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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 18. A Guest-Chamber
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 18. A Guest-Chamber Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :3305

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 18. A Guest-Chamber

PART III CHAPTER XVIII. A GUEST-CHAMBER

A light was shining in my eyes and I was talking excitedly; that and the odor of brandy I remember--and something else, a steady roaring in my ears; then darkness, out of which came a voice, empty, meaningless, finally soundless.

After a while I realized that I was in pain; that, at intervals, somebody forced morsels of ice between my lips; that the darkness around me had turned grayer.

Time played tricks on me; centuries passed steadily, year following year--long years they were, too, with endless spring-tides, summers, autumns, winters, each with full complement of months, and every month crowded with days. Space, illimitable space, surrounded me--skyless, starless space. And through its terrific silence I heard a clock ticking seconds of time.

Years and years later a yellow star rose and stood still before my open eyes; and after a long while I saw it was the flame of a candle: and somebody spoke my name.

"I know you, Speed," I said, drowsily.

"You are all right, Scarlett?"

"Yes,... all right."

"Does the candle-light pain you?"

"No;... do they contract?"

"A little.... Yes, I am sure the pupils of your eyes are contracting. Don't talk."

"No;... then it was concussion of the brain?"

"Yes;... the shock is passing.... Don't talk."

Time moved on again; space slowly contracted into a symmetrical shape, set with little points of light; sleep and fatigue alternated with glimmers of reason, which finally grew into a faint but steady intelligence. And, very delicately, memory stirred in a slumbering brain.

Reason and memory were mine again, frail toys for a stricken man, so frail I dared not, for a time, use them for my amusement--and one of them was broken, too--memory!--broken short at the moment when full in my face I had felt the hot, fetid breath of a lion.

"Speed!"

"Yes; I am here."

"What time is it?"

I heard the click of his hunting-case. "Eleven o'clock."

"What day?"

"Saturday."

"When--" I hesitated. I was afraid.

"Well?" he asked, quietly.

"When was I hurt? Many days ago--many weeks?"

"You were hurt at half-past three this afternoon."

I tried to comprehend; I could not, and after a while I gave up my feeble grasp on time.

"What is that roaring sound?" I asked. "Not drums? Not my lions?"

"It is the sea."

"So near?"

"Very near."

I turned my head on the white pillow. "Where is this bed? Where is this room?"

"Shall I tell you?"

I was silent, struggling with memory.

"Tell me," I said. "Whose bed is this?"

"It is hers."

The candle-flame glimmered before my wide-open eyes once more, and--

"Oh, you are all right," he muttered, then leaned heavily against the bedside, dropping his arms on the coverlet.

"It was a close call--a close call!" he said, hoarsely. "We thought it was ended.... They were all over you--Empress dragged you; but they all crowded in too close--they blocked each other, you see;... and we used the irons.... Your left arm lay close to the cage door and ... we got you away from them, and ... it's all right now--it's all right--"

He broke down, head buried in his arms. I moved my left hand across the sheets so that it rested on his elbow. He lay there, gulping for a while; I could not see him very clearly, for the muscles that controlled my eyes were still slightly paralyzed from the shock of the blow that Empress Khatoun had dealt me.

"It's all very well," he stammered, with a trace of resentment in his quavering voice--"it's all very well for people who are used to the filthy beasts; but I tell you, Scarlett, it sickened me. I'm no coward, as men go, but I was afraid--I was terrified!"

"Yet you dragged me out," I said.

"Who told you that? How could you know--"

"It was not necessary to tell me. You said, '_We got you away'; but I know it was you, Speed, because it was like you. Look at me! Am I well enough to dress?"

He raised a haggard face to mine. "You know best," he said. "They tore your coat off, and one of them ripped your riding-boot from top to sole; but the blow Empress struck you is your only hurt, and she all but missed you at that. Had she hit you fairly--but, oh, hell! Do you want to get up?"

I said I would in a moment,... and that is all I remember that night, all I remember clearly, though it seems to me that once I heard drums beating in the distance; and perhaps I did.

Dawn was breaking when I awoke. Speed, partly dressed, lay beside me, sleeping heavily. I looked around at the pretty boudoir where I lay, at the silken curtains of the bed, at the clouds of cupids on the painted ceiling, flying through a haze of vermilion flecked with gold.

Raising one hand, I touched with tentative fingers my tightly bandaged head, then turned over on my side.

There were my torn clothes, filthy and smeared with sawdust, flung over a delicate, gilded chair; there sprawled my battered boots, soiling the polished, inlaid floor; a candle lay in a pool of hardened wax on a golden rococo table, and I saw where the smouldering wick had blistered the glazed top. And this was her room! Vandalism unspeakable! I turned on my snoring comrade.

"Idiot, get up!" I cried, hitting him feebly.

He was very angry when he found out why I had awakened him; perhaps the sight of my bandaged head restrained him from violence.

"Look here," he said, "I've been up all night, and you might as well know it. If you hit me again--" He hesitated, stared around, yawned, and rubbed his eyes.

"You're right," he said, "I must get up."

He stumbled to the floor, bathed, grumbling all the while, and then, to my surprise, walked over to a flat trunk which stood under the window and which I recognized as mine.

"I'll borrow some underwear," he remarked, viciously.

"What's my trunk doing here?" I demanded.

"Madame de Vassart had them bring it."

"Had _who bring it?"

"Horan and McCadger--before they left."

"Before they left? Have they gone?"

"I forgot," he said, soberly; "you don't know what's been going on."

He began to dress, raising his head now and then to gaze out across the ocean towards Groix, where the cruiser once lay at anchor.

"Of course you don't know that the circus has gone," he remarked.

"Gone!" I echoed, astonished.

"Gone to Lorient."

He came and sat down on the edge of the gilded bedstead, buttoning his collar thoughtfully.

"Buckhurst is in town again with a raft of picturesque ruffians," he said. "They marched in last night, drums beating, colors unfurled--the red rag, you know--and the first thing they did was to order Byram to decamp."

He began to tie his cravat, with a meditative glance at the gilded mirror.

"I was here with you. Kelly Eyre came for me--Madame de Vassart took my place to watch you--"

A sudden heart-beat choked me.

"--So I," he continued, "posted off to the tent, to find a rabble of communist soldiers stealing my balloon-car, ropes, bag, and all. I tell you I did what I could, but they said the balloon was contraband of war, and a military necessity; and they took it, the thieving whelps! Then I saw how matters were going to end, and I told the governor that he'd better go to Lorient as fast as he could travel before they stole the buttons off his shirt.

"Scarlett, it was a weird sight. I never saw tents struck so quickly. Kelly Eyre, Horan, and I harnessed up; Grigg stood guard over the props with a horse-pistol. The ladies worked like Trojans, loading the wagons; Byram raged up and down under the bayonets of those bandits, cursing them as only a man who never swears can curse, invoking the Stars and Stripes, metaphorically placing himself, his company, his money-box, and his camuel under the shadow of the broad eagle of the United States.

"Oh, those were gay times, Scarlett. And we frightened them, too, because nobody attempted to touch anything."

Speed laughed grimly, and began to pace the floor, casting sharp glances at me.

"Byram's people, elephant and all, struck the road a little after three o'clock this morning, in good order, not a tent-peg nor a frying-pan missing. They ought to be in Lorient by early afternoon."

"Gone!" I repeated, blankly.

"Gone. Curious how it hurt me to say good-bye. They're good people--good, kindly folk. I've grown to care for them in these few months ... I may go back to them ... some day ... if they want a balloonist ... or any kind of a thing."

"You stayed to take care of me?" I said.

"Partly.... You need care, especially when you don't need it." He began to laugh. "It's only when you're well that I worry."

I lay looking at him, striving to realize the change that had occurred in so brief a time--trying to understand the abrupt severing of ties and conditions to which, already, I had become accustomed--perhaps attached.

"They all sent their love to you," he said. "They knew you were out of danger--I told them there was no fracture, only a slight concussion. Byram came to look at you; he brought your back salary--all of it. I've got it."

"Byram came here?"

"Yes. He stood over there beside you, snivelling into his red bandanna. And Miss Crystal and Jacqueline stood here.... Jacqueline kissed you."

After a moment I said: "Has Jacqueline gone with them?"

"Yes."

There was another pause, longer this time.

"Of course," I said, "Byram knows that my usefulness as a lion-tamer is at an end."

"Of course," said Speed, simply.

I sighed.

"He wants you for the horses," added Speed. "But you can do better than that."

"I don't know,... perhaps."

"Besides, they sail to-day from Lorient. The governor made money yesterday--enough to start again. Poor Byram! He's frantic to get back to America; and, oh, Scarlett, how that good old man can swear!"

"Help me to sit up in bed," I said; "there--that's it! Just wedge those pillows behind my shoulders."

"All right?"

"Of course. I'm going to dress. Speed, did you say that little Jacqueline went with Byram?"

He looked at me miserably.

"Yes," he said.

I was silent.

"Yes," he repeated, "she went, lugging her pet cat in her arms. She would go; the life has fascinated her. I begged her not to--I felt I was disloyal to Byram, too, but what could I do? I tell you, Scarlett, I wish I had never seen her, never persuaded her to try that foolish dive. She'll miss some day--like the other one."

"It's my fault more than yours," I said. "Couldn't you persuade her to give it up?"

"I offered to educate her, to send her to school, to work for her," he said. "She only looked at me out of those sea-blue eyes--you know how the little witch can look you through and through--and then--and then she walked away into the torch-glare, clasping her cat to her breast, and I saw her strike a fool of a soldier who pretended to stop her! Scarlett, she was a strange child--proud and dainty, too, with all her rags--you remember--a strange, sweet child--almost a woman, at times, and--I thought her loyal--"

He walked to the window and stared moodily at the sea.

"Meanwhile," I said, quietly, "I am going to get up."

He gave me a look which I interpreted as, "Get up and be damned!" I complied--in part.

"Oh, help me into these things, will you?" I said, at length; and instantly he was at my side, gentle and patient, lacing my shoes, because it made my head ache to bend over, buttoning collar and cravat, and slipping my coat on while I leaned against the tumbled bed.

"Well!" I said, with a grimace, and stood up, shakily.

"Well," he echoed, "here we are again, as poor little Grigg says."

"With our salaries in our pockets and our possessions on our backs."

"And no prospects," he added, gayly.

"Not a blessed one, unless we count a prospect of trouble with Buckhurst."

"He won't trouble us unless we interfere with him," observed Speed, drumming nervously on the window.

"But I'm going to," I said, surprised.

"Going to interfere?" he asked, wheeling to scowl at me.

"Certainly."

"Why? We're not in government employ. What do we care about this row? If these Frenchmen are tired of battering the Germans they'll batter each other, and we can't help it, can we?"

"We can help Buckhurst's annoying Madame de Vassart."

"Only by getting her to leave the country," said Speed. "She will understand that, too." He paused, rubbing his nose reflectively. "Scarlett, what do you suppose Buckhurst is up to?"

"I haven't an idea," I replied. "All I know is that, in all probability, he came here to attempt to rob the treasure-trains--and that was your theory, too, you remember?"

And I continued, reminding Speed that Buckhurst had collected his ruffianly franc company in the forest; that the day the cruiser sailed he had appeared in Paradise to proclaim the commune; that doubtless he had signalled, from the semaphore, orders for the cruiser's departure; that a few hours later his red battalion had marched into Paradise.

"Yes, that's all logical," said Speed, "but how could Buckhurst know the secret-code signals which the cruiser must have received before she sailed? To hoist them on the semaphore, he must have had a code-book."

I thought a moment. "Suppose Mornac is with him?"

Speed fairly jumped. "That's it! That's the link we were hunting for! It's Mornac--it must be Mornac! He is the only man; he had access to everything. And now that his Emperor is a prisoner and his Empress a fugitive, the miserable hound has nothing to lose by the anarchy he once hoped to profit by. Tell me, Scarlett, does the tail wag the dog, after all? And which is the dog, Buckhurst or Mornac?"

"I once thought it was Buckhurst," I said.

"So did I, but--I don't know now. I don't know what to do, either. I don't know anything!"

I began to walk about the room, carefully, for my knees were weak, though I had no headache.

"It's a shame for a pair of hulking brutes like you and me to desecrate this bedroom," I muttered. "Mud on the floor--look at it! Sawdust and candle-wax over everything! What's that--all that on the lounge? Has a dog or a cat been rolling over it? It's plastered with tan-colored hairs!"

"Lion's hairs from your coat," he observed, grimly.

I looked at them for a moment rather soberly. They glistened like gold in the early sunshine.

Speed opened his mouth to say something, but closed it abruptly as a very faint tapping sounded on our door.

I opened it; Sylvia Elven stood in the hallway.

"Oh," she said, in ungracious astonishment, "then you are not on the grave's awful verge,... are you?"

"I hope you didn't expect to discover me there?" I replied, laughing.

"Expect it? Indeed I did, monsieur,... or I shouldn't be here at sunrise, scratching at your door for news of you. This," she said, petulantly, "is enough to vex any saint!"

"Any other saint," I corrected, gravely. "I admit it, mademoiselle, I am a nuisance; so is my comrade. We have only to express our deep gratitude and go."

"Go? Do you think we will let you go, with all those bandits roaming the moors outside our windows? And you call that gratitude?"

"Does Madame de Vassart desire us to stay?" I asked, trying not to speak too eagerly.

Sylvia Elven gave me a scornful glance.

"Must we implore you, monsieur, to protect us? We will, if you wish it. I know I'm ill-humored, but it's scarcely daybreak, and we've sat up all night on your account--Madame de Vassart would not allow me to go to bed--and if I am brusque with you, remember I was obliged to sleep in a chair--and I hope you feel that you have put me to very great inconvenience."

"I feel that way ... about Madame de Vassart," I said, laughing at the pretty, pouting mouth and sleepy eyes of this amusingly exasperated young girl, who resembled a rumpled Dresden shepherdess more than anything else. I added that we would be glad to stay until the communist free-rifles took themselves off. For which she thanked me with an exaggerated courtesy and retired, furiously conscious that she had not only slept in her clothes, but that she looked it.

"That was Madame de Vassart's companion, wasn't it?" asked Speed.

"Yes, Sylvia Elven ... I don't know what she is--I know what she was--no, I don't, either. I only know what Jarras says she was."

Speed raised his eyebrows. "And what was that?"

"Actress, at the Odeon."

"Never heard of her being at the Odeon," he said.

"You heard of her as one of that group at La Trappe?"

"Yes."

"Well, when I was looking for Buckhurst in Morsbronn, Jarras telegraphed me descriptions of the people I was to arrest at La Trappe, and he mentioned her as Mademoiselle Sylvia Elven, lately of the Odeon."

"That was a mistake," said Speed. "What he meant to say was that she was lately a resident of the Odeonsplatz. He knew that. It must have been a telegraphic error."

"How do you know?" I asked, surprised.

"Because I furnished Jarras with the data. It's in her dossier."

"Odeon--Odeonsplatz," I muttered, trying to understand. "What is the Odeonsplatz? A square in some German city, isn't it?"

"It's a square in the capital of Bavaria--Munich."

"But--but she isn't a German, is she? _Is she_?" I repeated, staring at Speed, who was looking keenly at me, with eyes partly closed.

There was a long silence.

"Well, upon my soul!" I said, slowly, emphasizing every word with a noiseless blow on the table.

"Didn't you know it? Wait! Hold on," he said, "let's go slowly--let's go very slowly. She is partly German by birth. That proves nothing. Granted that Jarras suspected her, not as a social agitator, but as a German agent. Granted he did not tell you what he suspected, but merely ordered her arrest with the others--perhaps under cover of Buckhurst's arrest--you know what a secret man, the Emperor was--how, if he wanted a man, he'd never chase him, but run in the opposite direction and head him off half-way around the world. So, granted all this, I say, what's to prove Jarras was right?"

"Does her dossier prove it? You have read it."

"Well, her dossier was rather incomplete. We knew that she went about a good deal in Paris--went to the Tuileries, too. She was married once. Didn't you know even _that_?"

"Married!" I exclaimed.

"To a Russian brute--I've forgotten his name, but I've seen him--one of the kind with high cheek-bones and black eyes. She got her divorce in England; that's on record, and we have it in her dossier. Then, going back still further, we know that her father was a Bavarian, a petty noble of some sort--baron, I believe. Her mother's name was Elven, a Breton peasant; it was a mesalliance--trouble of all sorts--I forget, but I believe her uncle brought her up. Her uncle was military attache of the German embassy to Paris.... You see how she slipped into society--and you know what society under the Empire was."

"Speed," I said, "why on earth didn't you tell me all this before?"

"My dear fellow, I supposed Jarras had told you; or that, if you didn't know it, it did not concern us at all."

"But it does concern--a person I know," I said, quickly, thinking of poor Kelly Eyre. "And it explains a lot of things--or, rather, places them under a new light."

"What light?"

"Well, for one thing, she has consistently lied to me. For another, I believe her to be hand-in-glove with Karl Marx and the French leaders--not Buckhurst, but the real leaders of the social revolt; _not as a genuine disciple, but as a German agent_, with orders to foment disorder of any kind which might tend to embarrass and weaken the French government in this crisis."

"You're inclined to believe that?" he asked, much interested.

"Yes, I am. France is full of German agents; the Tuileries was not exempt--you know it as well as I. Paris swarmed with spies of every kind, high and low in the social scale. The embassies were nests of spies; every salon a breeding spot of intrigue; the foreign governments employed the grande dame as well as the grisette. Do you remember the military-balloon scandal?"

"Indistinctly.... Some poor devil gave a woman government papers."

"Technically they were government papers, but he considered them his own. Well, the woman who received those papers is down-stairs."

He gave a short whistle of astonishment.

"You are sure, Scarlett?"

"Perfectly certain."

"Then, if you are certain, that settles the question of Mademoiselle Elven's present occupation."

I rose and began to move around the room restlessly.

"But, after all," I said, "that concerns us no longer."

"How can it concern two Americans out of a job?" he observed, with a shrug. "The whole fabric of French politics is rotten to the foundation. It's tottering; a shake will bring it down. Let it tumble. I tell you this nation needs the purification of fire. Our own country has just gone through it; France can do it, too. She's got to, or she's lost!"

He looked at me earnestly. "I love the country," he said; "it's fed me and harbored me. But I wouldn't lift a finger to put a single patch on this makeshift of a government; I wouldn't stave off the crash if I could. And it's coming! You and I have seen something of the rottenness of the underpinning which props up empires. You and I, Scarlett, have learned a few of the shameful secrets which even an enemy to France would not drag out into the daylight."

I had never seen him so deeply moved.

"Is there hope--is there a glimmer of hope to incite anybody while these conditions endure?" he continued, bitterly.

"No. France must suffer, France must stand alone in terrible humiliation, France must offer the self-sacrifice of fire and mount the altar herself!

"Then, and only then, shall the nation, purified, reborn, rise and live, and build again, setting a beacon of civilized freedom high as the beacon we Americans are raising,... slowly yet surely raising, to the glory of God, Scarlett--to the glory of God. No other dedication can be justified in this world."

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