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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 6. The Game Begins
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 6. The Game Begins Post by :noidle Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :3511

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 6. The Game Begins

PART I CHAPTER VI. THE GAME BEGINS

The room in the turret was now swimming in smoke and lime dust; I could scarcely see the gray figure of the Countess through the powder-mist which drifted in through shutters and loop-hole, dimming the fading daylight.

In the street a dense pall of pungent vapor hung over roof and pavement, motionless in the calm August air; two houses were burning slowly, smothered in smoke; through a ruddy fog I saw the dead lying in mounds, the wounded moving feebly, the Prussian soldiery tossing straw into the hay-carts that had served their deadly purpose.

But oh, the dreadful murmur that filled the heavy air, the tremulous, ceaseless plaint which comes from strong, muscular creatures, tenacious of life, who are dying and who die hard.

Helmeted figures swarmed through the smoke; wagon after wagon, loaded deep with dead cavalrymen, was drawn away by heavy teams of horses now arriving from the regimental transport train, which had come up and halted just at the entrance to the village.

And now wagon-loads of French wounded began to pass, jolting over crushed helmets, rifles, cuirasses, and the carcasses of dead horses.

A covey of Uhlans entered the shambles, picking their way across the wreckage of the battle, a slim, wiry, fastidious company, dainty as spurred gamecocks, with their helmet-cords swinging like wattles and their schapskas tilted rakishly.

Then the sad cortege of prisoners formed in the smoke, the wounded leaning on their silent comrades, bandaged heads hanging, the others erect, defiant, supporting the crippled or standing with arms folded and helmeted heads held high.

And at last they started, between two files of mounted Uhlans--Turcos, line infantrymen, gendarmes, lancers, and, towering head and shoulders above the others, the superb cuirassiers.

A German general and his smartly uniformed staff came clattering up the slippery street and halted to watch the prisoners defile. And, as the first of the captive cuirassiers came abreast of the staff, the general stiffened in his saddle and raised his hand to his helmet, saying to his officers, loud enough for me to hear:

"Salute the brave, gentlemen!"

And the silent, calm-eyed cuirassiers passed on, heads erect, uniforms in shreds, their battered armor foul with smoke and mud, spurs broken, scabbards empty.

Troops of captured horses, conducted by Uhlans, followed the prisoners, then wagons piled high with rifles, sabres, and saddles, then a company of Uhlans cantering away with the shot-torn guidons of the cuirassiers.

Last of all came the wounded in their straw-wadded wagons, escorted by infantry; I heard them coming before I saw them, and, sickened, I closed my ears with my hands; yet even then the deep, monotonous groaning seemed to fill the room and vibrate through the falling shadows long after the last cart had creaked out of sight and hearing into the gathering haze of evening.

The deadened booming of cannon still came steadily from the west, and it needed no messenger to tell me that the First Corps had been hurled back into Alsace, and that MacMahon's army was in full retreat; that now the Rhine was open and the passage of the Vosges was clear, and Strasbourg must stand siege and Belfort and Toul must man their battlements for a struggle that meant victory, or an Alsace doomed and a Lorraine lost to France forever.

The room had grown very dark, the loop-hole admitting but little of the smoky evening sunset. Some soldiers in the hallway outside finally lighted torches; red reflections danced over the torn ceiling and plaster-covered floor, illuminating a corner where the Countess was sitting by the bedside, her head lying on the covers. How long she had been there I did not know, but when I spoke she raised her head and answered quietly.

In the torch-light her face was ghastly, her eyes red and dim as she came over to me and looked out into the darkness.

The woman was shaken terribly, shaken to the very soul. She had not seen all that I had seen; she had flinched before the spectacle of a butchery too awful to look upon, but she had seen enough, and she had heard enough to support or to confound theories formed through a young girl's brief, passionless, eventless life.

Under the window soldiers began shooting the crippled horses; the heavy flash and bang of rifles set her trembling again.

Until the firing ceased she stood as though stupefied, scarcely breathing, her splendid hair glistening like molten copper in the red torches' glare.

A soldier came into the room and dragged the bedclothes from the bed, trailing them across the floor behind him as he departed. An officer holding a lantern peered through the door, his eye-glasses shining, his boots in his hand.

He evidently had intended to get into the bed, but when his gaze fell upon us he withdrew in his stockinged feet.

On the stairs soldiers were eating hunches of stale bread and knocking the necks from wine bottles with their bayonets. One lumpish fellow came to the door and offered me part of a sausage which he was devouring, a kindly act that touched me, and I wondered whether the other prisoners might find among their Uhlan guards the same humanity that moved this half-famished yokel to offer me the food he was gnawing.

Soldiers began to come and go in the room; some carried off chairs for officers below some took the pillows from the bed, one bore away a desk on his broad shoulders.

The Countess never moved or spoke.

The evening had grown chilly; I was cold to my knees.

A soldier offered to build me a fire in the great stone fireplace behind me, and when I assented he calmly smashed a chair to kindling-wood, wrenched off the heavy posts of the bed, and started a fire which lit up the wrecked room with its crimson glare.

The Countess rose and looked around. The soldier pushed my long chair to the blaze, tore down the canopy over the bed and flung it over me, stolidly ignoring my protests. Then he clumped out with his muddy boots and shut the door behind him.

For a long while I lay there, full in the heat of the fire, half dozing, then sleeping, then suddenly alert, only to look about me to see the Countess with eyes closed, motionless in her arm-chair, only to hear the muffled thunder of the guns in the dark.

Once again, having slept, I roused, listening. The crackle of the flames was all I heard; the cannon were silent. A few moments later a clock in the hallway struck nine times. At the same instant a deadened cannon-shot echoed the clamor of the clock. It was the last shot of the battle. And when the dull reverberations had died away Alsace was a lost province, MacMahon's army was in full retreat, leaving on the three battle-fields of Woerth, Reichshoffen, and Froeschweiler sixteen thousand dead, wounded, and missing soldiers of France.

All night long I heard cavalry traversing Morsbronn in an unbroken column, the steady trample of their horses never ceasing for an instant. At moments, from the outskirts of the village, the sinister sound of cheering came from the vanguard of the German Sixth Corps, just arriving to learn of the awful disaster to France. Too late to take any part in the battle, these tired soldiers stood cheering by regiments as the cavalry rode past in pursuit of the shattered army, and their cheering swelled to a terrific roar toward morning, when the Prince Royal of Prussia appeared with his staff, and the soldiers in Morsbronn rushed out into the street bellowing, "Hoch soll er leben! Er soll leben--Hoch!"

About seven o'clock that morning a gaunt, leather-faced Prussian officer, immaculate in his sombre uniform, entered the room without knocking. The young Countess turned in the depths of her chair; he bowed to her slightly, unfolded a printed sheet of paper which bore the arms of Prussia, hesitated, then said, looking directly at me:

"Morsbronn is now German territory and will continue to be governed by military law, proclaimed under the state of siege, until the country is properly pacified.

"Honest inhabitants will not be disturbed. Citizens are invited to return to their homes and peacefully continue their legitimate avocations, subject to and under the guarantee of the Prussian military government.

"Monsieur, I have the honor to hand you a copy of regulations. I am the provost marshal; all complaints should be brought to me."

I took the printed sheet and looked at the Prussian coat of arms.

"A list of the inhabitants of Morsbronn will be made to-day. You will have the goodness to declare yourself--and you also, madame. There being other buildings better fitted, no soldiers will be quartered in this house."

The officer evidently mistook me for the owner of the house and not a prisoner. A blanket hid my hussar trousers and boots; he could only see my ragged shirt.

"And now, madame," he continued, "as monsieur appears to need the services of a physician, I shall send him a French doctor, brought in this morning from the Chateau de la Trappe. I wish him to get well; I wish the inhabitants of my district to return to their homes and resume the interrupted regimes which have made this province of Alsace so valuable to France. I wish Morsbronn to prosper; I wish it well. This is the German policy.

"But, monsieur, let me speak plainly. I tolerate no treachery. The law is iron and will be applied with rigor. An inhabitant of my district who deceives me, or who commits an offence against the troops under my command, or who in any manner holds, or attempts to hold, communication with the enemy, will be shot without court-martial."

He turned his grim, inflexible face to the Countess and bowed, then he bowed to me, swung squarely on his heel, and walked to the door.

"Admit the French doctor," he said to the soldier on guard, and marched out, his curved sabre banging behind his spurred heels.

"It must be Dr. Delmont!" I said, looking at the Countess as there came a low knock at the door.

"I am very thankful!" she said, her voice almost breaking. She rose unsteadily from her chair; somebody entered the room behind me and I turned, calling out, "Welcome, doctor!"

"Thank you," replied the calm voice of John Buckhurst at my elbow.

The Countess shrank aside as Buckhurst coolly passed before her, turned his slim back to the embers of the fire, and fixed his eyes on me--those pale, slow eyes, passionless as death.

Here was a type of criminal I had never until recently known. Small of hand and foot--too small even for such a slender man--clean shaven, colorless in hair, skin, lips, he challenged instant attention by the very monotony of his bloodless symmetry. There was nothing of positive evil in his face, nothing of impulse, good or bad, nothing even superficially human. His spotless linen, his neat sack-coat and trousers of gray seemed part of him--like a loose outer skin. There was in his ensemble nothing to disturb the negative harmony, save perhaps an abnormal flatness of the instep and hands.

"My friend," he observed, in English, "do you think you will know me again when you have finished your scrutiny?"

The Countess, face averted, passed behind my chair.

"Wait," said Buckhurst; and turning directly to me, he added: "You were mistaken for a hussar at La Trappe; you were mistaken here for a hussar as long as the squad holding this house remained in Morsbronn. A few moments ago the provost mistook you for a civilian." He looked across at the Countess, who already stood with her hand on the door-knob.

"If you disturb me," he said, "I have only to tell the provost the truth. Members of the Imperial Police caught without proper uniform inside German lines are shot, seance tenante."

The Countess stood perfectly still a moment, then came straight to me.

"Is that true?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

She still leaned forward, looking down into my face. Then she turned to Buckhurst.

"Do you want money?" she asked.

"I want a chair--and your attention for the present," he replied, and seated himself.

The printed copy of the rules handed me by the provost marshal lay on the floor. Buckhurst picked up the sheet, glanced at the Prussian eagle, and thoughtfully began rolling the paper into a grotesque shape.

"Sit down, madame," he said, without raising his eyes from the bit of paper which he had now fashioned into a cocked hat.

After a moment's silent hesitation the Countess drew a small gilt chair beside my sofa-chair and sat down, and again that brave, unconscious gesture of protection left her steady hand lying lightly on my arm.

Buckhurst noted the gesture. And all at once I divined that whatever plan he had come to execute had been suddenly changed. He looked down at the paper in his hands, gave it a thoughtful twist, and, drawing the ends out, produced a miniature paper boat.

"We are all in one like that," he observed, holding it up without apparent interest. He glanced at the young Countess; her face was expressionless.

"Madame," said Buckhurst, in his peculiarly soft and persuasive voice, "I am not here to betray this gentleman; I am not here even to justify myself. I came here to make reparation, to ask your forgiveness, madame, for the wrong I have done you, and to deliver myself, if necessary, into the hands of the proper French authorities in expiation of my misguided zeal."

The Countess was looking at him now; he fumbled with the paper boat, gave it an unconscious twist, and produced a tiny paper box.

"The cause," he said, gently, "to which I have devoted my life must not suffer through the mistake of a fanatic; for in the cause of universal brotherhood I am, perhaps, a fanatic, and to aid that cause I have gravely compromised myself. I came here to expiate that folly and to throw myself upon your mercy, madame."

"I do not exactly understand," said I, "how you can expiate a crime here."

"I can at least make restitution," he said, turning the paper box over and over between his flat fingers.

"Have you brought me the diamonds which belong to the state?" I inquired, amused.

"Yes," he said, and to my astonishment he drew a small leather pouch from his pocket and laid it on my blanket-covered knees. "How many diamonds were there?" he asked.

"One hundred and three," I replied, incredulously, and opened the leather pouch. Inside was a bag of chamois-skin. This I stretched wide and emptied.

Scores of little balls of tissue-paper rolled out on the blanket over my knees; I opened one; it contained a diamond; I opened another, another, and another; diamonds lay blazing on my blanket, a whole handful, glittering in undimmed splendor.

"Count them," murmured Buckhurst, fashioning the paper box into a fly-trap with a lid.

With a quick movement I swept them into my hands, then one by one dropped the stones while I counted aloud one hundred and two diamonds. The one hundred and third jewel was, of course, safely in Paris.

When I had a second time finished the enumeration I leaned back in my chair, utterly at a loss to account for this man or for what he had done. As far as I could see there was no logic in it, nothing demonstrated, nothing proven. To me--and I am not either suspicious or obstinate by nature--Buckhurst was still an unrepentant thief and a dangerous one.

I could see in him absolutely nothing of the fanatic, of the generous, feather-headed devotee, nothing of the hasty disciple or the impulsive martyr. In my eyes he continued to be the passionless master-criminal, the cold, slow-eyed source of hidden evil, the designer of an intricate and viewless intrigue against the state.

His head remained bent over the paper toy in his hands. Was his hair gray with age or excesses, or was it only colorless like the rest of his exterior?

"Restitution is not expiation," he said, sadly, without looking up. "I loved the cause; I love it still; I practised deception, and I am here to ask this gentle lady to forgive me for an unworthy yet unselfish use of her money and her hospitality. If she can pardon me I welcome whatever punishment may be meted out."

The Countess dropped her elbow on the arm of my chair and rested her face in her hand.

"Swept away by my passion for the cause of universal brotherhood," said Buckhurst, in his low, caressing voice, "I ventured to spend this generous lady's money to carry the propaganda into the more violent centres of socialism--into the clubs in Montmartre and Belleville. There I urged non-resistance; I pleaded moderation and patience. What I said helped a little, I think--"

He hesitated, twisting his fly-box into a paper creature with four legs.

"I was eager; people listened. I thought that if I had a little more money I might carry on this work.... I could not come to you, madame--"

"Why not?" said the Countess, looking at him quickly. "I have never refused you money!"

"No," he said, "you never refused me. But I knew that La Trappe was mortgaged, that even this house in Morsbronn was loaded with debt. I knew, madame, that in all the world you had left but one small roof to cover you--the house in Morbihan, on Point Paradise. I knew that if I asked for money you would sell Paradise,... and I could not ask so much,... I could not bring myself to ask that sacrifice."

"And so you stole the crucifix of Louis XI.," I suggested, pleasantly.

He did not look at me, but the Countess did.

"Bon," I thought, watching Buckhurst's deft fingers; "he means to be taken back into grace. I wonder exactly why? And ... is it worth this fortune in diamonds to him to be pardoned by a penniless girl whom he and his gang have already stripped?"

"Could you forgive me, madame?" murmured Buckhurst.

"Would you explain that stick of dynamite first?" I interposed.

The Countess turned and looked directly at Buckhurst. He sat with humble head bowed, nimbly constructing a paper bird.

"That was not dynamite; it was concentrated phosphorus," he said, without resentment. "Naturally it burned when you lighted it, but if you had not burned it I could easily have shown Madame la Comtesse what it really was."

"I also," said I, "if I had thrown it at your feet, Mr. Buckhurst."

"Do you not believe me?" he asked, meekly, looking up at the Countess.

"Mr. Buckhurst," said the young Countess, turning to me, "has aided me for a long time in experiments. We hoped to find some cheap method of restoring nitrogen and phosphorus to the worn-out soil which our poor peasants till. Why should you doubt that he speaks the truth? At least he is guiltless of any connection with the party which advocated violence."

I looked at Buckhurst. He was engaged in constructing a multi-pointed paper star. What else was he busy with? Perhaps I might learn if I ceased to manifest distrust.

"Does concentrated phosphorus burn like dynamite?" I asked, as if with newly aroused interest.

"Did you not know it?" he said, warily.

But was he deceived by my manner? Was that the way for me to learn anything?

There was perhaps another way. Clearly this extraordinary man depended upon his persuasive eloquence for his living, for the very shoes on his little, flat feet, as do all such chevaliers of industry. If he would only begin to argue, if I could only induce him to try his eloquence on me, and if I could convince him that I myself was but an ignorant, self-centred, bullet-headed gendarme, doing my duty only because of perspective advancement, ready perhaps to take bribes--perhaps even weakly, covetously, credulous--well, perhaps I might possibly learn why he desired to cling to this poor young lady, whose life had evidently gone dreadfully to smash, to land her among such a coterie of thieves and lunatics.

"Mr. Buckhurst," I said, pompously, "in bringing these diamonds to me you have certainly done all in your power to repair an injury which concerned all France.

"As I am situated, of course I cannot now ask you to accompany me to Paris, where doubtless the proper authorities would gladly admit extenuating circumstances, and credit you with a sincere repentance. But I put you on your honor to surrender at the first opportunity."

It was as stupidly trite a speech as I could think of.

Buckhurst glanced up at me. Was he taking my measure anew, judging me from my bray?

"I could easily aid you to leave Morsbronn," he said, stealthily.

"O-ho," thought I, "so you're a German agent, too, as I suspected." But I said, aloud, simulating astonishment: "Do you mean to say, Mr. Buckhurst, that you would deliberately risk death to aid a police officer to bring you before a military tribunal in Paris?"

"I do not desire to pose as a hero or a martyr," he said, quietly, "but I regret what I have done, and I will do what an honest man can do to make the fullest reparation--even if it means my death."

I gazed at him in admiration--real admiration--because the gross bathos he had just uttered betrayed a weakness--vanity. Now I began to understand him; vanity must also lead him to undervalue men. True, with the faintest approach to eloquence he could no doubt hold the "Clubs" of Belleville spellbound; with self-effacing adroitness to cover stealthy persuasion, he had probably found little difficulty in dominating this inexperienced girl, who, touched to the soul with pity for human woe, had flung herself and her fortune to the howling proletariat.

But that he should so serenely undervalue me at my first bray was more than I hoped for. So I brayed again, the good, old, sentimental bray, for which all Gallic lungs are so marvellously fashioned:

"Monsieur, such sentiments honor you. I am only a rough soldier of the Imperial Police, but I am profoundly moved to find among the leaders of the proletariat such delicate and chivalrous emotions--" I hesitated. Was I buttering the sop too thickly?

Buckhurst, eyes bent on the floor, began picking to pieces his paper toy. Presently he looked up, not at me, but at the Countess, who sat with hands clasped earnestly watching him.

"If--if the state pardons me, can ... you?" he murmured.

She looked at him with intense earnestness. I saw he was sailing on the wrong tack.

"I have nothing to pardon," she said, gravely. "But I must tell you the truth, Mr. Buckhurst, I cannot forget what you have done. It was something--the one thing that I cannot understand--that I can never understand--something so absolutely alien to me that it--somehow--leaves me stunned. Don't ask me to forget it.... I cannot. I do not mean to be harsh and cruel, or to condemn you. Even if you had taken the jewels from me, and had asked my forgiveness, I would have given it freely. But I could not be as I was, a comrade to you."

There was a silence. The Countess, looking perfectly miserable, still gazed at Buckhurst. He dropped his gray, symmetrical head, yet I felt that he was listening to every minute sound in the room.

"You must not care what I say," she said. "I am only an unhappy woman, unused to the liberty I have given myself, not yet habituated to the charity of those blameless hearts which forgive everything! I am a novice, groping my way into a new and vast world, a limitless, generous, forgiving commune, where love alone dominates.... And if I had lived among my brothers long enough to be purged of those traditions which I have drawn from generations, I might now be noble enough and wise enough to say I do forgive and forget that you--"

"That you were once a thief," I ended, with the genial officiousness of the hopelessly fat-minded.

In the stillness I heard Buckhurst draw in his breath--once. Some day he would try to kill me for that; in the mean time my crass stupidity was no longer a question in his mind. I had hurt the Countess, too, with what she must have believed a fool's needless brutality. But it had to be so if I played at Jaques Bonhomme.

So I put the finishing whine to it--"Our Lord died between two thieves"--and relapsed into virtuous contemplation of my finger-tips.

"Madame," said Buckhurst, in a low voice, "your contempt of me is part of my penalty. I must endure it. I shall not complain. But I shall try to live a life that will at least show you my deep sincerity."

"I do not doubt it," said the Countess, earnestly. "Don't think that I mean to turn away from you or to push you away. There is nothing of the Pharisee in me. I would gladly trust you with what I have. I will consult you and advise with you, Mr. Buckhurst--"

"And ... despise me."

The unhappy Countess looked at me. It goes hard with a woman when her guide and mentor falls.

"If you return to Paradise, in Morbihan,... as we had planned, may I go," he asked, humbly, "only as an obscure worker in the cause? I beg, madame, that you will not cast me off."

So he wanted to go to Morbihan--to the village of Paradise? Why?

The Countess said: "I welcome all who care for the cause. You will never hear an unkind word from me if you desire to resume the work in Paradise. Dr. Delmont will be there; Monsieur Tavernier also, I hope; and they are older and wiser than I, and they have reached that lofty serenity which is far above my troubled mind. Ask them what you have asked of me; they are equipped to answer you."

It was time for another discord from me, so I said: "Madame, you have seen a thousand men lay down their lives for France. Has it not shaken your allegiance to that ghost of patriotism which you call the 'Internationale'?"

Here was food for thought, or rather fodder for asses--the Police Oracle turned missionary under the nose of the most cunning criminal in France and the vainest. Of course Buckhurst's contempt for me at once passed all bounds, and, secure in that contempt, he felt it scarcely worth while to use his favorite weapon--persuasion. Still, if the occasion should require it, he was quite ready, I knew, to loose his eloquence on the Countess, and on me too.

The Countess turned her troubled eyes to me.

"What I have seen, what I have thought since yesterday has distressed me dreadfully," she said. "I have tried to include all the world in a broader pity, a broader, higher, and less selfish love than the jealous, single-minded love for one country--"

"The mother-land," I said, and Buckhurst looked up, adding, "The world is the true mother-land."

Whereupon I appeared profoundly impressed at such a novel and epigrammatic view.

"There is much to be argued on both sides," said the young Countess, "but I am utterly unfitted to struggle with this new code of ethics. If it had been different--if I had been born among the poor, in misery!--But you see I come a pilgrim among the proletariat, clothed in conservatism, cloaked with tradition, and if at heart I burn with sorrow for the miserable, and if I gladly give what I have to help, I cannot with a single gesture throw off those inherited garments, though they tortured my body like the garment of Nessus."

I did not smile or respect her less for the stilted phrases, the pathetic poverty of metaphor. Profoundly troubled, struggling with a reserve the borders of which she strove so bravely to cross, her distress touched me the more because I knew it aroused the uneasy contempt of Buckhurst. Yet I could not spare her.

"You saw the cuirassiers die in the street below," I repeated, with the obstinacy of a limited intellect.

"Yes--and my heart went out to them," she replied, with an emphasis that pleased me and startled Buckhurst.

Buckhurst began to speak, but I cut him short.

"Then, madame, if your heart went out to the soldiers of France, it went out to France, too!"

"Yes--to France," she repeated, and I saw her lip begin to quiver.

"Wherein does love for France conflict with our creed, madame?" asked Buckhurst, gently. "It is only hate that we abjure."

She turned her gray eyes on him. "I will tell you: in that dreadful moment when the cavalry of France cheered Death in his own awful presence, I loved them and their country--_my country!--as I had never loved in all my life.... And I hated, too! I hated the men who butchered them--more!--I hated the country where the men came from; I hated race and country and the blows they dealt, and the evil they wrought on France--_my France_! That is the truth; and I realize it!"

There was a silence; Buckhurst slowly unrolled the wrinkled paper he had been fingering.

"And now?" he asked, simply.

"Now?" she repeated. "I don't know--truly, I do not know." She turned to me sorrowfully. "I had long since thought that my heart was clean of hate, and now I don't know." And, to Buckhurst, again: "Our creed teaches us that war is vile--a savage betrayal of humanity by a few dominant minds; a dishonorable ingratitude to God and country. But from that window I saw men die for honor of France with God's name on their lips. I saw one superb cuirassier, trapped down there in the street, sit still on his horse, while they shot at him from every window, and I heard him call up to a Prussian officer who had just fired at him: 'My friend, you waste powder; the heart of France is cuirassed by a million more like me!'" A rich flush touched her face; her gray eyes grew brighter.

"Is there a Frenchwoman alive whose blood would not stir at such a scene?" she said. "They shot him through his armor, his breastplate was riddled, he clung to his horse, always looking up at the riflemen, and I heard the bullets drumming on his helmet and his cuirass like hailstones on a tin roof, and I could not look away. And all the while he was saying, quietly: 'It is quite useless, friends; France lives! You waste your powder!' and I could not look away or close my eyes--"

She bent her head, shivering, and her interlocked fingers whitened.

"I only know this," she said: "I will give all I have--I will give my poor self to help the advent of that world-wide brotherhood which must efface national frontiers and end all war in this sad world. But if you ask me, in the presence of war, to look on with impartiality, to watch my own country battling for breath, to stop my ears when a wounded mother-land is calling, to answer the supreme cry of France with a passionless cry, 'Repent!' I cannot do it--I will not! I was not born to!"

Deeply moved, she had risen, confronting Buckhurst, whose stone-cold eyes were fixed on her.

"You say I hold you unworthy," she said. "Others may hold me, too, unworthy because I have not reached that impartial equipoise whence, impassive, I can balance my native land against its sins and watch blind justice deal with it all unconcerned.

"In theory I have done it--oh, it is simple to teach one's soul in theory! But when my eyes saw my own land blacken and shrivel like a green leaf in the fire, and when with my own eyes I saw the best, the noblest, the crown of my country's chivalry fall rolling in the mud of Morsbronn under the feet of Prussia, every drop of blood in my body was French--hot and red and French! And it is now; and it will always be--as it has always been, though I did not understand."

After a silence Buckhurst said: "All that may be, madame, yet not impair your creed."

"What!" she said, "does not hatred of the stranger impair my creed?"

"It will die out and give place to reason."

"When? When I attain the lofty, dispassionate level I have never attained? That will not be while this war endures."

"Who knows?" said Buckhurst, gently.

"I know!" replied the Countess, the pale flames in her cheeks deepening again.

"And yet," observed Buckhurst, patiently, "you are going to Paradise to work for the Internationale."

"I shall try to do my work and love France," she said, steadily. "I cannot believe that one renders the other impossible."

"Yet," said I, "if you teach the nation non-resistance, what would become of the armies of France?"

"I shall not teach non-resistance until we are at peace," she said--"until there is not a German soldier left in France. After that I shall teach acquiescence and personal liberty."

I looked at her very seriously; logic had no dwelling-place within her tender and unhappy heart.

And what a hunting-ground was that heart for men like Buckhurst! I could begin to read that mouse-colored gentleman now, to follow, after a fashion, the intricate policy which his insolent mind was shaping--shaping in stealthy contempt for me and for this young girl. Thus far I could divine the thoughts of Mr. Buckhurst, but there were other matters to account for. Why did he choose to spare my life when a word would have sent me before the peloton of execution? Why had he brought to me the fortune in diamonds which he had stolen? Why did he eat humble-pie before a young girl from whom he and his companions had wrung the last penny? Why did he desire to go to Morbihan and be received among the elect in the Breton village of Paradise?

I said, abruptly: "So you are not going to denounce me to the Prussian provost?"

He lifted his well-shaped head and gazed at the Countess with an admirable pathos which seemed a mute appeal for protection from brutality.

"That question is a needless one," said the Countess, quietly. "It was a cruel one, also, Monsieur Scarlett."

"I did not mean it as an offensive question," said I. "I was merely reciting a fact, most creditable to Mr. Buckhurst. Mon Dieu, madame, I am an officer of Imperial Police, and I have lived to hear blunt questions and blunter answers. And if it be true that Monsieur Buckhurst desires to atone for--for what has happened, then it is perfectly proper for me, even as a prisoner myself, to speak plainly."

I meant this time to thoroughly convince Buckhurst of my ability to gabble platitude. My desire that he should view me as a typical gendarme was intense.

So I coughed solemnly behind my hand, knit my eyebrows, and laid one finger alongside of my nose.

"Is it not my duty, as a guardian of national interests, to point out to Mr. Buckhurst his honest errors? Certainly it is, madame, and this is the proper time."

Turning pompously to Buckhurst, I fancied I could almost detect a sneer on that inexpressive mask he wore--at least I hoped I could, and I said, heavily:

"Monsieur, for a number of years there has passed under our eyes here in France certain strange phenomena. Thousands of Frenchmen have, so to speak, separated themselves from the rest of the nation.

"All the sentiments that the nation honors itself by professing these other Frenchmen rebuke--the love of country, public spirit, accord between citizens, social repose, and respect for communal law and order--these other Frenchmen regard as the hallucinations of a nation of dupes.

"Separated by such unfortunate ideas from the nation within whose boundaries they live, they continue to abuse, even to threaten, the society and the country which gives them shelter.

"France is only a name to them; they were born there, they live there, they derive their nourishment from her without gratitude. But France is nothing to them; _their mother-land is the Internationale_!"

I was certain now that the shadow of a sneer had settled in the corners of Buckhurst's thin lips.

"I do not speak of anarchists or of terrorists," I continued, nodding as though profoundly impressed by my own sagacity. "I speak of socialists--that dangerous society to which the cry of Karl Marx was addressed with the warning, 'Socialists! Unite!'

"The government has reason to fear socialism, not anarchy, for it will never happen in France, where the passion for individual property is so general, that a doctrine of brutal destruction could have the slightest chance of success.

"But wait, here is the point, Monsieur Buckhurst. Formerly the name of 'terrorist' was a shock to the entire civilized world; it evoked the spectres of a year that the world can never forget. And so our modern reformers, modestly desiring to evade the inconveniences of such memories among the people, call themselves the 'Internationale.' Listen to them; they are adroit, they blame and rebuke violence, they condemn anarchy, they would not lay their hands on public or individual property--no, indeed!

"Ah, madame, but you should hear them in their own clubs, where the ladies and gentlemen of the gutters, the barriers, and the abattoirs discuss 'individual property,' 'the tyranny of capital,' and similar subjects which no doubt they are peculiarly fitted to discuss.

"Believe me, madame, the little coterie which you represent is already the dupe and victim of this terrible Internationale. Their leaders work their will through you; a vast conspiracy against all social peace is spread through your honest works of mercy. The time is coming when the whole world will rise to combat this Internationale; and when the mask is dragged from its benignant visage, there, grinning behind, will appear the same old 'Spectre Rouge,' torch in one hand, gun in the other, squatting behind a barricade of paving-blocks."

I wagged my head dolefully.

"I could not have rested had I not warned Mr. Buckhurst of this," I said, sentimentally.

Which was fairly well done, considering that I was figuratively lamenting over the innocence of the most accomplished scoundrel that ever sat in the supreme council of the Internationale.

Buckhurst looked thoughtfully at the floor.

"If I thought," he murmured--"if I believed for one instant--"

"Believe me, my dear sir," I said, "that you are playing into the hands of the wickedest villains on earth!"

"Your earnestness almost converts me," he said, lifting his stealthy eyes.

The Countess appeared weary and perplexed.

"At all events," she said, "we must do nothing to embarrass France now; we must do nothing until this frightful war is ended."

After a silence Buckhurst said, "But you will go to Paradise, madame?"

"Yes," replied the Countess, listlessly.

Now, what in Heaven's name attracted that rogue to Paradise?

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