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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 13. The Portrait
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The Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 13. The Portrait Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :518

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The Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 13. The Portrait

CHAPTER XIII. THE PORTRAIT

For the next hour or two I wandered about Rosa's flat like an irresolute and bewildered spirit. I wished to act, yet without Rosa I scarcely liked to do so. That some sort of a plot existed--whether serious or trivial was no matter--there could be little doubt, and there could be little doubt also that Carlotta Deschamps was at the root of it.

Several half-formed schemes flitted through my head, but none of them seemed to be sufficiently clever. I had the idea of going to see Carlotta Deschamps in order to warn her. Then I thought the warning might perhaps be sent through her sister Marie, who was doubtless in Paris, and who would probably be able to control Carlotta. I had not got Carlotta's address, but I might get it by going to the Casino de Paris, and asking Marie for it. Perhaps Marie, suspicious, might refuse the address. Had she not said that she and Carlotta were as thick as thieves? Moreover, assuming that I could see Carlotta, what should I say to her? How should I begin? Then it occurred to me that the shortest way with such an affair was to go directly to the police, as I had already threatened Yvette; but the appearance of the police would mean publicity, scandal, and other things unpleasant for Rosa. So it fell out that I maintained a discreet inactivity.

Towards nightfall I went into the street to breathe the fresh air. A man was patrolling the pavement in a somewhat peculiar manner. I returned indoors, and after half an hour reconnoitred once more. The man was on the opposite side of the road, with his eyes on the windows of the salon. When he caught sight of me he walked slowly away. He might have been signalling to Yvette, who was still under lock and key, but this possibility did not disturb me, as escape was out of the question for her.

I went back to the flat, and a servant met me in the hall with a message that mademoiselle was now quite recovered, and would like to see me in her boudoir. I hurried to her. A fire was burning on the hearth, and before this were two lounge chairs. Rosa occupied one, and she motioned me to the other. Attired in a peignoir of pure white, and still a little languorous after the attack, she looked the enchanting perfection of beauty and grace. But in her eyes, which were unduly bright, there shone an apprehension, the expectancy of the unknown.

"I am better," she said, with a faint smile. "Feel my pulse."

I held her wrist and took out my watch, but I forgot to count, and I forgot to note the seconds. I was gazing at her. It seemed absurd to contemplate the possibility of ever being able to call her my own.

"Am I not better?"

"Yes, yes," I said; "the pulse is--the pulse is--you are much better."

Then I pushed my chair a little further from the fire, and recollected that there were several things to be said and done.

"I expected the attack would pass very quickly," I said.

"Then you know what I have been suffering from," she said, turning her chair rapidly half-round towards me.

"I do," I answered, with emphasis.

"What is it?"

I was silent.

"Well," she said, "tell me what it is." She laughed, but her voice was low and anxious.

"I am just wondering whether I shall tell you."

"Stuff!" she exclaimed proudly. "Am I a child?"

"You are a woman, and should be shielded from the sharp edges of life."

"Ah!" she murmured "Not all men have thought so. And I wish you wouldn't talk like that."

"Nevertheless, I think like that," I said. "And I'm really anxious to save you from unnecessary annoyance."

"Then I insist that you shall tell me," she replied inconsequently. "I will not have you adopt that attitude towards me. Do you understand? I won't have it! I'm not a Dresden shepherdess, and I won't be treated like one--at any rate, by you. So there!"

I was in the seventh heaven of felicity.

"If you will have it, you have been poisoned."

I told her of my suspicions, and how they had been confirmed by Yvette's avowal. She shivered, and then stood up and came towards me.

"Do you mean to say that Carlotta Deschamps and my own maid have conspired together to poison me simply because I am going to sing in a certain piece at a certain theatre? It's impossible!"

"But it is true. Deschamps may not have wished to kill you; she merely wanted to prevent you from singing, but she ran a serious risk of murder, and she must have known it."

Rosa began to sob, and I led her back to her chair.

"I ought not to have told you to-night," I said. "But we should communicate with the police, and I wanted your authority before doing so."

She dried her eyes, but her frame still shook.

"I will sing 'Carmen,'" she said passionately.

"Of course you will. We must get these two arrested, and you shall have proper protection."

"Police? No! We will have no police."

"You object to the scandal? I had thought of that."

"It is not that I object to the scandal. I despise Deschamps and Yvette too much to take the slightest notice of either of them. I could not have believed that women would so treat another woman." She hid her face in her hands.

"But is it not your duty--" I began.

"Mr. Foster, please, please don't argue. I am incapable of prosecuting these creatures. You say Yvette is locked up in the salon. Go to her, and tell her to depart. Tell her that I shall do nothing, that I do not hate her, that I bear her no ill-will, that I simply ignore her. And let her carry the same message to Carlotta Deschamps."

"Suppose there should be a further plot?"

"There can't be. Knowing that this one is discovered, they will never dare.... And even if they tried again in some other way, I would sooner walk in danger all my life than acknowledge the existence of such creatures. Will you go at once?"

"As you wish;" and I went out.

"Mr. Foster."

She called me back. Taking my hand with a gesture half-caressing, she raised her face to mine. Our eyes met, and in hers was a gentle, trustful appeal, a pathetic and entrancing wistfulness, which sent a sudden thrill through me. Her clasp of my fingers tightened ever so little.

"I haven't thanked you in words," she said, "for all you have done for me, and are doing. But you know I'm grateful, don't you?"

I could feel the tears coming into my eyes.

"It is nothing, absolutely nothing," I muttered, and hurried from the room.

At first, in the salon, I could not see Yvette, though the electric light had been turned on, no doubt by herself. Then there was a movement of one of the window-curtains, and she appeared from behind it.

"Oh, it is you," she said calmly, with a cold smile. She had completely recovered her self-possession, so much was evident; and apparently she was determined to play the game to the end, accepting defeat with an air of ironical and gay indifference. Yvette was by no means an ordinary woman. Her face was at once sinister and attractive, with lines of strength about it; she moved with a certain distinction; she had brains and various abilities; and I imagined her to have been capable of some large action, a first-class sin or a really dramatic self-sacrifice--she would have been ready for either. But of her origin I am to this day as ignorant as of her ultimate fate.

A current of air told me that a window was open.

"I noticed a suspicious-looking man outside just now," I said. "Is he one of your confederates? Have you been communicating with him?"

She sat down in an armchair, leaned backwards, and began to hum an air--la, la, la.

"Answer me. Come!"

"And if I decline?"

"You will do well to behave yourself," I said; and, going to the window, I closed it, and slipped the catch.

"I hope the gendarmes will be here soon," she murmured amiably; "I am rather tired of waiting." She affected to stifle a yawn.

"Yvette," I said, "you know as well as I do that you have committed a serious crime. Tell me all about Deschamps' jealousy of your mistress; make a full confession, and I will see what can be done for you."

She put her thin lips together.

"No," she replied in a sharp staccato. "I have done what I have done, and I will answer only the juge d'instruction."

"Better think twice."

"Never. It is a trick you wish to play on me."

"Very well." I went to the door, and opened it wide. "You are free to go."

"To go?"

"It is your mistress's wish."

"She will not send me to prison?"

"She scorns to do anything whatever."

For a moment the girl looked puzzled, and then:

"Ah! it is a bad pleasantry; the gendarmes are on the stairs."

I shrugged my shoulders, and at length she tripped quietly out of the room. I heard her run down-stairs. Then, to my astonishment, the footfalls approached again, and Yvette re-entered the room and closed the door.

"I see it is not a bad pleasantry," she began, with her back to the door. "Mademoiselle is a great lady, and I have always known that; she is an artist; she has soul--so have I. What you could not force from me, neither you nor any man, I will tell you of my own free will. You want to hear of Deschamps?"

I nodded, half-admiring her--perhaps more than half.

"She is a woman to fear. I have told you I used to be her maid before I came to mademoiselle, and even I was always afraid of her. But I liked her. We understood each other, Deschamps and I. Mademoiselle imagines that Deschamps became jealous of her because of a certain affair that happened at the Opera Comique several years ago--a mere quarrel of artists, of which I have seen many. That was partly the cause, but there was something else. Deschamps used to think that Lord Clarenceux was in love with her--with her! As a fact, he was not; but she used to think so, and when Lord Clarenceux first began to pay attention to mademoiselle, then it was that the jealousy of Deschamps really sprang up. Ah! I have heard Deschamps swear to--But that is nothing. She never forgave mademoiselle for being betrothed to Lord Clarenceux. When he died, she laughed; but her hatred of mademoiselle was unchanged. It smouldered, only it was very hot underneath. And I can understand--Lord Clarenceux was so handsome and so rich, the most fine stern man I ever saw. He used to give me hundred-franc notes."

"Never mind the notes. Why has Deschamps' jealousy revived so suddenly just recently?"

"Why? Because mademoiselle would come back to the Opera Comique. Deschamps could not suffer that. And when she heard it was to be so, she wrote to me--to me!--and asked if it was true that mademoiselle was to appear as Carmen. Then she came to see me--me--and I was obliged to tell her it was true, and she was frightfully angry, and then she began to cry--oh, her despair! She said she knew a way to stop mademoiselle from singing, and she begged me to help her, and I said I would."

"You were willing to betray your mistress?"

"Deschamps swore it would do no real harm. Do I not tell you that Deschamps and I always liked each other? We were old friends. I sympathized with her; she is growing old."

"How much did she promise to pay you?"

"Not a sou--not a centime. I swear it." The girl stamped her foot and threw up her head, reddening with the earnestness of her disclaimer. "What I did, I did from love; and I thought it would not harm mademoiselle, really."

"Nevertheless you might have killed your mistress."

"Alas!"

"Answer me this: Now that your attempt has failed, what will Deschamps do? Will she stop, or will she try something else?"

Yvette shook her head slowly.

"I do not know. She is dangerous. Sometimes she is like a mad woman. You must take care. For myself, I will never see her again."

"You give your word on that?"

"I have said it. There is nothing more to tell you. So, adieu. Say to mademoiselle that I have repented."

She opened the door, and as she did so her eye seemed by chance to catch a small picture which hung by the side of the hearth. My back was to the fireplace, and I did not trouble to follow her glance.

"Ah," she murmured reflectively, "he was the most fine stern man ... and he gave me hundred-franc notes."

Then she was gone. We never saw nor heard of Yvette again.

Out of curiosity, I turned to look at the picture which must have caught her eye. It was a little photograph, framed in black, and hung by itself on the wall; in the ordinary way one would scarcely have noticed it. I went close up to it. My heart gave a jump, and I seemed to perspire. The photograph was a portrait of the man who, since my acquaintance with Rosa, had haunted my footsteps--the mysterious and implacable person whom I had seen first opposite the Devonshire Mansion, then in the cathedral at Bruges during my vigil by the corpse of Alresca, then in the train which was wrecked, and finally in the Channel steamer which came near to sinking. Across the lower part of it ran the signature, in large, stiff characters, "Clarenceux."

So Lord Clarenceux was not dead, though everyone thought him so. Here was a mystery more disturbing than anything which had gone before.

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