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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 12. Egg-And-Milk
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The Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 12. Egg-And-Milk Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1870

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The Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 12. Egg-And-Milk

CHAPTER XII. EGG-AND-MILK

I was intensely conscious of her beauty as I sat by her side in the swiftly rolling victoria. And I was conscious of other qualities in her too--of her homeliness, her good-fellowship, her trustfulness. The fact that she was one of the most famous personalities in Europe did not, after our talk, in the least disturb my pleasing dreams of a possible future. It was, nevertheless, specially forced upon me, for as we drove along the Rue de Rivoli, past the interminable facades of the Louvre, and the big shops, and so into the meaner quarter of the markets--the Opera Comique was then situated in its temporary home in the Place du Chatelet--numberless wayfarers showed by their demeanor of curiosity that Rosetta Rosa was known to them. They were much more polite than English people would have been, but they did not hide their interest in us.

The jewels had been locked away in a safe, except one gorgeous emerald brooch which she was wearing at her neck.

"It appears," I said, "that in Paris one must not even attend rehearsals without jewels."

She laughed.

"You think I have a passion for jewels, and you despise me for it."

"By no means. Nobody has a better right to wear precious stones than yourself."

"Can you guess why I wear them?"

"Not because they make you look prettier, for that's impossible."

"Will you please remember that I like you because you are not in the habit of making speeches."

"I beg pardon. I won't offend again. Well, then, I will confess that I don't know why you wear jewels. There must be a Puritan strain in my character, for I cannot enter into the desire for jewels. I say this merely because you have practically invited me to be brutal."

Now that I recall that conversation I realize how gentle she was towards my crude and callous notions concerning personal adornment.

"Yet you went to England in order to fetch my jewels."

"No, I went to England in order to be of use to a lady. But tell me--why do you wear jewels off the stage?"

"Simply because, having them, I have a sort of feeling that they ought to be used. It seems a waste to keep them hidden in a strong box, and I never could tolerate waste. Really, I scarcely care more for jewels, as jewels, than you do yourself."

"Still, for a person who doesn't care for them, you seem to have a fair quantity of them."

"Ah! But many were given to me--and the rest I bought when I was young, or soon afterwards. Besides, they are part of my stock in trade."

"When you were young!" I repeated, smiling. "How long is that since?"

"Ages."

I coughed.

"It is seven years since I was young," she said, "and I was sixteen at the time."

"You are positively venerable, then; and since you are, I must be too."

"I am much older than you are," she said; "not in years, but in life. You don't feel old."

"And do you?"

"Frightfully."

"What brings it on?"

"Oh! Experience--and other things. It is the soul which grows old."

"But you have been happy?"

"Never--never in my life, except when I was singing, have I been happy. Have you been happy?"

"Yes," I said, "once or twice."

"When you were a boy?"

"No, since I have become a man. Just--just recently."

"People fancy they are happy," she murmured.

"Isn't that the same thing as being happy?"

"Perhaps." Then suddenly changing the subject: "You haven't told me about your journey. Just a bare statement that there was a delay on the railway and another delay on the steamer. Don't you think you ought to fill in the details?"

So I filled them in; but I said nothing about my mysterious enemy who had accompanied me, and who after strangely disappearing and reappearing had disappeared again; nor about the woman whom I had met on the Admiralty Pier. I wondered when he might reappear once more. There was no proper reason why I should not have told Rosa about these persons, but some instinctive feeling, some timidity of spirit, prevented me from doing so.

"How thrilling! Were you frightened on the steamer?" she asked.

"Yes," I admitted frankly.

"You may not think it," she said, "but I should not have been frightened. I have never been frightened at Death."

"But have you ever been near him?"

"Who knows?" she answered thoughtfully.

We were at the stage-door of the theatre. The olive-liveried footman dismounted, and gravely opened the door of the carriage. I got out, and gave my hand to Rosa, and we entered the theatre.

In an instant she had become the prima donna. The curious little officials of the theatre bowed before her, and with prodigious smiles waved us forward to the stage. The stage-manager, a small, fat man with white hair, was drilling the chorus. As soon as he caught sight of us he dismissed the short-skirted girls and the fatigued-looking men, and skipped towards us. The orchestra suddenly ceased. Everyone was quiet. The star had come.

"Good day, mademoiselle. You are here to the moment."

Rosa and the regisseur talked rapidly together, and presently the conductor of the orchestra stepped from his raised chair on to the stage, and with a stately inclination to Rosa joined in the conversation. As for me, I looked about, and was stared at. So far as I could see there was not much difference between an English stage and a French stage, viewed at close quarters, except that the French variety possesses perhaps more officials and a more bureaucratic air. I gazed into the cold, gloomy auditorium, so bare of decoration, and decided that in England such an auditorium would not be tolerated.

After much further chatter the conductor bowed again, and returned to his seat. Rosa beckoned to me, and I was introduced to the stage-manager.

"Allow me to present to you Mr. Foster, one of my friends."

Rosa coughed, and I noticed that her voice was slightly hoarse.

"You have taken cold during the drive," I said, pouring into the sea of French a little stream of English.

"Oh, no. It is nothing; it will pass off in a minute."

The stage-manager escorted me to a chair near a grand piano which stood in the wings. Then some male artists, evidently people of importance, appeared out of the darkness at the back of the stage. Rosa took off her hat and gloves, and placed them on the grand piano. I observed that she was flushed, and I put it down to the natural excitement of the artist about to begin work. The orchestra sounded resonantly in the empty theatre, and, under the yellow glare of unshaded electricity, the rehearsal of "Carmen" began at the point where Carmen makes her first entry.

As Rosa came to the centre of the stage from the wings she staggered. One would have thought she was drunk. At her cue, instead of commencing to sing, she threw up her hands, and with an appealing glance at me sank down to the floor. I rushed to her, and immediately the entire personnel of the theatre was in a state of the liveliest excitement. I thought of a similar scene in London not many months before. But the poor girl was perfectly conscious, and even self-possessed.

"Water!" she murmured. "I shall die of thirst if you don't give me some water to drink at once."

There appeared to be no water within the theatre, but at last some one appeared with a carafe and glass. She drank two glassfuls, and then dropped the glass, which broke on the floor.

"I am not well," she said; "I feel so hot, and there is that hoarseness in my throat. Mr. Foster, you must take me home. The rehearsal will have to be postponed again; I am sorry. It's very queer."

She stood up with my assistance, looking wildly about her, but appealing to no one but myself.

"It is queer," I said, supporting her.

"Mademoiselle was ill in the same way last time," several sympathetic voices cried out, and some of the women caressed her gently.

"Let me get home," she said, half-shouting, and she clung to me. "My hat--my gloves--quick!"

"Yes, yes," I said; "I will get a fiacre."

"Why not my victoria?" she questioned imperiously.

"Because you must go in a closed carriage," I said firmly.

"Mademoiselle will accept my brougham?"

A tall dark man had come forward. He was the Escamillo. She thanked him with a look. Some woman threw a cloak over Rosa's shoulders, and, the baritone on one side of her and myself on the other, we left the theatre. It seemed scarcely a moment since she had entered it confident and proud.

During the drive back to her flat I did not speak, but I examined her narrowly. Her skin was dry and burning, and on her forehead there was a slight rash. Her lips were dry, and she continually made the motion of swallowing. Her eyes sparkled, and they seemed to stand out from her head. Also she still bitterly complained of thirst. She wanted, indeed, to stop the carriage and have something to drink at the Cafe de l'Univers, but I absolutely declined to permit such a proceeding, and in a few minutes we were at her flat. The attack was passing away. She mounted the stairs without much difficulty.

"You must go to bed," I said. We were in the salon. "In a few hours you will be better."

"I will ring for Yvette."

"No," I said, "you will not ring for Yvette. I want Yvette myself. Have you no other servant who can assist you?"

"Yes. But why not Yvette?"

"You can question me to-morrow. Please obey me now. I am your doctor. I will ring the bell. Yvette will come, and you will at once go out of the room, find another servant, and retire to bed. You can do that? You are not faint?"

"No, I can do it; but it is very queer."

I rang the bell.

"You have said that before, and I say, 'It is queer; queerer than you imagine.' One thing I must ask you before you go. When you had the attack in the theatre did you see things double?"

"Yes," she answered. "But how did you know? I felt as though I was intoxicated; but I had taken nothing whatever."

"Excuse me, you had taken egg-and-milk. Here is the glass out of which you drank it." I picked up the glass, which had been left on the table, and which still contained about a spoonful of egg-and-milk.

Yvette entered in response to my summons.

"Mademoiselle has returned soon," the girl began lightly.

"Yes."

The two women looked at each other. I hastened to the door, and held it open for Rosa to pass out. She did so. I closed the door, and put my back against it. The glass I still held in my hand.

"Now, Yvette, I want to ask you a few questions."

She stood before me, pretty even in her plain black frock and black apron, and folded her hands. Her face showed no emotion whatever.

"Yes, monsieur, but mademoiselle will need me."

"Mademoiselle will not need you. She will never need you again."

"Monsieur says?"

"You see this glass. What did you put in it?"

"The cook put egg-and-milk into it."

"I ask what you put in it?"

"I, monsieur? Nothing."

"You are lying, my girl. Your mistress has been poisoned."

"I swear--"

"I should advise you not to swear. You have twice attempted to poison your mistress. Why did you do it?"

"But this is absurd."

"Does your mistress use eyedrops when she sings at the Opera?"

"Eyedrops?"

"You know what I mean. A lotion which you drop into the eye in order to dilate the pupil."

"My mistress never uses eyedrops."

"Does Madame Carlotta Deschamps use eyedrops?"

It was a courageous move on my part, but it had its effect. She was startled.

"I--I don't know, monsieur."

"I ask because eyedrops contain atropine, and mademoiselle is suffering from a slight, a very slight, attack of atropine poisoning. The dose must have been very nicely gauged; it was just enough to produce a temporary hoarseness and discomfort. I needn't tell such a clever girl as you that atropine acts first on the throat. It has clearly been some one's intention to prevent mademoiselle from singing at rehearsals, and from appearing in Paris in 'Carmen.'"

Yvette drew herself up, her nostrils quivering. She had turned decidedly pale.

"Monsieur insults me by his suspicions. I must go."

"You won't go just immediately. I may tell you further that I have analyzed the contents of this glass, and have found traces of atropine."

I had done no such thing, but that was a detail.

"Also, I have sent for the police."

This, too, was an imaginative statement.

Yvette approached me suddenly, and flung her arms round my neck. I had just time to put the glass on the seat of a chair and seize her hands.

"No," I said, "you will neither spill that glass nor break it."

She dropped at my feet weeping.

"Have pity on me, monsieur!" She looked up at me through her tears, and the pose was distinctly effective. "It was Madame Deschamps who asked me to do it. I used to be with her before I came to mademoiselle. She gave me the bottle, but I didn't know it was poison--I swear I didn't!"

"What did you take it to be, then? Jam? Two grains of atropine will cause death."

For answer she clung to my knees. I released myself, and moved away a few steps. She jumped up, and made a dash for the door, but I happened to have locked it.

"Where is Madame Deschamps?" I asked.

"She returns to Paris to-morrow. Monsieur will let me go. I was only a tool."

"I will consider that matter, Yvette," I said. "In my opinion you are a thoroughly wicked girl, and I wouldn't trust you any further than I could see you. For the present, you will have an opportunity to meditate over your misdoings." I left the room, and locked the door on the outside.

Impossible to disguise the fact that I was enormously pleased with myself--with my sharpness, my smartness, my penetration, my success.

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