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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 7. A Struggle Foreshadowed
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 7. A Struggle Foreshadowed Post by :noidle Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2536

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 1 - Chapter 7. A Struggle Foreshadowed

PART I CHAPTER VII. A STRUGGLE FORESHADOWED

I 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 litter; soldiers with trowel and mortar were perched on shot-torn houses, mending chimneys and slated roofs so that their officers might enjoy immunity from rain and wind and defective flues.

In the court-yards and stables I could see cavalrymen in stable-jackets, whitewashing walls and out-buildings and ill-smelling stalls, while others dug shovelfuls of slaked lime from wheelbarrows and spread it through stable-yards and dirty alleys. Everywhere quiet, method, order, prompt precision reigned; I even noticed a big, red-fisted artilleryman tying up tall, blue larkspurs, dahlias, and phlox in a trampled garden, and he touched the ragged masses of bloom with a tenderness peculiar to a flower-loving and sentimental people, whose ultimate ambition is a quart of beer, a radish, and a green leaf overhead.

At the corners of the walls and blind alleys, placards in French and German were posted, embodying regulations governing the village under Prussian military rule. The few inhabitants of Morsbronn who had remained in cellars during the bombardment shuffled up to read these notices, or to loiter stupidly, gaping at the Prussian eagles surmounting the posters.

A soldier came in and started the fire in my fireplace. When he went out I drew my code-book from my breeches-pocket and tossed it into the fire. After it followed my commission, my memoranda, and every scrap of writing. The diamonds I placed in the bosom of my flannel shirt.

Toward one o'clock I heard the shrill piping of a goat-herd, and I saw him, a pallid boy, clumping along in his wooden shoes behind his two nanny-goats, while the German soldiers, peasants themselves, looked after him with curious sympathy.

A little later a small herd of cattle passed, driven to pasture by a stolid Alsatian, who replied to the soldiers' questions in German patois and shrugged his heavy shoulders like a Frenchman.

A cock crowed occasionally from some near dunghill; once I saw a cat serenely following the course of a stucco wall, calm, perfectly self-composed, ignoring the blandishments of the German soldiers, who called, "Komm mitz! mitz!" and held out bits of sausage and black bread.

A German ambulance surgeon arrived to see me in the afternoon. The Countess was busy somewhere with Buckhurst, who had come with news for her, and the German surgeon's sharp double rap at the door did not bring her, so I called out, "Entrez donc!" and he stalked in, removing his fatigue-cap, which action distinguished him from his brother officers.

He was a tall, well-built man, perfectly uniformed in his double-breasted frocked tunic, blue-eyed, blond-bearded, and immaculate of hand and face, a fine type of man and a credit to any army.

After a brief examination he sat down and resumed a very bad cigar, which had been smouldering between his carefully kept fingers.

"Do you know," he said, admiringly, "that I have never before seen just such a wound. The spinal column is not even grazed, and if, as I understand from you, you suffered temporarily from complete paralysis of the body below your waist, the case is not only interesting but even remarkable."

"Is the superficial lesion at all serious?" I asked.

"Not at all. As far as I can see the blow from the bullet temporarily paralyzed the spinal cord. There is no fracture, no depression. I do not see why you should not walk if you desire to."

"When? Now?"

"Try it," he said, briefly.

I tried. Apart from a certain muscular weakness and a great fatigue, I found it quite possible to stand, even to move a few steps. Then I sat down again, and was glad to do so.

The doctor was looking at my legs rather grimly, and it suddenly flashed on me that I had dropped my blanket and he had noticed my hussar's trousers.

"So," he said, "you are a military prisoner? I understood from the provost marshal that you were a civilian."

As he spoke Buckhurst appeared at the door, and then sauntered in, quietly greeting the surgeon, who looked around at the sound of his footsteps on the stone floor. There was no longer a vestige of doubt in my mind that Buckhurst was a German agent, or at least that the Germans _believed him to be in their pay. And doubtless he was in their pay, but to whom he was faithful nobody could know with any certainty.

"How is our patient, doctor?" he asked.

"Convalescent," replied the doctor, shortly, as though not exactly relishing the easy familiarity of this pale-eyed gentleman in gray.

"Can he travel to-day?" inquired Buckhurst, without apparent interest.

"Before he travels," said the officer, "it might be well to find out why he wears part of a hussar uniform."

"I've explained that to the provost," observed Buckhurst, examining his well-kept finger-nails. "And I have a pass for him also--if he is in a fit condition to travel."

The officer gave him a glance full of frank dislike, adjusted his sabre, pulled on his white gloves, and, bowing very slightly to me, marched straight out of the room and down the stairs without taking any notice of Buckhurst. The latter looked after the officer, then his indifferent eyes returned to me. Presently he sat down and produced a small slip of paper, which he very carefully twisted into a cocked hat.

"I suppose you doubt my loyalty to France," he said, intent on his bit of paper.

Then, logically continuing my role of the morning, I began to upbraid him for a traitor and swear that I would not owe my salvation to him, and all the while he was calmly transforming his paper from one toy into another between deft, flat fingers.

"You are unjust and a trifle stupid," he said. "I am paid by Prussia for information which I never give. But I have the entre of their lines. I do it for the sake of the Internationale. The Internationale has a few people in its service ... _And it pays them well_."

He looked squarely at me as he said this. I almost trembled with delight: the man undervalued me, he had taken me at my own figure, and now, holding me in absolute contempt, he was going to begin on me.

"Scarlett," he said, "what does the government pay you?"

I began to protest in a torrent of patriotism and sentimentality. He watched me impassively while I called Heaven to witness and proclaimed my loyalty to France, ending through sheer breathlessness in a maundering, tearful apotheosis where mixed metaphors jostled each other--the government, the Emperor, and the French flag, consecrated in blood--and finally, calling his attention to the fact that twenty centuries had once looked down on this same banner, I collapsed in my chair and gave him his chance.

He took it. With subtle flattery he recognized in me a powerful arm of a corrupt Empire, which Empire he likened to the old man who rode Sindbad the Sailor. He admitted my noble loyalty to France, pointing out, however, that devotion to the Empire was not devotion to France, but the contrary. Skilfully he pictured the unprepared armies of the Empire, huddled along the frontier, seized and rent to fragments, one by one; adroitly he painted the inevitable ending, the armies that remained cut off and beaten in detail.

And as I listened I freely admitted to myself that I had undervalued him; that he was no crude Belleville orator, no sentimental bathos-peddling reformer, no sansculotte with brains ablaze, squalling for indiscriminate slaughter and pillage; he was a cool student in crime, taking no chances that he was not forced to take, a calm, adroit, methodical observer, who had established a theory and was carefully engaged in proving it.

"Scarlett," he said, in English, "let us come to the point. I am a mercenary American; you are an American mercenary, paid by the French government. You care nothing for that government or for the country; you would drop both to-day if your pay ceased. You and I are outsiders; we are in the world to watch our chances. And our chance is here."

He unfolded the creased bit of paper and spread it out on his knees, smoothing it thoughtfully.

"What do I care for the Internationale?" he asked, blandly. "I am high in its councils; Karl Marx knows less about the Internationale than do I. As for Prussia and France--bah!--it's a dog-fight to me, and I lack even the interest to bet on the German bull-dog.

"You will know me better some day, and when you do you will know that I am a man who has determined to get rich if I have to set half of France against the other half and sack every bank in the Empire.

"And now the time is coming when the richest city in Europe will be put to the sack. You don't believe it? Yet you shall live to see Paris besieged, and you shall live to see Paris surrender, and you shall live to see the Internationale rise up from nowhere, seize the government by the throat, and choke it to death under the red flag of universal--ahem!... license"--the faintest sneer came into his pallid face--"and every city of France shall be a commune, and we shall pass from city to city, leisurely, under the law--_our laws, which we will make--and I pity the man among us who cannot place his millions in the banks of England and America!"

He began to worry the creased bit of paper again, stealthy eyes on the floor.

"The revolt is as certain as death itself," he said. "The Society of the Internationale honeycombs Europe--your police archives show you that--and I tell you that, of the two hundred thousand soldiers of the national guard in Paris to-day, ninety per cent. are ours--_ours_, soul and body. You don't believe it? Wait!

"Yet, for a moment, suppose I am right? Where are the government forces? Who can stop us from working our will? Not the fragments of beaten and exhausted armies! Not the thousands of prisoners which you will see sent into captivity across the Rhine! What has the government to lean on--a government discredited, impotent, beaten! What in the world can prevent a change, an uprising, a revolution? Why, even if there were no such thing as the Internationale and its secret Central Committee--to which I have the honor to belong"--and here his sneer was frightful--"I tell you that before a conquering German army had recrossed the Rhine this land of chattering apes would be tearing one another for very want of a universal scape-goat.

"But that is exactly where we come into the affair. We find the popular scape-goat and point him out--the government, my friend. And all we have to do is to let the mob loose, stand back, and count profits."

He leaned forward in his chair, idly twisting his crumpled bit of paper in one hand.

"I am not fool enough to believe that our reign will last," he said. "It may last a month, two months, perhaps three. Then we leaders will be at one another's throats--and the game is up! It's always so--mob rule can't last--it never has lasted and never will. But the prudent man will make hay before the brief sunshine is ended; I expect to economize a little, and set aside enough--well, enough to make it pay, you see."

He looked up at me quietly.

"I am perfectly willing to tell you this, even if you used your approaching liberty to alarm the entire country, from the Emperor to the most obscure scullion in the Tuileries. Nothing can stop us now, nothing in the world can prevent our brief reign. Because these things are certain, the armies of France will be beaten--they are already beaten. Paris will hold out; Paris will fall; and with Paris down goes France! And as sure as the sun shall rise on a conquered people, so sure shall rise that red spectre we call the Internationale."

The man astonished me. He put into words a prophecy which had haunted me from the day that war was declared--a prophetic fear which had haunted men higher up in the service of the Empire--thinking men who knew what war meant to a country whose government was as rotten as its army was unprepared, whose political chiefs were as vain, incompetent, ignorant, and weak as were the chiefs of its brave army--an army riddled with politics, weakened by intrigue and neglect--an army used ignobly, perverted, cheated, lied to, betrayed, abandoned.

That, for once, Buckhurst spoke the truth as he foresaw it, I did not question. That he was right in his infernal calculations, I was fearsomely persuaded. And now the game had advanced, and I must display what cards I had, or pretended to have.

"Are you trying to bribe me?" I blurted out, weakly.

"Bribe you," he repeated, in contempt. "No. If the prospect does not please you, I have only to say a word to the provost marshal."

"Wouldn't that injure your prospects with the Countess?" I said, with fat-brained cunning. "You cannot betray me and hope for her friendship."

He glanced up at me, measured my mental capacity, then nodded.

"I can't force you that way," he admitted.

"He's bound to get to Paradise. Why?" I wondered, and said, aloud:

"What do you want of me?"

"I want immunity from the secret police, Mr. Scarlett."

"Where?"

"Wherever I may be."

"In Morbihan?"

"Yes."

"In Paradise?"

"Yes."

I was silent for a moment, then, looking him in the eye, "What do I gain?"

Ah, the cat was out now. Buckhurst did not move, but I saw the muscles of his face relax, and he drew a deep, noiseless breath.

"Well," he said, coolly, "you may keep those diamonds, for one thing."

Presently I said, "And for the next thing?"

"You are high-priced, Mr. Scarlett," he observed.

"Oh, very," I said, with that offensive, swaggering menace in my voice which is peculiar to the weak criminal the world over.

So I asserted myself and scowled at him and told him I was no fool and taunted him with my importance to his schemes and said I was not born yesterday, and that if Paris was to be divided I knew what part I wanted and meant to stand no nonsense from him or anybody.

All of which justified the opinion he had already formed of me, and justified something else, too--his faith in his own eloquence, logic, and powers of persuasion. Not that I meant to make his mistake and undervalue him; he was an intelligent, capable, remarkable criminal--with the one failing--an overconfident contempt of _all men.

"There is one thing I want to ask you," said I. "Why do you desire to go to Paradise?"

He did not answer me at once, and I studied his passionless profile as he gazed out of the window.

"Well," he said, slowly, "I shall not tell you."

"Why not?" I demanded.

"--But I'll say this," he continued. "I want you to come to Paradise with me and that fool of a woman. I want you to report to your government that you are watching the house in Paradise, and that you are hoping to catch me there."

"How can I do that?" I asked. "As soon as the government catches the Countess de Vassart she will be sent across the frontier."

"Not if you inform your government that you desire to use her and the others as a bait to draw me to Paradise."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" I asked, thoughtfully.

"Yes," said Buckhurst, "that's it."

"And you do not desire to inform me why you are going to stay in Paradise?"

"Don't you think you'll be clever enough to find out?" he asked, with a sneer.

I did think so; more than that, I let him see that I thought so, and he was contented with my conceit.

"One thing more," I said, blustering a little, "I want to know whether you mean any harm to that innocent girl?"

"Who? The Countess? What do you mean? Harm her? Do you think I waste my thoughts on that little fool? She is not a factor in anything--except that just now I'm using her and mean to use her house in Paradise."

"Haven't you stripped her of every cent she has?" I asked. "What do you want of her now?" And I added something about respect due to women.

"Oh yes, of course," he said, with a vague glance at the street below. "You need not worry; nobody's going to hurt her--" He suddenly shifted his eyes to me. "You haven't taken a fancy to her, have you?" he asked, in faint disgust.

I saw that he thought me weak enough for any sentiment, even a noble one.

"If you think it pays," he muttered, "marry her and beat her, for all I care; but don't play loose with me, my friend; as a plain matter of business it won't pay you."

"Is that a threat?" I asked, in the bullying tone of a born coward.

"No, not a threat, a plain matter of profit and loss, a simple business proposition. For, suppose you betray me--and, by a miracle, live to boast of it? What is your reward? A colonelcy in the Military Police with a few thousand francs salary, and, in your old age, a pension which might permit you to eat meat twice a week. Against that, balance what I offer--free play in a helpless city, and no one to hinder you from salting away as many millions as you can carry off!"

Presently I said, weakly, "And what, once more, is the service you ask of me?"

"I ask you to notify the government that you are watching Paradise, that you do not arrest the Countess and Dr. Delmont because you desire to use them as a bait to catch me."

"Is that all?"

"That is all. We will start for Paris together; I shall leave you before we get there. But I'll see you later in Paradise."

"You refuse to tell me why you wish to stay at the house in Paradise?"

"Yes,... I refuse. And, by-the-way, the Countess is to think that I have presented myself in Paris and that the government has pardoned me."

"You are willing to believe that I will not have you arrested?"

"I don't ask you to promise. If you are fool enough to try it--try it! But I'm not going to give you the chance in Paris--only in Paradise."

"You don't require my word of honor?"

"Word of--what? Well--no;... it's a form I can dispense with."

"But how can you protect yourself?"

"If all the protection I had was a 'word of honor,' I'd be in a different business, my friend."

"And you are willing to risk me, and you are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself?"

"I think so," he said, quietly.

"Trusting to my common-sense as a business man not to be fool enough to cut my own throat by cutting yours?" I persisted.

"Exactly, and trusting to a few other circumstances, the details of which I beg permission to keep to myself," he said, with a faint sneer.

He rose and walked to the window; at the same moment I heard the sound of wheels below.

"I believe that is our carriage," he said. "Are you ready to start, Mr. Scarlett?"

"Now?" I exclaimed.

"Why not? I'm not in the habit of dawdling over anything. Come, sir, there is nothing very serious the matter with you, is there?"

I said nothing; he knew, of course, the exact state of the wound I had received, that the superficial injury was of no account, that the shock had left me sound as a silver franc though a trifle weak in the hips and knees.

"Is the Countess de Vassart to go with us?" I asked, trying to find a reason for these events which were succeeding one another too quickly to suit me.

He gave me an absent-minded nod; a moment later the Countess entered. She had mended her black crepe gown where I tore it when I hung in the shadow of death under the battlements of La Trappe. She wore black gloves, a trifle shabby, and carried a worn satchel in her hands.

Buckhurst aided me to rise, the Countess threw my hussar jacket over my shoulders and buttoned it; I felt the touch of her cool, little fingers on my hot, unshaved throat.

"I congratulate you on your convalescence," she said, in a low voice. "Lean on me, monsieur."

My head swam; hips and knees were without strength; she aided me down the stairway and out into the pale sunshine, where stood the same mud-splashed, rusty vehicle which had brought us hither from La Trappe.

The Countess had only a satchel and a valise; Buckhurst's luggage comprised a long, flat, steel-bound box, a satchel, and a parcel. I had nothing. My baggage, which I had left in Morsbronn, had without doubt been confiscated long since; my field-glasses, sabre, and revolver were gone; I had only what clothes I was wearing--a dirty, ragged, gray-blue flannel shirt, my muddy jacket, scarlet riding-breeches, and officer's boots. But in one of the hip-pockets of my breeches I carried a fortune in diamonds.

As I stood beside the carriage, wondering how I was going to get in, I felt an arm slip under my neck and another slide gently under my knees, and Buckhurst lifted me. Beneath the loose, gray coat-sleeves his bent arms were rigid as steel; his supple frame straightened; he moved a step forward and laid me on the shabby cushions.

The Countess looked at me, turned and glanced up at her smoke-blackened house, where a dozen Prussian soldiers leaned from the lower windows smoking their long porcelain pipes and the provost marshal stood in the doorway, helmeted, spurred, immaculate from golden cheek-guard to the glittering tip of his silver scabbard. An Uhlan, dismounted, stood on guard below the steps, his lance at a "present," the black-and-white swallow-tailed pennon drooping from the steel point.

The Countess bent her pretty head under its small black hat; the provost's white-gloved hand flew to his helmet peak.

"Fear nothing, madame," he said, pompously. "Your house and its contents are safe until you return. This village is now German soil."

The Countess looked at him steadily, gravely.

"I thank you, monsieur, but frontiers are not changed in a day."

But she was mistaken. Alsace henceforth must be written Elsass, and the devastated province called Lothringen was never again to be written Lorraine.

The Countess stepped into the carriage and took her place beside me; Buckhurst followed, seating himself opposite us, and the Alsatian driver mounted to the box.

"Your safe-conduct carries you to the French outposts at Saverne," said the provost, dryly. "If there are no longer French outposts at Saverne, you may demand a vise for your pass and continue south to Strasbourg."

Buckhurst half turned towards the driver. "Allez," he said, quietly, and the two gaunt horses moved on.

There was a chill in the white sunshine--the first touch of autumn. Not a trace of the summer's balm remained in the air; every tree on the mountain outlines stood out sharp-cut in the crystalline light; the swift little streams that followed the road ran clear above autumn-brown pebbles and golden sands.

Distant beachwoods were turning yellow; yellow gorse lay like patches of sunshine on the foot-hills; oceans of yellow grain belted the terraced vineyards. Here and there long, velvety, black strips cut the green and gold, the trail of fire which had scarred the grain belts; here and there pillars of smoke floated, dominating blue woodlands, where the flames of exploding shells had set the forest afire.

Already from the plateau I could see a streak of silver reflecting the intense blue sky--the Rhine, upon whose westward cliffs France had mounted guard but yesterday.

And now the Rhine was lost, and the vast granite bastions of the Vosges looked out upon a sea of German forests. Above the Col du Pigeonnier the semaphore still glistened, but its signals now travelled eastward, and strange flags fluttered on its invisible halliards. And every bridge was guarded by helmeted men who halted us, and every tunnel was barred by mounted Uhlans who crossed their lances to the ominous shout: "Wer da? On ne basse bas!" The Vosges were literally crawling with armed men!

Driving slowly along the base of the hills, I had glimpses of rocky defiles which pierced the mountain wall; and through every defile poured infantry and artillery in unbroken columns, and over every mountain pass streamed endless files of horsemen. Railroad tunnels were choked with slowly moving trains piled high with artillery; viaducts glistened with helmets all moving westward; every hillock, every crag, every height had its group of tiny dark dots or its solitary Uhlan.

Very far away I heard cannon--so far away that the hum of the cannonade was no louder than the panting of our horses on the white hill-road, and I could hear it only when the carriage stopped at intervals.

"Do we take the railroad at Saverne?" I asked at last. "Is there a railroad there?"

Buckhurst looked up at me. "It is rather strange that a French officer should not know the railroads in his own country," he said.

I was silent. I was not the only officer whose shame was his ignorance of the country he had sworn to defend. Long before the war broke out, every German regimental officer, commissioned and non-commissioned, carried a better map of France than could be found in France itself. And the French government had issued to us a few wretched charts of Germany, badly printed, full of gross errors, one or two maps to a regiment, and a few scattered about among the corps headquarters--among officers who did not even know the general topography of their own side of the Rhine.

"Is there a railroad at Saverne?" I repeated, sullenly.

"You will take a train at Strasbourg," replied Buckhurst.

"And then?"

"And then you go to Avricourt," he said. "I suppose at least you know where that is?"

"It is on the route to Paris," said I, keeping my temper. "Are we going direct to Paris?"

"Madame de Vassart desires to go there," he said, glancing at her with a sort of sneaking deference which he now assumed in her presence.

"It is true," said the Countess, turning to me. "I wish to rest for a little while before I go to Point Paradise. I am curiously tired of poverty, Monsieur Scarlett," she added, and held out her shabby gloves with a gesture of despair; "I am reduced to very little--I have scarcely anything left,... and I am weak enough to long for the scent of the winter violets on the boulevards."

With a faint smile she touched the bright hair above her brow, where the wind had flung a gleaming tendril over her black veil.

As I looked at her, I marvelled that she had found it possible to forsake all that was fair and lovely in life, to dare ignore caste, to deliberately face ridicule and insult and the scornful anger of her own kind, for the sake of the filthy scum festering in the sinkholes of the world.

There are brave priests who go among lepers, there are brave missionaries who dispute with the devil over the souls of half-apes in the Dark Continent. Under the Cross they do the duty they were bred to.

But she was bred to other things. Her lungs were never made to breathe the polluted atmosphere of the proletariat, yelping and slavering in their kennels; her strait young soul was never born for communion with the crooked souls of social pariahs, with the stunted and warped intelligence of fanatics, with the crippled but fierce minds which dominated the Internationale.

Not that such contact could ever taint her; but it might break her heart one day.

"You will think me very weak and cowardly to seek shelter and comfort at such a time," she said, raising her gray eyes to me. "But I feel as though all my strength had slipped away from me. I mean to go back to my work; I only need a few days of quiet among familiar scenes--pleasant scenes that I knew when I was young. I think that if I could only see a single care-free face--only one among all those who--who once seemed to love me--"

She turned her head quickly and stared out at the tall pines which fringed the dusty road.

Buckhurst blinked at her.

* * * * *

It was late in the afternoon when the last Prussian outpost hailed us. I had been asleep for hours, but was awakened by the clatter of horses, and I opened my eyes to see a dozen Uhlans come cantering up and surround our carriage.

After a long discussion with Buckhurst and a rigid scrutiny of our permit to pass the lines, the slim officer in command vised the order. One of the troopers tied a white handkerchief to his lance-tip, wheeled his wiry horse, and, followed by a trumpeter, trotted off ahead of us. Our carriage creaked after them, slowly moving to the summit of a hill over which the road rose.

Presently, very far away on the gray-green hill-side, I saw a bit of white move. The Uhlan flourished his lance from which the handkerchief fluttered; the trumpeter set his trumpet to his lips and blew the parley.

One minute, two, three, ten passed. Then, distant galloping sounded along the road, nearer, nearer; three horsemen suddenly wheeled into view ahead--French dragoons, advancing at a solid gallop. The Uhlan with the flag spurred forward to meet them, saluted, wheeled his horse, and came back.

Paid mercenary that I was, my heart began to beat very fast at sight of those French troopers with their steel helmets bound with leopard-hide and their horsehair plumes whipping the breeze, and their sun-bronzed, alert faces and pleasant eyes. I had had enough of the supercilious, near-sighted eyes of the Teuton.

As for the young Countess, she sat there smiling, while the clumsy dragoons came rattling up, beaming at my red riding-breeches, and all saluting the Countess with a cheerful yet respectful swagger that touched me deeply as I noted the lines of hunger in their lean jaws.

And now the brief ceremony was over and our rusty vehicle moved off down the hill, while the Uhlans turned bridle and clattered off, scattering showers of muddy gravel in the rising wind.

The remains of our luncheon lay in a basket under our seat--plenty of bread and beef, and nearly a quart of red wine.

"Call the escort--they are starving," I said to Buckhurst.

"I think not," he said, coolly. "I may eat again."

"Call the escort!" I repeated, sharply.

Buckhurst looked up at me in silence, then glanced warily at the Countess.

A few moments later the gaunt dragoons were munching dry bread as they rode, passing the bottle from saddle to saddle.

We were ascending another hill; the Countess, anxious to stretch her limbs, had descended to the road, and now walked ahead, one hand holding her hat, which the ever-freshening wind threatened.

Buckhurst bent towards me and said: "My friend, your suggestion that we deprive ourselves to feed those cavalrymen was a trifle peremptory in tone. I am wondering how much your tone will change when we reach Paris."

"You will see," said I.

"Oh, of course I'll see," he said,... "and so will you."

"I thought you had means to protect yourself," I observed.

"I have. Besides, I think you would rather keep those diamonds than give them up for the pleasure of playing me false."

I laughed in a mean manner, which reassured him. "Look here," said I, "if I were to make trouble for you in Paris I'd be the most besotted fool in France, and you know it."

He nodded.

And so I should have been. For there was something vastly more important to do than to arrest John Buckhurst for theft; and before I suffered a hair of his sleek, gray head to come to harm I'd have hung myself for a hopeless idiot. Oh no; my friend John Buckhurst had such colossal irons in the fire that I knew it would take many more men as strong as he to lift them out again. And I meant to know what those irons were for, and who were the gentlemen to aid him lift them. So not only must Buckhurst remain free as a lively black cricket in a bog, but he must not be frightened if I could help it.

And to that end I leered at him knowingly, and presently bestowed a fatuous wink upon him.

It was unpleasant for me to do this, for it implied that I was his creature; and, in spite of the remorseless requirements of my profession, I have an inborn hatred of falsehood in any shape. To lie in the line of duty is one of the disagreeable necessities of certain professions; and mine is not the only one nor the least respectable. The art of war is to deceive; strategy is the art of demonstrating falsehood plausibly; there is nothing respectable in the military profession except the manual--which is now losing importance in the eyes of advanced theorists. All men are liars--a few are unselfish ones.

"You have given me your word of honor," said Buckhurst.

"Have I?" I had not, and he knew it. I hoped I might not be forced to.

"Haven't you?" asked Buckhurst.

"You sneered at my word of honor," I said, with all the spite of a coward; "now you don't get it."

He no longer wanted it, but all he said was: "Don't take unnecessary offence; you're smart enough to know when you're well off."

* * * * *

I dozed towards sunset, waking when the Countess stepped back into the carriage and seated herself by my side. Then, after a little, I slept again. And it was nearly dark when I was awakened by the startling whistle of a locomotive. The carriage appeared to be moving slowly between tall rows of poplars and telegraph-poles; a battery of artillery was clanking along just ahead. In the dark southern sky a luminous haze hung.

"The lights of Strasbourg," whispered the Countess, as I sat up, rubbing my hot eyes.

I looked for Buckhurst; his place was empty.

"Mr. Buckhurst left us at the railroad crossing," she said.

"Left us!"

"Yes! He boarded a train loaded with wounded.... He had business to transact in Colmar before he presented himself to the authorities in Paris.... And we are to go by way of Avricourt."

So Buckhurst had already begun to execute his programme. But the abrupt, infernal precision of the man jarred me unpleasantly.

In the dark I felt cautiously for my diamonds; they were safe in my left hip-pocket.

* * * * *

The wind had died out, and a fine rain began to filter down through a mist which lay over the flat plain as we entered the suburbs of Strasbourg.

Again and again we were halted by sentinels, then permitted to proceed in the darkness, along deserted avenues lighted by gas-jets burning in tall bronze lamp-posts through a halo of iridescent fog.

We passed deserted suburban villas, blank stretches of stucco walls enclosing gardens, patches of cabbages, thickets of hop-poles to which the drenched vines clung fantastically, and scores of abandoned houses, shutters locked, blinds drawn.

High to the east the ramparts of the city loomed, set at regular distances with electric lights; from the invisible citadel rockets were rising, spraying the fog with jewelled flakes, crumbling to golden powder in the starless void above.

Presently our carriage stopped before a tremendous mass of masonry pierced by an iron, arched gate, through which double files of farm-wagons were rolling, escorted by customs guards and marines.

"No room! no room!" shouted the soldiers. "This is the Porte de Pierre. Go to the Porte de Saverne!"

So we passed on beneath the bastions, skirting the ramparts to the Porte de Saverne, where, after a harangue, the gate guards admitted us, and we entered Strasbourg in the midst of a crush of vehicles. At the railroad station hundreds of cars choked the tracks; loaded freight trains stalled in the confusion, trains piled with ammunition and provisions, trains crowded with horses and cattle and sheep, filling the air with melancholy plaints; locomotives backing and whistling, locomotives blowing off deafening blasts of steam; gongs sounding, bells ringing, station-masters' trumpets blowing; and, above all, the immense clamor of human voices.

The Countess and our Alsatian driver helped me to the platform, I looked around with dread at the throng, being too weak to battle for a foothold; but the brave Alsatian elbowed a path for me, and the Countess warded off the plunging human cattle, and at length I found myself beside the cars where line-soldiers stood guard at every ten paces and gendarmes stalked about, shoving the frantic people into double files.

"Last train for Paris!" bawled an official in gilt and blue; and to the anxious question of the Countess he shook his head, saying, "There is no room, madame; it is utterly impossible--pardon, I cannot discuss anything now; the Prussians are signalled at Ostwald, and their shells may fall here at any moment."

"If that is so," I said, "this lady cannot stay here!"

"I can't help that!" he shouted, starting off down the platform.

I caught the sleeve of a captain of gendarmerie who was running to enter a first-class compartment.

"Eh--what do you want, monsieur?" he snapped, in surprise. Then, as I made him a sign, he regarded me with amazement. I had given the distress signal of the secret police.

"Try to make room for this lady in your compartment," I said.

"Willingly, monsieur. Hasten, madame; the train is already moving!" and he tore open the compartment door and swung the Countess to the car platform.

I suppose she thought I was to follow, for when the officer slammed the compartment door she stepped to the window and tried to open it.

"Quick!" she cried to the guard, who had just locked the door; "help that officer in! He is wounded--can't you see he is wounded?"

The train was gliding along the asphalt platform; I hobbled beside the locked compartment, where she stood at the window.

"Will you unlock that door?" said the Countess to the guard. "I wish to leave the train!"

The cars were rolling a little faster than I could move along.

The Countess leaned from the open window; through the driving rain her face in the lamp-light was pitifully white. I made a last effort and caught up with her car.

"A safe journey, madame," I stammered, catching at the hand she held out and brushing the shabby-gloved fingers with my lips.

"I shall never forgive this wanton self-sacrifice," she said, unsteadily. Then the car rolled silently past me, swifter, swifter, and her white face faded from my sight. Yet still I stood there, bareheaded, in the rain, while the twin red lamps on the rear car grew smaller and smaller, until they, too, were shut out in the closing curtains of the fog.

As I turned away into the lighted station a hospital train from the north glided into the yard and stopped. Soldiers immediately started carrying out the wounded and placing them in rows on mattresses ranged along the walls of the passenger depot; sisters of charity, hovering over the mutilated creatures, were already giving first aid to the injured; policemen kept the crowd from trampling the dead and dying; gendarmes began to clear the platforms, calling out sharply, "No more trains to-night! Move on! This platform is for government officials only!"

Through the scrambling mob a file of wounded tottered, escorted by police; women were forced back and pushed out into the street, only to be again menaced by galloping military ambulances arriving, accompanied by hussars. The confusion grew into a tumult; men struggled and elbowed for a passage to the platforms, women sobbed and cried; through the uproar the treble wail of terrified children broke out.

Jostled, shoved, pulled this way and that, I felt that I was destined to go down under the people's feet, and I don't know what would have become of me had not a violent push sent me against the door of the telegraph office. The door gave way, and I fell on my knees, staggered to my feet, and crept out once more to the platform.

The station-master passed, a haggard gentleman in rumpled uniform and gilt cap; and as he left the office by the outer door the heavy explosion of a rampart cannon shook the station.

"Can you get me to Paris?" I asked.

"Quick, then," he muttered; "this way--lean on me, monsieur! I am trying to send another train out--but Heaven alone knows! Quick, this way!"

The glare of a locomotive's headlight dazzled me; I made towards it, clinging to the arm of the station-master; the ground under my feet rocked with the shock of the siege-guns. Suddenly a shell fell and burst in the yard outside; there was a cry, a rush of trainmen, a gendarme shouting; then the piercing alarm notes of locomotives, squealing like terrified leviathans.

The train drawn up along the platform gave a jerk and immediately moved out towards the open country, compartment doors swinging wide, trainmen and guards running alongside, followed by a mob of frenzied passengers, who leaped into empty compartments, flinging satchels and rugs to the four winds. Crash! A shell fell through the sloping roof of the platform and blew up. Through the white cloud and brilliant glare I saw a porter, wheeling boxes and trunks, fall, buried under an avalanche of baggage, and a sister of charity throw up her arms as though to shield her face from the fragments.

A car, doors swinging wide, glided past me; I caught the rail and fell forward into a compartment. The cushions of the seats were afire, and a policeman was hammering out the sparks with naked fists.

I was too weak to aid him. Presently he hurled the last burning cushion from the open door and leaped out into the train-yard, where red and green lamps glowed and the brilliant flare of bursting shells lighted the fog. By this time the train was moving swiftly; the car windows shook with the thunder from the ramparts under which we were passing; then came inky darkness--a tunnel--then a rush of mist and wind from the open door as we swept out into the country.

Passengers clinging to the platforms now made their way into the compartment where I lay almost senseless, and soon the little place was crowded, and somebody slammed the door.

Then the flying locomotive, far ahead, shrieked, and the train leaped, rushing forward into the unknown. Blackness, stupefying blackness, outside; inside, unseen, the huddled passengers, breathing heavily with sudden stifled sobs, or the choked, indrawn breath of terror; but not a word, not a quaver of human voices; peril strangled speech as our black train flew onward through the night.

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