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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 19. Trecourt Garden
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 19. Trecourt Garden Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1303

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 19. Trecourt Garden

PART III CHAPTER XIX. TRECOURT GARDEN

About nine o'clock we were summoned by a Breton maid to the pretty breakfast-room below, and I was ashamed to go with my shabby clothes, bandaged head, and face the color of clay.

The young countess was not present; Sylvia Elven offered us a supercilious welcome to a breakfast the counterpart of which I had not seen in years--one of those American breakfasts which even we, since the Paris Exposition, are beginning to discard for the simpler French breakfast of coffee and rolls.

"This is all in your honor," observed Sylvia, turning up her nose at the array of poached eggs, fragrant sausages, crisp potatoes, piles of buttered toast, muffins, marmalade, and fruit.

"It was very kind of you to think of it," said Speed.

"It is Madame de Vassart's idea, not mine," she observed, looking across the table at me. "Will the gentleman with nine lives have coffee or chocolate?"

The fruit consisted of grapes and those winy Breton cider-apples from Bannalec. We began with these in decorous silence.

Speed ventured a few comments on the cultivation of fruit, of which he knew nothing; neither he nor his subject was encouraged.

Presently, however, Sylvia glanced up at him with a malicious smile, saying: "I notice that you have been in the foreign division of the Imperial Military Police, monsieur."

"Why do you think so?" asked Speed, calmly.

"When you seated yourself in your chair," said Sylvia, "you made a gesture with your left hand as though to unhook the sabre--which was not there."

Speed laughed. "But why the police? I might have been in the cavalry, mademoiselle; for that matter, I might have been an officer in any arm of the service. They all carry swords or sabres."

"But only the military police and the gendarmerie wear aiguilettes," she replied. "When you bend over your plate your fingers are ever unconsciously searching for those swinging, gold-tipped cords--to keep them out of your coffee-cup, monsieur."

The muscles in Speed's lean, bronzed cheeks tightened; he looked at her keenly.

"Might I not have been in the gendarmerie?" he asked. "How do you know I was not?"

"Does the gendarmerie wear the sabre-tache?"

"No, mademoiselle, but--"

"Do the military police?"

"No--that is, the foreign division did, when it existed."

"You are sitting, monsieur," she said, placidly, "with your left foot so far under the table that it quite inadvertently presses my shoe-tip."

Speed withdrew his leg with a jerk, asking pardon.

"It is a habit perfectly pardonable in a man who is careful that his spur shall not scratch or tear a patent-leather sabre-tache," she said.

I had absolutely nothing to say; we both laughed feebly, I believe.

I saw temptation struggling with Speed's caution; I, too, was almost willing to drop a hint that might change her amusement to speculation, if not to alarm.

So this was the woman for whose caprice Kelly Eyre had wrecked his prospects! Clever--oh, certainly clever. But she had made the inevitable slip that such clever people always make sooner or later. And in a bantering message to her victim she had completed the chain against herself--a chain of which I might have been left in absolute ignorance. Impulse probably did it--reasonless and perhaps malicious caprice--the instinct of a pretty woman to stir up memory in a discarded and long-forgotten victim--just to note the effect--just to see if there still remains one nerve, one pulse-beat to respond.

"Will the pensive gentleman with nine lives have a little more nourishment to sustain him?" she asked.

Looking up from my empty plate, I declined politely; and we followed her signal to rise.

"There is a Mr. Kelly Eyre," she said to Speed, "connected with your circus. Has he gone with the others?"

"Yes, mademoiselle."

"Really?" she mused, amiably. "I knew him as a student in Paris, when he was very young--and I was younger. I should have liked to have seen him--once more."

"Did you not see him?" I asked, abruptly.

Her back was toward me; very deliberately she turned her pretty head and looked at me over her shoulder, studying my face a moment.

"Yes, I saw him. I should have liked to have seen him--once more," she said, as though she had first calculated the effect on me of a different reply.

She led the way into that small room overlooking the garden where I had been twice received by Madame de Vassart. Here she took leave of us, abandoning us to our own designs. Mine was to find a large arm-chair and sit down in it, and give Speed a few instructions. Speed's was to prowl around Paradise for information, and, if possible, telegraph to Lorient for troops to catch Buckhurst red-handed.

He left me turning over the leaves of the "Chanson de Roland," saying that he would return in a little while with any news he might pick up, and that he would do his best to catch Buckhurst in the foolish trap which that gentleman had set for others.

Tiring of the poem, I turned my eyes toward the garden, where, in the sunshine, heaps of crisped leaves lay drifted along the base of the wall or scattered between the rows of herbs which were still ripely green. The apricots had lost their leaves, so had the grapevines and the fig-trees; but the peach-trees were in foliage; pansies and perpetual roses bloomed amid sere and seedy thickets of larkspurs, phlox, and dead delphinium.

On the wall a cat sat, sunning her sleek flanks. Something about the animal seemed familiar to me, and after a while I made up my mind that this was Ange Pitou, Jacqueline's pet, abandoned by her mistress and now a feline derelict. Speed must have been mistaken when he told me that Jacqueline had taken her cat; or possibly the home-haunting instinct had brought the creature back, abandoning her mistress to her fortunes.

If I had been in my own house I should have offered Ange Pitou hospitality; as it was, I walked out into the sunny garden and made courteous advances which were ignored. I watched the cat for a few moments, then sat down on the bench. The inertia which follows recovery from a shock, however light, left me with the lazy acquiescence of a convalescent, willing to let the world drift for an hour or two, contented to relax, apathetic, comfortable.

Seaward the gulls sailed like white feathers floating; the rocky ramparts of Groix rose clear-cut against a horizon where no haze curtained the sea; the breakers had receded from the coast on a heavy ebb-tide, and I saw them in frothy outline, noiselessly churning the shallows beyond the outer bar.

And then my reverie ended abruptly; a step on the gravel walk brought me to my feet.... There she stood, lovely in a fresh morning-gown deeply belted with turquoise-shells, her ruddy hair glistening, coiled low on a neck of snow.

For the first time she showed embarrassment in her greeting, scarcely touching my hand, speaking with a new constraint in a voice which grew colder as she hesitated.

"We were frightened; we are so glad that you were not badly hurt. I thought you might find it comfortable here--of course I could not know that you were not seriously injured."

"That is fortunate for me," I said, pleasantly, "for I am afraid you would not have offered this shelter if you had known how little injured I really was."

"Yes, I should have offered it--had I reason to believe you would have accepted. I have felt that perhaps you might think what I have done was unwarranted."

"I think you did the most graciously unselfish thing a woman could do," I said, quickly. "You offered your best; and the man who took it cannot--dare not--express his gratitude."

The emotion in my voice warned me to cease; the faintest color tinted her cheeks, and she looked at me with beautiful, grave eyes that slowly grew inscrutable, leaving me standing diffident and silent before her.

The breeze shifted, bringing with it the hollow sea-thunder. She turned her head and glanced out across the ocean, hands behind her, fingers linked.

"I have come here into your garden uninvited," I said.

"Shall we sit here--a moment?" she suggested, without turning.

Presently she seated herself in one corner of the bench; her gaze wandered over the partly blighted garden, then once more centred on the seaward skyline.

The color of her hands, her neck, fascinated me. That flesh texture of snow and roses, firmly and delicately modelled, which sometimes is seen with red hair, I had seen once before in a picture by a Spanish master, but never, until now, in real life.

And she was life incarnate in her wholesome beauty--a beauty of which I had perceived only the sad shadow at La Trappe--a sweet, healthy, exquisite woman, moulded, fashioned, colored by a greater Master than the Spanish painter dreaming of perfection centuries ago.

In the sun a fragrance grew--the subtle incense from her gown--perhaps from her hair.

"Autumn is already gone; we are close to winter," she said, under her breath. "See, there is nothing left--scarcely a blossom--a rose or two; but the first frost will scatter the petals. Look at the pinks; look at the dead leaves. Ah, tristesse, tristesse! The life of summer is too short; the life of flowers is too short; so are our lives, Monsieur Scarlett. Do you believe it?"

"Yes--now."

She was very still for a while, her head bent toward the sea. Then, without turning: "Have you not always believed it?"

"No, madame."

"Then ... why do you believe it ... now?"

"Because, since we have become friends, life seems pitiably short for such a friendship."

She smiled without moving.

"That is a ... very beautiful ... compliment, monsieur."

"It owes its beauty to its truth, madame."

"And that reply is illogical," she said, turning to look at me with brilliant eyes and a gay smile which emphasized the sensitive mouth's faint droop. "Illogical, because truth is not always beautiful. As example: you were very near to death yesterday. That is the truth, but it is not beautiful at all."

"Ah, madame, it is you who are illogical," I said, laughing.

"I?" she cried. "Prove it!"

But I would not, spite of her challenge and bright mockery.

In that flash all of our comradeship returned, bringing with it something new, which I dared not think was intimacy.

Yet constraint fell away like a curtain between us, and though she dominated, and I was afraid lest I overstep limits which I myself had set, the charm of her careless confidence, her pretty, undissembled caprices, her pleasure in a delicately intimate badinage, gave me something of a self-reliance, a freedom that I had not known in a woman's presence for many years.

"We brought you here because we thought it was good for you," she said, reverting maliciously to the theme that had at first embarrassed her. "We were perfectly certain that you have always been unfit to take care of yourself. Now we have the proofs."

"Mademoiselle Elven said that you harbored us only because you were afraid of those bandits who have arrived in Paradise," I observed.

"Afraid!" she said, scornfully. "Oh, you are making fun of me now. Indeed, when Mr. Buckhurst came last night I had my men conduct him to the outer gate!"

"Did he come last night?" I asked, troubled.

"Yes." She shrugged her pretty shoulders.

"Alone?"

"That unspeakable creature, Mornac, was with him. I had no idea he was here; had you?"

I was silent. Did Mornac mean trouble for me? Yet how could he, shorn now of all authority?

The thought seemed to occur to her, too, and she looked up quickly, asking if I had anything to fear.

"Only for you," I said.

"For me? Why? I am not afraid of such men. I have servants on whom I can call to disembarrass me of such people." She hesitated; the memory of her deception, of what she had suffered at Buckhurst's hands, brought a glint of anger into her beautiful eyes.

"My innocence shames me," she said. "I merited what I received in such company. It was you who saved me from myself."

"A noble mind thinks nobly," I said. "Theirs is the shame, not yours, that you could not understand treachery--that you never can understand it. As for me, I was an accident, which warned you in time that all the world was not as good and true as you desired to believe it."

She sat looking at me curiously. "I wonder," she said, "why it is that you do not know your own value?"

"My value--to whom?"

"To ... everybody--to the world--to people."

"Am I of any value to you, madame?"

The pulsing moments passed and she did not answer, and I bit my lip and waited. At last she said, coolly: "A man must appraise himself. If he chooses, he is valuable. But values are comparative, and depend on individual taste.... Yes, you are of some value to me,... or I should not be here with you,... or I should not find it my pleasure to be here--or I should not trust you, come to you with my petty troubles, ask your experience to help me, perhaps protect me."

She bent her head with adorable diffidence. "Monsieur Scarlett, I have never before had a friend who thought first of me and last of himself."

I leaned on the back of the bench, resting my bandaged forehead on my hand.

She looked up after a moment, and her face grew serious.

"Are you suffering?" she asked. "Your face is white as my sleeve."

"I feel curiously tired," I said, smiling.

"Then you must have some tea, and I will brew it myself. You shall not object! No--it is useless, because I am determined. And you shall lie down in the little tea-room, where I found you that day when you first came to Trecourt."

"I shall be very happy to do anything--if you are there."

"Even drink tea when you abhor it? Then I certainly ought to reward you with my presence at the rite.... Are you dizzy? You are terribly pale.... Would you lean on my arm?"

I was not dizzy, but I did so; and if such deceit is not pardonable, there is no justice in this world or in the next.

The tea was hot and harmless; I lay thinking while she sat in the sunny window-corner, nibbling biscuit and marmalade, and watching me gravely.

"My appetite is dreadful in these days," she said; "age increases it; I have just had my chocolate, yet here am I, eating like a school-girl.... I have a strange idea that I am exceedingly young,... that I am just beginning to live. That tired, thin, shabby girl you saw at La Trappe was certainly not I.... And long before that, before I knew you, there was another impersonal, half--awakened creature, who watched the world surging and receding around her, who grew tired even of violets and bonbons, tired of the companionship of the indifferent, hurt by the intimacy of the unfriendly; and I cannot believe that she was I.... Can you?"

"I can believe it; I once saw you then," I said.

She looked up quickly. "Where?"

"In Paris."

"When?"

"The day that they received the news from Mexico. You sat in your carriage before the gates of the war office."

"I remember," she said, staring at me. Then a slight shudder passed over her.

Presently she said: "Did you recognize me afterward at La Trappe?"

"Yes,... you had grown more beautiful."

She colored and bent her head.

"You remembered me all that time?... But why didn't you--didn't you--" She laughed nervously. "Why didn't we know each other in those years? Truly, Monsieur Scarlett, I needed a friend then, if ever;... a friend who thought first of me and last of himself."

I did not answer.

"Fancy," she continued, "your passing me so long ago,... and I totally unconscious, sitting there in my carriage,... never dreaming of this friendship which I ... care for so much!... Do you remember at La Trappe what I told you, there on the staircase?--how sometimes the impulse used to come to me when I saw a kindly face in the street to cry out, 'Be friends with me!' Do you remember?... It is strange that I did not feel that impulse when you passed me that day in Paris--feel it even though I did not see you--for I sorely needed kindness then, kindness and wisdom; and both passed by, at my elbow,... and I did not know." She bent her head, smiling with an effort. "You should have thrown yourself astride the horse and galloped away with me.... They did those things once, Monsieur Scarlett--on this very spot, too, in the days of the Saxon pirates."

The whirring monotone of the spinning-wheel suddenly filled the house; Sylvia was singing at her wheel:


"Woe to the maids of Paradise!
Yvonne!
Twice have the Saxons landed; twice!
Yvonne!
Yet shall Paradise see them thrice,
Yvonne! Yvonne! Marivonik!"


"The prophecy of that Breton spinning song is being fulfilled," I said. "For the third time we Saxons have come to Paradise, you see."

"But this time our Saxons are not very formidable," she said, raising her beautiful gray eyes; "and the gwerz says, 'Woe to the maids of Paradise!' Do you intend to bring woe upon us maids of Paradise--do you come to carry us off, monsieur?"

"If you will go with--me," I said, smiling.

"All of us?"

"Only one, madame."

She started to speak, then her eyes fell. She laughed uncertainly. "Which one among us, if you please--mizilour skler ha brillant deuz ar fidelite?"

"Met na varwin Ket Kontant, ma na varwan fidel," I said, slowly, as the words of the song came back to me. "I shall choose only the fairest and loveliest, madame. You know it is always that way in the story." My voice was not perfectly steady, nor was hers when she smiled and wished me happiness and a long life with the maid of Paradise I had chosen, even though I took her by force.

Then constraint crept in between us, and I was grimly weighing the friendship this woman had given me--weighing it in the balance against a single hope.

Once she looked across at me with questioning eyes in which I thought I read dawning disappointment. It almost terrified me.... I could not lose her confidence,... I could not, and go through life without it.... But I could live a hopeless life to its end with that confidence.... And I must do so,... and be content.

"I suppose," said I, thinking aloud, "that I had better go to England."

"When?" she asked, without raising her head.

"In a day or two. I can find employment there, I think."

"Is it necessary that you find employment ... so soon?"

"Yes," I said, with a meaningless laugh, "I fear it is."

"What will you do?"

"Oh, the army--horses--something of that kind. Riding-master, perhaps--perhaps Scotland Yard. I may not be able to pick and choose.... If I ever save enough money for the voyage, perhaps you would let me come, once in a long while, to pay my respects, madame?"

"Yes,... come, if you wish."

She said no more, nor did I. Presently Sylvia appeared with a peasant woman, and the young countess went away, followed by the housekeeper with her keys at her girdle.

I rose and walked to the window; then, nerveless and depressed, I went out into the garden again to smoke a cigar.

The cat had disappeared; I traversed the garden, passed through the side wicket, and found myself on the cliffs. Almost immediately I was aware of a young girl, a child, seated on the rocks, her chin propped on her hands, the sea-wind blowing her curly elf-locks across her cheeks and eyes. A bundle tied in a handkerchief lay beside her; a cat dozed in her lap, its sleek fur stirring in the wind.

"Jacqueline!" I said, gently.

She raised her head; the movement awakened the cat, who stood up in her lap, stretching and yawning vigorously.

"I thought you were to sail from Lorient to-day?"

The cat stopped purring from her knees; the child rose, pushing back her hair from her eyes with both hands.

"Where is Speed?" she asked, drowsily.

"Did you want to see him, Jacqueline?"

"That is why I returned."

"To see Speed?"

"Parbleu."

"And you are going to let the others sail without you?"

"Yes."

"And give up the circus forever, Jacqueline?"

"Y-es."

"Just because you want to see Speed?"

"Only for that."

She stood rubbing her eyes with her small fists, as though just awakened.

"Oui," she said, without emotion, "c'est comme ca, m'sieu. Where the heart is, happiness lies. I left the others at the city gate; I said, 'Voyons, let us be reasonable, gentlemen. I am happy in your circus; I am happy with Speed; I can be contented without your circus, but I cannot be contented without Speed. Voila!'... and then I went."

"You walked back all the way from Lorient?"

"Bien sur! I have no carriage--I, Jacqueline." She stretched her slim figure, raised her arms slowly, and yawned. "Pardon," she murmured, "I have slept in the gorse--badly."

"Come into the garden," I said; "we can talk while you rest."

She thanked me tranquilly, picked up her bundle, and followed me with a slight limp. The cat, tail up, came behind.

The young countess was standing at the window as we approached in solemn single file along the path, and when she caught sight of us she opened the door and stepped out on the tiny porch.

"Why, this is our little Jacqueline," she said, quickly. "They have taken your father for the conscription, have they not, my child? And now you are homeless!"

"I think so, madame."

"Then you will stay with me until he returns, won't you, little one?"

There was a moment's pause; Jacqueline made a grave gesture. "This is my cat, madame--Ange Pitou."

The countess stared at the cat, then broke out into the prettiest peal of laughter. "Of course you must bring your cat! My invitation is also for Ange Pitou, you understand."

"Then we thank you, and permit ourselves to accept, madame," said Jacqueline. "We are very glad because we are quite hungry, and we have thorns from the gorse in our feet--" She broke off with a joyous little cry: "There is Speed!" And Speed, entering the garden hurriedly, stopped short in his tracks.

The child ran to him and threw both arms around his neck. "Oh, Speed! Speed!" she stammered, over and over again. "I was too lonely; I will do what you wish; I will be instructed in the graces of education--truly I will. I am glad to come back--and I am so tired, Speed. I will never go away from you again.... Oh, Speed, I am contented!... Do you love me?"

"Dearly, little sweetheart," he said, huskily, trying to steady his voice. "There! Madame the countess is waiting. All will be well now." He turned, smiling, toward the young countess, and lifted his hat, then stepped back and fixed me with a blank look of dismay, which said perfectly plainly that he had unpleasant news to communicate. The countess, I think, saw that look, too, for she gave me an almost imperceptible nod and took Jacqueline's hand in hers.

"If there are thorns in your feet we must find them," she said, sweetly. "Will you come, Jacqueline?"

"Yes, madame," said the child, with an adoring smile at Speed, who bent and kissed her upturned face as she passed.

They went into the house, the countess holding Jacqueline's thorn-scratched hand, the cat following, perfectly self-possessed, to the porch, where she halted and sat down, surveying the landscape with dignified indifference.

"Well," said I, turning to Speed, "what new deviltry is going on in Paradise now?"

"Preparations for train-wrecking, I should say," he replied, bluntly. "They are tinkering with the trestle. Buckhurst's ragamuffins have just seized the railroad station at Rose-Sainte-Anne, where the main line crosses, you know, near the ravine at Lammerin. I was sure there was something extraordinary going to happen, so I went down to the river, hailed Jeanne Rolland, the passeuse, and had her ferry me over to Bois-Gilbert. Then I made for the telegraph, gave the operator ten francs to let me work the keys, and called up the arsenal at Lorient. But it was no use, Scarlett, the governor of Lorient can't spare a soldier--not a single gendarme. It seems that Uhlans have been signalled north of Quimper, and Lorient is frantic, and the garrison is preparing to stand siege."

"You mean," I said, indignantly, "that they're not going to try to catch Buckhurst and Mornac?"

"That's what I mean; they're scared as rabbits over these rumors of Uhlans in the west and north."

"Well," said I, disgusted, "it appears to me that Buckhurst is going to get off scot-free this time--and Mornac, too! Did you know that Mornac was here?"

"Know it? I saw him an hour ago, marshalling a new company of malcontents in the square--a bad lot, Scarlett--deserters from Chanzy's army, from Bourbaki, from Garibaldi--a hundred or more line soldiers, dragoons without horses, francs-tireurs, Garibaldians, even a Turco, from Heaven knows where--bad soldiers who disgrace France--marauders, cowardly, skulking mobiles--a sweet lot, Scarlett, to be let loose in Madame de Vassart's vicinity."

"I think so, too," I said, seriously.

"And I earnestly agree with you," muttered Speed. "That's all _I have to report, except that your friend, Robert the Lizard, is out yonder flat on his belly under a gorse-bush, and he wants to see you."

"The Lizard!" I exclaimed. "Come on, Speed. Where is he?"

"Yonder, clothed in somebody's line uniform. He's one of them. Scarlett, do you trust him? He has a rifle."

"Yes, yes," I said, impatiently. "Come on, man! It's all right; the fellow is watching Buckhurst for me." And I gave Speed a nervous push toward the moors. We started, Speed ostentatiously placing his revolver in his side-pocket so that he could shoot through his coat if necessary. I walked beside him, closely scanning the stretch of open moor for a sign of life, knowing all the while that it is easier to catch moon-beams in a net than to find a poacher in the bracken. But Speed had marked him down as he might mark a squatting quail, and suddenly we flushed him, rifle clapped to his shoulder.

"None of that, my friend," growled Speed; but the poacher at sight of me had already lowered the weapon.

I greeted him frankly, offering my hand; he took it, then his hard fist fell away and he touched his cap.

"I have done what you wanted," he said, sullenly. "I have the company's rolls--here they are." He dragged from his baggy trousers pockets a mass of filthy papers, closely covered with smeared writing. "Here is the money, too," he said, fishing in the other pocket; and, to my astonishment, he produced a flattened, soiled mass of bank-notes. "Count it," he added, calmly.

"What money is that?" I asked, taking it reluctantly.

"Didn't you warn me to get that box--the steel box that Tric-Trac sat down on when he saw me?"

"Is that money from the box?" I exclaimed.

"Yes, m'sieu. I could not bring the box, and there had been enough blood shed over it already. Besides, when Buckhurst broke it open there was only a bit of iron for the scrap-heap left."

I touched Speed's arm to call his attention; the poacher shrugged his shoulders and continued: "Tric-Trac made no ceremony with me; he told me that he and Buckhurst had settled this Dr. Delmont, and the other--the professor--Tavernier."

"Murdered them?" muttered Speed.

"Dame!--the coup du Pere Francois is murder, I suppose."

Speed turned to me. "That's the argot for strangling," he said, grimly.

"Go on," I motioned to the poacher. "How did you get the money?"

"Oh, pour ca--in my turn I turned sonneur," he replied, with a savage smile.

A _sonneur_, in thieves' slang, is a creature of the footpad type who, tripping his victim flat, seizes him by the shoulders and beats his head against the pavement until he renders him unconscious--if he doesn't kill him.

"It was pay-day," continued the Lizard. "Buckhurst opened the box and I heard him--he hammered it open with a cold chisel. I was standing guard on the forest's edge; I crept back, hearing the hammering and the little bell ringing the Angelus of Tric-Trac. It was close to dusk; by the time he got into the box it was dark in the woods, and it was easy to jump on his back and strike--not very hard, m'sieu--but, I tell you, Buckhurst lay for two days with eyes like a sick owl's! He knew one of his own men had done it. He never said a word, but I know he thinks it was Tric-Trac.... And when he is ready--bon soir, Tric-Trac!"

He drew his right hand across his corded throat with a horridly suggestive motion. Speed watched him narrowly.

I asked the poacher why Buckhurst had come to Paradise, and why his banditti had seized the railroad at Rose-Sainte-Anne.

"Ah," cried the Lizard, with a ferocious leer, "that is the kernel under the limpet's tent! And I have uncovered it--I, Robert Garenne, bon sang de Jesu!"

He stretched out his powerful arm toward the sea. "Where is that cruiser, m'sieu? Gone? Yes, but who sent her off? Buckhurst, with his new signal-book! Where? In chase of a sea-swallow, or a frigate (bird). Who knows? Listen, messieurs! We are to wreck the train for Brest to-night. Do you comprehend?"

"Where?" I asked, quietly.

"Just where the trestle at Lammerin crosses the ravine below the house of Josephine Tanguy."

Speed looked around at me. "It's the treasure-train from Lorient. They're probably sending the crown diamonds back to Brest in view of the Uhlans being seen near Quimper."

"On a false order?"

"I believe so. I believe that Buckhurst sent the cruiser to Brest, and now he's started the treasure-trains back to Brest in a panic."

"That is the truth," said the Lizard; "Tric-Trac told me. They have the code-book of Mornac." His eyes began to light up with that terrible anger as the name of his blood enemy fell from his lips; his nose twitched; his upper lip wrinkled into a snarl.

I thought quietly for a moment, then asked the poacher whether there was a guard at the semaphore of Saint-Yssel.

"Yes, the soldier Rolland, who says he understands the telegraph--a sot from Morlaix." He hesitated and looked across the open moor toward Paradise. "I must go," he muttered; "I am on guard yonder."

I offered him my hand again; he took it, looking me sincerely in the eyes.

"Let your private wrongs wait a little longer," I said. "I think we can catch Buckhurst and Mornac alive. Do you promise?"

"Y-es," he replied.

"Strike, then, like a Breton!"

We struck palms heavily. Then he turned to Speed and motioned him to retire.

Speed walked slowly toward a half-buried bowlder and sat down out of ear-shot.

"For your sake," said the poacher, clutching my hand in a tightening grip--"for your sake I have let Mornac go--let him pass me at arm's-length, and did not strike. You have dealt openly by me--and justly. No man can say I betrayed friendship. But I swear to you that if you miss him this time, I shall not miss--I, Robert the Lizard!"

"You mean to kill Mornac?" I asked.

His eyes blazed.

"Ami," he said, "I once spoke of '_a little red deer_,' and you half understood me, for you are wise in strange ways, as I am."

"I remember," I said.

His strong fingers closed tighter on my hand. "Woman--or doe--it's all one now; and I am out of prison--the prison _he sent me to! Do you understand that he wronged me--me, the soldier Garenne, in garrison at Vincennes; he, the officer, the aristocrat?"

He choked, crushing my hand in a spasmodic grip. "Ami, the little red deer was beautiful--to me. He took her--the doe--a silly maid of Paradise--and I was in irons, m'sieu, for three years."

He glared at vacancy, tears falling from his staring eyes.

"Your wife?" I asked, quietly.

"Yes, ami."

He dropped my numbed fingers and rubbed his eyes with the back of his big hand.

"Then Jacqueline is not your little daughter?" I asked, gravely.

"Hers--not mine. That has been the most terrible of all for me--since she died--died so young, too, m'sieu--and all alone--in Paris. If he had not done that--if he had been kind to her. And she was only a child, ami, yet he left her."

All the ferocity in his eyes was gone; he raised a vacant, grief-lined visage to meet mine, and stood stupidly, heavy hands hanging.

Then, shoulders sloping, he shambled off into the thicket, trailing his battered rifle.

When he was very far away I motioned to Speed.

"I think," said I, "that we had better try to do something at the semaphore if we are going to stop that train in time."

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