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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 21. Like Her Ancestors
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 21. Like Her Ancestors Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1016

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 21. Like Her Ancestors

PART III CHAPTER XXI. LIKE HER ANCESTORS

A sense of insecurity, of impending trouble, seemed to weigh upon us all that evening--a physical depression, which the sea-wind brought with its flying scud, wetting the window-panes like fine rain.

At intervals from across the moors came the deadened rolling of insurgent drums, and in the sky a ruddy reflection of a fire brightened and waned as the fog thickened or blew inland--an ominous sign of disorder, possibly even a reflection from that unseen war raging somewhere beyond the obscured horizon.

It may have been this indefinable foreboding that drew our little company into a temporary intimacy; it may have been the immense loneliness of the sea, thundering in thickening darkness, that stilled our voices to whispers.

Eyre, ill at ease, walked from window to window, looking at the luminous tints on the ragged edges of the clouds; Sylvia, over her heavy embroidery, lifted her head gravely at moments, to glance after him when he halted listless, preoccupied, staring at Speed and Jacqueline, who were drawing pictures of Arthur and his knights by the lamp-lit table.

I leaned in the embrasure of the southern window, gazing at my lighted lanterns, which dangled from the halyards at Saint-Yssel. The soldier Rolland had so far kept his word--three red lamps glimmered through a driving mist; the white lanterns hung above, faintly shining.

Full in the firelight of the room sat the young Countess, lost in reverie, hands clasping the gilt arms of her chair. At her feet dozed Ange Pitou.

The dignity of a parvenu cat admitted for the first time to unknown luxury is a lesson. I said this to the young Countess, who smiled dreamily, watching the play of color over the drift-wood fire. A ship's plank was burning there, tufted with golden-green flames. Presently a blaze of purest carmine threw a deeper light into the room.

"I wonder," she said, "what people sailed in that ship--and when? Did they perish on this coast when their ship perished? A drift-wood fire is beautiful, but a little sad, too." She looked up pensively over her shoulder. "Will you bring a chair to the fire?" she asked. "We are burning part of a great ship--for our pleasure, monsieur. Tell me what ship it was; tell me a story to amuse me--not a melancholy one, if you please."

I drew a chair to the blaze; the drift-wood burned gold and violet, with scarcely a whisper of its velvet flames.

"I am afraid my story is not going to be very cheerful," I said, "and I am also afraid that I must ask you to listen to it."

She met my eyes with composure, leaned a little toward me, and waited.

And so, sitting there in the tinted glare, I told her of the death of Delmont and of Tavernier, and of Buckhurst's share in the miserable work.

I spoke in a whisper scarcely louder than the rustle of the flames, watching the horror growing in her face.

I told her that the money she had intrusted to them for the Red Cross was in my possession, and would be forwarded at the first chance; that I hoped to bring Buckhurst to justice that very night.

"Madame, I am paining you," I said; "but I am going to cause you even greater unhappiness."

"Tell me what is necessary," she said, forming the words with tightened lips.

"Then I must tell you that it is necessary for Mademoiselle Elven to leave Trecourt to-night."

She looked at me as though she had not heard.

"It is absolutely necessary," I repeated. "She must go secretly. She must leave her effects; she must go in peasant's dress, on foot."

"Why?"

"It is better that I do not tell you, madame."

"Tell me. It is my right to know."

"Not now; later, if you insist."

The young Countess passed one hand over her eyes as though dazed.

"Does Sylvia know this?" she asked, in a shocked voice.

"Not yet."

"And you are going to tell her?"

"Yes, madame."

"This is dreadful," she muttered.... "If I did not know you,... if I did not trust you so perfectly,... trust you with all my heart!... Oh, are you certain she must go? It frightens me; it is so strange! I have grown fond of her.... And now you say that she must go. I cannot understand--I cannot."

"No, you cannot understand," I repeated, gently; "but she can. It is a serious matter for Mademoiselle Elven; it could not easily be more serious. It is even perhaps a question of life or death, madame."

"In Heaven's name, help her, then!" she said, scarcely controlling the alarm that brought a pitiful break in her voice.

"I am trying to," I said. "And now I must consult Mademoiselle Elven. Will you help me?"

"What can I do?" she asked, piteously.

"Stand by that window. Look, madame, can you see the lights on the semaphore?"

"Yes."

"Count them aloud."

She counted the white lights for me, then the red ones.

"Now," I said, "if those lights change in number or color or position, come instantly to me. I shall be with Mademoiselle Elven in the little tea-room. But," I added, "I do not expect any change in the lights; it is only a precaution."

I left her in the shadow of the curtains, and passed through the room to Sylvia's side. She looked up quietly from her embroidery frame, then, dropping the tinted silks and needles on the cloth, rose and walked beside me past Eyre, who stood up as we came abreast of him.

Sylvia paused. "Monsieur Eyre," she said, "I have a question to ask you ... some day," and passed on with a smile and a slight inclination of her head, leaving Eyre looking after her with heavy eyes.

When we entered the little tea-room she passed on to the lounge and seated herself on the padded arm; I turned, closed the door, and walked straight toward her.

She glanced up at me curiously; something in my face appeared to sober her, for the amused smile on her lips faded before I spoke.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I am sorry to tell you," I said--"sorry from my heart. You are not very friendly to me, and that makes it harder for me to say what I have to say."

She was watching me intently out of her pretty, intelligent eyes.

"What do you mean?" she asked, guardedly.

"I mean that you cannot stay here," I said. "And you know why."

The color flooded her face, and she stood up, confronting me, exasperated, defiant.

"Will you explain this insult?" she asked, hotly.

"Yes. You are a German spy," I said, under my breath.

There was no color in her face now--nothing but a glitter in her blue eyes and a glint from the small, white teeth biting her lower lip.

"French troops will land here to-night or to-morrow," I went on, calmly. "You will see how dangerous your situation is certain to become when Buckhurst is taken, and when it is understood _what use you have made of the semaphore_."

She winced, then straightened and bent her steady gaze on me. Her courage was admirable.

"I thank you for telling me," she said, simply. "Have I a chance to reach the Spanish frontier?"

"I think you have," I replied. "Kelly Eyre is going with you when--"

"He? No, no, he must not! Does he know what I am?" she broke in, impetuously.

"Yes, mademoiselle; and he knows what happens to spies."

"Did he offer to go?" she asked, incredulously.

"Mademoiselle, he insists."

Her lip began to tremble. She turned toward the window, where the sea-fog flew past in the rising wind, and stared out across the immeasurable blackness of the ocean.

Without turning her head she said: "Does he know that it may mean his death?"

"He has suffered worse for your sake!" I said, bitterly.

"What?" she flashed out, confronting me in an instant.

"You must know that," I said--"three years of hell--prison--utter ruin! Do you dare deny you have been ignorant of this?"

For a space she stood there, struck speechless; then, "Call him!" she cried. "Call him, I tell you! Bring him here--I want him here--here before us both!" She sprang to the door, but I blocked her way.

"I will not have Madame de Vassart know what you did to him!" I said. "If you want Kelly Eyre, I will call him." And I stepped into the hallway.

Eyre, passing the long stone corridor, looked up as I beckoned; and when he entered the tea-room, Sylvia, white as a ghost, met him face to face.

"Monsieur," she said, harshly, "why did you not come to that book-store?"

He was silent. His face was answer enough--a terrible answer.

"Monsieur Eyre, speak to me! Is it true? Did they--did you not know that I made an error--that I _did go on Monday at the same hour?"

His haggard face lighted up; she saw it, and caught his hands in hers.

"Did you think I knew?" she stammered. "Did you think I could do that? They told me at the _usine that you had gone away--I thought you had forgotten--that you did not care--"

"Care!" he groaned, and bowed his head, crushing her hands over his face.

Then she broke down, breathless with terror and grief.

"I was not a spy then--truly I was not, Kelly. There was no harm in me--I only--only asked for the sketches because--because--I cared for you. I have them now; no soul save myself has ever seen them--even afterward, when I drifted into intrigue at the Embassy--when everybody knew that Bismarck meant to force war--everybody except the French people--I never showed those little sketches! They were--were mine! Kelly, they were all I had left when you went away--to a fortress!--and I did not know!--I did not know!"

"Hush!" he groaned. "It is all right--it is all right now."

"Do you believe me?"

"Yes, yes. Don't cry--don't be unhappy--now."

She raised her head and fumbled in her corsage with shaking fingers, and drew from her bosom a packet of papers.

"Here are the sketches," she sobbed; "they have cost you dear! Now leave me--hate me! Let them come and take me--I do not want to live any more. Oh, what punishment on earth!"

Her suffering was unendurable to the man who had suffered through her; he turned on me, quivering in every limb.

"We must start," he said, hoarsely. "Give me your revolver."

I drew it from my hip-pocket and passed it to him.

"Scarlett," he began, "if we don't reach--"

A quick rapping at the door silenced him; the young Countess stood in the hallway, bright-eyed, but composed, asking for me.

"The red and the white lights are gone," she said. "There are four green lights on the tower and four blue lights on the halyards."

I turned to Eyre. "This is interesting," I said, grimly. "I set signals for the _Fer-de-Lance to land in force. Somebody has changed them. You had better get ready to go."

Sylvia had shrunk away from Eyre. The Countess looked at her blankly, then at me.

"Madame," I said, "there is little enough of happiness in the world--so little that when it comes it should be welcomed, even by those who may not share in it."

And I bent nearer and whispered the truth.

Then I went to Sylvia, who stood there tremulous, pallid.

"You serve your country at a greater risk than do the soldiers of your King," I said. "There is no courage like that which discounts a sordid, unhonored death. You have my respect, mademoiselle."

"Sylvia!" murmured the young Countess, incredulously; "you a spy?--here--under my roof?"

Sylvia unconsciously stretched out one hand toward her.

Eyre stepped to her side, with an angry glance at Madame de Vassart.

"I--I love you, madame," whispered Sylvia. "I only place my own country first. Can you forgive me?"

The Countess stood as though stunned; Eyre passed her slowly, supporting Sylvia to the door.

"Madame," I said, "will you speak to her? Your countries, not your hearts, are at war. She did her duty."

"A spy!" repeated the Countess, in a dull voice. "A spy! And she brings this--this shame on me!"

Sylvia turned, standing unsteadily. For a long time they looked at each other in silence, their eyes wet with tears. Then Eyre lifted Sylvia's hand and kissed it, and led her away, closing the door behind.

The Countess still stood in the centre of the room, transfixed, rigid, staring through her tears at the closed door. With a deep-drawn breath she straightened her shoulders; her head drooped; she covered her face with clasped hands.

Standing there, did she remember those who, one by one, had betrayed her? Those who first whispered to her that love of country was a narrow creed; those who taught her to abhor violence, and then failed at the test--Bazard, firing to kill, going down to death under the merciless lance of an Uhlan; Buckhurst, guilty of every crime that attracted him; and now Sylvia, her friend, false to the salt she had eaten, false to the roof above her, false, utterly false to all save the land of her nativity.

And she, Eline de Trecourt, a soldier's daughter and a Frenchwoman, had been used as a shield by those who were striking her own mother-land--the country she once had denied; the country whose frontiers she knew not in her zeal for limitless brotherhood; the blackened, wasted country she had seen at Strasbourg; the land for which the cuirassiers of Morsbronn had died!

"What have I done?" she cried, brokenly--"what have I done that this shame should come upon me?"

"You have done nothing," I said, "neither for good nor evil in this crisis. But Sylvia has; Sylvia the spy. That a man should give up his life for a friend is good; that a woman offer hers for her country is better. What has it cost her? The friendship of the woman she worships--you, madame! It has cost her that already, and the price may include her life and the life of the man she loves. She has done her duty; the sacrifice is still burning; I pray it may spare her and spare him."

I walked to the door and laid my hand on the brass knob.

"The world is merciless to failures," I said. "Yet even a successful spy is scarcely tolerated among the Philistines; a captured spy is a horror for friends to forget and for enemies to destroy in righteous indignation. Madame, I know, for I have served your country in Algiers as a spy,... not from patriotism, for I am an alien, but because I was fitted for it in my line of duty. Had I been caught I should have looked for nothing but contempt from France; from the Kabyle, for neither admiration nor mercy. I tell you this that you may understand my respect for this woman, whose motives are worthy of it."

The Countess looked at me scornfully. "It is well," she said, "for those who understand and tolerate treachery to condone it. It is well that the accused be judged by their peers. We of Trecourt know only one tongue. But that is the language of truth, monsieur. All else is foreign."

"Where did the nobility learn this tongue--to our exclusion?" I asked, bluntly.

"When our forefathers faced the tribunals!" she flashed out. "Did you ever hear of a spy among us? Did you ever hear of a lie among us?"

"You have been taught history by your peers, madame," I said, with a bow; "I have been taught history by mine."

"The sorry romance!" she said, bitterly. "It has brought me to this!"

"It has brought others to their senses," I said, sharply.

"To their knees, you mean!"

"Yes--to their knees at last."

"To the guillotine--yes!"

"No, madame, to pray for their native land--too late!"

"I think," she said, "that we are not fitted to understand each other."

"It remains," I said, "for me to thank you for your kindness to us all, and for your generosity to me in my time of need.... It is quite useless for me to dream of repaying it.... I shall never forget it.... I ask leave to make my adieux, madame."

She flushed to her temples, but did not answer.

As I stood looking at her, a vivid flare of light flashed through the window behind me, crimsoning the walls, playing over the ceiling with an infernal radiance. At the same instant the gate outside crashed open, a hubbub of voices swelled into a roar; then the outer doors were flung back and a score of men sprang into the hallway, soldiers with the red torch-light dancing on rifle-barrels and bayonets.

And before them, revolver swinging in his slender hand, strode Buckhurst, a red sash tied across his breast, his colorless eyes like diamonds.

Speed and Jacqueline came hurrying through the hall to where I stood; Buckhurst's smile was awful as his eyes flashed from Speed to me.

Behind him, close to his shoulder, the torch-light fell on Mornac's smooth, false face, stretched now into a ferocious grimace; behind him crowded the soldiers of the commune, rifles slung, craning their unshaven faces to catch a glimpse of us.

"Demi-battalion, halt!" shouted an officer, and flung up his naked sabre.

"Halt," repeated Buckhurst, quietly.

Madame de Vassart's servants had come running from kitchen and stable at the first alarm, and now stood huddled in the court-yard, bewildered, cowed by the bayonets which had checked them.

"Buckhurst," I said, "what the devil do you mean by this foolery?" and I started for him, shouldering my way among his grotesque escort.

For an instant I looked into his deadly eyes; then he silently motioned me back; a dozen bayonets were levelled, forcing me to retire, inch by inch, until I felt Speed's grip on my arm.

"That fellow means mischief," he whispered. "Have you a pistol?"

"I gave mine to Eyre," I said, under my breath. "If he means us harm, don't resist or they may take revenge on the Countess. Speed, keep her in the room there! Don't let her come out."

But the Countess de Vassart was already in the hall, facing Buckhurst with perfect composure.

Twice she ordered him to leave; he looked up from his whispered consultation with Mornac and coolly motioned her to be silent.

Once she spoke to Mornac, quietly demanding a reason for the outrage, and Mornac silenced her with a brutal gesture.

"Madame," I said, "it is I they want. I beg you to retire."

"You are my guest," she said. "My place is here."

"Your place is where I please to put you!" broke in Mornac; and to Buckhurst: "I tell you she's as guilty as the others. Let me attend to this and make a clean sweep!"

"Citizen Mornac will endeavor to restrain his zeal," observed Buckhurst, with a sneer. And then, as I looked at this slender, pallid man, I understood who was the dominant power behind the curtain; and so did Speed, for I felt him press my elbow significantly.

He turned and addressed us, suavely, bowing with a horrid, mock deference to the Countess:

"In the name of the commune! The ci-devant Countess de Vassart is accused of sheltering the individual Scarlett, late inspector of Imperial Police; the individual Speed, ex-inspector of Imperial Gendarmes; the individual Eyre, under general suspicion; the woman called Sylvia Elven, a German spy. As war-delegate of the commune, I am here to accuse!"

There was a silence, then a low, angry murmur from the soldiers, which grew louder until Buckhurst turned on them. He did not utter a word, but the sullen roar died out, a bayonet rattled, then all was still in the dancing torch-light.

"I accuse," continued Buckhurst, in a passionless voice, "the individual Scarlett of treachery to the commune; of using the telegraph for treacherous ends; of hoisting signals with the purpose of attracting government troops to destroy us. I accuse the individual Speed of aiding his companion in using the telegraph to stop the government train, thus depriving the commune of the funds which rightfully belong to it--the treasures wrung from wretched peasants by the aristocrats of an accursed monarchy and a thrice-accursed empire!"

A roaring cheer burst from the excited soldiers, drowning the voice of Buckhurst.

"Silence!" shouted Mornac, savagely. And as the angry voices were stilled, one by one, above the banging of rifle-stocks and the rattle of bayonets, Buckhurst's calm voice rose in a sinister monotone.

"I accuse the woman Sylvia Elven of communication with Prussian agents; of attempted corruption of soldiers under my command. I accuse the citoyenne Eline Trecourt, lately known as the Countess de Vassart, of aiding, encouraging, and abetting these enemies of France!"

He waited until the short, fierce yell of approval had died away. Then:

"Call the soldier Rolland!" he said.

My heart began to hammer in my throat. "I believe it's going hard with us," I muttered to Speed.

"Listen," he motioned.

I listened to the wretched creature Rolland while he told what had happened at the semaphore. In his eagerness he pushed close to where I stood, menacing me with every gesture, cursing and lashing himself into a rage, ignoring all pretence of respect and discipline for his own superiors.

"What are you waiting for?" he shouted, insolently, turning on Buckhurst. "I tell the truth; and if this man can afford to pay hundreds of francs for a telegram, he must be rich enough to pluck, I tell you!"

"You say he bribed you?" asked Buckhurst, gently.

"Yes; I've said it twenty times, haven't I?"

"And you took the bribes?"

"Parbleu!"

"And you thought if you admitted it and denounced the man who bribed you that you would help divide a few millions with us, you rogue?" suggested Buckhurst, admiringly.

The wretch laughed outright.

"And you believe that you deserve well of the commune?" smiled Buckhurst.

The soldier grinned and opened his mouth to answer, and Buckhurst shot him through the face; and, as he fell, shot him again, standing wreathed in the smoke of his own weapon.

The deafening racket of the revolver, the smoke, the spectacle of the dusty, inert thing on the floor over which Buckhurst stood and shot, seemed to stun us all.

"I think," said Buckhurst, in a pleasantly persuasive voice, "that there will be no more bribery in this battalion." He deliberately opened the smoking weapon; the spent shells dropped one by one from the cylinder, clinking on the stone floor.

"No--no more bribery," he mused, touching the dead man with the carefully polished toe of his shoe. "Because," he added, reloading his revolver, "I do not like it."

He turned quietly to Mornac and ordered the corpse to be buried, and Mornac, plainly unnerved at the murderous act of his superior, repeated the order, cursing his men to cover the quaver in his voice.

"As for you," observed Buckhurst, glancing up at us where we stood speechless together, "you will be judged and sentenced when this drum-head court decides. Go into that room!"

The Countess did not move.

Speed touched her arm; she looked up quietly, smiled, and stepped across the threshold. Speed followed; Jacqueline slipped in beside him, and then I turned on Buckhurst, who had just ordered his soldiers to surround the house outside.

"As a matter of fact," I said, when the last armed ruffian had departed, "I am the only person in this house who has interfered with your affairs. The others have done nothing to harm you."

"The court will decide that," he replied, balancing his revolver in his palm.

I eyed him for an instant. "Do you mean harm to this unfortunate woman?" I asked.

"My friend," he replied, in a low voice, "you have very stupidly upset plans that have cost me months to perfect. You have, by stopping that train, robbed me of something less than twenty millions of francs. I have my labor for my pains; I have this mob of fools on my hands; I may lose my life through this whim of yours; and if I don't, I have it all to begin again. And you ask me what I am going to do!"

His eyes glittered.

"If I strike her I strike you. Ask yourself whether or not I will strike."

All the blood seemed to leave my heart; I straightened up with an effort.

"There are some murders," I said, "that even you must recoil at."

"I don't think you appreciate me," he replied, with a deathly smile.

He motioned toward the door with levelled weapon. I turned and entered the tea-room, and he locked the door from the outside.

The Countess, seated on the sofa, looked up as I appeared. She was terribly pale, but she smiled as my heavy eyes met hers.

"Is it to be farce or tragedy, monsieur?" she asked, without a tremor in her clear voice.

I could not have uttered a word to save my life. Speed, pacing the room, turned to read my face; and I think he read it, for he stopped short in his tracks. Jacqueline, watching him with blue, inscrutable eyes, turned sharply toward the window and peered out into the darkness.

Beyond the wall of the garden the fog, made luminous by the torches of the insurgents, surrounded the house with a circle of bright, ruddy vapor.

Speed came slowly across the room with me.

"Do they mean to shoot us?" he asked, bluntly.

"Messieurs," said the Countess, with a faint smile, "your whispers are no compliment to my race. Pray honor me by plain speaking. Are we to die?"

We stood absolutely speechless before her.

"Ah, Monsieur Scarlett," she said, gravely, "do you also fail me ... at the end?... You, too--even you?... Must I tell you that we of Trecourt fear nothing in this world?"

She made a little gesture, exquisitely imperious.

I stepped toward her; she waited for me to seat myself beside her.

"Are we to die?" she asked.

"Yes, madame."

"Thank you," she said, softly.

I looked up. My head was swimming so that I could scarcely see her, scarcely perceive the deep, steady tenderness in her clear eyes.

"Do you not understand?" she asked. "You are my friend. I wished to know my fate from you."

"Madame," I said, hoarsely, "how can you call me friend when you know to what I have brought you?"

"You have brought me to know myself," she said, simply. "Why should I not be grateful? Why do you look at me so sadly, Monsieur Scarlett? Truly, you must know that my life has been long enough to prove its uselessness."

"It is not true!" I cried, stung by remorse for all I had said. "Such women as you are the hope of France! Such women as you are the hope of the world! Ah, that you should consider the bitterness and folly of such a man as I am--that you should consider and listen to the sorry wisdom of a homeless mountebank--a wandering fool--a preacher of empty platitudes, who has brought you to this with his cursed meddling!"

"You taught me truth," she said, calmly; "you make the last days of my life the only ones worth living. I said to you but an hour since--when I was angry--that we were unfitted to comprehend each other. It is not true. We are fitted for that. I had rather die with you than live without the friendship which I believe--which I know--is mine. Monsieur Scarlett, it is not love. If it were, I could not say this to you--even in death's presence. It is something better; something untroubled, confident, serene.... You see it is not love.... And perhaps it has no name.... For I have never before known such happiness, such peace, as I know now, here with you, talking of our death. If we could live,... you would go away.... I should be alone.... And I have been alone all my life,... and I am tired. You see I have nothing to regret in a death that brings me to you again.... Do you regret life?"

"Not now," I said.

"You are kind to say so. I do believe--yes, I know that you truly care for me.... Do you?"

"Yes."

"Then it will not be hard.... Perhaps not even very painful."

The key turning in the door startled us. Buckhurst entered, and through the hallway I saw his dishevelled soldiers running, flinging open doors, tearing, trampling, pillaging, wrecking everything in their path.

"Your business will be attended to in the garden at dawn," he observed, blinking about the room, for the bright lamp-light dazzled him.

Speed, who had been standing by the window with Jacqueline, wheeled sharply, took a few steps into the room, then sank into a chair, clasping his lank hands between his knees.

The Countess did not even glance up as the sentence was pronounced; she looked at me and laid her left hand on mine, smiling, as though waiting for the moment to resume an interrupted conversation.

"Do you hear?" demanded Buckhurst, raising his voice.

There was no answer for a moment; then Jacqueline stepped from the window and said: "Am I free to go?"

"You!" said Buckhurst, contemptuously; "who in hell are you?"

"I am Jacqueline."

"Really," sneered Buckhurst.

He went away, slamming and locking the door; and I heard Mornac complaining that the signals had gone out on the semaphore and that there was more treachery abroad.

"Get me a horse!" said Buckhurst. "There are plenty of them in the stables. Mornac, you stay here; I'll ride over to the semaphore. Gut this house and fire it after you've finished that business in the garden to-morrow morning."

"Where are you going?" demanded Mornac's angry voice. "Do you expect me to stay here while you start for Paris?"

"You have your orders," said Buckhurst, menacingly.

"Oh, have I? What are they? To stay here when the country is roused--stay here and perhaps be shelled by that damned cruiser out there--"

His voice was stifled as though a hand had clutched his throat; there came the swift sound of a struggle, the banging of scabbards and spurs, the scuffle of heavy boots.

"Are you mad?" burst out Mornac's strangled voice.

"Are you?" breathed Buckhurst. "Silence, you fool. Do you obey orders or not?"

Their voices receded. Speed sprang to the door to listen, then ran back to the window.

"Scarlett," he whispered, "there are the lights of a vessel at anchor off Groix."

I was beside him in an instant. "It's the cruiser," I said. "Oh, Speed, for a chance to signal!"

We looked at each other desperately.

"We could set the room afire," he said; "they might land to see what had happened."

"And find us all shot."

Jacqueline, standing beside Speed, said, quietly: "I could swim it. Wait. Raise the window a little."

"You cannot dive from that cliff!" I said.

She cautiously unlocked the window and peered out into the dark garden.

"The cliff falls sheer from the wall yonder," she whispered. "I shall try to drop. I learned much in the circus. I am not afraid, Speed. I shall drop into the sea."

"To your death," I said.

"Possibly, m'sieu. It is a good death, however. I am not afraid."

"Close the window," muttered Speed. "They'd shoot her from the wall, anyway."

Again the child gravely asked permission to try.

"No," said Speed, harshly, and turned away. But in that instant Jacqueline flung open the window and vaulted into the garden. Before I could realize what had happened she was only a glimmering spot in the darkness. Then Speed and I followed her, running swiftly toward the foot of the garden, but we were too late; a slim, white shape rose from the top of the wall and leaped blindly out through the ruddy torch glare into the blackness beyond.

We heard a soldier's startled cry, a commotion, curses, and astonished exclamations from the other side of the wall.

"It was something, I tell you!" roared a soldier. "Something that jumped over the cliff!"

"It was an owl, idiot!" retorted his comrade.

"I tell you I saw it!" protested the other, in a shaking voice.

"Then you saw a witch of Ker-Ys," bawled another. "Look out for your skin in the first battle. It's death to see such things."

I looked at Speed. He stood wide-eyed, staring at vacancy.

"Could she do it?" I asked, horrified.

"God knows," he whispered.

Soldiers were beginning to clamber up the garden wall from the outside; torches were raised to investigate. As we shrank back into the shadow of the shrubbery I stumbled over something soft--Jacqueline's clothes, lying in a circle as she had stepped out of them.

Speed took them. I followed him, creeping back to the window, where we entered in time to avoid discovery by a wretch who had succeeded in mounting the wall, torch in hand.

One or two soldiers climbed over and dropped into the garden, prowling around, prodding the bushes with their bayonets, even coming to press their dirty faces and hands against our window.

"They're all here!" sang out one. "It was an owl, I tell you!" And he menaced us with his rifle in pantomime and retired, calling his companions to follow.

"Where is Jacqueline?" asked the Countess, looking anxiously at the little blue skirt on Speed's knees. "Have they harmed that child?"

I told her.

A beautiful light grew in her eyes as she listened. "Did I not warn you that we Bretons know how to die?" she said.

I looked dully at Speed, who sat by the window, brooding over the little woollen skirt on his knees, stroking it, touching the torn hem, and at last folding it with unaccustomed and shaky hands.

There were noises outside our door, loud voices, hammering, the sound of furniture being dragged over stone floors, and I scarcely noticed it when our door was opened again.

Then somebody called out our names; a file of half-drunken soldiers grounded arms in the passageway with a bang that brought us to our feet, as Mornac, flushed with wine, entered unsteadily, drawn sword in hand.

"I'm damned if I stay here any longer," he broke out, angrily. "I'll see whether my rascals can't shoot straight by torch-light. Here, you! Scarlett, I mean! And you, Speed; and you, too, madame; patter your prayers, for you'll get no priest. Lieutenant, withdraw the guard at the wall. Here, captain, march the battalion back to Paradise and take the servants!"

A second later the drums began to beat, but Mornac, furious, silenced them.

"They can hear you at sea!" he shouted. "Do you want a boat-load of marines at your heels? Strike out those torches! Four will do for the garden. March!"

The shuffling tread of the insurgent infantry echoed across the gravel court-yard; torches behind the walls were extinguished; blackness enveloped the cliffs.

"Well," broke out Speed, hoarsely, "good-bye, Scarlett."

He held out his hand.

"Good-bye," I said, stunned.

I dropped my hand as two soldiers placed themselves on either side of him.

"Well, good-bye," he repeated, aimlessly; and then, remembering, he went to the Countess and offered his hand.

"I am so sorry for you," she said, with a pallid smile. "You have much to live for. But you must not feel lonely, monsieur; you will be with us--we shall be close to you."

She turned to me, and her hands fell to her side.

"Are you contented?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered.

"I, too," she said, sweetly, and offered her hands.

I held them very tightly. "You say," I whispered, "that it is not--love. But you do not speak for me. I love you."

A bright blush spread over brow and neck.

"So--it was love--after all," she said, under her breath. "God be with us to-day--I love you."

"March!" cried Mornac, as two soldiers took station beside me.

"I beg you will be gentle with this lady," I said, angrily, as two more soldiers pushed up beside the young Countess and laid their hands on her shoulders.

"Who the devil are you giving orders to?" shouted Mornac, savagely. "March!"

Speed passed out first; I followed; the Countess came behind me.

"Courage," I stammered, looking back at her as we stumbled out into the torch-lit garden.

She smiled adorably. Her forefathers had mounted the guillotine smiling.

Mornac pointed to the garden wall near the bench where we had sat together. A soldier dressed like a Turco lifted a torch and set it in the flower-bed under the wall, illuminating the spot where we were to stand. As this soldier turned to come back I saw his face.

"Salah Ben-Ahmed!" I cried, hoarsely. "Do Marabouts do this butcher's work?"

The Turco stared at me as though stunned.

"Salah Ben-Ahmed is a disgraced soldier!" I said, in a ringing voice.

"It's a lie!" he shouted, in Arabic--"it's a lie, O my inspector! Speak! Have these men tricked me? Are you not Prussians?"

"Silence! Silence!" bawled Mornac. "Turco, fall in! Fall in, I say! What! You menace me?" he snarled, cocking his revolver.

Then a man darted out of the red shadows of the torch-light and fell upon Mornac with a knife, and dragged him down and rolled on him, stabbing him through and through, while the mutilated wretch screamed and screamed until his soul struggled out through the flame-shot darkness and fled to its last dreadful abode.

The Lizard rose, shaking his fagot knife; they fell upon him, clubbing and stabbing with stock and bayonet, but he swung his smeared and sticky blade, clearing a circle around him. And I think he could have cut his way free had not Tric-Trac shot him in the back of the head.

Then a frightful tumult broke loose. Three of the torches were knocked to the ground and trampled out as the insurgents, doubly drunken with wine and the taste of blood, seized me and tried to force me against the wall; but the Turco, with his shrill, wolf-like battle yelp, attacked them, sabre-bayonet in hand. Speed, too, had wrested a rifle from a half-stupefied ruffian, and now stood at bay before the Countess; I saw him wielding his heavy weapon like a flail; then in the darkness Tric-Trac shot at me, so close that the powder-flame scorched my leg. He dropped his rifle to spring for my throat, knocking me flat, and, crouching on me, strove to strangle me; and I heard him whining with eagerness while I twisted and writhed to free my windpipe from his thin fingers.

At last I tore him from my body and struggled to my feet. He, too, was on his legs with a bound, running, doubling, dodging; and at his heels I saw a dozen sailors, broadaxes glittering, chasing him from tree to shrub.

"Speed!" I shouted--"the sailors from the _Fer-de-Lance_!"

The curtains of the house were on fire; through the hallway poured the insurgent soldiery, stampeding in frantic flight across the court out into the moors; and the marines, swarming along the cliffs, shot at them as they ran, and laughed savagely when a man fell into the gorse, kicking like a wounded rabbit.

Speed marked their flight, advancing coolly, pistol flashing; the Turco, Ben-Ahmed, dark arms naked to the shoulder, bounded behind the frightened wretches, cornering, hunting them through flower-beds and bushes, stealthily, keenly, now creeping among the shadows, now springing like a panther on his prey, until his blue jacket reeked and his elbows dripped.

I had picked up a rifle with a broken bayonet; the Countess, clasping my left arm, stood swaying in the rifle-smoke, eyes closed; and, when a horrid screeching arose from the depths of the garden where they were destroying Tric-Trac, she fell to shuddering, hiding her face on my shoulder.

Suddenly Speed appeared, carrying a drenched little figure, partly wrapped in a sailor's pea-jacket, slim limbs drooping, blue with cold.

"Put out that fire in there," he said, hoarsely; "we must get her into bed. Hurry, for God's sake, Scarlett! There's nobody in the house!"

"Jacqueline! Jacqueline! brave little Bretonne," murmured the Countess, bending forward and gathering the unconscious child into her strong, young arms.

Through the dim dawn, through smoke and fading torch-light, we carried Jacqueline into the house, now lighted up with an infernal red from the burning dining-room.

"The house is stone; we can keep the flames to one room if we work hard," I said. A sailor stood by the door wiping the stained blade of his broadaxe, and I called on him to aid us.

A fresh company of sailors passed on the double, rifles trailing, their officer shouting encouragement, And as we came in view of the semaphore, I saw the signal tower on fire from base to top.

The gray moorland was all flickering with flashes where the bulk of the insurgent infantry began firing in retreat; the marines' fusillade broke out from Paradise village; rifle after rifle cracked along the river-bank. Suddenly the deep report of a cannon came echoing landward from the sea; a shell, with lighted fuse trailing sparks, flew over us with a rushing whistle and exploded on the moors.

All this I saw from the house where I stood with Speed and a sailor, buried in smoke, chopping out blazing woodwork, tearing the burning curtains from the windows. The marines fired steadily from the windows above us.

"They want the Red Terror!" laughed the sailors. "They shall have it!"

"Hunt them out! Hunt them out!" cried an officer, briskly. "Fire!" rang out a voice, and the volley broke crashing, followed by the clear, penetrating boatswain's whistle sounding the assault.

Blackened, scorched, almost suffocated, I staggered back to the tea-room, where the Countess stood clasping Jacqueline, huddled in a blanket, and smoothing the child's wet curls away from a face as white as death.

Together we carried her back through the smoking hallway, up the stairs to my bedroom, and laid her in the bed.

The child opened her eyes as we drew the blankets.

"Where is Speed?" she asked, dreamily.

A moment later he came in, and she turned her head languidly and smiled.

"Jacqueline! Jacqueline!" he whispered, bending close above her.

"Do you love me, Speed?"

"Ah, Jacqueline," he stammered, "more than you can understand."

Suddenly a step sounded on the stairs, a rifle-stock grounded, clanging, and a sonorous voice rang out:

"Salute, O my brother of the toug! The enemies of France are dead!"

And in the silence around him Salah Ben-Ahmed the Marabout recited the fatha, bearing witness to the eternal unity of God.

* * * * *

Late that night the light cavalry from Lorient rode into Paradise. At dawn the colonel, established in the mayory, from whence its foolish occupant had fled, sent for Speed and me, and when we reported he drew from his heavy dolman our commissions, restoring us to rank and pay in the regiment _de marche which he commanded.

At sunrise I had bade good-bye to the sweetest woman on earth; at noon we were miles to the westward, riding like demons on Buckhurst's heavy trail.

I am not sure that we ever saw him again, though once, weeks later, Speed and I and a dozen hussars gave chase to a mounted man near St. Brieuc, and that man might have been Buckhurst. He led us a magnificent chase straight to the coast, where we rode plump into a covey of Prussian hussars, who were standing on their saddles, hacking away at the telegraph-wires with their heavy, curved sabres.

That was our first and last sight of the enemy in either Prussian or communistic guise, though in the long, terrible days and nights of that winter of '71, when three French armies froze, and the white death, not the Prussians, ended all for France, rumors of insurrection came to us from the starving capital, and we heard of the red flag flying on the Hotel-de-Ville, and the rising of the carbineers under Flourens; and some spoke of the leader of the insurrection and called him John Buckhurst.

That Buckhurst could have penetrated Paris neither Speed nor I believed; but, as all now know, we were wrong, though the testimony concerning his death(A) at the hands of his terrible colleague, Mortier, was not in evidence until a young ruffian, known as "The Mouse," confessed before he expiated his crimes on Sartory Plain in 1872.

Thus, for three blank, bitter months, freezing and starving, the 1st Regiment _de marche of Lorient Hussars stood guard at Brest over the diamonds of the crown of France.

-----

(A) This affair is dealt with in _Ashes of Empire_.

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