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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 8. A Man To Let
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 8. A Man To Let Post by :noidle Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1276

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 8. A Man To Let

PART I CHAPTER VIII. A MAN TO LET

The train which bore me out of the arc of the Prussian fire at Strasbourg passed in between the fortifications of Paris the next morning about eleven o'clock. Ten minutes later I was in a closed cab on my way to the headquarters of the Imperial Military Police, temporarily housed in the Luxembourg Palace.

The day was magnificent; sunshine flooded the boulevards, and a few chestnut-trees in the squares had already begun to blossom for the second time in the season; there seemed to be no prophecy of autumn in sky or sunlight.

The city, as I saw it from the open window of my cab, appeared to be in a perfectly normal condition. There were, perhaps, a few more national-guard soldiers on the streets, a few more brightly colored posters, notices, and placards on the dead walls, but the life of the city itself had not changed at all; the usual crowds filled the boulevards, the usual street cries sounded, the same middle-aged gentlemen sat in front of the cafes reading the same daily papers, the same waiters served them the same drinks; rows of cabs were drawn up where cabs are always to be found, and the same policemen dawdled in gossip with the same flower-girls. I caught the scent of early winter violets in the fresh Parisian breeze.

Was this the city that Buckhurst looked upon as already doomed?

On the marble bridge gardeners were closing up the morning flower-market; blue-bloused men with jointed hose sprinkled the asphalt in front of the Palais de Justice; students strolled under the trees from the School of Medicine to the Sorbonne; the Luxembourg fountain tossed its sparkling sheets of spray among the lotus.

All this I saw, yet a sinister foreboding oppressed me, and I could not shake it off even in this bright city where September was promising only a new lease of summer and the white spikes of chestnut blossoms hummed with eager bees.

Physically I felt well enough; the cramped sleep in the dark compartment, far from exhausting me, had not only rested me, but had also brought me an appetite which I meant to satisfy as soon as might be. As for my back, it was simply uncomfortable, but all effects of the shock had disappeared--unless this heavy mental depression was due to it.

My cab was now entering the Palace of the Luxembourg by the great arch facing the Rue de Tournon; the line sentinels halted us; I left the cab, crossed the parade in front of the guard-house, turned to the right, and climbed the stairs straight to my own quarters, which were in the west wing of the palace, and consisted of a bedroom, a working cabinet, and a dressing-room.

But I did not enter my door or even glance at it; I continued straight on, down the corridor to a door, on the ground-glass panes of which was printed in red lettering:


HEADQUARTERS
IMPERIAL MILITARY POLICE
SAFE DEPOSIT


The sentinel interrogated me for form's sake, although he knew me; I entered, passed rapidly along the face of the steel cage behind which some officers sat on high stools, writing, and presented myself at the guichet marked, "Foreign Division."

There was no military clerk in attendance there, and, to my surprise, the guichet was closed.

However, a very elegant officer strolled up to the guichet as I laid my bag of diamonds on the glass shelf, languidly unlocked the steel window-gate, and picked up the bag of jewels.

The officer was Mornac, the Emperor's alter ego, or ame damnee, who had taken over the entire department the very day I left Paris for the frontier. Officially, I could not recognize him until I presented myself to Colonel Jarras with my report; so I saluted his uniform, standing at attention in my filthy clothes, awaiting the usual question and receipt.

"Name and number?" inquired Mornac, indolently.

I gave both.

"You desire to declare?"

I enumerated the diamonds, and designated them as those lately stolen from the crucifix of Louis XI.

Mornac handed me a printed certificate of deposit, opened a compartment in the safe, and tossed in the bag without sealing it. And, as I stood waiting, he lighted a scented cigarette, glanced over at me, puffed once or twice, and finally dismissed me with a discourteous nod.

I went, because he was Mornac; I thought that I was entitled to a bureau receipt, but could scarcely demand one from the chief of the entire department who had taken over the bureau solely in order to reform it, root and branch. Doubtless his curt dismissal of me without the customary receipt and his failure to seal the bag were two of his reforms.

I limped off past the glittering steel cage, thankful that the jewels were safe, turned into the corridor, and hastened back to my own rooms.

To tear off my rags, bathe, shave, and dress in a light suit of civilian clothes took me longer than usual, for I was a trifle lame.

Bath and clean clothes ought to have cheered me; but the contrary was the case, and I sat down to a breakfast brought by a palace servant, and ate it gloomily, thinking of Buckhurst, and the Countess, and of Morsbronn, and of the muddy dead lying under the rifle smoke below my turret window.

I thought, too, of that astonishing conspiracy which had formed under the very shadow of the imperial throne, and through which already the crucifix and diamonds of Louis XI. had been so nearly lost to France.

Who besides Buckhurst was involved? How far had Colonel Jarras gone in the investigation during my absence? How close to the imperial throne had the conspiracy burrowed?

Pondering, I slowly retraced my steps through the bedroom and dressing-room, and out into the tiled hallway, where, at the end of the dim corridor, the door of Colonel Jarras's bureau stood partly open.

Jarras was sitting at his desk as I entered, and he gave me a leaden-eyed stare as I closed the door behind me and stood at attention.

For a moment he said nothing, but presently he partly turned his ponderous body towards me and motioned me to a chair.

As I sat down I glanced around and saw my old comrade, Speed, sitting in a dark corner, chewing a cigarette and watching me in alert silence.

"You are present to report?" suggested Colonel Jarras, heavily.

I bowed, glancing across at Speed, who shrugged his shoulders and looked at the floor with an ominous smile.

Mystified, I began my report, but was immediately stopped by Jarras with a peevish gesture: "All right, all right; keep all that for the Chief of Department. Your report doesn't concern me."

"Doesn't concern you!" I repeated; "are you not chief of this bureau, Colonel Jarras?"

"No," snapped Jarras; "and there's no bureau now--at least no bureau for the Foreign Division."

Speed leaned forward and said: "Scarlett, my friend, the Foreign Division of the Imperial Military Police is not in favor just now. It appears the Foreign Division is suspected."

"Suspected? Of what?"

"Treason, I suppose," said Speed, serenely.

I felt my face begin to burn, but the astonishing news left me speechless.

"I said," observed Speed, "that the Foreign Division is suspected; that is not exactly the case; it is not suspected, simply because it has been abolished."

"Who the devil did that?" I asked, savagely.

"Mornac."

Mornac! The Emperor's shadow! Then truly enough it was all up with the Foreign Division. But the shame of it!--the disgrace of as faithful a body of police, mercenaries though they were, as ever worked for any cause, good or bad.

"So it's the old whine of treason again, is it?" I said, while the blood beat in my temples. "Oh, very well, doubtless Monsieur Mornac knows his business. Are we transferred, Speed, or just kicked out into the street?"

"Kicked out," replied Speed, rubbing his slim, bony hands together.

"And you, sir?" I asked, turning to Jarras, who sat with his fat, round head buried in his shoulders, staring at the discolored blotter on his desk.

The old Corsican straightened as though stung: "Since when, monsieur, have subordinates assumed the right to question their superiors?"

I asked his pardon in a low voice, although I was no longer his subordinate. He had been a good and loyal chief to us all; the least I could do now was to show him respect in his bitter humiliation.

I think he felt our attitude and that it comforted him, but all he said was: "It is a heavy blow. The Emperor knows best."

As we sat there in silence, a soldier came to summon Colonel Jarras, and he went away, leaning on his ivory-headed cane, head bowed over the string of medals on his breast.

When he had gone, Speed came over and shut the door, then shook hands with me.

"He's gone to see Mornac; it will be our turn next. Look out for Mornac, or he'll catch you tripping in your report. Did you find Buckhurst?"

"Look here," I said, angrily, "how can Mornac catch me tripping? I'm not under his orders."

"You are until you're discharged. You see, they've taken it into their heads, since the crucifix robbery, to suspect everybody and anybody short of the Emperor. Mornac came smelling around here the day you left. He's at the bottom of all this--a nice business to cast suspicion on our division because we're foreigners. Gad, he looks like a pickpocket himself--he's got the oblique trick of the eyes and the restless finger movement."

"Perhaps he is," I said.

Speed looked at me sharply.

"If I were in the service now I'd arrest Mornac--if I dared."

"You might as well arrest the Emperor," I said, wearily.

"That's it," observed Speed, throwing away his chewed cigarette. "Nobody dare touch Mornac; nobody dare even watch him. But if there's a leak somewhere, it's far more probable that Mornac did the dirty work than that there's a traitor in our division."

Presently he added: "Did you catch Buckhurst?"

"I don't want to talk about it," I said, disgusted.

"--Because," continued Speed, "if you've got him, it may save us. Have you?"

How I wished that I had Buckhurst safely handcuffed beside me!

"If you've got him," persisted Speed, "we'll shake him like a rat until he squeals. And if he names Mornac--"

"Do you think that Mornac would give him or us the chance?" I said. "Rubbish! He'd do the shaking _in camera_; and it would only be a hand-shaking if Buckhurst is really his creature. And he's rid himself of our division, anyhow. Wait!" I added, sharply; "perhaps that is the excuse! Perhaps that is the very reason that he's abolished the foreign division! We may have been getting too close to the root of this matter; I had already caught Buckhurst--"

"You had?" cried Speed, eagerly.

"But I'm not going to talk about it now," I added, sullenly. "My troubles are coming; I've a story to tell that won't please Mornac, and I have an idea that he means mischief to me."

Speed looked curiously at me, and I went on:

"I used my own judgment--supposing that Jarras was my chief. I knew he'd let me take my own way--but I don't know what Mornac will say."

However, I was soon to know what Mornac had to say, for a soldier appeared to summon us both, and we followed to the temporary bureau which looked out to the east over the lovely Luxembourg gardens.

Jarras passed us as we entered; his heavy head was bent, and I do not suppose that he saw either us or our salutes, for he shuffled off down the dark passage, tapping his slow way like a blind man; and Speed and I entered, saluting Mornac.

The personage whom we saluted was a symmetrical, highly colored gentleman, with black mustache and Oriental eyes. His skin was too smooth--there was not a line or a wrinkle visible on hand or face, nothing but plump flesh pressing the golden collar of his light-blue tunic and the half-dozen gold rings on his carefully kept, restless fingers. His light, curved sabre hung by its silver chain from a nail on a wall behind him; beside it, suspended by the neck cord, was his astrakhan-trimmed dolman of palest turquoise-blue, and over that hung his scarlet cap.

As he raised his heavy-lidded, insolent eyes to me, I thought I had never before appreciated the utter falseness of his visage as I did at that moment. Instantly I decided that he meant evil to me; and I instinctively glanced at Speed, standing beside me at attention, his clear blue eyes alert, his lank limbs and lean head fairly tremulous with comprehension.

At a careless nod from Mornac I muttered the formal "I have to report, sir--" and began mumbling a perfunctory account of my movements since leaving Paris. He listened, idly contemplating a silver penknife which he alternately snapped open and closed, the click of the spring punctuating my remarks.

I told the truth as far as I went, which brought me to my capture by Uhlans and the natural escape of my prisoner, Buckhurst. I merely added that I had secured the diamonds and had managed to reach Paris via Strasbourg.

"Is that all?" inquired Mornac, listlessly.

"All I have to report, sir."

"Permit me to be the judge of how much you have to report," said Mornac. "Continue."

I was silent.

"Do you prefer that I draw out information by questions?" asked Mornac, looking up at me.

I was already in his net; I ought not to have placed myself in the position of concealing anything, yet I distrusted him and wished to avoid giving him a chance to misunderstand me. But now it was too late; if the error could be wiped out at all, the only way to erase it was by telling him everything and giving him his chance to misinterpret me if he desired it.

He listened very quietly while I told of my encounter with Buckhurst in Morsbronn, of our journey to Saverne, to Strasbourg, and finally my own arrival in Paris.

"Where is Buckhurst?" he asked.

"I do not know," I replied, doggedly.

"That is to say that you had him in your power within the French lines yet did not secure him?"

"Yes."

"Your orders were to arrest him?"

"Yes."

"And shoot him if he resisted?"

"Yes."

"But you let him go?"

"There was something more important to do than to arrest Buckhurst. I meant to find out what he had on hand in Paradise."

"So you disobeyed orders?"

"If you care to so interpret my action."

"Why did you not arrest the Countess de Vassart?"

"I did; the Uhlans made me prisoner as I reported to you."

"I mean, why did you not arrest her after you left Morsbronn?"

"That would have prevented Buckhurst from going to Paradise."

"Your orders were to arrest the Countess?"

"Yes."

"Did you obey those orders?"

"No," I said, between my teeth.

"Why?"

"I had every reason to believe that an important conspiracy was being ripened somewhere near Paradise. I had every reason to believe that the robbery of the crown jewels might furnish funds for the plotters.

"The arrest of one man could not break up the conspiracy; I desired to trap the leaders; and to that end I deliberately liberated this man Buckhurst as a stool-pigeon. If my judgment has been at fault, I accept the blame."

Mornac's silver penknife closed. Presently he opened the blade again and tested the edge on his plump forefinger.

"I beg to call your attention to the fact," I continued, "that a word from Buckhurst to the provost at Morsbronn would have sent me before the squad of execution. In a way, I bought my freedom. But," I added, slowly, "I should never have bought it if the bargain by which I saved my own skin had been a betrayal of France. Nobody wants to die; but in my profession we discount that. No man in my division is a physical coward. I purchased my freedom not only without detriment to France, but, on the contrary, to the advantage of France."

"At the expense of your honor," observed Mornac.

My ears were burning; I advanced a pace and looked Mornac straight between the eyes; but his eyes did not meet mine--they were fixed on his silver penknife.

"I did the best I could do in the line of duty," I said. "You ask me why I did not break my word and arrest Buckhurst after we left the German lines. And I answer you that I had given my word not to arrest him, in pursuance of my plan to use him further."

Mornac examined his carefully kept finger-tips in detail.

"You say he bribed you?"

"I said that he attempted to do so," I replied, sharply.

"With the diamonds?"

"Yes."

"You have them?"

"I deposited them as usual."

"Bring them."

Angry as I was, I saluted, wheeled, and hastened off to the safe deposit. The jewel-bag was delivered when I presented my printed slip; I picked it up and marched back, savagely biting my mustache and striving to control my increasing exasperation. Never before had I endured insolence from a superior officer.

Mornac was questioning Speed as I entered, and that young man, who has much self-control to learn, was already beginning to answer with disrespectful impatience, but my advent suspended matters, and Mornac took the bag of jewels from my hands and examined it. He seemed to be in no hurry to empty it; he lolled in his chair with an absent-minded expression like the expression of a cat who pretends to forget the mouse between her paws. Danger was written all over him; I squared my shoulders and studied him, braced for a shock.

The shock came almost immediately, for, without a word, he suddenly emptied the jewel-bag on the desk before him. The bag contained little pebbles wrapped in tissue-paper.

I heard Speed catch his breath sharply; I stared stupidly at the pebbles. Mornac made a careless, sweeping gesture, spreading the pebbles out before us with his restless, ringed fingers.

"Suppose you explain this farce?" he suggested, unmoved.

"Suppose _you explain it!" I stammered.

He raised his delicately arched eyebrows. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that an hour ago that bag contained the diamonds from the crucifix of Louis XI! I mean that I handed them over to you on my arrival at this bureau!"

"Doubtless you can prove what you say," he observed, and his silver penknife snapped shut like the click of a trap, and he lay back in his padded chair and slipped the knife into his pocket.

I looked at Speed; his sandy hair fairly bristled, but his face was drawn and tense. I looked at Mornac; his heavy, black eyes met mine steadily.

"It seems to me," he said, "that it was high time we abolished the Foreign Division, Imperial Military Police."

"I refuse to be discharged!" I said, hoarsely. "It is your word against mine; I demand an investigation!"

"Certainly," he replied, almost wearily, and touched a bell. "Bring that witness," he added to the soldier who appeared in answer to the silvery summons.

"I mean an official inquiry," I said--"a court-martial. It is my right where my honor is questioned."

"It is my right, when you question my honor, to throw you into Mont Valerien, neck and heels," he said, showing his teeth under his silky, black mustache.

Almost stunned by his change of tone, I stood like a stone. Somebody entered the room behind me, passed me; there was an odor of violets in the air, a faint rustle of silk, and I saw Mornac rise and bow to his guest and conduct her to a chair.

His guest was the young Countess de Vassart.

She looked up at me brightly, gave me a pretty nod of recognition, then turned expectantly to Mornac, who was still standing at her elbow, saying, "Then it is no longer a question of my exile, monsieur?"

"No, madame; there has been a mistake. The government has no reason to suspect your loyalty." He turned directly on me. "Madame, do you know this officer?"

"Yes," said the Countess, smiling.

"Did you see him receive a small sack of diamonds in Morsbronn?"

The Countess gave me a quick glance of surprise. "Yes," she said, wonderingly.

"Thank you, madame; that is sufficient," he replied; and before I could understand what he was about he had conducted the Countess to the next room and had closed the door behind him.

"Quick!" muttered Speed at my elbow; "let's back out of this trap. There's no use; he's one of them, and he means to ruin you."

"I won't go!" I said, in a cold fury; "I'll choke the truth out of him, I tell you."

"Man! Man! He's the Emperor's shadow! You're done for; come on while there's time. I tell you there's no hope for you here."

"Hope! What do I care?" I said, harshly. "Why, Speed, that man is a common thief."

"What of it?" whispered Speed. "Doesn't everybody know that the conspiracy runs close to the throne? What do you care? Come on, I tell you; I've had enough of this rotten government. So have you. And we've both seen enough to ruin us. Come on!"

"But he's got those diamonds! Do you think I can stand that?"

"I think you've got to," muttered Speed, savagely. "Do you want to rot in Cayenne? If you do, stay here and bawl for a court-martial!"

"But the government--"

"Let the government go to the devil! It's going fast enough, anyhow. Come, don't let Mornac find us here when he returns. He may be coming now--quick, Scarlett! We've got to cut for it!"

"Speed," I said, unsteadily, "it's enough to make an honest man strike hands with Buckhurst in earnest."

Speed took my arm with a cautious glance at the door of the next room, and urged me toward the corridor.

"The government has kicked us out into the street," he muttered; "be satisfied that the government didn't kick us into Biribi. And it will yet if you don't come."

"Come? Where? I haven't any money, and now they've got my honor--"

"Rubbish!" he whispered, fairly dragging me into the hallway. "Here! No--don't go to your rooms. Leave everything--get clear of this rat-pit, I tell you."

He half pushed, half dragged me to the parade; then, dropping my arm, he struck a jaunty pace through the archway, not even glancing at the sentinels. I kept pace with him, scarcely knowing what I did.

In the Rue de Seine I halted suddenly, crying out that I must go back, but he seized me with a growl of "Idiot! come on!" and fairly shoved me through the colonnades of the Institute, along the quay, down the river-wall, to a dock where presently a swift river-boat swung in for passengers. And when the bateau mouche shot out again into mid-stream, Speed and I stood silently on deck, watching the silver-gray facades of Paris fly past above us under the blue sky.

We sat far forward, quite alone, and separated from the few passengers by the pilot-house and jointed funnel. And there, carelessly lounging, with one of his lank legs crossed over the other and a cigar between his teeth, my comrade coolly recounted to me the infamous history of the past week:

"Jarras put his honest, old, square-toed foot in it by accident; I don't know how he managed to do it, but this is certain: he suddenly found himself on a perfectly plain trail which could only end at Mornac's threshold.

"Then he did a stupid thing--he called Mornac in and asked him, in perfect faith, to clear up the affair, never for a moment suspecting that Mornac was the man.

"That occurred the day you started to catch Buckhurst. And on that day, too, I had found out something; and like a fool I told Jarras."

Speed chewed his cigar and laughed.

"In twenty-four hours Jarras was relieved of his command; I was requested not to leave the Luxembourg--in other words, I was under arrest, and Mornac took over the entire department and abolished the Foreign Division 'for the good of the service,' as the _Official had it next day.

"Then somebody--Mornac probably--let loose a swarm of those shadowy lies called rumors--you know how that is done!--and people began to mutter, and the cafes began to talk of treason among the foreign police. Of course Rochefort took it up; of course the _Official printed a half-hearted denial which was far worse than an avowal. Then the division was abolished, and the illustrated papers made filthy caricatures of us, and drew pictures of Mornac, sabre in hand, decapitating a nest full of American rattlesnakes and British cobras, and Rochefort printed a terrible elaboration of the fable of the farmer and the frozen serpent."

"Oh, that's enough," I said, sick with rage and disgust. "Let them look out for their own country now. I pity the Empress; I pity the Emperor. I don't know what Mornac means to do, but I know that the Internationale boa-constrictor is big enough to swallow government, dynasty, and Empire, and it is going to try."

"I am certain of one thing," said Speed, staring out over the sun-lit water with narrowing eyes. "I know that Mornac is using Buckhurst."

"Perhaps it is Buckhurst who is using Mornac," I suggested.

"I think both those gentlemen have the same view in end--to feather their respective nests under cover of a general smash," said Speed. "It would not do for Mornac to desert the Empire under any circumstances. But he can employ Buckhurst to squeeze it dry and then strike an attitude as its faithful defender in adversity."

"But why does Buckhurst desire to go to Paradise?" I asked.

The boat swung into a dock near the Point du Jour; a few passengers left, a few came aboard; the boat darted on again under the high viaduct of masonry, past bastions on which long siege cannon glistened in the sunshine, past lines of fresh earthworks, past grassy embankments on which soldiers moved to the rumble of drums.

"I know something about Paradise," said Speed, in a low voice.

I waited; Speed chewed his cigar grimly.

"Look here, Scarlett," he said. "Do you know what has become of the crown jewels of France?"

"No," I said.

"Well, I'll tell you. You know, of course, that the government is anxious; you know that Paris is preparing to stand siege if the Prussians double up Bazaine and the army of Chalons in the north. But you don't know what a pitiable fright the authorities are in. Why, Scarlett, they are scared almost to the verge of idiocy."

"They've passed that verge," I observed.

"Yes, they have. They have had a terrible panic over the safety of the crown jewels--they were nervous enough before the robbery. And this is what they've done in secret:

"The crown jewels, the bars of gold of the reserve, the great pictures from the Louvre, the antiques of value, including the Venus of Milo, have been packed in cases and loaded on trains under heavy guard.

"Twelve of these trains have already left Paris for the war-port of Lorient. The others are to follow, one every twenty-four hours at midnight.

"Whether these treasures are to be locked up in Lorient, or whether they are to be buried in the sand-dunes along the coast, I don't know. But I know this: a swift cruiser--the _Fer-de-Lance_--is lying off Paradise, between the light-house and the Ile de Groix, with steam up night and day, ready to receive the treasures of the government at the first alarm and run for the French possessions in Cochin-China.

"And now, perhaps, you may guess why Buckhurst is so anxious to hang around Paradise."

Of course I was startled. Speed's muttered information gave me the keys to many doors. And behind each door were millions and millions and millions of francs' worth of plunder.

Our eyes met in mute interrogation; Speed smiled.

"Of course," said I, with dry lips, "Buckhurst is devil enough to attempt anything."

"Especially if backed by Mornac," said Speed.

Suddenly the professional aspect of the case burst on me like a shower of glorious sunshine.

"Oh, for the chance!" I said, brokenly. "Speed! Think of it! Think how completely we have the thing in hand!"

"Yes," he said, with a shrug, "only we have just been kicked out of the service in disgrace, and we are now going to be fully occupied in running away from the police."

That was true enough; I had scarcely had time to realize our position as escaped suspects of the department. And with the recognition of my plight came a rush of hopeless rage, of bitter regret, and soul-sickening disappointment.

So this was the end of my career--a fugitive, disgraced, probably already hunted. This was my reward for faithful service--penniless, almost friendless, liable to arrest and imprisonment with no hope of justice from Emperor or court-martial--a banned, ruined, proscribed outcast, in blind flight.

"I've thought of the possibility of this," observed Speed, quietly. "We've got to make a living somehow. In fact, I'm to let--and so are you."

I looked at him, too miserable to speak.

"I had an inkling of it," he said. A shrewd twinkle came into his clear, Yankee eyes; he chewed his wrecked cigar and folded his lank arms.

"So," he continued, tranquilly, blinking at the sparkling river, "I drew out all my money--and yours, too."

"Mine!" I stammered. "How could you?"

"Forged an order," he admitted. "Can you forgive me, Scarlett?"

"Forgive you! Bless your generous heart!" I muttered, as he handed me a sealed packet.

"Not at all," he said, laughing; "a crime in time saves nine--eh, Scarlett? Pocket it; it's all there. Now listen. I have made arrangements of another kind. Do you remember an application for license from the manager of a travelling American show--a Yankee circus?"

"Byram's Imperial American Circus?" I said.

"That's it. They went through Normandy last summer. Well, Byram's agent is going to meet us at Saint-Cloud. We're engaged; I'm to do ballooning--you know I worked one of the military balloons before Petersburg. You are to do sensational riding. You were riding-master in the Spahis--were you not?"

I looked at him, almost laughing. Suddenly the instinct of my vagabond days returned like a sweet wind from the wilds, smiting me full in the face.

"I tamed three lions for my regiment at Constantine," I said.

"Good lad! Then you can play with Byram's lions, too. Oh, what the devil!" he cried, recklessly; "it's all in a lifetime. Quand meme, and who cares? We've life before us and an honest living in view, and Byram has packed two of his men back to England and I've tinkered up their passports to suit us. So we're reasonably secure."

"Will you tell me, Speed, why you were wise enough to do all this while I was gone?" I asked, in astonishment.

"Because," said Speed, deliberately, "I distrusted Mornac from the hour he entered the department."

A splendid officer of police was spoiled when Mornac entered the department.

Presently the deck guard began to shout: "Saint-Cloud! Saint-Cloud!" and the little boat glided up alongside the floating pier. Speed rose; I followed him across the gang-plank; and, side by side, we climbed the embankment.

"Do you mean to say that Byram is going travelling about with his circus in spite of the war?" I whispered.

"Yes, indeed. We start south from Chartres to-morrow."

Presently I said: "Do you suppose we will go to Lorient or--Paradise?"

"We will if I have anything to say about it," replied Speed, throwing away his ragged cigar.

And I walked silently beside him, thinking of the young Countess and of Buckhurst.

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PART II CHAPTER IX. THE ROAD TO PARADISEOn the 3d of November Byram's American Circus, travelling slowly overland toward the Spanish frontier, drew up for an hour's rest at Quimperle. I, however, as usual, prepared to ride forward to select a proper place for our night encampment, and to procure the necessary license. The dusty procession halted in the town square, which was crowded, and as I turned in my saddle I saw Byram stand up on the red-and-gold band-wagon and toss an armful of circulars and bills into the throng. The white bits of paper fluttered wide and disappeared in
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 7. A Struggle Foreshadowed The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 7. A Struggle Foreshadowed

The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 7. A Struggle Foreshadowed
PART I CHAPTER VII. A STRUGGLE FORESHADOWEDI took my breakfast by the window, watching the German soldiery cleaning up Morsbronn. For that wonderful Teutonic administrative mania was already manifesting itself while ruined houses still smoked; method replaced chaos, order marched on the heels of the Prussian rear-guard, which enveloped Morsbronn in a whirlwind of Uhlans, and left it a silent, blackened landmark in the August sunshine. Soldiers in canvas fatigue-dress, wearing soft, round, visorless caps, were removing the debris of the fatal barricade; soldiers with shovel and hoe filled in the trenches and raked the long, winding street clean of all
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