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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 22. The Secret
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 22. The Secret Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1721

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 3 - Chapter 22. The Secret


The news of the collapse of the army of the East found our wretchedly clothed and half-starved hussars still patrolling the environs of Brest from Belair to the Pont Tournant, and from the banks of the Elorn clear around the ramparts to Lannion Bay, where the ice-sheathed iron-clads lay with banked fires off the Port Militaire, and the goulet guard-boats patrolled the Port de Commerce from the Passe de l'Ouest to the hook on the Digue and clear around to Cap Espagnol.

All Brest, from the battlements of the Chateau of St. Martin, in Belair, was on watch, so wrought up was the governor over the attempt on the treasure-train. For three months our troopers scarcely left their saddles, except to be taken to the hospital in Recouvrance.

The rigor of the constant alert wore us to shadows; rockets from the goulet, the tocsin, the warning boom of a gun from the castle, found us spurring our jaded horses through ice and snow to scour the landward banlieue and purge it of a dreaded revolt. The names of Marx, of Flourens, of Buckhurst, were constantly repeated; news of troubles at Bordeaux, rumors of the red flag at Marseilles, only served to increase the rigid system of patrol, which brought death to those in the trenches as well as to our sleet-soaked videttes.

Suddenly the nightmare ended with a telegram. Paris had surrendered.

Immediately the craze to go beset us all; our improvised squadrons became clamoring mobs of peasants, wild to go home. Deserters left us every night; they shot some in full flight; some were shot after drum-head seances in which Speed and I voted in vain for acquittal. But affairs grew worse; our men neglected their horses; bands of fugitives robbed the suburbs, roving about, pillaging, murdering, even burning the wretched hovels where nothing save the four walls remained even for the miserable inmates.

Our hussars were sent on patrol again, but they deserted with horses and arms in scores, until, when we rode into the Rue du Bois d'Amour, scarce a squadron clattered into the smoky gateway, and the infantry of the line across the street jeered and cursed us from their barracks.

On the last day of February our regiment was disbanded, and the officers ordered to hold themselves in readiness to recruit the debris of a dragoon regiment, one squadron of which at once took possession of our miserable barracks.

On the first day of March, by papers from London, we learned that the war was at an end, and that the preliminary treaty of Sunday, the 26th, had been signed at Versailles.

The same mail brought to me an astonishing offer from Cairo, to assist in the reorganization and accept a commission in the Egyptian military police. Speed and I, shivering in our ragged uniforms by the barrack stove, discussed the matter over a loaf of bread and a few sardines, until we fell asleep in our greasy chairs and dreamed of hot sunshine, and of palms, and of a crimson sunset against which a colossal basking monster, half woman, half lion, crouched, wallowing to her stone breasts in a hot sea of sand.

When I awoke in the black morning hours I knew that I should go. All the roaming instinct in me was roused. I, a nomad, had stayed too long in one stale place; I must be moving on. A feverish longing seized me; inertia became unbearable; the restless sea called me louder and louder, thundering on the breakwater; the gulls, wheeling above the arsenal at dawn, screamed a challenge.

Leave of absence, and permission to travel pending acceptance of my resignation, I asked for and obtained before the stable trumpets awoke my comrade from his heavy slumber by the barrack stove.

I made my packet--not much--a few threadbare garments folded around her letters, one to mark each miserable day that had passed since I spurred my horse out of Trecourt on the track of the wickedest man I ever knew.

Speed awoke with the trumpets, and stared at me where I knelt before the stove in my civilian clothes, strapping up my little packet.

"Oh," he said, briefly, "I knew you were going."

"So did I," I replied. "Will you ride to Trecourt with me? I have two weeks' permission for you."

He had no clothing but the uniform he wore, and no baggage except a razor, a shirt, a tooth-brush, and a bundle of letters, all written on Madame de Vassart's crested paper, but not signed by her.

We bolted our breakfast of soup and black bread, and bawled for our horses, almost crazed with impatience, now that the moment had come at last.

"Good-bye!" shouted the shivering dragoon officers, wistfully, as we wheeled our horses and spurred, clattering, towards the black gates. "Good-bye and good luck! We drink to those you love, comrades!"

"And they shall drink to you! Good-bye! Good-bye!" we cried, till the salt sea-wind tore the words from our teeth and bowed our heads as we galloped through the suburbs and out into the icy high-road, where, above us, the telegraph-wires sang their whirring dirge, and the wind in the gorse whistled, and the distant forest sounded and resounded with the gale's wailing.

On, on, hammering the flinty road with steel-shod hoofs, racing with the racing clouds, thundering across the pontoon, where benumbed soldiers huddled to stare, then bounding forward through the narrow lanes of hamlets, where pinched faces peered out at us from hovels, and gaunt dogs fled from us into the frozen hedge.

Far ahead we caught sight of the smoke of a locomotive.

"Landerneau!" gasped Speed. "Ride hard, Scarlett!"

The station-master saw us and halted the moving train at a frantic signal from Speed, whose uniform was to be reckoned with by all station-masters, and ten minutes later we stood swaying in a cattle-car, huddled close to our horses to keep warm, while the locomotive tore eastward, whistling frantically, and an ocean of black smoke poured past, swarming with sparks. Crossing the Aune trestle with a ripping roar, the train rushed through Chateaulin, south, then east, then south.

Toward noon, Speed, clinging to the stall-bars, called out to me that he could see Quimper, and in a few moments we rolled into the station, dropped two cars, and steamed out again into the beautiful Breton country, where the winter wheat was green as new grass and the gorse glimmered, and the clear streams rushed seaward between their thickets of golden willows and green briers, already flushing with the promise of new buds.

Rosporden we passed at full speed; scarcely a patch of melting snow remained at Bannalec; and when we steamed slowly into Quimperle, the Laita ran crystal-clear as a summer stream, and I saw the faint blue of violets on the southern slope of the beech-woods.

Some gendarmes aided us to disembark our horses, and a sub-officer respectfully offered us hospitality at the barracks across the square; but we were in our saddles the moment our horses' hoofs struck the pavement, galloping for Paradise, with a sweet, keen wind blowing, hinting already of the sea.

This was that same road which led me into Paradise on that autumn day which seemed years and years ago. The forests were leafless but beautiful; the blackthorns already promised their scented snow to follow the last melting drift which still glimmered among the trees in deep woodland gullies. A violet here and there looked up at us with blue eyes; in sheltered spots, fresh, reddish sprouts pricked the moist earth, here a whorl of delicate green, there a tender spike, guarding some imprisoned loveliness; buds on the beeches were brightening under a new varnish; naked thickets, no longer dead gray, softened into harmonies of pink and gold and palest purple.

Once, halting at a bridge, above the quick music of the stream we heard an English robin singing all alone.

"I never longed for spring as I do now," broke out Speed. "The horror of this black winter has scarred me forever--the deathly whiteness, month after month; the freezing filth of that ghastly city; the sea, all slime and ice!"

"Gallop," I said, shuddering. "I can smell the moors of Paradise already. The winds will cleanse us."

We spoke no more; and at last the road turned to the east, down among the trees, and we were traversing the square of Paradise village, where white-capped women turned to look after us, and children stared at us from their playground around the fountain, and the sleek magpies fluttered out of our path as we galloped over the bridge and breasted the sweet, strong moor wind, spicy with bay and gorse.

Speed flung out his arm, pointing. "The circus camp was there," he said. "They have ploughed the clover under."

A moment later I saw the tower of Trecourt, touched with a ray of sunshine, and the sea beyond, glittering under a clearing sky.

As we dismounted in the court-yard the sun flashed out from the fringes of a huge, snowy cloud.

"There is Jacqueline!" cried Speed, tossing his bridle to me in his excitement, and left me planted there until a servant came from the stable.

Then I followed, every nerve quivering, almost dreading to set foot within, lest happiness awake me and I find myself in the freezing barracks once more, my brief dream ended.

In the hallway a curious blindness came over me. I heard Jacqueline call my name, and I felt her hands in mine, but scarcely saw her; then she slipped away from me, and I found myself seated in the little tea-room, listening to the dull, double beat of my own heart, trembling at distant sounds in the house--waiting, endlessly waiting.

After a while a glimmer of common-sense returned to me. I squared my shoulders and breathed deeply, then rose and walked to the window.

The twigs on the peach-trees had turned wine-color; around the roots of the larkspurs delicate little palmated leaves clustered; crocus spikes pricked the grass everywhere, and the tall, polished shoots of the peonies glistened, glowing crimson in the sun. A heavy cat sunned its sleek flanks on the wall, brilliant eyes half closed, tail tucked under. Ange Pitou had grown very fat in three months.

A step at the door, and I wheeled, trembling. But it was only a Breton maid, who bore some letters on a salver of silver.

"For me?" I asked.

"If you please," she said, demurely.

Two letters, and I knew the writing on one. The first I read standing:

"Buffalo, N. Y., Feb. 3, 1871.

"Mr. Scarlett, Dear Sir and Friend,--Trusting you're
well I am pleased to admit the same, the blind Goddess
having smiled on me and the circus since we quit that
damn terra firma for a more peeceful climb.

"We are enjoying winter quarters near to the majestic
phenomena of Niagara, fodder is cheap and vittles

"Would be pleased to have you entertain idees of
joining us, and the same to Mr. Speed--you can take the
horses. I have a lion man from Jersey City. We open in
Charleston S. C. next week no more of La continong for
me, _savvy voo_! home is good enough for me. That
little Jacqueline left me I got a girl and am training
her but she ain't Jacqueline. Annimals are well Mrs.
Grigg sends her love and is joined by all especially
the ladies and others too numerous to mention. Hoping
to hear from you soon about the horses I remain yours
truly and courteously,

"H. Byram Esq."

The second letter I opened carelessly, smiling a little:

"New York, Feb. 1, 1871.

"Dear Mr. Scarlett,--We were married yesterday. We have
life before us, but are not afraid. I shall never
forget you; my wife can never forget the woman you
love. We have both passed through hell--but _we have
passed through alive_. And we pray for the happiness of
you and yours.

"Kelly Eyre."

Sobered, I laid this letter beside the first, turned thoughtfully away into the room, then stood stock-still.

The Countess de Vassart stood in the doorway, a smile trembling on her lips. In her gray eyes I read hope; and I took her hands in mine. She stood silent with bent head, exquisite in her silent shyness; and I told her I loved her, and that I asked for her love; that I had found employment in Egypt, and that it was sufficient to justify my asking her to wed me.

"As for my name," I said, "you know that is not the name I bear; yet, knowing that, you have given me your love. You read my dossier in Paris; you know _why I am alone, without kin, without a family, without a home. Yet you believe that I am not tainted with dishonor. And I am not. Listen, this is what happened; this is why I gave up all; and ... this is my name!" ...

And I bent my head and whispered the truth for the first time in my life to any living creature.

When I had ended I stood still, waiting, head still bowed beside hers.

She laid her hand on my hot face and slowly drew it close beside hers.

"What shall I promise you?" she whispered.

"Yourself, Eline."

"Take me.... Is that all?"

"Your love."

She turned in my arms and clasped her hands behind my head, pressing her mouth to mine.

Robert W. Chambers's novel: Maids of Paradise

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