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Title: Madame X; a story of motherlove
Author: McConaughy, J. W., Bisson, Alexandre
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 "Madame X; a story of motherlove" ***

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



MADAME X

_A STORY OF MOTHER-LOVE_

BY

J. W. McCONAUGHY

FROM THE PLAY OF THE
SAME NAME BY
ALEXANDRE BISSON

ILLUSTRATIONS BY
EDWARD C. VOLKERT

NEW YORK

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS

1910



            Table


        I. Two Invalids
       II. The Return
      III. Magdalen
       IV. Opening for the Defense
        V. Continuing for the Prosecution
       VI. Closing for the Defense
      VII. The Wanderers
     VIII. "Confidential Missions"
       IX. The Hotel of the Three Crowns
        X. The Uses of Adversity
       XI. Concerning Dower Claims
      XII. "Who Saves Another----"
     XIII. From Out the Shadow
      XIV. Sic Itur ad Averno
       XV. The Swelling of Jordan
      XVI. A Woman of Mystery
     XVII. Two Lovers and a Lecture
    XVIII. A Ghost Rises
      XIX. Hope at Last
       XX. The Trial Begins
      XXI. Cherchez l'Homme
     XXII. Madame X Speaks
    XXIII. The Verdict
     XXIV.  The Guttering Flame
      XXV. "While the Lamp Holds Out to Burn----"



                           _ELEGIE_

                (_From the French of Massenet_)

      _Oh, Spring of days long ago, blooming and bright,_
                _Far have you fluttered away_!
        _No more the skies azure light, caroling birds_
                  _Waken and glisten for me_!

          _Bearing all joy from my heart--Loved one_!
            _How far from my life hast thou flown_!
          _Vainly to me does the springtime return_!

        _It brings thee never again--Dark is the sun_!
                _Dead are the days of delight_!
         _Cold is my heart and as dark as the grave_!
                 _Life is in vain--evermore_!



MADAME X



CHAPTER I


TWO INVALIDS


A night lamp--the chosen companion of illness, misery and
murder--burned dimly on a little table in the midst of a grim array of
bottles and boxes. In a big armchair between the table and the bed,
and within easy reach of both, sat a young man. It was his fourteenth
night in that chair and he leaned his head back against the cushions
in an attitude of utter exhaustion. The hands rested on the arms with
the palms turned up. But the strong, clean-cut face--that for two weeks
had been a mask of fear and suffering--was transfigured with joy and
thanksgiving when he reached over every few minutes and touched the
forehead of the little boy in the bed. There was moisture under the
dark curls and the fever flush had given way to the pallor of weakness.

Louis Floriot was a man with steel nerves and an unbending will.
Barely in his thirty-first year, he was Deputy Attorney of Paris, and
in all the two weeks he had watched at the bedside of his boy he had
not been ten seconds late at the opening of court in the morning. His
work and his child were all that were left to him and he divided the
day between them without a thought of himself. The woman that had made
both dear to him was gone. He had loved the baby with almost more than
a father's love because he was hers--theirs. He had slaved for fame and
power to lay them at her feet as a proof of his love.

Two short years ago it would have been impossible to find a happier man
within the girth of the seven seas. Then one night he had returned from
his office too early--returned to find his life in ruins and his home
made desolate. And she had fled from him into the night and had gone
out of his life--but not out of his memory.

He had striven with all the strength of his will to forget her; but in
his heart he knew that as long as he breathed her image would be there.
He worked with feverish energy and poured his love out on Raymond. The
child was with him every moment that he was not in court or in his
office, but his dark curly hair and great dark eyes were his mother's
and forgetfulness did not lie that way.

In the two years that had passed since the whole scheme of his life had
been shattered he had barely had time to piece together a make-shift
plan that would give him an excuse for living. In this new plan Raymond
was the one element of tenderness. But for his love for the boy he
would have become as stem and inexorable as the laws in which he dealt.
He could not tear Jacqueline out of his heart but he forced himself to
remember only the bitterness of her perfidy.

In the past two weeks the memory had come back more bitterly. How
different, he had thought in the long nights, if she had been there!
They would have watched hand in hand and whispered hope and comfort to
each other. One would have slept calmly when wearied, knowing that the
tender love of the other guarded their baby. And what happiness would
have been theirs that hour when the fever broke and Raymond passed from
stupor to natural sleep! But she had not loved him--she had not even
loved her boy; for she had deserted both.

Rose, the maid, who had been in their house since his marriage, softly
opened the door and whispered that Madame Varenne was in the library
waiting to see him. He rose with a sigh, and after a last look at the
sleeping child, tiptoed out of the room and noiselessly shut the door
behind him.

Madame Varenne was a sprightly young widow, the sister of Dr. Chennel,
who attended Raymond as if the boy were his own son. Madame Varenne,
too, had almost a motherly affection for the child and something beyond
admiration for the handsome, slightly grayed father. They supposed, as
did everyone else in Passy, that Madame Floriot was dead. Floriot was
living in Paris when she left him and he moved out to Passy shortly
afterward.

He shook hands with her cordially as he came in.

"How kind of you to come, Madame Varenne!" he said, gratefully. The
young woman looked up at him with a happy smile.

"I am delighted with the news that Rose has just given me!" she
exclaimed, pressing his hand.

"Yes," he smiled wearily, "our nightmare is over and it was time it
finished. I couldn't have held out much longer."

"You have had a bad time of it," she murmured, sympathetically.

"It hasn't been easy. And I shall never be able, to thank your brother
enough for what he has done for me," and Floriot's voice trembled.

"He has thought of nothing else beside the boy for weeks and he was
always talking about him," declared Madame Varenne, shaking her head.
"The day before yesterday he went to see one of his old professors
to consult him on the treatment, and he was hard at work that night
experimenting and reading."

Floriot nodded.

"He tells me that it was then that he got the idea which has saved
Raymond's life. I owe my boy's life to your brother, Madame Varenne,"
he added, his voice vibrant with gratitude, "and you may be sure that I
will never forget it."

"What he has done has been its own reward," she replied gently. "My
brother is so fond of Raymond!"

Floriot smiled tenderly.

"And you?"

"Oh, I love the child!" she exclaimed.

"He loves you, too," Floriot assured her. "You were the first person he
asked for when the fever left him. And now, that we are alone for a
moment I want to take the opportunity of thanking you from the bottom
of my heart!"

"Thanking me! For what?"

"For your friendship."

"How absurd you are!" she laughed. "Then I ought to be making pretty
speeches to you to thank you for yours as well!"

"It is not quite the same thing," returned Floriot. "You are a
charming, happy, amiable and altogether delightful woman while I--Well,
I'm just a bear."

"You don't mean to say so!" she exclaimed, with a look of mock alarm.

"Oh, yes!" he nodded with a smile. "Bear is the only word that
describes me--an ill-tempered bear, at that!"

"You will never be as disagreeable as my husband was!" And Madame
Varenne shook her head decidedly. Floriot laughed.

"Really! Was he even gloomier than I?"

"My husband! Good gracious me! You are a regular devil of a chap
compared to him!" exclaimed the sprightly lady, earnestly. Again
Floriot burst into a laugh. It was the first exercise of the kind he
had had in some time.

"You can't have amused yourself much," he suggested. "You can't have
had a wildly merry time."

"I didn't!" was the forcible response. "But now everything and
everybody appear charming by contrast!"

"Even I?" he smiled.

"Yes, even you!" she admitted, with another smile. At that moment her
brother entered and Floriot greeted him affectionately. His first
questions were about Raymond and the replies were satisfactory. He
rubbed his hands enthusiastically and busied himself with his bag,
while Floriot attempted to continue his speech of thanks in the face of
protests from both.

"There, there, there!" broke in the doctor. "How do you know that we
are not both of us sowing that we may reap? One never knows how useful
it may be to be friends with a man in your profession," he chuckled.

Madame Varenne made her adieux and left with a rather wistful look at
Floriot as she pressed his hand. She promised to come back the first
thing in the morning.

"And now, friend Floriot," said the doctor, looking at him gravely, "as
the boy is out of danger, you begin taking care of yourself."

Floriot stared at him in surprise.

"Why, there's nothing the matter with me!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, yes, there is!" retorted the man of medicine. "And a great deal
more than you think!"

"Nonsense!" said Floriot, lightly. "I'm a little tired, but a few days'
rest will----"

"No, no, no!" interrupted the doctor, with an energetic shake of the
head. "You are working too much and you are taking too little exercise.
You brood and worry over things and you must take a cure!"

"What sort of a cure?" inquired Floriot, with an uneasy glance.

"Every morning, no matter what the weather is, you must take a smart
two hours' walk."

"But, my dear fellow----"

"You must walk at a smart pace for two hours," insisted the doctor.
"And you must feed heartily."

"My dear fellow, I can hardly get through a cutlet for my lunch!"
protested Floriot.

"I will let you off to-day, but from to-morrow on you must eat two," he
continued firmly, as if he had not heard the interruption. Considering
that luncheon was some eight hours in the past, this was not much of a
concession.

"I shall never be able to do anything of the sort!" Floriot declared.

"Oh, yes, you will!" the doctor assured him with exasperating
confidence. "On your way home every evening you must look in at the
fencing school and fence for half-hour, take a cold shower and walk
home."

"Walk! Out to Passy?"

"Out to Passy."

"My dear doctor," he smiled pityingly, "I can't possibly follow your
prescription. I haven't the time."

"Then you must get married," returned the doctor calmly. Floriot gazed
at him for a few moments in dumb amazement and then laughed amusedly.

"Distraction of some sort is absolutely necessary for your case,"
the doctor explained as gravely as a judge. "There is nothing to be
startled at--you've been married before"--Floriot winced--"you can
do so again. A lonely life is not the life for you. Look out for a
happy-minded woman, who will keep you young and be a mother to your
child, and marry her. I have an idea," he smiled knowingly, "that you
won't have much difficulty in finding the very woman!"

In a flash the young lawyer saw what was in his friend's mind. He saw,
too, that he must make him a confidant--tell him a story that he had
sworn should never be put into words. For almost a minute emotion held
him tongue-tied.

Then he said brokenly:

"My friend, I see now that I ought to--I ought to have--told you
before. I--am not a widower!"

Dr. Chennel fell back against the table astounded.

"Not a widower!" he gasped.

"My wife is living," said Floriot in a low, unsteady voice. "After
three years of married life--she left me--with a lover. I came home
unexpectedly one day--and found them--together. They rushed out of the
house in terror. I should have killed them both, I think, if they had
not run."

The doctor murmured something meant to be sympathetic. He was too much
amazed for speech.

"I have sometimes thought of telling you, but, somehow, I could not
talk of it. Chennel, old man!" he cried, miserably, laying his hand on
his friend's arm, "you can't guess how horribly unhappy I am!"

"Then--you--you love her still?" asked the doctor, gently. Floriot
bowed his head to conceal the agony written on his face and threw up a
hand in a gesture of despair.

"I can think of no other woman! God knows, I have tried hard to forget
her! She was the whole joy of my life--my life itself! I cannot tell
you how I suffered. I would have died if I had dared. But I thought
of the child, and that saved me from suicide. I remembered my duty to
the boy and the thought of it kept me alive. If I had lost him----" He
choked and turned abruptly away.

"He will be running about in a week," said the doctor's quiet voice.

"Thanks to you, doctor, thanks to you!" he cried, his eyes shining
with tears and gratitude as he turned to his friend with both hands
outstretched. "You have saved both of our lives!"

They were gripping each other's hands hard when Rose appeared at the
door to announce that Master Raymond was awake. Arm in arm they hurried
off to the sick-room. Rose was about to follow a little later when she
heard the buzz of the muffled door bell.

"It is Monsieur Noel," she thought as she hurried to the door. Noel
Sauvrin, a life-long friend of Floriot's expected to reach the house in
Passy from the south of France that night.

She opened the door with a smile of welcome that changed to a stare of
frightened astonishment. There was a quick swish of skirt, a half-sob
of "Rose!" a half-smothered exclamation of "Madame!" and a young woman
threw herself into the maid's arms.

Jacqueline Floriot had returned.



CHAPTER II


THE RETURN


Madame Floriot's face told its own story of remorse and suffering. The
cheeks had lost their smooth, lovely contour and the dark clouds under
the beautiful eyes spoke of nights spent in tears. The eyes themselves
were now dilated as she gripped the maid's arms until she hurt her and
gazed into her face with searching dread.

"My boy! Raymond!" she gasped, brokenly. "Is it true--has he been ill?"

The maid gently disengaged herself from the clinging arms and glanced
uneasily at the library door. Madame Floriot followed the look and
moved quickly forward as the maid answered: "For more than two weeks,
madame."

The woman timidly pushed the door open and stepped into the library.
She gave a quick gasp of relief when she saw that the room was empty.

"I only heard of--it--yesterday--by accident," she half-whispered, her
hand at her throat. Then as the memory of the hours of grief and dread
swept over her she cried:

"Rose, I must see him!"

The maid looked her alarm.

"Monsieur Floriot is with him, madame!"

"Ah--h!" she stifled a sob.

"Poor little chap!" said Rose, tenderly. "We thought he could never get
over it!"

The tortured mother sank into a chair with a moan of anguish.

"But the danger is over now," continued Rose, gently. "The doctor says
he will soon be well again."

Jacqueline's eyes fell on a photograph of the boy on the table beside
her and she seized it with both hands and held it to her face.

"My Raymond! My laddie!" she sobbed, softly. "How he has grown! How
big--and strong--he looks!"

"He does not look strong now, madame," and Rose shook her head.

"To think--that he might have died! And I should never have seen him
again! My darling, my little laddie!" The face of the picture was wet
with tears and kisses. "I wonder if he will recognize me! Does he
remember me at all?" she cried eagerly.

The maid gave a start and an exclamation of alarm.

"Here's Monsieur Floriot!"

Jacqueline rose unsteadily with a smothered cry and all but reeled
toward the door. In a moment Rose's arm was around her.

"No, no!" she whispered, reassuringly. "I was mistaken! I thought I
heard him coming."

The woman stood with both hands pressed to her breast and Rose watched
her pityingly. She had loved her young mistress dearly and had seen
much in her short married life to which both husband and wife had
been blind. It was several moments before Jacqueline had sufficiently
recovered from the shock to speak.

"How--my heart--beats!" she panted. And then after another pause:
"What--will he say--to me? But I don't care--I don't care what he says
if he will only pardon me enough to let me stay here with my boy. If
he--if he refuses to see me--I don't know what will happen to me!
Rose! Rose!" she cried, piteously, sobbing on the maid's shoulder,
"I--I am afraid!"

Rose patted her shoulder and murmured sympathy until the sobs became
less violent. Then she suggested gently:

"Wouldn't it be better to write to Monsieur Floriot, madame? He
does--he doesn't expect you and--you know how quick-tempered he is."

"I have written to him! I have written three letters in the last three
weeks and he has not answered them."

"He didn't open them," said Rose, very low.

There was another convulsive sob and then Jacqueline straightened and
threw back her head, her eyes shining with feverish resolve.

"I _must_ see him! I _will_ see him!" she cried in a high, unnatural
voice. "He cannot--he _must_ not condemn me unheard! He loved me a
little once--he must hear me now! Does he ever speak of me?"

The maid sadly shook her head.

"Never, madame."

"Never!" she echoed faintly.

"No, madame."

Jacqueline turned away for a moment with a sob of despair.

"What did he say--what did he do when I--left? Do you remember?"

Rose shuddered at the recollection.

"I shall never forget it! He was like a madman! He shut himself up in
his room for days together and wouldn't see anyone. Once he went out
and was gone for twenty-four hours. I used to listen outside his door
and I heard him sobbing and crying. I was so frightened once that in
spite of his orders I went into his room. It was in the evening and he
was sitting by the fire burning your letters and photographs and the
tears were rolling down his cheeks!"

Jacqueline listened white-faced, and as Rose told the story of her
husband's grief a sudden gleam of hope made her dizzy and faint. He had
loved her deeply, after all! He must still love her a little! She had
not lost everything!

"The boy saved his brain, I think," Rose was saying, but she barely
heard her. "He never would let him leave him, night or day. Then he
began to calm down a little and seemed to settle to his work again. He
has worked a little harder than before--that's all. Then we moved out
here," she added.

Jacqueline turned to her and she was more nearly calm than she had been
at any moment since entering the house.

"Rose, I must see him!" she cried, determinedly. "Go and tell him that
a lady wants to speak to him, but do not let him guess who it is!"

"Ah, but----"

"Rose, I beg of you!"

The maid shook her head doubtfully and then with a sigh of resignation,
went out to carry the message. Jacqueline, her knees trembling, dropped
weakly into a chair and strove to compose herself for the terrible
interview to come. In returning she had had no hope of forgiveness, for
she had not believed that her husband had ever truly loved her. But now
that she had gained hope from Rose's story of his grief her emotions
were beyond control.

There was no natural vice in her, and for that reason she had walked in
the purgatory of the fallen who are still permitted to see themselves
with the eyes of the virtuous. Vice breeds callousness. She had been
gay, witty, laughter-loving and emotional. Without love, as she
understood it, she felt herself to be incomplete. She had worshipped
her husband, but at last had come to believe that she was giving
far more than she received. She never knew the heart of the silent,
serious, hard-working man. Her vanity was hurt, and through her vanity
she fell--to be driven away from her husband and her boy.

Her boy! For two years she had thought of little else, had dreamed of
nothing else but the hour when she would be permitted to hold him to
her breast. Surely, even the stem attorney who had loved her once would
not deny her the mother's right to be with her child in his illness! He
must permit her to live where she could see her boy sometimes and watch
him grow to manhood!

She picked up the photograph and kissed it passionately again and again.

"Oh, my darling, my dear one! My laddie!" she half sobbed. "If it were
not for you I----"

A door facing her opened softly and her husband stepped into the room!



CHAPTER III


MAGDALEN


Floriot did not recognize her as he entered. She was rising and her
head was bowed. He turned slowly with hand still on the knob of the
door and their eyes met! Every muscle in his body grew rigid and the
pallor of his face, born of his long nights in the chair by his boy's
bed, changed slowly to a pasty, sickly white. The woman gazed at him
with heaving bosom and hope and dread in her eyes.

"You----!" he choked. Jacqueline timidly took a half step toward him,
and clasped her hands.

"Yes--I. I----," she began fearfully, but the sound of her voice
galvanized the statue at the door.

"Leave this house!" he commanded sternly and he advanced firmly into
the room.

"Louis! I----"

"Leave this house at once!" he interrupted, his voice rising with his
anger.

"Listen, Louis, please! I----"

"Go! Do you hear me!" he cried furiously as he stalked past her, opened
the door into the hall, and held it for her to pass out. Jacqueline
crept toward him looking up with frightened, tear-stained face.

"Yes, yes! I will go, I will go!" she panted hurriedly. "I--I promise I
will go right away! But, please, Louis, listen--one moment, _please_!"

He looked at the crouching, pleading figure and the anger in his face
gave way to an expression as indescribable as unforgettable, and he
sharply turned away.

"Well, what is it then? Be quick! What do you want?" he demanded
roughly.

She sank to her knees and raised her hands to him in piteous appeal.

"Louis, forgive me! For----"

"What!" His voice startled her like a pistol shot. But she stammered on:

"Forgive me, Louis, so----"

He slammed the door and in two strides was standing over with clenched
fists. She could not meet his furious eyes and her head bowed almost to
his feet.

"Forgive you! Forgive you!" and he laughed a short, bitter laugh that
was more terrible and hope-destroying than curses would have been to
the crouching woman. "For two years I have lived day and night with the
thought of you in another man's arms and your kisses on his lips! And
you ask me to forgive you! You----"

"Louis! Louis!" she moaned. "In our child's name----"

"Stop!" he broke in sternly. "Don't dare to mention him! He is nothing
to you and you are nothing to him! He is mine--mine only! Did you think
of him when you left us?"

"Louis, for God's sake! I was mad! I was----"

"Oh, of course!" his harsh laugh grated in again. "That is about what I
expected." Then his face hardened and he lashed her with his scorn.

"I was false to my husband. I deserted my child--I was mad! I stole out
of my home like a thief and took all of its happiness with me--I was
mad! I went away with my lover to what I believed would be a life of
pleasure--I was mad!"

I trampled on every "Louis! Louis!" she sobbed, and writhed at his
feet. "It's the truth! I was mad! I----"

"The truth! Hah! Would you like to hear the truth? You were tired
of being an honorable woman--a pure mother! You were tired of me and
loved--him! That's the truth! You loved him, didn't you? You loved him!"

"He loved me! He said he would kill himself for me! And I----"

"And you believed him! You never thought of me and I"--for a moment
grief conquered anger and his voice broke--"I worshipped you! And
ours was a love match," he went on bitterly, "for you told me once a
thousand years ago that you loved me!"

His face worked, in a spasm of anguish, and he tried to move away, but
the woman clutched a leg of his trousers with both hands and lifted her
head suddenly.

"And it was--it is true, Louis!" she cried desperately.

His look was more than answer enough.

"It is! It is, Louis!" she pleaded feverishly. "We didn't understand
each other, that's all! It was my fault, my fault! You loved me
passionately but I did not know it! I could not see it! And you made
me only part of your home--never part of your life! I was never your
friend--you were gentle with me, but you never took me into your
life--you never really knew my heart, and with you I always felt alone.
I loved you but"--she fought for breath and coherence--"but I was
always afraid of you--you were so serious and severe! I wanted to laugh
and have a good time! You never noticed it--you had your work, your
ambitions, your legal friends and I--had nothing! Nothing!" she sobbed.
"And I was so young--twenty! Hardly twenty! Oh, Louis, forgive me!
Forgive me!"

Floriot half staggered to a chair and sank into it. The unexpectedness
of the soul-wracking scene coming on top of the strain of his two
weeks' vigil in the sick-room was almost too much for even his iron
nerve. Jacqueline, huddled on the floor, was sobbing convulsively. He
buried his face in his hands and groaned. At the sound she struggled
to her feet and took a step toward him, gasping to control her heaving
bosom. He waved a hand toward the door without raising his head.

"Louis!" she cried passionately, desperately, "you would not condemn
the lowest criminal if there were any defense for him, and I am the
mother of your boy! It is all my fault, but you could have helped me
if you would! You swore to love, honor and protect me, and did you do
it? You loved me but you never honored me! You did not think I was
worthy to be the companion to you that a wife should be! You looked for
companionship to your friends. I might as well have been your mistress!
Did you protect me? You brought _him_ to the house the first time?
You said he was your friend and you encouraged me to be kind to him.
You permitted him to be my escort wherever I wanted to go, because my
pleasure would not then interfere with your work or your plans!"

She choked. Floriot did not stir.

"He grew to be everything to me that you should have been. He
sympathized with me in everything! He anticipated every thought and
desire! You would not even make an effort to please me if my request
interfered with your work--always your work!"

"Life of pleasure!" she quoted bitterly. "Louis, I never loved him!
You angered me and hurt me because you would not let me come close to
your real life. And I--I--Louis, I was mad! But you could have saved
me! A little attention--if I could have felt that I was anything more
than a plaything--something to amuse you in the few minutes that you
ever took for amusement--Louis.. you will never know how I fought
with myself--the torture of those days--and when I came to you for
help----!" The words died away in a sob. There was no sound from the
husband but the labor of his breathing.

"Do you remember a few days before--before--I--the night I--left--I
wanted you to go to Fontainebleau with me and you wouldn't? And I went
with--him! That day in the park he--kissed my hands--and the lace of
my dress--and said he would kill himself at my feet if I didn't love
him----!" She stopped with a gasp and went on, bringing the words out
in broken phrases.

"I made him take me home--I was running from him--from myself--to you!
I found you in your study and begged you--to go out with me! I wanted
to--show myself--that I loved you only! Do you remember what you said?
'I'm too busy. Run along--and get Lescelles to take you!'"

"Oh, Louis, Louis!" she cried, throwing herself at his feet, while the
storm of weeping shook her again, "you could have saved me then!"

Still the bowed figure in the chair did not stir. He was so numbed that
his consciousness seemed to be that of another--watching, listening and
judging. He was the type of man whom Duty, once embraced, grips with
hug like the Iron Maiden's, and even gains a monstrous pleasure as life
itself or all that makes life worth while is slowly crushed out. Had
she come a month before this scene would have left him unshaken, but
now----!

His boy--their boy--lay up-stairs, saved from death by a miracle. Her
clasped hands rested on one of his knees and her head touched his
arms. His eyes were closed, but he nearly swooned when he breathed the
perfume of her hair that brought back the picture of a dark head on the
white pillow in the dim moonlight or the gray of dawn.

Then came the terrible thought that for two years that picture had
been the joy of another.... Fragments of his talk with Madame Varenne
flashed through his mind. Was there a little fault on his side?... He
need not speak a word. He had but to open his eyes and look forgiveness
and her warm body would be pressed again to his breast, her soft arms
would be around his neck and her soft lips would shower kisses on his
face. ... He drew a sharp breath and rose slowly and uncertainly.

"Jacqueline!" he said in an unsteady voice, not daring to let his
wavering eyes look down. "Jacqueline, you must go!"

A long, convulsive sob and:

"Ah, why did I go at all? Why did I ever go?" she moaned. "You would
have killed me and that would have been the end of it! Louis, forgive
me! Forgive me!" And she clasped his limp hand in both of hers and
looked up piteously.

"No! No!" he cried, fighting desperately with an impulse to stoop and
crush the slender body in his arms and kiss the tears from the upturned
face. "Surely, you see that I----"

"What will become of me?" she pleaded, as her instinct told her that he
was weakening.

"Go back to him! Go back to the man who would have killed himself for
you!" he cried in a voice that he tried in vain to make as bitter as
the words. And he made no effort to free his hand. The answer was a
barely audible whisper:

"He is dead!"

Floriot jerked his hand away with an exclamation of horror and sprang
back, his eyes flashing with anger.

"So that is why you've come back!" he blazed furiously.

"No! No!" she protested, frightened, struggling to her feet with
arms outstretched. "I came to see our boy--our Raymond! To beg
you--to----"

[Illustration: "_Leave the house_"]

The flaming scorn in his eyes stopped her.

"And I was on the point of yielding!" His laugh made the woman wince.
"What a fool I was! I actually believed you! So he is dead, is he?"

She bowed her head in utter despair.

"I wrote--to tell you."

"And now that he is dead you thought of me again--of me, of your idiot
of a husband"--his voice rose with fury--"the simple-minded fool who
would be only too glad to take you back again!"

"Louis, I love you--I wanted to see you, to see our child again! Can't
you see I've changed?" she pleaded. She threw open her arms and tears
ran unheeded down her face.

"Changed! Hah!--Leave the house!" and he pointed imperiously to the
door.

"Louis, it's true! Let me see our boy again!"--

"He has forgotten you!"

"Let me kiss him--just once!" she begged.

"He believes you to be dead!" he said, with cold cruelty. The mother
rushed to him with half-stifled shriek and terror in her face.

"Louis! No! No!" she screamed, "No! No! No!"

"He does!"

"Louis, no! Don't say that!" Horror was driving her to hysteria. "It
can't be true! You wouldn't tell him that! Louis, you loved me once!
You loved me! It's not possible! I am your wife--his mother! His
mother!"

Floriot eyed her, cold and unmoved.

"You have gone out of his life and mine," he replied calmly. Jacqueline
moaning, sank to the floor.

"Oh, my God!" she prayed. "Help me! Help me! Louis, be kind to me! A
life of repentance----"

He pulled her roughly to her feet and half-carried her toward the door.

"Don't take my child away from me!" she panted, struggling.

"Go! Leave the house!"

"Oh! Let me see him! I won't--speak! Let me kiss him! I won't--say a
word!" she gasped as they reached the door and he pushed her violently
through into the hall.

"Louis! Pity--! Raymond! My child, my----"

The slam of the door cut off the sound of the pleading voice from
his ears. He held the knob to prevent her from reopening it. For a
few moments there was silence. Then Floriot heard through the door
something between a choke and a sob and the quickly receding rustle of
skirts. The bang of the outside door echoed through the silent house.



CHAPTER IV


OPENING FOR THE DEFENSE


For more than a minute Floriot stood motionless, but now he was leaning
his weight on the hand that held the knob. He listened--half-hoping,
half-fearing that he would hear her at the outside door--and then
staggered across the room and collapsed into the chair where she had
sat, lying with arms and head on the table above the photograph that
Jacqueline had kissed. He had won--but to know that he would have found
happiness in defeat.

"God!" he groaned aloud. "She's gone! She's gone! And I love her! I
love her! And I shall never see her again! She must never see Raymond!
Her influence would be----No!" he cried, as if fighting something
within himself. "She must never come back. God give me strength to
forget!" he prayed in anguish. "Let me forget! Let me forget!"

There was a sound of someone at the door leading to the stairway,
and he barely had time to wipe the moisture from his forehead and
half-compose himself before Dr. Chennel swung breezily into the room.

"He's doing splendidly!" cried the doctor with a cheery smile. "And
he's hungry--the best sign in the world! I have left my orders with the
nurses." He began packing his little bag on a side table. "He's to have
a little milk and three spoonfuls of soup before he goes to sleep and
nothing else until I come again in----Why, what's the matter?" he cried
in alarm, hurrying over to his friend as he caught a glimpse of his
face. "Are you ill?"

Floriot straightened up and put out his hand. His face was lined and
livid and his eyes were wild with grief.

"My dear--doctor!" he said, brokenly, "I have just gone through--the
most awful fifteen minutes of my life. My--my wife--has been here!"

"Your wife!" The doctor fell back a step and stared at him. Floriot
buried his face in his handkerchief.

"Yes, she has--just gone! You can imagine--how I felt No, you can't!"
he cried, bitterly, springing up with clenched fists. "For a moment I
was afraid of myself--afraid that I would kill her!"

Dr. Chennel watched the writhing face in silence as Floriot paced
wildly up and down the room.

"Doctor, in these few minutes--I have lived five years over again! All
the joy, all the miseries, all my love, all her----"

The other stopped him with a gentle touch on the arm.

"Floriot, my friend," he said quietly, "sit down a moment and try to
get hold of yourself."

The calm strong voice of the physician had the effect that he desired.
Floriot's shoulders squared and his voice grew firm.

"You're right, Doctor. I will forget all about it! Do you know why she
came back?" he added bitterly. "Her lover is dead!"

Rose opened the hall door.

"Monsieur Noel has come, sir!"

Floriot nodded.

"Show him in here, Rose," he said quietly and turned to Dr. Chennel.
"Noel is an old and very dear friend whom I thought dead until this
morning," he explained. "Poor chap! He and I----"

A well-set-up young man--apparently several years younger than
Floriot, though his hair was more heavily grayed--entered the library
with a springy step and cheery call of:

"Well, here I am! And very much alive!"

His blue eyes were smiling and his white teeth gleamed in the lamplight
but his face bore the marks of storms that sweep the soul. And on his
right temple was visible the end of a large scar that extended up under
the hair.

"My dear old Noel!" exclaimed Floriot, hurrying to meet him with both
hands extended. The friends stood with their hands locked and looked
each other over with the affection mixed with curiosity that may be
marked when two who have been as brothers meet after a long separation.
"This is my friend, Dr. Chennel," said Floriot, turning at last. "Shake
hands with him, old man! He has just saved my boy's life!"

"Then I'm more than glad to shake you by the hand, Doctor," said Noel,
gracefully, as he took the doctor's fingers in his. "For anything that
touches Floriot comes very near to me!"

The doctor bowed his appreciation and Floriot, who had never taken his
eyes off his friend, remarked with a smile:

"You look in very good health for a dead man." Noel turned and asked
with whimsical surprise: "Then you heard of my suicide?"

"Yes," returned his friend gravely, "and the papers said you were dead."

"In the words of a great American humorist," laughed Noel, 'The report
was greatly exaggerated!'"

"Two bullets, they said."

"Yes, and they were right," nodded the "suicide," brightly. "But two
bullets were not enough for me. I've always been a bit hardheaded, you
know, though one of the doctors had another explanation."

The other two looked at him inquiringly, particularly Dr. Chennel, who
was prepared to combat any heretical theory.

"When I was on the highway to recovery," resumed Noel, "one of the
doctors told me that he didn't think that I would ever get to be
marksman enough to hit my brain. Said I ought to practise trying to
hit a pea in a wine barrel before I tried it again. Then I found out
I could laugh," and he burst into one to prove it, "and decided that
as long as I could take enough interest in life to laugh there was no
occasion for my going on with my suicide plans."

Dr. Chennel and Floriot joined in the laugh with considerable restraint
and the former felt that he was the "undesirable third."

"Well, I must be going," he said, gathering up his hat and bag and
shaking hands with both the friends. "You have a good deal to tell each
other. I'll be back in the morning," he added to Floriot. Then with
many injunctions about the medicine and food he departed.

"And now," said Noel, putting a hand affectionately on each shoulder
and holding his friend off at arm's length, "let me have a look at you,
Louis, old man!" He paused and gravely scrutinized the smiling face.
"Life has not been much kinder to you than to me, judging from your
looks," he said at last. The hands fell and he turned away.

"Find me looking old, do you?"

"No, not old for your age," smiled Noel. "How old are you--forty?"

"Thirty-five!" protested Floriot.

"Well, nobody would say that you were a day more than forty-two!" his
friend gravely assured him.

"Thank you!" was the ironic response, and they smiled into each other's
eyes.

"Fancy! Five whole years since I saw you!"

"And five weeks' separation, in the old days, seemed a century!"

"You're going to stay here all night and take breakfast with me in the
morning."

"Most assuredly."

"An early breakfast, though," Floriot smiled a warning. "I have to be
in court at nine."

"Ah, of course!" nodded his friend. "You're Deputy Attorney now."

"Yes, I received my promotion more than a year ago."

"I always knew you'd get on!" exclaimed Noel, patting his shoulder.

Floriot turned away with a sigh.

"I have not much to worry about there," he said, without enthusiasm.
"But, I want to hear about you, old man! What happened to you? Why did
you want to commit suicide. Who was she?"

Noel threw him a quick, searching glance.

"It _was_ a woman," he nodded.

"Of course it was! For some time before you went away I noticed a
change in you."

Again there was the sharp look.

"Ah, you did, did you?"

"Yes, you were not as jolly and lively as you had been before," Floriot
continued gently. "And you used to be away for days at a time; so I
knew it must be a woman. You loved her?"

A long steady gaze answered him.

"And she was false to you?"

"She did not even know I loved her!" was the low response.

"Didn't you tell her?" asked Floriot, surprised.

"No!"

"Why?" he persisted with freedom of a friend. "Was she free?"

"She loved another man," replied Noel. There was not a tremor in his
voice but he stood very still and did not meet his friend's questioning
eyes. "When I heard of her marriage I felt that my life was of no
particular use to me. So," with a shrug of the shoulders, "I tried to
get rid of it--and failed. Ridiculous, eh?"

Floriot laid his hand on his friend's arm. The grip of the fingers told
his unspoken sympathy.

"Oh, I am used to being a fool!" declared Noel, lightly, but with a
sub-current of bitterness in his voice. "I was the fool of the family
at home and one of the best jokes they ever had at school. I might
have known that the woman I loved would have sense enough to pick out
another man. I even made a fool of myself when I tried to take my life!"

"But you were badly hurt?"

"Pretty badly," replied Noel gravely; "but I was soon on my feet again.
Then," the shrug again, "having nothing on earth to live for but an
occasional laugh--which doesn't cost much--I made a ridiculous amount
of money in the Canadian fur business."

"But, why didn't you write to me?" demanded Floriot, reproachfully.
Noel turned to him apologetically.

"I wanted to forget and to be forgotten, old man," he said. "The
papers reported me dead, and the fact that I didn't die didn't seem to
interest them, so I seized the opportunity to stay dead until it suited
my pleasure to come to life again."

"Are you married?"

"No!" was the emphatic reply. "I shall never marry!"

"So you still love her?"

Noel made an impatient movement

"I don't want anyone else!" he answered, curtly. "Besides, I'm too old
to think of marrying now Let's talk about you, Louis. Are you happy?
How is Jacqueline? Little Jennie Wren, we used to call her," he went on
with a tenderly reminiscent smile. "What a pretty, lively little thing
she was! I suppose she's more quiet now after five years with a solemn
old crank like you. Why, Louis! What's the matter?"

Floriot had sunk into an armchair, his face white and drawn. In two
strides his friend was beside him, bending over him in alarm.

"Don't--don't worry! It's nothing--nothing!" said Floriot unsteadily.
"My child has been at death's door--for the last few days and I thought
--I--had lost him. My nerves are just a little--out of joint. That's
all!"

"My dear old chap!" cried Noel anxiously, "the boy is all right now?"

"Yes, Raymond's out of danger now." There was a long pause and then in
altered tones Noel asked.

"And how old is this Monsieur Raymond?"

"Four."

"Quite a man. Is he your only child?" There was a curious strained
quality in his voice. Floriot nodded.

"I will see him, of course?"

Floriot wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and returned it to his
pocket. Then he replied more calmly.

"Certainly! In the morning. He can't be disturbed to-night."

There was another long pause broken by Noel.

"Don't tell your wife I'm here," he said. "I want to see her face when
she comes in and sees me!" He walked slowly across the room with his
back to his friend.

"You--won't see her," was the low reply. Noel turned quickly.

"Oh, she's away?"

Floriot leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his face buried in
his hands.

"Yes, she's--gone!"

"Gone!" echoed Noel in bewildered astonishment.

Floriot rose and lurched a step or two away. Noel could see less than
his profile and barely caught the words, but they were enough to leave
him momentarily tongue-tied and paralyzed with amazement.

"She left me--two years ago--with her lover!"

Noel stared at him, dumb with amazement, and stammered something
incoherently, of which Floriot could catch only the words, "little
Jennie Wren!" in tones of pity. He wheeled on him.

"You pity _her_!"

Noel raised his eyebrows and looked calmly at his friend.

"Is she not to be pitied most?" he asked gently.

"Do you think so?" cried Floriot bitterly. "Then, what of me who adored
her--and whose life she wrecked? I am an old man at thirty-five You
told me so, yourself! Now, you know why!"

The other half raised his hand and murmured something sympathetic.

"You can never imagine what these last two years have been to me!"
Floriot's voice was hoarse with anguish. "I have been tom with jealousy
and dreams of vengeance and tortured almost beyond endurance by the
memory of the happiness I have lost!" He dropped, shuddering, into
a chair, his handkerchief pressed to his face. Noel gazed at him in
pitying silence for several minutes. Then he spoke as gently as before.

"And yet, she was not wicked," he said, and Floriot writhed. "She was
only frivolous and wanted luxury and pleasure. Life was too serious a
problem for her. And you never suspected anything?"

"No!" groaned the figure in the chair. "I loved her and believed in
her."

Noel walked over and put his arm affectionately across his friend's
bowed shoulders.

"My dear old man, brace up!" he said, with not quite enough
cheerfulness to grate. "Remember you have your boy still and--who
knows? One of these days, perhaps, she'll be bitterly sorry for the
misery she has caused, and you'll see her here again, asking----"

"I have seen her again!"

"She came back then?" asked Noel, dropping back, startled, as Floriot
sprang up, his face blazing with anger again.

"This very day she had the impudence----"

"She came back?" repeated Noel's quiet voice, insistently. "And for
what?"

"Oh, not for much!" replied Floriot with bitter irony. "Merely to ask
my pardon, and to ask me to take her back into my house--in her old
place, between my son and myself!"

"And what did you say?" The gentle voice and mild blue eyes were
turning hard and metallic. "I told her to go!"

"You turned her out?"

"Turned her out! Of course, I did!" And he stared in astonishment at
his friend's set face and narrowed eyes.

"Floriot!" said Noel, sternly, "you have made a mistake! You turned
her out in the street without knowing where she was going! My friend,
unless, I'm badly mistaken myself, you'll be sorry for this in the
morning!"

Floriot stood dumbly for a moment, twice began to speak, and then
with a gesture of despair turned away. Noel watched him in silence.
Presently he wheeled again, his face calm with some sudden resolve. The
pain was in his eyes.

"Will you sit down, old man?" he said, quietly. "I want to tell you
something."



CHAPTER V


CONTINUING FOR THE PROSECUTION


When Floriot swore that the story of the wreck of his life should never
be told until Judgment Day he did not know that the only man to whom he
could possibly have poured out his grief was alive, and he could not
foresee that one day he would be so near to collapse that he would be
forced to seek the relief of confession. It is rarely that high-strung,
sensitive men can put into words such a story as that which Floriot was
about to confide to his friend. That is why they call upon the gunsmith
instead of the divorce court for aid in "cleansing their honor."

But now the need of counsel and comfort was strong upon him. Noel's
refusal to agree with him, coming with the recollection of his owns
wavering before his pleading wife, shook his faith in himself. He was
willing to live again the terrible drama of his wrongs, and his grief
to harden his bitter resolution and make a sure ally of Noel. The
latter, when he was invited to sit down and listen, looked uncertainly
at his friend's drawn face for a moment and then slowly settled back in
the big chair, shading his eyes with his hands, until the other could
barely tell whether they were open or closed. Floriot did not sit. He
paced slowly up and down the room in silence as if preparing himself
for the ordeal; and then he began.

"Noel, my friend," he said, in low steady tones, "there is no man--or
woman--alive excepting you, to whom I could talk as I'm going to do. I
have no one left in the world but you and my boy and, God knows, I need
both of you--if there is a God," he added bitterly.

"You were about to defend her just now without question. You said that
she was most to be pitied. I know why--you knew her before she was
married. That was five years ago. Marriage develops people"--there was
the bitter note again--"and she developed into a woman that you never
knew and never dreamed could live in the same body with her. She had
the happiness of a home and the life's happiness of two--and possibly
three--persons in her hands. For the sake of a vicious intrigue which
she now sees could never bring her anything but misery, she sacrificed
her boy and me. And there is no consolation for me in the thought that
she was caught in the ruins of the home that she pulled down!"

Noel stirred in his chair but did not speak. In spite of his breezy
humor and love of light conversation he had been blessed with the
divine power of silence.

"Her misery is no consolation to me," Floriot went on, his voice
trembling slightly, "because I--I--old man, I still love her! And she
loved me--for a year! Oh, Noel, that is the worst of the hell that I
have lived in for two years! She loved me--for a year!"

He paused in his walk and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
Noel watched him silently.

"But I am not weak enough nor cowardly enough to let that weigh
with me. The boy must be protected. He must never know that she is
alive--never know what she did." He seemed to be talking more to
himself than to his friend. "If she came back there is no knowing how
long she would stay!" He clenched his fists end cried bitterly:

"The man who said that a woman who was untrue to one man would be
untrue to two or a dozen knew her and her kind!"

Noel was motionless; and, after a few more turns up and down the room,
Floriot went on:

"I know that she must have loved me, or why should she have married me?
If she wanted position she could have married men farther up in the
world than I was--than I am now. If she wanted money she could have
married a bigger bank account than mine. No! She loved me--for a year.
You said she was not naturally wicked. She was nothing else. Her love
is a passion that bums itself out in a year and she will probably have
a dozen lovers before she dies!"

There was a restless movement in the chair that Floriot did not notice.

"Noel, you can't realize the happiness of my life until I--I--learned
that I was a fool! For the first year I pitied the whole world because
it couldn't be as utterly happy as I was. It didn't seem possible that
a man could be more completely filled with joy and content. Then our
boy was born, and after that it seemed that before I had been miserable
by contrast!" Anguish choked him and he was silent until he recovered
control.

"Before that time I thought that I had fully the average man's capacity
for work and then it was doubled. I was in my office early and
late--every moment that I could tear myself away from my home. I even
worked in my study at night so that I could be near her and our baby
and still be struggling for them. And my spirit was always with her--at
her feet--God! How I worshipped her!" he groaned, his hands pressed
to his face. Again there was a silence in which Noel could hear his
friend's heavy breathing.

"Noel," he went on at last, "if I had not lost belief in everything but
hell, I would believe that God Himself must have destroyed my happiness
because He envied me, and could promise me none in heaven to equal that
I had on earth! It was too great, too complete, for this life!

"I had set my eyes on the position I now hold as the first big step in
my climb, and I was tireless in my work for it. I was as sure that I
would win as I was of the sanctity of my home. Then came the scandal in
the Finance Department."

"Did you hear anything about it? Do you remember? Some rather big men
were convicted."

Noel nodded almost imperceptibly.

"There was one brilliant young fellow in the lot, of whom you may not
have heard--thanks to my efforts. Lescelles--Albert Lescelles. I was
morally certain before I had been working on the case three days that
he was innocent. The older and dishonest cabal had carefully prepared
a chain of circumstantial evidence that would lead to Lescelles. None
of my associates agreed with me, and that made my work harder; but I
finally proved my theory to be the sound one, and you remember the
sensation it created when the net of lies was finally ripped and some
of our most respected public officers were dragged into the scandal.

"It was a great triumph for me, though my part in it was not generally
known beyond official circles. Lescelles knew it and tried to kill me
with gratitude. The day that he was discharged we were both drunk with
excitement, and I insisted that he should come home to dinner with me
that evening."

Floriot paused again in his tramp to and fro to wipe his moist brow.

"It was a merry dinner the three of us had that night! Lescelles was
a brilliant young fellow and I never knew Jacqueline to be wittier or
more entertaining. For the few months preceding she had been a little
more contained and reserved, but she blossomed out into her old self.

"After dinner I left them together and went to my study to attend
to some urgent matters that were to come up the next day, and I can
remember now how I smiled to hear the laughter coming up to me. If the
wine had poisoned him!" he groaned....

"He came to see us often after that. He was alone in the world and
seemed to have such a good time with us that I was always glad to have
him. I could see that Jacqueline liked him and that was enough for me.
He never tired of thanking me for what I had done for him, and his face
would light with pleasure whenever he saw me.

"How was I to suspect anything? As his visits became more frequent and
my work grew more absorbing, I encouraged him to escort Jacqueline to
the races and the other places of amusement of which she was always so
fond. I seldom had time to go with her. But in spite of this friendship
Jacqueline grew more affectionate to me every day and pleaded with me
constantly to go about with her and let my work take care of itself. I
showed her time and again how impossible this was, and then she would
pout until Lescelles came, and I would tell him to take her somewhere.

"What a blind fool I was!" he cried with a harsh laugh. "I can see it
all now. And what an actress she was! The more guilty she grew with
Lescelles the more affection she displayed for me to prevent any hint
of suspicion.

"One day I told her that I would be unusually busy--would dine at a
café and would not be home until very late. But, as it happened, when
I returned to my office after dinner, I found there was nothing of
importance and so I went home."

He stopped again and the other could see that he was fighting to retain
his composure as he reached the climax of the story. Noel did not speak
or stir, but the hand that had but rested on the arm of the chair
gripped it tightly.

"Noel!" There was unspeakable anguish in his voice. "Noel! In the
blackness of these two years I've suffered so that I've sometimes
wished that I had not gone home that night until I was expected! It
was raining a little and when I reached the front door I let myself in
without making any noise. I wanted to surprise Jacqueline and----Oh,
God! I did--I did--I did!" And with a sobbing groan he sank into a
chair and bowed his head on his arms.

It was a long time before he could continue, and when he began again
his voice was hoarse with the effort he made to speak calmly.

"My friend, God grant that you may never know what I felt when I opened
the door of the room where they were and found them--together! For
you will never know till you have been--as I was! I think the shock
must have unbalanced my mind in the moment that I saw them as I opened
the door, for I leaned against the door-post and stared at them as
if paralyzed. They leaped up and were staring back at me, and their
faces--! They probably thought that I was enjoying a moment of bitter
joy before I killed them both, and do you know what was passing in my
mind? I was thinking that a chair just behind her was too close to the
divan, and that if she leaned back in it, it would probably strike and
scar the furniture. My mind refused to grasp the horror that my eyes
had seen.

"And then in some dim, vague way the idea worked into my benumbed
brain--I must shock them! I turned away from the door and stumble down
the hall toward my study. I didn't have any desire to kill them in any
way--at that moment I didn't even think that I ought to do it. But it
seemed to me that I must kill them, and with a revolver--in the same
way that a man would go through a distasteful social function.

"I was some little time finding my revolver, but that did not seem at
the time to make any difference. I came back with it in my hand, fully
expecting to find them there, waiting to be shot--but the room was
empty!

"And then the paralysis passed from my brain and I went mad with fury.
I rushed through every room in the house, cursing them at the top of my
voice. Fortunately, none of the servants was at home.

"Then I ran bareheaded out into the rain and dashed down the street
aimlessly, in the hope that I had taken the right direction and might
come up with them. Before I had gone a hundred feet I ran into someone
and nearly shot him accidentally. He yelled with fright and ran. I had
just sense enough to put the revolver in my outside coat pocket, and
with my hand still gripping it, I hurried on."

He paused again to mop his brow, but his voice I grew firmer and higher
as the story of his wrongs worked him from grief to rage.

"I don't remember much of the rest of that night. I was only conscious
of the rain on my face and that I was walking always at top speed
without any goal. Now I was along the quays, then I remember peering
into a few cafés. It seems to me that I was stopped several times by
gendarmes, who released me when I showed them my card, but I never
heard of it afterward. I think I passed through the Bois once, but
when dawn came I was in some vile street in Montmartre. And with the
daylight came some sort of calm.

"I started back toward my house, and after a short walk found a cab.
In that drive I became, as I thought, complete master of myself again.
I know now that I was practically a somnambulist. I thought the whole
thing over in an almost impersonal way, and decided I would devote the
rest of my life to vengeance. I would hunt both of them down and kill
them, and I would begin the hunt systematically that day.

"When I reached home my clothes were soaking wet and my collar and
necktie were gone. I had probably tom them off and thrown them away.
Rose met me in the hall, and it did not strike me as being at all
strange that she asked no questions. I went up to my room, took a bath
and dressed in the most faultless style that my wardrobe would permit.
With the pistol in my pocket I started, out again, first sending word
that I would not, probably, be in my office for several days.

"All that day I haunted the cafés and clubs that I knew Lescelles
frequented. I did not intend to kill him there unless he saw me. My
plan was to follow him to whatever place he had taken Jacqueline, and
kill them together.

"No one had seen him and I went home early in the morning, bitterly
disappointed. I sat in my study most of the day planning, imagining,
devising the most delightful ways in which to commit the double murder,
as I did not intend to use the revolver unless it became necessary. The
way that struck me as being best would be to find them asleep and waken
them with one hand on the throat of each. Those throats haunted me. A
dozen times that night I felt the joy of sinking my fingers into them,
slowly squeezing out their lives as they stared up at me with eyes
pleading for mercy.

"I was setting out again that evening when I met Rose a few steps
outside my door. I think she was waiting for me--and she had the baby
in her arms." His voice wavered and sank as if the rest were too
terrible to tell.

"Noel," he went on at last in a strained, uncertain voice, "up to that
moment I had not felt the slightest grief. I was apparently rational,
but I was as insane as any man that ever lived. Fury and the lust of
vengeance left no room for any other emotion. And," the voice dropped
with horror until it was barely more than a hoarse whisper, "for a
fraction of a moment I felt an impulse to kill the baby because it was
hers!" Again he stopped, unable to go on. Noel could not repress a
shudder but his hand shaded his features and he made no other sign that
he had heard. Then Floriot spoke again.

"Noel! Noel!" he half-sobbed. "I thought the next moment that I was
dying and--if it had only been true! For then for the first time came
the realization of what I had lost. I must have staggered into my
room and locked the door before I fainted, for light was coming in
the window when I recovered consciousness and I was lying across my
bed. With consciousness came the suffering hat has not ceased for two
years!...

"I will not try to tell you what the next few days were. I lost track
of time. I could not eat or drink or sleep. My revolver lay on the
table and a dozen times I picked it up to blow out my brains, but the
thought of the baby stopped me. I wept because I couldn't do it. She
was so completely part of me that I did not see how I could live any
longer.

"Finally, I made up my mind that no matter how dreary and empty my life
might be, I must; live for the boy's sake, and with that resolution I
locked up the revolver, burned every letter and photograph of her that
I had, I held them in the fire, one by one, until the flames burned my
fingers! Then I came into the world again.

"I fled to work like a man running away from something and the work
brought--success! Success!"--And he ended with a grating laugh.

Then he turned his white, drawn face and feverish eyes on the still
figure in the chair.

"Now," he demanded, "my friend, which of us deserves the most pity?"



CHAPTER VI


CLOSING FOR THE DEFENSE


A minute--two--minutes--passed but Noel gave no sign that he had heard
the question. The hand that shaded the eyes prevented Floriot from
finding in his face any clue to his thoughts. He turned away with a
sigh that might have been weariness or disappointment or both and sank
slowly into a chair.

At last Noel rose and shook himself slightly as if shaking off a
hypnotic spell. His face was a little pale and his eyes had a queer
look. He walked over and put his hand on his friend's arm.

"Floriot," he said, gently, "between us there need be no talk of
sympathy. You know that I feel your pain almost as much as if it were
mine. But I see this thing from a different angle. Even before I heard
your story I understood, of course, that she was guilty of grave
misconduct. But it seems to me that she has been punished enough--and
she has repented!"

Floriot's only reply was an exclamation of scorn and contempt.

"Then why should she have come back?" asked Noel.

"I don't think I told you that her lover is dead," replied Floriot,
bitterly. Then he straightened up determinedly: "She shall never come
into this house again!"

"She's your wife!" said Noel calmly.

"I won't have her near the boy!"

"He's her boy, too! And whatever becomes of your boy's mother now, my
friend, you can take the responsibility."

Floriot stared at him in astonishment and anger.

"I! Responsible! For her?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, you are responsible," was the firm reply. "Who knows what that
poor woman may do now--after you have thrown her out!"

Floriot rose and burst out between anger and astonishment:

"Noel, what on earth is the matter with you? This woman has wrecked my
home and ruined my life! Haven't I any rights? Wouldn't you have done
what I did?"

"Your rights!" sneered his friend, with a scornful laugh. "Do you think
that you have the right to sentence the mother of your boy to the life
that she will have to lead now? Your own conscience must be singularly
clear and your own life wonderfully blameless, my friend! Your rights!
Humph! What about your duties? Did you look after your duties as
faithfully as you are now looking out for your rights?

"Jacqueline was young and thoughtless--did you guide her and guard her?
By your own story you threw her in the way of an attractive man so that
you could shift some of your duties on to his shoulders!

"Did you study her heart? You expected her to make you happy--did you
study her happiness?" he cried with bitter scorn. "Did you remember
that she is far younger than you are? Did your age try to understand
her youth and its needs?"

He paused. Floriot had sunk uncertainly back into his chair under the
weight of this arraignment.

"You don' t answer! And because she--erred--because she has wounded
your vanity by preferring--I'm not defending her!--by preferring
another man to you when you did everything you could to make her do it,
you throw her out and close your door against her! And you tell me you
love her!"

"God knows I love her!" groaned Floriot.

Noel turned away with a short, scornful laugh.

"You loved her!" he exclaimed, contemptuously.

"Noel!"

Noel wheeled on him with flashing eyes.

"I say, it's not true!" he cried. "I tell you, you did not love her!
Love is stronger than hate, for nothing can stop it! True love will
trample down any obstacle to pardon, to sacrifice! And no one who has
not suffered can be sure that he has loved. No, my friend," he went on
more calmly, "you didn't love Jacqueline. You loved her grace and her
beauty and her charm but it did not blind you to her weakness! If you
had really loved her she could have done you no irreparable wrong; for,
even when she made this mistake, your love would have found an excuse!"

Floriot sprang up with an angry protest.

"No, no!" he cried. "Any man in the same place would have done what I
did! You would--what would you do?"

Noel hesitated a moment. "I don't know----exactly--what I should do,"
he replied gravely, "because I am a man with a man's limitations. But
I know what _you ought_ to do!"

"I will never forgive her! I----"

"Listen to me a minute, Louis!" interrupted his friend, sternly.
"Jacqueline is the mother of your son. He is her child and you have
dared to separate them for life! Instead of holding out a helping hand
to her, you have thrown her out of your house! You might have saved her
from her future and you have given her the first push down the hill
that leads--we both know where! Wait! Listen to me! You are a public
servant. When you plead against a criminal you ask for a verdict and a
sentence in proportion to the crime committed. Your wife loved you and
gave you a son. She sinned against you and is sorry for her sin, and
yet"--his voice rose with bitter passion--"and yet you have sentenced
her to misery, despair and death!"

A growing fright was driving the angry gleam from Floriot's eyes as he
raised his hand in protest.

"No! No! I----" he began in an altered voice.

"Yes! Yes!" broke in his friend. "What will she do? What will become of
her? Have you ever thought of that? She will have a dozen lovers, will
she? Who will be responsible? Have you ever thought of that?

"You have not! I can see it in your face! And I suppose you consider
yourself an honorable man, a model husband, a blameless father! If you
won't do your duty, Floriot, by the living God! I'll do it for you!"

Floriot started up and moved toward his friend with queer, halting
steps.

"What--do--you--mean?" came from his lips in barely more than a whisper.

Noel looked squarely into his eyes.

"I mean that your wife shall find in my house the place that you refuse
her! My life shall be hers--and I will ask nothing in exchange!"

Floriot halted and stiffened and for a dozen seconds the two men gazed
into each other's eyes. Then Floriot spoke slowly and coldly:

"It seems to me, Noel, that you are presuming little beyond the
privilege of even a friend."

"In this case I have more than the privilege--of a friend!" was the
calm reply, with a note of meaning in the voice.

Floriot continued to stare at him with a mixture of wonder and
resentment. Then a sudden thought made him catch his breath with a
sharp hiss. His figure relaxed and he took a half-step forward.

"Noel! ... Noel!" he gasped. "Jacqueline! ... She was the woman--you
loved!"

The blue eyes did not waver.

"Yes, it was Jacqueline! And," he added, bitterly, "I loved her better,
if not more, than you did!..."

In the nerve-wracking night Floriot had exhausted, he thought, every
emotion. This last shock numbed him. He groped his way to a chair and
with both hands to his head tried to collect his wandering mind and
grasp the meaning of Noel's admission.

Noel had loved Jacqueline! This was the woman for whom he had tried
to kill himself! His brain reeled dizzily and he stared down at the
carpet with unseeing eyes. It put his friend in a strange and almost
incomprehensible light. All that he had said and done now took on a
different aspect. Noel had loved her! He still loved her and defended
her! All that his friend had said, all that Jacqueline had said, his
talk with Madame Varenne--all swept back over him with a new meaning!
Was he wrong? Should he have obeyed the impulse to forgive when she
sobbed at his feet--the impulse that he strangled almost at the cost
of reason?... Noel was speaking but he barely heard the words.

"I loved her for years before your marriage," he was saying. "Many and
many a time I made up my mind to speak to her but--I loved her more
than I could tell her! I was afraid to risk everything on a word. Again
and again I went away on my long wanderings, trying to show myself that
I wanted nothing more than my freedom. The farther I traveled from St.
Pierre the more miserable I grew and I always came back more in love
than ever."

There was no grief or pain in his voice. He was still the judge
denouncing the culprit.

"Then I began to think that she was falling in love with you! I tried
again to take my life in my hands and to tell her I loved, but I
couldn't. I ran away again, and this time I made up my mind that I
would never come back. I got as far as Messina and bought my ticket for
the next east-bound P. & O. Then I deliberately missed the boat and the
next one. I couldn't drag myself up the gangplank!

"The next day, without hardly knowing how it happened, I found myself
in the railway station, on my way back to France. I had nearly reached
her house when I heard of your betrothal!"

He paused for a moment and eyed his friend's bowed figure.

"I suppose you wonder, Louis, why I was not more completely overcome
and horrified by your story of your madness. My madness carried me a
little farther. I, too, sat up in my room with a revolver one night
trying to decide whether I should kill you or myself or both of us!"

Floriot gave no sign that he had heard.

"The old Padre told me once when I was a boy," he went on in the same
bitter tone, "there is a line somewhere in the holy writings which
says, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life
for his friends.' But his friend ought to show that he appreciates the
sacrifice!" He paused again for a moment.

"If I had dreamed," he said with stem calmness, "that Jacqueline would
be where she is to-night, I would have killed you, my friend, before I
tried to kill myself!"

The voice ceased abruptly and Noel turned slowly away. The silence
seemed to stir Floriot more than the lashing words. He raised his head
wearily.

"What do you think I ought to do?"

"Do! Do!" cried Noel, wheeling, his face blazing with scorn. He walked
quickly to the door and paused with his hand on the knob. "I am going
to find Jacqueline! Are you coming with me?"

Floriot rose unsteadily--doubt, dread and the faint promise of
returning hope in his face. He moved uncertainly over toward his friend
with hand outstretched. Noel seized it in an eager, painful grip and
they looked into each other's eyes with trembling lips.

Then, without a word, they passed down the hall and out of the house.



CHAPTER VII


THE WANDERERS


You will find in the chronicle of Matthew of Paris (and a reference to
it somewhere in the Apocrypha) a legend of a Jew who refused a resting
place on the bench by his door to the Friend of the World as He passed
on His way to Calvary. And as He walked on He said:

"I go to My rest in My Father's house but thou shalt wander o'er the
earth till I come again."

Many great writers have loved to believe the strange old tale, and it
has been immortalized in prose and verse.

As the curse was launched, try to imagine that the ancient Jew felt in
his heart a great dread and unrest, and he rose from the seat that he
denied the Saviour and struck out across the desert.

Then--who knows?--for his further punishment the wind piled sand-dunes
in his path, and as he toiled over them new ones rose, and ever in
the form of the Cross. The palm trees were as crosses through the
heat-haze. A hundred times he was near death from thirst and heat but
he could not die.

And when he came to the mountains the torrents were crosses and the
snow drifts and the crags. He turned and sought death in the frozen
North and the icebergs rose in cold and shining crosses. And southward
in the trackless jungles, in the creepers at his feet and the vines
overhead he saw the sign of him who walked on to Calvary.

Wandering over the face of the earth in suffering of the body and
misery of the soul, praying daily for the death that is denied him, he
must go on and on, and always about his path the hated symbol of his
curse.

Louis Floriot thought often of the queer old legend in the dark years
that followed that night in the house at Passy. Some one once said that
the greatest hell on earth is reserved for the man who returns to his
empty house from his wife's funeral and begins to ask himself whether
he was or was not responsible for her death. But there is one even more
terrible than that--believing that he is in a large measure responsible
for her shame. And Louis Floriot stretched himself on that bed of
torture every night of his life.

When he and Noel set out on their search they fully expected to find
her within forty-eight hours at the longest. They learned at the Passy
station that a woman answering Jacqueline's description had taken a
train for Paris a short time before they arrived! so that simplified
the hunt. They roamed through the cafés of the better sort and examined
the registers of the larger hotels all through the night, planning to
get help in the morning.

There was one dread in the hearts of both that neither dared speak
until after daylight. They had found no clue after seeing the man at
the Passy station, and when they took breakfast together they were
avoiding each other's eyes as they talked.

Floriot would not eat, but his friend insisted that he drink several
cups of coffee and two small glasses of brandy. When he saw his eye
brighten and a faint touch of color return to his pale cheeks, Noel
suggested as gently as possible:

"There is one more place that we ought to visit before we do anything
else, Louis."

Floriot glanced at him with questioning dread. Noel read his thoughts
and nodded.

"I don't think she would do it--as long--as long--as the boy is
alive, and I don't want to alarm you needlessly. But we might as well
be sure," he continued.

Both had feared all night that when Jacqueline reached Paris and
realized that she was alone! in the world with no place to go and
no one to turn to for aid, comfort or advice, she might have thrown
herself in the Seine. They were going to the morgue to see if her body
had been found.

They walked through the rows of the silent figures wrapped in white
sheets, and as the face of every woman was uncovered, Floriot gave a
gasp and closed his eyes before he dared to look. The body they dreaded
to find was not there, and they silently thanked God as they came out
into the sunlight again.

Then they hastily formed a plan of campaign. Noel went out to the house
in Passy to get a photograph of Jacqueline that he had in his bag. It
was six years old, but it was better than none. He was to meet Floriot
at the office of the Chief of the Parisian police.

The chief knew the young Deputy Attorney very well, and had a deep
admiration and respect for him. He did not ask any useless or
embarrassing questions when Floriot told him what he wanted. Being a
good policeman he already knew much of the private life of the man,
and it was easy for him to fill in the gaps in Floriot's story. Noel
returned with the photograph and he promised that he would have a
number of reproductions made and put his best men on the search.

Leaving the office of the police chief they made the rounds of all the
hospitals without learning anything of a woman answering Jacqueline's
description. Then Noel insisted that they could do nothing more that
day and that they had better go out to Passy, have a good dinner and a
night's rest.

All the way home, at dinner, and throughout the evening Noel talked
to his friend with a buoyancy he did not feel. As the day wore on he
realized what a task they had undertaken, and already he began to feel
that if they succeeded in finding her it must be due more to chance
than otherwise. But he had no idea of abandoning the search. In his
heart he told himself that he would devote his life to it if necessary.

And Floriot? Like the Jew of the legend the spirit of unrest had
already entered his soul. He made a hundred vain and impracticable
suggestions in the course of the evening, each one involving useless
activity on the part of himself and his friend. But the manifest
futility of adopting any of his plans did not weigh with him. He wanted
to be doing something. Noel finally drugged him with Burgundy and
persuaded him to go to bed with many assurances that the Chief would
have her or be on the trail in the morning.

"Noel, old man, I don't want to sleep!" was his last protest. "What do
you think about going, as I suggested, down to----"

"Tut! Tut!" interrupted Noel, testily. "What have you employed the
police for? Go to sleep, old man! It'll be all right by to-morrow
night!"

And with a final hand-shake he left him.

In spite of his protest that he did not want to sleep, a mine explosion
would not have stirred Floriot two minutes after he touched the bed.
Exhausted Nature seized the opportunity to make up for the drains of
more than two weeks, and he was still sleeping heavily when Noel came
to call him shortly after noon.

"I've just come from the Chief's office," said Noel, brightly, after
he had listened to and put aside Floriot's reproaches for not calling
him. He did not mention that he had been to the morgue again.

"And what does he say?" demanded the other sitting up with eager
anxiety. Noel avoided his eyes.

"He hasn't anything definite to report but he assures me that it is
only a question of hours," he replied, cheerfully. "He has telegraphed
to the frontiers and all the seaports, and unless Jacqueline has left
France we have her just as surely as if she were in the next room now!"

"Left France! She can't have done that!" exclaimed Floriot.

"It's hardly possible in that length of time," agreed the other, "and
for that reason I think that our friend the chief will have news for us
by to-morrow night--_sure_!"

But there was no news "to-morrow night" nor the next night. The nights
grew to weeks and the weeks to months and the months to years, and
there was never a trace of the missing woman from the moment she left
the Passy station.

Noel, true to the vow he had sworn the day after she left, spent his
life in the search for her. He had ample funds, and Floriot was well
provided for in the goods of the world. All the capitals of Europe and
the larger cities he searched, aided by the police. He made friends
with the demi-monde and the "submerged" of many races. The painted
women of St. Petersburg and the belles of, the Tenderloin knew him
equally well. But it! was all in vain. Jacqueline had disappeared.

Floriot could not abandon his work, for the sake of his boy, but he
took from it all the time that he could spare. He labored now without
soul and without ambition. The one thing in his life that seemed worth
while was to find his wife.

He and Noel wrote to each other constantly when the latter was
away--advising, suggesting, planning. All the time that he could take
from the courts he employed in roaming about Europe while Noel was on
the other side of the world. And like the sign of the cross to the
ancient Jew, a hundred times a year he thought that in the glimpse of a
profile or the sound of a woman's voice behind him, he had reached the
end of his quest. And each disappointment was more bitter than the last.

Even in his home there was no escape. For as Raymond grew up it became
more evident every year that his dark, passionate eyes, smooth forehead
and dark curly hair were his mother's. The firmly cut jaw and mouth
and straight, high-bred nose came from his father.

He was growing into a splendid young man, as clean mentally as he was
physically. He was the one joy of his father's life and he tried to
make up in his love what the boy missed in not having the mother that
had been driven away.

He had an inherited taste for the law and at school he was a source of
constant pride to his father. He was prouder when the young man--just
turned twenty-four--was admitted to practice in the courts of France.

Floriot had been transferred from Paris to Dijon and from there to
Bordeaux. He was appointed President of the Toulouse Court just before
Raymond became a full-fledged advocate. This made it necessary for
father and son to part because the son could not practise in his
father's court. It was therefore decided that Raymond should remain in
Bordeaux with Rose as housekeeper. She had been the nurse of the boy's
babyhood, had raised him, and grown gray hair in the service. She was a
fixture for life in the Floriot establishment.

About this time two men who had never even heard of any of the
characters in this story-excepting M. Floriot, for whom they
entertained a marked respect and hearty dislike, although he did not
know of their existence--sat down one morning and wrote a letter, the
effect of which was far beyond their foresight or wildest imaginings.



CHAPTER VIII


"CONFIDENTIAL MISSIONS"


It was nearly twenty years after the disappearance of Jacqueline that
M. Robert Henri Perissard and his very dear confrère, M. Modiste
Hyacinthe Merivel, reached their office in a little street not very far
from the Palace of Justice, about nine o'clock in the morning, as was
their custom.

They always took a cab in going to and from their place of business
for the same reason that the cab never took them to the door of their
residence. And, for the same reason, their residence was in one of
the worst streets of Montmartre. One maintained an address in the Rue
Fribourg and the other in Rue St. Denis, but neither could ever be
found there.

Their little home was beautifully furnished, but it was on the top
floor of a squalid-looking building, and scarcely a soul in the world
besides themselves knew that they lived there. They did not look at
all like residents of the vilest quarter of Paris. In fact, their
appearance was so blamelessly respectable that it would have aroused
the suspicions of a clever policeman.

All this may seem strange, but in their relation to society it
was quite necessary. It was their mission in life to avenge all
transgressions of the laws of God and man. They ferreted out evildoing
that escaped or was not punishable by the police, and heavily fined the
evildoers. It was a lucrative business, but they dared not live up to
anything like the full strength of their income. It would attract too
much attention, and gentlemen who engage in that business always shrink
from notoriety. As it is, they are frequently found in queer places
decorated with bullet holes or knife wounds of great merit.

Then, besides, the natural guardians of the community--the police--are
frequently brutal enough to call them "blackmailers" and send them to
prison for long terms. So you can see that only gentlemen of great
caution and perspicacity can ply the trade successfully.

M. Perissard, the elder of the two, had in conversation a mixture of
pomposity and unction that was truly edifying.

He was about medium height with a rotund figure, bald head, bushy
side-whiskers and little porcine eyes in a fat face. If you were not a
close observer of men you would have taken him for a prosperous banker.

His companion, M. Merivel, was the larger and younger man. He affected
an even more subdued and painfully respectable garb. He had oily black
hair and heavy jowls. He was gifted with a deep heavy voice, though not
so glib a tongue, but it was most impressive to hear him back up his
co-worker's statements with rumbling affirmatives.

The commodities in which they dealt are not hard to come by--especially
in Continental Europe. There is scarcely a wealthy family that has not
some secret that it would rather the world did not know. For men with
the shrewdness and insight of Messrs. Perissard and Merivel a whisper,
a breath, was enough. A patient and careful system of espionage and
research and a little judicious bribing of servants and, lo! The thing
was done!

Lately their business had been remarkably successful and was spreading
rapidly--so rapidly that they had found it necessary to take in
another man to look after their interests in Lyons, where they had
two or three "_most_ promising affairs," as M. Merivel would have put
it. And now they felt the need of a shrewd man in Bordeaux--shrewd
and courageous, for they had laid out a "mission" there that was
so dangerous that neither cared to handle it in person, and yet so
lucrative that it could not be abandoned.

The man in Lyons had proved that he was just the genius needed
there and the partners feared that they should "never look upon his
like again." For weeks they had gone over the field of reckless and
unscrupulous blackguards whom they knew--and knew to be at that time
out of prison--but they could not fix upon one who, they were sure, had
the ability and the loyalty combined.

It was in this dilemma that M. Perissard began opening the morning's
mail, sighing heavily, while his associate busied himself with a
collection of society papers from various capitals in the hope of
unearthing a profitable hint of threatened scandal.

The first letter was from the editor of a black-mailing weekly who
received commissions on all of his "tips" that developed into financial
gain for the firm of "Perissard and Merivel, Confidential Missions."
It contained the information that a certain Marquise had gone into a
secluded part of Switzerland "for her health" and was very anxious to
maintain the utmost secrecy, as it was well known that her husband had
been in the Far East for more than a year.

M. Perissard put the letter carefully to one side of his desk and
picked up the next, which bore a queer-looking South American stamp.
He opened it and glanced over the two sheets of notepaper that it
contained, and as he read his face expressed a grateful and uplifting
joy.

"My dear Merivel!" he exclaimed. "Our problem is solved!
The--veree--thing!"

M. Merivel ponderously folded his paper and turned a look of heavy
inquiry on his associate.

"Indeed!" he rumbled.

"True! my dear friend, true!" M. Perissard assured him, joyously.
"Listen!" And this is what he read:

    Café Libertad, Buenos Ayres, Feb. 11th.

    _My Revered Preceptor_:

    You will no doubt be surprised to hear from me, and especially
    in this God-forsaken place, but here I am without exactly
    knowing how I got here. Furthermore, now that I am here and
    have been here for some weeks, I don't see how I am going to
    live much longer.

    South America is a great place for government officials and
    cattle raisers. Cattle thieves, I am told, do rather well,
    too, but none of these three lines of occupation is open to
    me. I haven't the influence for the first, the capital for the
    second or the inclination for the third. It is _bourgeois_,
    and it is well for us of the upper classes to keep our hands
    clean of vulgar theft. The more gentlemanly forms of acquiring
    mentionable sums are practically useless. These people of Latin
    America have the suspicious nature of all provincials; and, as
    most of them chat about their family scandals in the cafés, it
    is not a fruitful field for a discreet young man with a keen
    scent. The very wealthy are usually investing in revolutions,
    and I have no vocation for that form of promoting.

    All this, my dear teacher, is simply a prelude to the
    information that I want to get back to La Belle France--want to
    very badly. If you can find something for me to do and want me
    badly enough to pay my passage, I will take the first ship that
    sails. You can reach me at the above address, unless a certain
    yellow-skinned suitor of one of the ladies at the café knifes
    me before I hear from you. Believe me to be yours dutifully,

    FREDERIC LAROQUE.


M. Perissard read and M. Merivel heard this flippant letter without
the trace of a smile. They were serious-minded folk. "Confidential
missions" have the effect of dwarfing the sense of humor, and they had
been in the profession for many years.

"A-ahem!" said M. Merivel heavily. "And this Frederic Laroque---?

"He is a young man who was a clerk in my office before we became
partners, my dear Merivel," explained M. Perissard, smiling happily.
"He displayed a singular aptitude for our work but----Youth! Youth!" He
shook his head. "He would not stay with me as I advised. He insisted
on going his own way and I lost sight of him in a short time. I am
really surprised that he is not in prison, but it shows that he must
have developed as I knew that he would. His hardships in the New
World probably have had the needed subduing effect. And now he is an
instrument made to our hand! Thoroughly loyal to his friend or employer
he always was, I assure you, my dear Merivel, and without fear--without
fear absolutely! Oh, it is providential! Providential!" and he raised
his hands piously.

"_Most_ providential!" echoed M. Merivel in rolling thunder. Then
he added: "You are certain, my dear Robert, that the young man is
trustworthy? You remember that Guadin was also fearless!"

"Oh, quite so! Quite so, my dear friend!" his confrère hastened to
assure him. "He is the soul of honor! He would not think of attempting
anything dishonest with me!"

"In that case," came from the depths of M. Merivel's chest, "I think
that we would do well to send him the money."

"Just what I was going to propose the moment I finished his letter!"
declared M. Perissard.

So the letter was written and a postal order for a thousand francs
enclosed. Laroque was requested to meet M. Perissard at the Hotel of
the Three Crowns in Bordeaux as soon as he could get there.

* * * * *

Some three weeks later M. Frederic Laroque, accompanied by the lady of
the Café Libertad, walked up the gangplank of the "Amazon," bound for
France, while on the pier, Manuel Silvas blasphemed the Virgin because
he was armed only with a knife; and Laroque had carelessly dropped his
hand on his pistol pocket as he passed.



CHAPTER IX


THE HOTEL OF THE THREE CROWNS


Marie, the pretty chambermaid of the Hotel of the Three Crowns, was
visibly nervous one misty day in April. She could not be kept away from
the front door, which opened on a dingy street a few minutes' walk from
the railway station.

Not that there was any particular reason why she should not be there.
The guests of the Hotel of the Three Crowns were late risers as a rule.
It was too early to set about her duties, and in the meantime the
proprietor would rather have had her at the front door than anywhere
else, for we have mentioned the fact that she was pretty, and that made
her the only attractive feature about the front of the down-at-heel
little inn. Transients of the commercial traveler type were seldom
known to walk past the door if they caught a glimpse of Marie.

It was for one of these gentlemen that Marie was so anxiously waiting,
and her nervousness was due to the fact that her husband, Victor, the
"boots" of the hotel, was roaming around in the background. He was as
simple-minded and unattractive as a husband ought to be. Whenever his
intellect tried to grasp anything beyond the mysteries of cleaning
shoes and carrying trunks it ran into heavy opaque obstructions.

Marie might have carried on a dozen flirtation under his very chin and
he would have been none the wiser. But she had never done it, because
of her naturally clean morals. So now, that she was preparing to
inflict on him the greatest wrong that she had in her power to commit,
she felt the trepidation that always precedes the first plunge into
crime.

In spite of the wrought-up condition of her mind she could not help
observing curiously a queer-looking pair that alighted from a cab in
front of the door. The man was a tall, rather slender but muscular
man of thirty-five or past with sandy hair, a bold chin and sparkling
pale gray eyes that ran over her trim figure and pretty face with
undisguised pleasure. It was his dress that most attracted her
attention. He wore a long, check traveling coat of rough English cloth
and soft gray hat, patent-leather shoes with singularly high heels,
brown and very baggy "peg-top" trousers. His open coat and overcoat
disclosed a gray silk shirt and loose black tie. But the really bizarre
feature of the costume was a broad red sash about the waist in place of
the conventional belt or braces.

The woman, his companion, was rather flashily dressed in clothes that
bore the marks of travel and long wear. She was small and might once
have been pretty. She was now plainly past forty and looked all of it.
Her figure still retained suggestions of a departed grace. Her hair
was dark and wavy but it was cut short, and she had dark, unnaturally
bright eyes. Even Marie knew enough of the world to place her at once
in a calling that is older than the profession of arms. In her face,
glance and walk she bore the brand that Nature places on those who "eat
the bread of infamy and take the wage of shame." But what Marie did not
understand was the unearthly, almost translucent, pallor of her face
and the peculiar delicacy of the pouches under the eyes--the hall-marks
of the drug slave.

The man dropped a large traveling bag on the sidewalk and then helped
the driver of the cab unship a small and much battered trunk. The
woman eyed the proceedings listlessly. Then he turned to Marie with a
breezy smile.

"Well, my dear, have you a room to spare and some strong and willing
young man to help me carry this trunk up to it?" he asked. On being
addressed, the maid started and then smiled sweetly.

"Oh, yes, monsieur! I think there is still a vacant room. Victor!
Victor!" she called, turning her head to the doorway. In a few moments
her husband shambled out. He had a placid, gently inquiring expression
that made his face resemble nothing so much as that of a good-natured
horse.

"Just give me a lift with this trunk, my man," commanded the guest,
briskly, as Victor came down the steps. The procession streamed into
the house, leaving Marie still on guard at the door, much to the
gentleman's regret. Victor showed the way up two flights of stairs
to a rather large room under the roof. It contained one big bed, two
small tables, a dressing-case and several chairs. The porter, in a
slow drawl, pointed out that one of the most stylish features of the
apartment was a small dressing-room that opened off it. The walls and
low ceiling were kalsomined. The floor was stained with cheap paint
and a few cheaper rugs were scattered about.

A step or two inside the door the man stopped, looked around and
laughed.

"H'm! I've seen better!" he remarked.

"It's the only one we've got left, monsieur," drawled Victor.

"Not a palace, is it?" he went on, turning to his companion. She
shrugged her shoulders slightly.

"Oh, what does it matter? This room or any other!" she replied, and the
indifference of tone and words matched the weariness of her manner and
the carelessness of her tawdry attire.

"Well, I don't suppose we shall be here long," said her companion.

He and Victor carried the luggage into the dressing-room.

The woman took off her hat and cloak, put the former on the dresser,
threw the latter carelessly across a chair and dropped wearily into
another.

"Oh, I'm tired!" she sighed.

"Has anyone inquired for M. Laroque--Frederic Laroque?" the man was
asking as he came back with Victor. The porter handed him a card.

"This gentleman called about an hour ago," he replied. Laroque glanced
at it.

"Perissard," he nodded, half to himself.

"He said he'd come back in about an hour," he drawled.

"All right! Show him up when he does," he ordered briskly, taking off
his coat and overcoat.

"Can I get you anything, monsieur?"

"A bottle of absinthe!" was the prompt reply.

"Yes, monsieur."

"And some cigarettes."

"Yes, monsieur." And, the guest adding nothing further to the order, he
shuffled out and slowly closed the door. Laroque looked again at the
card that he still held in his hand.

"I wonder what that old devil is up to now!" he murmured, thoughtfully.
He had been wondering ever since he received the letter and the
thousand francs. The woman did not hear him; or, if she did, paid no
attention.

"This is better than the ship, anyhow, isn't it?" she remarked from the
depths of the big armchair. Laroque was busily emptying his pockets
on to the top of the dresser. As he took out the pistol he thought of
Senor Silvas and smiled.

"Yes!" he declared emphatically, "I've had enough of the sea for a
long time. You ought to be glad to be back again; you were certainly
anxious to see 'la belle France,' weren't you?"

"I've been away from it for twenty--twenty years!" said the woman in a
low voice.

"I shouldn't wonder if you found a change or two," he suggested
pleasantly, marching into the dressing-room to "wash up." She sighed
wearily.

"I don't suppose I'll find any changes greater than those in myself."

"Because you have your hair cut short?" came from the dressing-room
with a laugh. "People often have their hair cut short for all sorts
of reasons. Typhoid fever is better than most. And I rather like your
short curly hair. You look like a boy, dressed up!"

"I'm not thinking of my hair," she returned wearily. "I'm thinking of
what I was twenty years ago when I left France and what I am to-day."

"If it hurts you to think of it, my girl, don't think of it!" he
suggested lightly, appearing at the door with a towel in his hands.

"I suppose you are right--perhaps that is the better way," was the
reply in world-weary tones.

"Of course, it is!" he assured her cheerfully. "What's done can't be
undone, old girl. There are lots of women more to be pitied than you
are."

"I wonder!" she murmured, with a faint bitter smile.

"To begin with," he went on, vigorously polishing his nails on his
trouser legs, "you are the only woman I have loved for the last six
months! That ought to count for something, oughtn't it?"

"Twenty years ago!" she repeated more to herself than to him. "I was
young and pretty then."

"Oh, you look all right by gaslight now!" he assured her.

"I had a husband and child," she went on without heeding. "Now, I am
alone--with nothing left!"

"And what about me, pray!" he protested with a laugh. "Don't I count
for something?"

"Oh, shut up!" she snapped, pettishly. "I don't want to play the fool
to-day!"

"So I see," retorted Laroque, with an ironical bow. "Madame has her
nerves, has she?"

"To-day I'm sick of everything," she continued drearily. "Life disgusts
me. I'd sell mine for a centime!"

"Oh, it's worth more than that! Now, buck up!" he cried, cheerfully.
"I quite understand that you used to be a rich woman and now you are
not, but everyone has his ups and downs. Look at me! I used to be a
lawyer's clerk--old Perissard's clerk--and look at me now! Take the
times as they come, old girl, and money when you can get your hands on
it! That's my motto--money's the only thing that matters!"

She turned her head slowly toward him with a contemptuous look.

"Oh, I know you'd do anything for money!"

M. Laroque shrugged his shoulders.

"Better that than do nothing and get nothing for it," he replied with
light philosophy, taking a chair at the opposite side of the table.

Victor entered with bottle of absinthe and the cigarettes and deposited
them carefully between them. Laroque rubbed his hands together and
gazed at the bottle with glistening eyes.

"Good!" he exclaimed, enthusiastically. "Now, mix up the drinks, old
girl, and put some power in 'em! You want yours about as badly as I
want mine!"

The woman uncorked the bottle and began preparing the absinthe while he
lighted a cigarette and turned to Victor, who stood stolidly by the
table.

"What's going on in Bordeaux?" he asked pleasantly. "Is there any fun?"

Victor studied the question gravely and then drawled:

"Well, it's amusing sometimes, then sometimes it isn't."

Laroque's clear laugh rang out.

"Now, we know all about it, don't we?"

Victor stared at him with the mild gaze of a surprised cow. He did not
see the joke and didn't feel up to the mental effort of looking for it.

"Will you dine at the table d'hôte?" he inquired.

"What's the cooking like?" Again Victor pondered for several moments.

"Well," he drawled at last, "some people say it's good and then--some
people say it isn't."

Again Laroque roared with laughter.

"Well, you are a mine of information, aren't you?" he shouted. Victor
did not acknowledge the compliment.

"Dinner's at seven," he announced solemnly.

"Right!"

"If you want anything, ring once for me and twice for the chambermaid."

"Thank you, my lord!" bowed Laroque.

"Shall I take away the absinthe?" he asked, as the woman slowly put the
bottle down when enough of the milky fluid had dripped slowly into, the
tumblers. The other quickly put out a restraining hand.

"Nay, nay, my lord!" he replied, firmly. "Never remove a bottle until
it's empty!"

"It makes no difference to me, monsieur."

"Just what I thought!" was the retort. "But it makes a good deal of
difference to me!" And as Victor slowly slouched out he picked up one
of the tumblers with trembling hands and took a sip.

"Great! Great!" he murmured, closing his eyes in ecstasy.

"Yes, it is good, isn't it?" And the woman took a long drink.

"It's a marvel! A marvel! There's nothing you do better than an
absinthe! Light up, old girl and let's be happy!"

She lighted a cigarette, and for several minutes they smoked and sipped
in silence.

"Are we going to stay here long?" she asked at last, in a tone that
implied that it made no difference to her whether they did or not.

"I don't know," he replied, passing over his empty glass as she began
laying the foundations of another drink. "That depends on Perissard. I
must have a chat with him before I can say."

"Who is Perissard?" she inquired indifferently.

"I told you I used to be his clerk. He's a lawyer!"

"What sort of a man is he?"

"Oh, he's a clever old devil!" smiled Laroque. "He knows the Code
Napoleon backwards! When I wrote to him I thought to myself, 'There's
a postage stamp wasted, for Perissard has either retired from business
or he's making felt shoes in prison somewhere, unless he's flirting
with the dusky native ladies of New Caledonia.' But I was wrong, you
see, for he's not in prison, says he's glad to hear from me and sends
me a thousand francs to pay my passage. That knocked me edgewise! The
old fox certainly needs me for something. He doesn't spend a thousand
francs for nothing!"

"Be careful!" she warned him, but the tone was a mockery of the words.

"Don't worry!" he replied jauntily. "I'll keep my eyes open and----"
a knock at the door interrupted him. "There he is now, I guess. Come
in!" he called, turning his head toward the door. It was opened quickly
and with brisk step, M. Perissard, closely followed by his associate in
"Confidential missions," bustled in.



CHAPTER X


THE USES OF ADVERSITY


"My dear Laroque!" exclaimed M. Perissard, effusively holding out his
hand as the adventurer advanced to meet him.

"Well! How are you, monsieur?" returned the ether, cordially shaking
his hand. "By heaven! You've put on flesh, haven't you?"

M. Perissard laughed.

"Ah! I put most of that on with my clothes every morning," he explained
with a wink of elephantine slyness.

"Every morning! What on earth for?" demanded Laroque, blankly.

"Thin people do not inspire confidence," declared M. Perissard,
impressively, but still smiling. "Fat people do!" Then he noticed
the woman in the chair and evolved an elaborate bow, seconded by M.
Merivel. "Madame!"

"My life's companion--for the last six months," said Laroque, with
flippant irony and an introductory wave of his hand. The partners
bowed once more in unison and the woman acknowledged the introduction
with a perfunctory nod, the absinthe and cigarette immediately
reclaiming her attention.

"Let me present M. Merivel," said Perissard, suavely. "Formerly a
schoolmaster, but now my friend and associate!"

"Delighted!" exclaimed Laroque, squeezing a limp, mushy hand, "But, sit
down! Sit down!"

All three took chairs, the visitors carefully placing their silk hats
on the floor beside them.

"And first let me thank you," he went on addressing himself to the
older man, "to begin with----"

"For the thousand francs I sent you?"

"Yes," nodded Laroque. M. Perissard smiled.

"When I received your letter it struck me that you were not exactly
rolling in money," he said with ponderous playfulness.

"I wasn't--exactly!" laughed the young man.

"So I thought it was well to send you a little on account," continued
M. Perissard.

"And supposing I had put the money in my pocket and remained in South
America?"

"I should have lost my thousand francs. But I wasn't afraid of that,"
his prospective employer assured him. "I knew you too well, Laroque. I
knew you to be too--too----"

"Too honest?" grinned the adventurer.

"Too intelligent," corrected M. Perissard, "to do such a foolish thing.
What are a thousand francs," with an expressive sweep of his arm, "in
the position I am going to offer you!"

"As good as that, eh?" There was an eager gleam in his eyes.

"Ask M. Merivel!" said the senior partner bowing toward his friend.

M. Merivel, thus appealed to, delivered his first contribution to the
chat in an unctuous bass.

"A first class position! _Most_ admirable!" "Well! That sounds
interesting!" and Laroque hitched his chair a little nearer.

The woman had just finished concocting a third glass of absinthe and
now she rose with:

"I'll leave you to your business talk and go and unpack the trunk."

"Yes, do, my girl!" nodded her "life's companion," and she passed out
with the drink and the package of cigarettes.

"Now then, to business!" said M. Perissard in slightly crisper tones
when the door had closed.

"Right!"

"To begin with, I'm no longer a lawyer," declared M. Perissard.

"So I see," nodded Laroque. "According to your card you are now a
Notary Public." His eyes twinkled.

Messrs. Perissard and Merivel laughed at the same moment and for
precisely the same length of time. The Siamese Twins were in constant
discord compared with these two.

"That's to inspire confidence," explained the senior partner.

"I see! Like this!" chuckled the adventurer sticking his finger into M.
Perissard's paunch.

"Ah, yes!" rumbled M. Merivel, rolling his eyes up piously and clasping
his hands, "Confidence is such a be--u--tiful thing in these days of
disrespect! Alas! To-day respect is rapidly disappearing. The young
have ceased to respect the old and the family solicitor no longer holds
the proud position that was his. 'Where are the snows of yesteryear'?"

Laroque listened to this speech with a grin that indicated an utter
absence of the virtue the decline of which struck M. Merivel as so
exceedingly deplorable.

"By Jove! He talks well, doesn't he?" he exclaimed.

"Like a book!" declared M. Perissard in a hoarse but enthusiastic
whisper. "But to resume," he added in his "business" voice, "I'm in
business now."

"What sort of business?" inquired the adventurer.

"Business of all kinds. I refuse no business!"

"With money in it," amended M. Merivel, in a thunderous aside.

"But we deal principally in the faults, vices and weakness of our
fellow men," continued the senior partner.

"Sounds like a good trade!" commented Laroque, heartily, his lips
twitching, as he glanced from one to the other.

"And a _most_ moral one!" came unctuously from the unsounded depths
of M. Merivel's chest, "For we do good with the Strong Hand, you see.
Ah-_utile dulci_--the Latin--ahem!"

"I don't altogether get you," said the young man, crossing one knee
over the other with the air of a man who has made up his mind not to
understand hints. M. Perissard shifted his chair a little, cleared his
throat and leaned forward with his hands on his thighs.

"You shall!" he declared, a little more of the "stagey" quality was
missing in his voice. "There are very few houses without a skeleton in
the closet."

"Skeletons are cheap to-day!" struck in M. Merivel's bass.

"And in the best families there are often secrets which are worth a
fortune," continued M. Perissard, impressively.

Laroque's eye-brows went up.

"O, I see," he said a trifle coolly, "Blackmail!"

Four large fat hands went up simultaneously in a gesture of horror and
two shocked voices burst forth as one.

"Sh--h--h! My dear young friend! What an ugly word!"

"We are humble helpers in the cause of justice! _Most_ ugly word!"

"Find it rather dangerous, don't you?" pursued Laroque in the same tone.

"We do not!" came the reply in chorus, baritone and bass.

"Pays, does it?"

Again the four plump hands went up.

"Pay! My dear Laroque, I should think it did!" cried Perissard. "You
will very soon find out for yourself how well it pays for I propose
paying you--in addition to your salary--ten per cent upon the profits!
You won't find it hard work and you won't find it difficult. Quickness,
discretion and tact are all that are required. I know you pretty well,
my dear friend. You are intelligent and energetic and I'm sure you are
honest! Not too scrupulously so at all times--but--ah--you understand!"

"Scruples are out of date," groaned M. Merivel, shaking his head
gloomily, "_Ne quid nimis_--the Latin again--ahem!"

"And you are fond of money!" went on the spokesman.

Laroque smiled and nodded.

"Well, then! You shall have the money!" declared M. Perissard. Word,
look and tone were those of a true philanthropist.

"It's a tempting offer," admitted the adventurer rubbing his chin,
reflectively; "but, you know, I was sometime getting out of----It has
not been many years since I was in trouble and I don't want any more
trouble if I can help it."

"What possible trouble can there be?" M. Perissard protested.

"Well, you know, even a lamb will bleat if you handle him roughly."

"Our little lambkins don't!" the older man as? sured him with an oily,
paternal smile in which his confrère nobly seconded him. "They have a
horror of all kinds of fuss and do net draw attentions to themselves if
they can help it."

"The fear of a fuss is the beginning of wisdom!" rose from M. Merivel's
diaphragm in oracular thunder.

"So there is nothing to be afraid of! Our head office is in Paris,"
resumed M. Perissard, "But I have come to Bordeaux to open a branch
office of which M. Merivel will be temporary manager. In a little
while, when you understand our methods thoroughly, he will go to
Marseilles and leave you in charge. Then we will double your salary and
increase your share of the profits to fifteen per cent!"

Laroque wavered a moment, then suddenly straightened up to his feet and
held out his hand.

"It's a bargain!" he said.



CHAPTER XI


CONCERNING DOWER CLAIMS


When the partners had pawed over and patted their new employer like a
couple of affectionate behemoths welcoming back their lost offspring,
the elder suggested that they must now come to the business details of
the first mission which was to be entrusted to him. Laroque resumed his
seat and prepared to listen but they smiled at him in paternal reproof.

"Not here, my indiscreet friend!"

"_Most_ certainly not!"

The young man gazed at them astonished.

"Why, what's the matter with this place?" he demanded.

"Never discuss an important matter in detail within ear-shot of any
wall, my dear young man!"! smiled M. Perissard, shaking his head.

"_Most_ certainly not!" affirmed his confrère, decidedly, "_Muribus
aures_--ahem!--The Latin has it!"

Laroque rose and reached for his hat and coat with a smile of amusement.

"Well, where do you want to go?"

"We will seek a--ah--safe spot in the vicinity!" replied the senior
partner. Laroque put his head in the dressing room and remarked chat he
was going out for a little while and the three allies departed.

M. Perissard led the way to a large café and selected a table in a not
too prominent location but still where there was no chance of being
overheard.

He ordered a bottle of Chateau Lafitte and expensive cigars, gave the
waiter more than suitable pourboire and told him they would require
nothing more. They were as much alone as they would have been on a
South Sea atoll.

Three glasses were raised together and a little later three clouds
of smoke arose from the table. M. Perissard gazed into his glass
reflectively for a moment.

"You must understand, my dear Laroque," he began, "that our business is
largely with those men who, in public or private life, are a menace to
the well-being of society."

The adventurer nodded with a little smile of weary cynicism. M.
Merivel said something about "_latrones in officio_."

"Imagine the shock, the grief to my colleague and myself," continued
M. Perissard, "when we learned that a very high official of this fair
city of France had falsified his accounts to the extent of one million
francs, _at least_!"

If he expected to rouse his new employé to eager enthusiasm he was not
disappointed. Laroque's face expressed it.

"His name I will disclose to you in due time," said M. Perissard, in
reply to an unspoken question. "You are wondering how so a large a
peculation can possibly be concealed and therefore be of any value to
us.

"I will not conceal from you that the man is a power in this part of
the country and has many rich and influential friends. He recently
threw himself on the mercy of these and appealed to them for help. As
they were under obligations of more or less doubtful character they
could not fail to respond.

"They have now made up more than eight hundred thousand francs, I have
reason to believe, and will have no difficulty in raising the balance.
But there is no occasion for haste and he is all the more useful to
them while they still have this hold over him.

"Fortunately for the cause of civic and national purity--so dear to
the heart of every true citizen of the Republic!--some of them were
so indiscreet as to put part of the negotiations into the form of
correspondence. A letter or two, quite providentially--"

"_Most_ providentially!" interjected M. Merivel.

"--Fell into our hands. We made investigations in a quiet way, as
was our duty, and have secured What is almost legal proof of this
astounding corruption!"

Laroque, stretched back in his chair, with his gleaming eyes
half-veiled by the drooping lids nodded almost imperceptibly as M.
Perissard paused. M. Merivel shook his head in heavy sadness over the
fresh proof of the wickedness of man and sipped his wine.

"Now, then," resumed M. Perissard. "Since they are so willing to come
forward with the full amount of his shortage they will undoubtedly
be only too glad to add fifty or seventy-five thousand francs to the
amount to insure the utmost secrecy. Ah--you understand, now?"

Laroque slowly heaved himself upright in his chair and rubbed his chin
for a moment before replying.

"I understand, all right," he said doubtfully, "but if these friends
of his can save him any time they choose, what is to prevent them from
coming up with the money the moment we approach him?"

M. Perissard indulged him with another fatherly smile.

"Ah, my dear young sir, you don't quite understand as yet! If we go
to the Public Prosecutor and lay our information in his hands he will
have no way of knowing whether the money has been refunded without an
official investigation, which will certainly ruin the gentlemen. For
even if he escapes prison the fact that he is guilty of misconduct in
office must be brought to light."

Laroque's face brightened.

"Ah, ha! I see!" he exclaimed, "It certainly begins to look promising!"

"_Most_ promising!" rumbled M. Merivel.

Then they began to outline the details of the campaign, and it was late
in the afternoon when M. Perissard suggested that there was nothing
more to do.

"I need not impress upon you the necessity for the utmost tact and
caution in dealing with this gentleman," he said in conclusion. "You
can see that in his position he has powerful official influence and
we must be careful that he does not trip us. He is shrewd, bold and
unscrupulous."

"_Most_ unscrupulous!" affirmed M. Merivel.

"By the way," said his colleague, suddenly, "you aren't married, are
you?"

"Lord! No!" laughed Laroque.

"That's all right!" said M. Perissard, approvingly.

"Women are charming creatures, but in business-s-s!" M. Merivel's
hands, shoulders and eye-brows went up.

"I was afraid when I saw the lady and I meant to mention it sooner!"

"Most charming woman!" declared M. Merivel, unctuously, "Artistic!
Good-looking!"

"I met her at Buenos Ayres," explained Laroque, "She hadn't a son to
bless herself with and was picking up a living around a café. There's
no harm in her but she's taking a lot of trash--morphine, ether, opium
and that sort of stuff--to help her forget, she says. She's a married
woman, you know. Wife of a man in a good position and quite a shining
light at the bar, she says."

"Really!" exclaimed M. Perissard, with interest, and he exchanged a
glance with his colleague.

"Yes," went on Laroque carelessly, "Deputy Attorney in Paris, I
believe. She was false to him and he turned her out."

M. Merivel's upraised hands indicated that he was shocked.

"Oh dear! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" he groaned with a sigh like the roar
of a tornado, "Even the morals of our magistrates and leading lawyers
_are_ not above suspicion these degenerate days!"

"Have some more wine!" laughed Laroque, filling his glass. But M.
Perissard hardly heard either of them.

"Was this long ago?" he demanded eagerly.

"Twenty years ago," replied the young man, settling back in his
chair. "She says she went to England shortly after he turned her out.
Since then she has been to America, Colombia, Brazil, all over the
place--sometimes rich and sometimes poor. When I met her she was dying
to get back to France and didn't have a centime, so I brought her with
me. Never liked to travel alone," he added with a grin.

But the master of "confidential missions" did not smile.

"Did she tell you the story herself?" he persisted.

"Yes," nodded Laroque, "one day when she'd had a little more ether than
usual. It's funny sort of stuff--that! She's a silent sort of woman as
a rule, but when she's been drinking ether she gets talkative, and if
she doesn't become maudlin over her past, she breaks out with a hellish
temper and says anything. She won't live long. About worn out--poor
tramp!"

M. Perissard listened attentively.

"I have been thinking," he said slowly, when Laroque had finished,
"that if her husband was a Deputy Attorney in Paris twenty years ago,
he may be Attorney General now."

"Indeed, yes!" his partner nodded emphatically.

"This might lead to business," pursued the other in the same thoughtful
tone.

Laroque's face betrayed that he, too, had grown suddenly keenly
interested.

"How?" he demanded.

"Supposing the husband is now occupying a position worth having,"
suggested the older man, "He would be likely to make a sacrifice to
prevent scandal about his wife from becoming public property."

M. Merivel's fat countenance expressed the most exalted admiration.

"Isn't he a wonderful man?" he breathed ecstatically. "Always getting
ideas like that! A benefactor of humanity! Most certainly a benefactor!"

But his partner and Laroque did not heed.

"Do you know her husband's name?" asked the former.

"No, she never told me that."

"How old would you take her to be?"

"Past forty."

"H'm! He must have been rather young for the position if he was near
her age. You are sure she never mentioned his name?"

"I would have remembered it if she had," replied Laroque.

"H'm! Well, I don't know that it matters. A Deputy Attorney in Paris
whose wife left him twenty years ago ought not be difficult to find."

"Do you think so?"

"Mere child's play, my dear boy! And I think," he added, thoughtfully,
"I think that, on the whole, this had better be your first piece of
business. Ah! Wait!" he exclaimed with a sudden thought, "Did she ever
mention that her own people were wealthy at the time of her marriage?"

Laroque scratched his head in an effort to remember.

"No, I don't think she ever did," he said at last "Why? It's the
husband we'll have to see anyway? What have her people to do with it?"

"Why, don't you see," cried M. Perissard almost pityingly, "That if
she is only a little past forty she must have married young and left
her husband shortly afterward. The inference is that he was probably
a young lawyer and without a great deal of money. He could not have
married her unless she brought a _dot_."

"Well?" demanded Laroque, not catching the ether drift.

"Well, then! If he drove her out of the house she has a good claim
to that money--unless he gave it to her then or later," he added
anxiously. "Do you know?"

"I don't know whether she ever had a _dot_," replied Laroque, as the
scheme dawned on him, "but if she did I'm certain that she didn't take
it away with her."

"Excellent! Excellent!" exclaimed M. Perissard, pressing the palms of
his hands together.

"_Most_ excellent! Wonderful man!" breathed M. Merivel, with an upward
glance of thanksgiving.

"Now, then," continued the former briskly, "we will stay the hand of
punishment temporarily in the matter of this official scoundrel and
teach this magistrate or attorney-general, or whatever he is, that he
cannot turn his wife out of his house and keep her money!"

"But," objected Laroque. "I think there is a child, though I'm not
certain."

"Makes no difference whatsoever!" declared M. Perissard. "The money
goes to the child upon the death of its mother--not before!" He glanced
at his watch. "You go back and find out all that you can from the
lady and we will wait for you here. You should be able to pump her
thoroughly in an hour. That will give you plenty of time to catch the
six-thirty train for Paris. You might as well begin on the work right
away."

"_Most_ certainly!" agreed M. Merivel, with a heavy nod. "_Nulla dies
sine_--H'm!--the Latin, of course!"

"We will wait for you here and give you your final instructions," added
M. Perissard, as Laroque rose. "Oh, and try to get a power of attorney
from her!" The latter nodded.

"I'll be back in an hour!" he promised, and with a wave of the hand he
hurried out.



CHAPTER XII


"WHO SAVES ANOTHER----"


When the footsteps of the three protectors of society died away down
the stairway of the Three Crowns, the woman opened the door of the
dressing room and crept out.

"Thank God, they've gone!" she muttered, wearily, "I'd like to be alone
always. People bore me to death. What a life! What a life!"

She walked across the room a trifle unsteadily and deposited her empty
glass on the little table with the absinthe and sat down at the other
one with her face to the door. She fumbled in a dingy hand-bag, slung
to her left wrist, and presently produced a small vial, followed by a
greasy pack of cheap cards.

None but the eyes of abiding love or undying hate would have seen in
the pitiful, drug-ridden, half drunken, fast-sinking wreck any trace of
the bewitching, laughing bride of twenty-odd years before. The austere
ancient, who virtuously wrote "the descent into hell is easy," might
have read in her face a different story of that dark pathway.

She took a swallow of the fluid in the bottle and coughed sharply as
she recorked it. The peculiar odor of ether spread through the room.
Then she began shuffling the cards as if about to play solitaire.
Suddenly she stopped, threw herself across the table, buried her face
in her arms and burst into tears....

Our life is like some vast lake that is slowly filling with the stream
of our years. As the waters creep surely upward the landmarks of the
past are one by one submerged. But there shall always be one memory to
lift its head above the tide until the lake is full to overflowing. In
the calmness of our days it is little noted, but the tempest-lashed
waters are swept upon it again and again. It may be but the memory of a
moment when a woman looked into our eyes with trust, or it maybe that
that trust Was betrayed. But sweet or bitter, its ghost shall come in
the hour of woe to whisper hope and solace, or to press more deeply the
thorns into the anguished brow and add its weight to the burden of the
cross....

Far back over the path of those twenty years Jacqueline had learned
to hate her husband, but the memory and love of her boy grew stronger.
She had sunk from indifference to degradation and from degradation
to despair. She had been a man's joy of a year, his pleasure of a
month and his plaything of an hour. But through it all the mother
love had lived in the blackened soul and the mother heart--scarred
and calloused as it was--yet yearned for her boy. But for this, the
years of loathsome vice, of drink and drugs, would have brought at last
the numbness of oblivion. She had sought it in vain. She had steeped
herself in vice until at times the life within flickered dangerously.
But it brought never a moment of forgetfulness. When she was sober, or
not under the influence of drugs, she lived in the darkness of black
despair. And when she turned to these "to help her forget," she did
not know that that was not the reason. They revived and quickened the
slowly numbing brain until she could feel again the wild anguish of
hopeless loss; and as she sobbed out her agony she vaguely felt that
she was again more nearly worthy to press her child to her breast.

In the past few months her enfeebled mind had gloated miserably over
one dismal ray of hope--the hope of one moment of joy before she
died. She had learned from a half-breed woman in Caracas the art of
telling fortunes with cards, and hour after hour she retold her future
with the soiled pack that she always carried. They told her that the
fleeting second of happiness would be bought at the price of one life,
to be followed by the end of her own. To that promise she clung....

The storm of weeping, as is the case with sobs that are due wholly or
in part to drunkenness, ended as abruptly as it had begun. She took
another swallow of the ether and began laying out the cards in the same
weary seven rows. She looked over them quickly and wept again. Always
the two deaths!

"Now, then," she straightened up with a snuffle, "I'll try again."

She was spreading them out once more when there came a knock at the
door.

"Come in!" she called, without looking up. The maid, Marie, entered
with pen and ink and a form that the police require the hotel-keepers
to have filled out and filed by every guest.

She advanced, a little timidly, to the table and said.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you, madame, but the police make us go
through this business." She held up the blank form.

The woman looked up, puzzled for a moment, and then nodded.

"Oh, yes, well then----Oh, write it yourself!" she snapped irritably,
turning again to the cards. She took another drink of ether and looked
up at the maid, as if she did not exactly remember the purpose of her
visit.

"Monsieur and Madame Laroque," she said at last, listlessly, her eyes
on the table. "From Buenos Ayres, on their way to Paris."

Marie filled in the blank.

"To Paris. Thank you, madame," she said. Then she stood looking
curiously at the cards.

The woman raised her head.

"Is that all?"

"Yes, thank you. Are you telling fortunes with the cards?" Marie asked,
timidly as the woman began studying the table once more.

"Yes."

"Then you really believe in them?"

"They're the only thing I do believe in," was the weary response.

"That's funny!" exclaimed the maid, with a nervous little smile. "I
don't believe in them at all!"

"You will!" was the grim comment.

"Oh, it's like palmistry and all that sort of thing. It's all nonsense."

Jacqueline looked up at her pityingly.

"You don't know what you're talking about!" she declared, a little
thickly. The ether and absinthe were beginning to work more powerfully.

"What do the cards tell you?" asked Marie, growing interested.
Jacqueline gazed over the table again.

"Always the same thing, always the same thing!" she said, with a glassy
stare, meant to be impressive. "Death! My own death! And it's coming
very soon. That's what the cards tell me!"

The maid's eyes opened wide.

"Really!" she exclaimed breathlessly.

"They never change!" the woman went on in a dull monotone. Dissipation
had left little of expression and given much of harshness to her voice.
"I can see blood--a great deal of blood! But before I die I shall see
the two people that I always see in my dreams, waking or sleeping--the
man I love more than anything else in the world and the man I hate
more than anything else in the world! The cards have been promising me
for the last three months that I shall see them soon and that--I'll
die! The cards have never been wrong, and that's why I wanted to get
back to France."

"You believe in them as much as that?" asked the maid, wonderingly.

"Yes!"

She watched her rearranging the cards for some moments in silence.

"Won't you tell my fortune?" she asked at last with a little hesitation.

"What's the good if you don't believe?" retorted the woman, without
looking up.

"Oh, I don't be--I don't believe in it," she stammered with a slight
blush, "but I--I--do believe in it!"

Jacqueline glanced at her with the dispassionate, rolling gaze of a
drunkard.

"Sit down!" she commanded. While Marie was settling herself on the edge
of the bed she took another drink of the ether.

"Is that ether you're drinking?" asked the girl.

"Ye--yes!" coughed the woman, slipping in the cork.

"It smells horribly strong! What does it do to you?" she inquired, with
shuddering curiosity.

"It changes my ideas and that's a good deal," was the grim reply. "But
it gets on my nerves sometimes and then I cry or smash the furniture."
Marie started.

"But that doesn't matter! What do you want to know?"

"Oh, but if I tell you that," smiled the maid, cunningly, "there'll be
nothing in your telling my fortune, will there?"

"Don't tell me anything!" mumbled Jacqueline, shuffling the cards and
spreading them out once more. She studied them in dead silence for a
minute or more. Then:

"You're married!" she announced.

"Oh, there's nothing in that!" sniffed Marie; "You saw my ring."

"You have a child."

"Yes, the darling! Seven months old."

"You're in love."

The maids cheeks flushed with excitement.

"Yes! Yes!" she exclaimed.

"But not with your husband."

She straightened up.

[Illustration: '_Death! My own death! That's what the cards tell me_
...]

"No, I should think not!" she exclaimed, almost indignantly.

"You are going to leave your husband!" went on the dull, even voice.
Marie's cheeks paled and she gasped but did not reply. Jacqueline
looked up slowly.

"Is it true?"

"Yes! it's quite true!" was the low reply in an awed tone. Then she
added by way of justification: "My husband is Victor, the boots, who
brought up your luggage."

"He seems to be a good fellow," remarked the woman, indifferently.

"Yes," the girl sniffed contemptuously, "but he's such a common sort of
man!"

"And the other?" There was awakening interest in the stupid eyes and
dull voice.

"Oh, the other is a gentleman! A real gentleman!" cried Marie,
clasping her hands joyously. "He's a commercial traveler--in soap! He
dresses beautifully and he smells--ah--m-m! I am to meet him to-night
at the Grand Café, opposite the theater, and to-morrow we shall be
fa-a-r-away!"

"And your baby?"

The girl shrugged her shoulders indifferently.

"He's out to nurse," she replied, "and I know his father will not let
him want for anything!"

Jacqueline consulted the bottle again.

"Look here, my girl! You're going to make a fool of yourself!" she
declared with drunken bluntness. "Take my tip and stay with your
husband! Be false to him if you must, but stay with him!"

"No, no! I love no one in the world but Anatole!" cried the girl,
melodramatically. "And I'm going away with him to-night!"

"Well, you'll suffer in the long run!" was the other's grim assurance,
with something of a return of her usual indifference.

"No, I shan't! Anatole loves the very ground I walk on!" declared
Marie, proudly.

"H'mph! He may now, but it won't last," retorted the woman. "Your lover
will leave and you'll take another--and then a third and fourth, and
you'll see what sort of a life that means. I _know_!"

The girl opened her pretty eyes wide.

"Do you?" she asked, with a little shiver of awe.

"Yes! I was about your age when I left my husband and my child. I hate
my husband God! How I hate him!" she burst out, her eyes blazing with
insane fury, he clenched fists above her head. Marie half started
toward the door, fearing that one of the furniture-breaking moods was
coming on. But as suddenly the voice dropped back to its toneless level
and the eyes dulled. "But I'm dying because my child is not with me.
Child! Why, he must be a man of twenty-four now, and I'm sure he's a
tall, handsome fellow that everybody loves and admires. Just think of
it! I might be walking down the street--now--on his arm! Wouldn't I be
proud! And I don't even know him. I think of him night and day--all
the time I think of him. And if he came into this room now I wouldn't
know him. But I shall see him again!" she cried, excitedly, clutching
the cards. "I'm sure of that! I know it! But--but I shall not--be able
to--kiss him--and press him to my heart. He'll never know who I am!"

Jacqueline shook her head with a solemnity born of the stimulants, and
went on thickly:

"I'd be ashamed! He might despise me or reproach me, and I couldn't
stand that. He--he--thinks I died years ago and--and I'm glad of it
Oh, Raymond! My boy, my laddie!" And again there was a quick burst of
tears.

Marie sprang up hastily and hurried over to the table, touching the
sobbing woman gently on the arm.

"Oh, madame! Don't cry, don't cry!" she pleaded, with clumsy sympathy.

"Better be warned by my case!" wept the woman, in a high, queer voice.
"You're a pretty girl--now--but you--won't be long! Your lover'll leave
you as mine left me! Men--soon get tired. I used to be pretty, too!"

The girl began to cry at the sight of the other's distress.

"I'm sure Anatole will never leave me!" she whimpered.

Jacqueline's tears stopped as suddenly as if they had been turned off
at a spigot and she sat up, rigid.

"Then you're a d----d fool!" she snapped

Marie wept more bitterly.

And then--God knows how!--as she stared at the sobbing girl, somewhere
in her warped! soul the ether found a spark of womanly pity and fanned
it to a little flame of weak resolve. ... "He saved others. Himself he
could not save.

"Sit down!" she commanded, harshly. "And let me tell you a story, and
maybe it will save you some of the suffering that I went through."



CHAPTER XIII


FROM OUT THE SHADOW


Jacqueline brushed the cards to one side, coughed over the ether bottle
again and lit another cigarette. The girl settled herself, snuffling on
the edge of the bed and wiped her eyes. When she looked up the woman
was leering at her contemptuously.

"S'pose you think you're beautiful, don't you?" she demanded
scornfully, slurring huskily over the words. "S'pose you think you see
why anybody'd grow tired of me, but you're different, eh? Let me tell
you, m'girl, when I was your age, if anybody'd put us side by side,
there's no man in the world would ha' looked at you twice!"

And she glared at her as if daring her to deny it.

"Not a man in the world!" she repeated, proudly, fixing her bleared
eyes on the girl's fresh, young face. "Why, my lovers used to tell
that----But that's not what I wanted to tell you! Let me see! What was
it?" her eyes wandered and she frowned. The ether was sweeping over
her in waves. "Oh, yes! I wanted to tell you that's it's all right
'bout your husband. Don't pay any attention to this rot about being
true to him. Nobody cares anything 'bout husbands! Husbands are no
good! No good! I could have a dozen husbands!" Her head sank and she
waved her hand feebly as if dismissing the whole tribe of married men.
The mumbled words died away in incoherencies.

The girl watched her a little frightened.

"You were going to tell me a story," she reminded her timidly.

Jacqueline sat bolt upright, her eyes blazing with senseless anger.

"Of course, I am!" she snapped. "You shut up and le' me tell it my own
way an' maybe it'll do you some good!" Marie shrank back and glanced
nervously at the door.

"But that's all light!" the woman assured her generously. "You didn't
mean anything wrong. I'm going t' tell you why you better not go'way
and leave your boy like I did...."

She bowed her head again for a moment and, spurred by the drug, her
memory slowly unfolded the panorama of her past. All its happiness,
all its sorrow, misery and despair came back to her. As she told the
tale her voice was sometimes harsh and indifferent and sometimes only a
drunken mumble. Again it was faintly vibrant with the ghost of a lost
emotion, or the knife-thrust of reawakened grief cut off the words in
her throat. And the simple girl on the bed leaned forward and listened
with glistening eyes and hectic cheeks....

"Twenty-five--twenty-six--I don't know how many years ago--I lived in
a big house not many miles from this place," she began, slowly. "I was
the only child and I don't remember much about my father and mother.
They died young. It was a small place and I didn't know much about
life--but I learned plenty afterwards.

"You're a peasant," she went on with harsh contempt. "You don't know
anything about how girls like I was, are brought up. When I was
sixteen I knew only two young men more than to bow to when I met them.
One was named Noel--I'd known him all my life--and the other's name
was--Louis!" The liquid word came gratingly off her tongue.

"He was older than Noel and he was one of these grave, dignified young
men, all wrapped up in his work. He was a lawyer and I guess he was a
pretty good one. Everybody seemed to think so. Well, anyway, we fell in
love with each other, and I married him before I was nineteen. Maybe
the other one loved me, too," she added, carelessly "He tried to kill
himself a little while after I married his friend.

"After our honeymoon we took a house in Paris, where his work was. He
was ambitious and wanted to be a Deputy Attorney. I didn't see much of
him after we settled down, because he was giving so much time to his
work, but I didn't care much--then. I loved him so and--I had something
else to think about. And when _he_ came I was the happiest girl in
Paris. He was the prettiest, little, dark-eyed----" The sentence ended
in a choke and she put out her hand for the ether bottle....

"For a while the baby was everything to me, but he couldn't be always.
I wanted my husband. I liked fun and a gay time, but he was always too
busy--too busy!--until I grew angry at him. He thought that the baby
and the little that I saw of him in the evening occasionally were all
that I needed.

"Sometimes when he was working in his study I used to go in and try to
talk to him and get him to tell me what he was doing. I wanted to be
more in his life. He always laughed and said that I wouldn't understand
and--then he'd turn me out.

"I begged him to take me to the theater, to the carnival, to the
country--anywhere for life and amusement--but he never had time. I used
to cry myself to sleep at night.

"One evening he brought home a young man to dinner with him. They
were very happy. My husband had saved the young man in some case or
other--he never took the trouble to tell me, or I forget what it was.
He was a witty, handsome fellow, and that was the merriest dinner I
ever had.

"The young man--his name was Albert--seemed to have a pretty good time
himself, for he came often after that. I suppose my fool of a husband,"
she grated the word viciously, "thought that he was coming all the time
to show his gratitude! One afternoon while he was there, I wanted to
go driving and he asked Albert to take me--so he could go on with his
d----d work!

"That's the way he discovered how to keep me amused and without
interfering with his own plans. Albert was always my escort after
that, and the more my husband neglected me the angrier I grew. He
didn't have brains enough to know that no man devotes his time to a
married woman out of gratitude to her husband.

"Albert was always respectful--oh, yes, always respectful! But he could
tell a lot with his eyes, and the more enraged I was with my husband
the more I listened to what his eyes were saying. Once, in a carriage,
he picked up my gloves and kissed them again and again. But he never
spoke a word of love or put a disrespectful finger on me. Oh, he knew
women, he did! He knew women!" she chuckled, tipsily.

"I had one of the first editions of every new book. There were flowers
every day. He had me in a box at the opening of every new play. Once
I mentioned that I would like to have some real white heather to make
birthday favors. I didn't see him for four days and then he came out to
the house with a trunk-load, nearly. He had gone to Scotland for it.
D'you ever have a lover'd do that for you?" she demanded, with a fierce
frown.

"You bet you didn't!" she went on proudly, while Marie was trying to
imagine Anatole en route for Scotland. "That's the kind of lovers I
had!

"Well, one Sunday I wanted my husband to go to Fontainebleau with me
and he wouldn't do it. That was the finish! Albert saw something--for
he began to make love to me. When I felt his first kiss on my hand, I
started! I was about to jerk it away, when I remembered how my husband
had treated me and I let him go on. Ah! he knew how to make love!" she
declared, with the admiration of a savant.

"When I returned to my husband that night, I was frightened! I knew
that I cared for Albert more than I should and I wanted him to protect
me. When I tried to talk to him he told me to run along and play with
Albert! And I did! I went! I went! I went! I----" The voice trailed off
into a sob. She buried her face in her arms for a few moments and the
table shook. The girl on the bed was in a semi-hypnotic trance and did
not stir. When Jacqueline raised her head her face was set in its usual
stony mask.

"When I came back that night," her voice was hard and high, "I was
no longer a pure woman. I crept into bed and wept, afraid that my
husband would question me when he came to say good-night. He didn't
come. He was thinking about one of his problems and forgot it. All my
remorse was gone in a moment. I didn't think of him or my boy. I was
mad--crazy! I gave myself up to Albert without a thought of the future!

"But it didn't last long!" she wagged her head solemnly. "My husband
came home too early one night and found us in my room. Never should
ha' been there! Never! Never, never! But I thought I hated him so much
that I wanted to be untrue to him in his own house. Well, when he
opened the door he just stood there and looked at us for a minute and
didn't say a word. Then he went off down the hall toward his study.
We ran down-stairs and out of the house and----" She stopped, her
eyes wavering and her face wrinkling, as the absinthe or the ether
apparently sketched a humorous picture on her mind.

"Hee! Hee!" she cackled hysterically. "I'll bet he was surprised when
he came back! Hee, hee, hee! I never thought of that! Hee, hee, hee!
Ha, ha, ha! I never--ha, ha, ha!" And she rocked back and forth in
uncanny mirth until the laughter changed to sobs. Then she stiffened
suddenly and tried to glare at Marie with watery eyes.

"What you laughing at? S'there anything funny?" she demanded,
belligerently. The frightened girl, who had not made a sound, began a
stammering protest. She was too much fascinated by the evil story and
its creepy narrator to think of rushing out of the room.

"'S all right! All right! But don't do it again," Jacqueline warned
her. "Now, le' me see! Oh, yes! Well, Albert and I went down South and
bought a little place in the country and lived there for a long time.
Happy? No, I wasn't happy! I wanted my boy. My boy! My boy!" And again
she burst into tears.

"I hadn't been there but a little more than a year," she went on,
snuffling and wiping her eyes, "when I told him I couldn't live without
my baby and I was going to ask my husband to forgive me. He begged me
not to do it, and for months I was afraid to try. At last, he took
pneumonia and died.

"I wrote three letters to my husband, asking Aim to see me, and he
never answered. That made me all the more afraid to meet him, and I
don't think I would ever have had the courage if I had not overheard a
conversation between two men in a café one evening. They had just come
from Paris. They were lawyers, and one of them was wondering at my
husband's strength. He said that my boy had been dangerously ill, and
that my husband was beside his bed all night, but in Court every day as
usual.

"When I heard that my baby might be dying I nearly swooned; and, before
I had recovered, the two men were gone. I called a cab and drove to
the railway station as fast as I could, and within a few hours I was
in Paris. Nearly all of my fear of my husband was gone in my grief
about my baby and I hurried to the house where we had lived as fast as
a horse could go. When I got there I found that he had moved to Passy
shortly after I--I left him. It was late in the evening when I found
the place."

Jacqueline paused and her head sank slowly on to the table. After a few
moments she sat up and reached feverishly for the ether bottle.

"The--hugh!--maid knew--hugh! hugh--knew, me," she coughed, "but I
begged her to tell my husband that a woman wanted to see him, without
giving him my name. When he came in he tried to put me out of the house
without listening to me. I groveled at his feet and begged him to let
me see my boy! I told him how I had suffered and how bitterly I had
repented the wrong I had done him, and for a time I thought he would
yield and forgive me. But when I told him that my lover was dead he
thought that was the only reason that I had returned to him and he went
mad with rage. In spite of my tears and struggles he pushed me out of
the house and--and--and--I had lost--my boy--forever!..."

"You remember that, d'you hear?" she demanded. "You can kill a man,
and if you've any sort of reason everybody may forgive. But if you're
untrue to your husband--it doesn't make any difference how much reason
you have--every-body'll kick you...."



CHAPTER XIV


SIC ITUR AD AVERNO


Jacqueline fumbled in the box for another cigarette and held it,
unlighted, in her hand as she went on.

"I don't remember much what happened for the next few hours after that.
I must have found my way back to Paris somehow, because while it was
still dark I was standing at the edge of an embankment looking into the
Seine.

"It was raining and my clothes were wet through and through. I didn't
know what I was doing or how I got there. A light on the other side
threw a reflection across, almost to my feet; and, as I looked down, I
saw my baby in the water!"

Her voice had dropped until it was barely audible across the room, and
she leaned toward Marie, her eyes shining with an insane light.

"I s'pose you think I'm crazy, eh? Couldn't have seen? Well, you don't
know all about babies, my girl!

"D'you ever see your baby in the river?" she demanded, with hoarse
fierceness. The girl's only reply was a dry sob and a shudder.

"Well, you will if you run away with that d----d soap peddler of
yours," she grumbled, settling back in her chair....

"I was just going to get into the river and take him in my arms when
someone caught hold of my wrist and I heard a man's voice asking, 'Are
you ill, madame?'

"I don't know what I said, but he put his arm through mine, led me into
a little café where he made me drink some brandy before he would let me
say a word. Then he called a cab and asked me where I lived.

"In the light of the café I had a chance to look at him when the
brandy made me feel a little warmer. I knew by his accent that he
was an Englishman. He had curly brown hair and a pink and white
skin--altogether a nice-looking young man! He seemed to be less than
thirty, and he talked and acted toward me as he would have if I had
been his sister.

"When the cab came he wanted to take me home in it. I told him that I
had no place to go and begged him to go away and leave me. He sat down
again and I don't remember how much of my story I told him.

"He told me afterward that I fainted in the cab; but when I could
understand things clearly once more, I was lying in a big soft bed in a
beautifully furnished room. There were pictures and statues and heavy
draperies everywhere. Foils and arms and books were scattered about.
There was a little table covered with bottles beside my bed and a nurse
sitting near by. When she saw that I was awake she told me that I was
in the Englishman's apartment and that I had been delirious for three
weeks.

"In a little while he came in and told me how he had brought me home
and had sent for a doctor and nurse. The doctor said that I had
narrowly escaped brain fever. I went to sleep again in a little while
and did not wake until the next day. The nurse stayed less than a week
after that and he came into my room and read and talked to me by the
hour. He told me all about himself. He was the son of a wealthy English
family and had developed a love for painting which he had ample money
to cultivate.

"He was a bright, cheerful young fellow, and in his company and through
his care I grew strong rapidly. He never asked me to tell him one word
about my past or my plans for the future. When I was able to sit up
comfortably in bed he brought his easel into the room and painted me.
He was given honorable mention for it.

"All this time I was worrying about what I was to do when I grew strong
enough to leave his rooms. I made up my mind that I would try to find
work of some sort in the millinery shops. One day I mentioned to him
that I would be leaving in a short time, and he looked very grave and
asked me what I intended doing. I told him and he approved of the plan.
In all this time he had not as much as given me a passionate glance.

"He insisted, when I was able to go out, that I should make my home
there, until I was established in a place where I could make a living,
and loaned me the money to get clothes that I needed. I did not love
him, but I worshipped him for his goodness.

"It was disappointing work--trying to find employment, and I could not
make enough to live on decently. I had never had to be very careful of
money before, and I did not know how. He advised me, and helped me,
cheered me all he could, and we ate supper together every night.

"I was making a few francs a week trimming hats, and when we began
telling our experiences of the day those little suppers were almost
merry. I was learning to hate my husband with a hate that will be with
me till I die," and the glow of her dark eyes put the seal of truth on
the words, "and when John--my Englishman--told his jokes and blunders,
the pain of the longing for my boy did not hurt so much.

"Then I lost my miserable position, and it was days before I got
another, although it was a better one when I did find it. During that
time he was even more thoughtful and attentive and did not give me a
chance to feel hopeless very long.

"The night, after I went to work again, we were sitting in the room
where I had lain ill and he was telling me, with many laughs, about a
picture that a fellow student was painting. As I watched his clean,
handsome face and listened to his cheery talk I thought of all that he
had done for me--that he had asked for nothing and received nothing but
my empty words of gratitude--and my eyes filled with tears. The next
moment I was kneeling before his chair, kissing his hands....

"His story stopped with a gasp, and I felt him tremble. Then he drew
his hands away and raised me up to him and I kissed his lips and eyes
and hair again and again. And ... that night ... I gave him ... all I
had ... to give!...

"He never really loved me, but he was happy with me for a long time,
and when he went back to England he took me with him. His home was only
a few hours' ride from London, where he found apartments for me, and he
was with me more than he was at home.

"Finally his visits were not so frequent and regular and they kept
falling off, until once I did not see him for nearly three weeks.
When he came he told me he had to tell me something that he was sure
would hurt me, but he couldn't help it. He had fallen in love with an
English girl, whom he had known all his life, and hoped to marry her;
so he would have to break with me. He was always very liberal in money
matters, and he wanted to keep on sending me the same allowance that he
had given me when I settled in London. But I was too proud--then--to
take it. I gathered together what money I had saved, packed my clothes
and left that day.

"I took a cheap room and started out to find work again. I was given
a place as clerk in a millinery store and by living as carefully as I
could I did not have to draw often on my savings. But I had to draw on
them a little and I was beginning to feel reckless, when an American
theatrical man, who was spending part of the summer in England, came
into the store one day o buy some ladies' gloves. I waited on him,
and--well, in a few days I left my cheap room, and that fall I went
back to New York with him.

"He wasn't as careful of my feelings as the Englishman was----You'll
find that out, too, my girl," she broke off, with a grin of drunken
cynicism. "After the first two or three, your lovers don't think much
about your feelings. He left me destitute in less than a month after we
got to New York!

"I tried to get work but I couldn't. The woman where I roomed took all
of my clothes, except those had on, to pay for my room, and turned
me out. I walked the streets all that night and the next day without
anything to eat, and the next night stopped a well-dressed man and
asked him if he could give me enough money to get some food. He walked
on as if he had not heard me, and then next instant a man stepped out
of a doorway and told me I was under arrest!

"He took me to a police station where I spent the rest of the night
in cell, and the next morning I was taken to court. The detective who
had arrested me told the judge that he had seen me speak to a strange
man on the street, and the judge gave me my choice of paying a fine of
twenty-five francs or going to prison for a month. I tried to explain
that I had had nothing to eat for two days and that I had only asked
the man for a little money, but they would not listen to me. Just as
they were about to take me away to prison, as I had seen them take
three or four other girls before me, a young man, very stylishly
dressed, came forward and said that he would pay my fine. The clerk
took his money and he led me out of the courtroom.

"When we were outside I tried to thank him, but I was so weak with
hunger and weariness that I could hardly speak or stand. He took me to
a little restaurant a few steps away and made me eat until I felt that
I would never be hungry again. During breakfast he learned that I was
alone, friendless and penniless, and he said he would help me. I went
with him and he took me to his room where ... we stayed all day!

"That night he took me out, saying that he would get me a room of
my own. We went to a nice-looking house not far from one of the main
streets of the city where a pleasant woman met us at the door. He asked
me to sit down while he explained about me to the woman and when she
came in to show me to my room she was very kind. The next morning my
clothes were gone from my room and there was nothing in their place
but a low-cut wrapper that I couldn't wear on the street. I was a
prisoner....

"I was in that house for more than a year and I made sometimes
seventy-five--a hundred--a hundred and fifty francs in a day and a
night, but I was never allowed to keep any of the money. The woman took
part of it and the man who brought me there got the rest. I was on the
point of trying to run away two or three times, but the girls in the
house told me that I would be arrested and sent to prison and would
have to come back to him in the end. Several of them had tried when
they were first made slaves...."

The voice that had been dispassionate, almost impersonal through the
latter part of the story, suddenly ceased. Jacqueline gulped at the
ether bottle again and lit the cigarette she had been holding in her
fingers. She was silent so long that Marie looked up at her, with
something between a sob and a shudder.

"Is that all?" she half whispered.

The woman once more burst into a harsh, eerie laugh.

"All! All!" she repeated with drunken scorn. "Oh, hell! That's only
the beginning! Where d'you s'pose I've been for the last fifteen
years?--Well, I've been where you'll be if you run off with your soap
peddler!" and she glared wickedly.

"I was sent all over the country," she went on, "always living the same
life, and always with a different master. At last I got back to New
York and had to go on the streets to make a living for myself and money
for the man that owned me. One night, when my feet were wet with rain
and I was cold all through, a girl showed me that an opium pill would
make me feel better.

"After that I was never without some sort of drug, but I found out that
ether is the best. Ether is the best!" And her eyes rested lovingly on
the little bottle.

"I don't know how many years I was in the 'land of the free.' I'd have
been about as well off there as anywhere else if it hadn't been for a
lot of fool-women who were always trying to save me. There's a lot
of women over there that have plenty of money and nothing to do, and
instead of doing nothing they keep sticking their noses into other
people's business. I'd like to choke some of 'em!" she blazed out
viciously.

"Save me!" she sneered with her mirthless laugh. "They got hold of
me once when I was arrested and gave me a place where I could make
twenty-five or thirty francs a week if I worked hard. All the time they
looked at me and acted as if I was some new sort of a wild beast. When
they put me in that work-shop they all called and said, 'Now, you're
all right!'

"'All right!' I could hardly help laughing in their faces. They
couldn't put my boy in my arms nor clean the stain from my body or
drive the hell out of my soul, but they thought that twenty-five francs
a week ought to be a good substitute for all three. It wouldn't much
more than buy my food and whiskey and drugs. And because I left I was,
'incorrigible' and they sent me to prison----!

"When I was released the man that was collecting my money at that
time told me that I wouldn't be of any more use to him in New York
and he sold me to a man who was taking some women to South America.
It isn't hard to get a lover in South America, and I had been there
only a little while when I was free. Then I roamed around from one city
to another, sometimes with one man, sometimes with another, until I
met--this"--she nodded toward the door--"in Buenos Ayres. A woman in a
dance-hall at Caracas taught me how to tell fortunes with cards, and
when I learned that I had not long to live and would see my boy before
I died I wanted to get back to France. He brought me."

There was a long silence, broken only by the sound of Marie's soft
weeping. Jacqueline looked at her reflectively.

"Now, you're going to go the same way I did," she went on with a solemn
air, born of the stimulants. "Remember what I tell you, m'girl. When
you run away with that man you're through with being a decent, happy
woman! I was an aristocratic prostitute once. You'll never be anything
but a common one! Nobody'll try to stop you. Women'll be a sight harder
on you than men. The men'll amuse themselves with you and push you a
little farther down, but the women'll push you down and swear at you
while they're doing it!----Well?"

"I'm sure--Anatole--will never--leave me!" sobbed the girl. Jacqueline
gazed at her as if trying to decide whether it were worth while to
continue the argument. Then the ether moved her to impatient anger.

"All right, you d----d fool!" she snapped, "Get out of here!"

Marie rose, weeping more loudly and bitterly.

"Isn't there--something--I can do for you?"

"No! Get out!"

As the door closed behind the girl Jacqueline's head fell on the table
with a long convulsive sob. She was silent for a long time and then,
sitting up, she turned once more to the cards.



CHAPTER XV


THE SWELLING OF JORDAN


Laroque almost skipped with delight as he hurried back to the Three
Crowns. The prospect of making plenty of money without working for it
acted like champagne on his restless, reckless mind. Before he had
walked a hundred steps he was building air-castles to be inhabited
four or five years hence. He had no intention of remaining long as an
employé of Messrs. Perissard and Merivel. The pay was good and the
percentage of the two "missions" that had already been unfolded to him
would be larger. He told himself that the first really big sum of money
that he collected he would brazenly put in his pocket and whistle at
the partners. Then he would buy out a small café somewhere in a paying
neighborhood and settle down to a life of ease.

And if the woman at the hotel had really brought her husband a dower
of considerable size, as Perissard's logic seemed to prove, here was
the chance made right to his hand. He would get the money, abandon the
woman, and the rest of his years would be a pathway of ease.

So he sprang up the stairs, three at a time and threw open the door of
the room, singing a song of the dance-halls. Jacqueline glanced up as
he came in and then went on with her reading of the future.

He tossed his hat on to the bed, kicked a chair up to the table and
dropped into it with a cheery:

"Do you know, old girl, this man Perissard is a wonderful old chap?"

"Is he?" she asked, absent-mindedly, without raising her head.

"I should think he was!" was the enthusiastic response. "Brimful of
ideas!"

"Has he got anything for you?"

"Rather! He's offered me a place in his office?"

"What does he do in his office?"

"Oh--business!"

At the evasive reply, Jacqueline raised her head curiously.

"What kind of business?" she asked, with a trace of interest in the
thick voice.

"Oh, business of all kinds! He really is an extraordinary man! Do you
know, the moment he set eyes on you he saw that you were a woman of
good family?"

These were the first words that she seemed to hear clearly, and her
face displayed a foolish smile of gratified vanity.

"Did he really?"

"Yes! 'There's blood in her,' he said," went on Laroque, impressively.
"Those were the very words he used."

Jacqueline raised the ether bottle.

"Here's his health!" she cried, taking another drink.

"I told him he could go and bet on it!" continued Laroque.

"You--you didn't tell him--who I was!" exclaimed Jacqueline, a dawning
fright in her bleared eyes. She had forgotten for the moment that
Laroque did not really know.

"Not much!" was the emphatic reply. "No," he laughed. "I told him,
after making him promise to keep it secret, that you were the daughter
of a general--that your father and mother were very rich--that your
husband was a marquis and you had brought him 300,000 francs on your
marriage!"

Jacqueline's hysterical cackle was added to his laugh.

"That's good! Veree good!" she chuckled. "And he b'lieved it, did he?"

"Every word of it! What do you think of that? Three hundred thousand
francs! Ha, ha! And I suppose you didn't bring him a son, did you?"

Jacqueline fell into the trap without a thought. She stiffened with
drunken dignity.

"I beg your pardon!" she said, with a haughtiness somewhat impaired
by her difficulty of enunciation. "I did not bring my husband 300,000
francs on my marriage, certainly! But I did bring him 125,000!"

Laroque hid the gleam in his eyes.

"Oh, nonsense! You're joking!" he laughed, "125,000 francs!"

"I 'sure you it's true!" declared Jacqueline, solemnly.

"Tut, tut! You're stretching it some!"

"Not a sou--more nor less!"

"Truth and honor?" he cried, laughing and raising his hand in the
gesture of the oath.

"Truth _an_' honor!"

"A hundred and twenty-five thousand francs?"

"A hundred and twenty-five thousand francs!" And she nodded her head
with heavy importance.

"Then where's the money?" he suddenly demanded. Jacqueline stared at
him in mild surprise.

"Wha'd'you mean?"

"Did your husband give the money back to you?" His voice had changed
from a bantering tone to excited harshness.

"No, of course not!" she replied roughly.

Laroque sprang up, pretended anger in his face.

"I can't believe you were such a fool as that! Do you mean to tell me
that when your husband turned you out you didn't ask him for the money?"

"The money's not mine!" she mumbled, her eyes wandering.

"Whose is it, then?"

"My son's!" The words were barely audible.

"But you're alive still!" he protested angrily. "Your son will get it
when you die!"

"My son thinks I'm dead," she replied, wearily. "His father told him I
was. And when he was twenty-one he probably came into my fortune."

Laroque half-turned away with a quick gesture of impatience.

"What a fool you are!" he cried, disgustedly. "I don't suppose he saw
a sou of it!" He was racking his mind for some lure that would draw
her husband's name from her. But this last lead was fatal. Jacqueline
glared at him suddenly, her eyes wild.

"What the hell's it to you?" she blazed out fiercely. "You've got
nothing to do with it, have you? What business is it o' yours, anyway?"

"But you ought to clear it up!" protested Laroque, in a milder tone, as
he saw that he had erred. "That's what Perissard thinks, and Perissard
knows what he's talking about."

"What business is it of Perissard's?" she shouted. Laroque extended his
hands soothingly.

"He only spoke in your interests!" he hastily explained. "When I told
him you had brought your husband 300,000 francs, he asked me whether
you had got them back again. I said I didn't know, and he declared that
you had a perfect right to the money."

"Well, I shan't claim it!" declared Jacqueline, sullenly sinking back
into her chair.

"Why not?" he persisted.

"Because I don't--want to!"

"But why?"

Jacqueline burst into tears again.

"I'd rather beg in the streets!" she wept in a high whine. "I'd rather
starve in the gutter man ask that man for a son!"

"Yes! yes! Of course, I understand that!" he agreed, eagerly. "That's
natural pride, that is! But you might get somebody else to get your
money for you. You might give somebody the power of attorney."

The sobs stopped abruptly and she stared at him in drunken scorn.

"Signed with my name and address, eh? No, thanks!"

"Well, a letter then," he suggested. "I should think a letter would
do just as well. Look here! Give me a letter and I'll go and get your
money for you!"

"I'd rather die than let my son know I'm alive!" she cried, her voice
hoarse with passion and weeping. "He's not to know at any price! I'd
rather kill myself! Yes, I would! Kill myself!"

"But he'll never know!" protested Laroque. He was fairly dancing with
excitement. But Jacqueline apparently did not hear him.

"If he ever thinks of me," she went on between raging and sobbing, "I
want him to regret me and I want him to feel sorry now and then because
I'm not with him. He never knew me! I want him to respect my memory and
love me!"

"Now, don't get excited!" interrupted Laroque soothingly.

"I don't want him to know what kind of a woman his mother is. And he
shan't know it!" she shouted with sudden fury. "He shall never know
it, I tell you! _Never_! I tell you! _Never!"_

"All right! Don't lose your temper! Who on earth is going to tell him?
I certainly won't, and It isn't likely his father will."

Jacqueline sank back into her chair and glowered at him.

"I don't want to talk about it any more!"

"But the money's worth the trouble!" he insisted, trying to hide his
exasperation.

"D----n the money!"

"A hundred and twenty-five thousand francs! Think what a difference
they'd make to us!"

"Oh, shut your d----d mouth!" she growled. "I don't want to talk about
the money, I tell you!" Laroque's eyes sparkled.

"Look here, my girl!" he cried, threateningly. "You keep a civil tongue
in your head or I'll teach you who you're talking to!"

Jacqueline measured him with that boundless contempt that is given only
the very drunk to feel.

"You can't teach me any more than I know about you!" she retorted with
unmistakably insulting meaning.

Laroque elected to ignore this last thrust and ostentatiously looked at
his watch.

"Will you write me a letter so I can get the money?" he demanded with
an air of finality.

"_No_!" she screamed. He took off his coat and vest and went into the
dressing-room with the remark that "he could do without the letter."

Jacqueline did not at first catch its significance but an idea slowly
worked into her brain.

"What do you mean?" she demanded.

"Oh, there's no trouble about finding a Deputy Attorney!" was the
cheerful reply, accompanied by noise of splashing. She rose unsteadily.

"What are you doing in there?"

"Dressing."

"Are you going out?"

"Yes, my girl, I'm going out."

"Where are you going?" she demanded.

"To Paris," he replied, calmly, through the open door.

"This evening?"

"Right away!"

"Then I'll come with you!" she declared, determinedly.

"No, you won't!" he replied, coolly, returning into the room.
"Perissard objects."

Jacqueline faced him with dilated eyes.

"You're not to try and find my husband!" she cried, between anger and
dread. She swayed on her feet. The thick slur had disappeared from her
voice in the instant.

"Mind your own business!" snapped Laroque, picking up his hat and coat,
"and I'll mind mine!"

"You are not to ask him for that money!" she cried, her voice rising
shrilly.

"I'll do just as I like!" he sneered. Jacqueline clutched the lapel of
his coat with both hands and glared into his face with blazing eyes.

"You shall not go!" she screamed furiously.

"What kind of a fool do you think I am?" he cried, roughly, trying to
break away from her grip. "Who'll stop me?"

Jacqueline, with clenched teeth, clung grimly to his coat.

"Take care, my girl!" he cried, threateningly, as he tried to wrench
his coat out of her hands. "Take care or you'll regret it!"

"You shall not go, I tell you! You shan't go into that house and see my
child. I won't let you go!"

Laroque jerked his coat out of her grip and in the same motion threw
her violently against the bed.

"Let me alone!" he snarled, and stalked into the dressing-room to get
his traveling bag.

Jacqueline lurched to her feet and staggered over toward the hall
door.... The room was reeling around her in crimson streaks. He must
not pass that door! At the price of her life, he must not pass that
door! ... There was no key! ... He would go and tell her husband of her
shame!... Her boy would blush now for the mother, for whose memory he
had wept.... Crazed with rage and horror and drugs she put her back to
the door and stared helplessly around the room. The dresser was at her
right, and there within easy reach was his revolver! With a gasp she
clutched it as Macbeth might have reached for the phantom dagger....
What was his life compared with the thought that her boy would know his
mother's shame?... She heard him coming and hid the revolver in the
folds of her skirt.

Bag in hand, he walked briskly up to the door and attempted to push her
to one side.

"No! You shan't go! you shan't go!" she panted, struggling.

"We'll see!" he laughed, derisively, getting his hand on the knob.

[Illustration: "You shan't go" she panted struggling.]

"Take care!"

"Don't be a fool!" he snarled. "Get out of the way or I'll _make_ you!"

And at the word he shoved her roughly against the foot of the bed. With
an effort she regained her balance.

"_There_--then!"

The pistol flashed up and at the same instant the report rang through
the house.

Laroque dropped his bag, and his right hand went up to his left side.
She gazed at him fearfully and he stared back for a few moments with a
look of blank amazement.

Then his eyes suddenly glazed and he pitched forward on his face at her
feet, rolled over and was still.

There was a rush of footsteps up the stairs and down the hall and
frightened voices calling back and forth. Then the door was thrown open
and Victor, followed by a dozen guests and servants, dashed into the
room.

Jacqueline was still standing with the warm pistol in her hand, looking
down at the face of the dead man. She did not even lift her head when
they entered. Victor took the pistol out of her limp fingers and called
in a shaking voice: "She's killed him! Run for the police, somebody.
Quick!"

Jacqueline did not take her eyes off Laroque's still, white face.

"There's no hurry," she said, in dull, passionless tones. "I shan't try
to get away!"



CHAPTER XVI


A WOMAN OF MYSTERY


It is a well-known fact that a sudden and powerful shock will have a
remarkable counter-effect on a mind under the influence of alcohol and
other stimulants. The shock is immediately succeeded by a numbness
which in a few moments gives way to an astonishing clarity of thought.

Jacqueline went down the stairs of the Three Crowns and out into the
street on the arm of a sergeant of police. She was in a trance, but
before she had been taken a hundred steps from the door she had come
to a full realization of her position. The officer who arrested her
was a veteran, and knew full well that in the two or three minutes
immediately after the commission of a great crime the criminal is more
than likely to make startling admissions or give hints that lead to
the discovery of the real motive. This does not, of course, apply to
habitual criminals who seldom utter a syllable until their defense is
totally prepared and tested.

On the way down the stairs Sergeant Fontaine asked the woman,
point-blank, why she had killed her companion. In the voice of a
somnambulist she replied that she had done it to prevent him from
committing an "abominable act that would bring grief and shame on
someone she loved." And after that she could not be induced to open her
mouth.

They were followed to the police station by a curious and excited
throng of men and women, the latter reviling the prisoner and
threatening her with the extremity of punishment while the sergeant had
to stop several times and threaten to draw his saber to keep some of
the men from laying violent hands on her.

"The law's delay," upon which the high priests of jurisprudence have
opened the floodgates of their wrath, generally proves a blessing in
criminal cases. For, by a singular contradiction of a natural law, the
laws of a civilized community rise above their source--a majority of
the individuals. The commune is less cruel than its component parts.
Let an ultra-civilized, hyper-refined man stand between the slayer and
his victim and watch the life blood's fitful spurts from a wrecked
artery, and all his Veneer of refinement and civilization is burned
up in a blast of horror and rage. He does not know--does not care
to know--whether there was justification for the deed. In a breath
he is hurled back thousands of years, and he demands the instant and
primitive justice of his tribal forefathers.

Fortunately, it is not then that laws are either made or executed. Men
who have grown gray and wise in the analysis of the human brute sit
far removed from scenes of violence and frame the laws, and they are
executed when natural passions have cooled.

Of this latter type of man was Henri Valmorin, the public prosecutor of
Bordeaux. He was remarkably able and ambitious, but his ambition did
not take the form of worldly advancement. He had a comfortable income
beyond his salary and enough reserve to give his daughter a handsome
_dot_, so he did not feel the need of a higher position for the sake of
money.

His office as public prosecutor appealed to him and he filled it
so ably that he would have been advanced a dozen times had it not
been known that he preferred this work to any other. He had a true
and broad conception of his functions. His work was to protect the
community and punish its enemies, but he never erred by falling into
the habit of regarding every individual accused of a crime as a
presumptive criminal. He was rather counsel for the defense until the
police and examining magistrate placed in his hands the weapons of
attack. Then he became the shrewd, skilful, uncompromising prosecutor.

M. Valmorin was in the office of his friend, M. Feverel, Examining
Magistrate, when the woman of the Three Crowns was brought before him.
He remained in the background and paid but little attention to the
proceedings--for as much as a minute. Then his interest was keyed up to
the highest pitch.

M. Feverel began with the usual questions as to name, age, place of
birth, etc., which are to examiner and examined a mutual test of
strength, as two pugilists dance around each other for the first
round of a fight without striking a blow. To the surprise of both men
the woman maintained an absolute and indifferent silence. There was
nothing about her suggestive of sullen stubbornness. She looked over
M. Feverel's head through an open window with an expression which
indicated that she had not even heard the questions. M. Valmorin
studied her face closely. Through the ravages of vice and the mask
of despair his experienced eyes could see the wreck of a departed
beauty and refinement of features that must have been once remarkable.
M. Feverel, though less experienced, perceived also that there was
apparently some deep and tragic purpose back of the silence that he had
at first attributed to the sullen brutishness of her class. But how to
break it down?

"Madame," he said, courteously, dropping his brusque professional
manner, "you must see that your present course cannot but be
prejudicial to your case. The authorities will have no difficulty in
ultimately establishing your identity but you can readily save us much
inconvenience by replying to these simple questions----Is your name
Laroque? Was this man your husband?"

The woman gave no sign that she had heard. M. Feverel bit his lip. He
had purposely used the most polished French and he was sure that she
understood him. But he was apparently no nearer to making her speak.

"What did you mean by saying that you killed this man to prevent him
from bringing grief and shame on someone you love?" he demanded
suddenly.

The lips moved almost imperceptibly, and for a fraction of a second the
eyes wavered and met the magistrate's sharp gaze. But she did not make
a sound and the next moment her face was as impassive as before.

M. Valmorin, narrowly watching her, waited for the magistrate's next
move. The latter had, at command, a voice as soft and persuasive as a
woman's and many an evildoer had felt its spell and had been lured to
confession.

"Do not think, madame," he began, his tone at once, respectful,
inclusive and inviting, "that I would try to draw you into saying
anything that can injure your cause! Do not consider me an enemy. I
know that you shot this man Laroque in the Hotel of the Three Crowns
and I am more than willing to believe that you had some good reason
for this terrible act. Your words to the policeman who arrested you
are an indication of that. It is not my duty to try to convict you of
crime which was probably justifiable. The man that you killed was an
ex-convict and society is well-rid of him. You have probably simply
saved the State the expense of putting him in prison once more and
keeping him there. I am more than willing to believe that your reasons
for killing him were excusable, even in the eyes of the law.

"Look upon me as a friend!" he continued persuasively. "In my office
there is no criminal, no judge. You are simply accused of a homicide
which you undoubtedly committed. But the law holds that many forms of
homicide are justifiable. Convince me that you had even a fairly good
reason for shooting this man--and I won't be hard to convince--and
it is likely that you may never even come to trial--that your story
may be buried with the few who must know it. My stenographer and my
friend, the prosecutor, will leave us here together and you can explain
everything to me and to me, alone."

Valmorin rose with a bow and passed slowly out followed by M. Feverel's
stenographer. Jacqueline's eyes met his as the door closed and he began
to speak again.

"Now we are alone!" and the tone was even more inviting and
confidential. "You can talk to me now without fear. I do not care to
pry into the secrets of your past. You need not mention any names. But
just to tell me as simply as you can the reason you killed this prison
rat!"

The voice put them on the same level--made them allies against the
dead. In its soft, gentle rise and fall, in the dark sympathetic eyes
and clean, aquiline face there was something approaching hypnotic
power, as several ladies of Bordeaux knew. She began to feel a strange
sensation of rest and comfort and vaguely wished that he would go on.
M. Feverel's trained eye caught the all but imperceptible relaxation of
the rigid figure. A thrill of triumph ran through him. He was winning!
But there was no sign of elation or impatience in his voice or words
when he continued.

He begged her not to think that the machinery of the law was directed
against her. Justice was not blind. She was clear-sighted. She was
not sternly even-handed, but more frequently merciful. She had long
since forgotten the bitter law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for
a tooth. She could make allowances for the frailty of humanity. She
could understand that there might be many circumstances under which an
assassination might be justifiable. Nay, more--when it became a duty to
kill!

Twice when he paused, Jacqueline's lips trembled and her eyes looked
into his with yearning. She seemed about to speak, but her lips closed
firmly and her glance sought the window, without a word uttered.

Suddenly he rang a bell and a policeman appeared at the door.

"Remove the prisoner!" he commanded in a harsh, curt tone that fell on
the woman like the blow of a whip. She hesitated and half-extended her
hand as if to stop him and once more the magistrate thought that he
had triumphed. But the impulse was conquered and she passed out of his
office without having uttered a word.

M. Valmorin returned and in reply to his questioning look, the
magistrate shook his head.

"She would not speak," he said, wearily. M. Valmorin's interest as
an expert was aroused, and with the magistrate he went over the
examination in detail. M. Feverel told him the impression that he had
made once or twice and expressed the fear that she would never be
forced to tell her story.

"You can see, my friend," he said, "that she is addicted to the use of
drugs. She has now been without anything of the sort for forty-eight
hours. That means that her nerves must be in a bad shape, and it also
means that she has an iron will to conceal the fact so determinedly and
foil the examination."

M. Feverel's prophecy proved true.

In the first few hours of her arrest Jacqueline's instinct told, her
she would be helpless in a verbal duel with these trained men of the
law. An apparently aimless question and a careless answer might be
the combination to open the locked gates of her past and then she
would have killed Laroque in vain. So, as the days passed and the
examinations followed each other with nerve-wracking persistency, she
wept, shrieked, and groaned for hours in her cell, begging for ether or
morphine, but not a word of her story could be forced from her.

She refused counsel and when the court appointed an advocate she would
not see him. At last, M. Feverel abandoned hope.

"You will have to try the case as a plain homicide," he told M.
Valmorin. "The testimony of the servants and the policeman is ample for
conviction but--what is back of it all?"

"And you could not even find out her name!" mused the prosecutor.

"Call her Madame X!" snapped the exasperated magistrate. "She is about
as thoroughly and stubbornly mysterious and elusive as any quantify in
the algebra of my youth!"

M. Valmorin laughed a little and told the story in the courts that
day. The mysterious woman had already attracted some attention among
the journalists who frequent the halls of justice, and when brilliant
M. Feverel called her "Madame X," as an acknowledgement of defeat,
her case in the three days became a _cause célèbre_ in Bordeaux. In
the cafés, in the courts, in the homes, nothing else was talked about
for weeks. In spite of the elaborate passport system and registry,
here was a woman who absolutely defied the authorities to find a clue
to her identity. The police of Buenos Ayres could not help them, and
beyond that city her past was a blank. Who was she? Where had she come
from? Why had she killed her companion? Was he her husband? These and
a hundred other questions were asked every hour of the day. Scores of
rumors were set afloat. She was the daughter of a noble house who had
run away from a convent. She was the wife of a marquis, had left him
and married an adventurer. She was the queen of a band of kidnappers.
She was the leader of a secret society of murder.

She had served a sentence for counterfeiting in an American
penitentiary. She was a nihilist, escaped from Siberia. And so on.

Dozens were turned away from the prison gate every day. Morbid women
and curious men pleaded with the police for a chance to look at her,
assuring the chief that they would be able to identify her. A number of
hysterical women started! a fund for her defense, but this was firmly
suppressed.

Advocates of established reputation, who had smilingly congratulated
Maître Raymond Floriot on his first brief and expressed the hope
that it would lead to something worth while, now regretted that they
had not been appointed by the court to defend her, though it was an
unprofitable and hopeless case.

But M. Valmorin was unaffectedly pleased. He was glad that young
Floriot had stumbled into a position to attract so much attention, and
was almost sorry that the young man had no chance to win his case.
The reason is not far to seek. For several years M. Valmorin and M.
Floriot, père, had seen that M. Raymond was in love with blue-eyed,
sweet-faced Helene Valmorin. There was nothing remarkable about this,
as numbers of young men in Bordeaux were in precisely the same state
of mind. But what was important was that it was equally plain that
Mademoiselle Helene was passionately in love with the dark-eyed,
curly-haired young advocate. The fathers knew that it was only a
question of a very short time when they would be formally requested
to sanction the marriage. Hence M. Valmorin's desire to see his
prospective son-in-law rise as rapidly as possible.

That the young man would rise, he was certain. He had inherited, as
has been mentioned, his father's faultlessly logical mind and love
of his profession and his mother's quickly sympathetic and emotional
temperament. His mind was quick to grasp a situation or an unexpected
point and equally quick to give it its true value. Coupled with these
gifts he had a marked facility of expression and a smooth, vibrant
voice. As Mademoiselle Helene said, he made love beautifully.

M. Valmorin was prepared to do what he could financially, and he
knew that Raymond's father would strain himself to establish the
young people properly, but the young man must look to success in his
profession to raise a family.

M. Floriot had written that he would come over from Toulouse to watch
his son handle his first case, and M. Valmorin planned to talk things
over with him then.

It was to be a great day for Raymond and all who were dear to him had
promised to be in court when he appeared for the first time on the
firing-line. Rose had promised to take charge of Helene. His father,
by request of the President of the Court of Bordeaux, would sit on the
bench with the judges. "Uncle" Noel and Dr. Chennel were coming from
Paris.

The young man worked hard all day on his case and told Helene about it
in the evening, and then worked far into the night. He read parts of
his speech to her, while her father pretended to be eavesdropping in
the hall "to learn the secrets of the defense." He did not have any
false notions about the strength of his battle-line. He knew that he
had a bad case but he was determined to do as well as could be done. As
he remarked, "it is hard work defending a homicide whose conduct is the
best evidence for the prosecution."

As the day approached he was nervous, anxious, restless--but ready.



CHAPTER XVII


TWO LOVERS AND A LECTURE


It was a day of excitement in the house of Floriot the morning before
the trial. M. Floriot arrived from Toulouse on the preceding evening
and M. Valmorin planned to call on him that morning if he could find
time. Helene was at the house before ten o'clock eager to see Raymond.
He had gone to the prison early to make a last attempt to see his
client, and she put in the time of waiting by chatting with Rose and
lamenting the fact that Raymond's father could not be the judge in the
case so he would have a reasonably certain chance of winning!

"It's hard enough to get cases, isn't it?" she complained.

"I don't know anything about it," replied Rose cheerfully, "but I guess
the law is like anything else--you have to make a beginning!"

"And Raymond is beginning to-morrow!" murmured the girl, as if it had
just occurred to her. "To-morrow he is pleading his first case!"

"And a capital case to begin with it is!" declared Rose. "Everyone is
talking about it!"

"Oh, I hope he'll win!" exclaimed the girl, almost tearfully. "I
haven't thought of anything else for weeks!"

"Oh, I'm not anxious about that!" returned Rose, with the confidence
of an old and loyal servant. "M. Raymond is clever, I tell you! He'll
convince them!"

"Do you think he'll be back soon?" asked Helene, anxiously.

"That depends!" smiled Rose. "Does he know you're here?"

"I--I don't think so---No!" Helene replied, turning hastily to the
window of the study where they were talking. "I only told him that
my father would probably call on M. Floriot this morning at eleven
o'clock, and that I might come and meet him. Rose, what are you
laughing at?"

"Oh, nothing in particular."

"Don't tease me!" she pleaded.

"Well, I was laughing," chuckled the housekeeper, "because you came
here in such a hurry at half-past nine to meet your father, who won't
be here until eleven!"

Helene blushed.

"I suppose you think I'm an awfully silly girl?"

"Oh, dear, no!" Rose assured her with a grave little smile. "I'm only
too glad to see that you and Raymond love each other."

The girl's face lit up with a quick little gleam of pleasure.

"Really, does that please you?" she asked softly.

"Very much!" nodded Rose. And the next moment the girl kissed her
withered cheek.

"I brought the young man up, you know," she continued, slipping her arm
affectionately around Helene's waist. "And I feel as if he belonged to
me a little. I am very happy that he has made such a good choice."

"He is going to talk to his father about it this morning," said the
girl, timidly. Rose smiled.

"I don't think he'll surprise him much."

Helene gave her a startled look.

"You don't think M. Floriot suspects?" she gasped.

"That you and Raymond are in love with each other? Oh, of course,
not!" laughed Rose. "He would have to be blind not to see it. Everyone
in the neighborhood knows it!"

With a gasp of consternation the girl hid her face in her hands.

"The baker asked me yesterday when the wedding was to be celebrated,"
went on the housekeeper, wickedly. "And day before yesterday it was
the butcher. A few days ago the grocer made some inquiries about it,
and----"

She was apparently prepared to continue indefinitely when a joyous
voice from the doorway interrupted her.

"There you are!"

And Maître Raymond Floriot hurried in.

"Yes, there she is--quite by accident! You didn't expect to see her,
did you?" They heard her laughing as she went down the hall.

Helene managed to recover a semblance of her prim dignity as she gave
him both her hands and looked up into his dancing eyes.

"You did not expect to see me this early, did you?" she asked.

"No, I didn't expect you in the least!" he laughed. "I shouldn't wonder
if that was why I came so early myself!"

"But seriously, aren't you surprised to find me here?"

He bent over and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"No, I'm not surprised," he replied, gravely. "I like to think that you
are as impatient as I am,--and it seems weeks since I saw you!"

"Twelve hours!" she laughed happily.

"Twelve years!"

"Have you thought of me since then?"

He answered that question in a manner that the custom of some thousands
of years has proved to be the best.

"Did you dream of me?"

"Not at all!" he shook his head and smiled. She moved away in mock
offense.

"Reality is too sweet a dream, dearest, for us to need dreams!" he
added, tenderly. This little speech was followed by a silence of
several minutes, in which occurred the performance considered proper
under the circumstances.

Helene drew gently away.

"Have you been working hard?" she asked.

"Yes, I was up at five o'clock this morning finishing my brief. I'm
quite ready now."

"And the case comes off to-morrow!" she exclaimed, softly.

"To-morrow is the great day!" nodded Raymond.

"And I'm to hear you!"

"Of course! But I'll have to find a place where I can't see you. I'd
forget what I was talking about if I caught sight of you; and just
think what it would mean if I should stutter and stammer and break down
with you in court! Why, I'd never get over it!" He shivered with a
dread that was not all feigned.

"And you've made up your mind to speak to your father to-day?" she
asked timidly, after a little pause.

"Yes, I'm going to speak to him as soon as he comes in," declared her
lover with an air of hardihood that was far from real.

"Well, you must be careful not to stutter and stammer and break down
then!" she smiled. Rose put her head in the door an instant.

"M. the President is here!" she whispered and was gone.

"Now, then, shoulder arms!" ordered Helene, in an eager undertone as
they heard the step of the father in the hall outside. She was bubbling
with inward laughter as her panic-stricken love hastily fell back out
of the direct line of vision from the door. So when M. Floriot walked
up and kissed her he did not at first see that his son was present.

"Good morning, my child!" he said with a ten der smile.

Raymond edged forward and cleared his throat. "You might say, 'good
morning, my children,' father," he suggested in an uncertain voice.

"If you like!" was the smiling reply. And taking a hand of each he
said: "Good morning, my two dear children!"

Helene ran over to his desk and returned with an enormous bunch of
roses in a slender vase.

"I brought you these this morning, monsieur," she said, looking up at
him shyly.

M. the President took them with both hands and buried his face in their
fragrance.

"They are only less charming than the donor!" he declared with a
stately bow.

"Oh, M. Floriot!" she protested with a blush, and smile. Then as he
turned to replace the' bouquet on his desk she added in a whisper to
Raymond:

"I think you might speak to him now."

"So do I!" he agreed in the same tone.

"My father told me to tell you that he would be over to see you about
eleven o'clock, M. Floriot," she remarked as he turned to them again.

"I shall be charmed to see him!"

"I'll go and bring him--if you don't mind!" she offered eagerly. M. the
President smiled.

"I'll try not to be very angry!" he assured her. The three walked
slowly out into the garden where the older man found a seat in a
little rustic house while the lovers moved slowly toward the gate. He
pretended to be much absorbed in the morning paper, but watched them
slyly out of the corner of his eye. Instead of going outside, Helene
stopped behind a big shrub that totally concealed her, and Raymond came
back with not exactly eager strides.

Within ten feet of the seated figure in the rustic house he stopped and
twice opened his mouth, but could not get out a word. His father did
not seem to have the slightest idea that he was there. He took another
timid step; and then, as the paper rustled, he bolted in the direction
of the bush that concealed his ally.

Helene stepped out, shaking with silent laughter, and waved him back
with imperious gestures. He returned once more to the attack, but again
gave way to panic at the critical moment. At last he edged up to
within conversational ear-shot and asked with a mock solemnity that did
not conceal his nervousness:

"Is M. the President extremely busy?"

"Extremely!" replied his father, without looking up from the paper.
Raymond winced slightly; and, then, raising his eyes to the sky,
murmured dolefully:

"What a beastly nuisance!"

M. the President glanced up in surprise.

"Did you want to speak to me?" he inquired, politely.

"Yes--and quite seriously!"

His father rose with a laugh and folded his paper.

"For how long?" he demanded, with a mischievous smile.

"Not very long!" Raymond hastily assured him. "At least, I don't think
it will take long to say it."

"Try it in four words!"

"I love Helene Valmorin!" he blurted out, desperately.

M. the President fell back a step, his face expressing the utmost
astonishment, but his eyes were laughing.

"Do you!" he exclaimed. Raymond gazed at him doubtfully a moment and
then saw it all.

"Did--did you know it?" he asked, sheepishly. His father burst into a
hearty laugh.

"What an old fool you must think I am!"

The lover's instinct told Raymond to strike quickly.

"And I want to marry her," he went on. M. the President nodded.

"I can quite understand that," he smiled. "Well, God bless you both and
make you happy! Is that all you want to say?"

"Yes, that's all!" breathed his son, with a deep sigh of relief. M.
Floriot gazed into the eyes that were so like the lost woman's, and all
the love and yearning that he had ever felt for mother and son shone in
his own. He stepped up to the boy and laid a hand affectionately on his
shoulder. Raymond felt the grip of the fingers as his father began to
speak.

"My boy," he said, in grave, gentle tones, "you're a good fellow, and
you've been the one joy of my life. I think Helene is worthy of you.
Love her, my lad! And love her always--whatever happens! Be her friend,
her guide, her mainstay--as well as her husband.

"Above all--do your best to understand her! Women are not always easy
to understand; but don't leave your wife out of your own life!

"Share everyone of your joys and everyone of your sorrows with her.
You will have hours of gloomy thought and bitterness, perhaps--most
men do. But never forget in those unhappy hours that a husband has a
heavy responsibility. Always remember, Raymond, my boy, that you are
responsible for the life and soul and happiness of the woman who gives
herself to you!"

The young man listened gravely with bowed head. As his father paused he
looked up with a tender smile.

"I don't think the responsibility will be a very heavy one in my case,
father," he said.

"Life sometimes proves to be exceedingly cruel, my boy," replied his
father, shaking his head.

"Valmorin will be here presently and I will have a talk with him. I
must tell him a secret before I ask him to give you his daughter's
hand."

"A secret!" exclaimed the young man, startled.

"Yes," nodded his father. "I'll tell you what it is afterwards."
Raymond felt a growing uneasiness and dread. Lovers are easily-alarmed.

"Your secret--won't--won't prevent him----?" he stammered.

"No!" replied his father with a light laugh, "ii don't think so."



CHAPTER XVIII


A GHOST RISES


For a time the two were silent in that close communion which is
possible only to father and son, who are all in all to each other. Then
the father's face lit up with a whimsical smile.

"Mind you, I don't expect that Helene will be very rich," he said.
Raymond laughed.

"I don't either!" he replied.

"You have the 125,000 francs of your mother's fortune and I will add as
much as I can myself."

"Oh, we'll get along all right," his son assured him with a smile. "You
seem to forget my briefs."

"Impossible!" laughed his father. "You haven't any."

"I have one that isn't bringing in anything in the way of money but it
is giving me advertisement that will lead to profitable cases."

M. the President, being of the old school of lawyers, shook his head
at this value set on publicity; but he made no comment.

"Are you ready for to-morrow?" he asked. Raymond nodded.

"I saw the presiding judge this morning and he was full of praise for
you," went on his father with a fond gleam in his eyes. "They are going
to make a place for me to-morrow."

"So you told me. But you'll make me terribly nervous!" protested
Raymond.

"Not a bit of it! Have you really an interesting case?"

"Well, yes and no," replied the young advocate. "A wretched woman who
has killed her lover for no reason that anyone can find out--and she
won't speak. For the last three months she has not uttered a word in
the prison that can be of any interest to anybody. We don't know who
she is, where she comes from or what her name is. I haven't even seen
her or heard the sound of her voice; and when the names of the judges,
the public prosecutor and her defending lawyer were sent in to her, she
tore up the paper without looking at it."

"And couldn't the Examining Magistrate get anything out of her?"

"Nothing! He dubbed her Madame X," added Raymond with a smile.

"What sort of a woman is she?"

"Oh, like all women of her kind. She is, I understand, addicted to the
use of drugs, and her supply being cut off she naturally turns from
stupidity to hysteria all the time. I'm afraid it's one of the cases
that are worked out before they come to trial. I don't see how the
court proceedings can last much longer than five minutes. But I'll do
my best."

"Try pathos," suggested his father. "Try to work on the sympathies of
the judge and jury."

"That's what I'm going to do," smiled Raymond. "I've been practising
tears in my voice for the last three days, but I'm not going to have
an easy time of it. It's rather hard to find excuses for a woman when
you don't know why the crime was committed." And he shook his head
dubiously.

"On the contrary, that gives you every chance," declared his father.
"See here! Your client won't speak and so she can't contradict. This
gives you a fine opportunity to invent a host of reasons. Make the jury
respect her silence! Throw a veil of mystery over the whole crime and
give your imagination play. Say that she is the victim of heredity--say
anything you can think of that will work on the jury's feelings and you
have a good chance to win."

Raymond listened with eager attention.

"I had something of that in mind," he said, "but I'll work it up
stronger than I intended. I didn't----"

He was interrupted by a cheery shout from the house-door and both
turned quickly to see M. Noel hurrying across the garden. The elder men
greeted each other with hearty affection.

"And how is the young disciple of St. Yves?" asked Noel.

"St. Yves?" questioned Raymond with a puzzled smile as he shook hands.

"Why, certainly! St. Yves of Brittany! Don't you know----? How does the
Latin go, Louis?"

M. the President threw up his hands and laughed.

"Let me see! 'Advocatus sed non latro--latro'--I can't remember it.
Anyway, it fits your case, Maître Raymond. He was an advocate but not
a thief, and devoted his life to the service of the poor. So he is
supposed to be the patron saint of the lawyers--though more of them
to-day are rather inclined to lay votive offerings on the shrine of
Mammon. So to-morrow is the great day, eh?"

"Yes, to-morrow is the day."

"Feel frightened?"

"A little excited," the young man admitted. "Have you really come all
the way from Paris to be here to-morrow?"

"Of course I have!" The lined face softened. "I'd have come from
Kamschatka to see you fight your first battle!"

"Chennel is coming, too," remarked Floriot.

"Good! You were not particularly blooming the day I met the worthy
doctor, young man," said Noel, turning to Raymond.

"No, so I've been told," smiled Raymond; "Dr. Chennel is going to take
a practice at Biarritz. He often comes here to see me. Now, I think
I'll go over my brief again, father, and see if I can't work in some of
the things you suggested."

"Yes, that's it! Shake them up, my lad!" nodded his father. "After
all she may be more sinned against than sinning--or you can make them
think so, anyway. Well, what do you think of the boy?" he demanded, as
Raymond disappeared in the direction of the large bush near the gate.

"You ought to be proud of him."

"I am! Very proud!" said Floriot, softly. There was a long pause.
Floriot motioned his friend to a seat on the bench in the rustic house
and sat beside him. He felt the need of comfort and counsel; for the
hour that he had dreaded for years was upon him at last. He must tell
Raymond the truth about his mother.

Twenty years of tireless searching had, indeed, proved utterly vain.
There was every reason to believe that Jacqueline was dead and that the
true story of the boy's mother might be buried with the three men and
one woman who knew it. But this loophole of escape from the ordeal did
not even present itself to a man with Floriot's stem sense of honor.

How would he take it? Floriot had no idea of defending himself or
trying to distort the facts in the least degree. If anything, he would
take more than his share of the blame for the wreck of his home. It
would be terrible enough to tell Raymond that his mother had fallen,
but what would he say when he was told that she had repented and
pressed her forehead against her husband's shoes only to be hurled
out, friendless, on the world--condemned to death, or worse than death?

Would the boy--at last knowing why he had grown up without a mother's
love, and all the million priceless and nameless joys the phrase
contains--rise in the wrath of his outraged youth and denounce the
father who had robbed him? What would he say to the neglect that had
driven his mother to shame and placed the brand on his own pure life?
And now, whatever the cost, he must tell him....

In the twenty years they had pursued a common quest, these long
silences were not unusual when the two friends met. Noel divined a
little--but only a very little--of what was passing in the Other's
mind. He had not foreseen this crisis.

"I never look at him without thinking of his mother!" he said, softly.
"Louis, it's awful to think that in all these years we have never been
able to find a trace."

Floriot's only reply was a somber shake of the head.

"God knows we've hunted!"

"I've done all I can--we've done all we can!" returned the husband in
bitter hopelessness. "Detectives, advertising--everything! I haven't
told you that I went to Monte Carlo a few days ago to see a woman that
seemed to answer the description. The usual result!" And he gazed out
across the garden.

"And last week I thought I had come to the end of the hunt," returned
Noel. "The first night that I reached Paris I dropped into a music hall
and thought that I recognized her on the stage. I got an introduction
to the woman. She had Jacqueline's eyes to a line almost, but that was
all. I was sure from the front of the house! You remember those eyes?"

"If I could only forget them!" groaned the other, burying his face in
his hands. There was a long silence. In the last few years growing
despair and the inaction that is the inevitable outgrowth of the
conviction of failure had succeeded the constantly reviving hope that
had fed the energy of the search. Their talks, recently, had been
bitter reminiscences instead of optimistic plans. At last Floriot
raised his head and spoke in a low voice.

"I think sometimes that she must be dead or we should have found her!"
he said. Noel, staring at the ground between his feet, did not answer
at once; then:

"Perhaps!" he said in the same low tone. "And perhaps that is the best
thing that could have happened!"

The other understood his meaning and shuddered. There was another pause
and then Floriot spoke of the matter that lay heaviest on his mind.

"I have never--dared yet--to tell Raymond--the truth about his mother,"
he said, unsteadily; "but I have to now!"

Noel stared at his friend in amazement.

"Tell Raymond!" he exclaimed, "Why?"

"He wants to marry and--and--I must tell him the truth!"

There was a smothered exclamation from Noel as he grasped the
situation. He was silent a few moments and then he asked with meaning
emphasis:

"Will you tell him the _whole_ truth?"

Floriot straightened up with a determined expression.

"Yes!" he declared, "I am going to tell him everything! He must know
the whole unvarnished truth and--God knows what he'll think of me!"

Noel confusedly murmured something meant to be reassuring but Floriot
interrupted.

"Oh, I have no illusions!" he cried bitterly. "Youth doesn't make
allowances! It is possible that he may love me a little after he has
heard all of it but he will never forgive me for having robbed him of
his mother!"

Noel pulled himself together and replied with a heartiness that he did
not feel.

"Why, of course, he will!" he declared. "He knows what kind of a man
you are--what a father you have been to him--and he will not need to be
told how you have suffered and repented."

The other shook his head hopelessly.

"The boy is in love!" he groaned. "If it were not for that there might
be some hope. But, don't you see?--He is madly in love with a pure,
beautiful girl. He will try to put himself in my place and fail! He
will try to imagine himself throwing Helene out into the street in the
rain after she has grovelled at his feet--and he will think I am a
monster!"

Before Noel could think of a counter-argument Rose hurried out from
the house with a visiting card in her hand. Composing himself, Floriot
looked up and asked:

"What is it, Rose?"

She handed him the card with:

"It's the two gentlemen who were here before and wanted to see you, M.
the President."

"Perissard! Perissard!" mused the President, studying the bit of
pasteboard. "I don't know the name. However, Rose, show them in and
take M. Noel up to his room."

The friends silently gripped hands as a mute promise that they would
renew the conversation later and Noel went in with the housekeeper.



CHAPTER XIX


HOPE AT LAST


Messrs. Perissard and Merivel were not hopelessly shocked and
grief-stricken over the death of Laroque. They were grateful to his
memory, inasmuch as he had put them in the way of making 125,000
francs with more ease and less risk than they had expected to incur in
collecting, at the outside, three-fifths of that amount in Bordeaux.
They were doubly grateful when they reflected that his timely death had
saved them ten per cent of that amount.

While he would have been useful in the matter of the public official of
Bordeaux, they felt that they would eventually find as trustworthy an
agent. On the whole, from the viewpoint of the partners in Confidential
Missions, nothing in his life became him as the leaving it. The fact
that he had been murdered by the wife of the President of the Court of
Toulouse put that gentleman in position where he could not possibly
refuse to pay for "discretion."

They went over all this as they sat in a café not far from the Floriot
house in Bordeaux and waited for M. Floriot's return. It had taken
them nearly three months to finally fix upon him as the husband of
the homicide of the Three Crowns. They went to Toulouse to interview
him and found that he had just gone to Bordeaux to attend the trial
in which his son was to appear for the defense. They fairly hugged
themselves with pious joy when they saw the shocking corruption of the
whole proceedings.

"We have got him, my dear Merivel," declared M. Perissard. "And he has
actually come to Bordeaux to see the trial!"

"A most shrewd man!" rumbled his colleague.

"I should say so!" returned M. Perissard. "He has his own son chosen
for the defense, and according to gossip, his son is to marry the
daughter of the Public Prosecutor!"

"A _most_ clever man!" insisted M. Merivel in a voice like the roar of
the surf.

"And they tell me that Floriot's wife refused to say a word to the
Examining Magistrate."

"Of course! The husband has been telling her what to do!"

"Obviously! Obviously!" agreed the senior partner with a vigorous nod.
"In this way, you see, her name won't even be mentioned, and as nobody
knows her in Bordeaux----" A two-handed gesture and a shrug of the
shoulders filled the hiatus.

"None of the trouble will get out of the family," concluded M. Merivel
heavily.

"The jury will find her guilty or acquit her--that is of no interest
whatever. But no one will ever know the inner interest!"

"Excepting ourselves, my dear Perissard," corrected the ex-schoolmaster.

"Exactly! Exactly! It is _most_ providential!"

It was with the situation thus reasoned out that the defenders of
society presented themselves for the second time at the house of M.
Floriot, when they were conducted to the garden. M. the President
received them with grave courtesy and invited them to take seats.
With all three comfortably settled, M. Merivel being a little in the
background, he asked:

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?"

"Have I the honor of speaking to President Floriot?" inquired M.
Perissard in his most polished manner.

"Yes, monsieur. And your name is----?"

"Perissard! This is M. Merivel, my associate," he added, rising with a
bow to that gentleman who also rose and saluted M. the President with a
profound obeisance.

"And what business brings you to Bordeaux?" M. Floriot inquired once
more when they had all resumed their seats.

"A--a matter of some delicacy, M. the President," began the senior
partner, clearing his throat impressively. "A matter which interests
you personally."

M. Floriot raised his eyebrows a trifle.

"Well?"

M. Perissard fidgeted slightly. When he spoke again it was in his most
"inspiring" manner.

"Every man has, at one time or another in his life, reason to regret
the past, and these regrets--however secretly we may hide them--remain
open wounds," he began, heavily.

"Alas!" exclaimed M. Merivel in gloomy thunder. M. Floriot stirred
impatiently.

"Probably true. But kindly explain yourself!" he commanded, shortly.

M. Perissard at once decided that nothing was to be gained by
moralizing, so he went directly to business.

"M. the President, you were Deputy Attorney in Paris twenty years ago,
were you not?"

"Yes."

"And if I am correctly informed you married a lady named Jacqueline
Lefevre, at the Town Hall in the Rue Drouot. She brought you a dot of
125,000 francs."

Floriot's glance was troubled and uneasy.

"Your information is perfectly correct," he said. "But why all these
questions?"

"Because they are indispensable," M. Perissard assured him, and he was
backed up by a ponderous nod from his colleague. "In family matters of
this kind one cannot take too many precautions. In matters of honor, I
have always said----"

Floriot half-rose. His face had paled slightly and his manner was
nervous.

"My time is limited!" he broke in, abruptly.

"I beg your pardon, monsieur! I beg your pardon!"

And four fat hands motioned him back to his seat.

"I will be brief!" M. Perissard assured him. "Your marriage was not
altogether as happy as it might have been, and one day you had a
violent scene. You turned out of your house the lady who had the honor
of bearing your name!"

"How do you know this? Who told you?" demanded Floriot. His voice was
low and menacing.

"Ah, it is true, then!" exclaimed M. Perissard. The other gave no sign
and Perissard took the silence as an assent.

"Very good! After this incident," he continued, hastily. "Madame
Floriot traveled. She traveled very far and was more or less--happy.
More or less!"

Floriot sprang up, white-faced and trembling.

"She is dead!" he cried. "You have come to tell me she is dead!"

M. Perissard smiled cunningly. He could appreciate good acting.

"Oh, no, I haven't!" he replied.

"She is _alive_?"

"Undoubtedly!"

"_Most_ certainly!" thundered M. Merivel.

"And where is she? In Paris! In France! Where?" cried Floriot, almost
too excited for coherency.

M. Perissard was beginning to be really puzzled. Was it possible that
this man did not know who the woman of the Three Crowns was? Was it
possible that he had not arranged the whole defense?

"Do you really mean that you don't know where your wife is now?" he
demanded.

"No! No! But you've come to tell me, haven't you?" He was feverishly
eager. He walked up and down before them with quick nervous strides?
and looked from one to the other with burning eyes.

"This is really most extraordinary!" declared M. Perissard. "I should
have thought with all your means of getting information----"

"I have never heard from her or of her since the day she disappeared!"

"Never?" insisted the other, wonderingly.

"Never! I thought she was dead!"

"Extraordinary! Isn't it?" M. Perissard appealed to his partner.

"_Most_ extraordinary!" was the prompt response.

Floriot was fairly dancing with excitement and impatience.

"You know where she is and where I can see her?" he demanded.

"Indeed, I do!" declared M. Perissard.

"Tell me, man! Tell me!" he cried.

M. Perissard stroked his chin a moment. All this excitement indicated
excellent opportunities for financial advancement and he did not want
to spoil anything through unwary haste.

"I have not been instructed to tell you," he said, guardedly.

"Good God, man! You don't mean to say you refuse?"

"My--my client has so instructed me----" began M. Perissard in his most
professional tone.

"You come from her?" interrupted the other. "She's your client? What
does she want? What can I do?"

M. Perissard drew a quick breath.

"She wants the money she brought with her on her marriage!" he plumped
out.

"Her dot? Her 125,000 francs?"

"She wants that sum refunded to her!" affirmed M. Perissard, pursing up
his lips impressively.

"She would have had it long ago if I had known where to find her!"
cried Floriot.

"Then you will raise no objections?" There was a triumphant gleam in M.
Perissard's pig-like I eyes.

"None whatever! The money is here!"

The two partners rose as one and held out their hands.

"I will tell her what you say--word for word!" declared the senior.

"Give me her address so I can go and see her at once!" pleaded Floriot,
eagerly.

"M. the President," replied M. Perissard in his heaviest manner. "I
must beg you to excuse me: I have no authority from my client to give
you her address."

"But----"

"I am only acting on instructions!"

"But what reason can she have for refusing to see me?" he protested,
wildly.

"I don't know that she has any reason, but before giving you her
address I must ask her permission!" was the firm response.

"Then you are going to see her?"

"I shall write to her," replied M. Perissard. "I may confide one thing
in you, I think, without exceeding my professional duty."

"Yes?" questioned Floriot eagerly.

"May I count on your discretion?"

"Absolutely! You have my word for it!"

M. Perissard appeared to hesitate.

"Madame Floriot is just now in--ah--er--tight place," he said.

"A very tight place!" echoed his partner.

"She is absolutely penniless!"

"Great heavens!" gasped Floriot, horror-stricken. He dropped into a
chair and buried his face in his hands.

"Are--are you willing to send her some money?" inquired the senior
partner. Floriot sprang up, his face flushed.

"By all means!" he cried, his hand darting into his coat pocket. "Will
you see that she gets it? _Immediately_?"

"Without a moment's delay!" M. Perissard assured him, heartily. Floriot
bowed his head as he worked with the leather tongue of his pocket-book,
and when he looked up his eyes were misty with tears.

"Gentlemen," he said, brokenly, "you must excuse my emotion--when I
think that--she--is without a penny----! Here are 300 francs--all I
have with me. Send it to her at once and----"

"She shall receive the money to-day!" M. Perissard broke in. "Allow me
to give you a receipt. And when can I see you again, M. the President?
Will the day after to-morrow suit you?"

"Can you have an answer by then?"

"I hope so!"

"I'll expect you in the morning then." He smiled almost joyously and
held out his hands to the visitors. "We can go and see her together! I
need not ask you to be discreet, need I? Nobody must know!" he added
anxiously. M. Perissard drew himself up haughtily.

"M. the President!" he said stiffly, "I have not the honor of being
known to you, but remember these words: Whatever may happen, we are
engaged by our word of honor to remain silent--my partner, you and I!"

"Silent as the tomb!" echoed M. Merivel.

"And you may always reckon--always, I repeat--on our entire
discretion!"

Floriot put out a hand which was eagerly gripped.

"Gentlemen, I thank you!" he said in a grave, unsteady voice. And with
many a scrape and hand-shake and assurance of their perfect discretion
the firm of Perissard and Merivel bowed itself out.

For a moment, after they had gone, Floriot stood with head raised and
fists clenched.

"Oh, Jacqueline! Jacqueline!" he murmured aloud, as if he felt that the
cry from his heart must reach her ears. "Forgive--forgive me!"

Then he darted across the garden and into the house like a boy. Up the
steps he raced, three at a time, and burst into Noel's room with tears
streaming down his face, speechless with emotion. Noel started up from
the suit-case he was unpacking and stared at his friend in alarm.

"For God's sake, Louis!" he cried. "What's the matter?"

"Jacqueline--Jacqueline is alive!"

In a bound Noel was across the room, with a grip on his friend's
shoulder.

"What do you mean?" he cried, shaking him fiercely. "Alive! Who told
you?"

In broken, gasping phrases Floriot told the story; and as Noel finally
grasped the details, he clutched his friend's arms, and with a shout
of joy hurled him on to the bed. Floriot bounded back to his feet and
swung his fist into the other's back. Then these two gray-haired men
threw each other around the room, rolled over together on the bed,
knocked chairs over and tables upside down, shouting and laughing at
the top of their lungs.

"Day after to-morrow! Twenty years, old man! I knew we'd win out at
last!"

The uproar reached Raymond in his studio at the other end of the house
and he ran up to see what was the matter. As he threw open the door of
the disordered room he saw his father and M. Noel shaking hands as
enthusiastically as if they had not met for years.

"Why, father, what's the matter?" he cried.

Floriot ran over and threw an arm across his son's shoulders.

"Raymond, my boy!" he shouted, "A wonderful--an unbelievable happiness
has come to your father! I can't tell you anything yet but, my God! I'm
happy!"



CHAPTER XX


THE TRIAL BEGINS


Although he had been up most of the night at work on his speech, Maître
Raymond Floriot was among the early arrivals at court the next morning.
His unlined, youthful face wore an expression of grave responsibility
as incongruous as his black advocate's gown when he took his seat at
his desk.

The more he had hammered at his appeal to the jury the more he realized
that in the strength of his speech lay his one hope of victory. All
the evidence would be against him. He did not expect to profit much by
cross-examination. The affair was too simple. He must move the jury to
pity. There was not even a chance to instil a doubt into the minds of
the men who would judge his case. That is usually the chief aim of a
defending lawyer in a bad murder trial. He does not have to convince
twelve men of conscience that his client is innocent If he can work one
drop of the poison of uncertainty into their minds he is usually safe.
For the man of average imagination would rather violate his duty to the
state a dozen times and let a dozen murderers go free than send one
to the gallows and risk the punishment of remorse. "Certainty beyond
reasonable doubt," which is the formula of the law, is a farce with
most jurors. If there exists, to them, any doubt at all, nothing can
convince them that that doubt is unreasonable.

With this powerful weapon taken from him, the young advocate had but
one left--an appeal to the emotions. Had he had to face a jury of cold,
law-worshipping Anglo-Saxons or stolid, virtue-loving Teutons his best
move would have been a plea of guilty and an invocation to Mercy.
On these a lawyer might wear out an oratorical rod of Moses without
producing a drop of moisture in the way of a tear. But here were
volatile, easily moved Latins, and Louis Floriot knew his people when
he told his son to "shake them up." So the young man decided to ignore
the evidence and build his whole speech on the statement that the woman
made to the sergeant of gendarmes on her way to the prison after the
shooting--that she had killed Laroque to prevent him from "doing an
abominable act."

He was very nervous when he took his seat at the table reserved
for counsel for the defense, just in front of the dock. He felt
himself growing more uneasy when the judges in their robes of red and
black marched in from their room at the rear and the clerk solemnly
proclaimed that court was in session.

The great hall was crowded to the doors with men and women from every
plane of the social scale. Dozens of lawyers came to watch their new
brother break his first spear. A number of seats were reserved for
municipal officers. Veiled society women sat among them. Banker,
butcher and baker rubbed elbows and craned necks in the general throng,
and women of all descriptions squeezed and jostled their way through
them.

Raymond ran his eye hurriedly over the first rows and caught a smile
of pride on Helene's lovely face, gazing at him over the railing that
cut off the spectators from the attorneys and court officials. M. Noel
and Dr. Chennel gave him reassuring nods as they met his glance and
Rose waved her hand. He turned hastily away and began busying himself
with his papers as the prisoner was led in between two gendarmes. She
was crying and held her handkerchief to her eyes as she took her seat
in the dock. Raymond watched her nervously and tried to say a few
encouraging words but he could only stammer. M. Valmorin, from his desk
on the opposite side of the "bank," smiled at his future son-in-law's
symptoms of panic and gave him a friendly nod.

Raymond had watched court proceedings in criminal cases so often that
he was as familiar with the routine as a practised lawyer but now
that he was for the first time an actor it all seemed strange and
overwhelming. He was conscious only that Helene and his father never
took their eyes off him but he never looked their way again. The voice
of the clerk reading the charge sounded far away and seemed to be no
part of the present scene.

"--In consequence of which the woman, Laraque, is accused of having,
on April 3rd, 19--, at half-past five in the afternoon, committed an
act of voluntary homicide in Room 24 of the Hotel of the Three Crowns
in Bordeaux, on the person of her lover, Frederick Laroque, a crime
punishable by Articles 295 and 304 of the Penal Code."

The voice stopped amid absolute silence, and then Raymond heard the
grave, gentle tones of the kindly old President of the Court.

"Woman Laroque, you have heard the charge against you. You are accused
of having committed an act of voluntary homicide on the person of your
lover, Frederick Laroque. What have you to say in your defense? Do you
admit that you are guilty of this crime?"

He paused and Raymond, turning in his chair, locked up at his client.
Every eye in the room was on her. She was dressed entirely in black and
wore a black cloth shawl over her head that almost entirely concealed
her face, excepting from those directly in front of her. Her profile
was toward the judges. The black background made her pallor almost
ghastly. Her features were set and hard--a hopeless mask of chalk. She
gave no sign that she had heard the President's words.

"You refuse to reply?" he went on. "You persist in keeping silent as
you kept silent under examination? Let me beg of you, in your own
interests, to speak. Your silence can only be harmful to your case. You
refuse to speak?"--He paused again.

"The matter is in the hands of the jury. You shall hear the evidence
against you. Clerk of the court, call the first witness!"

A stir and a murmur ran through the court as the President settled back
in his chair and the clerk called, "Victor Chouquet! Victor Chouquet!"

Perissard and Merivel had managed to secure seats well forward and
watched the proceedings with the interest of experts.

"What did I tell you, my dear Merivel!" whispered the senior partner.

"It has all been arranged!"

"Of course it has!"

While they were awaiting the appearance of the boots of the Three
Crowns, Raymond gazed curiously at his client. It was the first time he
had ever seen her, and he was wondering what tragic story was masked
behind her stony, inscrutable face. She did not seem to be aware that
he was alive, and turning her head, glanced over the row of judges.
Suddenly Raymond saw her eyes widen with horror and amazement Her bosom
heaved and her lips worked as if she were trying to speaks He rose
hastily and leaned over the dock.

"What is the matter, madame? Are you ill?" he asked in quick undertone.

She turned to him with the jerky, uncertain movements of an automaton,
but kept her eyes fastened on the bench.

"What--who--who is that gentleman--talking to the judges?" she
whispered. The words could barely be heard.

"President Floriot, from Toulouse," answered Raymond. He supposed that
she had asked this apparently idle question to conceal the real thought
that had caused her agitation, and so went on earnestly:

"Believe me, madame, your silence may lose your case for you. I beg you
to speak!"

She drew the cloth more closely about her face and stared out over his
head with wild eyes. With a shrug of his shoulders Raymond dropped back
into his chair and turned to listen to the examination of Chouquet. He
was beginning to feel more master of himself and more certain that his
case was hopeless.

"State your name, age, and profession!" commanded the President as
Victor took his stand behind the witness railing.

"Victor Emmanuel Chouquet, twenty-nine years of age, boots of the Hotel
of the Three Crowns," replied Victor in his high-pitched drawl.

"Where do you live?"

"At the hotel, M. the President."

"You are no relation of the prisoner, are you, or in any way connected
with her service?"

"No, M. the President."

"Raise your right hand!--Do you swear to speak without hatred or fear,
to tell the whole truth? Say, 'I swear it.'"

"I swear it!" repeated the witness.

"Put down your hand. Give your evidence!"

Victor shuffled uneasily up against the railing and turned to the jury.

"On April 3d," he began, "a man and woman came to the hotel----"

"What time was it?" interrupted the President.

"It was a short time after lunch."

"Go on!"

"They had a trunk and a bag. I took them up to Room 24 on the top
floor, and the man said, as he went into the room, 'Not a palace, is
it?' And the woman said, 'Oh, what does it matter--this room or another
one!' to which the man replied, 'Well, I don't suppose we will be here
long.' Then they asked me for absinthe and cigarettes which I got for
them, and the man asked me to leave the bottle."

"Did they drink much?" interrupted the President.

"I didn't notice."

"What was the attitude of the woman?"

"She didn't have any," replied Victor, and a titter ran over the
benches. The court usher frowned and rapped on his desk.

"Did she look happy, sad, calm or nervous?" explained the President,
irritably. Victor considered for several moments.

"She looked very tired," he replied.

"Go on!"

"Some time afterward my wife went up to their room for the police form
and took down their names--M. and Mme. Laroque, from Buenos Ayres on
their way to Paris."

"Your wife was at the hotel?"

"Yes, she was chambermaid there."

"Why has she not been called as a witness?" the judge demanded with a
frown. Victor rubbed his hand across his eyes and snuffled.

"Because she's not there any longer. On the evening after the murder
she left me and I haven't seen her since. A few days after she had gone
she wrote me a note, saying, 'Don't worry about me. I am very happy.
Take care of the child.'"

There was a quick shuffling of feet and exclamations of pity and
sympathy swept across the court. The usher frowned and pounded his desk
again. The President's face softened as he watched Victor wiping away
his tears, and he gave him time to recover before requesting him to go
on.

"At about half-past five, as I was taking water to a room on the same
floor," said Victor at last, "I heard a shot fired and a shriek in Room
24. I rushed in and found M. Laroque lying on the floor in front of his
wife, who held a smoking revolver in her hand. I took the revolver away
from her and held her tight."

"Did she say anything?"

"She said, 'There's no hurry. I shan't try to get away.' Then the
police came and took her off."

"That's all you know?"

"Yes, M. the President."

"The prisoner is the woman you call Madame Laroque, is she?"

Victor gazed at the white face above Raymond's head.

"Yes, M. the President," he said. The President looked in the same
direction.

"Prisoner, you have heard the evidence of this witness? Have you
anything to say?" he asked, solemnly.

Jacqueline had not heard the evidence. From the moment she recognized
her husband a thousand mad thoughts had stormed through her mind
in a bewildering phantasmagoria. Her fierce hatred had given birth
to a hundred fantastic schemes of vengeance that the situation made
possible. Should she wait until her character and her shame had been
painted their blackest and then tell the crowded court that he was her
husband? Should she go to the place of execution and denounce him from
the scaffold? No! She could not do that because of her boy. She had
killed Laroque to hide her shame from her son. How could she proclaim
it now and make that terrible crime useless? But couldn't she tell just
enough to show _him_--God! how she hated him! who she was and to what
he had driven her? She could picture his face as he recognized her
and listened to the horrible story of her degradation. She was glad
that there was no vice so low that it had not soiled her; for thus the
greater would be his anguish when she proclaimed it....

"You insist on remaining silent?" the President was saying.

"Wait a little! Wait a little while!" she murmured, but so low that
even Raymond could not catch the words.

"Gentlemen of the Jury, have you any questions to ask the jury?" He
paused and turned to M. Valmorin.

"Thank you, no, M. the President," bowed the Prosecutor.

"Has the counsel for the defense anything to ask the witness?"

The instinct of the cross-examiner triumphed over the nervousness of
youth.

"The witness has mentioned that my client had been drinking absinthe,"
said Raymond, rising. His voice was sure and steady. "I should like to
know whether he thinks she was intoxicated."

The President nodded and turned to Victor.

"You hear the question? Was the prisoner drunk or sober when you ran
into the room and found her with the revolver in her hand?"

Victor shifted uneasily and appeared to hesitate.

"Well, she was very much excited," he said. "There's no doubt about
that, M. the President Her eyes were like a crazy woman's and her face
was red and she didn't seem to know what she was doing."

A stir and murmur from the benches told Raymond that the audience
credited him with a point scored.

"Would you say she was drunk?" he insisted.

"Well, some would say she was and some would say she wasn't," replied
the witness, falling back on his never-failing formula.

A titter ran through the court at this conservative answer, and the
president frowned.

"What would _you_ say?" demanded Raymond. Victor's confusion was
complete.

"I--I wouldn't say!" he stammered. Raymond turned back to his desk with
a shrug of his shoulders.

"Counsel for the defense, have you any more questions to ask the
witness?" demanded the court.

"No, M. the President," was the reply.

"Stand down!" commanded the President "Clerk of the court, call the
next witness!"

The next witness was Sergeant Fontaine, the gendarme who had arrested
Jacqueline. He talked in jerky, military tones, and gave his evidence
as if he were dictating an official report He told of arresting her in
the hotel and taking her to the prison.

"Did she say anything while you were taking her off?" asked the court.

"I did most of the talking," he replied. "I asked her why she had
killed Laroque and she said she had done it to prevent him doing a
disgraceful thing which would have brought unhappiness and despair to
some one she loved. I tried to make her say more, but she wouldn't. She
said that she wouldn't say another word to anybody, and she didn't."

No one had any questions to ask the witness, though it was plain from
the manner in which some of the jurors gazed at the prisoner that the
policeman's testimony had made an impression. They were the usual run
of jurors--plain middle-class tradesmen with a rather better than
average intelligence; and, as Raymond looked them over, he felt that
there was grim work ahead if he would upset their judgment and make
them follow the impulse of emotion. He did not think he could do it.

Victor and the sergeant were the only two witnesses, and the President
turned to Jacqueline when the gendarme had taken a seat beside Victor
on the bench reserved for witnesses.

"Before calling on the Public Prosecutor," he said solemnly, "I ask
you for the last time, prisoner, in your own interest, to tell the
jury why you committed this crime. You told the policeman who arrested
you, and who has just given his evidence, that you killed Laroque to
prevent him from committing an infamous and abominable act which would
have caused trouble to some one you loved. To what act did you allude?
To whom would it have brought trouble? Knowledge of the reasons which
caused you to commit the murder may have an important influence on the
jury in reaching a verdict. You refuse, to speak? You have made up your
mind to say nothing----"

He paused; and then:

"M. the Prosecutor!" he announced.

M. Valmorin rose slowly and bowed to the President, and then to the
jury. It was an old story with him--the murder of a degenerate man by a
fallen woman. He had only to go over an old formula.

"There you are!" whispered M. Perissard to his colleague. "It is
practically over!"

"Gentlemen of the jury, I shall not keep you long," began M. Valmorin,
in a gentle, pleasant voice. "The crime on which you have to give your
verdict is simple and baneful. The woman has killed her lover--but who
is this woman? What is her real name? Where does she come from? Who
is she? We do not know! Since her arrest the prisoner has refused to
answer all questions that have been put to her. She has not spoken a
syllable in reply to the Examining Magistrate, and you have seen for
yourselves that here in court she has insisted on remaining obstinately
silent, although her silence cannot but harm her case--if she has the
slightest shred of defense!

"There is sometimes an explanation of a murder--if not an excuse for
it--to be found in the motives that inspired it. Murders are committed
for reasons of money, for reasons of love, for reasons of jealousy,
or to quench a thirst for vengeance. And the passion which arms the
criminal's hand, which disturbs her power of reasoning and which
makes her act without thinking--this, to some extent, diminishes her
responsibility and the horror which the act of murder makes every man
feel."

The jurors were leaning forward, their eyes fastened on his face and
their reasons hypnotized by the musical, confident voice.

"When one or other of these reasons is brought forward, justice may be
tempered with mercy. But how can you be asked to find excuses for an
act, the motive of which the prisoner refuses to disclose? By this very
refusal we may be forgiven for believing--nay, we are almost forced to
believe that they are the worst possible motives. I distrust, for my
part, the impenetrable mystery in which the prisoner has robed herself,
and I can feel no pity for a guilty woman whose lips have not uttered a
word of repentance!"

A loud, clear voice rang suddenly and sharply through the court.

"_I will speak presently_!"

A burst of laughter would not have been more disconcerting! M. Valmorin
stopped, and every eye in the court was on the prisoner. Half of the
men in the great room had started to their feet. The attitude and the
look of suffering and the dark, hunted eyes were not visibly changed,
but it was undoubtedly the woman who had spoken. The prosecutor bit his
lip. Ten seconds before he had read in every eye in the jury-box, and
in nearly every face in the courtroom, a placid acquiescence. Now there
was pity in the glance of more than one of the twelve who would judge
his case, and he would have to win them away from it. This would be
harder than gaining their confidence at the outset had been.

The usher hammered the top of his desk until the excitement died away
and there was order in court once more. Then M. Valmorin began the
work of repairing the damage.

"As I was saying, gentlemen of the jury, we know nothing about the
woman Laroque," he continued, calmly, as if he considered of little
importance the sensation that accompanied the dramatic interruption.
"We have found no proof that she was ever a resident of France.

"In Buenos Ayres it is not known where she came from. During her stay
in South America she did not, so far as we can learn, offend any of the
laws of the country. In the month of March she took passage on board
the Amazon for Bordeaux. Nothing particular was remarked about her
during the trip, excepting that she told the fortunes of the passengers
with a deck of cards--that she said she was certain she would die
before long, and that she was in a great hurry to get back to France.
This is all we know about her past.

"On the afternoon of April 3d she arrived at the Hotel of the Three
Crowns, and at half-past five she killed her lover--a man whose past
will not bear scrutiny, and who had been sentenced for theft on two
occasions. You have heard the evidence of the servant with reference
to the overexcitement of the prisoner. I will draw no conclusion
from this evidence, nor is it necessary to go into the question of
the prisoner's moral responsibility, which overexcitement--caused by
drink--may have affected. I will leave this phase of the case to my
friend, the counsel for the defense--Maître Raymond Floriot----"

A frightful, unearthly shriek drowned the soothing voice of the
prosecutor and brought every man and woman in the courtroom, pale-faced
and startled, to their feet. Several women screamed, and the others
stared, frightened at the prisoner. She was standing, rigid and
swaying, head raised and eyes closed, her stiffened arms held close to
her sides, her hands opening and closing convulsively. Two gendarmes
seized her and tried to force her back into her chair.

"My God! My God!" she shrieked again and again. Raymond was beside her
in a moment, his hand on her arm, begging her to be calm.

"For God's sake! Stop torturing that woman!" roared a man's voice from
the audience.

It was the signal for a pandemonium! The usher pounded on his desk
until the boards cracked, but the crowd lurched forward against the
railing in a terrific uproar.

"Let her alone!"

"She's dying!"

"Great God! It's Jacqueline! It's Floriot's wife!" shouted Noel in Dr.
Chennel's ear. And the next moment that elderly physician was over the
railing like a boy. He burst through the gendarmes and rushed over to
the dock. But Jacqueline was again in her seat and waved him back. He
and Raymond bent over her.

"Are you ill? Shall I ask for an adjournment?" they asked breathlessly.

"No! No! No!" she panted, "I'm all right--all right!"

Her eyes were still closed and her lips worked as if she were trying
to speak. Dr. Chennel's fingers closed over her left wrist. He leaned
over and whispered reassuring words in her ear and gently patted her
shoulder. The subtle magnetism cf the physician seemed to have its
effect at last and she slowly opened her eyes and sat up.

The din in the courtroom died as suddenly as it had begun, and the
spectators shamefacedly sought their seats under the blazing eyes of
the President.

He was livid with anger.

"This is the most disgraceful scene that ever stained a French court!"
he cried in a voice that trembled with suppressed rage. "If there is
another sound from the benches during these proceedings I will order
the gendarmes to clear the hall!"

Noel glanced quickly at his friend in his seat behind the judges to see
if he, too, had recognized "the woman, Laroque."

Floriot's face was buried in his hands. He pressed a handkerchief so
tightly to his eyes that Noel fancied he could see the whiteness of the
nails. Any great blow--mental or physical--is immediately followed by a
practically complete cessation of all activity of the senses. The mind
--if it works at all--revolves around singular and ridiculous trifles,
utterly foreign to the disaster or its effect. It was this condition
that the recognition of Jacqueline left her husband. He was conscious
that quiet had been restored and that Valmorin was continuing his
speech, but the scene and its actors seemed remote from his life.

"As for the reason of the crime," the prosecutor was saying, "I repeat
that we do not know it. Now that the prisoner has promised to speak, we
may learn what it was."

Speak!--would she speak!--Raymond was standing half facing the
prosecutor, his profile toward the woman. His right hand rested on the
top of the railing in front of the dock. Jacqueline's eyes were on his
handsome head, and in them there was unutterable love and unutterable
dread. His delicate nostrils were quivering, and a touch of color came
and went in his cheeks. He was watching Valmorin with eager, anxious
eyes. Timidly, as a child, her hand crept out and closed softly over
his fingers. He glanced up at her quickly, with what was meant to be
a reassuring smile, but the early stage fright was returning. The
prosecutor was nearing the end of his speech and in a few moments he
must rise to reply. She drew her hand away, and he looked from it to
the woman for a moment as if something remarkable had happened.

... An invisible band that has never been measured by our mortal
standards binds mother and child together. It, alone of earthly ties,
takes no count of Time or Space, and joy and degradation and wealth and
want and woe alike are powerless to loosen. It has been called the only
unselfish love, but it is not that. For, "damned in body and soul," the
boy clings to his mother as to a promise of salvation; and a mother,
dying in shame and despair, yet sees in her child--Immortality!...

As if it had needed but that touch of the fingers to draw the cord
tightly around his heart, Raymond felt for a moment that his soul was
going out to the wretched woman that he had never seen until that day.
Emotions that he had never known before were stirred to life. A desire
to take her in his arms almost overpowered him. And what it meant to
the mother only a mother may know. "Speak!" She would commit a thousand
murders and go a thousand times to execution rather than utter a
syllable now!...

"You, gentlemen of the jury, will weigh in the balance her sincerity
and repentance with her guilt, and let your conscience be the judge of
what punishment is proportionate to the crime she has committed."

There was a rustle and low murmur of whispered conversation as M.
Valmorin resumed his seat.

"I don't think much of M. the Public Prosecutor," muttered M.
Perissard. M. Merivel nodded his acquiescence without taking his eyes
off the scene beyond the railing. The prisoner was huddled over the
front of the dock, sobbing violently The President gazed at her with
pity in his eyes.

"Woman Laroque, will you answer my questions now?" he asked, kindly.
She did not seem to hear.

"You said a few minutes ago that you would speak."

Jacqueline raised her wet, anguish-stricken face and held out both
hands, as if warding off a blow.

"No! Never! Never!" she cried, wildly, and sank down again.

"Take time for reflection, and let me, for the last time, advise you
not to remain obstinate!" persisted the judge.

There was no reply save a storm of weeping that shook the dock. Murmurs
of pity rose again and the usher rapped sharply on his desk for
attention.

"Counsel for the defense!" called the President,



CHAPTER XXI


CHERCHEZ L'HOMME


Raimond straightened up with an effort and turned to face the jury.
His face was almost as white as the prisoner's. His lips trembled and
his eyes burned. From the moment the woman had pressed his hand he
had been struggling with an emotion more unnerving than stage fright.
Hitherto he had known misery only as we who never stir from home know
the suffering of an arctic explorer. For the first time in his life
he had been thrown into actual contact with the raw reality, stripped
of the veneer and varnish of the story-teller. When he looked at the
crouching woman and felt the railing tremble with her sobs he dimly
understood the despair that could welcome death as a friend. If he had
only known--if he could only have felt this way when he had written his
speech! What was his speech? How did it begin? His eye met his father's
for a wavering instant and the frightened gaze and livid features
of the stern magistrate completed the demoralization of his son. His
father saw that he would fail and shame him, he thought! He dared not
glance toward Helene. He must begin! He fixed his eyes on a light stain
on the dark wood of the jury-box and tried to remember the opening
words of his address. They would not come. The overwhelming sense of
failure, the foreknowledge that he could not make the jury feel the
flood of emotion that had paralyzed his tongue, brought team to his
eyes!

The courtroom was preternaturally still. A juryman coughed, and at
the sound Raymond felt an Overmastering impulse to scream or run out.
There was a long-drawn sob behind him and he straightened up--rigid.
He raised his eyes and the jury-box was a gray-black blur. His lips
felt stiff and his tongue dry--but he must begin! He bowed stiffly and
hurriedly to the bench and quickly drew the back of his hand across his
eyes to clear away the mist of tears....

"Gentlemen--of the jury!" His voice sounded strange to his own ears,
and he leaned with both hands on the table. What were his opening
words?--It was useless! But he must stumble on some way!

"I cannot--I will not try--to conceal--the very great emotion that I
feel! I hope--you must pardon me----" He met the eyes of one of the
jurors, and instead of the contempt and amusement that he had expected
he saw a gleam of sympathy. Oh, if he had only the power to play upon
it! Why couldn't he remember his speech? He could only tell them how he
felt, and plead for mercy for the woman.

"My wish is to be cool--and to keep calm--but my eyes fill with tears
in spite of all--my efforts." And again he quickly dashed his hand
across his eyes. He looked up at the men, who must judge him and his
speech, with almost piteous bravery.

"My heart is beating--quicker than it should! My voice is
trembling--and it is all that I can do to keep from breaking down and
crying like a child instead of pleading for my client--here before you.
I crave your indulgence for this weakness--but it does not make me
blush!" He threw back his head, and at last he saw the jurors clearly
before him.

"It is the first time in my life that I have come close to the
bitterness of a woman's grief and misery and--my heart is tom by the
fear that I shall not be able to prove myself equal to the noble task
that I have undertaken!"

He paused and wet his dry lips with his tongue.

"I can find none of the arguments that I had prepared for the purpose
of moving and convincing you, and my ready-made phrases have vanished
from my brain, dispersed by one glance at the suffering and distress of
this poor woman!

"Look at her, gentlemen! No words of mine can have the power of tears
to move you to mercy!"

There was a falter and piteous break in his voice as he half turned and
laid his hand on the dock. There was not another sound save the woman's
sobs. The faces of the jurors told him that they were listening with
eager attention and the fear of being made ridiculous began to pass.
Blindly, Instinctively, he had stumbled on to the greatest rule of the
greatest orator that ever lived: "Be earnest!"

In those few minutes the jurymen had felt the force of clean emotion,
of noble purpose, behind the stumbling words, and they waited
breathlessly. With the growing confidence some of the arguments that he
had embodied in his written speech came back to him; but he could not
remember the words.

"And there is a mystery--a veil of mystery which has not been torn by
the evidence and still surrounds this woman for whom I am pleading,"
he went on. "Who is this weeping and despairing woman? Where does she
come from, and why did she kill the man with whom she lived? We do not
know!" His voice was gaining a strong, commanding ring.

"She alone can rend this veil that surrounds her life, and she refuses
to do so! She alone knows the secret and keeps it! Why? So as to
mislead the cause of justice? Certainly not! For if that were her
object, she would speak. She would try to justify herself. She would
lie, so as to appear innocent!

"She could find a dozen plausible reasons for the murder of her lover!
A quarrel, a violence on his part, a momentary madness--nobody could
give her the lie. Nobody saw or heard what happened immediately before
the murder; and Laroque, the only person in the room besides the
prisoner, is dead! But my client has disdained all subterfuge! She knew
perfectly well what the consequence of her act would be--_and--she--has
not--tried--to--escape it_!

"'There's no hurry,' she said to the boots of the hotel, who wrenched
the revolver from her hand. 'I sha'n't try to getaway.' And since then
she has been silent. Why? Her own words tell us why, gentlemen, and
will lift a corner of the curtain which hides the truth from us!

"The policeman who arrested her has told us that he asked the prisoner
why she killed Laroque, and that she answered: 'I killed him to prevent
him from doing an infamous and shameful thing which would have brought
misfortune on some one I love!'

"This, gentlemen," he cried, his voice rising, "tells us the secret of
this poor creature!

"She killed this man Laroque, of whose past--as my friend the Public
Prosecutor rightly said--no good was known. She killed this man who
has, on two occasions, undergone punishment for theft and was capable
of anything. _She killed him, because taking his life was the only way
she could prevent an infamy that would have brought shame land despair
on some one she loved!_

"Does this not explain the insistency of her silence? This woman, this
poor wreck, who has been beaten down to the lowest rungs of the ladder
of physical and moral misery, this wretched creature--_loves_! Good
women will sweep their skirts from her touch in the streets, but love
is in her heart, and the happiness of him or her whom she loves is
dearer to her than her own life!

"One day she sees a menace to this happiness and kills--kills without
hesitation the scoundrel who was about to destroy it!"

Gone was the stage fright--gone the fear of failure! As the ear of a
musician tells him when his hands have found a chord, so is there a
psychic ear which tells the orator that the spirit of his audience
is in harmony with his words. As this telepathic message reached his
brain, Raymond felt at last within him the power to move the hearts of
men. Words poured forth in a rushing flood!

"Love was the motive that made her a criminal! Love, and love only! And
whom does she love to the sacrifice of herself? Is it a father who is
respected and honored by all in his old age? Is it a husband or lover
to whom she has been false and whom she left long ago? Is it a child
who knows nothing of his mother's shame and lives unconscious and happy?

"We do not know! But some such love is the secret of my client and the
reason of her silence. She cares nothing for what men may say of her,
nor for man's judgment of her! She does not care for her own life, and
sacrifices it with gladness! But she will not let herself be known!
There is only one single being of importance to her, and she will not
let her name be spoken lest the sentence stain her picture in the heart
of the one she worships!

"Gentlemen of the jury, a woman who can feel like this is no vulgar
criminal! I feel sure that I shall prove to you that it is no mere
criminal who stands before you! The police have moved heaven and
earth to establish her identity, and they have failed. This is alone
sufficient proof that this crime is her first; for had she been
convicted before, the police would have found traces of her past!

"And there is no doubt, gentlemen"--his voice was vibrant and his
eyes flashed through the tears--"there is no doubt that a man was
originally responsible for my client's fall. When a woman falls
and rolls in the gutter, it is not with her that we should feel
indignant--it is not against her breast that we should cast the stones!

"A man has done this thing!" he shouted, his features quivering. "He
has seduced or ill-treated her! He is a lover without scruple, or a
husband with too little nobility of character and too much pride--a
husband who has not known how to pity, and who sentenced her for a
first fall to a life of sin!

"The laws of man are powerless against such a lover or such a husband,"
he cried, stepping forward with clenched fist above his head, "but God
sees him--and God judges him!

"Such a man has made this woman what you see her to-day, and he alone
is responsible!" He paused and gulped to swallow an imaginary something
in his throat. Then he went on bitterly:

"He, no doubt, lives happily--his name respected and his conscience
calm! But in the eyes of Eternal Justice this man stands by this
woman's side, or lower still! And in the name of a higher law, in the
name of your mothers and sisters, I call upon you to do justice--with
pity--to this woman whose life has been the plaything of the man who
should stand in her place!"

He paused again. His head felt hot and his; feet cold. He knew that he
had not used a syllable of his original speech, but words and phrases
that he had never dreamed of before leaped to his tongue in battalions.
His voice, that had been hoarse and uncertain at the opening, was now
true to every changing note of his heart. Without looking in their
direction he was conscious that Helene and Rose were crying. From the
audience he heard the strained coughing of "men and the muffled weeping
of women. He glanced toward the bench and saw, with vague wonder, his
father's bowed and shaking figure. His eloquence had even moved that
iron judge, he thought! He could not know the agony of which he was the
author! He could not dream that the generous wrath that flamed up from
his pure heart had made his tongue a lash for his father's soul! Noel,
watching and listening, his eyes shaded by his hand, felt the terrible
torture of his friend, and twice he rose as if he would interrupt the
boy's bitter arraignment of his father. But Raymond swept on with his
speech.

"In the course of the eloquent address for the prosecution my friend
reminded us that murder might sometimes be worthy of forgiveness, and
that the wave of passion which causes murder sometimes excuses it.

"Gentlemen, I ask you on your consciences_--is this woman guilty_?
Does she deserve punishment for wiping out of existence the pestilent
criminal who was threatening the happiness of the one person she
loved? Does this unfortunate woman deserve punishment for the silence
she has kept heroically to save her name from scandal--and for whom?
For the sake of another!

"No, gentlemen, a thousand times--_No!_ Attire mere thought my heart
cries out in protest! And you will, I know, gentlemen, share my
emotion--and my conviction!

"Gentlemen of the jury, my cause is just, and the verdict will bear
witness to its justice! I await it without fear! Were you to find my
client guilty--even with extenuating circumstances--your verdict would
only prove that I have not been equal to my task!

"And I should never cease to regret my lack of ability to make you feel
those sentiments and convictions which bid me declare in a loud voice,
with my hand upon my heart_--this woman is not guilty_!"



CHAPTER XXII


MADAME X SPEAKS


The speech was over. For a moment there was an awed hush. Then Raymond
dropped heavily into his chair--exhausted and limp. His body lay
half-way across the table, his face buried in his arms. He did not
know until it was all over what the effort had cost in nervous force.
A listless indifference and the feeling that he had failed came as a
reaction to the exaltation of a moment before.

A quivering sigh swept through the room, followed by sounds of
snuffling and the violent blowing of noses! And the spell was broken.
The President drew a long breath and was turning to address the jury
when there was an unexpected interruption. Victor Chouquet, who
probably alone of those in the courtroom had been unmoved--for the
reason that he couldn't understand--had had time to look around him
with boorish curiosity. He had seen two men who, while they were
dry-eyed, were listening with the appreciation of experts.

"Excuse me, M. the President!" he cried, in his high drawl. The
President started.

"Who is speaking?"

"I, M. the President!" And Victor rose. The judge glanced at him
impatiently.

"Have you anything else to say?"

"Yes, M. the President."

"Well? You may speak."

Victor did not lose any time. It had taken his dull mind some fifteen
or twenty minutes to connect cause and effect, and he was ready. He
turned and pointed along the front of the benches to the spot where the
partners in confidential missions were seated.

"Those two over there came to the hotel and asked for M. Laroque before
the boat came in," he said. "They came back and saw him after he
arrived, and I took them up to his room. They went out with M. Laroque
and stayed a long time. He came back about fifteen or twenty minutes
before the murder was committed."

The judges and court officers gazed sharply at the two men, who were
trying to conceal themselves behind the other spectators.

"This is important!" muttered the President "Have you anything else to
say?"

"No, monsieur," replied Victor, resuming his seat.

"Usher, bring those two men to the bar!" commanded the President. "I
have discretionary powers to question them as witnesses, although they
have not previously been summoned--and I will use it."

The "confidential agents" looked nervously around the room as if
seeking some way of escape as the usher advanced on them.

"For pity's sake, be careful!" whispered Perissard, anxiously. "Keep
your mouth shut and leave it to me!"

"Don't worry! I won't say a word!" replied his colleague in the same
tone.

"Gentlemen, if you please, this way!" cried the usher from the railing.
As they came into the enclosure the President thought of something.

"Let one of them step forward and the other be taken to the
waiting-room," he ordered. With another quick warning look at his
confrère, M. Perissard walked up to the witness-stand while a gendarme
escorted the other out behind the dock.

With one hand resting lightly on the railing in front of the
witness-stand and the other nursing his immaculate silk hat, M.
Perissard surveyed the judges and jury with an oily, benevolent smile.

"Your name and surname?" demanded the President.

"Perissard--Robert Henri!" replied the witness in his most unctuous
tones, accompanying the answer with a half-bow.

"Your age?"

"Fifty-nine years, M. the President!"

"Your profession," continued the judge.

"Confidential missions," was the reply, with another bend.

"Your address?"

"No. 62 Rue Fribourg, Paris."

"Tell us what you know about the murder of Laroque!" the President
commanded, and leaned back in his chair. M. Perissard's manner had
not deceived him in the slightest measure. He knew the breed; and,
knowing that the witness was a shrewd man, he tried to put him at a
disadvantage by making him tell the story without questions.

But M. Perissard knew the danger of that system of examination as well
as did the President.

"I know nothing about it at all, M. the President!" he declared
earnestly. "I know absolutely nothing! And I cannot understand----"

"Did you know Laroque?" interrupted the judge, abruptly. M. Perissard
shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other.

"I used to know him years ago in Paris," he admitted, with a fine air
of candor. "About six months ago I received a letter from him asking
for work. I offered him a place in my office, and I went to see him
when he arrived. That's all!"

Something familiar in the sound of his voice brought Floriot out of the
stupor that succeeded the agony he had suffered. He raised his haggard
face from his hands and met M. Perissard's eyes fixed upon him. He
recognized him at once.

"Did you come from Paris to Bordeaux on purpose to see him?" pursued
the examiner.

"No, M. the President, I had to come to Bordeaux to start a branch of
my Paris house here."

"Is that the reason of your coming here to-day?"

M. Perissard paused and fixed his glance slowly and meaningly on the
President of the Toulouse Court, over the judge's shoulder.

"No, M. the President," he said with deliberation. "I came to Bordeaux
on a special matter of business, the business of one of my clients--a
very delicate affair! It concerns the honor of a well-known family,
and I hope to carry it through successfully. I am honorably known in my
profession, and my clients know that they can always reckon_--always_
reckon, I repeat--on my entire discretion!"

"What did you say to Laroque in the course of your conversation with
him?" continued the President.

"Nothing much, nothing much!" M. Perissard assured him, with an offhand
gesture. "It was a business talk, in which I gave him a few general
instructions about the work of my office. That is all!"

"You do not know anything about the shooting?"

"Not a thing, M. the President!" was the emphatic reply.

"Do you know the prisoner?"

M. Perissard turned and gave Jacqueline a long and careful scrutiny, as
if he were not certain that he had ever seen her before.

"I saw her with Laroque," he said at last, "but I do not know who she
is."

"You may----" began the President and stopped with a start. The
prisoner was slowly rising. Her body was tense, and she leaned forward
out of the dock with one rigid arm pointing at Perissard. With the
black garb, livid face, and burning eyes and the clawlike hand pointing
at the witness--whose fat pink cheeks had suddenly paled--she was like
some uncanny sibyl about to launch a curse.

"But _I_ know _you_!" she cried in a hoarse voice that carried to the
farthest corner. "_You are the real cause of the murder!_"

In a moment the audience was on its feet.

"I! I!" cried the blackmailer, stepping back with well-feigned
astonishment while the usher hammered at his desk and shouted for
order. But even the President was too much absorbed in the sudden
dramatic development to heed the excitement in the court.

"Yes, _you_!" she repeated, stabbing at him with her stiff forefinger.
"You found out that I was married and that I had left my husband,
and you advised Laroque to find him and ask him for the money that I
brought him on my marriage!"

M. Perissard had been in many a tight place--in many a situation where
self-possession and nerve had saved him--and he quickly recovered from
the shock of the denunciation. Ignoring the excitement that had upset
the decorum of the court he turned to the President and said suavely:

"M. the President, Laroque told me during our conversation that his
wife had had typhoid fever Hast year and that her brain had suffered."

But the woman was not to be silenced by such a trick.

"I nearly died last year, and my head was shaved," she said, slowly,
turning and looking straight at Floriot, who was watching her with
grief-stricken eyes. "That is why those who used to know me cannot
recognize me now!"

Floriot hid his face in his hands and shuddered. Noel, white-faced, was
gripping the railing in front of him with both hands.

"But I am not mad!" she cried, her voice rising to a shrill note as she
faced Perissard once more. "I begged and prayed Laroque not to follow
your hateful advice, and he refused to listen to me. As I would not run
the risk of his seeing and speaking to my son, _I killed him_!"

Muttered imprecations and half-smothered exclamations of anger swept
through the court, and the throng heaved forward against the railings.
Raymond sprang up into the dock and with one arm around the woman's
waist and the other resting on the arm nearest him, he gently forced
her down into her chair once more. The usher pounded his desk and the
gendarmes struggled to push the crowd back from the railing. It was
several minutes before order was restored, but the President, hastily
consulting his confrères on the bench, paid no heed.

"You may go!" he said, when the room had reached almost its normal
semi-hush and the voices had dropped into excited whisperings. "Call
the other witness!"

M. Perissard started hurriedly for the door, but at a signal from M.
Valmorin the gendarmes stopped him.

"No, M. Perissard," said the prosecutor. "Do not leave the court, if
you please. We may want you again."

"The presiding judge said I could go, and I have important business!"
protested the blackmailer.

"And I ask you to stay!" repeated M. Valmorin, firmly. "Kindly sit
down!"

He was escorted, muttering and grumbling, to the witnesses' bench.

"I really don't understand! It's disgraceful!" he fumed. "I was not
regularly cited--Article 313 of the Code of Criminal Instruction. It's
a shame!"

But no one paid any further attention to him, excepting a few jurors
and the nearest of the spectators, who favored him with curious and
unpleasant glances. The usher brought M. Merivel to the stand. He came
with mincing steps, and many bows, and a confident smirk on his fat,
heavy face.

The President eyed him with rather more dislike than he had shown for
the other partner.

"Your name and surname!" he commanded, curtly.

"Merivel--Modiste Hyacinthe!" replied the junior partner, in his
blandest professional tones.

"Your age?"

"Fifty-two years, M. the President!"

"Your profession?"

"Confidential missions!" replied M. Merivel, with an obsequious tow.

"Your address!" demanded the judge.

"No. 132 Rue St. Denis, Paris."

"What do you know about the murder of Laroque?"

M. Merivel threw open his hands and drew himself up.

"Nothing. M. the President!" he declared.

"Nothing?" questioned the judge with a frown.

"Nothing whatever!" M. Merivel assured him with much earnestness.

"Did you know Laroque?" was the next question.

"No, M. the President," was the prompt reply.

"Had you never seen him?"

"Never!" exclaimed the witness, without hesitation. Some one tittered
and M. Perissard cursed his colleague heartily under his breath.

"You did not go to see him in his room at the Hotel of the Three Crowns
on April 3d?"

"No, M. the President!" replied M. Merivel, with a solemn shake of the
head. A ripple of laughter ran along the benches and M. Merivel began
to perspire. His glance wavered before the President's stern eye.

"Be careful! The hotel people saw you!" he warned. M. Merivel glanced
uneasily at his partner for a cue, but Perissard was afraid to give him
a sign.

"They must have made a mistake, M. the President!" he said, at last,
with a great assumption of firmness.

"Oh, what an ass!" growled his partner fiercely.

M. Valmorin rose suddenly.

"M. the President," he said, "the attitude of these two men is
distinctly suspicious, and, by virtue of Article 330 of the Code of
Criminal Instruction, I ask you to order their immediate arrest for
perjury!"

M. Perissard bounded up with agility that fitted strangely with his
corpulent figure.

"Look here!" he shouted angrily, "it isn't my fault if that fool----"

"Who are you calling a fool?" demanded his partner, advancing
belligerently.

"Gendarmes, remove those two men!" commanded the President.

"I protest----" began M. Merivel, loudly, holding up his hand.

"You have no right to do this! It is perfectly----" stormed the other.

"Take them away!" interrupted the judge.

"I'll have my revenge!" foamed M. Merivel, in a voice that made the
chairs tremble, as the gendarmes laid hold of him.

"Shut your mouth, you d----d idiot!" roared the other.

"I'll write to the papers! I'll----" And struggling, and threatening,
cursing the court and each other, they were dragged off to be held on
charges of perjury, while the crowd hissed them out. And this, it may
be remarked here, ended their long careers of crookedness. Merivel was
convicted of perjury, but the case against the senior partner could not
be made to hold. Merivel was so enraged when the other was acquitted
that he turned State's evidence and gave M. Valmorin the history of
some of Perissard's "deals," with the result that both were sent to
prison for long terms.

When the excitement attending the exit of the pair had subsided the
President made one last appeal to the prisoner before giving the case
to the jury.

"Woman Laroque," he said, gently, with a slight hesitation at the name,
"have you anything to say in your defense? Tell the truth and the whole
truth!"

To his astonishment, the woman slowly rose. A hush of eager expectancy
fell over the room. Looking straight before her into the dead wall she
began in a low, uncertain tone.

"My counsel has said all that could be said. I shall never forget his
words, and I thank him from my heart!" The voice trembled and stopped.

"He was right!" she went on, unsteadily, her hands tightly clutching
the desk as she struggled for control. "I was not naturally bad! A
coward broke my life and made me what I have become!"

The President heard a muffled groan behind him where his guest was
sitting, but he did not take; his eyes off the woman's face.

"I had wronged him, I admit, but I was sorry--and hated myself for my
fault. I begged his pardon--begged for it on my knees! And he told me
to go--threw me out into the streets! Me! His wife--the mother of his
child!

"Thanks to him I rolled in the gutter! Thanks to him I have suffered
a thousand deaths_--and I have killed_! I hate him! I hate him!" she
cried wildly, her voice shaking with passion. "And with my last breath
I will curse his name!"

She paused with a gasp and swallowed hard. Floriot sat with his face
in his hands and his heaving shoulders told the story of his agony.
Rose and Helene, their heads close together, were openly crying, and
there were sounds of sobbing and snuffling from all over the room. The
jury sat; like twelve men hypnotized. Raymond stood looking up into
her face, while a hundred emotions swept him. The feeling of pity,
the desire to comfort, that had moved him when she pressed his hand,
returned with reawakened force. He could not know it--but she dared
not glance down at him.

"And yet I do not complain," she went on, with a strange note of
tenderness. "No, I do not complain! I have a son--a son whom I love,
whom I love more than I can say!"

Once more she paused, and when she spoke again some of the excitement
under which she had labored returned.

"But he does not know me!" she cried. "The sound of my voice--thank
God!--can awaken no echo in his heart! He will never see me again--know
nothing of my shame and," she faltered, "his memory of me will be vague
and sweet and beautiful; for--when I became--lost to him--he was a
child! He is so far--from me--now! But I love him! I worship him! All
my heart is his. My one wish--is that he--should be happy--that--ah!"

The words ended in a long-drawn sob and she sank into her chair,
huddled over the desk.



CHAPTER XXIII


THE VERDICT


Eloquent and earnest as had been Raymond's impassioned outburst it
hardly moved the throng as did the woman's short and broken confession.
In the hearts of all men and women who are worthy of the name there
is ever pity for a fallen woman; but in this case there was something
more than that. Pity for the wrecks of vice is often tempered by the
instinctive feeling that the lost are mercifully drugged by their own
excesses until they are incapable of realizing fully that they have
fallen beyond the reach of redemption.

But here there was none of that. In that prayer for her son, every
mother in the room heard a mother crying out to her across an
unbridgeable gulf--every man knew that the woman's soul was writhing
under the torture of seeing herself as she was; and the soft weeping
and the pressed lips and shining eyes were eloquent of their emotion.

Even the old President felt the spell, and it was with an effort that
he took his eyes off the bowed figure with Raymond bending over it
and turned to address the jury. At his first words--delivered tin a
matter-of-fact "legal" tone--a rustle and stir ran over the benches. It
was over.

"Gentlemen of the jury," he said, "you have to answer this question:
Is the prisoner guilty of the murder committed on April 3d, on the
body of her lover, Frederick Laroque? If the majority of you believe
that the prisoner is guilty or not guilty, your verdict will be worded
accordingly.

"If the majority of you believe, on the other hand, that there are
extenuating circumstances, you are to give your verdict in these words:

"'The majority of the jurors believe that there are extenuating
circumstances in favor of the prisoner.'

"I point out to you that your vote must be a secret one. Kindly
withdraw to the jury-room. The court is rising!"

As he spoke he rose, accompanied by the ether' judges and moved toward
the door of his private room, opening off the "bank." The usher pounded
his desk.

"The court is rising!" he repeated in a loud tone. With the shuffling
of many feet the throng rose and the hum of conversation filled the
room. Escorted by two gendarmes, Jacqueline was taken out to the
prisoner's room to await the verdict.

Floriot, walking like a drunken man, went out with M. Valmorin to the
latter's little office. Noel tried to reach him, but he disappeared
before he could cross the court. Dr. Chennel followed him and Raymond
suddenly stopped them, returning from the door of the prisoner's room,
where he had accompanied the woman.

The big hall was practically deserted. Helene had quickly recovered
from her emotion in her pride in Raymond, but Rose wept inconsolably,
and the girl led her out to the open air.

Raymond eagerly seized the hands of his father's friends.

"Do you think she will get off, doctor?" he asked, quickly.

"I hope so," responded the surgeon with an affectionate smile; "and if
she does, she may I thank you, my boy!"

"Is that so?" he exclaimed, with a pleased little laugh and nervous
toss of his head. "I thought I was awfully bad!"

"And I thought you were marvelous!" rejoined Noel, with unmistakable
meaning. He was looking curiously at the young man's flushed and
handsome face.

"Oh, come now!" protested Raymond.

"I mean it. You reached me--and not only me!" he added half to himself.

Raymond shook his hand with hearty gratitude.

"It's awfully good of you to tell me these things," he said, "and I'm
mighty proud of one thing! Do you know that I made my father cry? I
did, for a fact! 'The Man of Bronze,' some one told me they call him! I
managed to glance at him a couple of times, and I'm sure he was crying!

"Now, that's a success, you know! For a young fellow like me to make
the presiding judge of another criminal court cry over his first speech
is pretty good, whether the young lawyer is the judge's son or not!

"My, but I was nervous! That poor woman completely upset me. You
remember when she called out and nearly fainted?"

The others nodded.

"Yes," said Noel. "You turned around and looked up and spoke to her, I
think."

"Exactly!" Raymond rattled on, excitedly. "I put my hand on the edge of
the rail and she took hold of it, and pressed it, and--do you know,
I forgot all about my speech, and everything else? It's a fact! She
looked at me in the most extraordinary way!"

He paused a moment and then went on soberly, with a vague, puzzled look
in his dark eyes.

"She drew me toward her, somehow. I don't know how to explain it to
you. I wanted to take her in my arms and console her and kiss her--yes,
kiss her! Kind of foolish, eh?" he added, with a quick smile. "Queer
sort of a lawyer who'd want to kiss his clients, isn't it? But I swear
that's what I did want! It was one of the most extraordinary sensations
I have ever felt, and it upset me so that I caught myself talking for a
full minute without knowing what I was saying. Luckily, I sort of got
hold of myself, and--and--I'm almighty glad it's all over. Ah, here
comes the President of the Toulouse court!"

His few minutes in M. Valmorin's office had partially restored
Floriot's steel nerves. He took a drink of water and gently put aside
the prosecutor's solicitous questions, and then he hurried out to find
his son, knowing that the boy would feel hurt if he was not among the
first to congratulate him. But his white, lined face and haggard eyes
bore witness to the terrible suffering of the recent ordeal.

Raymond hastened forward a few steps to meet him.

"Thank you, my boy, thank you!" said Floriot unsteadily, as he gripped
his son's hand. "It was a noble speech!"

Then he dropped wearily into a chair. Raymond stared at him, startled.

"Why, is anything the matter, father?" he cried, stepping quickly over
to his side.

Floriot raised his hand as if to motion him away.

"No! Nothing, nothing!" he replied.

"I think Mademoiselle Valmorin wants to speak to you, Raymond,"
interrupted Noel, hurriedly. The young man threw a quick look up
toward the benches and saw that Helene had returned and was trying to
telegraph him with her eyes. A father's claims must always yield to
a lover's, and with a lingering glance at the figure in the chair,
Raymond hurried off to his sweetheart's, side.

Noel put his hand under Floriot's arm and drew him off to a corner by
the bench, where they were partially hidden, while Dr. Chennel did
sentry duty in the background.

"You recognized her, of course?" said Floriot, in a low broken voice,
without meeting his friend's eye.

Noel nodded, but did not speak.

"There's no doubt about it!" went on his friend. "It is Jacqueline, and
this is what she has become! This is my work! Jacqueline! Jacqueline!"
he groaned, piteously.

"What are you going to do?" demanded Noel. The effort to control
himself made his voice sound hard. Floriot shook his head miserably.

"I don't know!" he groaned. "What do you think?"

"It doesn't seem to me," retorted Noel, bitterly, "that this is exactly
a time for thinking! If she should be convicted, maybe it would be
better to let things take their natural course and never let Raymond
know who she was. But if she is acquitted, you will have to tell him,
and we will have to do what we can to--to--wipe out twenty years!"

Floriot's only reply for a moment was a dry sob. Then:

"How can I tell him--_now_! God!" he cried, "he will add his curses to
hers! I will lose him! I----"

The sharp clang of a bell broke in. Noel started, it was the signal
that the court was coming in.

"Already!" he exclaimed. "The jury didn't take long!" He hastily
gripped his friend's hand as the door of the President's room opened,
and pushed him toward his seat.

"Keep your heart, old man!" he added, kindly. "We'll come through all
right!"

Raymond brushed against him as he walked back to his seat. His ears
were singing with Helene's whispers.

"It's a good sign, isn't it?" he said in low, eager tones. Noel nodded
and passed outside the railing. The crowd was swarming in from both
doors, and by the time the judges had comfortably settled themselves
the hall was packed once more. The jury filed slowly into the box and
sat down. The usher rapped for silence. There was not a sound in the
court when the President solemnly commanded:

"Gentlemen of the jury, give your verdict!"

The foreman, a round-faced, dry-goods salesman, plainly oppressed by
the importance of his position, rose, and, with his right hand over his
heart, declared, in husky tones:

"On my honor and on my conscience, before God and before men, the
declaration of the jury is:

"No, the prisoner is not guilty!"

A gasp swept across the hall, and then the great throng burst into a
cheer. Men sprang up and slapped each other on the back, and women,
with tear-stained faces, frantically waved their limp handkerchiefs.
Rose gave Helene a convulsive hug, and it was returned with interest.
Sergeant Fontaine so far forgot his official reserve as to seize
Victor's hand and shake it with enthusiasm, while he twisted his
mustache violently with the other. Raymond was trying to combine the
dignity of an advocate with an expression of rapturous delight. The
usher hammered his desk and the gendarmes shouted for order. Only
Floriot sat with bowed head, and Noel watched him under the hand that
shaded his eyes. Evidently feeling that the shortest way was the
quickest, the President ordered the usher to bring in the prisoner.

As soon as the door opened and the woman walked slowly in between the
gendarmes, the din fell away to a tense hush. There was a spot of color
in her cheeks that had not been there before, and her eyes were wilder.
Dr. Chennel gazed at her with close scrutiny.

"She has a very high fever!" he whispered to Noel. The latter nodded,
without turning his head.

"Clerk of the court, read the declaration of the jury!" commanded the
President. The clerk, who had been busily writing out that document in
the form prescribed, rose with the paper in his hand and read, in a
droning monotone:

"The declaration of the jury is: No, the prisoner is not guilty. In
consequence whereof the court proclaims the prisoner's innocence of the
crime of which she is accused, orders her acquittal, and orders that
she be immediately set at liberty, unless there be other reason for her
detention. The court is risen!"

The last words were lost in a frightful shriek from the prisoner.

"_No! No! No_!" she screamed, struggling in the grip of the two guards
as she tried to throw herself out of the dock. "_Let me die! I want to,
die! I want to die!_"

In an instant the court was again in an uproar with oaths, cries of
anger, and shrieks of women. The crowd swept forward to the railing.

"Clear the court!" roared the President; and the gendarmes threw
themselves into the press, driving the packed men and women toward the
exits. The din was terrific, and above it all rose Jacqueline's screams.

"_I want to die! I want to die!_"

Raymond was the first to reach her, closely fol lowed by Dr. Chennel
and Noel, and then Floriot "_For God's sake_! _doctor! Help her_!" he
cried.



CHAPTER XXIV


THE GUTTERING FLAME


As the rear of the hysterical mob was driven from the hall and the
doors locked, Jacqueline collapsed into her chair, unconscious. At the
same moment the President hurried up, pulling on his street coat.

"Carry her into my room!" he commanded. The two muscular gendarmes
picked her up, chair and all, and carried her into the little
dressing-room. Then, with a sign, he dismissed them and immediately
followed himself, leaving the little party alone.

Leaving Helene in her father's care, Rose followed the solemn little
procession into the President's room. Dr. Chennel met her at the door
and gave her a few hasty orders as to medicine, and she hurried away.
Then he turned to the patient.

In a moment he had Noel administering smelling salts and Raymond
moistening her temples with cologne, which he produced from his
emergency tag. Floriot, with white, compressed lips and frightened
eyes, stood watching as the doctor felt her pulse, listened with ear to
her heart, and turned back the lids of the sightless eyes.

Floriot was the first to speak.

"Is she--in danger?" he whispered, brokenly. The doctor slowly shook
his head.

"I can't tell yet," he replied, without taking his eyes off her face.
"Her heart is undoubtedly badly affected. It is worn out--like the rest
of her. My great fear is that she may die of utter exhaustion."

Floriot turned away with an inarticulate groan.

"Doctor! I think she moved just now!" exclaimed Noel. The doctor was
watching her face keenly.

"Yes, she's coming around all right," he nodded. "This crisis is over,
but----" He shrugged his shoulders.

The dark eyelids trembled and slowly opened. There was a long,
fluttering sigh. Dr. Chennel bent over.

"How do you feel now?" he asked. She swallowed slowly once or twice,
and looked listlessly at the circle of faces around her. Floriot was
standing where he could not be seen.

"Not well," she murmured, feebly. "I'm all broken up. I--don't--seem to
have--any strength. Where am I?"

"In the law courts--in the President's room," replied Chennel. She
started, as if to rise.

"The President's!" she gasped. Her brain was still hazy, but she could
think of only one President. Noel seemed to divine something of what
was in her mind, for he threw Floriot in the background a look that
said: "Leave this to me!" Floriot opened the door and stumbled out. At
an imperative gesture from Noel, Raymond followed him.

When the door had closed behind them, Noel bent over until his lips all
but touched the woman's ear.

"Jacqueline!" he murmured. She looked up at him with dull eyes.

"Who are you?" she asked, indifferently. "You seem to know my name--who
are you?"

He looked steadily and tenderly into her eyes.

"Don't you remember me?"

She shook her head.

"But I'm sure you haven't altogether forgotten me!" he insisted,
gently. She studied his face for several moments and then recognition
slowly dawned in her eyes.

"Wait a minute! But--no, it's impossible! It can't be!" she cried,
excitedly. Dr. Chennel tactfully stepped back to the opposite side of
the little room.

"Little Jenny Wren!" whispered Noel.

"_Noel! Noel! You!_" she cried, clutching his arm and looking hungrily
up into his face.

"Yes, it's Noel!" he smiled. She seized his hand and pressed it again
and again to her cheek.

"Oh, thank God! Thank God!" she sobbed. "I'm no longer alone! Noel!
Noel! Noel!"

"Are you really as glad as all that to see me again, Jennie Wren?" he
whispered, tenderly. He sat on the arm of the chair and she clung to
him as if she were afraid he might disappear as suddenly as he had come.

"Noel! Noel! Pity me! Pity me!" she sobbed.

He gently laid his fingers across her lips.

"Don't talk of pity!" he whispered. "Everything is forgotten!"

"Ah! As if I could ever forget!" she moaned.

"Of course, you can!" he cried, cuddling her up close to him. "It was
all a nightmare, and you're awake now. Don't cry, Jacqueline, don't
cry! We're all together again, and we'll all be happy together and
your son----"

Jacqueline tore herself away from him with a frightened cry and tried
to rise.

"Raymond!" she gasped. "Has any one told him? Does he know?"

"No! No! He doesn't know anything yet!" Noel assured her hastily. But
the dread of meeting her son and having him know her was too strong.
She still struggled to rise, but was too weak.

"Is he here?" she panted. "He mustn't see me! Oh, let me go away! Let
me go away!"

She got half-way out of her chair, but fell back exhausted. Dr. Chennel
stepped forward and laid a hand on her arm.

"You will be able to go presently, madame," he said, quietly. "Your
strength will come back to you shortly."

Jacqueline glanced at him eagerly.

"You are a doctor, aren't you?" she panted.

"Yes," he replied, with a nod. "Don't excite yourself and I'll cure you
in a few minutes, for can have perfect confidence in me. I am a friend
of your son--a friend of Raymond!"

"Oh! Then--you know----"

"Yes, I know everything," he interrupted, gravely.

"But he will never know, doctor, will he?" she asked, feverishly,
gripping his hand.

"No, he shall know nothing at all," he assured.

"Promise me! Promise me!" she cried.

"I promise!" he repeated. She released his hand and sank back with a
piteous sob.

"I have nothing left--to me now--but my memories of him," she wept,
"and his thoughts of what he believes me to have been. I want him to
love me always! Always!--Ah--h--h!"

She closed her eyes and hid her face as the door opened; but it was
only Rose with the medicine, on a little tray with a tumbler of water
and a teaspoon.

"Quick, Rose, here!" ordered the doctor, sharply. He quickly mixed some
of the stimulant with the water and held the tumbler to her lips. She
drank a little and presently revived.

"Doctor," she said, faintly. "I believe I'm going to die!"

"Nonsense! Don't be foolish!" laughed the doctor. Rose broke into sobs
and Jacqueline recognized her, and the next moment mistress and maid
were in each other's arms. They kissed and wept over each other for a
minute or two and then Noel cried lightly:

"There you are! Now let's not have any more nonsense about dying!"
While Noel kept up a running fire of pleasant chat in an effort to
revive Jacqueline's spirits, Dr. Chennel drew Rose off to one side of
the room.

"Where is M. Floriot?" he asked, in a low undertone.

"Just outside--with M. Raymond," replied Rose.

"Tell him not to go away!"

Rose looked up at him quickly and her cheeks paled.

"Do you--think that----" she stopped short.

The expression of his eyes gave her the answer.

"Hush!" he whispered. "It is only a question of time--and a short time!"

Rose slipped out and he returned to his patient in time to hear Noel
reorganizing her wardrobe, with much laughter, and making plans for a
trip to the country. She was smiling faintly, but the smile faded when
he made her take some more of the bitter medicine.

"Tastes rather horrible, eh?" he said with a smile, "but you feel
better, don't you?"

"Yes, thank you," answered Jacqueline, weakly. "I don't suffer at all.
It's my strength--I feel so--weak!"

"Your strength will come back fast enough!" he assured her heartily.
"I'll tell you what we'll do! I shall take you to my house in Biarritz!
There I can look after you comfortably and easily, and you'll be around
in no time!"

"Oh, doctor!" she cried, a grateful catch in her voice. "You are too
kind! But it's impossible. I should be in the way."

"Not the least bit in the world!" he replied briskly. "The house is a
big comfortable sort of a barn. I live there all alone, excepting an
elderly sister, and she will be only too happy to have you. You'll be
with friends there; for, although you don't know it, my sister and I
have been your friends for a long time."

"My friends?" she repeated, with a little questioning smile.

"He saved Raymond's life, you know," explained Noel, quickly. The
expression of Jacqueline's face altered in a moment to one of
unutterable gratitude. She seized his hand and kissed it passionately.

"Doctor, I--I--cannot thank you!" she murmured brokenly.

The doctor gently disengaged his hand and stepped back, turning his
face away. The pity of the scene had all but overcome the well-schooled
emotions of the man of medicine.

"He and his sister did all they could to console Floriot," whispered
Noel; "the poor chap was broken-hearted."

Noel felt the limp figure stiffen at the mention of the hated name.

"Not as broken-hearted as I was!" she exclaimed, bitterly.

"How do you know, Jacqueline? 'Judge not, lest ye be judged,'" he
quoted softly.

"I have been judged!" she replied in the same hard undertone. "He drove
me out of his house like a dog!"

Noel was silent for a moment; and when he spoke his voice was vibrant
with the emotion that the memory of that terrible night awoke.

"I was there that day, Jacqueline, after you had gone," he said. "I
saw his grief--and his repentance. I heard him curse his anger and
his pride. And since then he--we have searched the world for you.
For twenty years he has not had a thought that was not of you, and
in those twenty years he has never known peace or happiness. Ah!
Jacqueline, dearest, I believe he has suffered even more than you have!"

"He had his son and I had nobody!" was the bitter reply.

And as if her words had been a call to him, the door was thrown
violently open and Raymond dashed headlong into the room.



CHAPTER XXV


"WHILE THE LAMP HOLDS OUT TO BURN----"


When Floriot and Raymond passed out of the little room, the former
dropped heavily into one of the big empty armchairs on the bank where
the judges had sat a short time before. Raymond gazed at him anxiously.
His face was buried in his hands and he made no sound.

"What's the matter, father?" asked the young man, laying his hand on
the quivering shoulder. But still his father did not speak. He was
trying to nerve himself up to meet the hour that he had dreaded for
years. The time for delay was past. He believed that Jacqueline would
live only a few hours and he dared not let Raymond's mother die and
have him learn afterward that he had been! robbed of his one chance
to speak to her and know. He felt that Raymond might possibly forgive
anything but that.

With an effort he raised his haggard eyes to his son's and took the
boy's hand in his.

"My boy," he said, his voice hoarse and trembling with emotion, "I must
tell you something unbelievably terrible. I know--how you have loved
me and looked up to me--as the sort of man you want to be. When you've
heard--what I must tell you now--you will curse God for making me your
father!"

"Father!" cried the boy in horror, throwing his arm around his neck.
"Father! What----"

But Floriot gently pushed him away and silenced him with a gesture.

"Your mother--is not dead!" he faltered. The words struck the color
from Raymond's face and he almost staggered back and stared at his
father with terrified eyes.

"Not dead!" he repeated in a dull whisper. Floriot shook his head.

"When you were hardly a year old she left--me!" he said. The boy
started forward with a cry that was something between a choke and a sob.

"Wait!" commanded his father, hoarsely. "It was my fault! I didn't know
her--I didn't understand her! My neglect drove her to it. She went off
with a lover!"

Raymond pressed his hands to his face and crouched against the broad
desk as if the blow had physically crushed him.

"But there is worse than that!" cried Floriot, rising. "She came back
to me and begged for forgiveness. She groveled at my feet and pleaded
for mercy! She made me see that I shared the blame of her fall! But my
cheap, foolish pride conquered every other feeling--every instinct of
pity, every impulse of nobility! And I threw her out into the street!"

The boy straightened up with a sob of anguish.

"And--and--what became--of her?" he panted.

Floriot's left hand went up to his throat as if he felt himself
choking. He turned his head away, and with a terrible effort raised
his other hand, pointed to the door of the President's room and gasped
brokenly:

"_She is there! That woman--is--your mother_!"

Raymond swayed on his feet and his father's rigid figure swam in a
haze before his eyes. His, mother! That woman his mother! In the
hundred emotions that swept him in the ghost of a second only one
was missing--shame for her stained body and blackened soul. His
heart--starved all its life--quivered with a joy that was almost pain
at the thought at last it would feel the love of even such a mother,
as the lost and parched wanderer in the desert falls with a prayer of
thanksgiving at the edge of a brackish pool.

With a choking cry of _"Mother_!" he stumbled blindly to the door. The
instant he rushed into the room, Dr. Chennel and Noel saw what had
happened, and the former was in front of him in a stride.

"Be careful!" he warned, in a stern whisper that brought the boy to his
senses like a dash of cold water. "Any strong excitement may be too?
much for her!"

He gripped Raymond's arm and held him until he saw that he had nearly
recovered control of himself, and then, with another whisper of
"Remember!" he released him.

"Yes, yes! I understand!" exclaimed Raymond in the same tone, holding
himself with a mighty effort. "I'll control myself! She sha'n't know!"

Noel was administering a little more of the stimulant as he advanced.
He gave Raymond a warning look as, with a gasp of terror, Jacqueline
attempted to rise. The young man seemed not to notice her agitation,
and with a bright smile he cried:

"Well, my dear client, are you better?"

"Oh, it's nothing!" Dr. Chennel answered for her. "Just a little fit of
the nerves which, after all, is quite natural!"

"That's all right!" cried Raymond, heartily. "I didn't want to leave
the court without asking' how you were."

Her eyes ran hungrily over his graceful but muscular figure, and the
pale, handsome face.

"You--are--very good!" she murmured, uncertainly.

Noel signalled the doctor with his eyes, and they went out softly,
leaving the door ajar. Raymond briskly pulled a chair up close beside
his mother's and went on in the same light tone.

"And I couldn't go without thanking you!" he said. She smiled into his
face, but there was still a trace of alarm in her eyes.

"Thanking _me_?" she repeated.

"Of course!" replied Raymond. "Why, I owe my first success to you!
To-day has brought me the greatest joy of my life!"

"But if you thank me, what can I say to you?" she asked, her voice
trembling with tenderness. He smiled back at her.

"Tell me that you are glad," he suggested She gazed into his eyes with
her heart in hers.

"Yes, I am glad--very glad--almost happy!" she said, in a low, vibrant
voice. "But I did not dare hope for the happiness that has come to me
to-day!"

Her strength did, indeed, seem to be returned rapidly. Her voice was
surer, her eyes sparkled, and there was a fleck of color in her cheeks.
Raymond felt his lips tremble and he fought with a desire to throw
himself into her arms. It was several seconds before he trusted himself
to speak. Then:

"I hope I won't tire you," he said, politely. "Before I go, don't you
think we might have a little chat? You haven't spoiled me much in that
respect, have you?" he added, with a sudden smile. "You are my first
client and I hardly know you!"

She reached out and touched his arm in quick apology.

"You must forgive me for having received you so rudely," she said.
Raymond laughed.

"You didn't receive me at all, as a matter of fact," he declared. "But
I wasn't angry. I said to myself, 'She probably finds me too young, or
has no confidence in me, or--or----'" His eyes dropped and in a lower
tone he added, "or she doesn't think--she would like me."

He felt a sudden, almost painful pressure on his arm.

"Ah! Don't think that!" she pleaded, quickly. "But I was so sad--so
despairingly sad!"

Raymond raised his eyes to her face.

"And now?" he half whispered.

"And now--thanks to you!--I am almost happy!"

"It makes me happy to hear you say so! Do you know," he went on,
hitching up his chair in a confidential manner, "I felt the deepest
sympathy for you from the first!"

"Really?" she smiled.

"It's a fact!" he declared, with an energetic nod. "From the start;
for I was sure you were unhappy, and surer still that you should not
have been unhappy. I wanted to console you--to tell you to pluck up
your courage--to convince you that I was not only your counsel but your
friend--a true and sincere friend!"

"If I had only known--if I had only known!" murmured the woman, with a
sharp catch in her voice. It cost Raymond an effort to continue in his
bright, boyish tones; but he succeeded.

"I made myself a promise that I would win your case for you," he went
on; "that I would work it out with all my might! As you wouldn't give
me your secret, I made up my mind I would guess it, and you see--I
succeeded! I made the truth clear, and every heart in the court felt
for you. Now you are free!--free to go to the son you love so dearly!
Promise me," his voice trembled, "promise me that you will not forget
me altogether!"

Her eyes were misty with tears and her face quivered.

"Forget you! Forget you!" she cried, brokenly.

Raymond turned his face away.

"I know I shall always remember you!" he said in a low voice, as one
making a sacred vow.

With a half-cry, half-sob she struggled to her feet. He had promised to
spare her the pain of knowing that he knew her to be a mother, but even
that paled beside the agony of feeling his presence within touch of her
hands, and knowing that she must never clasp him to her heart.

"I must go--I must go away!" she panted feverishly. But before Raymond
could rise, her weakened limbs had collapsed and she sank back into her
chair.

"And I cannot!" she moaned, her hands pressed to her eyes.

"Please don't go!" he pleaded, laying his hand lightly on her arm. At
the touch of his fingers she straightened up with a gasp.

"Before you go," she said, in a piteous half-whisper, "I should like
to give you some little trifle as a keepsake, but I have absolutely
nothing. But you can be sure that as long as I live--as long--as my
heart beats and--my breath lasts--I will never forget you!"

An impulse that he could not resist moved Raymond to reach out and take
her fingers in his.

"Give me your hand!" he said. His voice quivered and the woman could
feel him tremble. "Do you remember during the trial just now," he went
on unsteadily as he slowly bent toward her, "when I turned toward you,
you took my hand and pressed it? I--I could feel your eyes--looking
into my very heart! I--I--wanted then--to take you in my arms--and
press you to my heart!"

Her wild eyes closed and her body was rigid and tense.

"Will you--won't you--won't you kiss me--_mother_?" The words rushed
out in a sob as he slid from the chair to his knees by her side.
With a cry that was more than human and strength that was more than a
woman's, she flung her arms around his neck, crushed his dark head to
her bosom and rained kisses on his eyes and hair and lips and brow....

"Oh, my Raymond! My darling! My darling boy!" she sobbed again and
again, and his face was wet with her tears....

"It is too much! Ah, God! I can't stand this joy! My Raymond! My little
laddie!..."

Minute after minute passed and there was no sound but Jacqueline's
quick breathing.

"Are you in pain, mother?" he murmured tenderly, trying to lift his
head. He could feel against his cheek that the tumultuous beating of
her heart suddenly died away to an unsteady flutter.

"No, no, dear!" she whispered, faintly. "Don't go! Don't move! How--did
you--know----?"

"Father just told me, mother mine!" he replied, softly, nestling his
head into the hollow where it had not lain for twenty-three years. "He
told me all that you had suffered. But it is over now. We'll forget
those long years of separation--together!"

Her reply was a long, delicious hug and a dozer? soft kisses. There
was another silence. Then Raymond spoke, a little timidly:

"Fath--my father is waiting, mother. Won't you see him?"

She smiled down into his upturned face, but there was a strange dimness
in her eyes and his voice sounded far away.

"Yes, yes!" came in a faint whisper. "Tell him--to come--quickly!"

He gave her a long kiss, sprang up and ran out into the courtroom. She
half-rose and stretched out her hand for the glass of medicine but
could not reach it.

"Raymond!" she tried to call, but her lips barely framed the word.
There was a roaring in her ears that might have been the roar of the
unknown sea, and a mist before her eyes that might have been the mist
upon its waters....

Raymond ran in, closely followed by the three older men.

"Hurry, father! She is waiting!"

He stopped. Something in the position of the still figure in the chair
wiped the words from his lips. Dr. Chennel advanced quickly, touched
the limp hand and stepped back with bowed head.

Raymond threw himself at her feet with a cry of anguish!

"_Mother! Mother_!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In a little churchyard in the valley of Vienne, not far from the
birthplace of the Blessed Maid, you may find a slender column of white
marble marked with the name "Floriot" in large letters. Beneath is an
inscription which begins:

"Here lies the body of Jacqueline Claire Gilberte Lefevre, the beloved
mother of Raymond ----."

"Madame X" had found in death what she had lost in life--love and a
name.





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