mathilde came to the table, calm and mistress of herself
again, to pour out the coffee, and do the honours of the simple meal.
D'Arragon, besides having acquired the seamen's habit of adapting
himself unconsciously and unobtrusively to his surroundings, was of a
direct mind, lacking self-consciousness, and simplified by the pressure
of a strong and steady purpose. For men's minds are like the atmosphere,
which is always cleared by a steady breeze, while a changing wind
generates vapours, mist, uncertainty.

"And what news do you bring from the sea?" asked Sebastian. "Is your sky
there as overcast as ours in Dantzig?"

"No, Monsieur, our sky is clearing," answered D'Arragon, eating with a
hearty appetite the fresh bread and butter set before him. "Since I
saw you, the treaties have been signed, as you doubtless know, between
Sweden and Russia and England."

Nodding his head with silent emphasis, Sebastian gave it to be
understood that he knew that and more.

"It makes a great difference to us at sea in the Baltic," said
D'Arragon. "We are no longer harassed night and day, like a dog,
hounded from end to end of a hostile street, not daring to look into any
doorway. The Russian ports and Swedish ports are open to us now."

"One is glad to hear that your life is one of less hardship," said
Sebastian gravely. "I.... who have tasted it."

Desiree glanced at his lean, hard face. She rose, went out of the room,
and returned in a few minutes carrying a new loaf which she set on the
table before him with a short laugh, and something glistening in her
eyes that was not mirth.

But neither Desiree nor Mathilde joined in the conversation. They were
glad for their father to have a companion so sympathetic as to produce
a marked difference in his manner. For Sebastian was more at ease with
Louis d'Arragon than he was with Charles, though the latter had the tie
of a common fatherland, and spoke the same French that Sebastian spoke.
D'Arragon's French had the roundness always imparted to that language by
an English voice. It was perfect enough, but of an educated perfection.

The talk was of such matters as concerned men more than women; of armies
and war and treaties of peace. For all the world thought that Alexander
of Russia would be brought to his knees by the battle of Borodino. None
knew better how to turn a victory to account than he who claimed to be
victor now. "It does not suffice," Napoleon wrote to his brother at this
time, "to gain a victory. You must learn to turn it to advantage."

Save for the one reference to his life in the Baltic during the past two
months, D'Arragon said nothing of himself, of his patient, dogged work
carried on by day and by night in all weathers. Content to have escaped
with his life, he neither referred to, nor thought of, his part in the
negotiations which had resulted in the treaty just signed. For he had
been the link between Russia and England; the never-failing messenger
passing from one to the other with question and answer which were
destined to bear fruit at last in an understanding brought to perfection
in Paris, culminating at Elba.

Both were guarded in what they said of passing events, and both seemed
to doubt the truth of the reports now flying through the streets of
Dantzig. Even in the quiet Frauengasse all the citizens were out on
their terraces calling questions to those that passed by beneath the
trees. The itinerant tradesman, the milkman going his round, the vendors
of fruit from Langfuhr and the distant villages of the plain, lingered
at the doors to tell the servants the latest gossip of the market-place.
Even in this frontier city, full of spies, strangers spoke together in
the streets, and the sound of their voices, raised above the clang of
carillons, came in at the open window.

"At first a victory is always a great one," said D'Arragon, looking
towards the window.

"It is so easy to ring a bell," added Sebastian, with his rare smile.

He was quite himself this morning, and only once did the dull look
arrest his features into the stony stillness which his daughters knew.

"You are the only one of your name in Dantzig," said D'Arragon, in the
course of question and answer as to the safe delivery of letters in time
of war.

"So far as I know, there is no other Sebastian," replied he; and
Desiree, who had guessed the motive of the question, which must have
been in D'Arragon's mind from the beginning, was startled by the fulness
of the answer. It seemed to make reply to more than D'Arragon had asked.
It shattered the last faint hope that there might have been another
Sebastian of whom Charles had written.

"For myself," said D'Arragon, changing the subject quickly, "I can
now make sure of receiving letters addressed to me in the care of the
English Consul at Riga, or the Consul at Stockholm, should you wish to
communicate with me, or should Madame find leisure to give me news of
her husband."

"Desiree will no doubt take pleasure in keeping you advised of Charles's
progress. As for myself, I fear I am a bad correspondent. Perhaps not a
desirable one in these days," said Sebastian, his face slowly clearing.
He waved the point aside with a gesture that looked out of place on a
hand lean and spare, emerging from a shabby brown sleeve without cuff or
ruffle.

"For I feel assured," he went on, "that we shall continue to hear good
news of your cousin; not only that he is safe and well, but that he
makes progress in his profession. He will go far, I am sure."

D'Arragon bowed his acknowledgment of this kind thought, and rose rather
hastily.

"My best chance of quitting the city unseen," he said, "is to pass
through the gates with the market-people returning to the villages. To
do that, I must not delay."

"The streets are so full," replied Sebastian, glancing out of the
window, "that you will pass through them unnoticed. I see beneath the
trees, a neighbour, Koch the locksmith, who is perhaps waiting to give
me news. While you are saying farewell, I will go out and speak to him.
What he has to tell may interest you and your comrades at sea--may help
your escape from the city this morning."

He took his hat as he spoke and went to the door. Mathilde, thirsting
for the news that seemed to hum in the streets like the sound of bees,
rose and followed him. Desiree and D'Arragon were left alone. She had
gone to the window, and, turning there, she looked back at him over her
shoulder, where he stood by the door watching her.

"So, you see," she said, "there is no other Sebastian."

D'Arragon made no reply. She came nearer to him, her blue eyes sombre
with contempt for the man she had married. Suddenly she pointed to the
chair which D'Arragon had just vacated.

"That is where he sat. He has eaten my father's salt a hundred times,"
she said, with a short laugh. For whithersoever civilization may take
us, we must still go back to certain primaeval laws of justice between
man and man.

"You judge too hastily," said D'Arragon; but she interrupted him with a
gesture of warning.

"I have not judged hastily," she said. "You do not understand. You think
I judge from that letter. That is only a confirmation of something that
has been in my mind for a long time--ever since my wedding-day. I knew
when you came into the room upstairs on that day that you did not trust
Charles."

"I--?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered, standing squarely in front of him and looking
him in the eyes. "You did not trust him. You were not glad that I had
married him. I could see it in your face. I have never forgotten."

D'Arragon turned away towards the window. Sebastian and Mathilde were
in the street below, in the shade of the trees, talking with the eager
neighbours.

"You would have stopped it if you could," said Desiree; and he did not
deny it.

"It was some instinct," he said at length. "Some passing misgiving."

"For Charles?" she asked sharply.

And D'Arragon, looking out of the window, would not answer. She gave a
sudden laugh.

"One cannot compliment you on your politeness," she said. "Was it for
Charles that you had misgivings?"

At last D'Arragon turned on his heel.

"Does it matter?" he asked. "Since I came too late."

"That is true," she said, after a pause. "You came too late; so it
doesn't matter. And the thing is done now, and I..., well, I suppose I
must do what others have done before me--I must make the best of it."

"I will help you," said D'Arragon slowly, almost carefully, "if I can."

He was still avoiding her eyes, still looking out of the window.
Sebastian was coming up the steps.



CHAPTER XIV. MOSCOW.



     Nothing is so disappointing as failure--except success.

While the Dantzigers with grave faces discussed the news of Borodino
beneath the trees in the Frauengasse, Charles Darragon, white with dust,
rose in his stirrups to catch the first sight of the domes and cupolas
of Moscow.

It was a sunny morning, and the gold on the churches gleamed and
glittered in the shimmering heat like fairyland. Charles had ridden to
the summit of a hill and sat for a moment, as others had done, in
silent contemplation. Moscow at last! All around him men were shouting:
"Moscow! Moscow!" Grave, white-haired generals waved their shakos in the
air. Those at the summit of the hill called the others to come. Far down
in the valley, where the dust raised by thousands of feet hung in the
air like a mist, a faint sound like the roar of falling water could be
heard. It was the word "Moscow!" sweeping back to the rearmost ranks of
these starving men who had marched for two months beneath the glaring
sun, parched with dust, through a country that seemed to them a Sahara.
Every house they approached, they had found deserted. Every barn was
empty. The very crops ripening to harvest had been gathered in and
burnt. Near to the miserable farmhouses, a pile of ashes hardly cold
marked where the poor furniture had been tossed upon the fire kindled
with the year's harvest.

Everywhere it was the same. There are, as God created it, few countries
of a sadder aspect than that which spreads between the Moskwa and the
Vistula. But it has been decreed by the dim laws of Race that the ugly
countries shall be blessed with the greater love of their children,
while men born in a beautiful land seem readiest to emigrate from it and
make the best settlers in a new home. There is only one country in the
world with a ring-fence round it. If a Russian is driven from his home,
he will go to another part of Russia: there is always room.

Before the advance of the spoilers, chartered by their leader to
unlimited and open rapine--indeed, he had led them hither with that
understanding--the Prussians, peasant and noble alike, fled to the East.
A hundred times the advance guard, fully alive to the advantages of
their position, had raced to the gates of a chateau only to find, on
breaking open the doors, that it was empty--the furniture destroyed, the
stores burnt, the wine poured out.

So also in the peasants' huts. Some, more careful than the rest, had
pulled the thatch from the roof to burn it. There was no corn in this
the Egypt of their greedy hopes. And, lest they should bring the corn
with them, the spoilers found the mills everywhere wrecked.

It was something new to them. It was new to Napoleon, who had so
frequently been met halfway, who knew that men for greed will part
smilingly with half in order to save the residue. He knew that many,
rather than help a neighbour who is in danger by a robber, will join the
robber and share the spoil, crying out that force majeure was used to
them.

But, as every man must judge according to his lights, so must even the
greatest find himself in the dark at last. No man of the Latin race will
ever understand the Slav. And because the beginning is easy--because in
certain superficial tricks of speech and thought Paris and Petersburg
are not unlike--so much the more is the breach widened when necessity
digs deeper than the surface. For, to make the acquaintance of a
stranger who seems to be a counterpart of one's self in thought and
taste, is like the first hearing of a kindred language such as Dutch to
the English ear. At first it sounds like one's own tongue with a hundred
identical words, but on closer listening it will be found that the words
mean something else, and that the whole is incomprehensible and the more
difficult to acquire by the very reason of its resemblance.

Napoleon thought that the Russians would act as his enemies of the
Latin race had acted. He thought that like his own people they would be
over-confident, urging each other on to great deeds by loud words and a
hundred boasts. But the Russians lack self-confidence, are timid rather
than over-bold, dreamy rather than fiery. Only their women are glib of
speech. He thought that they would begin very brilliantly and end with a
compromise, heart-breaking at first and soon lived down.

"They are savages out here in the plains," he said. "It is a barbaric
and stupid instinct that makes them destroy their own property for the
sake of hampering us. As we approach Moscow we shall find that the
more civilized inhabitants of the villages, enervated by an easy
life, rendered selfish by possession of wealth, will not abandon their
property, but will barter and sell to us and find themselves the victims
of our might."

And the army believed him. For they always believed him. Faith can,
indeed, move mountains. It carried four hundred thousand men, without
provisions, through a barren land.

And now, in sight of the golden city, the army was still hungry. Nay! it
was ragged already. In three columns it converged on the doomed capital,
driving before it like a swarm of flies the Cossacks who harassed the
advance.

Here again, on the hill looking down into the smiling valley of the
Moskwa, the unexpected awaited the invaders. The city, shimmering in
the sunlight like the realization of some Arab's dream, was silent.
The Cossacks had disappeared. Except those around the Kremlin, towering
above the river, the city had no walls.

The army halted while aides-de-camp flew hither and thither on their
weary horses. Charles Darragon, sunburnt, dusty, hoarse with cheering,
was among the first. He looked right and left for de Casimir, but
could not see him. He had not seen his chief since Borodino, for he was
temporarily attached to the staff of Prince Eugene, who had lost heavily
at the Kalugha river.

It was usual for the army to halt before a beleaguered city and await
the advent in all humility of the vanquished. Commonly it was the mayor
of a town who came, followed by his councillors in their robes, to
explain that the army had abandoned the city, which now begged to throw
itself upon the mercy of the conqueror.

For this the army waited on that sunny September morning.

"He is putting on his robes," they said gaily. "He is new to this work."

But the mayor of Moscow disappointed them. At last the troops moved on
and camped for the night in a village under the Kremlin walls. It was
here that Charles received a note from de Casimir.

"I am slightly wounded," wrote that officer, "but am following the army.
At Borodino my horse was killed under me, and I was thrown. While I
was insensible, I was robbed and lost what money I had, as well as my
despatch-case. In the latter was the letter you wrote to your wife. It
is lost, my friend; you must write another."

Charles was tired. He would put off till to-morrow, he thought, and
write to Desiree from Moscow. As he lay, all dressed on the hard ground,
he fell to thinking of what he should write to Desiree to-morrow from
Moscow. The mere date and address of such a letter would make her love
him the more, he thought; for, like his leaders, he was dazed by a
surfeit of glory.

As he fell asleep smiling at these happy reflections, Desiree, far away
in Dantzig, was locking in her bureau the letter which had been lost
and found again; while, on the deck of his ship, lifting gently to the
tideway where the Vistula sweeps out into the Dantziger Bucht, Louis
d'Arragon stood fingering reflectively in his jacket-pocket the unread
papers which had fallen from the same despatch-case. For it is a very
small world in which to do wrong, though if a man do a little good in
his lifetime it is--heaven knows--soon mislaid and trodden under the
feet of the new-comers.

The next day it was definitely ascertained that the citizens of Moscow
had no communication to make to the conquering leaders. Soon after
daylight the army moved towards the city. The suburbs were deserted. The
houses stood with closed shutters and locked doors. Not so much as a dog
awaited the triumphant entry through the city gates.

Long streets without a living being from end to end met the eyes of
those daring organizers of triumphal entries who had been sent forward
to clear a path and range the respectful citizens on either hand. But
there were no citizens. There was not a single witness to this triumph
of the greatest army the world had seen, led across Europe by the first
captain in all history to conquer a virgin capital.

The various corps marched to their quarters in silence, with nervous
glances at the shuttered windows. Some, breaking rank, ventured into the
churches which stood open. The candles were lighted on the altars, they
reported to their comrades in a hushed voice when they returned, but
there was no one there.

Certain palaces were selected as head-quarters for the general officers
and the chiefs of various departments. As often as not a summons would
be answered and the door opened by an obsequious porter, who handed the
keys to the first-comer. But he spoke no French, and only cringed in
silence when addressed. Other doors were broken in.

It was like a play acted in dumb show on an immense stage. It was
disquieting and incomprehensible even to the oldest campaigner, while
the young fire-eaters, fresh from St. Cyr, were strangely depressed
by it. There was a smell of sour smoke in the air, a suggestion of
inevitable tragedy.

On the Krasnaya Ploschad--the great Red Square, which is the central
point of the old town--the soldiers were already buying and selling the
spoil wrested from the burning Exchange. It seemed that the citizens
before leaving had collected their merchandise in this building to burn
it. To the rank-and-file this meant nothing but an incomprehensible
stupidity. To the educated and the thoughtful it was another evidence
of that dumb and sullen capacity for infinite self-sacrifice which makes
Russians different from any other race, and which has yet to be reckoned
with in the history of the world. For it will tend to the greatest good
of the greatest number, and is a power for national aggrandisement quite
unattainable by any Latin people.

Charles, with the other officers of Prince Eugene's staff, was quartered
in a palace on the Petrovka--that wide street running from the Kremlin
northward to the boulevards and the parks. Going towards it he passed
through the bazaars and the merchants' quarters, where, like an army of
rag-pickers, the eager looters were silently hurrying from heap to heap.
Every warehouse had, it seemed, been ransacked and its contents thrown
out into the streets. The first-comers had hurried on, seeking something
more valuable, more portable, leaving the later arrivals to turn over
their garbage like dogs upon a dust-heap.

The Petrovka is a long street of great houses, and was now deserted.
The pillagers were nervous and ill at ease, as men must always be in the
presence of something they do not understand. The most experienced of
them--and there were some famous robbers in Murat's vanguard--had never
seen an empty city abandoned all standing, as the Russians had
abandoned Moscow. They felt apprehensive of the unknown. Even the least
imaginative of them looked askance at the tall houses, at the open doors
of the empty churches, and they kept together for company's sake.

Charles's rooms were in the Momonoff Palace, where even the youngest
lieutenant had vast apartments assigned to him. It was in one of
these--a lady's boudoir, where his dust-covered baggage had been thrown
down carelessly by his orderly on a blue satin sofa--that he sat down to
write to Desiree.

His emotions had been stirred by all that he had passed through--by the
first sight of Moscow, by the passage beneath the Gate of the Redeemer,
where every man must uncover and only Napoleon dared to wear a hat; by
the bewildering sense of triumph and the knowledge that he was taking
part in one of the epochs of man's history on this earth. The emotions
lie very near together, so that laughter being aroused must also touch
on tears, and hatred being kindled warms the heart to love.

And, here in this unknown woman's room, with the very pen that she had
thrown aside, Charles, who wrote and spoke his love with such facility,
wrote to Desiree a love-letter such as he had never written before.

When it was sealed and addressed he called his orderly to take it to the
officer to whose duty it fell to make up the courier for Germany. But
he received no reply. The man had joined his comrades in the busier
quarters of the city. Charles went to the head of the stairs and called
again, with no better success. The house was comparatively modern, built
on the familiar lines of a Parisian hotel, with a wide stair descending
to an entrance archway where carriages passed through into a courtyard.

Descending the stairs, Charles found that even the sentry had absented
himself from his duty. His musket, leant against the post of the stone
doorway, indicated that he was not far. Listening in the silence of that
great house, Charles heard some one at work with hammer and chisel in
the courtyard. He went there, and found the sentry kneeling at a low
door, endeavouring to break it open. The man had not been idle; from a
piece of rope slung across his back half a dozen clocks were suspended.
They rattled together like the wares of a travelling tinsmith at every
movement of his arms.

"What are you doing there, my friend?" asked Charles.

The man held up one finger over his shoulder without looking round, and
shook it from side to side, as not desiring to be interrupted.

"The cellar," he answered, "always the cellar. It is human nature. We
get it from the animals."

He glanced round as he worked, and, perceiving that he had been
addressing an officer, he scrambled to his feet with a grumbled curse.
He was an old man, baked by the sun. The wrinkles in his face were
filled with dust. Since quitting the banks of the Vistula no opportunity
for ablution seemed to have presented itself to him. He stood at
attention, his lips working over sunken gums.

"I want you to take this letter," said Charles, "to the officer on
service at head-quarters, and ask him to include it in his courier. It
is, as you see, a private letter--to my wife at Dantzig."

The man looked at it, and grumbled something inaudible. He took it in
his hand and turned it over with the slow manner of the illiterate.



CHAPTER XV. THE GOAL.



     God writes straight on crooked lines.

Charles, having given his letter to the sentry with the order to take it
to its immediate destination, turned towards the stairs again. In those
days an order was given in a different tone to that which servitude
demands in later times.

He returned to his room on the first floor without even waiting to make
sure that he would be obeyed. He had scarcely seated himself when, after
a fumbling knock, the sentry opened the door and followed him into the
room, still holding the letter in his hand.

"Mon capitaine," he said with a certain calmness of manner as from
an old soldier to a young one, "a word--that is all. This letter,"
he turned it in his hand as he spoke, and looking at Charles beneath
scowling brows, awaited an explanation. "Did you pick it up?"

"No--I wrote it."

"Good. I..." he paused, and tapped himself on the chest so that there
could be no mistake; there was a rattling sound behind him suggestive of
ironware. Indeed, he was hung about with other things than clocks, and
seemed to be of opinion that if a soldier sets value upon any object he
must attach it to his person. "I, Barlasch of the Guard--Marengo, the
Danube, Egypt--picked up after Borodino a letter like it. I cannot read
very quickly--indeed--Bah! the old Guard needs no pens and paper--but
that letter I picked up was just like this."

"Was it addressed like that to Madame Desiree Darragon?"

"So a comrade told me. It is you, her husband?"

"Yes," answered Charles, "since you ask; I am her husband."

"Ah!" replied Barlasch darkly, and his limbs and features settled
themselves into a patient waiting.

"Well," asked Charles, "what are you waiting for?"

"Whatever you may think proper, mon capitaine, for I gave the letter to
the surgeon who promised that it should be forwarded to its address."

Charles laughingly sought his purse. But there was nothing in it, so he
looked round the room.

"Here, add this to your collection," and he took a small French clock
from the writing-table, a pretty, gilded toy from Paris.

"Thank you, mon capitaine."

Barlasch, with shaking fingers, unknotted the rope around his shoulders.
As he was doing so one of the clocks on his back began to strike. He
paused, and stood looking gravely at his superior officer. Another clock
took up the tale and a third, while Barlasch sternly stood at attention.

"Four o'clock," he said to himself, "and I, who have not yet
breakfasted--"

With a grunt and a salute he turned towards the door which stood open.
Some one was coming up the stairs rather slowly, his spurs clinking,
his scabbard clashing against the gilded banisters. Papa Barlasch stood
aside at attention, and Colonel de Casimir came into the room with a gay
word of greeting. Barlasch went out, but he did not close the door. It
is to be presumed that he stood without, where he might have overheard
all that they said to each other for quite a long time, until it was
almost the half-hour when the clocks would strike again. But de Casimir,
perceiving that the door was open, closed it quietly from within, and
Barlasch, shut out on the wide landing, made a grimace at the massive
woodwork before turning to descend the stairs.

It was the middle of September, and the days were shortening. The dusk
of evening had already closed over the city when de Casimir and Charles
at length came downstairs. No one had troubled to open the shutters of
such rooms as were not required; and these were many. For Moscow was
even at that day a great city, though less spacious and more fantastic
than it is to-day. There was plenty of room for the whole army in the
houses left empty by their owners, so that many lodged as they had never
lodged before and would never lodge again.

The stairs were almost dark when Charles and his companion descended
them. The rusted musket poised against the doorpost still indicated the
supposed presence of a sentry.

"Listen," said Charles, "I found him burrowing like a rat at a
cellar-door in the courtyard. Perhaps he has got in."

They listened, but could hear nothing. Charles led the way towards the
courtyard. A glimmer of light guided him to the door he sought. It stood
open. Barlasch had succeeded in effecting an entry to the cellar, where
his experience taught him to seek the best that an abandoned house
contains.

Charles and de Casimir peered down the narrow stairs. By the light of
a candle Barlasch was working vigorously amid a confused pile of cases,
and furniture, and roughly tied bundles of clothing. He had laid
aside nothing, and his movements were attended by the usual rattle of
hollow-ware. They could see the perspiration gleaming on his face. Even
in this cellar there lingered the faint smell of sour smoke that filled
the air of Moscow.

De Casimir caught the gleam of jewellery, and went hurriedly downstairs.

"What are you doing there, my friend?" he asked, and the words were
scarcely out of his mouth, when Barlasch extinguished his candle. There
followed a dead silence, such as comes when a rodent is disturbed at his
work. The two men on the cellar-stairs were conscious of the gaze of the
bright, rat-like eyes below.

De Casimir turned and followed Charles upstairs again.

"Come up," he said, "and go to your post."

There was no movement in response.

"Name of a dog," cried de Casimir, "is all discipline relaxed? Come up,
I tell you, and obey my orders."

He emphasized his command with the cocking of a pistol, and a slight
disturbance in the darkness of the cellar heralded the unwilling
approach of Barlasch, who climbed the stairs step by step like a
schoolboy coming to punishment.

"It is I who found the door, mon colonel, behind that pile of firewood.
It is I who opened it. What is down there is mine," he said, sullenly.
But the only reply that de Casimir made was to seize him by the arm and
jerk him away from the stairs.

"To your post," he said, "take your arm, and out into the street, in
front of the house. That is your place."

But while he was still speaking, they were all startled by a sudden
disturbance in the cellar, and in the gloom a man stumbled up the stairs
and ran past them. Barlasch had taken the precaution of bolting the huge
front door, which was large enough to give passage to a carriage. The
man, who exhaled an atmosphere of dust mingled with the disquieting
and all-pervading odour of smoke, rushed at the huge door and tugged
furiously at its handles.

Charles, who was on his heels, grasped his arm, but the man swung round
and threw him off as if he were a child. He had a hatchet in his hand
with which he aimed a blow at Charles, but missed him. Barlasch was
already going towards his musket, which stood in the corner against
the door-post, but the Russian saw his movement, and forestalled him.
Seizing the gun, he presented the bayonet to them, and stood with his
back to the door, facing the three men in a breathless silence. He was
a large man, dishevelled, with long hair tumbled about his head, and
light-coloured eyes, glaring like the eyes of a beast at bay.

In the background de Casimir, quick and calm, had already covered him
with the pistol produced as a persuasive to Barlasch. For a second there
was silence, during which they all could hear the call to arms in the
street outside. The patrol was hurrying down the Petrovka, calling the
assembly.

The report of the pistol rang through the house, shaking the doors and
windows. The man threw up his arms and stood for a moment looking at de
Casimir with an expression of blank amazement. Then his legs seemed to
slip away from beneath him, and he collapsed to the floor. He turned
over with movements singularly suggestive of a child seeking a
comfortable position in bed, and lay quite still, his cheek on the
pavement and his staring eyes turned towards the cellar-door from which
he had emerged.

"He has his affair--that parishioner," muttered Barlasch, looking at him
with a smile that twisted his mouth to one side. And, as he spoke, the
man's throat rattled. De Casimir was reloading his pistol. So persistent
was the gaze of the dead man's eyes that de Casimir turned on his heel
to look in the same direction.

"Quick!" he exclaimed, pointing to the doorway, from which a lazy white
smoke emerged in thin puffs. "Quick, he has set fire to the house!"

"Quick--with what, mon colonel?" asked Barlasch.

"Why, go and fetch some men with a fire-engine."

"There are no fire-engines left in Moscow, mon colonel!"

"Then find buckets, and tell me where the well is."

"There are no buckets left in Moscow, mon colonel. We found that out
last night, when we wanted to water the horses. The citizens have
removed them. And there is not a well of which the rope has not been
cut. They are droll companions, these Russians, I can tell you."

"Do as I tell you," repeated de Casimir, angrily, "or I shall put you
under arrest. Go and fetch men to help me to extinguish this fire."

By way of reply, Barlasch held up one finger in a childlike gesture of
attention to some distant sound.

"No, thank you," he said, coolly, "not for me. Discipline, mon colonel,
discipline. Listen, you can hear the 'assembly' as well as I. It is the
Emperor that one obeys. One thinks of one's military career."

With knotted and shaking fingers he drew back the bolts and opened the
door. On the threshold he saluted.

"It is the call to arms, mes officiers," he said. Then, shouldering his
musket, he turned away, and all his clocks struck six. The bells of the
city churches seemed to greet him as he stepped into the street, for in
Moscow each hour is proclaimed with deafening iteration from a thousand
towers.

He looked down the Petrovka; from half the houses which bordered the
wide roadway--a street of palaces--the smoke was pouring forth in puffs.
He went uphill towards the Red Square and the Kremlin, where the Emperor
had his head-quarters. It was to this centre that the patrols had
converged. Looking back, Barlasch saw, not one house on fire, but a
hundred. The smoke arose from every quarter of the city at once. He
hurried on, but was stopped by a crowd of soldiers, all laden with
booty, gesticulating, shouting, abusing one another. It was Babel
over again. The riff-raff of sixteen nations had followed Napoleon to
Moscow--to rob. Half a dozen different tongues were spoken in one army
corps. There remained no national pride to act as a deterrent. No man
cared what he did. The blame would be laid upon France.

The crowd was collected in front of a high, many-windowed building in
flames.

"What is it?" Barlasch asked first one and then another. But no one
spoke his tongue. At last he found a Frenchman.

"It is the hospital."

"And what is that smell? What is burning there?"

"Twelve thousand wounded," answered the man, with a sickening laugh.
And even as he spoke one or two of the wounded dragged themselves, half
burnt, down the wide steps. No one dared to approach them, for the walls
of the building were already bulging outwards. One man was half covered
with a sheet which was black, and his bare limbs were black with smoke.
All the hair was burnt from his head and face. He stood for a moment in
the doorway--a sight never to be forgotten--and then fell headlong down
the steps, where he lay motionless. Some one in the crowd laughed--a
high cackle which was heard above the roar of the fire and the deafening
chorus of burning timbers.

Barlasch passed on, following some officers who were leading their
horses towards the Kremlin. The streets were full of soldiers carrying
burdens, and staggering beneath the weight of their spoil. Many were
wearing priceless fur cloaks, and others walked in women's wraps of
sable and ermine. Some wore jewellery, such as necklaces, on their rough
uniforms, and bracelets round their sunburnt wrists. No one laughed
at them, but only glanced enviously at the pillage. All were in
deadly earnest, and none graver than those who had found drink and now
regretted that they had given way to the temptation; for their sober
comrades had outwitted them in finding treasure.

One man gravely wore a gilt coronet crammed over the crown of his shako.
He joined Barlasch, staggering along beside him.

"I come from the Cathedral," he explained, confidentially. "St. Michael
they call it. They said there was great treasure there hidden in the
cellars, but I only found a company of old kings in their coffins. We
stirred them up. They were quiet enough when we found them, under their
counterpanes of red velvet. We stirred them up with the bayonet, and the
dust got into our throats and choked us. Name of God, I am thirsty. You
have nothing in your bottle, comrade?"

"No."

Barlasch trudged on, all his possessions swinging and clanking together.
The confidential man turned towards him and lifted his water-bottle,
weighed it, and found it wanting.

"Name of a name, of a name, of a name," he muttered, walking on. "Yes,
there was nothing there. Even the silver plates on the coffins with the
names of those gentlemen were no thicker than a sword. But I found a
crown in the church itself. I borrowed it from St. Michael. He had a
sword in his hand, but he did not strike. No. And there was only tinsel
on the hilt. No jewels."

He walked on in silence for a few minutes, coughing out the smoke and
dust from his lungs. It was almost dark, but the whole city was blazing
now, and the sky glowed with a red light that mingled with the remnants
of a lurid sunset. A strong wind blew the smoke and the flying sparks
across the roofs.

"Then I went into the sacristy," continued the man, stumbling over the
dead body of a young girl and turning to curse her. Barlasch looked
at him sideways and cursed him for doing it, with a sudden fierce
eloquence. For Papa Barlasch was a man of unclean lips.

"There was an old man in there, a sacristan. I asked him where he kept
the dishes, and he said he could not speak French. I jerked my bayonet
into him--name of a name! he soon spoke French."

Barlasch broke off these delicate confidences by a quick word of
command, and himself stood rigid in the roadway before the Imperial
Palace of the Kremlin, presenting arms. A man passed close by them on
his way towards a waiting carriage. He was stout and heavy-shouldered,
peculiarly square, with a thick neck and head set low in the shoulders.
On the step of the carriage he turned and surveyed the lurid sky and
the burning city to the east with an indifferent air. Into his deep
bloodshot eyes there flashed a sudden gleam of life and power, as he
glanced along the row of watching faces to read what was written there.

It was Napoleon, at the summit of his dream, hurriedly quitting the
Kremlin, the boasted goal of his ambition, after having passed but one
night under that proud roof.



CHAPTER XVI. THE FIRST OF THE EBB.



                    Tho' he trip and fall
     He shall not blind his soul with clay.

The days were short, and November was drawing to its end when Barlasch
returned to Dantzig. Already the frost, holding its own against a sun
that seemed to linger in the North that year, exercised its sway almost
to midday, and drew a mist from the level plains.

The autumn had been one of unprecedented splendour, making the
imaginative whisper that Napoleon, like a second Joshua, could exact
obedience even from the sun. A month earlier, soon after the retreat
was ordered, the nights had begun to be cold, but the days remained
brilliant. Now the rivers were shrouded in white mist, and still water
was frozen.

Barlasch seemed to take it for understood that a billet holds good
throughout a whole campaign. But the door of No. 36 Frauengasse was
locked when he turned its iron handle. He knocked, and waited on the
step.

It was Desiree who opened the door at length--Desiree, grown older, with
something new in her eyes. Barlasch, sure of his entree, had already
removed his boots, which he carried in his hand; this added to a certain
surreptitiousness in his attitude. A handkerchief was bound over his
left eye. He wore his shako still, but the rest of his uniform verged
on the fantastic. Under a light-blue Bavarian cavalry cape he wore a
peasant's homespun shirt, and he carried no arms.

He pushed past Desiree rather unceremoniously, glad to get within
doors. He was very lame, and of his blue knitted stockings only the legs
remained; he was barefoot.

He limped towards the kitchen, glancing over his shoulder to make sure
that Desiree shut the door. The chair he had made his own stood just
within the open door of the kitchen. It was nine o'clock in the morning,
and Lisa had gone to market. Barlasch sat down.

"Voila," he said, and that was all. But by a gesture he described the
end of the world. Then he scowled at her with his available eye with
suspicion, and she turned away suddenly, as one may who has not a clear
conscience.

"What is the matter with your eye?" she asked, in order to break the
silence. He laid aside his hat, and his ragged hair, quite white, fell
to his shoulders. By way of answer, he unknotted the bloodstained dusky
handkerchief, and looked up at her. The hidden eye was uninjured and as
bright as the other.

"Nothing," he answered, and he confirmed the statement by a low-born
wink. More than once he glanced, with a glaring light in his eye,
towards the cupboard where Lisa kept the bread, and quite suddenly
Desiree knew that he was starving. She ran to the cupboard, and
hurriedly set down on the table before him what was there. It was not
much--a piece of cold meat and a whole loaf.

He had taken off his haversack, and was fumbling in it with unsteady
hands. At last he found that which he sought. It was wrapped in a silk
scarf that must have come from Cashmere to Moscow, and from Moscow in
his haversack with pieces of horseflesh and muddy roots to Dantzig. With
that awkwardness in giving and taking which belongs to his class,
he held out to Desiree a little square "ikon" no bigger than a
playing-card. It was of gold, set with diamonds, and the faces of the
Virgin and Child were painted with exquisite delicacy.

"It is a thing to say your prayers to," he said gruffly.

By an effort he kept his eyes averted from the food on the table.

"I met a baker on the bridge," he said, "and offered it to him for a
loaf, but he refused."

And there was a whole history of human suffering and temptation--of the
human fall--in his curt laugh. While Desiree was looking at the treasure
in speechless admiration, he turned suddenly and took the bread and meat
in his grimy hands. His crooked fingers closed over the loaf, making the
crust crack, and for a second the expression of his face was not human.
Then he hurried to the room that had been his, like a dog that seeks to
hide its greed in its kennel.

In a surprisingly short time he came back, the greyness all gone from
his face, though his eyes still glittered with the dry, hard light of
starvation. He went back to the chair near the door, and sat down.

"Seven hundred miles," he said, looking down at his feet with a shake of
the head, "seven hundred miles in six weeks."

Then he glanced at her and out through the open door, to make sure none
could overhear.

"Because I was afraid," he added in a whisper. "I am easily frightened.
I am not brave."

Desiree shook her head and laughed. Women have from all time accepted
the theory that a uniform makes a man courageous.

"They had to abandon the guns," he went on, "soon after quitting Moscow.
The horses were starving. There was a steep hill, and the guns were left
at the bottom. Then I began to be afraid. There were some marching
with candelabras on their backs and nothing in their carnassieres. They
carried a million francs on their shoulders and death in their faces. I
was afraid. I carried salt--salt--and nothing else. Then one day I saw
the Emperor's face. That was enough. The same night I crept away while
the others slept round the fire. They looked like a masquerade. Some of
them wore ermine. Oh! I was afraid, I tell you. I only had the salt and
some horse. There was plenty of that on the road. And that toy. I found
it in Moscow. I stood in a cellar, as big as this room, full of such
things. But one thinks of one's life. I only carried salt, and that
picture for you... to say your prayers to. The good God will hear you,
perhaps; He has no time to listen to us others."

And he used the last words as a French peasant, which is a survival of
serfdom that has come down through the furnace of the Revolution.

"But I cannot take it," said Desiree. "It is worth a million francs."

He looked at her fiercely.

"You think that I look for something in return?"

"Oh no!" she answered, "I have nothing to give you in return. I am as
poor as you."

"Then we can be friends," he said. He was eyeing surreptitiously a mug
of beer which Desiree had set before him on the table. Some instinct, or
the teaching of the last two months, made it repugnant to him to eat or
drink beneath his neighbour's eye. He was a sorry-looking figure, not
far removed from the animals, and in his downward journey he had picked
up, perhaps, the instinct which none can explain, telling an animal to
take its food in secret.

Desiree went to the window, turning her back to him, and looked out into
the yard. She heard him drink, and set the mug down again with a gulp.

"You were in Moscow?" she said at length, half turning towards him so
that he could see her profile and her short upper lip, which was parted
as if to ask a question which she did not put into words. He looked her
slowly up and down beneath his heavy eyebrows, his little cunning eyes
alight with suspicion. He watched her parted lips, which were tilted at
the corners, showing humour and a nature quick to laugh or suffer. Then
he jerked his head upwards as if he saw the unasked question quivering
there, and bore her some malice for her silence.

"Yes! I was in Moscow," he said, watching the colour fade from her face.
"And I saw him--your husband--there. I was on guard outside his door the
night we entered the city. It was I who carried to the post the letter
he wrote you. He was very anxious that it should reach you. You received
it--that love-letter?"

"Yes," answered Desiree gravely, in no wise responding to a sudden
forced gaiety in Papa Barlasch, which was only an evidence of the
shyness with which rough men all the world over approach the subject of
love. The gaiety lapsed into a sudden silence. He waited for her to ask
a question, but in vain.

"I never saw him again," went on Barlasch, "for the 'general' sounded,
and I went out into the streets to find the city on fire. In a great
army, as in a large country, one may easily lose one's own brother. But
he will return--have no fear. He has good fortune--the fine gentleman."

He stopped and scratched his head, looked at her sideways with a grimace
of bewilderment.

"It is good news I bring you," he muttered. "He was alive and well when
we began the retreat. He was on the staff, and the staff had horses and
carriages. They had bread to eat, I am told."

"And you--what had you?" asked Desiree, over her shoulder.

"No matter," he answered gruffly, "since I am here."

"And yet you believe in that man still," flashed out Desiree, turning to
face him.

Barlasch held up a warning finger, as if bidding her to be silent on a
subject on which she was not capable of forming a judgment. He wagged
his head from side to side and heaved a sigh.

"I tell you," he said, "I saw his face after Malo-Jaroslavetz; we lost
ten thousand that day. And I was afraid. For I saw in it that he
was going to leave us as he did in Egypt. I am not afraid when he is
there--not afraid of the Devil--or the bon Dieu, but when Napoleon is
not there--" He broke off with a gesture describing abject terror.

"They say in Dantzig," said Desiree, "that he will never get back across
the Beresina, for the Russians are bringing two armies to stop him
there. They say that the Prussians will turn against him."

"Ah--they say that already?"

"Yes."

He looked at her with a sudden light of anger in his eyes.

"Who has taught you to hate Napoleon?" he asked bluntly.

And again Desiree turned away from his glance as if she could not meet
it.

"No one," she answered.

"It is not the patron," said Barlasch, muttering his thoughts as
he hobbled to the door of his little room, and began unloading his
belongings with a view to ablution; for he was a self-contained
traveller, carrying with him all he required. "It is not the patron.
Because such a hatred as his cannot be spoken of. It is not your
husband, because Napoleon is his god."

He broke off with one of his violent jerks of the head, almost
threatening to dislocate his neck, and looked at her fixedly.

"It is because you have grown into a woman since I went away."

And out came his accusing finger, though Desiree had her back turned
towards him, and there was none other to see.

"Ah!" he said, with deadly contempt, "I see, I see!"

"Did you expect me to grow up into a man?" asked Desiree, over her
shoulder.

Barlasch stood in the doorway, his lips and jaw moving as if he were
masticating winged words. At length, having failed to find a tremendous
answer, he softly closed the door.

This was not the only wise old veteran of the Grand Army to see which
way the wind blew; for many another after the battle of Malo-Jaroslavetz
packed upon his back such spoil as he could carry, and set off on foot
for France. For the cold had come at length, and not a horse in the
French army was roughed for the snowy roads, nor, indeed, had provision
been made to rough them. This was a sign not lost upon those who had
horses to care for. The Emperor, who forgot nothing, had forgotten this.
He who foresaw everything, had omitted to foresee the winter. He had
ordered a retreat from Moscow, in the middle of October, of an army in
summer clothing, without provision for the road. The only hope was to
retreat through a new line of country not despoiled by the enormous army
in its advance of every grain of corn, every blade of grass. But this
hope was frustrated by the Russians who, hemming them in, forced them to
keep the road along which they had made so triumphant a march on Moscow.

Already, in the ranks, it was whispered that by the light of the burning
city some had perceived dark forms moving on the distant plains--a
Russian army passing westward in front of them to await and cut them off
at the passage of some river. The Russians had fought well at Borodino:
they fought desperately at Malo-Jaroslavetz, which town was taken and
retaken eleven times and left in cinders.

The Grand Army was no longer in a position to choose its way. It was
forced to cross again the battlefield of Borodino, where thirty thousand
dead lay yet unburied. But Napoleon was still with them, his genius
flashing out at times with something of the fire which had taken men's
breath away and burnt his name indelibly into the pages of the world's
history. Even when hard pressed, he never missed a chance of attacking.
The enemy never made a mistake that he did not give them reason to rue
it.

To the waiting world came at length the news that the winter, so long
retarded, had closed down over Russia. In Dantzig, so near the frontier,
a hundred rumours chased each other through the streets; and day by day
Antoine Sebastian grew younger and gayer. It seemed as if a weight
long laid upon his heart had been lifted at last. He made a journey to
Konigsberg soon after Barlasch's return, and came back with eager eyes.
His correspondence was enormous. He had, it seemed, a hundred
friends who gave him news and asked something in exchange--advice,
encouragement, warning. And all the while men whispered that Prussia
would ally herself to Russia, Sweden, and England.

From Paris came news of a growing discontent. For France, among a
multitude of virtues, has one vice unpardonable to Northern men: she
turns from a fallen friend.

Soon followed the news of Beresina--a poor little river of
Lithuania--where the history of the world hung for a day as on a thread.
But a flash of the dying genius surmounted superhuman difficulties, and
the catastrophe was turned into a disaster. The divisions of Victor and
Oudinot--the last to preserve any semblance of military discipline--were
almost annihilated. The French lost twelve thousand killed or drowned in
the river, sixteen thousand prisoners, twelve of the remaining guns.
But they were across the Beresina. There was no longer a Grand Army,
however. There was no army at all--only a starving, struggling trail of
men stumbling through the snow, without organization or discipline or
hope.

It was a disaster on the same gigantic scale as the past victories--a
disaster worthy of such a conqueror. Even his enemies forgot to rejoice.
They caught their breath and waited.

And suddenly came the news that Napoleon was in Paris.



CHAPTER XVII. A FORLORN HOPE.



               The fire i' the flint
     Shows not, till it be struck.

"It is time to do something," said Papa Barlasch on the December morning
when the news reached Dantzig that Napoleon was no longer with the
army--that he had made over the parody of command of the phantom army
to Murat, King of Naples--that he had passed like an evil spirit unknown
through Poland, Prussia, Germany, travelling twelve hundred miles night
and day at breakneck speed, alone, racing to Paris to save his throne.

"It is time to do something," said all Europe, when it was too late.
For Napoleon was himself again--alert, indomitable, raising a new army,
calling on France to rise to such heights of energy and vitality as
only France can compass; for the colder nations of the North lack the
imagination that enables men to pit themselves against the gods at the
bidding of some stupendous will, only second to the will of God Himself.

"Go to Dantzig, and hold it till I come," Napoleon had said to Rapp.
"Retreat to Poland, and hold on to anything you can till I come back
with a new army," he had commanded Murat and Prince Eugene.

"It is time to do something," said all the conquered nations, looking at
each other for initiation. And lo! the Master of Surprises struck them
dumb by his sudden apparition in his own capital, with all the strings
of the European net gathered as if by magic into his own hands again.

While everybody told his neighbour that it was time to do something, no
one knew what to do. For it has pleased the Creator to put a great
many talkers into this world and only a few men of action to make its
history.

Papa Barlasch knew what to do, however.

"Where is that sailor?" he asked Desiree, when she had told him the news
which Mathilde brought in from the streets. "He who took the patron's
valise that night--the cousin of your husband."

"There is a man at Zoppot who will tell you," she answered.

"Then I go to Zoppot."

Barlasch had lived unmolested in the Frauengasse since his return. He
was an old man, ill-clad, with a bloody handkerchief bound over one eye.
No one asked him any questions, except Sebastian, who heard again and
again the tale of Moscow--how the army which had crossed into Russia
four hundred thousand strong was reduced to a hundred thousand when the
retreat began; how handmills were issued to the troops to grind corn
which did not exist; how the horses died in thousands and the men in
hundreds from starvation; how God at last had turned his face from
Napoleon.

"Something must be done. The patron will do nothing; he is in the
clouds, he is dreaming dreams of a new France, that bourgeois. I am an
old man. Yes, I will go to Zoppot."

"You mean that we should have heard from Charles before now," said
Desiree.

"Name of thunder! he may be in Paris!" exclaimed Barlasch, with the
sudden anger that anxiety commands. "He is on the staff, I tell you."

For suspense is one of the most contagious of human emotions, and makes
a quicker call upon our sympathy than any other. Do we not feel such a
desire that our neighbour may know the worst without delay, that we race
to impart it to him?

Nor was Desiree alone in the trial which had drawn certain lines about
her gay lips; for Mathilde had told her father and sister that should
Colonel de Casimir return from the war he would ask her hand in
marriage.

"And that other--the Colonel," added Barlasch, glancing at Mathilde,
"he is on the staff too. They are safe enough, I tell you that. They are
doubtless together. They were together at Moscow. I saw them, and took
an order from them. They were... at their work."

Mathilde did not like Papa Barlasch. She would, it seemed, rather have
no news at all of de Casimir than learn it from the old soldier, for
she quitted the room without even troubling to throw him a glance of
disdain.

Barlasch waited with working lips until the sound of her footsteps
ceased on the stairs. Then he pushed across the kitchen table a piece of
writing-paper, rather yellow and woolly. It had been to Moscow and back.

"Write a word to him," he said. "I will take it to Zoppot."

"But you can send a message by the fisherman whose name I have given
you," answered Desiree.

"And will he heed the message? Will he come ashore at a word from
me--only Barlasch? Remember it is his life that he carries in his hand.
An English sailor with a French name! Thunder of thunder! They would
shoot him like a rat!"

Desiree shook her head; but Barlasch was not to be denied. He brought
pen and ink from the dresser, and pushed them across the table.

"I would not ask it," he said, "if it was not necessary. Do you think he
will mind the danger? He will like it. He will say to me, 'Barlasch, I
thank you.' Ah? I know him. Write. He will come."

"Why?" asked Desiree.

"Why? How should I know that? He came before when you asked him."

Desiree leant over the table and wrote six words:

"Come, if you can come safely."

Barlasch took up the paper, and, pushing up the bandage which had
served to bring him unharmed through Russia, he frowned at it without
understanding.

"It is not all writings that I can read," he admitted. "Have you signed
it?"

"No."

"Then sign something that he will know, and no other--they might shoot
me. Your baptismal name."

And she wrote "Desiree" after the six words.

Barlasch folded the paper carefully and placed it in the lining of an
old felt hat of Sebastian's which he now wore. He bound a scarf over his
ears, after the manner of those who live on the Baltic shores in winter.

"You can leave the rest to me," he said; and, with a nod and a grimace
expressive of cunning, he left her.

He did not return that night. The days were short now, for the winter
was well set in. It was nearly dark the next afternoon and very cold
when he came back. He sent Lisa upstairs for Desiree.

"First," he said, "there is a question for the patron. Will he quit
Dantzig?--that is the question."

"No," answered Desiree.

"Rapp is coming," said Barlasch, emphasizing each point with one finger
against the side of his nose. "He will hold Dantzig. There will be a
siege. Let the patron make no mistake. It will not be like the last one.
Rapp was outside then; he will be inside this time. He will hold Dantzig
till the bottom falls out of the world."

"My father will not leave," said Desiree. "He has said so. He knows that
Rapp is coming, with the Russians behind him."

"But," interrupted Barlasch, "he thinks that Prussia will turn and
declare war against Napoleon. That may be. Who knows? The question is,
Can the patron be induced to quit Dantzig?"

Desiree shook her head.

"It is not I," said Barlasch, "who ask the question. You understand?"

"Yes, I understand. My father will not quit Dantzig."

Whereupon Barlasch made a gesture conveying a desire to think as kindly
of Antoine Sebastian as he could.

"In half an hour," he said, "when it is dark, will you come for a walk
with me along the Langfuhr road--where the unfinished ramparts are?"

Desiree looked at him and hesitated.

"Oh--good--if you are afraid--" said Barlasch.

"I am not afraid--I will come," she answered quickly.

The snow was hard when they set out, and squeaked under their feet, as
it does with a low thermometer.

"We shall leave no tracks," said Barlasch, as he led the way off the
Langfuhr road towards the river. There was broken ground here, where
earthworks had been begun and never completed. The trees had been partly
cut, and beneath the snow were square mounds showing where the timber
had been piled up. But since the departure of Rapp, all had been left
incomplete.

Barlasch turned towards Desiree and pointed out a rising knoll of land
with fir-trees on it--an outline against the sky where a faint aurora
borealis lit the north. She understood that Louis was waiting there, and
must necessarily see them approaching across the untrodden snow. For an
instant she lingered, and Barlasch turning, glanced at her sharply over
his shoulder. She had come against her will, and her companion knew it.
Her feet were heavy with misgiving, like the feet of one who treads
an uncertain road into a strange country. She had been afraid of Louis
d'Arragon when she first caught sight of him in the Frauengasse. The
fear of him was with her now, and would not depart until he himself
swept it away by the first word he spoke.

He came out from beneath the trees, made a few steps forward, and
then stopped. Again Desiree lingered, and Barlasch, who was naturally
impatient, turned and took her by the arm.

"Is it the snow--that you find slippery?" he asked, not requiring an
answer. A moment later Louis came forward.

"There is nothing but bad news," he said laconically. "Barlasch will
have told you; but there is no need to give up hope. The army has
reached the Niemen; the rearguard has quitted Vilna. There is nothing
for it but to go and look for him."

"Who will go?" she asked quietly.

"I."

He was looking at her with grave eyes trained to darkness. But she
looked past him towards the sky, which was faintly lighted by the
aurora. Her averted eyes and rigid attitude were not without some
suggestion of guilt.

"My ship is ice-bound at Reval," said D'Arragon, in a matter-of-fact
way. "They have no use for me until the winter is over, and they have
given me three months' leave."

"To go to England?" she asked.

"To go anywhere I like," he said, with a short laugh. "So I am going to
look for Charles, and Barlasch will come with me."

"At a price," put in that soldier, in a shrewd undertone. "At a price."

"A small one," corrected Louis, turning to look at him with the close
attention of one exploring a new country.

"Bah! You give what you can. One does not go back across the Niemen for
pleasure. We bargained, and we came to terms. I got as much as I could."

Louis laughed, as if this were the blunt truth.

"If I had more, I would give you more. It is the money I placed in a
Dantzig bank for my cousin. I must take it out again, that is all."

The last words were addressed to Desiree, as if he had acted in
assurance of her approval.

"But I have more," she said; "a little--not very much. We must not think
of money. We must do everything to find him--to give him help, if he
needs it."

"Yes," answered Louis, as if she had asked him a question. "We must do
everything; but I have no more money."

"And I have none with me. I have nothing that I can sell."

She withdrew her fur mitten and held out her hand, as if to show that
she had no rings, except the plain gold one on her third finger.

"You have the ikon I brought you from Moscow," said Barlasch gruffly.
"Sell that."

"No," answered Desiree; "I will not sell that."

Barlasch laughed cynically.

"There you have a woman," he said, turning to Louis. "First she will not
have a thing, then she will not part with it."

"Well," said Desiree, with some spirit, "a woman may know her own mind."

"Some do," admitted Barlasch carelessly; "the happy ones. And since you
will not sell your ikon, I must go for what Monsieur le capitaine offers
me.

"Five hundred francs," said Louis. "A thousand francs, if we succeed in
bringing my cousin safely back to Dantzig."

"It is agreed," said Barlasch, and Desiree looked from one to the other
with an odd smile of amusement. For women do not understand that spirit
of adventure which makes the mercenary soldier, and urges the sailor to
join an exploring expedition without hope of any reward beyond his daily
pay, for which he is content to work and die loyally.

"And I," she asked, "what am I to do?"

"We must know where to find you," replied D'Arragon.

There was so much in the simple answer that Desiree fell into a train of
thought. It did not seem much for her to do, and yet it was all. For it
summed up in six words a woman's life: to wait till she is found.

"I shall wait in Dantzig," she said at length.

Barlasch held up his finger close to her face so that she could not fail
to see it, and shook it slowly from side to side commanding her careful
and entire attention.

"And buy salt," he said. "Fill a cupboard full of salt. It is cheap
enough in Dantzig now. The patron will not think of it. He is a
dreamer. But a dreamer awakes at length, and is hungry. It is I who tell
you--Barlasch."

He emphasized himself with a touch of his curved fingers on either
shoulder.

"Buy salt," he said, and walked away to a rising knoll to make sure
that no one was approaching. The moon was just below the horizon, and a
yellow glow was already in the sky.

Desiree and Louis were left alone. He was looking at her, but she was
watching Barlasch with a still persistency.

"He said that it is the happy women who know their own minds," she said
slowly.

"I suppose he meant--Duty," she added at length, when Louis made no sign
of answering.

"Yes," he said.

Barlasch was beckoning to her. She moved away, but stopped a few yards
off, and looked at Louis again.

"Do you think it is any good trying?" she asked, with a short laugh.

"It is no good trying unless you mean to succeed," he answered lightly.
She laughed a second time and lingered, though Barlasch was calling her
to come.

"Oh," she said, "I am not afraid of you when you say things like that.
It is what you leave unsaid. I am afraid of you, I think, because you
expect so much."

She tried to see his face.

"I am only an ordinary human being, you know," she said warningly.

Then she followed Barlasch.



CHAPTER XVIII. MISSING.



     I should fear those that dance before me now
     Would one day stamp upon me; it has been done:
     Men shut their doors against a setting sun.

During the first weeks of December the biting wind abated for a time,
and immediately the snow came. It fell for days, until at length the
grey sky seemed exhausted; for the flakes sailed downwards in twos and
threes like the stragglers of an army bringing up the rear. Then the sun
broke through again, and all the world was a dazzling white.

There had been a cessation in that stream of pitiable men who staggered
across the bridge from the Konigsberg road. Some instinct had turned
it southwards. Now it began again, and the rumour spread throughout
the city that Rapp was coming. At length, in the middle of December, an
officer brought word that Rapp with his staff would arrive next day.

Desiree heard the news without comment.

"You do not believe it?" asked Mathilde, who had come in with shining
eyes and a pale face.

"Oh yes, I believe it."

"Then you forget," persisted Mathilde, "that Charles is on the staff.
They may arrive to-night."

While they were speaking Sebastian came in. He looked quickly from one
to the other.

"You have heard the news?" he asked.

"That the General is coming back?" said Mathilde.

"No; not that. Though it is true. Macdonald is in full retreat on
Dantzig. The Prussians have abandoned him--at last."

He gave a queer laugh and stood looking towards the window with restless
eyes that flitted from one object to another, as if he were endeavouring
to follow in mind the quick course of events. Then he remembered Desiree
and turned towards her.

"Rapp returns to-morrow," he said. "We may presume that Charles is with
him."

"Yes," said Desiree, in a lifeless voice.

Sebastian wrinkled his eyes and gave an apologetic laugh.

"We cannot offer him a fitting welcome," he said, with a gesture of
frustrated hospitality. "We must do what we can. You and he may, of
course, consider this your home as long as it pleases you to remain with
us. Mathilde, you will see that we have such delicacies in the house
as Dantzig can now afford--and you, Desiree, will of course make such
preparations as are necessary. It is well to remember, he may return...
to-night."

Desiree went towards the door while Mathilde laid aside the delicate
needlework which seemed to absorb her mind and employ her fingers from
morning till night. She made a movement as if to accompany her sister,
but Desiree shook her head sharply and Mathilde remained where she was,
leaving Desiree to go upstairs alone.

The day was already drawing to its long twilight, and at four o'clock
the night came. Sebastian went out as usual, though he had caught cold.
But Mathilde stayed at home. Desiree sent Lisa to the shops in the
Langenmarkt, which is the centre of business and gossip in Dantzig. Lisa
always brought home the latest news. Mathilde came to the kitchen to
seek something when the messenger returned. She heard Lisa tell Desiree
that a few more stragglers had come in, but they brought no news of the
General. The house seemed lonely now that Barlasch was gone.

Throughout the night the sound of sleigh-bells could be faintly
heard through the double windows, though no sleigh passed through the
Frauengasse. A hundred times the bells seemed to come closer, and always
Desiree was ready behind the curtains to see the light flash past into
the Pfaffengasse. With a shiver of suspense she crept back to bed to
await the next alarm. In the early morning, long before it was light,
the dull thud of steps on the trodden snow called her to the window
again. She caught her breath as she drew back the curtain; for through
the long watches of the night she had imagined every possible form of
return.

This must be Barlasch. Louis and Barlasch must, of course, have met Rapp
on his homeward journey. On finding Charles, they had sent Barlasch back
in advance to announce the safety of Desiree's husband. Louis would, of
course, not come to Dantzig. He would go north to Russia, to Reval, and
perhaps home to England--never to return.

But it was not Barlasch. It was a woman who staggered past under a
burden of firewood which she had collected in the woods of Schottland,
and did not dare to carry through the streets by day.

At last the clocks struck six, and, soon after, Lisa's heavy footstep
made the stairs creak and crack.

Desiree went downstairs before daylight. She could hear Mathilde astir
in her room, and the light of candles was visible under her door.
Desiree busied herself with household affairs.

"I have not slept," said Lisa bluntly, "for thinking that your husband
might return, and fearing that we should make him wait in the street.
But without doubt you would have heard him."

"Yes, I should have heard him."

"If it had been my husband, I should have been at the window all night,"
said Lisa, with a gay laugh--and Desiree laughed too.

Mathilde seemed a long time in coming, and when at length she appeared
Desiree could scarcely repress a movement of surprise. Mathilde was
dressed, all in her best, as for a fete.

At breakfast Lisa brought the news told to her at the door that the
Governor would re-enter the city in state with his staff at midday. The
citizens were invited to decorate their streets, and to gather there to
welcome the returning garrison.

"And the citizens will accept the invitation," commented Sebastian,
with a curt laugh. "All the world has sneered at Russia since the Empire
existed--and yet it has to learn from Moscow what part a citizen may
play in war. These good Dantzigers will accept the invitation."

And he was right. For one reason or another the city did honour to Rapp.
Even the Poles must have known by now that France had made tools of
them. But as yet they could not realize that Napoleon had fallen. There
were doubtless many spies in the streets that cold December day--one who
listened for Napoleon; and another, peeping to this side and that,
for the King of Prussia. Sweden also would need to know what Dantzig
thought, and Russia must not be ignorant of the gossip in a great Baltic
port.

Enveloped in their stiff sheepskins, concealed by the high collars which
reached to the brim of their hats--showing nothing but eyes where the
rime made old faces and young all alike, it was difficult for any to
judge of his neighbour--whether he were Pole or Prussian, Dantziger or
Swede. The women in thick shawls, with hoods or scarves concealing their
faces, stood silently beside their husbands. It was only the children
who asked a thousand questions, and got never an answer from the
cautious descendants of a Hanseatic people.

"Is it the French or the Russians that are coming?" asked a child near
to Desiree.

"Both," was the answer.

"But which will come first?"

"Wait and see--silentium," replied the careful Dantziger, looking over
his shoulder.

Desiree had changed her clothes, and wore beneath her furs the dress
that had been prepared for the journey to Zoppot so long ago. Mathilde
had noticed the dress, which had not been seen for six months. Lisa,
more loquacious, nodded to it as to a friend when helping Desiree with
her furs.

"You have changed," she said, "since you last wore it."

"I have grown older--and fatter," answered Desiree cheerfully.

And Lisa, who had no imagination, seemed satisfied with the explanation.
But the change was in Desiree's eyes.

With Sebastian's permission--almost at his suggestion--they had selected
the Grune Brucke as the point from which to see the sight. This bridge
spans the Mottlau at the entrance to the Langenmarkt, and the roadway
widens before it narrows again to pass beneath the Grunes Thor. There is
rising ground where the road spreads like a fan, and here they could see
and be seen.

"Let us hope," said Sebastian, "that two of these gentlemen may perceive
you as they pass."

But he did not offer to accompany them.

By half-past eleven the streets were full. The citizens knew their
governor, it seemed. He would not keep them waiting. Although Rapp
lacked that power of appealing to the imagination which has survived
Napoleon's death with such astounding vitality that it moves men's minds
to-day as surely as it did a hundred years ago, he was shrewd enough
to make use of his master's methods when such would seem to serve his
purpose. He was not going to creep into Dantzig like a whipped dog into
his kennel.

He had procured a horse at Elbing. Between that town and the Mottlau he
had halted to form his army into something like order, to get together a
staff with which to surround himself.

But the Dantzigers did not cheer. They stood and watched him in a sullen
silence as he rode across the bridge now known as the "Milk-Can." His
bridle was twisted round his arm, for all his fingers were frostbitten.
His nose and his ears were in the same plight, and had been treated by
a Polish barber who, indeed, effected a cure. One eye was almost closed.
His face was astonishingly red. But he carried himself like a soldier,
and faced the world with the audacity that Napoleon taught to all his
disciples.

Behind him rode a few staff officers, but the majority were on foot.
Some effort had been made to revive the faded uniforms. One or two
heroic souls had cast aside the fur cloaks to which they owed their
life, but the majority were broken men without spirit, without
pride--appealing only to pity. They hugged themselves closely in
their ragged cloaks and stumbled as they walked. It was impossible
to distinguish between the officers and the men. The biggest and the
strongest were the best clad--the bullies were the best fed. All were
black and smoke-grimed--with eyes reddened and inflamed by the dazzling
snow through which they stumbled by day, as much as by the smoke into
which they crouched at night. Every garment was riddled by the holes
burnt by flying sparks--every face was smeared with blood that ran
from the horseflesh they had torn asunder with their teeth while it yet
smoked.

Some laughed and waved their hands to the crowd. Others, who had known
the tragedy of Vilna and Kowno, stumbled on in stubborn silence still
doubting that Dantzig stood--that they were at last in sight of food and
warmth and rest.

"Is that all?" men asked each other in astonishment. For the last
stragglers had crossed the new Mottlau before the head of the procession
had reached the Grune Brucke.

"If I had such an army as that," said a stout Dantziger, "I should bring
it into the city quietly, after dusk."

But the majority were silent, remembering the departure of these
men--the triumph, the glory, and the hope. For a great catastrophe is
a curtain that for a moment shuts out all history and makes the human
family little children again who can but cower and hold each other's
hands in the dark.

"Where are the guns?" asked one.

"And the baggage?" suggested another.

"And the treasure of Moscow?" whispered a Jew with cunning eyes, who had
hidden behind his neighbour when Rapp glanced in his direction.

Emerging on the bridge, the General glanced at the old Mottlau. A crowd
was collected on it. The citizens no longer used the bridges but crossed
without fear where they pleased, and heavy sleighs passed up and down as
on a high-road. Rapp saw it, made a grimace, and, turning in his saddle,
spoke to his neighbour, an engineer officer, who was to make an immortal
name and die in Dantzig.

The Mottlau was one of the chief defences of the city, but instead of a
river the Governor found a high-road!

Rapp alone seemed to look about him with the air of one who knew his
whereabouts. In the straggling trail of men behind him, not one in a
hundred looked for a friendly face. Some stared in front of them with
lifeless eyes, while others, with a little spirit plucked up at the
end of a weary march, glanced up at the gabled houses with the interest
called forth by the first sight of a new city.

It was not until long afterwards that the world, piecing together
information purposely delayed and details carefully falsified, knew that
of the four hundred thousand men who marched triumphantly to the Niemen,
only twenty thousand recrossed that river six months later, and of these
two-thirds had never seen Moscow.

Rapp, whose bloodshot eyes searched the crowd of faces turned towards
him, recognized a number of people. To Mathilde he bowed gravely, and
with a kindlier glance turned in his saddle to bow again to Desiree.
They hardly heeded him, but with colourless faces turned towards the
staff riding behind him.

Most of the faces were strange: others were so altered that the features
had to be sought for as in the face of a mummy. Neither Charles nor
de Casimir was among the horsemen. One or two of them bowed, as their
leader had done, to the two girls.

"That is Captain de Villars," said Mathilde, "and the other I do not
know. Nor that tall man who is bowing now. Who are they?"

Desiree did not answer. None of these men was Charles. Unconsciously
holding her two mittened hands at her throat, she searched each face.

They were well placed to see even those who followed on foot. Many of
them were not French. It would have been easy to distinguish Charles or
de Casimir among the dark-visaged southerners. Desiree was not conscious
of the crowd around her. She heard none of the muttered remarks. All her
soul was in her eyes.

"Is that all?" she said at length--as the others had said at the
entrance to the town.

She found she was standing hand-in-hand with Mathilde, whose face was
like marble.

At last, when even the crowd had passed away beneath the Grunes Thor,
they turned and walked home in silence.



CHAPTER XIX. KOWNO.



              Distinct with footprints yet
     Of many a mighty marcher gone that way.

There are many who overlook the fact that in Northern lands, more
especially in such plains as Lithuania, Courland, and Poland, travel in
winter is easier than at any other time of year. The rivers, which run
sluggishly in their ditch-like beds, are frozen so completely that
the bridges are no longer required. The roads, in summer almost
impassable--mere ruts across the plain--are for the time ignored, and
the traveller strikes a bee-line from place to place across a level of
frozen snow.

Louis d'Arragon had worked out a route across the plain, as he had been
taught to shape a course across a chart.

"How did you return from Kowno?" he asked Barlasch.

"Name of my own nose," replied that traveller. "I followed the line of
dead horses."

"Then I will take you by another route," replied the sailor.

And three days later--before General Rapp had made his entry into
Dantzig--Barlasch sold two skeletons of horses and a sleigh at an
enormous profit to a staff officer of Murat's at Gumbinnen.

They had passed through Rapp's army. They had halted at Konigsberg to
make inquiry, and now, almost in sight of the Niemen, where the land
begins to heave in great waves, like those that roll round Cape Horn,
they were asking still if any man had seen Charles Darragon.

"Where are you going, comrades?" a hundred men had paused to ask them.

"To seek a brother," answered Barlasch, who, like many unprincipled
persons, had soon found that a lie is much simpler than an explanation.

But the majority glanced at them stupidly without comment, or with only
a shrug of their bowed shoulders. They were going the wrong way. They
must be mad. Between Dantzig and Konigsberg they had indeed found a few
travellers going eastward--despatch-bearers seeking Murat--spies going
northwards to Tilsit, and General Yorck still in treaty with his own
conscience--a prominent member of the Tugendbund, wondering, like many
others, if there were any virtue left in the world. Others, again, told
them that they were officers ordered to take up some new command in the
retreating army.

Beyond Konigsberg, however, D'Arragon and Barlasch found themselves
alone on their eastward route. Every man's face was set towards the
west. This was not an army at all, but an endless procession of tramps.
Without food or shelter, with no baggage but what they could carry on
their backs, they journeyed as each of us must journey out of this world
into that which lies beyond--alone, with no comrade to help them over
the rough places or lift them when they fell. For there was only one
man of all this rabble who rose to the height of self-sacrifice, and a
persistent devotion to duty. And he was coming last of all.

Many had started off in couples--with a faithful friend--only to quarrel
at last. For it is a peculiarity of the French that they can only have
one friend at a time. Long ago--back beyond the Niemen--all friendships
had been dissolved, and discipline had vanished before that. For when
Discipline and a Republic are wedded we shall have the millennium.
Liberty, they cry: meaning, I may do as I like. Equality: I am better
than you. Fraternity: what is yours is mine, if I want it.

So they quarrelled over everything, and fought for a place round the
fire that another had lighted. They burnt the houses in which they had
passed a night, though they knew that thousands trudging behind them
must die for lack of this poor shelter.

At the Beresina they had fought on the bridge like wild animals, and
those who had horses trod their comrades underfoot, or pushed them over
the parapet. Twelve thousand perished on the banks or in the river; and
sixteen thousand were left behind to the mercy of the Cossacks.

At Vilna the people were terrified at the sight of this inhuman rabble,
which had commanded their admiration on the outward march. And the
commander, with his staff, crept out of the city at night, abandoning
sick, wounded, and fighting men.

At Kowno they crowded numbly across the bridge, fighting for precedence,
when they might have walked at leisure across the ice. They were
no longer men at all, but dumb and driven animals, who fell by the
roadside, and were stripped by their comrades before the warmth of life
had left their limbs.

"Excuse me, comrade? I thought you were dead," said one, on being
remonstrated with by a dying man. And he went on his way reluctantly,
for he knew that in a few minutes another would snatch the booty. But
for the most part they were not so scrupulous.

At first D'Arragon, to whom these horrors were new, attempted to help
such as appealed to him, but Barlasch laughed at him.

"Yes," he said. "Take the medallion, and promise to send it to his
mother. Holy Heaven--they all have medallions, and they all have
mothers. Every Frenchman remembers his mother--when it is too late. I
will get a cart. By to-morrow we shall fill it with keepsakes. And here
is another. He is hungry. So am I, comrade. I come from Moscow--bah!"

And so they fought their way through the stream. They could have
journeyed by a quicker route--D'Arragon could have steered a course
across the frozen plain as over a sea--but Charles must necessarily be
in this stream. He might be by the wayside. Any one of these pitiable
objects, half blind, frost-bitten, with one limb or another swinging
useless, like a snapped branch, wrapped to the eyes in filthy
furs--inhuman, horrible--any one of these might be Desiree's husband.

They never missed a chance of hearing news. Barlasch interrupted the
last message of a dying man to inquire whether he had ever heard of
Prince Eugene. It was startling to learn how little they knew. The
majority of them were quite ignorant of French, and had scarcely heard
the name of the commander of their division. Many spoke in a language
which even Barlasch could not identify.

"His talk is like a coffee-mill," he explained to D'Arragon, "and I do
not know to what regiment he belonged. He asked me if I was Russki--I!
Then he wanted to hold my hand. And he went to sleep. He will wake among
the angels--that parishioner."

Not only had no one heard of Charles Darragon, but few knew the name of
the commander to whose staff he had been attached in Moscow. There
was nothing for it but to go on towards Kowno, where it was understood
temporary head-quarters had been established.

Rapp himself had told D'Arragon that officers had been despatched to
Kowno to form a base--a sort of rock in the midst of a torrent to divert
the currents. There had then been a talk of Tilsit, and diverting the
stream, or part of it towards Macdonald in the north. But D'Arragon knew
that Macdonald was likely to be in no better plight than Murat; for
it was an open secret in Dantzig that Yorck, with four-fifths of
Macdonald's army, was about to abandon him.

The road to Kowno was not to be mistaken. On either side of it, like
fallen landmarks, the dead lay huddled on the snow. Sometimes D'Arragon
and Barlasch found the remains of a fire, where, amid the ashes, the
chains and rings showed that a gun-carriage had been burnt. The trees
were cut and scored where, as a forlorn hope, some poor imbecile had
stripped the bark with the thought that it might burn. Nearly every
fire had its grim guardian; for the wounds of the injured nearly always
mortified when the flesh was melted by the warmth. Once or twice, with
their ragged feet in the ashes, a whole company had never awakened from
their sleep.

Barlasch pessimistically went the round of these bivouacs, but rarely
found anything worth carrying away. If he recognized a veteran by
the grizzled hair straggling out of the rags in which all faces were
enveloped, or perceived some remnant of a Garde uniform, he searched
more carefully.

"There may be salt," he said. And sometimes he found a little. They
had been on foot since Gumbinnen, because no horse would be allowed by
starving men to live a day. They existed from day to day on what they
found, which was, at the best, frozen horse. But Barlasch ate singularly
little.

"One thinks of one's digestion," he said vaguely, and persuaded
D'Arragon to eat his portion because it would be a sin to throw it away.

At length D'Arragon, who was quick enough in understanding rough men,
said--

"No, I don't want any more. I will throw it away."

And an hour later, while pretending to be asleep, he saw Barlasch get
up, and crawl cautiously into the trees where the unsavoury food had
been thrown.

"Provided," muttered Barlasch one day, "that you keep your health. I am
an old man. I could not do this alone."

Which was true, for D'Arragon was carrying all the baggage now.

"We must both keep our health," answered Louis. "I have eaten worse
things than horse."

"I saw one yesterday," said Barlasch, with a gesture of disgust; "he
had three stripes on his arm, too; he was crouching in a ditch eating
something much worse than horse, mon capitaine. Bah! It made me sick.
For three sous I would have put my heel on his face. And later on at the
roadside I saw where he or another had played the butcher. But you saw
none of these things, mon capitaine?"

"It was by that winding stream where a farm had been burnt," said Louis.

Barlasch glanced at him sideways.

"If we should come to that, mon capitaine...."

"We won't."

They trudged on in silence for some time. They were off the road now,
and D'Arragon was steering by dead-reckoning. Even amid the pine-woods,
which seemed interminable, they frequently found remains of an
encampment. As often as not they found the campers huddled over their
last bivouac.

"But these," said Barlasch, pointing to what looked like a few bundles
of old clothes, continuing the conversation where he had left it after a
long silence, as men learn to do who are together day and night in some
hard enterprise, "even these have a woman dinning the ears of the good
God for them, just as we have."

For Barlasch's conception of a Deity could not get further than the
picture of a great Commander who in times of stress had no leisure to
see that non-commissioned officers did their best for the rank and file.
Indeed, the poor in all lands rather naturally conclude that God will
think of carriage-people first.

They came within sight of Kowno one evening, after a tiring day over
snow that glittered in a cloudless sun. Barlasch sat down wearily
against a pine tree, when they first caught sight of a distant
church-tower. The country is much broken up into little valleys
here, through which streams find their way to the Niemen. Each river
necessitated a rapid descent and an arduous climb over slippery snow.

"Voila," said Barlasch. "That is Kowno. I am done. Go on, mon capitaine.
I will lie here, and if I am not dead to-morrow morning, I will join
you."

Louis looked at him with a slow smile.

"I am tired as you," he said. "We will rest here until the moon rises."

Already the bare larches threw shadows three times their own length on
the snow. Near at hand it glittered like a carpet of diamonds, while the
distance was of a pale blue, merging to grey on the horizon. A far-off
belt of pines against a sky absolutely cloudless suggested infinite
space--immeasurable distance. Nothing was sharp and clearly outlined,
but hazy, silvery, as seen through a thin veil. The sea would seem to be
our earthly picture of infinite space, but no sea speaks of distance so
clearly as the plain of Lithuania--absolutely flat, quite lonely. The
far-off belt of pines only leads the eye to a shadow beyond, which is
another pine-wood; and the traveller walking all day towards it knows
that when at length he gets there he will see just such another on the
far horizon.

Louis sat down wearily beside Barlasch. As far as eye could see, they
were alone in this grim white world. They had nothing to say to each
other. They sat and watched the sun go down with drawn eyes and a queer
stolidity which comes to men in great cold, as if their souls were numb.

As the sun sank, the shadows turned bluer, and all the snow gleamed like
a lake. The silver tints slowly turned to gold; the greys grew darker.
The distant lines of pines were almost black now, a silhouette against
the golden sky. Near at hand the little inequalities in the snow loomed
blue, like deeper pools in shallow water.

The sun sank very slowly, moving along the horizon almost parallel with
it towards two bars of golden cloud awaiting it, the bars of the West
forming a prison to this poor pale captive of the snows. The stems of a
few silver-birch near at hand were rosy now, and suddenly the snow
took a similar tint. At the same moment, a wave of cold seemed to sweep
across the world.

The sun went down at length, leaving a brownish-red sky. This, too,
faded to grey in a few minutes, and a steely cold gripped the world as
in a vice.

Louis d'Arragon made a sudden effort and rose to his feet, beneath which
the snow squeaked.

"Come," he said. "If we stay, we shall fall asleep, and then--"

Barlasch roused himself and looked sleepily at his companion. He had a
patch of blue on either cheek.

"Come!" shouted Louis, as if to a deaf man. "Let us go on to Kowno, and
find out whether he is alive or dead."



CHAPTER XX. DESIREE'S CHOICE.



     Our wills and fates do so contrary run,
     That our devices still are overthrown.
     Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.

Rapp found himself in a stronghold which was strong in theory only. For
the frozen river formed the easiest possible approach, instead of an
insuperable barrier to the enemy. He had an army which was a paper army
only.

He had, according to official returns, thirty-five thousand men. In
reality a bare eight thousand could be collected to show a face to the
enemy. The rest were sick and wounded. There was no national spirit
among these men; they hardly had a language in common. For they were men
from Africa and Italy, from France, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Holland.
The majority of them were recruits, raw and of poor physique. All
were fugitives, flying before those dread Cossacks whose "hurrah!
hurrah!"--the Arabic "kill! kill!"--haunted their fitful sleep at night.
They came to Dantzig not to fight, but to lie down and rest. They were
the last of the great army--the reinforcements dragged to the frontier
which many of them had never crossed. For those who had been to
Moscow were few and far between. The army of Moscow had perished at
Malo-Jaroslavetz, at the Beresina, in Smolensk and Vilna.

These fugitives had fled to Dantzig for safety; and Rapp in crossing the
bridge had made a grimace, for he saw that there was no safety here.

The fortifications had been merely sketched out. The ditches were full
of snow, the rivers were frozen. All work was at a standstill. Dantzig
lay at the mercy of the first-comer.

In twenty-four hours every available smith was at work, forging ice-axes
and picks. Rapp was going to cut the frozen Vistula and set the river
free. The Dantzigers laughed aloud.

"It will freeze again in a night," they said. And it did. So Rapp set
the ice-cutters to work again next day. He kept boats moving day and
night in the water, which ran sluggish and thick, like porridge, with
the desire to freeze and be still.

He ordered the engineers to set to work on the abandoned fortifications.
But the ground was hard like granite, and the picks sprang back in the
worker's grip, jarring his bones, and making not so much as a mark on
the surface of the earth.

Again the Dantzigers laughed.

"It is frozen three feet down," they said.

The thermometer marked between twenty and thirty degrees of frost every
night now. And it was only December--only the beginning of the winter.
The Russians were at the Niemen, daily coming nearer. Dantzig was full
of sick and wounded. The available troops were worn out, frost-bitten,
desperate. There were only a few doctors, who were without medical
stores; no meat, no vegetables, no spirits, no forage.

No wonder the Dantzigers laughed. Rapp, who had to rely on Southerners
to obey his orders--Italians, Africans, a few Frenchmen, men little used
to cold and the hardships of a Northern winter--Rapp let them laugh. He
was a medium-sized man, with a bullet-head and a round chubby face, a
small nose, round eyes, and, if you please, side-whiskers.

Never for a moment did he admit that things looked black. He lit
enormous bonfires, melted the frozen earth, and built the fortifications
that had been planned.

"I took counsel," he said, long afterwards, "with two engineer officers
whose devotion equalled their brilliancy--Colonel Richemont and General
Campredon."

Soldiers might for all time study with advantage the acts of such
obscure and almost forgotten men as these. For, through them, Napoleon
was now teaching the world that a fortified place might be made stronger
than any had hitherto suspected. That he should turn round and teach,
on the other hand, that a city usually considered impregnable could
be taken without great loss of life, was only characteristic of his
splendid genius, which, like a towering tree, grew and grew until it
fell.

The days were very short now, and it was dark when the sappers--whose
business it was to keep the ice moving in the river at that spot where
the Government building-yard abuts the river front to-day--were roused
from their meditations by a shout on the farther bank.

They pushed their clumsy boat through the ice, and soon perceived
against the snowy distance the outline of a man wrapped, swaddled,
disguised in the heaped-up clothing so familiar to Eastern Europe at
this time. The joke of seeing a grave artilleryman clad in a lady's
ermine cloak had long since lost its savour for those who dwelt near the
Moscow road.

"Ah! comrade," said one of the boatmen, an Italian who spoke French and
had learnt his seamanship on the Mediterranean, by whose waters he would
never idle again. "Ah! you are from Moscow?"

"And you, countryman?" replied the new-comer, with a non-committing
readiness, as he stumbled over the gunwale.

"And you--an old man?" remarked the Italian, with the easy frankness of
Piedmont.

By way of reply, the new-comer held out one hand roughly swathed in
cloth, and shook it from side to side slowly, taking exception to such
personal matters on a short acquaintance.

"A week ago, when I quitted Dantzig on a mission to Kowno," he said,
with a careless air, "one could cross the Vistula anywhere. I have been
walking on the bank for half a league looking for a way across. One
would think there is a General in Dantzig now."

"There is Rapp," replied the Italian, poling his boat through the
floating ice.

"He will be glad to see me."

The Italian turned and looked over his shoulder. Then he gave a curt,
derisive laugh.

"Barlasch--of the Old Guard!" explained the new-comer, with a careless
air.

"Never heard of him."

Barlasch pushed up the bandage which he still wore over his left eye, in
order to get a better sight of this phenomenal ignoramus, but he made no
comment.

On landing he nodded curtly, at which the boatman made a quick gesture
and spat.

"You have not the price of a glass in your purse, perhaps," he
suggested.

Barlasch disappeared in the darkness without deigning a reply. Half an
hour later he was on the steps of Sebastian's house in the Frauengasse.
On his way through the streets a hundred evidences of energy had caught
his attention, for many of the houses were barricaded, and palisades
were built at the end of the streets running down towards the river. The
town was busy, and everywhere soldiers passed to and fro. Like Samuel,
Barlasch heard the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen in his ears.

The houses in the Frauengasse were barricaded like others--many of the
lower windows were built up. The door of No. 36 was bolted, and through
the shutters of the upper windows no glimmer of light penetrated to the
outer darkness of the street. Barlasch knocked and waited. He thought he
could hear surreptitious movements within the house. Again he knocked.

"Who is that?" asked Lisa just within, on the mat. She must have been
there all the time.

"Barlasch," he replied. And the bolts which he, in his knowledge of such
matters, himself had oiled, were quickly drawn.

Inside he found Lisa, and behind her Mathilde and Desiree.

"Where is the patron?" he asked, turning to bolt the door again.

"He is out, in the town," answered Desiree, in a strained voice. "Where
are you from?"

"From Kowno."

Barlasch looked from one face to the other. His own was burnt red,
and the light of the lamp hanging over his head gleamed on the icicles
suspended to his eyebrows and ragged whiskers. In the warmth of the
house his frozen garments began to melt, and from his limbs the water
dripped to the floor with a sound like rain. Then he caught sight of
Desiree's face.

"He is alive, I tell you that," he said abruptly. "And well, so far as
we know. It was at Kowno that we got news of him. I have a letter."

He opened his cloak, which was stiff like cardboard and creaked when
he bent the rough cloth. Under his cloak he wore a Russian peasant's
sheepskin coat, and beneath that the remains of his uniform.

"A dog's country," he muttered, as he breathed on his fingers.

At last he found the letter, and gave it to Desiree.

"You will have to make your choice," he commented, with a grimace
indicative of a serious situation, "like any other woman. No doubt you
will choose wrong."

Desiree went up two steps in order to be nearer the lamp, and they all
watched her as she opened the letter.

"Is it from Charles?" asked Mathilde, speaking for the first time.

"No," answered Desiree, rather breathlessly.

Barlasch nudged Lisa, indicated his own mouth, and pushed her towards
the kitchen. He nodded cunningly to Mathilde, as if to say that they
were now free to discuss family affairs; and added, with a gesture
towards his inner man--

"Since last night--nothing."

In a few minutes Desiree, having read the letter twice, handed it to her
sister. It was characteristically short.

"We have found a man here," wrote Louis d'Arragon, "who travelled as far
as Vilna with Charles. There they parted. Charles, who was ordered to
Warsaw on staff work, told his friend that you were in Dantzig, and
that, foreseeing a siege of the city, he had written to you to join him
at Warsaw. This letter has doubtless been lost. I am following Charles
to Warsaw, tracing him step by step, and if he has fallen ill by the
way, as so many have done, shall certainly find him. Barlasch returns
to bring you to Thorn, if you elect to join Charles. I will await you at
Thorn, and if Charles has proceeded, we will follow him to Warsaw."

Barlasch, who had watched Desiree, now followed Mathilde's eyes as they
passed to and fro over the closely written lines. As she neared the
end, and her face, upon which deep shadows had been graven by sorrow and
suspense, grew drawn and hopeless, he gave a curt laugh.

"There were two," he said, "travelling together--the Colonel de Casimir
and the husband of--of la petite. They had facilities--name of God!--two
carriages and an escort. In the carriages they had some of the Emperor's
playthings--holy pictures, the imperial loot--I know not what. Besides
that, they had some of their own--not furs and candlesticks such as we
others carried on our backs, but gold and jewellery enough to make a man
rich all his life."

"How do you know that?" asked Mathilde, a dull light in her eyes.

"I--I know where it came from," replied Barlasch, with an odd smile.
"Allez! you may take it from me." And he muttered to himself in the
patois of the Cotes du Nord.

"And they were safe and well at Vilna?" asked Mathilde.

"Yes--and they had their treasure. They had good fortune, or else they
were more clever than other men; for they had the Imperial treasure to
escort, and could take any man's horse for the carriages in which also
they had placed their own treasure. It was Captain Darragon who held the
appointment, and the other--the Colonel--had attached himself to him as
volunteer. For it was at Vilna that the last thread of discipline was
broken, and every man did as he wished."

"They did not come to Kowno?" asked Mathilde, who had a clear mind,
and that grasp of a situation which more often falls to the lot of the
duller sex.

"They did not come to Kowno. They would turn south at Vilna. It was as
well. At Kowno the soldiers had broken into the magazines--the brandy
was poured out in the streets. The men were lying there, the drunken
and the dead all confused together on the snow. But there would be no
confusion the next morning; for all would be dead."

"Was it at Kowno that you left Monsieur d'Arragon?" asked Desiree, in a
sharp voice.

"No--no. We quitted Kowno together, and parted on the heights above the
town. He would not trust me--monsieur le marquis--he was afraid that
I should get at the brandy. And he was right. I only wanted the
opportunity. He is a strong one--that!" And Barlasch held up a warning
hand, as if to make known to all and sundry that it would be inadvisable
to trifle with Louis d'Arragon.

He drew the icicles one by one from his whiskers with a wry face
indicative of great agony, and threw them down on the mat.

"Well," he said, after a pause, to Desiree, "have you made your choice?"

Desiree was reading the letter again, and before she could answer, a
quick knock on the front door startled them all. Barlasch's face broke
into that broad smile which was only called forth by the presence of
danger.

"Is it the patron?" he asked in a whisper, with his hand on the heavy
bolts affixed by that pious Hanseatic merchant who held that if God be
in the house there is no need of watchmen.

"Yes," answered Mathilde. "Open quickly."

Sebastian came in with a light step. He was like a man long saddled with
a burden of which he had at length been relieved.

"Ah! What news?" he asked, when he recognised Barlasch.

"Nothing that you do not know already, monsieur," replied Barlasch,
"except that the husband of Mademoiselle is well and on the road to
Warsaw. Here--read that."

And he took the letter from Desiree's hand.

"I knew he would come back safely," said Desiree; and that was all.

Sebastian read the letter in one quick glance--and then fell to
thinking.

"It is time to quit Dantzig," said Barlasch quietly, as if he
had divined the old man's thoughts. "I know Rapp. There will be
trouble--here, on the Vistula."

But Sebastian dismissed the suggestion with a curt shake of the head.

Barlasch's attention had been somewhat withdrawn by a smell of cooking
meat, to which he opened his nostrils frankly and noisily after the
manner of a dog.

"Then it remains," he said, looking towards the kitchen, "for
Mademoiselle to make her choice."

"There is no choice," replied Desiree, "I shall be ready to go with
you--when you have eaten."

"Good," said Barlasch, and the word applied as well to Lisa, who was
beckoning to him.



CHAPTER XXI. ON THE WARSAW ROAD.



     Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
     Where it most promises; and oft it hits
     Where hope is coldest and despair most sits.

Love, it is said, is blind. But hatred is as bad. In Antoine Sebastian
hatred of Napoleon had not only blinded eyes far-seeing enough in
earlier days, but it had killed many natural affections. Love, too,
may easily die--from a surfeit or a famine. Hatred never dies; it only
sleeps.

Sebastian's hatred was all awake now. It was aroused by the disasters
that had befallen Napoleon; of which disasters the Russian campaign
was only one small part. For he who stands above all his compeers must
expect them to fall upon him should he stumble. Napoleon had fallen,
and a hundred foes who had hitherto nursed their hatred in a hopeless
silence were alert to strike a blow should he descend within their
reach.

When whole empires had striven in vain to strike, how could a mere
association of obscure men hope to record its blow? The Tugendbund had
begun humbly enough; and Napoleon, with that unerring foresight
which raised him above all other men, had struck at its base. For an
association in which kings and cobblers stand side by side on an equal
footing must necessarily be dangerous to its foes.

Sebastian was not carried off his feet by the great events of the
last six months. They only rendered him steadier. For he had waited a
lifetime. It is only a sudden success that dazzles. Long waiting nearly
always ensures a wise possession.

Sebastian, like all men absorbed in a great thought, was neglectful
of his social and domestic obligations. Has it not been shown that he
allowed Mathilde and Desiree to support him by giving dancing lessons?
But he was not the ordinary domestic tyrant who is familiar to all--the
dignified father of a family who must have the best of everything, whose
teaching to his offspring takes the form of an unconscious and solemn
warning. He did not ask the best; he hardly noticed what was offered to
him; and it was not owing to his demand, but to that feminine spirit of
self-sacrifice which has ruined so many men, that he fared better than
his daughters.

If he thought about it at all, he probably concluded that Mathilde and
Desiree were quite content to give their time and thought to the
support of himself--not as their father, but as the motive power of the
Tugendbund in Prussia. Many greater men have made the same mistake,
and quite small men with a great name make it every day, thinking
complacently that it is a privilege to some woman to minister to their
wants while they produce their immortal pictures or deathless
books; whereas, the woman would tend him as carefully were he a
crossing-sweeper, and is only following the dictates of an instinct
which is loftier than his highest thought and more admirable than his
most astounding work of art.

Barlasch had not lived so long in the Frauengasse without learning the
domestic economy of Sebastian's household. He knew that Desiree, like
many persons with kind blue eyes, shaped her own course through life,
and abided by the result with a steadfastness not usually attributed to
the light-hearted. He concluded that he must make ready to take the
road again before midnight. He therefore gave a careful and businesslike
attention to the simple meal set before him by Lisa; and, looking
up over his plate, he saw for the second time in his life Sebastian
hurrying into his own kitchen.

Barlasch half rose, and then, in obedience to a gesture from Sebastian,
or remembering perhaps the sturdy Republicanism which he had not learnt
until middle-age, he sat down again, fork in hand.

"You are prepared to accompany Madame Darragon to Thorn?" inquired
Sebastian, inviting his guest by a gesture to make himself at
home--scarcely a necessary thought in the present instance.

"Yes."

"And how do you propose to make the journey?"

This was so unlike Sebastian's usual method, so far from his lax
comprehension of a father's duty, that Barlasch paused and looked at him
with suspicion. With the back of his hand he pushed up the unkempt
hair which obscured his eyes. This unusual display of parental anxiety
required looking into.

"From what I could see in the streets," he answered, "the General
will not stand in the way of women and useless mouths who wish to quit
Dantzig."

"That is possible; but he will not go so far as to provide horses."

Barlasch gave his companion a quick glance, and returned to his supper,
eating with an exaggerated nonchalance, as if he were alone.

"Will you provide them?" he asked abruptly, at length, without looking
up.

"I can get them for you, and can ensure you relays by the way."

Barlasch cut a piece of meat very carefully, and, opening his mouth
wide, looked at Sebastian over the orifice.

"On one condition," pursued Sebastian quietly; "that you deliver a
letter for me in Thorn. I make no pretence; if it is found on you, you
will be shot."

Barlasch smiled pleasantly.

"The risks are very great," said Sebastian, tapping his snuff-box
reflectively.

"I am not an officer to talk of my honour," answered Barlasch, with
a laugh. "And as for risk"--he paused and put half a potato into his
mouth--"it is Mademoiselle I serve," concluded this uncouth knight with
a curt simplicity.

So they set out at ten o'clock that night in a light sleigh on high
runners, such as may be seen on any winter day in Poland down to the
present time. The horses were as good as any in Dantzig at this date,
when a horse was more costly than his master. The moon, sailing high
overhead through fleecy clouds, found it no hard task to light a world
all snow and ice. The streets of Dantzig were astir with life and
the rumble of waggons. At first there were difficulties, and Barlasch
explained airily that he was not so accomplished a whip in the streets
as in the open country.

"But never fear," he added. "We shall get there, soon enough."

At the city gates there was, as Barlasch had predicted, no objection
made to the departure of a young girl and an old man. Others were
quitting Dantzig by the same gate, on foot, in sleighs and carts; but
all turned westward at the cross-roads and joined the stream of refugees
hurrying forward to Germany. Barlasch and Desiree were alone on the wide
road that runs southward across the plain towards Dirschau. The air
was very cold and still. On the snow, hard and dry like white dust, the
runners of the sleigh sang a song on one note, only varied from time to
time by a drop of several octaves as they passed over a culvert or
some hollow in the road, after which the high note, like the sound of
escaping steam, again held sway. The horses fell into a long steady
trot, their feet beating the ground with a regular, sleep-inducing thud.
They were harnessed well forward to a very long pole, and covered the
ground with free strides, unhampered by any thought of their heels. The
snow pattered against the cloth stretched like a wind-sail from their
flanks to the rising front of the sleigh.

Barlasch sat upright, a thick motionless figure, four-square to the
cutting wind. He drove with one hand at a time, sitting on the other to
restore circulation between whiles. It was impossible to distinguish the
form of his garments, for he was wrapped round in a woollen shawl like
a mummy, showing only his eyes beneath the ragged fur of a sheepskin
cap upon which the rime caused by the warmth of the horses and his own
breath had frozen like a coating of frosted silver.

Desiree was huddled down beside him, with her head bent forward so as to
protect her face from the wind, which seared like a hot iron. She wore a
hood of white fur lined with a darker fur, and when she lifted her face
only her eyes, bright and wakeful, were visible.

"If you are warm, you may go to sleep," said Barlasch in a mumbling
voice, for his face was drawn tight and his lips stiffened by the cold.
"But if you shiver, you must stay awake."

But Desiree seemed to have no wish for sleep. Whenever Barlasch leant
forward to peer beneath her hood she looked round at him with wakeful
eyes. Whenever, to see if she were still awake, he gave her an
unceremonious nudge, she nudged back again instantly. As the night wore
on, she grew more wakeful. When they halted at a wayside inn, which
must have been minutely described to Barlasch by Sebastian, and Desiree
accepted the innkeeper's offer of a cup of coffee by the fire while
fresh horses were being put into harness, she was wide awake and
looked at Barlasch with a reckless laugh as he shook the rime from his
eyebrows. In response he frowningly scrutinized as much of her face as
he could see, and shook his head disapprovingly.

"You laugh when there is nothing to laugh at," he said grimly. "Foolish.
It makes people wonder what is in your mind."

"There is nothing in my mind," she answered gaily.

"Then there is something in your heart, and that is worse!" said
Barlasch, which made Desiree look at him doubtfully.

They had done forty miles with the same horses, and were nearly halfway.
For some hours the road had followed the course of the Vistula on the
high tableland above the river, and would so continue until they reached
Thorn.

"You must sleep," said Barlasch curtly, when they were once more on the
road. She sat silent beside him for an hour. The horses were fresh, and
covered the ground at a great pace. Barlasch was no driver, but he was
skilful with the horses, and husbanded their strength at every hill.

"If we go on like this, when shall we arrive?" asked Desiree suddenly.

"By eight o'clock, if all goes well."

"And we shall find Monsieur Louis d'Arragon awaiting us at Thorn?"

Barlasch shrugged his shoulders doubtfully.

"He said he would be there," he muttered, and, turning in his seat, he
looked down at her with some contempt.

"That is like a woman," he said. "They think all men are fools except
one, and that one is only to be compared with the bon Dieu."

Desiree could not have heard the remark, for she made no answer and sat
silent, leaning more and more heavily against her companion. He changed
the reins to his other hand, and drove with it for an hour after all
feeling had left it. Desiree was asleep. She was still sleeping when,
in the dim light of a late dawn, Barlasch saw the distant tower of Thorn
Cathedral.

They were no longer alone on the road now, but passed a number of heavy
market-sleighs bringing produce and wood to the town. Barlasch had been
in Thorn before. Desiree was still sleeping when he turned the horses
into the crowded yard of the "Drei Kronen." The sleighs and carriages
were packed side by side as in a warehouse, but the stables were empty.
No eager host came out to meet the travellers. The innkeepers of Thorn
had long ceased to give themselves that trouble. For the city was on the
direct route of the retreat, and few who got so far had any money left.

Slowly and painfully Barlasch unwound himself and disentangled his legs.
He tried first one and then the other, as if uncertain whether he could
walk. Then he staggered numbly across the yard to the door of the inn.

A few minutes later Desiree woke up. She was in a room warmed by a great
white stove and dimly lighted by candles. Some one was pulling off
her gloves and feeling her hands to make sure that they were not
frost-bitten. She looked sleepily at a white coffee-pot standing on the
table near the candles; then her eyes, still uncomprehending, rested on
the face of the man who was loosening her hood, which was hard with
rime and ice. He had his back to the candles, and was half-hidden by the
collar of his fur coat, which met the cap pressed down over his ears.

He turned towards the table to lay aside her gloves, and the light fell
on his face. Desiree was wideawake in an instant, and Louis d'Arragon,
hearing her move, turned anxiously to look at her again. Neither spoke
for a minute. Barlasch was holding his numbed hand against the stove,
and was grinding his teeth and muttering at the pain of the restored
circulation.

Desiree shook the icicles from her hood, and they rattled like hail on
the bare floor. Her hair, all tumbled round her face, caught the light
of the candles. Her eyes were bright and the colour was in her cheeks.
D'Arragon glanced at her with a sudden look of relief, and then turned
to Barlasch. He took the numbed hand and felt it; then he held a candle
close to it. Two of the fingers were quite white, and Barlasch made a
grimace when he saw them. D'Arragon began rubbing at once, taking no
notice of his companion's moans and complaints.

Without desisting, he looked over his shoulder towards Desiree, but not
actually at her face.

"I heard last night," he said, "that the two carriages are standing in
an inn-yard three leagues beyond this on the Warsaw road. I have traced
them step by step from Kowno. My informant tells me that the escort has
deserted, and that the officer in charge, Colonel Darragon, was going
on alone, with the two drivers, when he was taken ill. He is nearly well
again, and hopes to continue his journey to-morrow or the next day."

Desiree nodded her head to signify that she had heard and understood.
Barlasch gave a cry of pain, and withdrew his hand with a jerk.

"Enough, enough!" he said. "You hurt me. The life is returning now; a
drop of brandy perhaps--"

"There is no brandy in Thorn," said D'Arragon, turning towards the
table. "There is only coffee."

He busied himself with the cups, and did not look at Desiree when he
spoke again.

"I have secured two horses," he said, "to enable you to proceed at once,
if you are able to. But if you would rather rest here to-day--"

"Let us go on at once," interrupted Desiree hastily.

Barlasch, crouching against the stove, glanced from one to the other
beneath his heavy brows, wondering, perhaps, why they avoided looking at
each other.

"You will wait here," said D'Arragon, turning towards him, "until--until
I return."

"Yes," was the answer. "I will lie on the floor here and sleep. I have
had enough. I--"

Louis left the room to give the necessary orders. When he returned in a
few minutes, Barlasch was asleep on the floor, and Desiree had tied on
her hood again, which concealed her face. He drank a cup of coffee and
ate some dry bread absent-mindedly, in silence.

The sound of bells, feebly heard through the double windows, told them
that the horses were being harnessed.

"Are you ready?" asked D'Arragon, who had not sat down; and in response,
Desiree, standing near the stove, went towards the door, which he held
open for her to pass out. As she passed him, she glanced at his face,
and winced.

In the sleigh she looked up at him as if expecting him to speak. He was
looking straight in front of him. There was, after all, nothing to be
said. She could see his steady eyes between his high collar and the fur
cap. They were hard and unflinching. The road was level now, and the
snow beaten to a gleaming track like ice. D'Arragon put the horses to a
gallop at the town gate, and kept them at it.

In half an hour he turned towards her and pointed with his whip to a
roof half hidden by some thin pines.

"That is the inn," he said.

In the inn yard he indicated with his whip two travelling-carriages
standing side by side.

"Colonel Darragon is here?" he said to the cringing Jew who came to meet
them; and the innkeeper led the way upstairs. The house was a miserable
one, evil-smelling, sordid. The Jew pointed to a door, and, cringing
again, left them.

Desiree made a gesture telling Louis to go in first, which he did at
once. The room was littered with trunks and cases. All the treasure had
been brought into the sick man's chamber for greater safety.

On a narrow bed near the window a man lay huddled on his side. He turned
and looked over his shoulder, showing a haggard face with a ten-days'
beard on it. He looked from one to the other in silence.

It was Colonel de Casimir.



CHAPTER XXII. THROUGH THE SHOALS.



     I see my way, as birds their trackless way.

De Casimir had never seen Louis d'Arragon, and yet some dim resemblance
to his cousin must have introduced the new-comer to a conscience not
quite easy.

"You seek me, Monsieur," he asked, not having recognized Desiree, who
stood behind her companion, in her furs.

"I seek Colonel Darragon, and was told that we should find him in this
room."

"May I ask why you seek him in this rather unceremonious manner?" asked
De Casimir, with the ready insolence of his calling and his age.

"Because I am his cousin," replied Louis quietly, "and Madame is his
wife."

Desiree came forward, her face colourless. She caught her breath, but
made no attempt to speak.

De Casimir tried to lift himself on his elbows.

"Ah! madame," he said. "You see me in a sorry state. I have been very
ill." And he made a gesture with one hand, begging her to overlook his
unkempt appearance and the disorder of his room.

"Where is Charles?" asked Desiree curtly. She had suddenly realized how
intensely she had always disliked De Casimir, and distrusted him.

"Has he not returned to Dantzig?" was the ready answer. "He should have
been there a week ago. We parted at Vilna. He was exhausted--a mere
question of over-fatigue--and at his request I left him there to recover
and to pursue his way to Dantzig, where he knew you would be awaiting
him."

He paused and looked from one to the other with quick and furtive eyes.
He felt himself easily a match for them in quickness of perception, in
rapid thought, in glib speech. Both were dumb--he could not guess why.
But there was a steadiness in D'Arragon's eyes which rarely goes with
dulness of wit. This was a man who could be quick at will--a man to be
reckoned with.

"You are wondering why I travel under your cousin's name, Monsieur,"
said De Casimir, with a friendly smile.

"Yes," returned Louis, without returning the smile.

"It is simple enough," explained the sick man. "At Vilna we found all
discipline relaxed. There were no longer any regiments. There was no
longer staff. There was no longer an army. Every man did as he thought
best. Many, as you know, elected to await the Russians at Vilna, rather
than attempt to journey farther. Your cousin had been given the command
of the escort which has now filtered away, like every other corps. He
was to conduct back to Paris two carriages laden with imperial treasure
and certain papers of value. Charles did not want to go back to Paris.
He wished most naturally to return to Dantzig. I, on the other hand,
desired to go to France; and there place my sword once more at the
Emperor's service. What more simple than to change places?"

"And names," suggested D'Arragon, without falling into De Casimir's easy
and friendly manner.

"For greater security in passing through Poland and across the
frontier," explained De Casimir readily. "Once in France--and I hope
to be there in a week--I shall report the matter to the Emperor as it
really happened: namely, that, owing to Colonel Darragon's illness, he
transferred his task to me at Vilna. The Emperor will be indifferent, so
long as the order has been carried out."

De Casimir turned to Desiree as likely to be more responsive than this
dark-eyed stranger, who listened with so disconcerting a lack of comment
or sympathy.

"So you see, madame," he said, "Charles will still get the credit for
having carried out his most difficult task, and no harm is done."

"When did you leave Charles at Vilna?" asked she.

De Casimir lay back on the pillow in an attitude which betrayed his
weakness and exhaustion. He looked at the ceiling with lustreless eyes.

"It must have been a fortnight ago," he said at length. "I was trying to
count the days. We have lost all account of dates since quitting Moscow.
One day has been like another--and all, terrible. Believe me, madame,
it has always been in my mind that you were awaiting the return of your
husband at Dantzig. I spared him all I could. A dozen times we saved
each other's lives."

In six words Desiree could have told him all she knew: that he was a spy
who had betrayed to death and exile many Dantzigers whose hospitality
had been extended to him as a Polish officer; that Charles was a
traitor who had gained access to her father's house in order to watch
him--though he had honestly fallen in love with her. He was in love with
her still, and he was her husband. It was this thought that broke into
her sleep at night, that haunted her waking hours.

She glanced at Louis d'Arragon, and held her peace.

"Then, Monsieur," he said, "you have every reason to suppose that if
Madame returns to Dantzig now, she will find her husband there?"

De Casimir looked at D'Arragon, and hesitated for an instant. They both
remembered afterwards that moment of uncertainty.

"I have every reason to suppose it," replied De Casimir at length,
speaking in a low voice, as if fearful of being overheard.

Louis waited a moment, and glanced at Desiree, who, however, had
evidently nothing more to say.

"Then we will not trouble you farther," he said, going towards the door,
which he held open for Desiree to pass out. He was following her when De
Casimir called him back.

"Monsieur," cried the sick man, "Monsieur, one moment, if you can spare
it."

Louis came back. They looked at each other in silence while they heard
Desiree descend the stairs and speak in German to the innkeeper who had
been waiting there.

"I will be quite frank with you," said De Casimir, in that voice of
confidential friendliness which so rarely failed in its effect. "You
know that Madame Darragon has an elder sister, Mademoiselle Mathilde
Sebastian?"

"Yes."

De Casimir raised himself on his elbows again, with an effort, and gave
a short, half shamefaced laugh which was quite genuine. It was odd that
Mathilde and he, who had walked most circumspectly, should both have
been tripped up, as it were, by love.

"Bah!" he said, with a gesture dismissing the subject, "I cannot tell
you more. It is a woman's secret, Monsieur, not mine. Will you deliver a
letter for me in Dantzig, that is all I ask?"

"I will give it to Madame Darragon to give to Mademoiselle Mathilde, if
you like; I am not returning to Dantzig," replied Louis. But de Casimir
shook his head.

"I am afraid that will not do," he said doubtfully. "Between sisters,
you understand--"

And he was no doubt right; this man of quick perception. Is it not from
our nearest relative that our dearest secret is usually withheld?

"You cannot find another messenger?" asked De Casimir, and the anxiety
in his face was genuine enough.

"I can--if you wish it."

"Ah, Monsieur, I shall not forget it! I shall never forget it," said
the sick man quickly and eagerly. "The letter is there, beneath that
sabretasche. It is sealed and addressed."

Louis found the letter, and went towards the door, as he placed it in
his pocket.

"Monsieur," said De Casimir, stopping him again. "Your name, if I may
ask it, so that I may remember a countryman who has done me so great a
service."

"I am not a countryman; I am an Englishman," replied Louis. "My name is
Louis d'Arragon."

"Ah! I know. Charles has told me, Monsieur le--"

But D'Arragon heard no more, for he closed the door behind him.

He found Desiree awaiting him in the entrance hall of the inn, where a
fire of pine-logs burnt in an open chimney. The walls and low ceiling
were black with smoke, the little windows were covered with ice an inch
thick. It was twilight in this quiet room, and would have been dark but
for the leaping flames of the fire.

"You will go back to Dantzig," he asked, "at once?"

He carefully avoided looking at her, though he need not have feared
that she would have allowed her eyes to meet his. And thus they stood,
looking downward to the fire--alone in a world that heeded them not, and
would forget them in a week--and made their choice of a life.

"Yes," she answered.

He stood thinking for a moment. He was quite practical and
matter-of-fact; and had the air of a man of action rather than of one
who deals in thoughts, and twists them hither and thither so that good
is made to look ridiculous, and bad is tricked out with a fine new name.
He frowned as he looked at the fire with eyes that flitted from one
object to another, as men's eyes do who think of action and not of
thought. This was the sailor--second to none in the shallow
northern sea, where all marks had been removed, and every light
extinguished--accustomed to facing danger and avoiding it, to foresee
remote contingencies and provide against them, day and night, week
in, week out; a sailor, careful and intrepid. He had the air of being
capable of that concentration without which no man can hope to steer a
clear course at all.

"The horses that brought you from Marienwerder will not be fit for the
road till to-morrow morning," he said. "I will take you back to Thorn at
once, and--leave you there with Barlasch."

He glanced towards her, and she nodded, as if acknowledging the sureness
and steadiness of the hand at the helm.

"You can start early to-morrow morning, and be in Dantzig to-morrow
night."

They stood side by side in silence for some minutes. He was still
thinking of her journey--of the dangers and the difficulties of that
longer journey through life without landmark or light to guide her.

"And you?" she asked curtly.

He did not reply at once but busied himself with his ponderous fur coat,
which he buttoned, as if bracing himself for the start. Beneath her
lashes she looked sideways at the deliberate hands and the lean strong
face, burnt to a red-brown by sun and snow, half hidden in the fur
collar of his worn and weather-beaten coat.

"Konigsberg," he answered, "and Riga."

A light passed through her watching eyes, usually so kind and gay; like
the gleam of jealousy.

"Your ship?" she asked sharply.

"Yes," he answered, as the innkeeper came to tell them that their sleigh
awaited them.

It was snowing now, and a whistling, fitful wind swept down the valley
of the Vistula from Poland and the far Carpathians which made the
travellers crouch low in the sleigh and rendered talk impossible, had
there been anything to say. But there was nothing.

They found Barlasch asleep where they had left him in the inn at Thorn,
on the floor against the stove. He roused himself with the quickness and
completeness of one accustomed to brief and broken rest, and stood up
shaking himself in his clothes, like a dog with a heavy coat. He took no
notice of D'Arragon, but looked at Desiree with questioning eyes.

"It was not the Captain?" he asked.

And Desiree shook her head. Louis was standing near the door giving
orders to the landlady of the inn--a kindly Pomeranian, clean and
slow--for Desiree's comfort till the next morning.

Barlasch went close to Desiree, and, nudging her arm with exaggerated
cunning, whispered--

"Who was it?"

"Colonel de Casimir."

"With the two carriages and the treasure from Moscow?" asked Barlasch,
watching Louis out of the corner of one eye, to make sure that he did
not hear. It did not matter whether he heard or not, but Barlasch came
of a peasant stock that always speaks of money in a whisper. And when
Desiree nodded, he cut short the conversation.

The hostess came forward to tell Desiree that her room was ready,
kindly suggesting that the "gnadiges Fraulein" must need sleep and rest.
Desiree knew that Louis would go on to Konigsberg at once. She wondered
whether she should ever see him again--long afterwards, perhaps, when
all this would seem like a dream. Barlasch, breathing noisily on his
frost-bitten fingers, was watching them. Desiree shook hands with Louis
in an odd silence, and, turning on her heel, followed the woman out of
the room without looking back.



CHAPTER XXIII. AGAINST THE STREAM.



     Wo viel Licht ist, ist starker Schatten.

In the mean time the last of the Great Army had reached the Niemen, that
narrow winding river in its ditch-like bed sunk below the level of the
tableland, to which six months earlier the greatest captain this world
has ever seen rode alone, and, coming back to his officers, said--

"Here we cross."

Four hundred thousand men had crossed--a bare eighty thousand lived
to pass the bridge again. Twelve hundred cannons had been left behind,
nearly a thousand in the hands of the enemy, and the remainder buried or
thrown into those dull rivers whose slow waters flow over them to this
day. One hundred and twenty-five thousand officers and men had been
killed in battle, another hundred thousand had perished by cold
and disaster at the Beresina or other rivers where panic seized the
fugitives.

Forty-eight generals had been captured by the Russians, three thousand
officers, one hundred and ninety thousand men, swallowed by the silent
white Empire of the North and no more seen.

As the retreat neared Vilna the cold had increased, killing men as the
first cold of an English winter kills flies. And when the French quitted
Vilna, the Russians were glad enough to seek its shelter, Kutusoff
creeping in with forty thousand men, all that remained to him of two
hundred thousand. He could not carry on the pursuit, but sent forward a
handful of Cossacks to harry the hare-brained few who called themselves
the rearguard. He was an old man, nearly worn out, with only three
months more to live--but he had done his work.

Ney--the bravest of the brave--left alone in Russia at the last with
seven hundred foreign recruits, men picked from here and there, called
in from the highways and hedges to share the glory of the only Marshal
who came back from Moscow with a name untarnished--Ney and Girard,
musket in hand, were the last to cross the bridge, shouting defiance at
their Cossack foes, who, when they had hounded the last of the French
across the frontier, flung themselves down on the bloodstained snow to
rest.

All along the banks of the Vistula, from Konigsberg and Dantzig up to
Warsaw--that slow river which at the last call shall assuredly give up
more dead than any other--the fugitives straggled homewards. For the
Russians paused at their own frontier, and Prussia was still nominally
the friend of France. She had still to wear the mask for three long
months when she should at last openly side with Russia, only to be
beaten again by Napoleon.

Murat was at Konigsberg with the Imperial staff, left in supreme command
by the Emperor, and already thinking of his own sunny kingdom of the
Mediterranean, and the ease and the glory of it. In a few weeks he, too,
must tarnish his name.

"I make over the command to you," he said to Prince Eugene; and
Napoleon's step-son made an answer which shows, as Eugene showed again
and again, that contact with a great man makes for greatness.

"You cannot make it over to me," he replied. "Only the Emperor can
do that. You can run away in the night, and the supreme command will
devolve on me the next morning."

And what Murat did is no doubt known to the learned reader.

Macdonald, abandoned by Yorck with the Prussian contingent, in great
peril, alone in the north, was retreating with the remains of the Tenth
Army Corps, wondering whether Konigsberg or Dantzig would still be
French when he reached them. On his heels was Wittgenstein, in touch
with St. Petersburg and the Emperor Alexander, communicating with
Kutusoff at Vilna. And Macdonald, like the Scotchman and the Frenchman
that he was, turned at a critical moment and rent Wittgenstein. Here was
another bulldog in that panic-stricken pack, who turned and snarled and
fought while his companions slunk homewards with their tails between
their legs. There were three of such breed--Ney and Macdonald, and
Prince Eugene de Beauharnais.

Napoleon was in Paris, getting together in wild haste the new army
with which he was yet to frighten Europe into fits. And Rapp, doggedly
fortifying his frozen city, knew that he was to hold Dantzig at any
cost--a remote, far-thrown outpost on the Northern sea, cut off from
all help, hundreds of miles from the French frontier, nearly a thousand
miles from Paris.

At Marienwerder, Barlasch and Desiree found themselves in the midst of
that bustle and confusion which attends the arrival or departure of an
army corps. The majority of the men were young and of a dark skin. They
seemed gay, and called out salutations to which Barlasch replied curtly
enough.

"They are Italians," said he to his companion; "I know their talk and
their manners. To you and me, who come from the North, they are like
children. See that one who is dancing. It is some fete. What is to-day?"

"It is New Year's Day," replied Desiree.

"New Year's Day," echoed Barlasch. "Good. And we have been on the road
since six o'clock; and I, who have forgotten to wish you--" He paused
and called cheerily to the horses, which had covered more than forty
miles since leaving their stable at Thorn. "Bon Dieu!" he said in a
lower tone, glancing at her beneath the ice-bound rim of his fur cap,
"Bon Dieu--what am I to wish you, I wonder?"

Desiree did not answer, but smiled a little and looked straight in front
of her.

Barlasch made a movement of the shoulders and eyebrows indicative of a
hidden anger.

"We are friends," he asked suddenly, "you and I?"

"Yes."

"We have been friends since--that day--when you were married?"

"Yes," answered Desiree.

"Then between friends," said Barlasch, gruffly; "it is not necessary to
smile--like that--when it is tears that are there."

Desiree laughed.

"Would you have me weep?" she asked.

"It would hurt one less," said Barlasch, attending to his horses. They
were in the town now, and the narrow streets were crowded. Many sick and
wounded were dragging themselves wearily along. A few carts, drawn by
starving horses, went slowly down the hill. But there was some semblance
of order, and thus men had the air and carriage of soldiers under
discipline. Barlasch was quick to see it.

"It is the Fourth Corps. The Viceroy's army. They have done well. He is
a soldier, who commands them. Ah! There is one I know."

He threw the reins to Desiree, and in a moment he was out on the snow.
A man, as old, it would seem, as himself, in uniform and carrying a
musket, was marching past with a few men who seemed to be under his
orders, though his uniform was long past recognition. He did not
perceive, for some minutes, that Barlasch was coming towards him, and
then the process of recognition was slow. Finally, he laid aside his
musket, and the two old men gravely kissed each other.

Quite forgetful of Desiree, they stood talking together for twenty
minutes. Then they gravely embraced once more, and Barlasch returned to
the sleigh. He took the reins, and urged the horses up the hill without
commenting on his encounter, but Desiree could see that he had heard
news.

The inn was outside the town, on the road that follows the Vistula
northwards to Dirschau and Dantzig. The horses were tired, and stumbled
on the powdery snow which was heavy, like sand, and of a sandy colour.
Here and there, by the side of the road, were great stains of blood and
the remains of a horse that had been killed, and eaten raw. The faces of
many of the men were smeared with blood, which had dried on their cheeks
and caked there. Nearly all were smoke-grimed and had sore eyes.

At last Barlasch spoke, with the decisive air of one who has finally
drawn up a course of action in a difficult position.

"He comes from my own country, that man. You heard us? We spoke together
in our patois. I shall not see him again. He has a catarrh. When he
coughs there is blood. Alas!"

Desiree glanced at the rugged face half turned away from her. She was
not naturally heartless; but she quite forgot to sympathize with the
elderly soldier who had caught a cold on the retreat from Moscow; for
his friend's grief lacked conviction. Barlasch had heard news which he
had decided to keep to himself.

"Has he come from Vilna?" asked Desiree.

"From Vilna--oh yes. They are all from Vilna."

"And he had no news"--persisted she, "of--Captain Darragon?"

"News--oh no! He is a common soldier, and knows nothing of the officers
on the staff. We are the same--he and I--poor animals in the ranks.
A little gentleman rides up, all sabretasche and gold lace. It is an
officer of the staff. 'Go down into the valley and get shot,' he says.
And--bon jour! we go. No--no. He has no news, my poor comrade."

They were at the inn now, and found the huge yard still packed with
sleighs and disabled carriages, and the stables ostentatiously empty.

"Go in," said Barlasch; "and tell them who your father is--say Antoine
Sebastian and nothing else. I would do it myself, but when it is so cold
as that, the lips are stiff, and I cannot speak German properly. They
would find out that I am French, and it is no good being French now. My
comrade told me that in Konigsberg, Murat himself was ill-received by
the burgomaster and such city stuff as that."

It was as Barlasch foretold. For at the name of Antoine Sebastian the
innkeeper found horses--in another stable.

It would take a few minutes, he said, to fetch them, and in the meantime
there were coffee and some roast meat--his own dinner. Indeed, he could
not do enough to testify his respect for Desiree, and his commiseration
for her, being forced to travel in such weather through a country
infested by starving brigands.

Barlasch consented to come just within the inner door, but refused to
sit at the table with Desiree. He took a piece of bread, and ate it
standing.

"See you," he said to her when they were left alone, "the good God has
made very few mistakes, but there is one thing I would have altered.
If He intended us for such a rough life, He should have made the human
frame capable of going longer without food. To a poor soldier marching
from Moscow to have to stop every three hours and gnaw a piece of horse
that has died--and raw--it is not amusing."

He watched Desiree with a grudging eye. For she was young, and had eaten
nothing for six freezing hours.

"And for us," he added; "what a waste of time!"

Desiree rose at once with a laugh.

"You want to go," she said. "Come, I am ready."

"Yes," he admitted, "I want to go. I am afraid--name of a dog! I am
afraid, I tell you. For I have heard the Cossacks cry, 'Hurrah! Hurrah!'
And they are coming."

"Ah!" said Desiree, "that is what your friend told you."

"That, and other things."

He was pulling on his gloves as he spoke, and turned quickly on his heel
when the innkeeper entered the room, as if he had expected one of those
dread Cossacks of Toula who were half savage. But the innkeeper carried
nothing more lethal in his hand than a yellow mug of beer, which he
offered to Barlasch. And the old soldier only shook his head.

"There is poison in it," he muttered. "He knows I am a Frenchman."

"Come," said Desiree, with her gay laugh, "I will show you that there is
no poison in it."

She took the mug and drank, and handed the measure to Barlasch. It was
a poor thin beer, and Barlasch was not one to hide his opinion from the
host, to whom he made a reproving grimace when he returned the empty
mug. But the effect upon him was nevertheless good, for he took the
reins again with a renewed energy, and called to the horses gaily
enough.

"Allons," he said; "we shall reach Dantzig safely by nightfall, and
there we shall find your husband awaiting us, and laughing at us for our
foolish journey."

But being an old man, the beer could not warm his heart for long, and
he soon lapsed again into melancholy and silence. Nevertheless,
they reached Dantzig by nightfall, and although it was a bitter
twilight--colder than the night itself--the streets were full. Men stood
in groups and talked. In the brief time required to journey to Thorn
something had happened. Something happened every day in Dantzig; for
when history wakes from her slumber and moves, it is with a heavy and
restless tread.

"What is it?" asked Barlasch of the sentry at the town gate, while they
waited for their passports to be returned to them.

"It is a proclamation from the Emperor of Russia--no one knows how it
has got here."

"And what does he proclaim--that citizen?"

"He bids the Dantzigers rise and turn us out," answered the soldier,
with a grim laugh.

"Is that all?"

"No, comrade, that is not all," was the answer in a graver voice.

"He proclaims that every Pole who submits now will be forgiven and set
at liberty; the past, he says, will be committed to an eternal oblivion
and a profound silence--those are his words."

"Ah!"

"Yes, and half the defenders of Dantzig are Poles--there are your
passports--pass on."

They drove through the dark streets where men like shadows hurried
silently about their business.

The Frauengasse seemed to be deserted when they reached it. It was
Mathilde who opened the door. She must have been at the darkened window,
behind the curtain. Lisa had gone home to her native village in Sammland
in obedience to the Governor's orders. Sebastian had not been home all
day. Charles had not returned, and there was no news of him.

Barlasch, wiping the snow from his face, watched Desiree, and made no
comment.



CHAPTER XXIV. MATHILDE CHOOSES.



     But strong is fate, O Love,
     Who makes, who mars, who ends.

Desiree was telling Mathilde the brief news of her futile journey, when
a knock at the front door made them turn from the stairs where they were
standing. It was Sebastian's knock. His hours had been less regular of
late. He came and went without explanation.

When he had freed his throat from his furs, and laid aside his gloves,
he glanced hastily at Desiree, who had kissed him without speaking.

"And your husband?" he asked curtly.

"It was not he whom we found at Thorn," she answered. There was
something in her father's voice--in his quick, sidelong glance at
her--that caught her attention. He had changed lately. From a man of
dreams he had been transformed into a man of action. It is customary
to designate a man of action as a hard man. Custom is the brick wall
against which feeble minds come to a standstill and hinder the progress
of the world. Sebastian had been softened by action, through which his
mental energy had found an outlet. But to-night he was his old self
again--hard, scornful, incomprehensible.

"I have heard nothing of him," said Desiree.

Sebastian was stamping the snow from his boots.

"But I have," he said, without looking up.

Desiree said nothing. She knew that the secret she had guarded so
carefully--the secret kept by herself and Louis--was hers no longer. In
the silence of the next moments she could hear Barlasch breathing on
his fingers, within the kitchen doorway just behind her. Mathilde made
a little movement. She was on the stairs, and she moved nearer to the
balustrade and held to it breathlessly. For Charles Darragon's secret
was De Casimir's too.

"These two gentlemen," said Sebastian slowly, "were in the secret
service of Napoleon. They are hardly likely to return to Dantzig."

"Why not?" asked Mathilde.

"They dare not."

"I think the Emperor will be able to protect his officers," said
Mathilde.

"But not his spies," replied Sebastian coldly.

"Since they wore his uniform, they cannot be blamed for doing their
duty. They are brave enough. They would hardly avoid returning to
Dantzig because--because they have outwitted the Tugendbund."

Mathilde's face was colourless with anger, and her quiet eyes flashed.
She had been surprised into this sudden advocacy, and an advocate who
displays temper is always a dangerous ally. Sebastian glanced at her
sharply. She was usually so self-controlled that her flashing eyes and
quick breath betrayed her.

"What do you know of the Tugendbund?" he asked.

But she would not answer, merely shrugging her shoulders and closing her
thin lips with a snap.

"It is not only in Dantzig," said Sebastian, "that they are unsafe. It
is anywhere where the Tugendbund can reach them."

He turned sharply to Desiree. His wits, cleared by action, told him that
her silence meant that she, at all events, had not been surprised. She
had, therefore, known already the part played by De Casimir and Charles,
in Dantzig, before the war.

"And you," he said, "you have nothing to say for your husband."

"He may have been misled," she said mechanically, in the manner of one
making a prepared speech or meeting a foreseen emergency. It had
been foreseen by Louis d'Arragon. The speech had been, unconsciously,
prepared by him.

"You mean, by Colonel de Casimir," suggested Mathilde, who had recovered
her usual quiet. And Desiree did not deny her meaning. Sebastian looked
from one to the other. It was the irony of Fate that had married one
of his daughters to Charles Darragon, and affianced the other to De
Casimir. His own secret, so well kept, had turned in his hand like a
concealed weapon.

They were all startled by Barlasch, who spoke from the kitchen door,
where he had been standing unobserved or forgotten. He came forward to
the light of the lamp hanging overhead.

"That reminds me..." he said a second time, and having secured their
attention, he instituted a search in the many pockets of his nondescript
clothing. He still wore a dirty handkerchief bound over one eye. It
served to release him from duty in the trenches or work on the frozen
fortifications. By this simple device, coupled with half a dozen
bandages in various parts of his person, where a frost-bite or a wound
gave excuse, he passed as one of the twenty-five thousand sick and
wounded who encumbered Dantzig at this time, and were already dying at
the rate of fifty a day.

"A letter..." he said, still searching with his maimed hand. "You
mentioned the name of the Colonel de Casimir. It was that which recalled
to my mind..." He paused, and produced a letter carefully sealed. He
turned it over, glancing at the seals with a reproving jerk of the head,
which conveyed as clearly as words a shameless confession that he had
been frustrated by them... "this letter. I was told to give it you,
without fail, at the right moment."

It could hardly be the case that he honestly thought this moment might
be so described. But he gave the letter to Mathilde with a gesture of
grim triumph. Perhaps he was thinking of the cellar in the Palace on the
Petrovka at Moscow, and the treasure which he had found there.

"It is from the Colonel de Casimir," he said, "a clever man," he added,
turning confidentially to Sebastian, and holding his attention by an
upraised hand. "Oh!... a clever man."

Mathilde, her face all flushed, tore open the envelope, while Barlasch,
breathing on his fingers, watched with twinkling eye and busy lips.

The letter was a long one. Colonel de Casimir was an adept at
explanation. There was, no doubt, much to explain. Mathilde read the
letter carefully. It was the first she had ever had--a love-letter in
its guise--with explanations in it. Love and explanation in the same
breath. Assuredly De Casimir was a daring lover.

"He says that Dantzig will be taken by storm," she said at length, "and
that the Cossacks will spare no one."

"Does it signify," inquired Sebastian in his smoothest voice, "what
Colonel de Casimir may say?"

His grand manner had come back to him. He made a gesture with his hand
almost suggestive of a ruffle at the wrist, and clearly insulting to
Colonel de Casimir.

"He urges us to quit the city before it is too late," continued
Mathilde, in her measured voice, and awaited her father's reply. He took
snuff with a cold smile.

"You will not do so?" she asked. And by way of reply, Sebastian laughed
as he dusted the snuff from his coat with his pocket-handkerchief.

"He asks me to go to Cracow with the Grafin, and marry him," said
Mathilde finally. And Sebastian only shrugged his shoulders. The
suggestion was beneath contempt.

"And...?" he inquired with raised eyebrows.

"I shall do it," replied Mathilde, defiance shining in her eyes.

"At all events," commented Sebastian, who knew Mathilde's mind, and met
her coldness with indifference, "you will do it with your eyes open,
and not leap in the dark, as Desiree did. I was to blame there; a man
is always to blame if he is deceived. With you... Bah! you know what the
man is. But you do not know, unless he tells you in that letter, that he
is even a traitor in his treachery. He has accepted the amnesty offered
by the Czar; he has abandoned Napoleon's cause; he has petitioned the
Czar to allow him to retire to Cracow, and there live on his estates."

"He has no doubt good reasons for his action," said Mathilde.

"Two carriages full," muttered Barlasch, who had withdrawn to the dark
corner near the kitchen door. But no one heeded him.

"You must make your choice," said Sebastian, with the coldness of a
judge. "You are of age. Choose."

"I have already chosen," answered Mathilde. "The Grafin leaves
to-morrow. I will go with her."

She had, at all events, the courage of her own opinions--a courage not
rare in women, however valueless may be the judgment upon which it is
based. And in fairness it must be admitted that women usually have the
courage not only of the opinion, but of the consequence, and meet it
with a better grace than men can summon in misfortune.

Sebastian dined alone and hastily. Mathilde was locked in her room,
and refused to open the door. Desiree cooked her father's dinner while
Barlasch made ready to depart on some vague errand in the town.

"There may be news," he said. "Who knows? And afterwards the patron will
go out, and it would not be wise for you to remain alone in the house."

"Why not?"

Barlasch turned and looked at her thoughtfully over his shoulder.

"In some of the big houses down in the Niederstadt there are forty and
fifty soldiers quartered--diseased, wounded, without discipline. There
are others coming. I have told them we have fever in the house. It is
the only way. We may keep them out; for the Frauengasse is in the
centre of the town, and the soldiers are not needed in this quarter. But
you--you cannot lie as I can. You laugh--ah! A woman tells more lies;
but a man tells them better. Push the bolts, when I am gone."

After his dinner, Sebastian went out, as Barlasch had predicted. He said
nothing to Desiree of Charles or of the future. There was nothing to be
said, perhaps. He did not ask why Mathilde was absent. In the stillness
of the house, he could probably hear her moving in her rooms upstairs.

He had not been long gone when Mathilde came down, dressed to go out.
She came into the kitchen where Desiree was doing the work of the absent
Lisa, who had reluctantly gone to her home on the Baltic coast. Mathilde
stood by the kitchen table and ate some bread.

"The Grafin has arranged to quit Dantzig to-morrow," she said. "I am
going to ask her to take me with her."

Desiree nodded and made no comment. Mathilde went to the door, but
paused there. Without looking round, she stood thinking deeply. They had
grown from childhood together--motherless--with a father whom neither
understood. Together they had faced the difficulties of life; the
hundred petty difficulties attending a woman's life in a strange land,
among neighbours who bear the sleepless grudge of unsatisfied curiosity.
They had worked together for their daily bread. And now the full stream
of life had swept them together from the safe moorings of childhood.

"Will you come too?" asked Mathilde. "All that he says about Dantzig is
true."

"No, thank you," answered Desiree, gently enough. "I will wait here. I
must wait in Dantzig."

"I cannot," said Mathilde, half excusing herself. "I must go. I cannot
help it. You understand?"

"Yes," said Desiree, and nothing more.

Had Mathilde asked her the question six months ago, she would have said
"No." But she understood now, not that Mathilde could love De Casimir;
that was beyond her individual comprehension, but that there was no
alternative now.

Soon after Mathilde had gone, Barlasch returned.

"If Mademoiselle Mathilde is going, she will have to go to-morrow," he
said. "Those that are coming in at the gates now are the rearguard of
the Heudelet Division which was driven out of Elbing by the Cossacks
three days ago."

He sat mumbling to himself by the fire, and only turned to the supper
which Desiree had placed in readiness for him when she quitted the
room and went upstairs. It was he who opened the door for Mathilde,
who returned in half an hour. She thanked him absent-mindedly and went
upstairs. He could hear the sisters talking together in a low voice in
the drawing-room, which he had never seen, at the top of the stairs.

Then Desiree came down, and he helped her to find in a shed in the
yard one of those travelling-trunks which he had recognized as being of
French manufacture. He took off his boots, and carried it upstairs for
her.

It was ten o'clock before Sebastian came in. He nodded his thanks
to Barlasch, and watched him bolt the door. He made no inquiry as to
Mathilde, but extinguished the lamp, and went to his room. He never
mentioned her name again.

Early the next morning, the girls were astir. But Barlasch was before
them, and when Desiree came down, she found the kitchen fire alight.
Barlasch was cleaning a knife, and nodded a silent good morning.
Desiree's eyes were red, and Barlasch must have noted this sign of
grief, for he gave a contemptuous laugh, and continued his occupation.

It was barely daylight when the Grafin's heavy, old-fashioned carriage
drew up in front of the house. Mathilde came down, thickly veiled and
in her travelling furs. She did not seem to see Barlasch, and omitted to
thank him for carrying her travelling-trunk to the carriage.

He stood on the terrace beside Desiree until the carriage had turned the
corner into the Pfaffengasse.

"Bah!" he said, "let her go. There is no stopping them, when they are
like that. It is the curse--of the Garden of Eden."



CHAPTER XXV. A DESPATCH.



     In counsel it is good to see dangers; and in execution not to
see them unless they be very great.

Mathilde had told Desiree that Colonel de Casimir made no mention of
Charles in his letter to her. Barlasch was able to supply but little
further information on the matter.

"It was given to me by the Captain Louis d'Arragon at Thorn," he said.
"He handled it as if it were not too clean. And he had nothing to say
about it. You know his way, for the rest. He says little; but he knows
the look of things. It seemed that he had promised to deliver the
letter--for some reason, who knows what? and he kept his promise. The
man was not dying by any chance--that De Casimir?"

And his little sharp eyes, reddened by the smoke of camp-fires, inflamed
by the glare of sun on snow, searched her face. He was thinking of the
treasure.

"Oh no!"

"Was he ill at all?"

"He was in bed," answered Desiree, doubtfully.

Barlasch scratched his head without ceremony, and fell into a long train
of thought.

"Do you know what I think?" he said at length. "I think that De Casimir
was not ill at all--any more than I am; I, Barlasch. Not so ill,
perhaps, as I am, for I have an indigestion. It is always there at the
summit of the stomach. It is horse without salt."

He paused and rubbed his chest tenderly.

"Never eat horse without salt," he put in parenthetically.

"I hope never to eat it at all," answered Desiree. "What about Colonel
de Casimir?"

He waved her aside as a babbler who broke in upon his thoughts. These
seemed to be lodged in his mouth, for, when reflecting, he chewed and
mumbled with his lips.

"Listen," he said at length. "This is De Casimir. He goes to bed and
lets his beard grow--half an inch of beard will keep any man in the
hospital. You nod your head. Yes; I thought so. He knows that the
viceroy, with the last of the army, is at Thorn. He keeps quiet. He
waits in his roadside inn until the last of the army has gone. He
waits until the Russians come, and to them he hands over the Emperor's
possessions--all the papers, the maps, the despatches. For that he will
be rewarded by the Emperor Alexander, who has already promised pardon to
all Poles who have taken arms against Russia and now submit. De Casimir
will be allowed to retain his own baggage. He has no loot taken at
Moscow--oh no! Only his own baggage. Ah--that man! See, I spit him out."

And it is painful to record that he here resorted to graphic
illustration.

"Ah!" he went on triumphantly, "I know. I can see right into the mind
of such a man. I will tell you why. It is because I am that sort of man
myself."

"You do not seem to have been so successful--since you are poor," said
Desiree, with a laugh.

He frowned at her apparently in speechless anger, seeking an answer. But
for the moment he could think of none, so he turned to the knives again,
which he was cleaning on a board on the kitchen-table. At length he
paused and glanced at Desiree.

"And your husband," he said slowly. "Remember that he is a partner with
this De Casimir. They hunt together. I know it; for I was in Moscow. Ah!
that makes you stand stiffly, and push your chin out."

He went on cleaning the knives, and, without looking at her, seemed to
be speaking his own thoughts aloud.

"Yes! He is a traitor. And he is worse than the other; for he is no
Pole, but a Frenchman. And if he returns to France, the Emperor will
say: 'Where are my despatches, my maps, my papers, which were given into
your care?'"

He finished the thought with three gestures, which seemed to illustrate
the placing of a man against a wall and shooting him. His meaning could
not be mistaken.

"And that is what the patron means when he says that Monsieur Charles
Darragon will not return to Dantzig. I knew that he meant that last
night, when he was so angry--on the mat."

"And why did you not tell me?"

Barlasch looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, before replying slowly
and impressively.

"Because, if I had told you, you might have decided to quit Dantzig with
Mademoiselle Mathilde, and go hunting your husband in a country overrun
by desperate fugitives and untamed Cossacks. And I did not want that. I
want you here--in Dantzig; in the Frauengasse; in this kitchen; under my
hand--so that I can take care of you till the war is over. I--who speak
to you--Papa Barlasch, at your service. And there is not another man in
the world who will do it so well. No; not one."

And his eyes flashed as he threw the knives into a drawer.

"But why should you do all this for me?" asked Desiree. "You could have
gone home to France--quite easily--and have left us to our fate here in
Dantzig. Why did you not go home?"

Barlasch looked at her with surprise, not unmixed with a sudden dumb
disappointment. He was preparing to go out according to his wont
immediately after breakfast; for Lisa had unconsciously hit the mark
when she compared him to a cat. He had the regular and self-contained
habits of that unobtrusive friend. He buttoned his rough coat slowly,
and looked round the kitchen with eyes dimly wistful. He was very old
and ragged and homeless.

"Is it not enough," he said, "that we are friends?"

He went towards the door, but came back and warned her by the familiar
upheld finger not to let her attention wander from his words.

"You will be glad yet that I have stayed. It is because I speak a little
plainly of your husband that you wish me gone. Bah! What does it matter?
All men are alike. We are only men--not angels. And you can go on
loving him all the same. You are not particular, you women. You can love
anything--even a man like that."

And he went out muttering anathemas on the hearts of all women.

"It seems," he said, "that a woman can love anything."

Which is true; and a very good thing for some of us. For without that
Heaven-sent capacity the world could not go on at all.

It was later in the day when Barlasch made his way into the low and
smoke-grimed Bier Halle of the Weissen Ross'l. He must have known
Sebastian's habits, for he went straight to that corner of the great
room where the violin-player usually sat. The stout waitress--a country
girl of no intelligence, smiled broadly at the sight of such a ragged
customer as she followed him down the length of the sawdust-strewn
floor.

Sebastian's face showed no surprise when he looked up and recognized the
new-comer. The surrounding tables were empty. It was too early in the
evening for the regular customers, whose numbers, moreover, had been
sadly thinned during the last few months. For the peaceful Dantzigers,
remembering the siege of seven years ago, had mostly fled at the first
mention of the word.

Sebastian nodded in answer to Barlasch's somewhat ceremonious bow, and
by a gesture invited him to be seated on the chair upon which he had
already laid his hand. The atmosphere of the room was warm, and Barlasch
laid aside his sheepskin coat, as he had seen the great and the rich
divest themselves of their sables. He turned sharply and caught the
waitress with an amused smile still on her face. He drew her attention
to a little pool of beer on the table, and stood until she had made good
this lapse in her duty. Then he pointed to Sebastian's mug of beer
and dismissed her giggling, to get one for him of the same size and
contents.

Making sure that there was no one within earshot, he waited until
Sebastian's dreamy eye met his, and then said--

"It is time we understood each other."

A light of surprise--passing and half-indifferent--flashed into
Sebastian's eyes and vanished again at once when he saw Barlasch had
meant nothing: made no sign or countersign with his hand.

"By all means, my friend," he answered.

"I delivered your letters," said Barlasch, "at Thorn and at the other
places."

"I know; I have already had answers. You would be wise to forget the
incident."

Barlasch shrugged his shoulders.

"You were paid," said Sebastian, jumping to a natural conclusion.

"A little," admitted Barlasch, "a small little--but it was not that. I
always get paid in advance, when I can. Except by the Emperor. He
owes me some--that citizen. It was another question. In the house I am
friends with all--with Lisa who has gone--with Mademoiselle Mathilde
who has gone--with Mademoiselle Desiree, so-called Madame Darragon, who
remains. With all except you. Why should we not be friends?"

"But we are friends--" protested Sebastian, with a bow. As if in
confirmation of the statement, he held out his beer-mug, and Barlasch
touched it with the rim of his own before drinking. Sebastian's
attitude, his bow, his manner of drinking, were those of the Court;
Barlasch was distinctly of the camp. But these were strange days, and
all society had been turned topsy-turvy by one man.

"Then," said Barlasch, licking his lips, "let us understand one another.
You say there will be no siege. I say you are wrong. You think that the
Dantzigers will rise in answer to the Emperor Alexander's proclamations,
and turn the French out. I say the Dantzigers' stomachs are too big. I
say that Rapp will hold Dantzig, and that the Russians will not take it
by storm, because they are too weak. There will be a siege, and a
long one. Are you and Mademoiselle and I going to sit it out in the
Frauengasse together?"

"We shall be honoured to have you as our guest," answered Sebastian,
with that levity which went before the Revolution, and was never
understood of the people.

Barlasch did not understand it. He glanced doubtfully at his companion,
and sipped his beer.

"Then I will begin to-night."

"Begin what, my friend?"

Barlasch waved aside all petty detail.

"My preparations. I go out about ten o'clock--after you are in. I will
take the key of the front door, and let myself in when I come back.
I shall make two journeys. Under the kitchen floor is a large hollow
space. I fill that with bags of corn."

"But where will you get the corn, my friend?"

"I know where to get it--corn and other things. Salt I have
already--enough for a year. Other things I can get for three months."

"But we have no money to pay for them."

"Bah!"

"You mean you will steal them," suggested Sebastian, not without a ring
of contempt in his mincing voice.

"A soldier never steals," answered Barlasch, carelessly announcing a
great truth.

Sebastian laughed. It was obvious that his mind, absorbed in great
thought, heeded small things not at all. His companion pushed his fur
cap to the back of his head, and ruffled his hair forward.

"That is not all," he said at length. He looked round the vast room,
which was almost deserted. The stout waitress was polishing pewter mugs
at the bar. "You say you have already had answers to those letters. It
is a great organization--your secret society--whatever it is called. It
delivers letters all over Prussia--eh? and Poland perhaps--or farther
still."

Sebastian shrugged one shoulder, and made no answer for some time.

"I have already told you," he said impatiently, at length, "to forget
the incident; you were paid."

By way of reply, the old soldier laboriously emptied his pockets,
searching the most remote of them for small copper coins. He counted
slowly and carefully until he had made up a thaler.

"But it is not my turn to be paid this time. It is I who pay."

He held out his hand with a pound weight of base metal in it, but
Sebastian refused the money with a sudden assumption of his cold and
scornful manner, oddly out of keeping with his humble surroundings.

"As between friends--" suggested Barlasch, and, on receiving a more
decided negative, returned the coins to his pocket, not without
satisfaction.

"I want your friends to pass on a letter for me--I am willing to pay,"
he said in a whisper. "A letter to Captain Louis d'Arragon--it concerns
the happiness of Mademoiselle Desiree. Do not shake your head. Think
before you refuse. The letter will be an open one--six words or
so--telling the Captain that his cousin, Mademoiselle's husband, is not
in Dantzig, and cannot now return here since the last of the rearguard
entered the city this morning."

Sebastian seemed to be considering the matter, and Barlasch was quick to
combat possible objections.

"The Captain went to Konigsberg. He is there now. Your friends can
easily find him, and give him the letter. It is of great importance to
Mademoiselle. The Captain is not looking for Monsieur Charles Darragon,
because he thinks that he is here in Dantzig. Colonel de Casimir assured
him that Mademoiselle would find him here. Where is he--that Monsieur
Charles--I wonder? It is of great importance to Mademoiselle. The
Captain would perhaps continue his search."

"Where is your letter?" asked Sebastian.

By way of reply, Barlasch laid on the table a sheet of paper.

"You must write it," he said. "My hand is injured. I write not badly,
you understand. But this evening I do not feel that my hand is well
enough."

So, with the sticky, thick ink of the Weissen Ross'l, Sebastian wrote
the letter, and Barlasch, forgetting his scholarly acquirements, took
the pen and made a mark beneath his own name written at the foot of it.

Then he went out, and left Sebastian to pay for the beer.



CHAPTER XXVI. ON THE BRIDGE.



     They that are above
     Have ends in everything.

A lame man was standing on the bridge that crosses the Neuer Pregel from
the Kant Strasse--which is the centre of the city of Konigsberg--to the
island known as the Kneiphof. This bridge is called the Kramer Brucke,
and may be described as the heart of the town. From it on either hand
diverge the narrow streets that run along the river bank, busy with
commerce, crowded with the narrow sleighs that carry wood from the
Pregel up into the town.

The wider streets--such as the Kant Strasse, running downhill from the
royal castle to the river, and the Kneiphof'sche Langgasse, leading
southward to the Brandenburg gate and the great world--must needs make
use of the Kramer Brucke. Here, it may be said, every man in the town
must sooner or later pass in the execution of his daily business,
whether he go about it on foot or in a sleigh with a pair of horses.
Here the idler and those grave professors from the University, which was
still mourning the death of the aged Kant, nearly always passed in their
thoughtful and conscientious promenades.

Here this lame man, a cobbler by trade, plying his quiet calling in a
house in the Neuer Markt, where the lime-trees grow close to the upper
windows, had patiently kept watch for three days. He was, like many lame
men, of an abnormal width and weight. He had a large, square, dogged
face, which seemed to promise that he would wait there till the crack of
doom rather than abandon a quest.

It was very cold--mid-winter within a few miles of the frozen Baltic
on the very verge of Russia, at that point where old Europe stretches
a long arm out into the unknown. The cobbler was wrapped in a sheepskin
coat, which stood out all round him with the stiffness of wood, so
that he seemed to be living inside a box. To keep himself warm he
occasionally limped across from end to end of the bridge, but never
went farther. At times he leant his arms on the stone wall at the Kant
Strasse end of the bridge, and looked down into the Lower Fish
Market, where women from Pillau and the Baltic shores--mere bundles of
clothes--stood over their baskets of fish frozen hard like sticks. It
was a silent market. One cannot haggle long when a minute's exposure
to the air will give a frost-bite to the end of the nose. The would-be
purchaser can scarcely make an effective bargain through a fringe of
icicles that rattle against his lips if he open them.

The Pregel had been frozen for three months, with only the one temporary
thaw in November which cost Napoleon so many thousands at his broken
bridge across the Beresina. Though no water had flowed beneath this
bridge, many strange feet had passed across it.

It had vibrated beneath Napoleon's heavy carriage, under the lumbering
guns that Macdonald took northward to blockade Riga. Within the last few
weeks it had given passage to the last of the retreating army, a mere
handful of heartsick fugitives. Macdonald with his staff had been
ignominiously driven across it by the Cossacks who followed hard after
them, the great marshal still wild with rage at the defection of Yorck
and the Prussian contingent.

And now the Cossacks on their spare and ill-tempered horses passed to
and fro, wild men under an untamed leader whose heart was hardened to
stone by bereavement. The cobbler looked at them with a countenance of
wood. It was hard to say whether he preferred them to the French, or
was indifferent to one as to the other. He looked at their boots with
professional disdain. For all men must look at the world from their own
standpoint and consider mankind in the light of their own interests.
Thus those who live on the greed or the vanity, or batten on the charity
of their neighbour, learn to watch the lips.

The cobbler, by reason of looking at the lower end of men, attracted
little attention from the passer-by. He who has his eyes on the ground
passes unheeded. For the surest way of awakening interest is to appear
interested. It would seem that this cobbler was waiting for a pair of
boots not made in Konigsberg. And on the third day his expressionless
black eyes lighted on feet not shod in Poland, or France, or Germany,
nor yet in square-toed Russia.

The owner of these far-travelled boots was a lightly-built dark-faced
man, with eyes quietly ubiquitous. He caught the interested glance of
the cobbler, and turned to look at him again with the uneasiness that is
bred of war. The cobbler instantly hobbled towards him.

"Will you help a poor man?" he said.

"Why should I?" was the answer, with one hand already half out of its
thick glove. "You are not hungry; you have never been starved in your
life."

The German was quick enough, but it was not quite the Prussian German.

The cobbler looked at the speaker slowly.

"An Englishman?" he asked.

And the other nodded.

"Come this way."

The cobbler hobbled towards the Kneiphof, where the streets are quiet,
and the Englishman followed him. At the corner of the Kohl Markt he
turned and looked, not at the man, but at his boots.

"You are a sailor?" he said.

"Yes."

"I was told to look for an English sailor--Louis d'Arragon."

"Then you have found me," was the reply.

Still the cobbler hesitated.

"How am I to know it?" he asked suspiciously.

"Can you read?" asked D'Arragon. "I can prove who I am--if I want to.
But I am not sure that I want to."

"Oh! it is only a letter--of no importance. Some private business of
your own. It comes from Dantzig--written by one whose name begins with
'B.'"

"Barlasch," suggested D'Arragon quietly, as he took from his pocket a
paper which he unfolded and held beneath the eyes of the cobbler. It was
a passport written in three languages. If the man could read, he was not
anxious to boast of an accomplishment so far above his station; but
he glanced at the paper, not without a practised skill, to seize the
essential parts of it.

"Yes, that is the name," he said, searching in his pockets. "The letter
is an open one. Here it is."

In passing the letter, the man made a scarcely perceptible movement of
the hand which might have been a signal.

"No," said D'Arragon, "I do not belong to the Tugendbund or to any other
secret society. We have need of no such associations in my country."

The cobbler laughed, not without embarrassment.

"You have a quick eye," he said. "It is a great country, England. I have
seen the river full of English ships before Napoleon chased you off the
seas."

D'Arragon smiled as he unfolded the letter.

"He has not done it yet," he said, with that spirit which enables
mariners of the Anglo-Saxon race to be amused when there is a talk of
supremacy on the high seas. He read the letter carefully, and his face
hardened.

"I was instructed," said the cobbler, "to give you the letter, and at
the same time to inform you that any assistance or facilities you may
require will be forth-coming; besides..." he broke off and pointed with
his thick, leather-stained finger, "that writing is not the writing of
him who signs."

"He who signs cannot write at all."

"That writing," went on the cobbler, "is a passport in any German state.
He who carries a letter written in that hand can live and travel free
anywhere from here to the Rhine or the Danube."

"Then I am lucky in possessing a powerful friend," said D'Arragon, "for
I know who wrote this letter. I think I may say he is a friend of mine."

"I am sure of it. I have already been told so," said the cobbler. "Have
you a lodging in Konigsberg? No? Then you can lodge in my house."

Without awaiting a reply, which he seemed to consider a foregone
conclusion, he limped down the Kohl Markt towards the steps leading to
the river, which in winter is a thoroughfare.

"I live in the Neuer Markt," he said breathlessly, as he laboured
onwards. "I have waited for you three days on that bridge. Where have
you been all this time?"

"Avoiding the French," replied D'Arragon curtly. Respecting his own
affairs he was reticent, as commanders and other lonely men must always
be. They walked side by side on the dusty and trodden ice without
further speech. At the steps from the river to Neuer Markt, D'Arragon
gave the lame man his hand, and glanced a second time at the fingers
which clasped his own. They had not been born to toil, but had had it
thrust upon them.

They crossed the Neuer Markt together, and went into that house where
the linden grows so close as to obscure the windows. And the lodging
offered to Louis was the room in which Charles Darragon had slept in his
wet clothes six months earlier. So small is the world in which we live,
and so narrow are the circles drawn by Fate around human existence and
endeavour.

The cobbler having shown his visitor the room, and pointed out its
advantages, was turning to go when D'Arragon, who was laying aside his
fur coat, seemed to catch his attention, and he paused on the threshold.

"There is French blood in your veins," he said abruptly.

"Yes--a little."

"So. I thought there must be. You reminded me--it was odd, the way you
laid aside your coat--reminded me of a Frenchman who lodged here for
one night. He was like you, too, in build and face. He was a spy, if you
please--one of the French Emperor's secret police. I was new at the work
then, but still I suspected there was something wrong about him. I took
his boots--a pretext of mending them. I locked him in. He got out of
that window, if you please, without his boots. He followed me, and
learnt much that he was not meant to know. I have since heard it from
others. He did the Emperor a great service--that man. He saved his life,
I think, from assassination in Dantzig. And he did me an ill turn--but
it was my own carelessness. I thought to make a thaler by lodging him,
and he was tricking me all the while."

"What was his name?" asked D'Arragon.

"Oh--I forgot the name he gave. It was a false one. He was disguised as
a common soldier--and he was in reality an officer of the staff. But I
know the name of the officer to whom he wrote his report of his night's
lodging here--his colleague in the secret police, it would seem."

"Ah!" said D'Arragon, busying himself with his haversack.

"It was De Casimir--a Polish name. And in the last two days I have
heard of him. He has accepted the Emperor's amnesty. He has married a
beautiful woman, and is living like a prince at Cracow. All this since
the siege of Dantzig began. In time of war there is no moment to lose,
eh?"

"And the other? He who slept in this room. Has he passed through
Konigsberg again?"

"No, that he has not. If he had, I should have seen him. You can
believe me, I wanted to see him. I was at my place on the bridge all
the time--while the French occupied Konigsberg--when the last of them
hurried away a month ago with the Cossacks close behind. No. I should
have seen him, and known him. He is not on this side of the Niemen, that
fine young gentleman. Now, what can I do to help you to-morrow?"

"You can help me on the way to Vilna," answered D'Arragon.

"You will never get there."

"I will try," said the sailor.



CHAPTER XXVII. A FLASH OF MEMORY.



     Nothing can cover his high fame but Heaven,
     No pyramids set off his memories,
     But the eternal substance of his greatness
     To which I leave him.

"Why I will not let you go out into the streets?" said Barlasch one
February morning, stamping the snow from his boots. "Why I will not let
you go out into the streets?"

He turned and followed Desiree towards the kitchen, after having
carefully bolted the heavy oaken door which had been strengthened as if
to resist a siege. Desiree's face had that clear pallor which marks an
indoor life; but Barlasch, weather-beaten, scorched and wrinkled, showed
no sign of having endured a month's siege in an overcrowded city.

"I will tell you why I will not let you go into the streets. Because
they are not fit for any woman to go into--because if you walked from
here to the Rathhaus you would see sights that would come back to you in
your sleep, and wake you from it, when you are an old woman. Do you know
what they do with their dead? They throw them outside their doors--with
nothing to cover their starved nakedness--as Lisa put her ashes in the
street every morning. And the cart goes round, as the dustman's cart
used to go in times of peace, and, like the dustman's cart, it drops
part of its load, and the dust that blows round it is the infection of
typhus. That is why you cannot go into the streets."

He unbuttoned his fur coat and displayed a smart new uniform; for Rapp
had put his miserable army into new clothes, with which many of the
Dantzig warehouses had been filled by Napoleon's order at the beginning
of the war.

"There," he said, laying a small parcel on the table, "there is my
daily ration. Two ounces of horse, one ounce of salt beef, the same as
yesterday. One does not know how long we shall be treated so generously.
Let us keep the beef--we may come to want some day."

And giving a hoarse laugh, he lifted a board in the floor, beneath which
he hoarded his stores.

"Will you cook your dejeuner yourself," asked Desiree. "I have something
else for my father."

"And what have you?" asked Barlasch curtly; "you are not keeping
anything hidden from me?"

"No," answered Desiree, with a laugh at the sternness of his face, "I
will give him a piece of the ham which was left over from last night."

"Left over?" echoed Barlasch, going close to her and looking up into her
face, for she was two inches taller than he. "Left over? Then you did
not eat your supper last night?"

"Neither did you eat yours, for it is there under the floor."

Barlasch turned away with a gesture of despair. He sat down in the high
armchair that stood on the hearth, and tapped on the floor with one foot
in pessimistic thought.

"Ah! the women, the women," he muttered, looking into the smouldering
fire. "Lies--all lies. You said that your supper was very nice," he
shouted at her over his shoulder.

"So it was," answered she gaily, "so it is still."

Barlasch did not rise to her lighter humour. He sat in reflection for
some minutes. Then his thoughts took their usual form of a muttered
aside.

"It is a case of compromise. Always like that. The good God had to
compromise with the first woman he created almost at once. And men have
done it ever since--and have never had the best of it. See here," he
said aloud, turning to Desiree, "I will make a bargain with you. I will
eat my last night's supper here at this table, now, if you will eat
yours."

"Agreed."

"Are you hungry?" asked Barlasch, when the scanty meal was set out
before him.

"Yes."

"So am I."

He laughed quite gaily now, and the meal was not without a certain air
of festivity, though it consisted of nothing better than two ounces of
horse and half an ounce of ham eaten in company of that rye-bread made
with one-third part of straw which Rapp allowed the citizens to buy.

For Rapp had first tamed his army, and was now taming the Dantzigers.
He had effected discipline in his own camp by getting his regiments into
shape, by establishing hospitals (which were immediately filled), and by
protecting the citizens from the depredations of the starving fugitives
who had been poured pell-mell into the town.

Then he turned his attention to the Dantzigers, who were openly or
secretly opposed to him. He seized their churches and turned them into
stores; their schools he used for hospitals, their monasteries for
barracks. He broke into their cellars, and took the wine for the sick.
Their storehouses he placed under the strictest guard, and no man could
claim possession of his own goods.

"We are," he said in effect, with that grim Alsatian humour which the
Prussians were slow to understand; "we are one united family in a narrow
house, and it is I who keep the storeroom key."

Barlasch had proved to be no false prophet. His secret store escaped the
vigilance of the picket, whom he himself conducted to the cellars in
the Frauengasse. Although he was sparing enough, he could always
provide Desiree with anything for which she expressed a wish, and even
forestalled those which she left unspoken. In return he looked for
absolute obedience, and after their frugal breakfast he took her to task
for depriving herself of such food as they could afford.

"See you," he said, "a siege is a question of the stomach. It is not the
Russians we have to fight; for they will not fight. They sit outside
and wait for us to die of cold, of starvation, of typhus. And we are
obliging them at the rate of two hundred a day. Yes, each day Rapp is
relieved of the responsibility of two hundred mouths that drop open and
require nothing more. Be greedy--eat all you have, and hope for release
to-morrow, and you die. Be sparing--starve yourself from parsimony or
for the love of some one who will eat your share and forget to
thank you, and you will die of typhus. Be careful, and patient, and
selfish--eat a little, take what exercise you can, cook your food
carefully with salt, and you will live. I was in a siege thirty years
before you were born, and I am alive yet, after many others. Obey me and
we will get through the siege of Dantzig, which is only just beginning."

Then suddenly he gave way to anger, and banged his hand down on the
table.

"But, sacred name of thunder, do not make me believe you have eaten when
you have not," he shouted. "Never do that."

Carried away by the importance of this question, he said many things
which cannot be set before the eyes of a generation sensitive to
plainness of speech, and only tolerant of it in suggestions of
impropriety.

"And the patron," he ended abruptly, "how is he?"

"He is not very well," answered Desiree. Which answer did not satisfy
Barlasch, who insisted on taking off his boots, and going upstairs to
see Sebastian.

It was a mere nothing, the invalid said. Such food did not suit him.

"You have been accustomed to live well all your life," answered
Barlasch, looking at him with the puzzled light of a baffled memory in
his eye which always came when he looked at Desiree's father. "One must
see what can be done."

And he went out forthwith to return after an hour and more with a
chicken freshly killed. Desiree did not ask him where he had procured
it. She had given up such inquiries, for Barlasch always confessed quite
bluntly to theft, and she did not know whether to believe him or not.

But the change of diet had no beneficial effect, and the next day
Desiree sent Barlasch to the house of the doctor whose practice lay in
the Frauengasse. He came and shook his head bluntly. For even an old
doctor may be hardened at the end of his life by an orgy, as it were, of
death.

"I could cure him," he said, "if there were no Russians outside the
walls; if I could give him fresh milk and good brandy and strong soup."

But even Barlasch could not find milk in Dantzig. The brandy was
forthcoming, and the fresh meat; the soup Desiree made with her own
hands. Sebastian had not been the same man since the closing of the
roads and the gradual death of his hopes that the Dantzigers would rise
against the soldiers that thronged their streets. At one time it would
have been easy to carry out such a movement, and to throw themselves
and their city upon the mercy of the Russians. But Dantzig awoke to this
possibility too late, when Rapp's iron hand had closed in upon it.
He knew his own strength so well that he treated with a contemptuous
leniency such citizens as were convicted of communicating with the
enemy.

Sebastian's friends seemed to have deserted him. Perhaps it was not
discreet to be seen in the company of one who had come under Napoleon's
displeasure. Some had quitted the city after hurriedly concealing their
valuables in their gardens, behind the chimneys, beneath the floors,
where it is to be supposed they still lie hidden. Others were among the
weekly thousand or twelve hundred who were carted out by the Oliva Gate
to be thrown into huge trenches, while the waiting Russians watched from
their lines on the heights of Langfuhr.

It was true that news continued to filter in, and never quite ceased,
all through the terrible twelve months that were to follow. More
especially did news that was unfavourable to the French find its way
into the beleaguered city. But it was not authentic news, and Sebastian
gathered little comfort from the fact--not unknown to the whispering
citizens--that Rapp himself had heard nothing from the outer world since
the Elbing mail-cart had been turned back by the first of the Cossacks
on the night of the seventh of January.

Perhaps Sebastian had that most fatal of maladies--to which nearly all
men come at last--weariness of life.

"Why don't you fortify yourself, and laugh at fortune?" asked Barlasch,
twenty years his senior, as he stood sturdily on his stocking-feet at
the sick man's bedside.

"I take what my daughter gives me," protested Sebastian, half peevishly.

"But that does not suffice," answered the materialist. "It does not
suffice to swallow evil fortune--one must digest it."

Sebastian made no answer. He was a quiet patient, and lay all day with
wide-open, dreaming eyes. He seemed to be waiting for something. This,
indeed, was his mental attitude as presented to his neighbours, and
perhaps to the few friends he possessed in Dantzig. He had waited
through the years during which Desiree had grown to womanhood. He waited
on doggedly through the first month of the siege, without enthusiasm,
without comment--without hope, perhaps. He seemed to be waiting now to
get better.

"He has made little or no progress," said the doctor, who could only
give a passing glance at his patients, for he was working day and night.
He had not time to beat about the bush, as his kind heart would have
liked, for he had known Desiree all her life.

It was Shrove Tuesday, and the streets were full of revellers. The
Neapolitans and other Southerners had made great preparations for the
carnival, and the Governor had not denied them their annual licence.
They had built a high car in one of the entrance yards to the
Marienkirche; and finding that the ancient arch would not allow the
erection to pass out into the street, they had pulled down the pious
handiwork of a bygone generation.

The shouts of these merrymakers could be dimly heard through the double
windows, but Sebastian made no inquiry as to the meaning of the cry.
A sort of lassitude--the result of confinement within doors, of
insufficient food, of waning hope--had come over Desiree. She listened
heedlessly to the sounds in the streets through which the dead were
passing to the Oliva Gate, while the living danced by in their hideous
travesty of rejoicing.

It was dusk when Barlasch came in.

"The streets," he said, "are full of fools, dressed as such."
Receiving no answer, he crossed the room to where Desiree sat, treading
noiselessly, and stood in front of her, trying to see her averted face.
He stooped down and peered at her until she could no longer hide her
tear-stained eyes.

He made a wry face and a little clicking noise with his tongue, such
as the women of his race make when they drop and break some household
utensil. Then he went back towards the bed. Hitherto he had always
observed a certain ceremoniousness of manner in the sick chamber. He
laid this aside this evening, and sat down on a chair that stood near.

Thus they remained in a silence which seemed to increase with the
darkness. At length the stillness became so marked that Barlasch slowly
turned his head towards the bed. The same instinct had come to Desiree
at the same moment.

They both rose and groped their way towards Sebastian. Desiree found the
flint and struck it. The sulphur burnt blue for interminable moments,
and then flared to meet the wick of the candle. Barlasch watched Desiree
as she held the light down to her father's face. Sebastian's waiting was
over. Barlasch had not needed a candle to recognize death.

From Desiree his bright and restless eyes turned slowly towards the dead
man's face--and he stepped back.

"Ah!" he said, with a hoarse cry of surprise, "now I remember. I was
always sure that I had seen his face before. And when I saw it it
was like that--like the face of a dead man. It was on the Place de la
Nation, on a tumbrel--going to the guillotine. He must have escaped, as
many did, by some accident or mistake."

He went slowly to the window, holding his shaggy head between his two
clenched hands as if to spur his memory to an effort. Then he turned and
pointed to the silent form on the bed.

"That is a noble of France," he said; "one of the greatest. And all
France thinks him dead this twenty years. And I cannot remember his
name--goodness of God--I cannot remember his name!"



CHAPTER XXVIII. VILNA.



                    It is our trust
     That there is yet another world to mend
     All error and mischance.

Louis d'Arragon knew the road well enough from Konigsberg to the Niemen.
It runs across a plain, flat as a table, through which many small
streams seek their rivers in winding beds. This country was not thinly
inhabited, though the villages had been stripped, as foliage is stripped
by a cloud of locusts. Each cottage had its ring of silver birch-trees
to protect it from the winds which sweep from the Baltic and the steppe.
These had been torn and broken down by the retreating army, in a vain
hope of making fire with green wood.

It was quite easy to keep in the steps of the retreating army, for the
road was marked by recumbent forms huddled on either side. Few vehicles
had come so far, for the broken country near to Vilna and around Kowno
had presented slopes up which the starving horses were unable to drag
their load.

D'Arragon reached Kowno without mishap, and there found a Russian
colonel of Cossacks who proved friendly enough, and not only appreciated
the value of his passport and such letters of recommendation as he had
been able to procure at Konigsberg, but gave him others, and forwarded
him on his journey.

He still nourished a lingering belief in De Casimir's word. Charles must
have been left behind at Vilna to recover from his exhaustion. He would,
undoubtedly, make his way westward as soon as possible. He might have
got away to the South. Any one of these huddled human landmarks might be
Charles Darragon.

Louis was essentially a thorough man. The sea is a mistress demanding
a whole and concentrated attention--and concentration soon becomes a
habit. Louis did not travel at night, for fear of passing Charles on
the road, alive or dead. He knew his cousin better than any in the
Frauengasse had learnt to know this gay and inconsequent Frenchman. A
certain cunning lay behind the happy laugh--a great capacity was hidden
by the careless manner. If ready wit could bring man through the dangers
of the retreat, Charles had as good a chance of surviving as any.

Nevertheless, Louis rarely passed a dead man on the road, but drew
up, and quitting his sleigh, turned over the body, which was almost
invariably huddled with its back offered to the deadly, prevailing North
wind. Against each this wind had piled a sloping bank of that fine snow
which, even in the lightest breeze, drifts over the surface of the land
like an ivory mist, waist high, and cakes the clothes. In a high wind it
will rise twenty feet in the air, and blind any who try to face it.

As often as not a mere glance sufficed to show that this was not
Charles, for few of the bodies were clad. Many had been stripped, while
still living, by their half-frozen comrades. But sometimes Louis had to
dust the snow from strange bearded faces before he could pass on with a
quick sigh of relief.

Beyond Kowno, the country is thinly populated, and spreading
pine-forests bound the horizon. The Cossacks--the wild men of Toula, who
reaped the laurels of the rearguard fighting--were all along the road.
D'Arragon frequently came upon a picket--as often as not the men were
placidly sitting on a frozen corpse, as on a seat--and stopped to say a
few words and gather news.

"You will find your friend at Vilna," said one young officer, who had
been attached to General Wilson's staff, and had many stories to tell of
the energetic and indefatigable English commissioner. "At Vilna we
took twenty thousand prisoners--poor devils who came and asked us for
food--and I don't know how many officers. And if you see Wilson there,
remember me to him. If Napoleon has need to hate one man more than
another for this business, it is that firebrand, Wilson. Yes, you will
assuredly find your cousin at Vilna among the prisoners. But you must
not linger by the road, for they are being sent back to Moscow to
rebuild that which they have caused to be destroyed."

He laughed and waved his gloved hand as D'Arragon drove on.

After the broken land and low abrupt hills of Kowno, the country was
flat again until the valley of the Vilia opened out. And here, almost
within sight of Vilna, D'Arragon drove down a short hill which must ever
be historic. He drove slowly, for on either side were gun-carriages deep
sunken in the snow where the French had left them. This hill marked
the final degeneration of the Emperor's army into a shapeless rabble
hopelessly flying before an exhausted enemy.

Half on the road and half in the ditch were hundreds of carriages which
had been hurriedly smashed up to provide firewood. Carts, still laden
with the booty of Moscow, stood among the trees. Some of them contained
small square boxes of silver coin, brought by Napoleon to pay his army
and here abandoned. Silver coin was too heavy to carry. The rate of
exchange had long been sixty francs in silver for a gold napoleon or a
louis. The cloth coverings of the cushions had been torn off to shape
into rough garments; the straw stuffing had been eaten by the horses.

Inside the carriages were--crouching on the floor--the frozen bodies of
fugitives too badly wounded or too ill to attempt to walk. They had sat
there till death came to them. Many were women. In one carriage four
women, in silks and fine linen, were huddled together. Their furs had
been dragged from them either before or after death.

Louis stopped at the bottom and looked back. De Casimir at all events
had succeeded in surmounting this obstacle which had proved fatal to
so many--the grave of so many hopes--God's rubbish-heap, where gold
and precious stones, silks and priceless furs, all that greedy men had
schemed and striven and fought to get, fell from their hands at last.

Vilna lies all down a slope--a city built upon several hills--and the
Vilia runs at the bottom. That Way of Sorrow, the Smolensk Road, runs
eastward by the river bank, and here the rearguard held the Cossacks in
check while Murat hastily decamped, after dark, westwards to Kowno. The
King of Naples, to whom Napoleon gave the command of his broken army
quite gaily--"a vous, Roi de Naples," he is reported to have said, as he
hurried to his carriage--Murat abandoned his sick and wounded; did not
even warn the stragglers.

D'Arragon entered the city by the narrow gate known as the Town Gate,
through which, as through that greater portal of Moscow, every man must
pass bareheaded.

"The Emperor is here," were the first words spoken to him by the officer
on guard.

But the streets were quiet enough, and the winner in this great game
of chance maintained the same unostentatious silence in victory as that
which, in the hour of humiliation, had baffled Napoleon.

It was almost night, and D'Arragon had been travelling since daylight.
He found a lodging, and, having secured the comfort of the horse
provided by the lame shoemaker of Konigsberg, he went out into the
streets in search of information.

Few cities are, to this day, so behind the times as Vilna. The streets
are still narrow, winding, ill-paved, ill-lighted. When D'Arragon
quitted his lodging, he found no lights at all, for the starving
soldiers had climbed to the lamps for the sake of the oil, which they
had greedily drunk. It was a full moon, however, and the patrols at the
street corners were willing to give such information as they could. They
were strangers to Vilna like Louis himself, and not without suspicion;
for this was a city which had bidden the French welcome. There had been
dancing and revelry on the outward march. The citizens themselves were
afraid of the strange, wild-eyed men who returned to them from Moscow.

At last, in the Episcopal Palace, where head-quarters had been hurriedly
established, Louis found the man he sought, the officer in charge of the
arrangements for despatching prisoners into Russia and to Siberia.
He was a grizzled warrior of the old school, speaking only French and
Russian. He was tired out and hungry, but he listened to Louis' story.

"There is the list," he said, "it is more or less complete. Many have
called themselves officers who never held a commission from the Emperor
Napoleon. But we have done what we can to sort them out."

So Louis sat down in the dimly lighted room and deciphered the names of
those officers who had been left behind, detained by illness or wounds
or the lack of spirit to persevere.

"You understand," said the Russian, returning to his work, "I cannot
afford the time to help you. We have twenty-five thousand prisoners to
feed and keep alive."

"Yes--I understand," answered Louis, who had the seaman's way of making
himself a part of his surroundings.

The old colonel glanced at him across the table with a grim smile.

"The Emperor," he said, "was sitting in that chair an hour ago. He may
come back at any moment."

"Ah!" said Louis, following the written lines with a pencil.

But no interruption came, and at last the list was finished. Charles was
not among the officers taken prisoner at Vilna.

"Well?" inquired the Russian, without looking up.

"Not there."

The old officer took a sheet of paper and hurriedly wrote a few words on
it.

"Try the Basile Hospital to-morrow morning," he said. "That will gain
you admittance. It is to be cleared out by the Emperor's orders. We have
about twenty thousand dead to dispose of as well--but they are in no
hurry."

He laughed grimly, and bade Louis good night.

"Come to me again," he called out after him, drawn by a sudden chord
of sympathy to this stranger, who had the rare capacity of confining
himself to the business in hand.

By daybreak the next morning Louis was at the hospital of St. Basile.
It had been prepared by the Duc de Bassano under Napoleon's orders when
Vilna was selected as the base of the great army. When the Russians
entered Vilna after the retreating remnant of Murat's rabble, they found
the dead and the dying in the streets and the market-place. Some had
made fires and had lain themselves down around them--to die. Others were
without food or firing, almost without clothes. Many were barefoot. All,
officers and men alike, were in rags. It was a piteous sight; for half
of these men were no longer human. Some were gnawing at their own limbs.
Many were blind, others had lost their speech or hearing. Nearly all
were marred by some disfigurement--some terrible sore, the result of a
frozen wound, of frostbite, of scurvy, of gangrene.

The Cossacks, half civilized as they were, wild with the excitement of
killing and the chase of a human quarry, stood aghast in the streets of
Vilna.

When the Emperor arrived, he set to work to clear the streets first, to
get these piteous men indoors. There was no question yet of succouring
them. It was not even possible to feed them all. The only thought was to
find them some protection against the ruthless cold.

The first thought was, of course, directed to the hospitals. They looked
in and saw a storehouse of the dead. The dead could wait; but the living
must be housed.

So the dead waited, and it was their turn now at the St. Basile
Hospital, where Louis presented himself at dawn.

"Looking for some one?" asked a man in uniform, who must have been
inside the hospital, for he hurried down the steps with a set mouth and
quailing eyes.

"Yes."

"Then don't go in--wait here."

Louis looked in and took the doctor's advice. The dead were stored in
the passages, one on the top of the other, like bales of goods in a
warehouse.

Some attempt seemed to have been made to clear the wards, but those
whose task it had been had not had time to do more than drag the dead
out into the passage.

The soldiers were now at work in the lower passage. Carts began to
arrive. An officer told off to this dread duty came up hurriedly smoking
a cigarette, his high fur collar about his ears. He glanced at Louis,
and bowed to him.

"Looking for some one?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Then stand here beside me. It is I who have to keep count. They say
there are eight thousand in here. They will be carried past here to the
carts. Have a cigarette."

It is hard to talk when the thermometer registers more than twenty
degrees of frost, for the lips stiffen and contract into wrinkles like
the lips of a very old woman. Perhaps neither of the watchers was in the
humour to begin an acquaintance.

They stood side by side, stamping their feet to keep the blood going,
without speaking. Once or twice Louis stepped forward, and at a signal
from the officer the bearers stopped. But Louis shook his head, and they
passed on. At midday the officer was relieved, his place being taken by
another, who bowed stiffly to Louis and took no more notice of him. For
war either hardens or softens. It never leaves a man as it found him.

All day the work was carried on. Through the hours this procession of
the bearded dead went silently by. At the invitation of a sergeant,
Louis took some soup and bread from the soldiers' table. The men
laughingly apologized for the quality of both.

Towards evening the officer who had first come on duty returned to his
work.

"Not yet?" he asked, offering the inevitable cigarette.

"Not yet," answered Louis, and even as he spoke he stepped forward and
stopped the bearers. He brushed aside the matted hair and beard.

"Is that your friend?" asked the officer.

"Yes."

It was Charles at last.

"The doctor says these have been dead two months," volunteered the first
bearer, over his shoulder.

"I am glad you have found him," said the officer, signing to the men to
go on with their burden. "It is better to know--is it not?"

"Yes," answered Louis slowly. "It is better to know."

And something in his voice made the Russian officer turn and watch him
as he went away.



CHAPTER XXIX. THE BARGAIN.



     Like plants in mines which never saw the sun,
     But dream of him and guess where he may be,
     And do their best to climb and get to him.

"Oh yes," Barlasch was saying, "it is easier to die--it is that that you
are thinking--it is easier to die."

Desiree did not answer. She was sitting in the little kitchen at the
back of the house in the Frauengasse. For they had no firing now, and
were burning the furniture. Her father had been buried a week. The siege
was drawn closer than ever. There was nothing to eat, nothing to do, no
one to talk to. For Sebastian's political friends did not dare to come
near his house. Desiree was alone in this hopeless world with Barlasch,
who was on duty now in one of the trenches near the river. He went out
in the morning, and only returned at night. He had just come in, and she
could see by the light of the single candle that his face was grey and
haggard, with deep lines drawn downwards from eyes to chin. Desiree's
own face had lost all its roundness and the bloom of her northern
girlhood.

Barlasch glanced at her, and bit his lip. He had brought nothing with
him. At one time he had always managed to bring something to the house
every day--a chicken, or a turnip, or a few carrots. But to-night there
was nothing. And he was tired out. He did not sit down, however, but
stood breathing on his fingers and rubbing them together to restore
circulation. He pushed the candle farther forward on the table, so that
it cast a better light upon her face.

"Yes," he said, "it is often so. I, who speak to you, have seen it so a
dozen times in my life. When it is easier to sit down and die. Bah! That
is a fine thing to do--a brave thing--to sit down and die."

"I am not going to do it, so do not make that mistake," said Desiree,
with a laugh that had no mirth in it.

"But you would like to. Listen. It is not what you feel that matters; it
is what you do. Remember that."

There was an unusual vigour in his voice. Of late, since the death of
Sebastian, Barlasch seemed to have fallen victim to the settled apathy
which lives within a prison wall and broods over a besieged city. It is
a sort of silent mourning worn by the soul for a lost liberty. Dantzig
had soon succumbed to it, for the citizens had not even the satisfaction
of being quite sure that they were deserving of the world's sympathy.
It soon spread to the soldiers who were defending a Prussian city for a
French Emperor who seemed to have forgotten them.

But to-night Barlasch seemed to be more energetic. Desiree looked round
over her shoulder. He had not laid on the table any contribution to
a bare larder; and yet his manner was that of one who has prepared a
surprise and is waiting to enjoy its effect. He was restless, moving
from one foot to another, rubbing together his crooked fingers and
darting sidelong glances at her face.

"What is it?" she asked suddenly, and Barlasch gave a start as if he had
been detected in some deceit. He bustled forward to the smouldering fire
and held his hands over it.

"It is that it is very cold to-night," he answered, with that
exaggerated ease of manner with which the young and the simple seek to
conceal embarrassment. "Tell me, mademoiselle, what have we for supper
to-night? It is I who will cook it. To-night we will keep a fete. There
is that piece of beef for you. I know a way to make it appetizing. For
me there is my portion of horse. It is the friend of man--the horse."

He laughed and made an effort to be gay, which had a poignant pathos in
it that made Desiree bite her lip.

"What fete is it that we are to keep?" she asked, with a wan smile. Her
kind blue eyes had that glitter in them which is caused by a constant
and continuous hunger. Six months ago they had only been gay and kind,
now they saw the world as it is, as it always must be so long as the
human heart is capable of happiness and the human reason recognizes the
rarity of its attainment.

"The fete of St. Matthias--my fete, mademoiselle."

"But I thought your name was Jean."

"So it is. But I keep my fete at St. Matthias, because on that day we
won a battle in Egypt. We will have wine--a bottle of wine--eh?"

So Barlasch prepared a great feast which was to be celebrated by Desiree
in the dining-room, where he lighted a fire, and by himself in the
kitchen. For he held strongly to a code of social laws which the great
Revolution had not succeeded in breaking. And one of these laws was that
it would be in some way degrading to Desiree to see him eat.

He was a skilled and delicate cook, only hampered by that insatiable
passion for economy which is the dominant characteristic of the peasant
of Northern France. To-night, however, he was reckless, and Desiree
could hear him searching in his secret hiding-place beneath the floor
for concealed condiments and herbs.

"There," he said, when he set the dish before her, "eat it with an easy
mind. There is nothing unclean in it. It is not rat or cat or the liver
of a starved horse, such as we others eat and ask no better. It is all
clean meat."

He poured out wine, and stood in the darkened doorway watching her drink
it. Then he went away to his own meal in the kitchen, leaving Desiree
vaguely uneasy--for he was not himself to-night. She could hear him
muttering as he ate and moved hither and thither in the kitchen. At
short intervals he came and looked in at the door to make sure that she
was doing full honour to St. Matthias. When she had finished, he came
into the room.

"Ah!" he said, glancing at her suspiciously and rubbing his hands
together. "That strengthens, eh?--that strengthens. We others who lead
a rough life--we know that a little food and a glass of wine fit one out
for any enterprise, for--well, any catastrophe."

And Desiree knew in a flash of comprehension that the food and the wine
and the forced gaiety were nothing but preliminaries to bad news.

"What is it?" she asked a second time. "Is it... bombardment?"

"Bombardment," he laughed, "they cannot shoot, those Cossacks. It is
only the French who understand artillery."

"Then what is it?--for you have something to tell me, I know."

He ruffled his shock-head of white hair, with a grimace of despair.

"Yes," he admitted, "it is news."

"From outside?" cried Desiree, with a sudden break in her voice.

"From Vilna," answered Barlasch. He came into the room, and went past
her towards the fire, where he put the logs together carefully.

"It is that he is alive," said Desiree, "my husband."

"No, it is not that," Barlasch corrected. He stood with his back to
her, vaguely warming his hands. He had no learning, nor manners, nor any
polish: nothing but those instincts of the heart that teach the head.
And his instinct bade him turn his back on Desiree, and wait in silence
until she had understood his meaning.

"Dead?" she asked, in a whisper.

And, still warming his hands, he nodded his head vigorously. He waited
a long time for her to speak, and at last broke the silence himself
without looking round.

"Troubles," he said, "troubles for us all. There is no avoiding them.
One can only push against them as against your cold wind of Dantzig that
comes from the sea. One can only push on. You must push, mademoiselle."

"When did he die?" asked Desiree; "where?"

"At Vilna, three months ago. He has been dead three months. I knew he
was dead when you came back to the inn at Thorn, and told me that you
had seen De Casimir. De Casimir had left him dying--that liar. You
remember, I met a comrade on the road--one of my own country--he told
me that they had left ten thousand dead at Vilna, and twenty thousand
prisoners little better than dead. And I knew then that De Casimir had
left him there dying, or dead."

He glanced back at her over his shoulder, and at the sight of her face
made that little click in his throat which, in peasant circles, denotes
a catastrophe. Then he shook his head slowly from side to side.

"Listen," he said roughly, "the good God knows best. I knew when I saw
you first, that day in June, in this kitchen, that you were beginning
your troubles; for I knew the reputation of Monsieur, your husband. He
was not what you thought him. A man is never what a woman thinks him.
But he was worse than most. And this trouble that has come to you is
chosen by the good God--and he has chosen the least in his sack for you.
You will know it some day--as I know it now."

"You know a great deal," said Desiree, who was quick in speech, and he
swung round on his heel to meet her spirit.

"You are right," he said, pointing his accusatory finger. "I know a
great deal about you--and I am a very old man."

"How did you learn this news from Vilna?" she asked, and his hand went
up to his mouth as if to hide his thoughts and control his lips.

"From one who comes straight from there--who buried your husband there."

Desiree rose and stood with her hands resting on the table, looking at
the persistent back again turned towards her.

"Who?" she asked, in little more than a whisper.

"The Captain--Louis d'Arragon."

"And you have spoken to him to-day--here, in Dantzig?"

Barlasch nodded his head.

"Was he well?" asked Desiree, with a spontaneous anxiety that made
Barlasch turn slowly and look at her from beneath his great brows.

"Oh, he was well enough," he answered, "he is made of steel, that
gentleman. He was well enough, and he has the courage of the devil.
There are some fishermen who come from Zoppot to sell their fish. They
steal through the Russian lines--on the ice of the river at night and
come to our outposts at daylight. One of them said my name this morning.
I looked at him. He was wrapped up only to show the eyes. He drew his
scarf aside. It was the Captain d'Arragon."

"And he was well?" asked Desiree again, as if nothing else in the world
mattered.

"Oh, mon Dieu, yes," cried Barlasch, impatiently, "he was well, I tell
you. Do you know why he came?"

Desiree had sat down at the table again, where she leant her arms and
rested her chin in the palms of her two hands; for she was weakened by
starvation, and confinement, and sorrow.

"No," she answered.

"He came because he had learnt that the patron was dead. It was known
in Konigsberg a week ago. It is known all over Germany; that quiet old
gentleman who scraped a fiddle here in the Frauengasse. And it is only
I, in all the world, who know that he was a greater man in Paris than
ever he was in Germany--with his Tugendbund--and I cannot remember his
name."

Barlasch broke off and thumped his brow with his fists, as if to awaken
that dead memory. And all the while he was searching Desiree's face,
with eyes made brighter and sharper than ever by starvation.

"And do you know what he came for--the Captain--for he never does
anything in idleness? He will run a great risk--but it is for a great
purpose. Do you know what he came for?"

"No."

Barlasch jerked his head back and laughed.

"For you."

He turned and looked at her; but she had raised her clasped hands to her
forehead, as if to shield her eyes from the light of the candle, and he
could not see her face.

"Do you remember," said Barlasch, "that night when the patron was so
angry--on the mat--when Mademoiselle Mathilde had to make her choice. It
is your turn to-night. You have to make your choice. Will you go?"

"Yes," answered Desiree, behind her fingers.

"'If Mademoiselle will come,' he said to me, 'bring her to this place!'
'Yes, mon capitaine,' answered I. 'At any cost, Barlasch?' 'At any cost,
mon capitaine.' And we are not men to break our words. I will take you
there--at any cost, mademoiselle. And he will meet you there--at any
cost."

And Barlasch expectorated emphatically into the fire, after the manner
of low-born men.

"What a pity," he added reflectively, "that he is only an Englishman."

"When are we to go?" asked Desiree, still behind her barrier of clasped
fingers.

"To-morrow night, after midnight. We have arranged it all--the Captain
and I--at the outpost nearest to the river. He has influence. He has
rendered services to the Russians, and the Russian commander will make
a night attack on the outpost. In the confusion we get through. We
arranged it together. He pays me well. It is a bargain, and I am to have
my money. We shook hands on it, and those who saw us must have thought
that I was buying fish. I, who have no money--and he, who had no fish."



CHAPTER XXX. THE FULFILMENT.



     And I have laboured somewhat in my time
     And not been paid profusely.

When Desiree came down the next morning, she found Barlasch talking to
himself and laughing as he prepared his breakfast.

He met her with a gay salutation, and seemed unable to control his
hilarity.

"It is," he explained, "because to-night we shall be under fire. We
shall be in danger. It makes me afraid, and I laugh. I cannot help it.
When I am afraid, I laugh."

He bustled about the room, and Desiree saw that he had already opened
his secret store beneath the floor, to take from it such delicacies as
remained.

"You slept?" he asked sharply. "Yes, I can see you did. That is good,
for to-night we shall be awake. And now you must eat."

For Barlasch was a materialist. He had fought death in one form or
another all his life, and he knew that those who eat and sleep are
better equipped for the battle than those who cherish high ideals or
think great thoughts.

"It is a good thing," he said, looking at her, "that you are so slim. In
a military coat--if you put on that short dress in which you skate, and
your high boots--you will look like a soldier. It is a good thing that
it is winter, for you can wear the hood of your military coat over
your head, as they all do out in the trenches to keep their ears from
falling. So you need not cut off your hair--all that golden hair. Name
of thunder, that would be a pity, would it not?"

He turned to the fire and stirred his coffee reflectively.

"In my own country," he said, "a long time ago, there was a girl who had
hair like yours. That is why we are friends, perhaps."

He gave a queer, short laugh, and took up his sheepskin coat preparatory
to going out.

"I have my preparations to make," he said, with an air of importance.
"There is much to be thought of. We had not long together, for the
others were watching us. But we understand each other. I go now to give
him the signal that it is for to-night. I have borrowed one of Lisa's
dusters--a blue one that will show against the snow--with which to give
him the signal. And he is watching from Zoppot with his telescope. That
fat Lisa--if I had held up my finger, she would have fallen in love with
me. It has always been so. These women--"

And he went away muttering.

If he had preparations to make, Desiree had no less. She could take but
little with her, and she was quitting the house which had always been
her home so long as she could remember. Those trunks which Barlasch
had so unhesitatingly recognized as coming from France were, it seemed,
destined never to be used again. Mathilde had gone, taking with her
her few simple possessions; for they had always been poor in the
Frauengasse. Sebastian had departed on that journey which the traveller
must face alone, taking naught with him. And it was characteristic of
the man that he had left nothing behind him--no papers, no testament,
no clue to that other life so different from his life in the Frauengasse
that it must have lapsed into a fleeting, intangible memory, such as
the brain is sometimes allowed to retain of a dream dreamt in this
existence, or perhaps in another. Sebastian was gone--with his secret.

Desiree, alone with hers, was left in this quiet house for a few hours
longer. Mechanically she set it in order. What would it matter to-morrow
whether it were set in order or not? Who would come to note the last
touches? She worked with that feverish haste which is responsible for
much unnecessary woman's work in this world--the haste that owes its
existence to the fear of having time to think. Many talk for the same
reason. What a quiet world, if those who have nothing to say said
nothing! But speech or work must fail at last, and lo! the thoughts are
lying in wait.

Desiree's thoughts found their opportunity when she went into the
drawing-room upstairs, where her wedding-breakfast had been set before
the guests only eight months ago. The guests--De Casimir, the Grafin,
Sebastian, Mathilde, Charles!

Desiree stood alone now in the silent room. She did not look at the
table. The guests were all gone. The dead past had buried its dead. She
went to the window and drew aside the curtain as she had drawn it aside
on her wedding-day to look down into the Frauengasse and see Louis
d'Arragon. And again her heart leapt in her breast with that throb
of fear. She turned where she stood, and looked at the door as if she
expected to see Charles come in at it, laughing and gay, explaining (he
was so good at explaining) his encounter in the street, and stepping
aside to allow Louis to come forward. Louis, who looked at no one but
her, and came into the room and into her life.

She had been afraid of him. She was afraid of him still. And her heart
had leapt at the thought that he had been restlessly, sleeplessly
thinking of her, working for her--had been to Vilna and back for her,
and was now waiting for her beyond the barrier of Russian camp-fires.
The dangers which made Barlasch laugh--and she knew they were real
enough, for it was only a real danger that stirred something in the old
soldier's blood to make him gay--these dangers were of no account. She
knew, she had known instantly and for all time when she looked down into
the Frauengasse and saw Louis, that nothing in heaven or earth could
keep them apart.

She stood now, looking at the empty doorway. What was the rest of her
life to be?

Barlasch returned in the afternoon. He was leisurely and inclined to
contemplativeness. It would seem that his preparations having all been
completed, he was left with nothing to do. War is a purifier; it clears
the social atmosphere and puts womanly men and manly women into their
right places. It is also a simplifier; it teaches us to know how little
we really require in daily life, and how many of the environments with
which men and women hamper themselves are superfluous and the fruit of
idleness.

"I have nothing to do," said Barlasch, "I will cook a careful dinner.
All that I have saved in money I cannot carry away; all that was stored
beneath the floor must be left there. It is often so in war."

He had told Desiree that they would have to walk twelve miles across
the snow-clad marshes bordering the frozen Vistula, between midnight and
dawn. It needed no telling that they could carry little with them.

"You will have to make a new beginning in life," he said curtly, "with
the clothes upon your back. How many times have I done it--the Saints
alone know! But take money, if you have it in gold or silver. Mine is
all in copper groschen, and it is too heavy to carry. I have never yet
been anywhere that money was not useful--and name of a dog! I have never
had it."

So Desiree divided what money she possessed with Barlasch, who added it
carefully up and repeated several times for accuracy the tale of what he
had received. For, like many who do not hesitate to steal, he was very
particular in money matters.

"As for me," he said, "I shall make a new beginning, too. The Captain
will enable me to get back to France, when I shall go to the Emperor
again. It is no place for one of the Old Guard, here with Rapp. I
am getting old, but he will find something for me to do, that little
Emperor."

At midnight they set out, quitting the house in the Frauengasse
noiselessly. The street was quiet enough, for half the houses were empty
now. Their footsteps were inaudible on the trodden snow. It was a dark
night and not cold; for the great frosts of this terrible winter were
nearly over.

Barlasch carried his musket and bayonet. He had instructed Desiree to
walk in front of him, should they meet a patrol. But Rapp had no men to
spare for patrolling the town. There was no spirit left in Dantzig; for
typhus and starvation patrolled the narrow streets.

They quitted the town to the north-west, near the Oliva Gate. There was
no guard-house here because Langfuhr was held by the French, and Rapp's
outposts were three miles out on the road to Zoppot.

"I have played this game for fifty years," said Barlasch, with a low
laugh, when they reached the earthworks, completed, at such enormous
cost of life and strength, by Rapp; "follow me and do as I do. When I
stoop, stoop; when I crawl, crawl; when I run, run."

For he was a soldier now and nothing else. He stood erect, and looked
round him with the air of a young man--ready, keen, alert. Then he moved
forward with confidence towards the high land which terminates in the
Johannesberg, where the peaceful Dantzigers now repair on a Sunday
afternoon to drink thin beer and admire the view.

Below them on the right hand lay the marshes, a white expanse of snow
with a single dark line drawn across it--the Langfuhr road with its
double border of trees.

Barlasch turned once or twice to make sure that Desiree was following
him; but he added nothing to his brief instructions. When he gained
the summit of the tableland which runs parallel with the coast and the
Langfuhr road, he paused for breath.

"When I crawl, crawl. When I run, run," he whispered again; and led the
way. He went up the bed of a stream, turning his back to the coast, and
at a certain point stopped and by a gesture of the hand bade Desiree
crouch down and wait till he returned. He came back and signed to her
to quit the bed of the stream and follow him. When she came up to the
tableland, she found that they were quite close to a camp-fire. Through
the low pines she could perceive the dark outline of a house.

"Now run," whispered Barlasch, leading the way across an open space
which seemed to extend to the line of the horizon. Without looking back,
Desiree ran--her only thought was a sudden surprise that Barlasch could
move so quickly and silently.

When he gained the shelter of some trees, he threw himself down on the
snow, and Desiree coming up to him found him breathlessly holding his
sides and laughing aloud.

"We are through the lines," he gasped, "name of a dog, I was so
frightened. There they go--pam! pam! Buz.. z.. z.."

And he imitated the singing buzz of the bullets humming through the
trees over their heads. For half a dozen shots were fired, while he was
yet speaking, from behind the camp-fires. There were no more, however,
and presently, having recovered his breath, Barlasch rose.

"Come," he said, "we have a long walk. En route."

They made a great circuit in the pine-woods, through which Barlasch led
the way with an unerring skill, and descending towards the plain far
beyond Langfuhr they came out on to a lower tableland, below which the
great marshes of the Vistula stretched in the darkness, slowly merging
at last into the sea.

"Those," said Barlasch, pausing at the edge of the slope, "those are the
lights of Oliva, where the Russians are. That line of lights straight in
front is the Russian fleet lying off Zoppot, and with them are English
ships. One of them is the little ship of Captain d'Arragon. And he
will take you home with him; for the ship is ordered to England, to
Plymouth--which is across the Channel from my own country. Ah--cristi!
I sometimes want to see my own country again--and my own
people--mademoiselle."

He went on a few paces and then stopped again, and in the darkness held
up one hand, commanding silence. It was the churches of Dantzig striking
the hour.

"Six o'clock," he whispered, "it will soon be dawn. Yes--we are half an
hour too early."

He sat down, and, by a gesture, bade Desiree sit beside him.

"Yes," he said, "the Captain told me that he is bound for England to
convoy larger ships, and you will sail in one of them. He has a home in
the west of England, and he will take you there--a sister or a mother,
I forget which--some woman. You cannot get on without women--you others.
It is there that you will be happy, as the bon Dieu meant you to be. It
is only in England that no one fears Napoleon. One may have a husband
there and not fear that he will be killed. One may have children and not
tremble for them--and it is that that makes you happy--you women."

Presently he rose and led the way down the slope. At the foot of it, he
paused, and pointing out a long line of trees, said in a whisper--

"He is there--where there are three taller trees. Between us and those
trees are the French outposts. At dawn the Russians attack the outposts,
and during the attack we have simply to go through it to those trees.
There is no other way--that is the rendezvous. Those three tall trees.
When I give the word, you get up and run to those trees--run without
pausing, without looking round. I will follow. It is you he has come
for--not Barlasch. You think I know nothing. Bah! I know everything. I
have always known it--your poor little secret."

They lay on the snow crouching in a ditch until a grey line appeared low
down in the Eastern sky and the horizon slowly distinguished itself from
the thin thread of cloud that nearly always awaits the rising of the sun
in Northern latitudes.

A minute later the dark group of trees broke into intermittent flame
and the sharp, short "Hurrah!" of the Cossacks, like an angry bark, came
sweeping across the plain on the morning breeze.

"Not yet," whispered Barlasch, with a gay chuckle of enjoyment. "Not
yet--not yet. Listen, the bullets are not coming here, but are going
past to the right of us. When you go, keep to the left. Slowly at
first--keep a little breath till the end. Now, up! Mademoiselle, run;
name of thunder, let us run!"

Desiree did not understand which were the French lines and which the
line of Russian attack. But there was a clear way to the three trees
which stood above the rest, and she went towards them. She knew she
could not run so far, so she walked. Then the bullets, instead of
passing to the right, seemed to play round her--like bees in a garden on
a summer day--and she ran until she was tired.

The trees were quite close now, and the sky was light behind them. Then
she saw Louis coming towards her, and she ran into his arms. The sound
of the humming bullets was still in her dazed brain, and she touched him
all over with her gloved hand as she clung to him, as a mother touches
her child when it has fallen, to see whether it be hurt.

"How was I to know?" she whispered breathlessly. "How was I to know that
you were to come into my life?"

The bullets did not matter, it seemed, nor the roar of the firing to the
right of them. Nothing mattered--except that Louis must know that she
had never loved Charles.

He held her and said nothing. And she wanted him to say nothing. Then
she remembered Barlasch, and looked back over her shoulder.

"Where is Barlasch?" she asked, with a sudden sinking at her heart.

"He is coming slowly," replied Louis. "He came slowly behind you all the
time, so as to draw the fire away from you."

They turned and waited for Barlasch, who seemed to be going in the wrong
direction with an odd vagueness in his movements. Louis ran towards him
with Desiree at his heels.

"Ca-y-est," said Barlasch; which cannot be translated, and yet has many
meanings. "Ca-y-est."

And he sat down slowly on the snow. He sat quite upright and rigid, and
in the cold light of the Baltic dawn they saw the meaning of his words.
One hand was within his fur coat. He drew it out, and concealed it from
Desiree behind his back. He did not seem to see them, but presently he
put out his hand and lightly touched Desiree. Then he turned to
Louis with that confidential drop of the voice with which he always
distinguished his friends from those who were not his friends.

"What is she doing?" he asked. "I cannot see in the dark. Is it
not dark? I thought it was. What is she doing? Saying a prayer?
What--because I have my affair? Hey, mademoiselle. You may leave it to
me. I will get in, I tell you that."

He put his finger to his nose, and then shook it from side to side with
an air of deep cunning.

"Leave it to me. I shall slip in. Who will stop an old man, who has many
wounds? Not St. Peter, assuredly. Let him try. And if the good God hears
a commotion at the gate, He will only shrug His shoulders. He will say
to St. Peter, 'Let pass; it is only Papa Barlasch!'"

And then there was silence. For Barlasch had gone to his own people.





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