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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
I am myself just as much evil as good, and my nation
is — And I say there is in fact no evil;
(Or if there is, I say it is just as important to you, to
the land, or to me, as anything else.)
Each is not for its own sake;
I say the whole earth, and all the stars in the sky are
for Religion’s sake.
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough;
None has ever adored or worshipped half enough;
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and
how certain the future is.— WALT WHITMAN
I have heard what the Talkers were talking,— the talk
Of the beginning and the end;
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
Concerning Yue–Laou and the Xin I know nothing more than you shall know. I am miserably anxious to clear the matter up. Perhaps what I write may save the United Stares Government money and lives, perhaps it may arouse the scientific world to action; at any rate it will put an end to the terrible suspense of two people. Certainty is better than suspense.
If the Government dares to disregard this warning and refuses to send a thoroughly equipped expedition at once, the people of the State may take swift vengeance on the whole region and leave a blackened devastated waste where to-day forest and flowering meadow land border the lake in the Cardinal Woods.
You already know part of the story; the New York papers have been full of alleged details.
This much is true: Barris caught the “Shiner,” red handed, or rather yellow handed, for his pockets and boots and dirty fists were stuffed with lumps of gold. I say gold, advisedly. You may call it what you please. You also know how Barris was — but unless I begin at the beginning of my own experiences you will be none the wiser after all.
On the third of August of this present year I was standing in Tiffany’s, chatting with George Godfrey of the designing department. On the glass counter between us lay a coiled serpent, an exquisite specimen of chiselled gold.
“No,” replied Godfrey to my question, “it isn’t my work; I wish it was. Why, man, it’s a masterpiece!”
“Whose?” I asked . . . “Now I should be very glad to know also,” said Godfrey. “We bought it from an old jay who says he lives in the country somewhere about the Cardinal Woods. That’s near Starlit Lake, I believe —”
“Lake of the Stars?” I suggested.
“Some call it Starlit Lake,— it’s all the same. Well, my rustic Reuben says that he represents the sculptor of this snake for all practical and business purposes. He got his price too. We hope he’ll bring us something more. We have sold this already to the Metropolitan Museum.”
I was leaning idly on the glass case, watching the keen eyes of the artist in precious metals as he stooped over the gold serpent.
“A masterpiece!” he muttered to himself fondling the glittering coil; “look at the texture! whew!” But I was not looking at the serpent. Something was moving,— crawling out of Godfrey’s coat pocket,— the pocket nearest to me,— something soft and yellow with crab-like legs all covered with coarse yellow hair.
“What in Heaven’s name,” said I, “have you got in your pocket? It’s crawling out — it’s trying to creep up your coat, Godfrey!”
He turned quickly and dragged the creature out with his left hand.
I shrank back as he held the repulsive object dangling before me, and he laughed and placed it on the counter.
“Did you ever see anything like that?” he demanded.
“No,” said I truthfully, “and I hope I never shall again. What is it?”
“I don’t know. Ask them at the Natural History Museum — they can’t tell you. The Smithsonian is all at sea too. It is, I believe, the connecting link between a sea-urchin, a spider, and the devil. It looks venomous but I can’t find either fangs or mouth. Is it blind? These things may be eyes but they look as if they were painted. A Japanese sculptor might have produced such an impossible beast, but it is hard to believe that God did. It looks unfinished too. I have a mad idea that this creature is only one of the parts of some larger and more grotesque organism,— it looks so lonely, so hopelessly dependent, so cursedly unfinished. I’m going to use it as a model. If I don’t out-Japanese the Japs my name isn’t Godfrey.”
The creature was moving slowly across the glass case towards me. I drew back.
“Godfrey,” I said, “I would execute a man who executed any such work as you propose. What do you want to perpetuate such a reptile for? I can stand the Japanese grotesque but I can’t stand that — spider —”
“It’s a crab.”
“Crab or spider or blind-worm — ugh! What do you want to do it for? It’s a nightmare — it’s unclean!”
I hated the thing. It was the first living creature that I had ever hated.
For some time I had noticed a damp acrid odour in the air, and Godfrey said it came from the reptile.
“Then kill it and bury it,” I said; “and by the way, where did it come from?”
“I don’t know that either,” laughed Godfrey; “I found it clinging to the box that this gold serpent was brought in. I suppose my old Reuben is responsible.”
“If the Cardinal Woods are the lurking places for things like this,” said I, “I am sorry that I am going to the Cardinal Woods.”
“Are you?” asked Godfrey; “for the shooting?”
“Yes, with Barris and Pierpont. Why don’t you kill that creature?”
“Go off on your shooting trip, and let me alone,” laughed Godfrey . . . I shuddered at the “crab,” and bade Godfrey good-bye until December.
That night, Pierpont, Barris, and I sat chatting in the smoking-car of the Quebec Express when the long train pulled out of the Grand Central Depot. Old David had gone forward with the dogs; poor things, they hated to ride in the baggage car, but the Quebec and Northern road provides no sportsman’s cars, and David and the three Gordon setters were in for an uncomfortable night.
Except for Pierpont, Barris, and myself, the car was empty. Barris, trim, stout, ruddy, and bronzed, sat drumming on the window ledge, puffing a short fragrant pipe. His gun-case lay beside him on the floor.
“When I have white hair and years of discretion,” said Pierpont languidly, “I’ll not flirt with pretty serving-maids; will you, Roy?”
“No,” said I, looking at Barris.
“You mean the maid with the cap in the Pullman car?” asked Barris.
“Yes,” said Pierpont.
I smiled, for I had seen it also.
Barris twisted his crisp grey moustache, and yawned.
“You children had better be toddling off to bed,” he said. “That lady’s-maid is a member of the Secret Service.”
“Oh,” said Pierpont, “one of your colleagues?”
“You might present us, you know,” I said; “the journey is monotonous.”
Barris had drawn a telegram from his pocket, and as he sat turning it over and over between his fingers he smiled. After a moment or two he handed it to Pierpont who read it with slightly raised eyebrows.
“It’s rot,— I suppose it’s cipher,” he said; “I see it’s signed by General Drummond —”
“Drummond, Chief of the Government Secret Service,” said Barris.
“Something interesting?” I enquired, lighting a cigarette.
“Something so interesting,” replied Barris, “that I’m going to look into it myself —”
“And break up our shooting trio —”
“No. Do you want to hear about it? Do you, Billy Pierpont?”
“Yes,” replied that immaculate young man.
Barris rubbed the amber mouth-piece of his pipe on his handkerchief, cleared the stem with a bit of wire, puffed once or twice, and leaned back in his chair.
“Pierpont,” he said, “do you remember that evening at the United States Club when General Miles, General Drummond, and I were examining that gold nugget that Captain Mahan had? You examined it also, I believe.”
“I did,” said Pierpont.
“Was it gold?” asked Barris, drumming on the window.
“It was,” replied Pierpont.
“I saw it too,” said I; “of course, it was gold.”
“Professor La Grange saw it also,” said Barris; “he said it was gold.”
“Well?” said Pierpont.
“Well,” said Barris, “it was not gold.”
After a silence Pierpont asked what tests had been made.
“The usual tests,” replied Barris. “The United States Mint is satisfied that it is gold, so is every jeweller who has seen it. But it is not gold,— and yet — it is gold.”
Pierpont and I exchanged glances.
“Now,” said I, “for Barris’ usual coup-de-théâtre: what was the nugget?”
“Practically it was pure gold; but,” said Barris, enjoying the situation intensely, “really it was not gold. Pierpont, what is gold?”
“Gold’s an element, a metal —”
“Wrong! Billy Pierpont,” said Barris coolly.
“Gold was an element when I went to school,” said I.
“It has not been an element for two weeks,” said Barris; “and, except General Drummond, Professor La Grange, and myself, you two youngsters are the only people, except one, in the world who know it,— or have known it.”
“Do you mean to say that gold is a composite metal?” said Pierpont slowly.
“I do. La Grange has made it. He produced a scale of pure gold day before yesterday. That nugget was manufactured gold.”
Could Barris be joking? Was this a colossal hoax? I looked at Pierpont. He muttered something about that settling the silver question, and turned his head to Barris, but there was that in Barris’ face which forbade jesting, and Pierpont and I sat silently pondering.
“Don’t ask me how it’s made,” said Barris, quietly; “I don’t know. But I do know that somewhere in the region of the Cardinal Woods there is a gang of people who do know how gold is made, and who make it. You understand the danger this is to every civilized nation. It’s got to be stopped of course. Drummond and I have decided that I am the man to stop it. Wherever and whoever these people are — these gold-makers,— they must be caught, every one of them,—— caught or shot.”
“Or shot,” repeated Pierpont, who was owner of the Cross–Cut Gold Mine and found his income too small; “Professor La Grange will of course be prudent;— science need not know things that would upset the world!”
“Little Willy,” said Barris laughing, “your income is safe.”
“I suppose,” said I, “some flaw in the nugget gave Professor La Grange the tip.”
“Exactly. He cut the flaw out before sending the nugget to be tested. He worked on the flaw and separated gold into its three elements.”
“He is a great man,” said Pierpont, “but he will be the greatest man in the world if he can keep his discovery to himself.”
“Who?” said Barris.
“Professor La Grange.”
“Professor La Grange was shot through the heart two hours ago,” replied Barris slowly.
We had been at the shooting box in the Cardinal Woods five days when a telegram was brought to Barris by a mounted messenger from the nearest telegraph station, Cardinal Springs, a hamlet on the lumber railroad which joins the Quebec and Northern at Three Rivers Junction, thirty miles below.
Pierpont and I were sitting out under the trees, loading some special shells as experiments; Barris stood beside us, bronzed, erect, holding his pipe carefully so that no sparks should drift into our powder box. The beat of hoofs over the grass aroused us, and when the lank messenger drew bridle before the door, Barris stepped forward and took the sealed telegram. When he had torn it open he went into the house and presently reappeared, reading something that he had written.
“This should go at once,” he said, looking the messenger full in the face . . . “At once, Colonel Barris,” replied the shabby countryman.
Pierpont glanced up and I smiled at the messenger who was gathering his bridle and settling himself in his stirrups. Barris handed him the written reply and nodded good-bye: there was a thud of hoofs on the greensward, a jingle of bit and spur across the gravel, and the messenger was gone. Barris’ pipe went out and he stepped to windward to relight it.
“It is queer,” said I, “that your messenger — a battered native,— should speak like a Harvard man.”
“He is a Harvard man,” said Barris.
“And the plot thickens,” said Pierpont; “are the Cardinal Woods full of your Secret Service men, Barris?”
“No,” replied Barris, “but the telegraph stations are. How many ounces of shot are you using, Roy?”
I told him, holding up the adjustable steel measuring cup. He nodded. After a moment on two he sat down on a camp-stool beside us and picked up a crimper.
“That telegram was from Drummond,” he said; “the messenger was one of my men as you two bright little boys divined. Pooh! If he had spoken the Cardinal County dialect you wouldn’t have known.”
“His make-up was good,” said Pierpont.
Barris twirled the crimper and looked at the pile of loaded shells. Then he picked up one and crimped it.
“Let ’em alone,” said Pierpont, “you crimp too tight.”
“Does his little gun kick when the shells are crimped too tight?” enquired Barris tenderly; “well, he shall crimp his own shells then,— where’s his little man?”
“His little man” was a weird English importation, stiff, very carefully scrubbed, tangled in his aspirates, named Howlett. As valet, gilly, gun-bearer, and crimper, he aided Pierpont to endure the ennui of existence, by doing for him everything except breathing. Lately, however, Barris’ taunts had driven Pierpont to do a few things for himself. To his astonishment he found that cleaning his own gun was not a bore, so he timidly loaded a shell or two, was much pleased with himself, loaded some more, crimped them, and went to breakfast with an appetite. So when Barris asked where “his little man” was, Pierpont did not reply but dug a cupful of shot from the bag and poured it solemnly into the half-filled shell.
Old David came out with the dogs and of course there was a pow-wow when “Voyou,” my Gordon, wagged his splendid rail across the loading table and sent a dozen unstopped cartridges rolling over the grass, vomiting powder and shot.
“Give the dogs a mile or two,” said I; “we will shoot over the Sweet Fern Covert about four o’clock, David.”
“Two guns, David,” added Barris.
“Are you not going?” asked Pierpont, looking up, as David disappeared with the dogs.
“Bigger game,” said Barris shortly. He picked up a mug of ale from the tray which Howlett had just set down beside us and took a long pull. We did the same, silently. Pierpont set his mug on the turf beside him and returned to his loading.
We spoke of the murder of Professor La Grange, of how it had been concealed by the authorities in New York at Drummond’s request, of the certainty that it was one of the gang of gold-makers who had done it, and of the possible alertness of the gang.
“Oh, they know that Drummond will be after them sooner on later,” said Barris, “but they don’t know that the mills of the gods have already begun to grind. Those smart New York papers builded better than they knew when their ferret-eyed reporter poked his red nose into the house on 58th Street and sneaked off with a column on his cuffs about the ‘suicide’ of Professor La Grange. Billy Pierpont, my revolver is hanging in your room; I’ll take yours too —”
“Help yourself,” said Pierpont.
“I shall be gone over night,” continued Barris; “my poncho and some bread and meat are all I shall take except the ‘barkers.’”
“Will they bark to-night?” I asked.
“No, I trust not for several weeks yet. I shall nose about a bit. Roy, did it even strike you how queer it is that this wonderfully beautiful country should contain no inhabitants?”
“It’s like those splendid stretches of pools and rapids which one finds on every trout river and in which one never finds a fish,” suggested Pierpont.
“Exactly,— and Heaven alone knows why,” said Barris; “I suppose this country is shunned by human beings for the same mysterious reasons.”
“The shooting is the better for it,” I observed.
“The shooting is good,” said Barris, “have you noticed the snipe on the meadow by the lake? Why it’s brown with them! That’s a wonderful meadow.”
“It’s a natural one,” said Pierpont, “no human being even cleared that land.”
“Then it’s supernatural,” said Barris; “Pierpont, do you want to come with me?”
Pierpont’s handsome face flushed as he answered slowly, “It’s awfully good of you,— if I may.”
“Bosh,” said I, piqued because he had asked Pierpont, “what use is little Willy without his man?”
“True,” said Barris gravely, “you can’t take Howlett, you know.”
Pierpont muttered something which ended in “d — n.”
“Then,” said I, “there will be but one gun on the Sweet Fern Covent this afternoon. Very well, I wish you joy of your cold supper and colder bed. Take your night-gown, Willy, and don’t sleep on the damp ground.”
“Let Pierpont alone,” retorted Barris, “you shall go next time, Roy.”
“Oh, all right,— you mean when there’s shooting going on?”
“And I?” demanded Pierpont, grieved.
“You too, my son; stop quarrelling! Will you ask Howlett to pack our kits — lightly mind you,— no bottles,— they clink.”
“My flask doesn’t,” said Pierpont, and went off to get ready for a night’s stalking of dangerous men.
“It is strange,” said I, “that nobody ever settles in this region. How many people live in Cardinal Springs, Barris?”
“Twenty counting the telegraph operator and not counting the lumbermen; they are always changing and shifting. I have six men among them.”
“Where have you no men? In the Four Hundred?”
“I have men there also,— chums of Billy’s only he doesn’t know it. David tells me that there was a strong flight of woodcock last night. You ought to pick up some this afternoon.”
Then we chatted about alder-coven and swamp until Pierpont came out of the house and it was time to part.
“Au revoir,” said Barris, buckling on his kit, “come along, Pierpont, and don’t walk in the damp grass.”
“If you are not back by to-morrow noon,” said I, “I will take Howlett and David and hunt you up. You say your course is due north?”
“Due north,” replied Barris, consulting his compass.
“There is a trail for two miles and a spotted lead for two more,” said Pierpont.
“Which we won’t use for various reasons,” added Barris pleasantly; “don’t worry, Roy, and keep your confounded expedition out of the way; there’s no danger.”
He knew, of course, what he was talking about and I held my peace.
When the tip end of Pierpont’s shooting coat had disappeared in the Long Covert, I found myself standing alone with Howlett. He bore my gaze for a moment and then politely lowered his eyes.
“Howlett,” said I, “take these shells and implements to the gun room, and drop nothing. Did Voyou come to any harm in the briers this morning?”
“No ‘arm, Mr. Cardenhe, sir,” said Howlett.
“Then be careful not to drop anything else,” said I, and walked away leaving him decorously puzzled. For he had dropped no cartridges. Poor Howlett!
About four o’clock that afternoon I met David and the dogs at the spinney which leads into the Sweet Fern Covent. The three setters, Voyou, Gamin, and Mioche, were in fine feather,— David had killed a woodcock and a brace of grouse over them that morning,— and they were thrashing about the spinney an short range when I came up, gun under arm and pipe lighted.
“What’s the prospect, David,” I asked, trying to keep my feet in the tangle of wagging, whining dogs; “hello, what’s amiss with Mioche?”
“A brier in his foot sir; I drew it and stopped the wound but I guess the gravel’s got in. If you have no objection, sir, I might take him back with me.”
“It’s safer,” I said; “take Gamin too, I only want one dog this afternoon. What is the situation?”
“Fair, sir; the grouse lie within a quarter of a mile of the oak second-growth. The woodcock are mostly on the alders. I saw any number of snipe on the meadows. There’s something else in by the lake,— I can’t just tell what, but the wood-duck set up a clatter when I was in the thicket and they come dashing through the wood as if a dozen foxes was snappin’ at their tail feathers.”
“Probably a fox,” I said; “leash those dogs,— they must learn to stand in. I’ll be back by dinner time.”
“There is one more thing sir,” said David, lingering with his gun under his arm.
“Well,” said I.
“I saw a man in the woods by the Oak Covern,— at least I think I did.”
“I think not sir — at least,— do they have Chinamen among them?”
“Chinese? No. You didn’t see a Chinaman in the woods here?”
“I—— I think I did sir,— I can’t say positively. He was gone when I ran into the covert.”
“Did the dogs notice it?”
“I can’t say — exactly. They acted queer like. Gamin here lay down an’ whined — it may have been colic — and Mioche whimpered,— perhaps it was the brier.”
“Voyou, he was most remarkable sir, and the hair on his back stood up, I did see a groundhog makin’ for a tree near by.”
“Then no wonder Voyou bristled. David, your Chinaman was a stump or tussock. Take the dogs now.”
“I guess it was sir; good afternoon, sir,” said David, and walked away with the Gordons leaving me alone with Voyou in the spinney.
I looked at the dog and he looked at me.
The dog sat down and danced with his fore feet, his beautiful brown eyes sparkling.
“You’re a fraud,” I said; “which shall it be, the alders or the upland? Upland? Good!— now for the grouse,— heel, my friend, and show your miraculous self-restraint.”
Voyou wheeled into my tracks and followed close, nobly refusing to notice the impudent chipmunks and the thousand and one alluring and important smells which an ordinary dog would have lost no time in investigating.
The brown and yellow autumn woods were crisp with drifting heaps of leaves and twigs that crackled under foot as we turned from the spinney into the forest. Every silent little stream hurrying toward the lake was gay with painted leaves afloat, scarlet maple or yellow oak. Spots of sunlight fell upon the pools, searching the brown depths, illuminating the gravel bottom where shoals of minnows swam to and fro, and to and fro again, busy with the purpose of their little lives. The crickets were chirping in the long brittle grass on the edge of the woods, but we left them far behind in the silence of the deeper forest.
“Now!” said I to Voyou.
The dog sprang to the front, circled once, zigzagged through the ferns around us and, all in a moment, stiffened stock still, rigid as sculptured bronze. I stepped forward, raising my gun, two paces, three paces, ten perhaps, before a great cock-grouse blundered up from the brake and burst through the thicket fringe toward the deeper growth. There was a flash and puff from my gun, a crash of echoes among the low wooded cliffs, and through the faint veil of smoke something dark dropped from mid-air amid a cloud of feathers, brown as the brown leaves under foot.
Up from the ground sprang Voyou, and in a moment he came galloping back, neck arched, tail stiff but waving, holding tenderly in his pink mouth a mass of mottled bronzed feathers. Very gravely he laid the bird at my feet and crouched close beside in, his silky ears across his paws, his muzzle on the ground.
I dropped the grouse into my pocket, held for a moment a silent caressing communion with Voyou, then swung my gun under my arm and motioned the dog on.
It must have been five o’clock when I walked into a little opening in the woods and sat down to breathe. Voyou came and sat down in front of me.
“Well?” I enquired.
Voyou gravely presented one paw which I took.
“We will never get back in time for dinner,” said I, “so we might as well take it easy. It’s all your fault, you know. Is there a brier in your foot?— let’s see,— there! it’s out my friend and you are free to nose about and lick it. If you loll your tongue out you’ll get it all over twigs and moss.
“Can’t you lie down and try to pant less? No, there is no use in sniffing and looking an that fern patch, for we are going to smoke a little, doze a little, and go home by moonlight. Think what a big dinner we will have! Think of Howlett’s despair when we are not in time! Think of all the stories you will have to tell to Gamin and Mioche! Think what a good dog you have been!
“There — you are tired old chap; take forty winks with me.”
Voyou was a little tired. He stretched out on the leaves at my feet but whether or not he really slept I could not be certain, until his hind legs twitched and I knew he was dreaming of mighty deeds.
Now I may have taken forty winks, but the sun seemed to be no lower when I sat up and unclosed my lids. Voyou raised his head, saw in my eyes that I was not going yet, thumped his tail half a dozen times on the dried leaves, and settled back with a sigh.
I looked lazily around, and for the first rime noticed what a wonderfully beautiful spot I had chosen for a nap. It was an oval glade in the heart of the forest, level and carpeted with green grass. The trees that surrounded it were gigantic; they formed one towering circular wall of verdure, blotting out all except the turquoise blue of the sky-oval above. And now I noticed that in the centre of the greensward lay a pool of water, crystal clear, glimmering like a mirror in the meadow grass, beside a block of granite. It scarcely seemed possible that the symmetry of tree and lawn and lucent pool could have been one of nature’s accidents. I had never before seen this glade nor had I ever heard it spoken of by either Pierpont on Barris. It was a marvel, this diamond-clean basin, regular and graceful as a Roman fountain, set in the gem of turf. And these great trees,— they also belonged, not in America but in some legend-haunted forest of France, where moss-grown marbles stand neglected in dim glades, and the twilight of the forest shelters fairies and slender shapes from shadow-land.
I lay and watched the sunlight showering the tangled thicket where masses of crimson Cardinal-flowers glowed, or where one long dusty sunbeam tipped the edge of the floating leaves in the pool, turning them to palest gilt. There were birds too, passing through the dim avenues of trees like jets of flame,— the gorgeous Cardinal–Bird in his deep-stained crimson robe,— the bird that gave to the woods, to the village fifteen miles away, to the whole country, the name of Cardinal.
I rolled over on my back and looked up an the sky. How pale,— paler than a robin’s egg,— it was. I seemed to be lying at the bottom of a well, walled with verdure, high towering on every side. And, as I lay, all about me the air became sweet scented. Sweeter and sweeter and more penetrating grew the perfume, and I wondered what stray breeze, blowing over acres of lilies, could have brought in. But there was no breeze; the air was still. A gilded fly alighted on my hand,— a honey-fly. It was as troubled as I by the scented silence.
Then, behind me, my dog growled.
I sat quite still at first, hardly breathing, but my eyes were fixed on a shape that moved along the edge of the pool among the meadow grasses. The dog had ceased growling and was now snarling, alert and trembling.
At last I rose and walked rapidly down to the pool, my dog following close to heel.
The figure, a woman’s, turned slowly toward us.
She was standing still when I approached the pool. The forest around us was so silent that when I spoke the sound of my own voice startled me.
“No,” she said,— and her voice was smooth as flowing water, “I have not lost my way. Will he come to me, your beautiful dog?”
Before I could speak, Voyou crept to her and laid his silky head against her knees.
“But surely,” said I, “you did not come here alone.”
“Alone? I did come alone.”
“But the nearest settlement is Cardinal, probably nineteen miles from where we are standing.”
“I do not know Cardinal,” she said.
“Ste. Croix in Canada is forty miles at least,— how did you come into the Cardinal Woods?” I asked amazed.
“Into the woods?” she repeated a little impatiently.
She did not answer at first but stood caressing Voyou with gentle phrase and gesture.
“Your beautiful dog I am fond of, but I am not fond of being questioned,” she said quietly.
“My name is Ysonde and I came to the fountain here to see your dog.”
I was properly quenched. After a moment or two I did say that in another hour in would be growing dusky, but she neither replied nor looked at me.
“This,” I ventured, “is a beautiful pool,— you call it a fountain,— a delicious fountain: I have never before seen it. It is hard to imagine that nature did all this.”
“Is it?” she said.
“Don’t you think so?” I asked.
“I haven’t thought; I wish when you go you would leave me your dog.”
“My — my dog?”
“If you don’t mind,” she said sweetly, and looked at me for the first time in the face.
For an instant our glances met, then she grew grave, and I saw that her eyes were fixed on my forehead. Suddenly she rose and drew nearer, looking intently at my forehead. There was a faint mark there, a tiny crescent, just over my eyebrow. It was a birthmark.
“Is that a scar?” she demanded drawing nearer.
“That crescent-shaped mark? No.”
“No? Are you sure?” she insisted.
“Perfectly,” I replied, astonished.
“A— a birthmark?”
“Yes,— may I ask why?”
As she drew away from me, I saw that the color had fled from her cheeks. For a second she clasped both hands over her eyes as if to shut out my face, then slowly dropping her hands, she sat down on a long square block of stone which half encircled the basin, and on which to my amazement I saw carving. Voyou went to her again and laid his head in her lap.
“What is your name?” she asked at length.
“Mine is Ysonde. I carved these dragon-flies on the stone, these fishes and shells and butterflies you see.”
“You! They are wonderfully delicate,— but those are not American dragon-flies —”
“No — they are more beautiful. See, I have my hammer and chisel with me.”
She drew from a queer pouch at her side a small hammer and chisel and held them toward me.
“You are very talented,” I said, “where did you study?”
“I? I never studied,— I knew how. I saw things and cut them out of stone. Do you like them? Some time I will show you other things that I have done. If I had a great lump of bronze I could make your dog, beautiful as he is.”
Her hammer fell into the fountain and I leaned over and plunged my arm into the water to find it.
“It is there, shining on the sand,” she said, leaning over the pool with me . . . “Where,” said I, looking at our reflected faces in the water. For it was only in the water that I had dared, as yet, to look her long in the face.
The pool mirrored the exquisite oval of her head, the heavy hair, the eyes. I heard the silken rustle of her girdle, I caught the flash of a white arm, and the hammer was drawn up dripping with spray.
The troubled surface of the pool grew calm and again I saw her eyes reflected.
“Listen,” she said in a low voice, “do you think you will come again to my fountain?”
“I will come,” I said. My voice was dull; the noise of water filled my ears.
Then a swift shadow sped across the pool; I rubbed my eyes. Where her reflected face had bent beside mine there was nothing mirrored but the rosy evening sky with one pale star glimmering.
I drew myself up and turned. She was gone. I saw the faint stars twinkling above me in the afterglow, I saw the tall trees motionless in the still evening air, I saw my dog slumbering at my feet.
The sweet scent in the air had faded, leaving in my nostrils the heavy odor of fern and forest mould. A blind fear seized me, and I caught up my gun and sprang into the darkening woods.
The dog followed me, crashing through the undergrowth at my side. Duller and duller grew the light, but I strode on, the sweat pouring from my face and hair, my mind a chaos. How I reached the spinney I can hardly tell. As I turned up the path I caught a glimpse of a human face peering at me from the darkening thicket,— a horrible human face, yellow and drawn with high-boned cheeks and narrow eyes.
Involuntarily I halted; the dog at my heels snarled. Then I sprang straight at it, floundering blindly through the thicket, but the night had fallen swiftly and I found myself panting and struggling in a maze of twisted shrubbery and twining vines, unable to see the very undergrowth that ensnared me.
It was a pale face, and a scratched one that I carried to a late dinner that night. Howlett served me, dumb reproach in his eyes, for the soup had been standing and the grouse was juiceless.
David brought the dogs in after they had had their supper, and I drew my chair before the blaze and set my ale on a table beside me. The dogs curled up at my feet, blinking gravely at the sparks that snapped and flew in eddying showers from the heavy birch logs.
“David,” said I, “did you say you saw a Chinaman today?”
“I did sir.”
“What do you think about it now?”
“I may have been mistaken sir —”
“But you think not. What sort of whiskey did you put in my flask today?”
“The usual, sir.”
“Is there much gone?”
“About three swallows, sir, as usual.”
“You don’t suppose there could have been any mistake about that whiskey,— no medicine could have gotten into it for instance.”
David smiled and said, “No sir.”
“Well,” said I, “I have had an extraordinary dream.”
When I said “dream,” I felt comforted and reassured. I had scarcely dared to say it before, even to myself.
“An extraordinary dream,” I repeated; “I fell asleep in the woods about five o’clock, in that pretty glade where the fountain — I mean the pool is. You know the place?”
“I do not, sir.”
I described it minutely, twice, but David shook his head.
“Carved stone did you say sir? I never chanced on it. You don’t mean the New Spring —”
“No, no! This glade is way beyond that. Is it possible that any people inhabit the forest between here and the Canada line?”
“Nobody short of Ste. Croix; at least I have no knowledge of any.”
“Of course,” said I, “when I thought I saw a Chinaman, it was imagination. Of course I had been more impressed than I was aware of by your adventure. Of course you saw no Chinaman, David.”
“Probably not, sir,” replied David dubiously.
I sent him off to bed, saying I should keep the dogs with me all night; and when he was gone, I took a good long draught of ale, “just to shame the devil,” as Pierpont said, and lighted a cigar.
Then I thought of Barris and Pierpont, and their cold bed, for I knew they would not dare build a fire, and, in spite of the hot chimney corner and the crackling blaze, I shivered in sympathy.
“I’ll tell Barris and Pierpont the whole story and take them to see the carved stone and the fountain,” I thought to myself; “what a marvelous dream it was — Ysonde,— if it was a dream.”
Then I went to the mirror and examined the faint white mark above my eyebrow.
About eight o’clock next morning, as I sat listlessly eyeing my coffee cup which Howlett was filling, Gamin and Mioche set up a howl, and in a moment more I heard Barris’ step on the porch.
“Hello, Roy,” said Pierpont, stamping into the dining room, “I want my breakfast by jingo! Where’s Howlett,— none of your café au lait for me,— I want a chop and some eggs. Look at that dog, he’ll wag the hinge off his tail in a moment —” “Pierpont,” said I, “this loquacity is astonishing but welcome. Where’s Barris? You are soaked from neck to ankle.”
Pierpont sat down and tore off his stiff, muddy leggings.
“Barris is telephoning to Cardinal Springs,— I believe he wants some of his men,— down! Gamin, you idiot! Howlett, three eggs poached and more toast,— what was I saying? Oh, about Barris; he’s struck something or other which he hopes will locate these gold-making fellows. I had a jolly time,—— he’ll tell you about it.”
“Billy! Billy!” I said in pleased amazement, “you are learning to talk! Dear me! You load your own shells and you carry your own gun and you fire it yourself — hello! here’s Barris all over mud. You fellows really ought to change your rig — whew! what a frightful odor!”
“It’s probably this,” said Barris tossing something onto the hearth where it shuddered for a moment and then began to writhe; “I found it in the woods by the lake. Do you know what it can be, Roy?”
To my disgust I saw it was another of those spidery wormy crablike creatures that Godfrey had in Tiffany’s.
“I thought I recognized that acrid odor,” I said; “for the love of the Saints take it away from the breakfast table, Barris!”
“But what is it?” he persisted, unslinging his field-glass and revolver.
“I’ll tell you what I know after breakfast,” I replied firmly. “Howlett, get a broom and sweep that thing into the road.— What are you laughing at, Pierpont?” Howlett swept the repulsive creature out and Barris and Pierpont went to change their dew-soaked clothes for dryer raiment. David came to take the dogs for an airing and in a few minutes Barris reappeared and sat down in his place at the head of the table.
“Well,” said I, “is there a story to tell?”
“Yes, not much. They are near the lake on the other side of the woods,— I mean these gold-makers. I shall collar one of them this evening. I haven’t located the main gang with any certainty,— shove the toast rack this way will you, Roy,— no, I am not at all certain, but I’ve nailed one anyway. Pierpont was a great help, really,— and, what do you think, Roy? He wants to join the Secret Service!”
“Exactly. Oh I’ll dissuade him. What sort of a reptile was that I brought in? Did Howlett sweep it away?”
“He can sweep it back again for all I care,” I said indifferently. “I’ve finished my breakfast.”
“No,” said Barris, hastily swallowing his coffee, “it’s of no importance; you can tell me about the beast —”
“Serve you right if I had it brought in on toast,” I returned.
Pierpont came in radiant, fresh from the bath.
“Go on with your story, Roy,” he said; and I told them about Godfrey and his reptile pet.
“Now what in the name of common sense can Godfrey find interesting in that creature?” I ended, tossing my cigarette into the fireplace.
“It’s Japanese, don’t you think?” said Pierpont.
“No,” said Barris, “it is non artistically grotesque, it’s vulgar and horrible,— it looks cheap and unfinished —”
“Unfinished,— exactly,” said I, “like an American humorist —”
“Yes,” said Pierpont, “cheap. What about that gold serpent?”
“Oh, the Metropolitan Museum bought it; you must see it, it’s marvellous.”
Barris and Pierpont had lighted their cigarettes and, after a moment, we all rose and strolled out to the lawn, where chairs and hammocks were placed under the maple trees.
David passed, gun under arm, dogs heeling.
“Three guns on the meadows at four this afternoon,” said Pierpont.
“Roy,” said Barris as David bowed and started on, “what did you do yesterday?”
This was the question that I had been expecting. All night long I had dreamed of Ysonde and the glade in the woods, where, at the bottom of the crystal fountain, I saw the reflection of her eyes. All the morning while bathing and dressing I had been persuading myself that the dream was not worth recounting and that a search for the glade and the imaginary stone carving would be ridiculous. But now, as Barris asked the question, I suddenly decided to tell him the whole story.
“See here, you fellows,” I said abruptly, “I am going to tell you something queer. You can laugh as much as you please too, but first I want to ask Barris a question or two. You have been in China, Barris?”
“Yes,” said Barris, looking straight into my eyes.
“Would a Chinaman be likely to turn lumberman?”
“Have you seen a Chinaman?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“I don’t know; David and I both imagined we did.”
Barris and Pierpont exchanged glances.
“Have you seen one also?” I demanded, turning to include Pierpont . . . “No,” said Barris slowly; “but I know that there is, or has been, a Chinaman in these woods.”
“The devil!” said I.
“Yes,” said Barris gravely; “the devil, if you like,— a devil,— a member of the Kuen–Yuin.”
I drew my chair close to the hammock where Pierpont lay at full length, holding out to me a ball of pure gold.
“Well?” said I, examining the engraving on its surface, which represented a mass of twisted creatures,— dragons, I supposed.
“Well,” repeated Barris, extending his hand to take the golden ball, “this globe of gold engraved with reptiles and Chinese hieroglyphics is the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin.”
“Where did you get it?” I asked, feeling that something startling was impending.
“Pierpont found it by the lake at sunrise this morning. It is the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin,” he repeated, “the terrible Kuen–Yuin, the sorcerers of China, and the most murderously diabolical sect on earth.”
We puffed our cigarettes in silence until Barris rose, and began to pace backward and forward among the trees, twisting his grey moustache.
“The Kuen–Yuin are sorcerers,” he said, pausing before the hammock where Pierpont lay watching him; “I mean exactly what I say,— sorcerers. I’ve seen them,— I’ve seen them at their devilish business, and I repeat to you solemnly, that as there are angels above, there is a race of devils on earth, and they are sorcerers. Bah!” he cried, “talk to me of Indian magic and Yogis and all that clap-trap! Why, Roy, I tell you that the Kuen–Yuin have absolute control of a hundred millions of people, mind and body, body and soul. Do you know what goes on in the interior of China? Does Europe know,— could any human being conceive of the condition of that gigantic hell-pit? You read the papers, you hear diplomatic twaddle about Li–Hung-Chang and the Emperor, you see accounts of battles on sea and land, and you know that Japan has raised a toy tempest along the jagged edge of the great unknown. But you never before heard of the Kuen–Yuin; no, nor has any European except a stray missionary or two, and yet I tell you that when the fires from this pit of hell have eaten through the continent to the coast, the explosion will inundate half a world,— and God help the other half.”
Pierpont’s cigarette went out; he lighted another, and looked hard at Barris.
“But,” resumed Barris quietly, “‘sufficient unto the day,’ you know,—— I didn’t intend to say as much as I did,— it would do no good,— even you and Pierpont will forget it,— it seems so impossible and so far away,— like the burning out of the sun. What I want to discuss is the possibility or probability of a Chinaman,— a member of the Kuen–Yuin, being here, an this moment, in the forest.”
“If he is,” said Pierpont, “possibly the gold-makers owe their discovery to him.”
“I do not doubt it for a second,” said Barris earnestly.
I took the little golden globe in my hand, and examined the characters engraved upon it.
“Barris,” said Pierpont, “I can’t believe in sorcery while I am wearing one of Sanford’s shooting suits in the pocket of which rests an uncut volume of the ‘Duchess.’”
“Neither can I,” I said, “for I read the Evening Post, and I know Mr. Godkin would not allow in. Hello! What’s the matter with this gold ball?”
“What is the matter?” said Barris grimly.
“Why — why — it’s changing color — purple, no, crimson — no, it’s green I mean — good Heavens! these dragons are twisting under my fingers —”
“Impossible!” muttered Pierpont, leaning over me; “those are not dragons —”
“No!” I cried excitedly; “they are pictures of that reptile that Barris brought back — see — see how they crawl and turn —”
“Drop it!” commanded Barris; and I threw the ball on the turf. In an instant we had all knelt down on the grass beside it, but the globe was again golden, grotesquely wrought with dragons and strange signs.
Pierpont, a little red in the face, picked it up, and handed it to Barris. He placed it on a chair, and sat down beside me.
“Whew!” said I, wiping the perspiration from my face, “how did you play us that trick, Barris?”
“Trick?” said Barris contemptuously.
I looked at Pierpont, and my heart sank. If this was not a trick, what was it? Pierpont returned my glance and colored, but all he said was, “It’s devilish queer,” and Barris answered, “Yes, devilish.” Then Barris asked me again to tell my stony, and I did, beginning from the time I met David in the spinney to the moment when I sprang into the darkening thicket where that yellow mask had grinned like a phantom skull.
“Shall we try to find the fountain?” I asked after a pause.
“Yes,— and — er — the lady,” suggested Pierpont vaguely.
“Don’t be an ass,” I said a little impatiently, “you need not come, you know.”
“Oh, I’ll come,” said Pierpont, “unless you think I am indiscreet —”
“Shut up, Pierpont,” said Barris, “this thing is serious; I never heard of such a glade or such a fountain, but it’s true that nobody knows this forest thoroughly. It’s worth while trying for; Roy, can you find your way back to it?”
“Easily,” I answered; “when shall we go?”
“It will knock our snipe shooting on the head,” said Pierpont, “but then when one has the opportunity of finding a live dream-lady —”
I rose, deeply offended, but Pierpont was not very penitent and his laughter was irresistible.
“The lady’s yours by right of discovery,” he said. “I’ll promise not to infringe on your dreams,— I’ll dream about other ladies —”
“Come, come,” said I, “I’ll have Howlett put you to bed in a minute. Barris, if you are ready —— we can get back to dinner —”
Barris had risen and was gazing at me earnestly.
“What’s the matter?” I asked nervously, for I saw that his eyes were fixed on my forehead, and I thought of Ysonde and the white crescent scar.
“Is that a birthmark?” said Barris.
“Yes — why, Barris?”
“Nothing,— an interesting coincidence —”
“What!— for Heaven’s sake!”
“The scar,— on rather the birthmark. It is the print of the dragon’s claw,— the crescent symbol of Yue–Laou —”
“And who the devil is Yue–Laou?” I said crossly.
“Yue–Laou, the Moon Maker, Dzil–Nbu of the Kuen–Yuin;— it’s Chinese mythology, but it is believed that Yue–Laou has returned to rule the Kuen–Yuin —”
“The conversation,” interrupted Pierpont, “smacks of peacock’s feathers and yellow-jackets. The chicken-pox has left its card on Roy, and Barris is guying us. Come on, you fellows, and make your calls on the dream-lady. Barris, I hear galloping; here come your men.”
Two mud-splashed riders clattered up to the porch and dismounted at a motion from Barris. I noticed that both of them carried repeating rifles and heavy Colt’s revolvers.
They followed Barris, deferentially, into the dining-room, and presently we heard the tinkle of plates and bottles and the low hum of Barris’ musical voice.
Half an hour later they came out again, saluted Pierpont and me, and galloped away in the direction of the Canadian frontier. Ten minutes passed, and, as Barris did not appear, we rose and went into the house, to find him. He was sitting silently before the table, watching the small golden globe, now glowing with scarlet and orange fire, brilliant as a live coal. Howlett, mouth ajar, and eyes starting from the sockets, stood petrified behind him.
“Are you coming,” asked Pierpont, a little startled. Barris did not answer. The globe slowly turned to pale gold again,— but the face that Barris raised to ours was white as a sheet. Then he stood up, and smiled with an effort which was painful to us all.
“Give me a pencil and a bit of paper,” he said.
Howlett brought it. Barris went to the window and wrote rapidly. He folded the paper, placed it in the top drawer of his desk, locked the drawer, handed me the key, and motioned us to precede him.
When again we stood under the maples, he turned to me with an impenetrable expression.
“You will know when to use the key,” he said:
“Come, Pierpont, we must try to find Roy’s fountain.”
At two o’clock that afternoon, at Barris’ suggestion, we gave up the search for the fountain in the glade and cut across the forest to the spinney where David and Howlett were waiting with our guns and the three dogs.
Pierpont guyed me unmercifully about the “dream-lady” as he called her, and, but for the significant coincidence of Ysonde’s and Barris’ questions concerning the white scar on my forehead, I should long ago have been perfectly persuaded that I had dreamed the whole thing.
As it was, I had no explanation to offer. We had not been able to find the glade although fifty times I came to landmarks which convinced me that we were just about to enter it. Barris was quiet, scarcely uttering a word to either of us during the entire search. I had never before seen him depressed in spirits. However, when we came in sight of the spinney where a cold bit of grouse and a bottle of Burgundy awaited each, Barris seemed to recover his habitual good humor.
“Here’s to the dream-lady!” said Pierpont, raising his glass and standing up.
I did not like in. Even if she was only a dream, it irritated me to hear Pierpont’s mocking voice.
Perhaps Barris understood,— I don’t know, but he bade Pierpont drink his wine without further noise, and that young man obeyed with a childlike confidence which almost made Barris smile.
“What about the snipe, David,” I asked; “the meadows should be in good condition.”
“There is not a snipe on the meadows, sir,” said David solemnly.
“Impossible,” exclaimed Barris, “they can’t have left.”
“They have, sir,” said David in a sepulchral voice which I hardly recognized. We all three looked at the old man curiously, waiting for his explanation of this disappointing but sensational report.
David looked at Howlett and Howlett examined the sky . . . “I was going,” began the old man, with his eyes fastened on Howlett, “I was going along by the spinney with the dogs when I heard a noise in the covert and I seen Howlett come walkin’ very fast toward me. In fact,” continued David, “I may say he was runnin’. Was you runnin’, Howlett?”
Howlett said “Yes,” with a decorous cough.
“I beg pardon,” said David, “but I’d rather Howlett told the rest. He saw things which I did not.”
“Go on, Howlett,” commanded Pierpont, much interested.
Howlett coughed again behind his large red hand.
“What David says is true, sir,” he began; “I h’observed the dogs at a distance ‘ow they was a workin’, sir, and David stood a lightin’ of ‘s pipe be’ind the spotted beech when I see a ‘ead pop up in the covert ‘oldin a stick like ‘e was h’aimin’ at the dogs, sir”——“A head holding a stick?” said Pierpont severely.
“The ‘ead ‘ad ‘ands, sir,” explained Howlett, “‘ands that ‘eld a painted stick,— like that, sir. ‘Owlett, thinks I to meself this ’ere’s queer, so I jumps it an’ runs, but the beggar ‘e seen me an’ w’en I comes alongside of David, ‘e was gone. “‘Ello, ‘Owlett,’ sez David, ‘what the ‘ell — I beg pardon, sir,——“ow did you come ’ere,’ sez ‘e very loud. ‘Run!’ sez I, ‘the Chinaman is harmin’ the dawgs!’ ‘For Gawd’s sake wot Chinaman?’ sez David, h’aimin’ ‘is gun at every bush. Then I thinks I see ’im an’ we run an’ run, the dawgs a boundin’ close to heel, sir, but we don’t see no Chinaman.”
“I’ll tell the rest,” said David, as Howlett coughed and stepped in a modest corner behind the dogs.
“Go on,” said Barris in a strange voice.
“Well sir, when Howlett and I stopped chasin’, we was on the cliff overlooking the south meadow. I noticed that there was hundreds of birds there, mostly yellow-legs and plover, and Howlett seen them too. Then before I could say a word to Howlett, something out in the lake gave a splash — a splash as if the whole cliff had fallen into the water. I was that scared that I jumped straight into the bush and Howlett he sat down quick, and all those snipe wheeled up —— there was hundreds,— all a squeelin’ with fright, and the wood-duck came bowlin’ over the meadows as if the old Nick was behind.”
David paused and glanced meditatively at the dogs.
“Go on,” said Barris in the same strained voice.
“Nothing more, sir. The snipe did not come back.”
“But that splash in the lake?”
“I don’t know what it was, sir.”
“A salmon? A salmon couldn’t have frightened the duck and the snipe that way?”
“No — oh no, sir. If fifty salmon had jumped they couldn’t have made that splash. Couldn’t they, Howlett?”
“No ‘ow,” said Howlett.
“Roy,” said Barris at length, “what David tells us settles the snipe shooting for to-day. I am going to take Pierpont up to the house. Howlett and David will follow with the dogs,— I have something to say to them. If you care to come, come along; if not, go and shoot a brace of grouse for dinner and be back by eight if you want to see what Pierpont and I discovered last night.”
David whistled Gamin and Mioche to heel and followed Howlett and his hamper toward the house. I called Voyou to my side, picked up my gun and turned to Barris . . . “I will be back by eight,” I said; “you are expecting to catch one of the gold-makers, are you not?”
“Yes,” said Barris listlessly.
Pierpont began to speak about the Chinaman but Barris motioned him to follow, and, nodding to me, took the path that Howlett and David had followed toward the house. When they disappeared I tucked my gun under my arm and turned sharply into the forest, Voyou trotting close to my heels.
In spite of myself the continued apparition of the Chinaman made me nervous. If he troubled me again I had fully decided to get the drop on him and find out what he was doing in the Cardinal Woods. If he could give no satisfactory account of himself I would march him in to Barris as a gold-making suspect,— I would march him in anyway, I thought, and rid the forest of his ugly face. I wondered what it was that David had heard in the lake. It must have been a big fish, a salmon, I thought; probably David’s and Howlett’s nerves were overwrought after their Celestial chase.
A whine from the dog broke the thread of my meditation and I raised my head. Then I stopped short in my tracks.
The lost glade lay straight before me.
Already the dog had bounded into it, across the velvet turf to the carved stone where a slim figure sat. I saw my dog lay his silky head lovingly against her silken kirtle; I saw her face bend above him, and I caught my breath and slowly entered the sun-lit glade.
Half timidly she held out one white hand.
“Now that you have come,” she said, “I can show you more of my work. I told you that I could do other things besides these dragon-flies and moths carved here in stone. Why do you stare at me so? Are you ill?”
“Ysonde,” I stammered.
“Yes,” she said, with a faint color under her eyes.
“I— I never expected to see you again,” I blurted out, “— you — I— I— thought I had dreamed ——”
“Dreamed, of me? Perhaps you did, is that strange?”
“Strange? N— no — but — where did you go when — when we were leaning over the fountain together? I saw your face,— your face reflected beside mine and then — then suddenly I saw the blue sky and only a star twinkling.”
“It was because you fell asleep,” she said, “was it not?”
“You slept — I thought you were very tired and I went back —”
“Back to my home where I carve my beautiful images; see, here is one I brought to show you to-day.”
I took the sculptured creature that she held toward me, a massive golden lizard with frail claw-spread wings of gold so thin that the sunlight burned through and fell on the ground in flaming gilded patches.
“Good Heavens!” I exclaimed, “this is astounding! Where did you learn to do such work? Ysonde, such a thing is beyond price!”
“Oh, I hope so,” she said earnestly, “I can’t bear to sell my work, but my step-father takes it and sends it away. This is the second thing I have done and yesterday he said I must give it to him. I suppose he is poor.”
“I don’t see how he can be poor if he gives you gold to model in,” I said, astonished.
“Gold!” she exclaimed, “gold! He has a room full of gold! He makes it.” I sat down on the turf at her feet completely unnerved.
“Why do you look at me so?” she asked, a little troubled.
“Where does your step-father live?” I said at last.
“In the woods near the lake. You could never find our house.”
“Of course. Did you think I lived in a tree? How silly. I live with my step-father in a beautiful house,— a small house, but very beautiful. He makes his gold there but the men who carry it away never come to the house, for they don’t know where it is and if they did they could not get in. My step-father carries the gold in lumps to a canvas satchel. When the satchel is full he takes it out into the woods where the men live and I don’t know what they do with it. I wish he could sell the gold and become rich for then I could go back to Yian where all the gardens are sweet and the river flows under the thousand bridges.”
“Where is this city?” I asked faintly.
“Yian? I don’t know. It is sweet with perfume and the sound of silver bells all day long. Yesterday I carried a blossom of dried lotus buds from Yian, in my breast, and all the woods were fragrant. Did you smell it?”
“I wondered, last night, whether you did. How beautiful your dog is; I love him. Yesterday I thought most about your dog but last night —”
“Last night,” I repeated below my breath.
“I thought of you. Why do you wear the dragon-claw?”
I raised my hand impulsively to my forehead, covering the scar.
“What do you know of the dragon-claw?” I muttered.
“In is the symbol of Yue–Laou, and Yue–Laou rules the Kuen–Yuin, my step-father says. My step-father tells me everything that I know. We lived in Yian until I was sixteen years old. I am eighteen now; that is two years we have lived in the forest. Look!— see those scarlet birds! What are they? There are birds of the same color in Yian.”
“Where is Yian, Ysonde?” I asked with deadly calmness.
“Yian? I don’t know.”
“But you have lived there?”
“Yes, a very long time.”
“Is it across the ocean, Ysonde?”
“It is across seven oceans and the great river which is longer than from the earth to the moon.”
“Who told you that?”
“Who? My step-father; he tells me everything.”
“Will you tell me his name, Ysonde?”
“I don’t know it, he is my step-father, that is all.”
“And what is your name?”
“You know it, Ysonde.”
“Yes, but what other name?”
“That is all, Ysonde. Have you two names? Why do you look at me so impatiently?”
“Does your step-father make gold? Have you seen him make it?”
“Oh yes. He made it also in Yian and I loved to watch the sparks at night whirling like golden bees. Yian is lovely,— if it is all like our garden and the gardens around. I can see the thousand bridges from my garden and the white mountain beyond —”
“And the people — tell me of the people, Ysonde,” I urged gently.
“The people of Yian? I could see them in swarms like ants — oh! many, many millions crossing and recrossing the thousand bridges.”
“But how did they look? Did they dress as I do?”
“I don’t know. They were very far away, moving specks on the thousand bridges. For sixteen years I saw them every day from my garden but I never went out of my garden into the streets of Yian, for my step-father forbade me.”
“You never saw a living creature near by in Yian?” I asked in despair.
“My birds, oh such tall, wise-looking birds, all over grey and rose color.”
She leaned over the gleaming water and drew her polished hand across the surface.
“Why do you ask me these questions,” she murmured; “are you displeased?”
“Tell me about your step-father,” I insisted. “Does he look as I do? Does he dress, does he speak as I do? Is he American?”
“American? I don’t know. He does not dress as you do and he does not look as you do. He is old, very, very old. He speaks sometimes as you do, sometimes as they do in Yian. I speak also in both manners.”
“Then speak as they do in Yian,” I urged impatiently, “speak as — why, Ysonde! why are you crying? Have I hurt you?— I did not intend,— I did not dream of your caring! There, Ysonde, forgive me,— see, I beg you on my knees here at your feet.”
I stopped, my eyes fastened on a small golden ball which hung from her waist by a golden chain. I saw it trembling against her thigh, I saw it change color, now crimson, now purple, now flaming scarlet. It was the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin.
She bent over me and laid her fingers gently on my arm.
“Why do you ask me such things?” she said, while the tears glistened on her lashes. “In hurts me here,—” she pressed her hand to her breast,——“it pains.— I don’t know why. Ah, now your eyes are hard and cold again; you are looking at the golden globe which hangs from my waist. Do you wish to know also what that is?”
“Yes,” I muttered, my eyes fixed on the infernal color flames which subsided as I spoke, leaving the ball a pale gilt again.
“It is the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin,” she said in a trembling voice; “why do you ask?”
“Is it yours?”
“Where did you get it?” I cried harshly.
“My — my step-fa —”
Then she pushed me away from her with all the strength of her slender wrists and covered her face.
If I slipped my arm about her and drew her to me,— if I kissed away the tears that fell slowly between her fingers,— if I told her how I loved her — how it cut me to the heart to see her unhappy,— after all that is my own business. When she smiled through her tears, the pure love and sweetness in her eyes lifted my soul higher than the high moon vaguely glimmering through the sun-lit blue above. My happiness was so sudden, so fierce and overwhelming that I only knelt there, her fingers clasped in mine, my eyes raised to the blue vault and the glimmering moon. Then something in the long grass beside me moved close to my knees and a damp acrid odor filled my nostrils.
“Ysonde!” I cried, but the touch of her hand was already gone and my two clenched fists were cold and damp with dew.
“Ysonde!” I called again, my tongue stiff with fright;— but I called as one awaking from a dream — a horrid dream, for my nostrils quivered with the damp acrid odor and I felt the crab-reptile clinging to my knee. Why had the night fallen so swiftly,— and where was I— where?— stiff, chilled, torn, and bleeding, lying flung like a corpse over my own threshold with Voyou licking my face and Barris stooping above me in the light of a lamp that flared and smoked in the night breeze like a torch. Faugh! the choking stench of the lamp aroused me and I cried out:
“What the devil’s the matter with him?” muttered Pierpont, lifting me in his arms like a child, “has he been stabbed, Barris?”
In a few minutes I was able to stand and walk stiffly into my bedroom where Howlett had a hot bath ready and a hotter tumbler of Scotch. Pierpont sponged the blood from my throat where it had coagulated. The cut was slight, almost invisible, a mere puncture from a thorn. A shampoo cleaned my mind, and a cold plunge and alcohol friction did the rest.
“Now,” said Pierpont, “swallow your hot Scotch and lie down. Do you want a broiled woodcock? Good, I fancy you are coming about.”
Barris and Pierpont watched me as I sat on the edge of the bed, solemnly chewing on the woodcock’s wishbone and sipping my Bordeaux, very much at my ease.
Pierpont sighed his relief.
“So,” he said pleasantly, “it was a mere case of ten dollars or ten days. I thought you had been stabbed —”
“I was not intoxicated,” I replied, serenely picking up a bit of celery.
“Only jagged?” enquired Pierpont, full of sympathy.
“Nonsense,” said Barris, “let him alone. Want some more celery, Roy?— it will make you sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep,” I answered; “when are you and Pierpont going to catch your gold-maker?”
Barris looked at his watch and closed it with a snap.
“In an hour; you don’t propose to go with us?”
“But I do,— toss me a cup of coffee, Pierpont, will you,— that’s just what I propose to do. Howlett, bring the new box of Panatellas,— the mild imported;— and leave the decanter. Now Barris, I’ll be dressing, and you and Pierpont keep still and listen to what I have to say. Is that door shut tight?”
Barris locked it and sat down.
“Thanks,” said I. “Barris, where is the city of Yian?”
An expression akin to terror flashed into Barris’ eyes and I saw him stop breathing for a moment.
“There is no such city,” he said at length, “have I been talking in my sleep?”
“It is a city,” I continued, calmly, “where the river winds under the thousand bridges, where the gardens are sweet scented and the air is filled with the music of silver bells —”
“Stop!” gasped Barris, and rose trembling from his chair. He had grown ten years older.
“Roy,” interposed Pierpont coolly, “what the deuce are you harrying Barris for?”
I looked at Barris and he looked at me. After a second on two he sat down again.
“Go on, Roy,” he said.
“I must,” I answered, “for now I am certain that I have not dreamed.”
I told them everything; but, even as I told it, the whole thing seemed so vague, so unreal, that at times I stopped with the hot blood tingling in my ears, for it seemed impossible that sensible men, in the year of our Lord 1896, could seriously discuss such manners.
I feared Pierpont, but he did not even smile. As for Barris, he sat with his handsome head sunk on his breast, his unlighted pipe clasped tight in both hands.
When I had finished, Pierpont turned slowly and looked at Barris. Twice he moved his lips as if about to ask something and then remained mute.
“Yian is a city,” said Barris, speaking dreamily; “was that why you wished to know, Pierpont?”
We nodded silently.
“Yian is a city,” repeated Barris, “where the great river winds under the thousand bridges,—— where the gardens are sweet scented, and the air is filled with the music of silver bells.”
My lips formed the question, “Where is this city?”
“It lies,” said Barris, almost querulously, “across the seven oceans and the river which is longer than from the earth to the moon.”
“What do you mean?” said Pierpont.
“Ah,” said Barris, rousing himself with an effort and raising his sunken eyes, “I am using the allegories of another land; let it pass. Have I not told you of the Kuen–Yuin? Yian is the centre of the Kuen-Yuin. It lies hidden in that gigantic shadow called China, vague and vast as the midnight Heavens,— a continent unknown, impenetrable.”
“Impenetrable,” repeated Pierpont below his breath.
“I have seen it,” said Barris dreamily. “I have seen the dead plains of Black Cathay and I have crossed the mountains of Death, whose summits are above the atmosphere. I have seen the shadow of Xangi cast across Abaddon. Better to die a million miles from Yezd and Ater Quedah than to have seen the white water-lotus close in the shadow of Xangi! I have slept among the ruins of Xaindu where the winds never cease and the Wulwulleh is wailed by the dead.”
“And Yian,” I urged gently.
There was an unearthly look on his face as he turned slowly toward me.
“Yian,— I have lived there — and loved there. When the breath of my body shall cease, when the dragon’s claw shall fade from my arm,”— he turned up his sleeve, and we saw a white crescent shining above his elbow,—“when the light of my eyes has faded forever, then, even then I shall not forget the city of Yian. Why, it is my home,— mine! The river and the thousand bridges, the white peak beyond, the sweet-scented gardens, the lilies, the pleasant noise of the summer wind laden with bee music and the music of bells,— all these are mine. Do you think because the Kuen–Yuin feared the dragon’s claw on my arm that my work with them is ended? Do you think that because Yue–Laou could give, that I acknowledge his right to take away? Is he Xangi in whose shadow the white water-lotus dares not raise its head? No! No!” he cried violently, “it was not from Yue–Laou, the sorcerer, the Maker of Moons, that my happiness came! It was real, it was not a shadow to vanish like a tinted bubble! Can a sorcerer create and give a man the woman he loves? Is Yue–Laou as great as Xangi then? Xangi is God. In His own time, in His infinite goodness and mercy He will bring me again to the woman I love. And I know she waits for me at God’s feet.”
In the strained silence that followed I could hear my heart’s double beat and I saw Pierpont’s face, blanched and pitiful. Barris shook himself and raised his head. The change in his ruddy face frightened me.
“Heed!” he said, with a terrible glance at me; “the print of the dragon’s claw is on your forehead and Yue–Laou knows it. If you must love, then love like a man, for you will suffer like a soul in hell, in the end. What is her name again?”
“Ysonde,” I answered simply.
At nine o’clock that night we caught one of the gold-makers. I do not know how Barris had laid his trap; all I saw of the affair can be told in a minute or two.
We were posted on the Cardinal road about a mile below the house, Pierpont and I with drawn revolvers on one side, under a butternut tree, Barris on the other, a Winchester across his knees.
I had just asked Pierpont the hour, and he was feeling for his watch when far up the road we heard the sound of a galloping horse, nearer, nearer, clattering, thundering past. Then Barris’ rifle spat flame and the dark mass, horse and rider, crashed into the dust. Pierpont had the half-stunned horseman by the collar in a second,— the horse was stone dead,— and, as we lighted a pine knot to examine the fellow, Barris’ two riders galloped up and drew bridle beside us.
“Hm!” said Barris with a scowl, “it’s the ‘Shiner,’ or I’m a moonshiner.”
We crowded curiously around to see the “Shiner.” He was red-headed, fat and filthy, and his little red eyes burned in his head like the eyes of an angry pig.
Barris went through his pockets methodically while Pierpont held him and I held the torch. The Shiner was a gold mine; pockets, shirt, bootlegs, hat, even his dirty fists, clutched tight and bleeding, were bursting with lumps of soft yellow gold. Barris dropped this “moonshine gold,” as we had come to call it, into the pockets of his shooting-coat, and withdrew to question the prisoner. He came back again in a few minutes and motioned his mounted men to take the Shiner in charge. We watched them, rifle on thigh, walking their horses slowly away into the darkness, the Shiner, tightly bound, shuffling sullenly between them.
“Who is the Shiner?” asked Pierpont, slipping the revolver into his pocket again.
“A moonshiner, counterfeiter, forger, and highwayman,” said Barris, “and probably a murderer. Drummond will be glad to see him, and I think it likely he will be persuaded to confess to him what he refuses to confess to me.”
“Wouldn’t he talk?” I asked.
“Not a syllable. Pierpont, there is nothing more for you to do.”
“For me to do? Are you not coming back with us, Barris?”
“No,” said Barris.
We walked along the dark road in silence for a while, I wondering what Barris intended to do, but he said nothing more until we reached our own verandah. Here he held out his hand, first to Pierpont, then to me, saying good-bye as though he were going on a long journey.
“How soon will you be back?” I called out to him as he turned away toward the gate. He came across the lawn again and again took our hands with a quiet affection that I had never imagined him capable of.
“I am going,” he said, “to put an end to his gold-making to-night. I know that you fellows have never suspected what I was about on my little solitary evening strolls after dinner. I will tell you. Already I have unobtrusively killed four of these gold-makers,— my men put them underground just below the new wash-out at the four mile stone. There are three left alive,— the Shiner whom we have, another criminal named ‘Yellow,’ or ‘Yaller’ in the vernacular, and the third —”
“The third,” repeated Pierpont, excitedly.
“The third I have never yet seen. But I know who and what he is,— I know; and if he is of human flesh and blood, his blood will flow to-night.”
As he spoke a slight noise across the turf attracted my attention. A mounted man was advancing silently in the starlight over the spongy meadowland. When he came nearer Barris struck a match, and we saw that he bore a corpse across his saddle bow.
“Yaller, Colonel Barris,” said the man, touching his slouched hat in salute.
This grim introduction to the corpse made me shudder, and, after a moment’s examination of the stiff, wide-eyed dead man, I drew back.
“Identified,” said Barris, “take him to the four mile post and carry his effects to Washington,—— under seal, mind, Johnstone.”
Away cantered the rider with his ghastly burden, and Barris took our hands once more for the last time. Then he went away, gaily, with a jest on his lips, and Pierpont and I turned back into the house.
For an hour we sat moodily smoking in the hall before the fire, saying little until Pierpont burst out with: “I wish Barris had taken one of us with him to-night!”
The same thought had been running in my mind, but I said: “Barris knows what he’s about.”
This observation neither comforted us nor opened the lane to further conversation, and after a few minutes Pierpont said good night and called for Howlett and hot water. When he had been warmly tucked away by Howlett, I turned out all but one lamp, sent the dogs away with David and dismissed Howlett for the night.
I was not inclined to retire for I knew I could not sleep. There was a book lying open on the table beside the fire and I opened it and read a page or two, but my mind was fixed on other things.
The window shades were raised and I looked out at the star-set firmament. There was no moon that night but the sky was dusted all over with sparkling stars and a pale radiance, brighter even than moonlight, fell over meadow and wood. Far away in the forest I heard the voice of the wind, a soft warm wind that whispered a name, Ysonde.
“Listen,” sighed the voice of the wind, and “listen” echoed the swaying trees with every little leaf a-quiver. I listened.
Where the long grasses trembled with the cricket’s cadence I heard her name, Ysonde; I heard it in the rustling woodbine where grey moths hovered; I heard it in the drip, drip, drip of the dew from the porch. The silent meadow brook whispered her name, the rippling woodland streams repeated in, Ysonde, Ysonde, until all earth and sky were filled with the soft thrill, Ysonde, Ysonde, Ysonde.
A night-thrush sang in a thicket by the porch and I stole to the verandah to listen. After a while it began again, a little further on. I ventured out into the road. Again I heard it far away in the forest and I followed it, for I knew it was singing of Ysonde.
When I came to the path that leaves the main road and enters the Sweet–Fern Covert below the spinney, I hesitated; but the beauty of the night lured me on and the night-thrushes called me from every thicket. In the starry radiance, shrubs, grasses, field flowers, stood out distinctly, for there was no moon to cast shadows. Meadow and brook, grove and stream, were illuminated by the pale glow. Like great lamps lighted, the planets hung from the high-domed sky and through their mysterious rays the fixed stars, calm, serene, stared from the heavens like eyes . . . I waded on waist deep through fields of dewy golden-rod, through late clover and wild-oat wastes, through crimson-fruited sweetbrier, blueberry, and wild plum, until the low whisper of the Weir Brook warned me that the path had ended.
But I would not stop, for the night air was heavy with the perfume of water-lilies and far away, across the low wooded cliffs and the wet meadowland beyond, there was a distant gleam of silver, and I heard the murmur of sleepy waterfowl. I would go to the lake. The way was clear except for the dense young growth and the snares of the moose-bush.
The night-thrushes had ceased but I did not want for the company of living creatures. Slender, quick darting forms crossed my path at intervals, sleek mink, that fled like shadows at my step, wiry weasels and fat muskrats, hurrying onward to some tryst or killing.
I never had seen so many little woodland creatures on the move at night. I began to wonder where they all were going so fast, why they all hurried on in the same direction. Now I passed a hare hopping through the brushwood, now a rabbit scurrying by, flag hoisted. As I entered the beech second-growth two foxes glided by me; a little further on a doe crashed out of the underbrush, and close behind her stole a lynx, eyes shining like coals.
He neither paid attention to the doe nor to me, but loped away toward the north.
The lynx was in flight.
“From what?” I asked myself, wondering. There was no forest fire, no cyclone, no flood.
If Barris had passed that way could he have stirred up this sudden exodus? Impossible; even a regiment in the forest could scarcely have put to rout these frightened creatures.
“What on earth,” thought I, turning to watch the headlong flight of a fisher-cat, “what on earth has started the beasts out at this time of night?”
I looked up into the sky. The placid glow of the fixed stars comforted me and I stepped on through the narrow spruce belt that leads down to the borders of the Lake of the Stars.
Wild cranberry and moose-bush entwined my feet, dewy branches spattered me with moisture, and the thick spruce needles scraped my face as I threaded my way over mossy logs and deep spongy tussocks down to the level gravel of the lake shore.
Although there was no wind the little waves were hurrying in from the lake and I heard them splashing among the pebbles. In the pale star glow thousands of water-lilies lifted their half-closed chalices toward the sky.
I threw myself full length upon the shore, and, chin on hand, looked out across the lake.
Splash, splash, came the waves along the shore, higher, nearer, until a film of water, thin and glittering as a knife blade, crept up to my elbows. I could not understand it; the lake was rising, but there had been no rain. All along the shore the water was running up; I heard the waves among the sedge grass; the weeds at my side were awash in the ripples. The lilies rocked on the tiny waves, every wet pad rising on the swells, sinking, rising again until the whole lake was glimmering with undulating blossoms. How sweet and deep was the fragrance from the lilies.
And now the water was ebbing, slowly, and the waves receded, shrinking from the shore rim until the white pebbles appeared again, shining like froth on a brimming glass.
No animal swimming out in the dankness along the shore, no heavy salmon surging, could have set the whole shore aflood as though the wash from a great boat were rolling in. Could it have been the overflow, through the Weir Brook, of some cloud-burst far back in the forest? This was the only way I could account for it, and yet when I had crossed the Weir Brook I had not noticed that it was swollen.
And as I lay there thinking, a faint breeze sprang up and I saw the surface of the lake whiten with lifted lily pads. All around me the alders were sighing; I heard the forest behind me stir; the crossed branches rubbing softly, bark against bark. Something — it may have been an owl — sailed out of the night, dipped, soared, and was again engulfed, and far across the water I heard its faint cry, Ysonde.
Then first, for my heart was full, I cast myself down upon my face, calling on her name. My eyes were wet when I raised my head,— for the spray from the shore was drifting in again,— and my heart beat heavily; “No more, no more.” But my heart lied, for even as I raised my face to the calm stars, I saw her standing still, close beside me; and very gently I spoke her name, Ysonde.
She held out both hands.
“I was lonely,” she said, “and I went to the glade, but the forest is full of frightened creatures and they frightened me. Has anything happened in the woods? The deer are running toward the heights.”
Her hand still lay in mine as we moved along the shore, and the lapping of the water on rock and shallow was no lower than our voices.
“Why did you leave me without a word, there at the fountain in the glade?” she said.
“I leave you!—”
“Indeed you did, running swiftly with your dog, plunging through thickens and brush,— oh —— you frightened me.”
“Did I leave you so?”
“Yes — after —”
“You had kissed me —”
Then we leaned down together and looked into the black water set with stars, just as we had bent together over the fountain in the glade.
“Do you remember?” I asked.
“Yes. See, the water is inlaid with silver stars,— everywhere white lilies floating and the stars below, deep, deep down.”
“What is the flower you hold in your hand?”
“Tell me about Yue–Laou, Dzil–Nbu of the Kuen–Yuin,” I whispered, lifting her head so I could see her eyes.
“Would it please you to hear?”
“All that I know is yours, now, as I am yours, all that I am. Bend closer. Is it of Yue–Laou you would know? Yue–Laou is Dzil–Nhu of the Kuen–Yuin. He lived in the Moon. He is old — very, very old, and once, before he came to rule the Kuen–Yuin, he was the old man who unites with a silken cord all predestined couples, after which nothing can prevent their union. But all that is changed since he came to rule the Kuen–Yuin. Now he has perverted the Xin,— the good genii of China,— and has fashioned from their warped bodies a monster which he calls the Xin. This monster is horrible, for it not only lives in its own body, but it has thousands of loathsome satellites,— living creatures without mouths, blind, that move when the Xin moves, like a mandarin and his escort. They are part of the Xin although they are not attached. Yet if one of these satellites is injured the Xin writhes with agony. It is fearful — this huge living bulk and these creatures spread out like severed fingers that wriggle around a hideous hand.”
“Who told you this?”
“Do you believe it?”
“Yes. I have seen one of the Xin’s creatures.
“Here in the woods.”
“Then you believe there is a Xin here?”
“There must be,— perhaps in the lake —”
“Oh, Xins inhabit lakes?”
“Yes, and the seven seas. I am not afraid here.”
“Because I wear the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin.”
“Then I am not safe,” I smiled.
“Yes you are, for I hold you in my arms. Shall I tell you more about the Xin? When the Xin is about to do to death a man, the Yeth-hounds gallop through the night —”
“What are the Yeth-hounds, Ysonde?”
“The Yeth-hounds are dogs without heads. They are the spirits of murdered children, which pass through the woods at night, making a wailing noise.”
“Do you believe this?”
“Yes, for I have worn the yellow lotus —”
“The yellow lotus —”
“Yellow is the symbol of faith —”
“In Yian,” she said faintly.
After a while I said, “Ysonde, you know there is a God?”
“God and Xangi are one.”
“Have you ever heard of Christ?”
“No,” she answered softly.
The wind began again among the tree tops. I felt her hands closing in mine.
“Ysonde,” I asked again, “do you believe in sorcerers?”
“Yes, the Kuen–Yuin are sorcerers; Yue–Laou is a sorcerer.
“Have you seen sorcery?”
“Yes, the reptile satellite of the Xin —”
“My charm,— the golden ball, the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin. Have you seen it change,— have you seen the reptiles writhe —?”
“Yes,” I said shortly, and then remained silent, for a sudden shiver of apprehension had seized me. Barris also had spoken gravely, ominously of the sorcerers, the Kuen–Yuin, and I had seen with my own eyes the graven reptiles turning and twisting on the glowing globe.
“Still,” said I aloud, “God lives and sorcery is but a name.”
“Ah,” murmured Ysonde, drawing closer to me, “they say, in Yian, the Kuen–Yuin live; God is but a name.”
“They lie,” I whispered fiercely.
“Be careful,” she pleaded, “they may hear you. Remember that you have the mark of the dragon’s claw on your brow.”
“What of it?” I asked, thinking also of the white mark on Barris’ arm.
“Ah don’t you know that those who are marked with the dragon’s claw are followed by Yue–Laou, for good or for evil,— and the evil means death if you offend him?”
“Do you believe that!” I asked impatiently . . . “I know it,” she sighed.
“Who told you all this? Your step-father? What in Heaven’s name is he then,— a Chinaman!”
“I don’t know; he is not like you.”
“Have — have you told him anything about me?”
“He knows about you — no, I have told him nothing,— ah what is this — see — it is a cord, a cord of silk about your neck — and about mine!”
“Where did that come from?” I asked astonished.
“It must be — in must be Yue–Laou who binds me to you,— it is as my step-father said — he said Yue–Laou would bind us —”
“Nonsense,” I said almost roughly, and seized the silken cord, but to my amazement it melted in my hand like smoke.
“What is all this damnable jugglery!” I whispered angrily, but my anger vanished as the words were spoken, and a convulsive shudder shook me to the feet. Standing on the shone of the lake, a stone’s throw away, was a figure, twisted and bent,— a little old man, blowing sparks from a live coal which he held in his naked hand. The coal glowed with increasing radiance, lighting up the skull-like face above it, and threw a red glow over the sands at his feet. But the face!— the ghastly Chinese face on which the light flickered,— and the snaky slitted eyes, sparkling as the coal glowed hotter. Coal! It was not a coal but a golden globe staining the night with crimson flames — it was the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin.
“See! See!” gasped Ysonde, trembling violently, “see the moon rising from between his fingers! Oh I thought it was my step-father and it is Yue–Laou the Maker of Moons — no! no! it is my step-father — ah God! they are the same!”
Frozen with terror I stumbled to my knees, groping for my revolver which bulged in my coat pocket; but something held me — something which bound me like a web in a thousand strong silky meshes. I struggled and turned but the web grew tighter; it was over us — all around us, drawing, pressing us into each other’s arms until we lay side by side, bound hand and body and foot, palpitating, panting like a pair of netted pigeons.
And the creature on the shore below! What was my horror to see a moon, huge, silvery, rise like a bubble from between his fingers, mount higher, higher into the still air and hang aloft in the midnight sky, while another moon rose from his fingers, and another and yet another until the vast span of Heaven was set with moons and the earth sparkled like a diamond in the white glare.
A great wind began to blow from the east and it bore to our ears a long mournful howl,— a cry so unearthly that for a moment our hearts stopped.
“The Yeth-hounds!” sobbed Ysonde, “do you hear!— they are passing through the forest! The Xin is near!”
Then all around us in the dry sedge grasses came a rustle as if some small animals were creeping, and a damp acrid odor filled the air. I knew the smell, I saw the spidery crablike creatures swarm out around me and drag their soft yellow hairy bodies across the shrinking grasses. They passed, hundreds of them, poisoning the air, rumbling, writhing, crawling with their blind mouthless heads raised. Birds, half asleep and confused by the darkness, fluttered away before them in helpless fright, rabbits sprang from their forms, weasels glided away like flying shadows. What remained of the forest creatures rose and fled from the loathsome invasion; I heard the squeak of a terrified hare, the snort of stampeding deer, and the lumbering gallop of a bear; and all the time I was choking, half suffocated by the poisoned air.
Then, as I struggled to free myself from the silken snare about me, I cast a glance of deadly fear at the sorcerer below, and at the same moment I saw him turn in his tracks . . . “Halt!” cried a voice from the bushes.
“Barris!” I shouted, half leaping up in my agony.
I saw the sorcerer spring forward, I heard the bang! bang! bang! of a revolver, and, as the sorcerer fell on the water’s edge, I saw Barris jump out into the white glare and fire again, once, twice, three times, into the writhing figure at his feet.
Then an awful thing occurred. Up out of the black lake reared a shadow, a nameless shapeless mass, headless, sightless, gigantic, gaping from end to end.
A great wave struck Barris and he fell, another washed him up on the pebbles, another whirled him back into the water and then,— and then the thing fell over him,— and I fainted.
This, then, is all that I know concerning Yue–Laou and the Xin. I do not fear the ridicule of scientists or of the press for I have told the truth. Barris is gone and the thing that killed him is alive today in the Lake of the Stars while the spider-like satellites roam through the Cardinal Woods. The game has fled, the forests around the lake are empty of any living creatures save the reptiles that creep when the Xin moves in the depths of the lake.
General Drummond knows what he has lost in Barris, and we, Pierpont and I, know what we have lost also. His will we found in the drawer, the key of which he had handed me. It was wrapped in a bit of paper on which was written:
“Yue–Laou the sorcerer is here in the Cardinal Woods. I must kill him or he will kill me. He made and gave to me the woman I loved,— he made her,— I saw him,— he made her out of a white water-lotus bud. When our child was born, he came again before me and demanded from me the woman I loved. Then, when I refused, he went away, and that night my wife and child vanished from my side, and I found upon her pillow a white lotus bud. Roy, the woman of your dream, Ysonde, may be my child. God help you if you love her for Yue–Laou will give,— and take away, as though he were Xangi, which is God. I will kill Yue–Laou before I leave this forest,— or he will kill me.
Now the world knows what Barris thought of the Kuen–Yuin and of Yue-Laou. I see that the newspapers are just becoming excited over the glimpses that Li–Hung-Chang has afforded them of Black Cathay and the demons of the Kuen–Yuin. The Kuen–Yuin are on the move.
Pierpont and I have dismantled the shooting box in the Cardinal Woods. We hold ourselves ready at a moment’s notice to join and lead the first Government party to drag the Lake of Stars and cleanse the forest of the crab reptiles. But it will be necessary that a large force assembles, and a well-armed force, for we never have found the body of Yue–Laou, and, living or dead, I fear him. Is he living?
Pierpont, who found Ysonde and myself lying unconscious on the lake shore, the morning after, saw no trace of corpse or blood on the sands. He may have fallen into the lake, but I fear and Ysonde fears that he is alive. We never were able to find either her dwelling place or the glade and the fountain again. The only thing that remains to her of her former life is the gold serpent in the Metropolitan Museum and her golden globe, the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin; but the latter no longer changes color.
David and the dogs are waiting for me in the count yard as I write. Pierpont is in the gun room loading shells, and Howlett brings him mug after mug of my ale from the wood. Ysonde bends over my desk,— I feel her hand on my arm, and she is saying, “Don’t you think you have done enough to-day, dear? How can you write such silly nonsense without a shadow of truth or foundation?”
“If I were you,” said the elder man, “I should take three months’ solid rest.”
“A month is enough,” said the younger man. “Ozone will do it; the first brace of grouse I bag will do it —” He broke off abruptly, staring at the line of dimly lighted cars, where negro porters stood by the vestibuled sleepers, directing passengers to staterooms and berths.
“Dog all right, doctor?” inquired the elder man pleasantly. “All right, doctor,” replied the younger; “I spoke to the baggage master.” There was a silence; the elder man chewed an unlighted cigar reflectively, watching his companion with keen narrowing eyes.
The younger physician stood full in the white electric light, lean head lowered, apparently preoccupied with a study of his own shadow swimming and quivering on the asphalt at his feet.
“So you fear I may break down?” he observed, without raising his head.
“I think you’re tired out,” said the other.
“That’s a more agreeable way of expressing it,” said the young fellow. “I hear”— he hesitated, with a faint trace of irritation —“I understand that Forbes Stanly thinks me mentally unsound.”
“He probably suspects what you’re up to,” said the elder man soberly.
“Well, what will he do when I announce my germ theory? Put me in a strait-jacket?”
“He’ll say you’re mad, until you prove it; every physician will agree with him — until your radium test shows us the microbe of insanity.”
“Doctor,” said the young man abruptly, “I’m going to admit something — to you.”
“All right; go ahead and admit it.”
“Well, I am a bit worried about my own condition.”
“It’s time you were,” observed the other.
“Yes — it’s about time. Doctor, I am seriously affected.”
The elder man looked up sharply.
“Yes, I’m — in love.”
“Ah!” muttered the elder physician, amused and a trifle disgusted; “so that’s your malady, is it?”
“A malady — yes; not explainable by our germ theory — not affected by radio-activity. Doctor, I’m speaking lightly enough, but there’s no happiness in it.”
“Never is,” commented the other, striking a match and lighting his ragged cigar. After a puff or two the cigar went out. “All I have to say,” he added, “is, don’t do it just now. Show me a scale of pure radium and I’ll give you leave to marry every spinster in New York. In the mean time go and shoot a few dozen harmless, happy grouse; they can’t shoot back. But let love alone . . . By the way, who is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know her name, I suppose?”
The young fellow shook his head. “I don’t even know where she lives,” he said finally.
After a pause the elder man took him gently by the arm: “Are you subject to this sort of thing? Are you susceptible?”
“No, not at all.”
“Ever before in love?”
“Yes — once.”
“When I was about ten years old. Her name was Rosamund — aged eight. I never had the courage to speak to her. She died recently, I believe.”
The reply was so quietly serious, so destitute of any suspicion of humor, that the elder man’s smile faded; and again he cast one of his swift, keen glances at his companion.
“Won’t you stay away three months?” he asked patiently.
But the other only shook his head, tracing with the point of his walking stick the outline of his own shadow on the asphalt.
A moment later he glanced at his watch, closed it with a snap, silently shook hands with his equally silent friend, and stepped aboard the sleeping car.
Neither had noticed the name of the sleeping car.
It happened to be the Rosamund.
Loungers and passengers on Wildwood station drew back from the platform’s edge as the towering locomotive shot by them, stunning their ears with the clangor of its melancholy bell.
Slower, slower glided the dusty train, then stopped, jolting; eddying circles of humanity closed around the cars, through which descending passengers pushed.
“Wildwood! Wildwood!” cried the trainmen; trunks tumbling out of the forward car descended with a bang!— a yelping, wagging setter dog landed on the platform, hysterically grateful to be free; and at the same moment a young fellow in tweed shooting clothes, carrying gripsack and gun case, made his way forward toward the baggage master, who was being jerked all over the platform by the frantic dog.
“Much obliged; I’ll take the dog,” he said, slipping a bit of silver into the official’s hand, and receiving the dog’s chain in return.
“Hope you’ll have good sport,” replied the baggage master. “There’s a lot o’ birds in this country, they tell me. You’ve got a good dog there.”
The young man smiled and nodded, released the chain from his dog’s collar, and started off up the dusty village street, followed by an urchin carrying his luggage.
The landlord of the Wildwood Inn stood on the veranda, prepared to receive guests. When a young man, a white setter dog, and a small boy loomed up, his speculative eyes became suffused with benevolence.
“How-de-so, sir?” he said cordially. “Guess you was with us three year since — stayed to supper. Ain’t that so?”
“It certainly is,” said his guest cheerfully. “I am surprised that you remember me.”
“Be ye?” rejoined the landlord, gratified. “Say! I can tell the name of every man, woman, an child that has ever set down to eat with us. You was here with a pair o’ red bird dawgs; shot a mess o’ birds before dark, come back pegged out, an’ took the ten-thirty to Noo York. Hey? Yaas, an’ you was cussin’ round because you couldn’t stay an’ shoot for a month.”
“I had to work hard in those days,” laughed the young man. “You are right; it was three years ago this month.”
“Time’s a flyer; it’s fitted with triple screws these days,” said the landlord. “Come right in an’ make yourself to home. Ed! O Ed! Take this bag to 13! We’re all full, sir. You ain’t scared at No. 13, be ye? Say! if I ain’t a liar you had 13 three years ago! Waal, now!— ain’t that the dumbdest —— But you can have what you want Monday. How long was you calkerlatin’ to stay?”
“A month — if the shooting is good.”
“It’s all right. Orrin Plummet come in last night with a mess o pa’tridges. He says the woodcock is droppin’ in to the birches south o’ Sweetbrier Hill.”
The young man nodded, and began to remove his gun from the service-worn case of sole leather.
“Ain’t startin’ right off, be ye?” inquired his host, laughing.
“I can’t begin too quickly,” said the young man, busy locking barrels to stock, while the dog looked on, thumping the veranda floor with his plumy tail.
The landlord admired the slim, polished weapon. “That’s the instrooment!” he observed. “That there’s a slick bird dawg, too. Guess I’d better fill my ice box. Your limit’s thirty of each — cock an’ parridge. After that there’s ducks.”
“It’s a good, sane law,” said the young man, dropping his gun under one arm.
The landlord scratched his ear reflectively. “Lemme see,” he mused; “wasn’t you a doctor? I heard tell that you made up pieces for the papers about the idjits an’ loonyticks of Rome an’ Roosia an’ furrin climes.”
“I have written a little on European and Asiatic insanity,” replied the doctor good-humoredly.
“Was you over to them parts?”
“For three years.” He whistled the dog in from the road, where several yellow curs were walking round and round him, every hair on end.
The landlord said: “You look a little peaked yourself. Take it easy the fust, is my advice.”
His guest nodded abstractedly, lingering on the veranda, preoccupied with the beauty of the village street, which stretched away westward under tall elms. Autumn-tinted hills closed the vista; beyond them spread the blue sky.
“The cemetery lies that way, does it not?” inquired the young man.
“Straight ahead,” said the landlord. “Take the road to the Holler.”
“Do you”— the doctor hesitated —“do you recall a funeral there three years ago?”
“Whose?” asked his host bluntly.
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll ask my woman; she saves them funeral pieces an’ makes a album.”
“Friend o’ yours buried there?”
The landlord sauntered toward the barroom, where two fellow taxpayers stood shuffling their feet impatiently.
“Waal, good luck, Doc,” he said, without intentional offense; “supper’s at six. We’ll try an’ make you comfortable.”
“Thank you,” replied the doctor, stepping out into the road, and motioning the white setter to heel.
“I remember now,” he muttered, as he turned northward, where the road forked; “the cemetery lies to the westward; there should be a lane at the next turning —”
He hesitated and stopped, then resumed his course, mumbling to himself: “I can pass the cemetery later; she would not be there; I don’t think I shall ever see her again . . . I— I wonder whether I am — perfectly — well —”
The words were suddenly lost in a sharp indrawn breath; his heart ceased beating, fluttered, then throbbed on violently; and he shook from head to foot.
There was a glimmer of a summer gown under the trees; a figure passed from shadow to sunshine, and again into the cool dusk of a leafy lane.
The pallor of the young fellow’s face changed; a heavy flush spread from forehead to neck; he strode forward, dazed, deafened by the tumult of his drumming pulses. The dog, alert, suspicious, led the way, wheeling into the bramble-bordered lane, only to halt, turn back, and fall in behind his master again.
In the lane ahead the light summer gown fluttered under the foliage, bright in the sunlight, almost lost in the shadows. Then he saw her on the hill’s breezy crest, poised for a moment against the sky.
When at length he reached the hill, he found her seated in the shade of a pine. She looked up serenely, as though she had expected him, and they faced each other. A moment later his dog left him, sneaking away without a sound.
When he strove to speak, his voice had an unknown tone to him. Her upturned face was his only answer. The breeze in the pinetops, which had been stirring lazily and monotonously, ceased.
Her delicate face was like a blossom lifted in the still air; her upward glance chained him to silence. The first breeze broke the spell: he spoke a word, then speech died on his lips; he stood twisting his shooting cap, confused, not daring to continue.
The girl leaned back, supporting her weight on one arm, fingers almost buried in the deep green moss.
“It is three years to-day,” he said, in the dull voice of one who dreams; “three years to-day. May I not speak?”
In her lowered head and eyes he read acquiescence; in her silence, consent.
“Three years ago to-day,” he repeated; “the anniversary has given me courage to speak to you. Surely you will not take offense; we have traveled so far together!— from the end of the world to the end of it, and back again, here — to this place of all places in the world! And now to find you here on this day of all days — here within a step of our first meeting place — three years ago to-day! And all the world we have traveled over since never speaking, yet ever passing on paths parallel — paths which for thousands of miles ran almost within arms distance —”
She raised her head slowly, looking out from the shadows of the pines into the sunshine. Her dreamy eyes rested on acres of golden-rod and hillside brambles quivering in the September heat; on fern-choked gullies edged with alder; on brown and purple grasses; on pine thickets where slim silver birches glimmered.
“Will you speak to me?” he asked. “I have never even heard the sound of your voice.”
She turned and looked at him, touching with idle fingers the soft hair curling on her temples Then she bent her head once more, the faintest shadow of a smile in her eyes.
“Because,” he said humbly, “these long years of silent recognition count for something! And then the strangeness of it!— the fate of it — the quiet destiny that ruled our lives — that rules them now — now as I am speaking, weighting every second with its tiny burden of fate.”
She straightened up, lifting her half-buried hand from the moss; and he saw the imprint there where the palm and fingers had rested.
“Three years that end to-day — end with the new moon,” he said. “Do you remember?”
“Yes,” she said.
He quivered at the sound of her voice. “You were there, just beyond those oaks,” he said eagerly; “we can see them from here. The road turns there —”
“Turns by the cemetery,” she murmured.
“Yes, yes, by the cemetery! You had been there, I think.”
“Do you remember that?” she asked.
“I have never forgotten — never!” he repeated, striving to hold her eyes to his own; “it was not twilight; there was a glimmer of day in the west, but the woods were darkening, and the new moon lay in the sky, and the evening was very clear and still.”
Impulsively he dropped on one knee beside her to see her face; and as he spoke, curbing his emotion and impatience with that subtle deference which is inbred in men or never acquired, she stole a glance at him; and his worn visage brightened as though touched with sunlight.
“The second time I saw you was in New York,” he said —“only a glimpse of your face in the crowd — but I knew you.”
“I saw you,” she mused.
“Did you?” he cried, enchanted. “I dared not believe that you recognized me.”
“Yes, I knew you. . . . Tell me more.”
The thrilling voice set him aflame; faint danger signals tinted her face and neck.
“In December,” he went on unsteadily, “I saw you in Paris — I saw only you amid the thousand faces in the candlelight of Notre Dame.”
“And I saw you. . . . And then?”
“And then two months of darkness. . . . And at last a light — moonlight — and you on the terrace at Amara.”
“There was only a flower bed — a few spikes of white hyacinths between us,” she said dreamily.
He strove to speak coolly. “Day and night have built many a wall between us; was that you who passed me in the starlight, so close that our shoulders touched, in that narrow street in Samarkand? And the dark figure with you —”
“Yes, it was I and my attendant.”
“And . . . you, there in the fog —”
“At Archangel? Yes, it was I.”
“On the Goryn?”
“It was I. . . . And I am here at last — with you. It is our destiny.”
So, kneeling there beside her in the shadow of the pines, she absolved him in their dim confessional, holding him guiltless under the destiny that awaits us all.
Again that illumination touched his haggard face as though brightened by a sun ray stealing through the still foliage above. He grew younger under the level beauty of her gaze; care fell from him like a mask; the shadows that had haunted his eyes faded; youth awoke, transfiguring him and all his eyes beheld.
Made prisoner by love, adoring her, fearing her, he knelt beside her, knowing already that she had surrendered, though fearful yet by word or gesture or a glance to claim what destiny was holding for him holding securely, inexorably, for him alone.
He spoke of her kindness in understanding him, and of his gratitude; of her generosity, of his wonder that she had ever noticed him on his way through the world.
“I cannot believe that we have never before spoken to each other,” he said; “that I do not even know your name. Surely there was once a corner in the land of childhood where we sat together when the world was younger.”
She said, dreamily: “Have you forgotten?”
“That sunny corner in the land of childhood.”
“Had you been there, I should not have forgotten,” he replied, troubled.
“Look at me,” she said. Her lovely eyes met his; under the penetrating sweetness of her gaze his heart quickened and grew restless and his uneasy soul stirred, awaking memories.
“There was a child,” she said, “years ago; a child at school. You sometimes looked at her, you never spoke. Do you remember?”
He rose to his feet, staring down at her.
“Do you remember?” she asked again.
“Rosamund! Do you mean Rosamund? How should you know that?” he faltered.
The struggle for memory focused all his groping senses; his eyes seemed to look her through and through.
“How can you know?” he repeated unsteadily. “You are not Rosamund . . . Are you? . . . She is dead. I heard that she was dead . . . Are you Rosamund?”
“Do you not know?”
“Yes; you are not Rosamund. . . . What do you know of her?”
“I think she loved you.”
“Is she dead?”
The girl looked up at him, smiling, following with delicate perception the sequence of his thoughts; and already his thoughts were far from the child Rosamund, a sweetheart of a day long since immortal; already he had forgotten his question, though the question was of life or death.
Sadness and unrest and the passing of souls concerned not him; she knew that all his thoughts were centered on her; that he was already living over once more the last three years, with all their mystery and charm, savoring their fragrance anew in the exquisite enchantment of her presence.
Through the autumn silence the pines began to sway in a wind unfelt below. She raised her eyes and saw their green crests shimmering and swimming in a cool current; a thrilling sound stole out, and with it floated the pine perfume, exhaling in the sunshine. He heard the dreamy harmony above, looked up; then, troubled, somber, moved by he knew not what, he knelt once more in the shadow beside her — close beside her.
She did not stir. Their destiny was close upon them. It came in the guise of love.
He bent nearer. “I love you,” he said. “I loved you from the first. And shall forever. You knew it long ago.”
She did not move.
“You knew I loved you?”
“Yes, I knew it.”
The emotion in her voice, in every delicate contour of her face, pleaded for mercy. He gave her none, and she bent her head in silence, clasped hands tightening.
And when at last he had had his say, the burning words still rang in her ears through the silence. A curious faintness stole upon her, coming stealthily like a hateful thing. She strove to put it from her, to listen, to remember and understand the words he had spoken, but the dull confusion grew with the sound of the pines.
“Will you love me? Will you try to love me?”
“I love you,” she said; “I have loved you so many, many years; I— I am Rosamund —”
She bowed her head and covered her face with both hands . . . “Rosamund! Rosamund!” he breathed, enraptured.
She dropped her hands with a little cry; the frightened sweetness of her eyes held back his outstretched arms. “Do not touch me,” she whispered; “you will not touch me, will you?— not yet — not now. Wait till I understand!” She pressed her hands to her eyes, then again let them fall, staring straight at him. “I loved you so!” she whispered. “Why did you wait?”
“Rosamund! Rosamund!” he cried sorrowfully, “what are you saying? I do not understand; I can understand nothing save that I worship you. May I not touch you?— touch your hand, Rosamund? I love you so.”
“And I love you. I beg you not to touch me — not yet. There is something — some reason why —”
“Tell me, sweetheart.”
“Do you not know?”
“By Heaven, I do not!” he said, troubled and amazed.
She cast one desperate, unhappy glance at him, then rose to her full height, gazing out over the hazy valleys to where the mountains began, piled up like dim sun-tipped clouds in the north.
The hill wind stirred her hair and fluttered the white ribbons at waist and shoulder. The golden-rod swayed in the sunshine. Below, amid yellow treetops, the roofs and chimneys of the village glimmered.
“Dear, do you not understand?” she said. “How can I make you understand that I love you —— too late?”
“Give yourself to me, Rosamund; let me touch you — let me take you —”
“Will you love me always?”
“In life, in death, which cannot part us. Will you marry me, Rosamund?”
She looked straight into his eyes. “Dear, do you not understand? Have you forgotten? I died three years ago to-day.”
The unearthly sweetness of her white face startled him. A terrible light broke in on him; his heart stood still.
In his dull brain words were sounding — his own words, written years ago: “When God takes the mind and leaves the body alive, there grows in it, sometimes, a beauty almost supernatural.”
He had seen it in his practice. A thrill of fright penetrated him, piercing every vein with its chill. He strove to speak; his lips seemed frozen; he stood there before her, a ghastly smile stamped on his face, and in his heart, terror.
“What do you mean, Rosamund?” he said at last.
“That I am dead, dear. Did you not understand that? I— I thought you knew it — when you first saw me at the cemetery, after all those years since childhood. . . . Did you not know it?” she asked wistfully. “I must wait for my bridal.”
Misery whitened his face as he raised his head and looked out across the sunlit world.
Something had smeared and marred the fair earth; the sun grew gray as he stared.
Stupefied by the crash, the ruins of life around him, he stood mute, erect, facing the west.
She whispered, “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he said; “we will wed later. You have been ill, dear; but it is all right now — and will always be — God help us! Love is stronger than all —— stronger than death.”
“I know it is stronger than death,” she said, looking out dreamily over the misty valley.
He followed her gaze, calmly, serenely reviewing all that he must renounce, the happiness of wedlock, children — all that a man desires.
Suddenly instinct stirred, awaking man’s only friend — hope. A lifetime for the battle!— for a cure! Hopeless? He laughed in his excitement. Despair?— when the cure lay almost within his grasp! the work he had given his life to! A month more in the laboratory — two months — three —— perhaps a year. What of it? It must surely come — how could he fail when the work of his life meant all in life for her?
The light of exaltation slowly faded from his face; ominous, foreboding thoughts crept in; fear laid a shaky hand on his head which fell heavily forward on his breast.
Science and man’s cunning and the wisdom of the world!
“O God,” he groaned, “for Him who cured by laying on His hands!”
Now that he had learned her name, and that her father was alive, he stood mutely beside her, staring steadily at the chimneys and stately dormered roof almost hidden behind the crimson maple foliage across the valley — her home.
She had seated herself once more upon the moss, hands clasped upon one knee, looking out into the west with dreamy eyes.
“I shall not be long,” he said gently. “Will you wait here for me? I will bring your father with me.”
“I will wait for you. But you must come before the new moon. Will you? I must go when the new moon lies in the west.”
“Go, dearest? Where?”
“I may not tell you,” she sighed, “but you will know very soon — very soon now. And there will be no more sorrow, I think,” she added timidly.
“There will be no more sorrow,” he repeated quietly.
“For the former things are passing away,” she said.
He broke a heavy spray of golden-rod and laid it across her knees; she held out a blossom to him — a blind gentian, blue as her eyes. He kissed it.
“Be with me when the new moon comes,” she whispered. “It will be so sweet. I will teach you how divine is death, if you will come.”
“You shall teach me the sweetness of life,” he said tremulously.
“Yes — life. I did not know you called it by its truest name.”
So he went away, trudging sturdily down the lane, gun glistening on his shoulder.
Where the lane joins the shadowy village street his dog skulked up to him, sniffing at his heels.
A mill whistle was sounding; through the red rays of the setting sun people were passing.
Along the row of village shops loungers followed him with vacant eyes. He saw nothing, heard nothing, though a kindly voice called after him, and a young girl smiled at him on her short journey through the world.
The landlord of the Wildwood Inn sat sunning himself in the red evening glow.
“Well, doctor,” he said, “you look tired to death. Eh? What’s that you say?”
The young man repeated his question in a low voice. The landlord shook his head.
“No, sir. The big house on the hill is empty — been empty these three years. No, sir, there ain’t no family there now. The old gentleman moved away three years ago.”
“You are mistaken,” said the doctor; “his daughter tells me he lives there.”
“His — his daughter?” repeated the landlord. “Why, doctor, she’s dead.” He turned to his wife, who sat sewing by the open window: “Ain’t it three years, Marthy?”
“Three years to-day,” said the woman, biting off her thread. “She’s buried in the family vault over the hill. She was a right pretty little thing, too.”
“Turned nineteen,” mused the landlord, folding his newspaper reflectively.
The great gray house on the hill was closed, windows and doors boarded over, lawn, shrubbery, and hedges tangled with weeds. A few scarlet poppies glimmered above the brown grass. Save for these, and clumps of tall wild phlox, there were no blossoms among the weeds.
His dog, which had sneaked after him, cowered as he turned northward across the fields.
Swifter and swifter he strode; and as he stumbled on, the long sunset clouds faded, the golden light in the west died out, leaving a calm, clear sky tinged with the faintest green.
Pines hid the west as he crept toward the hill where she awaited him. As he climbed through dusky purple grasses, higher, higher, he saw the new moon’s crescent tipping above the hills; and he crushed back the deathly fright that clutched at him and staggered on.
The pines answered him.
The pines replied, answering together. Then the wind died away, and there was no answer when he called.
East and south the darkening thickets, swaying, grew still. He saw the slim silver birches glimmering like the ghosts of young trees dead; he saw on the moss at his feet a broken stalk of golden-rod.
The new moon had drawn a veil across her face; sky and earth were very still.
While the moon lasted he lay, eyes open, listening, his face pillowed on the moss. It was long after sunrise when his dog came to him; later still when men came.
And at first they thought he was asleep.
He had really been too ill to go; the penetrating dampness of the studio, the nervous strain, the tireless application, all had told on him heavily. But the feverish discomfort in his head and lungs gave him no rest; it was impossible to lie there in bed and do nothing; besides, he did not care to disappoint his hostess. So he managed to crawl into his clothes, summon a cab, and depart. The raw night air cooled his head and throat; he opened the cab window and let the snow blow in on him.
When he arrived he did not feel much better, although Catharine was glad to see him.
Somebody’s wife was allotted to him to take in to dinner, and he executed the commission with that distinction of manner peculiar to men of his temperament.
When the women had withdrawn and the men had lighted cigars and cigarettes, and the conversation wavered between municipal reform and contes drolatiques, and the Boznovian attaché had begun an interminable story, and Count Fantozzi was emphasizing his opinion of women by joining the tips of his overmanicured thumb and forefinger and wafting spectral kisses at an annoyed Englishman opposite, Helmer laid down his unlighted cigar and, leaning over, touched his host on the sleeve.
“Hello! What’s up, Philip?” said his host cordially; and Helmer, dropping his voice a tone below the sustained pitch of conversation, asked him the question that had been burning his feverish lips since dinner began.
To which his host replied, “What girl do you mean?” and bent nearer to listen.
“I mean the girl in the fluffy black gown, with shoulders and arms of ivory, and the eyes of Aphrodite.”
His host smiled. “Where did she sit, this human wonder?”
“Beside Colonel Farrar.”
“Farrar? Let’s see”— he knit his brows thoughtfully, then shook his head. “I can’t recollect; we’re going in now and you can find her and I’ll —”
His words were lost in the laughter and hum around them; he nodded an abstracted assurance at Helmer; others claimed his attention, and by the time he rose to signal departure he had forgotten the girl in black.
As the men drifted toward the drawing-rooms, Helmer moved with the throng. There were a number of people there whom he knew and spoke to, although through the increasing feverishness he could scarce hear himself speak. He was too ill to stay; he would find his hostess and ask the name of that girl in black, and go.
The white drawing-rooms were hot and over-thronged. Attempting to find his hostess, he encountered Colonel Farrar, and together they threaded their way aimlessly forward.
“Who is the girl in black, Colonel?” he asked; “I mean the one that you took in to dinner.”
“A girl in black? I don’t think I saw her.”
“She sat beside you!”
“Beside me?” The Colonel halted, and his inquiring gaze rested for a moment on the younger man, then swept the crowded rooms.
“Do you see her now?” he asked.
“No,” said Helmer, after a moment.
They stood silent for a little while, then parted to allow the Chinese minister thoroughfare — a suave gentleman, all antique silks, and a smile “thousands of years old.” The minister passed, leaning on the arm of the general commanding at Governor’s Island, who signaled Colonel Farrar to join them; and Helmer drifted again, until a voice repeated his name insistently, and his hostess leaned forward from the brilliant group surrounding her, saying: “What in the world is the matter, Philip? You look wretchedly ill.”
“It’s a trifle close here — nothing’s the matter.”
He stepped nearer, dropping his voice: “Catharine, who was that girl in black?”
“She sat beside Colonel Farrar at dinner — or I thought she did —”
“Do you mean Mrs. Van Siclen? She is in white, silly!”
“No — the girl in black.”
His hostess bent her pretty head in perplexed silence, frowning a trifle with the effort to remember.
“There were so many,” she murmured; “let me see — it is certainly strange that I cannot recollect. Wait a moment! Are you sure she wore black? Are you sure she sat next to Colonel Farrar?”
“A moment ago I was certain —” he said, hesitating. “Never mind, Catherine; Ill prowl about until I find her.”
His hostess, already partly occupied with the animated stir around her, nodded brightly; Helmer turned his fevered eyes and then his steps toward the cool darkness of the conservatories.
But he found there a dozen people who greeted him by name, demanding not only his company but his immediate and undivided attention.
“Mr. Helmer might be able to explain to us what his own work means,” said a young girl, laughing.
They had evidently been discussing his sculptured group, just completed for the new façade of the National Museum. Press and public had commented very freely on the work since the unveiling a week since; critics quarreled concerning the significance of the strange composition in marble. The group was at the same time repellent and singularly beautiful; but nobody denied its technical perfection. This was the sculptured group: A vaquero, evidently dying, lay in a loose heap among some desert rocks. Beside him, chin on palm, sat an exquisite winged figure, calm eyes fixed on the dying man. It was plain that death was near; it was stamped on the ravaged visage, on the collapsed frame. And yet, in the dying boy’s eyes there was nothing of agony, no fear, only an intense curiosity as the lovely winged figure gazed straight into the glazing eyes.
“It may be,” observed an attractive girl, “that Mr. Helmer will say with Mr. Gilbert, ‘It is really very clever, But I don’t know what it means.’” Helmer laughed and started to move away. “I think I’d better admit that at once,” he said, passing his hand over his aching eyes; but the tumult of protest blocked his retreat, and he was forced to find a chair under the palms and tree ferns. “It was merely an idea of mine,” he protested, good-humoredly, “an idea that has haunted me so persistently that, to save myself further annoyance, I locked it up in marble.”
“Demoniac obsession?” suggested a very young man, with a taste for morbid literature.
“Not at all,” protested Helmer, smiling; “the idea annoyed me until I gave it expression. It doesn’t bother me any more.”
“You said,” observed the attractive girl, “that you were going to tell us all about it.”
“About the idea? Oh no, I didn’t promise that —”
“Please, Mr. Helmer!”
A number of people had joined the circle; he could see others standing here and there among the palms, evidently pausing to listen.
“There is no logic in the idea,” he said, uneasily —“nothing to attract your attention. I have only laid a ghost —”
He stopped short. The girl in black stood there among the others, intently watching him. When she caught his eye, she nodded with the friendliest little smile; and as he started to rise she shook her head and stepped back with a gesture for him to continue.
They looked steadily at one another for a moment.
“The idea that has always attracted me,” he began slowly, “is purely instinctive and emotional, not logical. It is this: As long as I can remember I have taken it for granted that a person who is doomed to die, never dies utterly alone. We who die in our beds — or expect to — die surrounded by the living. So fall soldiers on the firing line; so end the great majority — never absolutely alone. Even in a murder, the murderer at least must be present. If not, something else is there.
“But how is it with those solitary souls isolated in the world — the lone herder who is found lifeless in some vast, waterless desert, the pioneer whose bones are stumbled over by the tardy pickets of civilization — and even those nearer us — here in our city — who are found in silent houses, in deserted streets, in the solitude of salt meadows, in the miserable desolation of vacant lands beyond the suburbs?”
The girl in black stood motionless, watching him intently.
“I like to believe,” he went on, “that no living creature dies absolutely and utterly alone. I have thought that, perhaps in the desert, for instance, when a man is doomed, and there is no chance that he could live to relate the miracle, some winged sentinel from the uttermost outpost of Eternity, putting off the armor of invisibility, drops through space to watch beside him so that he may not die alone.”
There was absolute quiet in the circle around him. Looking always at the girl in black, he said:
“Perhaps those doomed on dark mountains or in solitary deserts, or the last survivor at sea, drifting to certain destruction after the wreck has foundered, finds death no terror, being guided to it by those invisible to all save the surely doomed. That is really all that suggested the marble — quite illogical, you see.”
In the stillness, somebody drew a long, deep breath; the easy reaction followed; people moved, spoke together in low voices; a laugh rippled up out of the darkness. But Helmer had gone, making his way through the half light toward a figure that moved beyond through the deeper shadows of the foliage — moved slowly and more slowly. Once she looked back, and he followed, pushing forward and parting the heavy fronds of fern and palm and masses of moist blossoms. Suddenly he came upon her, standing there as though waiting for him.
“There is not a soul in this house charitable enough to present me,” he began.
“Then,” she answered laughingly, “charity should begin at home. Take pity on yourself — and on me. I have waited for you.”
“Did you really care to know me?” he stammered.
“Why am I here alone with you?” she asked, bending above a scented mass of flowers.
“Indiscretion may be a part of valor, but it is the best part of — something else.”
That blue radiance which a starless sky sheds lighted her white shoulders; transparent shadow veiled the contour of neck and cheeks.
“At dinner,” he said, “I did not mean to stare so — but I simply could not keep my eyes from yours —”
“A hint that mine were on yours, too?”
She laughed a little laugh so sweet that the sound seemed part of the twilight and the floating fragrance. She turned gracefully, holding out her hand.
“Let us be friends,” she said, “after all these years.”
Her hand lay in his for an instant; then she withdrew it and dropped it caressingly upon a cluster of massed flowers.
“Forced bloom,” she said, looking down at them, where her fingers, white as the blossoms, lay half buried. Then, raising her head, “You do not know me, do you?”
“Know you?” he faltered; “how could I know you? Do you think for a moment that I could have forgotten you?”
“Ah, you have not forgotten me!” she said, still with her wide smiling eyes on his; “you have not forgotten. There is a trace of me in the winged figure you cut in marble — not the features, not the massed hair, nor the rounded neck and limbs — but in the eyes. Who living, save yourself, can read those eyes?”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Answer me; who alone in all the world can read the message in those sculptured eyes?”
“Can you?” he asked, curiously troubled. “Yes; I, and the dying man in marble.”
“What do you read there?”
“Pardon for guilt. You have foreshadowed it unconsciously — the resurrection of the soul. That is what you have left in marble for the mercilessly just to ponder on; that alone is the meaning of your work.”
Through the throbbing silence he stood thinking, searching his clouded mind.
“The eyes of the dying man are your own,” she said. “Is it not true?”
And still he stood there, groping, probing through dim and forgotten corridors of thought toward a faint memory scarcely perceptible in the wavering mirage of the past.
“Let us talk of your career,” she said, leaning back against the thick foliage —“your success, and all that it means to you,” she added gayly.
He stood staring at the darkness. “You have set the phantoms of forgotten things stirring and whispering together somewhere within me. Now tell me more; tell me the truth.”
“You are slowly reading it in my eyes,” she said, laughing sweetly. “Read and remember.”
The fever in him seared his sight as he stood there, his confused gaze on hers.
“Is it a threat of hell you read in the marble?” he asked.
“No, no thing of destruction, only resurrection and hope of Paradise. Look at me closely.”
“Who are you?” he whispered, closing his eyes to steady his swimming senses. “When have we met?”
“You were very young,” she said under her breath —“and I was younger — and the rains had swollen the Canadian river so that it boiled amber at the fords; and I could not cross — alas!”
A moment of stunning silence, then her voice again: “I said nothing, not a word even of thanks when you offered aid . . . I— was not too heavy in your arms, and the ford was soon passed —— soon passed. That was very long ago.” Watching him from shadowy sweet eyes, she said:
“For a day you knew the language of my mouth and my arms around you, there in the white sun glare of the river. For every kiss taken and retaken, given and forgiven, we must account —— for every one, even to the last.
“But you have set a monument for us both, preaching the resurrection of the soul. Love is such a little thing — and ours endured a whole day long! Do you remember? Yet He who created love, designed that it should last a lifetime. Only the lost outlive it.”
She leaned nearer:
“Tell me, you who have proclaimed the resurrection of dead souls, are you afraid to die?”
Her low voice ceased; lights broke out like stars through the foliage around them; the great glass doors of the ballroom were opening; the illuminated fountain flashed, a falling shower of silver. Through the outrush of music and laughter swelling around them, a clear far voice called “Françoise!”
Again, close by, the voice rang faintly, “Françoise! Françoise!”
She slowly turned, staring into the brilliant glare beyond.
“Who called?” he asked hoarsely.
“My mother,” she said, listening intently. “Will you wait for me?”
His ashen face glowed again like a dull ember. She bent nearer, and caught his fingers in hers.
“By the memory of our last kiss, wait for me!” she pleaded, her little hand tightening on his.
“Where?” he said, with dry lips. “We cannot talk here!— we cannot say here the things that must be said.”
“In your studio,” she whispered. “Wait for me.”
“Do you know the way?”
“I tell you I will come; truly I will! Only a moment with my mother —— then I will be there!”
Their hands clung together an instant, then she slipped away into the crowded rooms; and after a moment Helmer followed, head bent, blinded by the glare.
“You are ill, Philip,” said his host, as he took his leave. “Your face is as ghastly as that dying vaquero’s — by Heaven, man, you look like him!”
“Did you find your girl in black?” asked his hostess curiously.
“Yes,” he said; “good night.”
The air was bitter as he stepped out — bitter as death. Scores of carriage lamps twinkled as he descended the snowy steps, and a faint gust of music swept out of the darkness, silenced as the heavy doors closed behind him.
He turned west, shivering. A long smear of light bounded his horizon as he pressed toward it and entered the sordid avenue beneath the iron arcade which was even now trembling under the shock of an oncoming train. It passed overhead with a roar; he raised his hot eyes and saw, through the tangled girders above, the illuminated disk of the clock tower all distorted — for the fever in him was disturbing everything — even the cramped and twisted street into which he turned, fighting for breath like a man stabbed through and through.
“What folly!” he said aloud, stopping short in the darkness. “This is fever — all this. She could not know where to come —”
Where two blind alleys cut the shabby block, worming their way inward from the avenue and from Tenth Street, he stopped again, his hands working at his coat.
“It is fever, fever!” he muttered. “She was not there.”
There was no light in the street save for the red fire lamp burning on the corner, and a glimmer from the Old Grapevine Tavern across the way. Yet all around him the darkness was illuminated with pale unsteady flames, lighting him as he groped through the shadows of the street to the blind alley. Dark old silent houses peered across the paved lane at their aged counterparts, waiting for him.
And at last he found a door that yielded, and he stumbled into the black passageway, always lighted on by the unsteady pallid flames which seemed to burn in infinite depths of night.
“She was not there — she was never there,” he gasped, bolting the door and sinking down upon the floor. And, as his mind wandered, he raised his eyes and saw the great bare room growing whiter and whiter under the uneasy flames.
“It will burn as I burn,” he said aloud — for the phantom flames had crept into his body.
Suddenly he laughed, and the vast studio rang again.
“Hark!” he whispered, listening intently. “Who knocked?”
There was some one at the door; he managed to raise himself and drag back the bolt.
“You!” he breathed, as she entered hastily, her hair disordered and her black skirts powdered with snow.
“Who but I?” she whispered, breathless. “Listen! do you hear my mother calling me? It is too late; but she was with me to the end.”
Through the silence, from an infinite distance, came a desolate cry of grief —“Françoise!”
He had fallen back into his chair again, and the little busy flames enveloped him so that the room began to whiten again into a restless glare. Through it he watched her.
The hour struck, passed, struck and passed again. Other hours grew, lengthening into night.
She sat beside him with never a word or sigh or whisper of breathing; and dream after dream swept him, like burning winds. Then sleep immersed him so that he lay senseless, sightless eyes still fixed on her. Hour after hour — and the white glare died out, fading to a glimmer. In densest darkness, he stirred, awoke, his mind quite clear, and spoke her name in a low voice.
“Yes, I am here,” she answered gently.
“Is it death?” he asked, closing his eyes.
“Yes. Look at me, Philip.”
His eyes unclosed; into his altered face there crept an intense curiosity. For he beheld a glimmering shape, wide-winged and deep-eyed, kneeling beside him, and looking him through and through.
Little gray messenger. Robed like painted Death. Your robe is dust. Whom do you seek
Among lilies and closed buds At dusk? Among lilies and closed buds At dusk.
Whom do you seek Little gray messenger. Robed in the awful panoply Of painted Death?— R.W. C.
All — wise. Hast thou seen all there is to see with thy two eyes? Dost thou know all there is to know and so. Omniscient. Darest thou still to say thy brother lies?
“The bullet entered here,” said Max Fortin, and he placed his middle finger over a smooth hole exactly in the centre of the forehead.
I sat down upon a mound of dry seaweed and unslung my fowling piece.
The little chemist cautiously felt the edges of the shot-hole, first with his middle finger, then with his thumb.
“Let me see the skull again,” said I.
Max Fortin picked it up from the sod.
“It’s like all the others,” he observed. I nodded, without offering to take it from him. After a moment he thoughtfully replaced it upon the grass at my feet.
“It’s like all the others,” he repeated, wiping his glasses on his handkerchief. “I thought you might care to see one of the skulls, so I brought this over from the gravel pit. The men from Bannalec are digging yet. They ought to stop.”
“How many skulls are there altogether?” I inquired.
“They found thirty-eight skulls; there are thirty-nine noted in the list. They lie piled up in the gravel pit on the edge of Le Bihan’s wheat field. The men are at work yet. Le Bihan is going to stop them.”
“Let’s go over,” said I; and I picked up my gun and started across the cliffs, Fortin on one side, Môme on the other.
“Who has the list?” I asked, lighting my pipe. “You say there is a list?”
“The list was found rolled up in a brass cylinder,” said the little chemist. He added: “You should not smoke here. You know that if a single spark drifted into the wheat —”
“Ah, but I have a cover to my pipe,” said I, smiling.
Fortin watched me as I closed the pepper-box arrangement over the glowing bowl of the pipe.
Then he continued:
“The list was made out on thick yellow paper; the brass tube has preserved it. It is as fresh to-day as it was in 1760. You shall see it.”
“Is that the date?”
“The list is dated ‘April, 1760.’ The Brigadier Durand has it. It is not written in French.”
“Nor written in French!” I exclaimed.
“No,” replied Fortin solemnly, “it is written in Breton.”
“But,” I protested, “the Breton language was never written or printed in 1760.”
“Except by priests,” said the chemist.
“I have heard of but one priest who ever wrote the Breton language,” I began.
Fortin stole a glance at my face.
“You mean — the Black Priest?” he asked.
Fortin opened his mouth to speak again, hesitated, and finally shut his teeth obstinately over the wheat stem that he was chewing.
“And the Black Priest?” I suggested encouragingly. But I knew it was useless; for it is easier to move the stars from their courses than to make an obstinate Breton talk. We walked on for a minute or two in silence.
“Where is the Brigadier Durand?” I asked, motioning Môme to come out of the wheat, which he was trampling as though it were heather. As I spoke we came in sight of the farther edge of the wheat field and the dark, wet mass of cliffs beyond.
“Durand is down there — you can see him; he stands just behind the Mayor of St. Gildas.”
“I see,” said I; and we struck straight down, following a sun-baked cattle path across the heather.
When we reached the edge of the wheat field, Le Bihan, the Mayor of St. Gildas, called to me, and I tucked my gun under my arm and skirted the wheat to where he stood.
“Thirty-eight skulls,” he said in his thin, high-pitched voice; “there is but one more, and I am opposed to further search. I suppose Fortin told you?”
I shook hands with him, and returned the salute of the Brigadier Durand.
“I am opposed to further search,” repeated Le Bihan, nervously picking at the mass of silver buttons which covered the front of his velvet and broadcloth jacket like a breastplate of scale armour.
Durand pursed up his lips, twisted his tremendous mustache, and hooked his thumbs in his sabre belt.
“As for me,” he said, “I am in favour of further search.”
“Further search for what — for the thirty-ninth skull?” I asked.
Le Bihan nodded. Durand frowned at the sunlit sea, rocking like a bowl of molten gold from the cliffs to the horizon. I followed his eyes. On the dark glistening cliffs, silhouetted against the glare of the sea, sat a cormorant, black, motionless, its horrible head raised toward heaven.
“Where is that list, Durand?” I asked.
The gendarme rummaged in his despatch pouch and produced a brass cylinder about a foot long. Very gravely he unscrewed the head and dumped out a scroll of thick yellow paper closely covered with writing on both sides. At a nod from Le Bihan, he handed me the scroll. But I could make nothing of the coarse writing, now faded to a dull brown.
“Come, come, Le Bihan,” I said impatiently, “translate it, won’t you? You and Max Fortin make a lot of mystery out of nothing, it seems.”
Le Bihan went to the edge of the pit where the three Bannalec men were digging, gave an order or two in Breton, and turned to me.
As I came to the edge of the pit the Bannalec men were removing a square piece of sailcloth from what appeared to be a pile of cobblestones.
“Look!” said Le Bihan shrilly. I looked. The pile below was a heap of skulls. After a moment I clambered down the gravel sides of the pit and walked over to the men of Bannalec. They saluted me gravely, leaning on their picks and shovels, and wiping their swearing faces with sunburned hands.
“How many?” said I in Breton.
“Thirty-eight,” they replied.
I glanced around. Beyond the heap of skulls lay two piles of human bones. Beside these was a mound of broken, rusted bits of iron and steel. Looking closer, I saw that this mound was composed of rusty bayonets, sabre blades, scythe blades, with here and there a tarnished buckle attached to a bit of leather hard as iron.
I picked up a couple of buttons and a belt plate. The buttons bore the royal arms of England; the belt plate was emblazoned with the English arms, and also with the number “27.”
“I have heard my grandfather speak of the terrible English regiment, the 27th Foot, which landed and stormed the fort up there,” said one of the Bannalec men.
“Oh!” said I; “then these are the bones of English soldiers?”
“Yes,” said the men of Bannalec.
Le Bihan was calling to me from the edge of the pit above, and I handed the belt plate and buttons to the men and climbed the side of the excavation.
“Well,” said I, trying to prevent Môme from leaping up and licking my face as I emerged from the pit, “I suppose you know what these bones are. What are you going to do with them?”
“There was a man,” said Le Bihan angrily, “an Englishman, who passed here in a dog-cart on his way to Quimper about an hour ago, and what do you suppose he wished to do?”
“Buy the relics?” I asked, smiling.
“Exactly — the pig!” piped the mayor of St. Gildas. “Jean Marie Tregunc, who found the bones, was standing there where Max Fortin stands, and do you know what he answered? He spat upon the ground, and said: ‘Pig of an Englishman, do you take me for a desecrator of graves?’”
I knew Tregunc, a sober, blue-eyed Breton, who lived from one year’s end to the other without being able to afford a single bit of meat for a meal.
“How much did the Englishman offer Tregunc?” I asked.
“Two hundred francs for the skulls alone.”
I thought of the relic hunters and the relic buyers on the battlefields of our civil war.
“Seventeen hundred and sixty is long ago,” I said.
“Respect for the dead can never die,” said Fortin.
“And the English soldiers came here to kill your fathers and burn your homes,” I continued.
“They were murderers and thieves, but — they are dead,” said Tregunc, coming up from the beach below, his long sea rake balanced on his dripping jersey.
“How much do you earn every year, Jean Marie?” I asked, turning to shake hands with him.
“Two hundred and twenty francs, monsieur.”
“Forty-five dollars a year,” I said. “Bah! you are worth more, Jean. Will you take care of my garden for me? My wife wished me to ask you. I think it would be worth one hundred francs a month to you and to me. Come on, Le Bihan — come along, Fortin — and you, Durand. I want somebody to translate that list into French for me.”
Tregunc stood gazing at me, his blue eyes dilated.
“You may begin at once,” I said, smiling. “If the salary suits you?”
“It suits,” said Tregunc, fumbling for his pipe in a silly way that annoyed Le Bihan.
“Then go and begin your work,” cried the mayor impatiently; and Tregunc started across the moors toward St. Gildas, taking off his velvet-ribboned cap to me and gripping his sea rake very hard.
“You offer him more than my salary,” said the mayor, after a moment’s contemplation of his silver buttons.
“Pooh!” said I, “what do you do for your salary except play dominoes with Max Fortin at the Groix Inn?”
Le Bihan turned red, but Durand rattled his sabre and winked at Max Fortin, and I slipped my arm through the arm of the sulky magistrate, laughing.
“There’s a shady spot under the cliff,” I said; “come on, Le Bihan, and read me what is in the scroll.”
In a few moments we reached the shadow of the cliff, and I threw myself upon the turf, chin on hand, to listen.
The gendarme, Durand, also sat down, twisting his mustache into needlelike points. Fortin leaned against the cliff, polishing his glasses and examining us with vague, near-sighted eyes; and Le Bihan, the mayor, planted himself in our midst, rolling up the scroll and tucking it under his arm.
“First of all,” he began in a shrill voice, “I am going to light my pipe, and while lighting it I shall tell you what I have heard about the attack on the fort yonder. My father told me; his father told him.”
He jerked his head in the direction of the ruined fort, a small, square stone structure on the sea cliff, now nothing but crumbling walls. Then he slowly produced a tobacco pouch, a bit of flint and tinder, and a long-stemmed pipe fitted with a microscopical bowl of baked clay. To fill such a pipe requires ten minutes’ close attention. To smoke it to a finish takes but four puffs. It is very Breton, this Breton pipe. It is the crystallization of everything Breton.
“Go on,” said I, lighting a cigarette.
“The fort,” said the mayor, “was built by Louis XI and was dismantled twice by the English. Louis XV restored it in 1739. In 1760 it was carried by assault by the English. They came across from the island of Groix — three shiploads — and they stormed the fort and sacked St. Julien yonder, and they started to burn St. Gildas — you can see the marks of their bullets on my house yet; but the men of Bannalec and the men of Lorient fell upon them with pike and scythe and blunderbuss, and those who did not run away lie there below in the gravel pit now — thirty-eight of them.”
“And the thirty-ninth skull?” I asked, finishing my cigarette.
The mayor had succeeded in filling his pipe, and now he began to put his tobacco pouch away.
“The thirty-ninth skull,” he mumbled, holding the pipestem between his defective teeth —“the thirty-ninth skull is no business of mine. I have told the Bannalec men to cease digging.”
“But what is — whose is the missing skull?” I persisted curiously.
The mayor was busy trying to strike a spark to his tinder. Presently he set it aglow, applied it to his pipe, took the prescribed four puffs, knocked the ashes out of the bowl, and gravely replaced the pipe in his pocket.
“The missing skull?” he asked.
“Yes,” said I impatiently.
The mayor slowly unrolled the scroll and began to read, translating from the Breton into French. And this is what he read:
“‘ON THE CLIFFS OF ST. GILDAS, April 13, 1760.’”
“‘On this day, by order of the Count of Soisic, general in chief of the Breton forces now lying in Kerselec Forest, the bodies of thirty-eight English soldiers of the 27th, 50th, and 72d regiments of Foot were buried in this spot, together with their arms and equipments.’”
The mayor paused and glanced at me reflectively.
“Go on, Le Bihan,” I said.
“‘With them,’” continued the mayor, turning the scroll and reading on the other side, “‘was buried the body of that vile traitor who betrayed the fort to the English. The manner of his death was as follows: By order of the most noble Count of Soisic, the traitor was first branded upon the forehead with the brand of an arrowhead. The iron burned through the flesh, and was pressed heavily so that the brand should even burn into the bone of the skull. The traitor was then led out and bidden to kneel. He admitted having guided the English from the island of Groix. Although a priest and a Frenchman, he had violated his priestly office to aid him in discovering the password to the fort. This password he extorted during confession from a young Breton girl who was in the habit of rowing across from the island of Groix to visit her husband in the fort. When the fort fell, this young girl, crazed by the death of her husband, sought the Count of Soisic and told how the priest had forced her to confess to him all she knew about the fort. The priest was arrested at St. Gildas as he was about to cross the river to Lorient. When arrested he cursed the girl, Marie Trevec —’”
“What!” I exclaimed, “Marie Trevec!”
“‘Marie Trevec,’” repeated Le Bihan; “‘the priest cursed Marie Trevec, and all her family and descendants. He was shot as he knelt, having a mask of leather over his face, because the Bretons who composed the squad of execution refused to fire at a priest unless his face was concealed. The priest was l’Abbé Sorgue, commonly known as the Black Priest on account of his dark face and swarthy eyebrows. He was buried with a stake through his heart.’“Le Bihan paused, hesitated, looked at me, and handed the manuscript back to Durand. The gendarme took it and slipped it into the brass cylinder.
“So,” said I, “the thirty-ninth skull is the skull of the Black Priest.”
“Yes,” said Fortin. “I hope they won’t find it.”
“I have forbidden them to proceed,” said the mayor querulously. “You heard me, Max Fortin.”
I rose and picked up my gun. Môme came and pushed his head into my hand.
“That’s a fine dog,” observed Durand, also rising.
“Why don’t you wish to find his skull?” I asked Le Bihan. “It would be curious to see whether the arrow brand really burned into the bone.”
“There is something in that scroll that I didn’t read to you,” said the mayor grimly. “Do you wish to know what it is?”
“Of course,” I replied in surprise.
“Give me the scroll again, Durand,” he said; then he read from the bottom:
“‘I, l’Abbé Sorgue, forced to write the above by my executioners, have written it in my own blood; and with it I leave my curse. My curse on St. Gildas, on Marie Trevec, and on her descendants. I will come back to St. Gildas when my remains are disturbed. Woe to that Englishman whom my branded skull shall touch!’”
“What rot!” I said. “Do you believe it was really written in his own blood?”
“I am going to test it,” said Fortin, “at the request of Monsieur le Maire. I am not anxious for the job, however.”
“See,” said Le Bihan, holding out the scroll to me, “it is signed, ‘l’Abbé Sorgue.’”
I glanced curiously over the paper.
“It must be the Black Priest,” I said. “He was the only man who wrote in the Breton language. This is a wonderfully interesting discovery, for now, at last, the mystery of the Black Priest’s disappearance is cleared up. You will, of course, send this scroll to Paris, Le Bihan?”
“No,” said the mayor obstinately, “it shall be buried in the pit below where the rest of the Black Priest lies.”
I looked at him and recognised that argument would be useless. But still I said, “It will be a loss to history, Monsieur Le Bihan.”
“All the worse for history, then,” said the enlightened mayor of St. Gildas.
We had sauntered back to the gravel pit while speaking. The men of Bannalec were carrying the bones of the English soldiers toward the St. Gildas cemetery, on the cliffs to the east, where already a knot of white-coiffed women stood in attitudes of prayer; and I saw the sombre robe of a priest among the crosses of the little graveyard.
“They were thieves and assassins; they are dead now,” muttered Max Fortin.
“Respect the dead,” repeated the Mayor of St. Gildas, looking after the Bannalec men.
“It was written in that scroll that Marie Trevec, of Groix Island, was cursed by the priest — she and her descendants,” I said, touching Le Bihan on the arm. “There was a Marie Trevec who married an Yves Trevec of St. Gildas —”
“It is the same,” said Le Bihan, looking at me obliquely.
“Oh!” said I; “then they were ancestors of my wife.”
“Do you fear the curse?” asked Le Bihan.
“What?” I laughed.
“There was the case of the Purple Emperor,” said Max Fortin timidly.
Startled for a moment, I faced him, then shrugged my shoulders and kicked at a smooth bit of rock which lay near the edge of the pit, almost embedded in gravel.
“Do you suppose the Purple Emperor drank himself crazy because he was descended from Marie Trevec?” I asked contemptuously.
“Of course not,” said Max Fortin hastily.
“Of course not,” piped the mayor. “I only —— Hello! what’s that you’re kicking?”
“What?” said I, glancing down, at the same time involuntarily giving another kick. The smooth bit of rock dislodged itself and rolled out of the loosened gravel at my feet.
“The thirty-ninth skull!” I exclaimed. “By jingo, it’s the noddle of the Black Priest! See! there is the arrowhead branded on the front!”
The mayor stepped back. Max Fortin also retreated. There was a pause, during which I looked at them, and they looked anywhere but at me.
“I don’t like it,” said the mayor at last, in a husky, high voice. “I don’t like it! The scroll says he will come back to St. Gildas when his remains are disturbed. I— I don’t like it, Monsieur Darrel —”
“Bosh!” said I; “the poor wicked devil is where he can’t get out. For Heaven’s sake, Le Bihan, what is this stuff you are talking in the year of grace 1896?”
The mayor gave me a look.
“And he says ‘Englishman.’ You are an Englishman, Monsieur Darrel,” he announced.
“You know better. You know I’m an American.”
“It’s all the same,” said the Mayor of St. Gildas, obstinately.
“No, it isn’t!” I answered, much exasperated, and deliberately pushed the skull till it rolled into the bottom of the gravel pit below.
“Cover it up,” said I; “bury the scroll with it too, if you insist, but I think you ought to send it to Paris. Don’t look so gloomy, Fortin, unless you believe in were-wolves and ghosts. Hey! what the — what the devil’s the matter with you, anyway? What are you staring at, Le Bihan?”
“Come, come,” muttered the mayor in a low, tremulous voice, “it’s time we got out of this. Did you see? Did you see, Fortin?”
“I saw,” whispered Max Fortin, pallid with fright.
The two men were almost running across the sunny pasture now, and I hastened after them, demanding to know what was the matter.
“Matter!” chattered the mayor, gasping with exasperation and terror. “The skull is rolling uphill again!” and he burst into a terrified gallop. Max Fortin followed close behind.
I watched them stampeding across the pasture, then turned toward the gravel pit, mystified, incredulous. The skull was lying on the edge of the pit, exactly where it had been before I pushed it over the edge. For a second I stared at it; a singular chilly feeling crept up my spinal column, and I turned and walked away, sweat starting from the root of every hair on my head. Before I had gone twenty paces the absurdity of the whole thing struck me. I halted, hot with shame and annoyance, and retraced my steps.
There lay the skull.
“I rolled a stone down instead of the skull,” I muttered to myself. Then with the butt of my gun I pushed the skull over the edge of the pit and watched it roll to the bottom; and as it struck the bottom of the pit, Môme, my dog, suddenly whipped his tail between his legs, whimpered, and made off across the moor.
“Môme!” I shouted, angry and astonished; but the dog only fled the faster, and I ceased calling from sheer surprise.
“What the mischief is the matter with that dog!” I thought. He had never before played me such a trick.
Mechanically I glanced into the pit, but I could not see the skull. I looked down. The skull lay at my feet again, touching them.
“Good heavens!” I stammered, and struck at it blindly with my gunstock. The ghastly thing flew into the air, whirling over and over, and rolled again down the sides of the pit to the bottom.
Breathlessly I stared at it, then, confused and scarcely comprehending, I stepped back from the pit, still facing it, one, ten, twenty paces, my eyes almost starting from my head, as though I expected to see the thing roll up from the bottom of the pit under my very gaze. At last I turned my back to the pit and strode out across the gorse-covered moorland toward my home. As I reached the road that winds from St. Gildas to St. Julien I gave one last hasty glance at the pit over my shoulder. The sun shone hot on the sod about the excavation. There was something white and bare and round on the turf at the edge of the pit. It might have been a stone; there were plenty of them lying about.
II When I entered my garden I saw Môme sprawling on the stone doorstep. He eyed me sideways and flopped his tail.
“Are you not mortified, you idiot dog?” I said, looking about the upper windows for Lys.
Môme rolled over on his back and raised one deprecating forepaw, as though to ward off calamity.
“Don’t act as though I was in the habit of beating you to death,” I said, disgusted. I had never in my life raised whip to the brute. “But you are a fool dog,” I continued. “No, you needn’t come to be babied and wept over; Lys can do that, if she insists, but I am ashamed of you, and you can go the devil.”
Môme slunk off into the house, and I followed, mounting directly to my wife’s boudoir. It was empty.
“Where has she gone?” I said, looking hard at Môme, who had followed me. “Oh! I see you don’t know. Don’t pretend you do. Come off that lounge! Do you think Lys wants rat-coloured hairs all over her lounge?”
I rang the bell for Catherine and ‘Fine, but they didn’t know where “madame” had gone; so I went into my room, bathed, exchanged my somewhat grimy shooting clothes for a suit of warm, soft knickerbockers, and, after lingering some extra moments over my toilet — for I was particular, now that I had married Lys — I went down to the garden and took a chair out under the fig-trees.
“Where can she be?” I wondered. Môme came sneaking out to be comforted, and I forgave him for Lys’s sake, whereupon he frisked.
“You bounding cur,” said I, “now what on earth started you off across the moor? If you do it again I’ll push you along with a charge of dust shot.”
As yet I had scarcely dared think about the ghastly hallucination of which I had been a victim, but now I faced it squarely, flushing a little with mortification at the thought of my hasty retreat from the gravel pit.
“To think,” I said aloud, “that those old woman’s tales of Max Fortin and Le Bihan should have actually made me see what didn’t exist at all! I lost my nerve like a schoolboy in a dark bedroom.” For I knew now that I had mistaken a round stone for a skull each time, and had pushed a couple of big pebbles into the pit instead of the skull itself.
“By jingo!” said I, “I’m nervous; my liver must be in a devil of a condition if I see such things when I’m awake! Lys will know what to give me.”
I felt mortified and irritated and sulky, and thought disgustedly of Le Bihan and Max Fortin.
But after a while I ceased speculating, dismissed the mayor, the chemist, and the skull from my mind, and smoked pensively, watching the sun low dipping in the western ocean. As the twilight fell for a moment over ocean and moorland, a wistful, restless happiness filled my heart, the happiness that all men know — all men who have loved.
Slowly the purple mist crept out over the sea; the cliffs darkened; the forest was shrouded.
Suddenly the sky above burned with the afterglow, and the world was alight again.
Cloud after cloud caught the rose dye; the cliffs were tinted with it; moor and pasture, heather and forest burned and pulsated with the gentle flush. I saw the gulls turning and tossing above the sand bar, their snowy wings tipped with pink; I saw the sea swallows sheeting the surface of the still river, stained to its placid depths with warm reflections of the clouds. The twitter of drowsy hedge birds broke out in the stillness; a salmon rolled its shining side above tide-water.
The interminable monotone of the ocean intensified the silence. I sat motionless, holding my breath as one who listens to the first low rumour of an organ. All at once the pure whistle of a nightingale cut the silence, and the first moonbeam silvered the wastes of mist-hung waters.
I raised my head.
Lys stood before me in the garden.
When we had kissed each other, we linked arms and moved up and down the gravel walks, watching the moonbeams sparkle on the sand bar as the tide ebbed and ebbed. The broad beds of white pinks about us were atremble with hovering white moths; the October roses hung all abloom, perfuming the salt wind.
“Sweetheart,” I said, “where is Yvonne? Has she promised to spend Christmas with us?”
“Yes, Dick; she drove me down from Plougar this afternoon. She sent her love to you. I am not jealous. What did you shoot?”
“A hare and four partridges. They are in the gun room. I told Catherine not to touch them until you had seen them.”
Now I suppose I knew that Lys could not be particularly enthusiastic over game or guns; but she pretended she was, and always scornfully denied that it was for my sake and not for the pure love of sport. So she dragged me off to inspect the rather meagre game bag, and she paid me pretty compliments and gave a little cry of delight and pity as I lifted the enormous hare out of the sack by his ears.
“He’ll eat no more of our lettuce,” I said, attempting to justify the assassination.
“Unhappy little bunny — and what a beauty! O Dick, you are a splendid shot, are you not?”
I evaded the question and hauled out a partridge.
“Poor little dead things!” said Lys in a whisper; “it seems a pity — doesn’t it, Dick? But then you are so clever —”
“We’ll have them broiled,” I said guardedly; “tell Catherine.”
Catherine came in to take away the game, and presently ‘Fine Lelocard, Lys’s maid, announced dinner, and Lys tripped away to her boudoir.
I stood an instant contemplating her blissfully, thinking, “My boy, you’re the happiest fellow in the world — you’re in love with your wife!”
I walked into the dining room, beamed at the plates, walked out again; met Tregunc in the hallway, beamed on him; glanced into the kitchen, beamed at Catherine, and went up stairs, still beaming.
Before I could knock at Lys’s door it opened, and Lys came hastily out. When she saw me she gave a little cry of relief, and nestled close to my breast.
“There is something peering in at my window,” she said.
“What!” I cried angrily.
“A man, I think, disguised as a priest, and he has a mask on. He must have climbed up by the bay tree.”
I was down the stairs and out of doors in no time. The moonlit garden was absolutely deserted.
Tregunc came up, and together we searched the hedge and shrubbery around the house and out to the road.
“Jean Marie,” said I at length, “loose my bulldog — he knows you — and take your supper on the porch where you can watch. My wife says the fellow is disguised as a priest, and wears a mask.”
Tregunc showed his white teeth in a smile. “He will not care to venture in here again, I think, Monsieur Darrel.”
I went back and found Lys seated quietly at the table.
“The soup is ready, dear,” she said. “Don’t worry; it was only some foolish lout from Bannalec. No one in St. Gildas or St. Julien would do such a thing.”
I was too much exasperated to reply at first, but Lys treated it as a stupid joke, and after a while I began to look at it in that light.
Lys told me about Yvonne, and reminded me of my promise to have Herbert Stuart down to meet her.
“You wicked diplomat!” I protested. “Herbert is in Paris, and hard at work for the Salon.”
“Don’t you think he might spare a week to flirt with the prettiest girl in Finistère?” inquired Lys innocently.
“Prettiest girl! Not much!” I said.
“Who is, then?” urged Lys.
I laughed a trifle sheepishly.
“I suppose you mean me, Dick,” said Lys, colouring up.
“Now I bore you, don’t I?”
“Bore me? Ah, no, Dick.”
After coffee and cigarettes were served I spoke about Tregunc, and Lys approved.
“Poor Jean! he will be glad, won’t he? What a dear fellow you are!”
“Nonsense,” said I; “we need a gardener; you said so yourself, Lys.”
But Lys leaned over and kissed me, and then bent down and hugged Môme, who whistled through his nose in sentimental appreciation.
“I am a very happy woman,” said Lys.
“Môme was a very bad dog to-day,” I observed.
“Poor Môme!” said Lys, smiling.
When dinner was over and Môme lay snoring before the blaze — for the October nights are often chilly in Finistère — Lys curled up in the chimney corner with her embroidery, and gave me a swift glance from under her drooping lashes.
“You look like a schoolgirl, Lys,” I said teasingly. “I don’t believe you are sixteen yet.”
She pushed back her heavy burnished hair thoughtfully. Her wrist was as white as surf foam.
“Have we been married four years? I don’t believe it,” I said.
She gave me another swift glance and touched the embroidery on her knee, smiling faintly.
“I see,” said I, also smiling at the embroidered garment. “Do you think it will fit?”
“Fit?” repeated Lys. Then she laughed.
“And,” I persisted, “are you perfectly sure that you — er — we shall need it?”
“Perfectly,” said Lys. A delicate colour touched her cheeks and neck. She held up the little garment, all fluffy with misty lace and wrought with quaint embroidery.
“It is very gorgeous.” said I; “don’t use your eyes too much, dearest. May I smoke a pipe?”
“Of course,” she said, selecting a skein of pale blue silk.
For a while I sat and smoked in silence, watching her slender fingers among the tinted silks and thread of gold.
Presently she spoke: “What did you say your crest is, Dick?”
“My crest? Oh, something or other rampant on a something or other —”
“Don’t be flippant.”
“But I really forget. It’s an ordinary crest; everybody in New York has them. No family should be without ’em.”
“You are disagreeable, Dick. Send Josephine upstairs for my album.”
“Are you going to put that crest on the — the — whatever it is?”
“I am; and my own crest, too.”
I thought of the Purple Emperor and wondered a little.
“You didn’t know I had one, did you?” she smiled.
“What is it?” I replied evasively.
“You shall see. Ring for Josephine.”
I rang, and, when ‘Fine appeared, Lys gave her some orders in a low voice, and Josephine trotted away, bobbing her white-coiffed head with a “Bien, madame!”
After a few minutes she returned, bearing a tattered, musty volume, from which the gold and blue had mostly disappeared.
I took the book in my hands and examined the ancient emblazoned covers.
“Lilies!” I exclaimed.
“Fleur-de-lis,” said my wife demurely.
“Oh!” said I, astonished, and opened the book.
“You have never before seen this book?” asked Lys, with a touch of malice in her eyes.
“You know I haven’t. Hello! what’s this? Oho! So there should be a de before Trevec? Lys de Trevec? Then why in the world did the Purple Emperor —”
“Dick!” cried Lys.
“All right,” said I. “Shall I read about the Sieur de Trevec who rode to Saladin’s tent alone to seek for medicine for Sr. Louis? or shall I read about — what is it? Oh, here it is, all down in black and white — about the Marquis de Trevec who drowned himself before Alva’s eyes rather than surrender the banner of the fleur-de-lis to Spain? It’s all written here. But, dear, how about that soldier named Trevec who was killed in the old fort on the cliff yonder?”
“He dropped the de, and the Trevecs since then have been Republicans,” said Lys —“all except me.” “That’s quite right,” said I; “it is time that we Republicans should agree upon some feudal system. My dear, I drink to the king!” and I raised my wine-glass and looked at Lys.
“To the king,” said Lys, flushing. She smoothed out the tiny garment on her knees; she touched the glass with her lips; her eyes were very sweet. I drained the glass to the king.
After a silence I said: “I will tell the king stories. His Majesty shall be amused.”
“His Majesty,” repeated Lys softly.
“Or hers,” I laughed. “Who knows?”
“Who knows?” murmured Lys, with a gentle sigh.
“I know some stores about Jack the Giant–Killer,” I announced. “Do you, Lys?”
“I? No, not about a giant-killer, but I know all about the were-wolf, and Jeanne-la-Flamme, and the Man in Purple Tatters, and — O dear me! I know lots more.”
“You are very wise,” said I. “I shall reach his Majesty English.”
“And I Breton,” cried Lys jealously.
“I shall bring playthings to the king,” said I—“big green lizards from the gorse, little gray mullets to swim in glass globes, baby rabbits from the forest of Kerselec —”
“And I,” said Lys, “will bring the first primrose, the first branch of aubepine, the first jonquil, to the king — my king.”
“Our king,” said I; and there was peace in Finistère.
I lay back, idly turning the leaves of the curious old volume.
“I am looking,” said I, “for the crest.”
“The crest, dear? It is a priest’s head with an arrow-shaped mark on the forehead, on a field —”
I sat up and stared at my wife.
“Dick, whatever is the matter?” she smiled. “The story is there in that book. Do you care to read it? No? Shall I tell it to you? Well, then: It happened in the third crusade. There was a monk whom men called the Black Priest. He turned apostate, and sold himself to the enemies of Christ. A Sieur de Trevec burst into the Saracen camp, at the head of only one hundred lances, and carried the Black Priest away out of the very midst of their army.”
“So that is how you come by the crest,” I said quietly; but I thought of the branded skull in the gravel pit, and wondered.
“Yes,” said Lys. “The Sieur de Trevec cut the Black Priest’s head off, but first he branded him with an arrow mark on the forehead. The book says it was a pious action, and that the Sieur de Trevec got great merit by it. But I think it was cruel, the branding,” she sighed.
“Did you ever hear of any other Black Priest?”
“Yes. There was one in the last century, here in St. Gildas. He cast a white shadow in the sun. He wrote in the Breton language. Chronicles, too, I believe. I never saw them. His name was the same as that of the old chronicler, and of the other priest, Jacques Sorgue. Some said he was a lineal descendant of the traitor. Of course the first Black Priest was bad enough for anything. But if he did have a child, it need not have been the ancestor of the last Jacques Sorgue. They say this one was a holy man. They say he was so good he was not allowed to die, but was caught up to heaven one day,” added Lys, with believing eyes.
“But he disappeared,” persisted Lys.
“I’m afraid his journey was in another direction,” I said jestingly, and thoughtlessly told her the story of the morning. I had utterly forgotten the masked man at her window, but before I finished I remembered him fast enough, and realized what I had done as I saw her face whiten.
“Lys,” I urged tenderly, “that was only some clumsy clown’s trick. You said so yourself. You are not superstitious, my dear?”
Her eyes were on mine. She slowly drew the little gold cross from her bosom and kissed it. But her lips trembled as they pressed the symbol of faith.
III About nine o’clock the next morning I walked into the Groix Inn and sat down at the long discoloured oaken table, nodding good-day to Marianne Bruyère, who in turn bobbed her white coiffe at me.
“My clever Bannalec maid,” said I, “what is good for a stirrup-cup at the Groix Inn?”
“Schist?” she inquired in Breton.
“With a dash of red wine, then,” I replied.
She brought the delicious Quimperlé cider, and I poured a little Bordeaux into it. Marianne watched me with laughing black eyes.
“What makes your cheeks so red, Marianne?” I asked. “Has Jean Marie been here?”
“We are to be married, Monsieur Darrel,” she laughed.
“Ah! Since when has Jean Marie Tregunc lost his head?”
“His head? Oh, Monsieur Darrel — his heart, you mean!”
“So I do,” said I. “Jean Marie is a practical fellow.”
“It is all due to your kindness —” began the girl, but I raised my hand and held up the glass.
“It’s due to himself. To your happiness, Marianne,” and I took a hearty draught of the schist.
“Now,” said I, “tell me where I can find Le Bihan and Max Fortin.”
“Monsieur Le Bihan and Monsieur Fortin are above in the broad room. I believe they are examining the Red Admiral’s effects.”
“To send them to Paris? Oh, I know. May I go up, Marianne?”
“And God go with you,” smiled the girl.
When I knocked at the door of the broad room above, little Max Fortin opened it. Dust covered his spectacles and nose; his hat, with the tiny velvet ribbons fluttering, was all awry.
“Come in, Monsieur Darrel,” he said; “the mayor and I are packing up the effects of the Purple Emperor and of the poor Red Admiral.”
“The collections?” I asked, entering the room. “You must be very careful in packing those butterfly cases; the slightest jar might break wings and antennae, you know.”
Le Bihan shook hands with me and pointed to the great pile of boxes.
“They’re all cork lined,” he said, “but Fortin and I are putting felt around each box. The Entomological Society of Paris pays the freight.”
The combined collections of the Red Admiral and the Purple Emperor made a magnificent display.
I lifted and inspected case after case set with gorgeous butterflies and moths, each specimen carefully labelled with the name in Latin. There were cases filled with crimson tiger moths all aflame with colour; cases devoted to the common yellow butterflies; symphonies in orange and pale yellow; cases of soft gray and dun-coloured sphinx moths; and cases of garish nettle-bred butterflies of the numerous family of Vanessa.
All alone in a great case by itself was pinned the purple emperor, the Apatura Iris, that fatal specimen that had given the Purple Emperor his name and quietus.
I remembered the butterfly, and stood looking at it with bent eyebrows.
Le Bihan glanced up from the floor where he was nailing down the lid of a box full of cases.
“It is settled, then,” said he, “that madame, your wife, gives the Purple Emperor’s entire collection to the city of Paris?”
“Without accepting anything for it?”
“It is a gift,” I said.
“Including the purple emperor there in the case? That butterfly is worth a great deal of money.” persisted Le Bihan.
“You don’t suppose that we would wish to sell that specimen, do you?” I answered a trifle sharply.
“If I were you I should destroy it,” said the mayor in his high-pitched voice.
“That would be nonsense,” said I—“like your burying the brass cylinder and scroll yesterday.”
“It was not nonsense,” said Le Bihan doggedly, “and I should prefer not to discuss the subject of the scroll.”
I looked at Max Fortin, who immediately avoided my eyes.
“You are a pair of superstitious old women,” said I, digging my hands into my pockets; “you swallow every nursery tale that is invented.”
“What of it?” said Le Bihan sulkily; “there’s more truth than lies in most of ’em.”
“Oh!” I sneered, “does the Mayor of St. Gildas and Sr. Julien believe in the Loup-garou?”
“No, not in the Loup-garou.”
“In what, then — Jeanne-la-Flamme?”
“That,” said Le Bihan with conviction, “is history.”
“The devil it is!” said I; “and perhaps, monsieur the mayor, your faith in giants is unimpaired?”
“There were giants — everybody knows it,” growled Max Fortin.
“And you a chemist!” I observed scornfully.
“Listen, Monsieur Darrel,” squeaked Le Bihan; “you know yourself that the Purple Emperor was a scientific man. Now suppose I should tell you that he always refused to include in his collection a Death’s Messenger?”
“A what?” I exclaimed.
“You know what I mean — that moth that flies by night; some call it the Death’s Head, but in St. Gildas we call it ‘Death’s Messenger.’”
“Oh!” said I, “you mean that big sphinx moth that is commonly known as the ‘death’s-head moth.’ Why the mischief should the people here call it Death’s Messenger?”
“For hundreds of years it has been known as Death’s Messenger in St. Gildas,” said Max Fortin.
“Even Froissart speaks of it in his commentaries on Jacques Sorgue’s Chronicles. The book is in your library.”
“Sorgue? And who was Jacques Sorgue? I never read his book.”
“Jacques Sorgue was the son of some unfrocked priest — I forget. It was during the crusades.”
“Good Heavens!” I burst out, “I’ve been hearing of nothing but crusades and priests and death and sorcery ever since I kicked that skull into the gravel pit, and I am tired of it, I tell you frankly. One would think we lived in the dark ages. Do you know what year of our Lord it is, Le Bihan?”
“Eighteen hundred and ninety-six,” replied the mayor.
“And yet you two hulking men are afraid of a death’s-head moth.”
“I don’t care to have one fly into the window,” said Max Fortin; “it means evil to the house and the people in it.” “God alone knows why he marked one of his creatures with a yellow death’s head on the back.” observed Le Bihan piously, “but I take it that he meant it as a warning; and I propose to profit by it,” he added triumphantly “See here, Le Bihan,” I said; “by a stretch of imagination one can make out a skull on the thorax of a certain big sphinx moth. What of it?”
“It is a bad thing to touch,” said the mayor, wagging his head.
“It squeaks when handled,” added Max Fortin.
“Some creatures squeak all the time,” I observed, looking hard at Le Bihan.
“Pigs,” added the mayor.
“Yes, and asses,” I replied. “Listen, Le Bihan: do you mean to tell me that you saw that skull roll uphill yesterday?”
The mayor shut his mouth tightly and picked up his hammer.
“Don’t be obstinate,” I said; “I asked you a question.”
“And I refuse to answer,” snapped Le Bihan. “Fortin saw what I saw; let him talk about it.”
I looked searchingly at the little chemist.
“I don’t say that I saw it actually roll up out of the pit, all by itself,” said Fortin with a shiver, “but — but then, how did it come up out of the pit if it didn’t roll up all by itself?”
“It didn’t come up at all; that was a yellow cobblestone that you mistook for the skull again,” I replied. “You were nervous, Max.”
“A— a very curious cobblestone, Monsieur Darrel,” said Fortin.
“I also was a victim to the same hallucination,” I continued, “and regret to say that I took the trouble to roll two innocent cobblestones into the gravel pit, imagining each time that it was the skull I was rolling.”
“It was,” observed Le Bihan with a morose shrug.
“It just shows,” said I, ignoring the mayor’s remark, “how easy it is to fix up a train of coincidences so that the result seems to savour of the supernatural. Now, last night my wife imagined that she saw a priest in a mask peer in at her window —”
Fortin and Le Bihan scrambled hastily from their knees, dropping hammer and nails.
“W-h-a-t — what’s that?” demanded the mayor.
I repeated what I had said. Max Fortin turned livid.
“My God!” muttered Le Bihan, “the Black Priest is in St. Gildas!”
“D-don’t you — you know the old prophecy?” stammered Fortin. “Froissart quotes it from Jacques Sorgue: ‘When the Black Priest rises from the dead, St. Gildas folk shall shriek in bed; When the Black Priest rises from his grave, May the good God St. Gildas save!’”
“Aristide Le Bihan,” I said angrily, “and you, Max Fortin, I’ve got enough of this nonsense! Some foolish lout from Bannalec has been in St. Gildas playing tricks to frighten old fools like you. If you have nothing better to talk about than nursery legends I’ll wait until you come to your senses. Good-morning.” And I walked out, more disturbed than I cared to acknowledge to myself.
The day had become misty and overcast. Heavy, wet clouds hung in the east. I heard the surf thundering against the cliffs, and the gray gulls squealed as they tossed and turned high in the sky. The tide was creeping across the river sands, higher, higher, and I saw the seaweed floating on the beach, and the lançons springing from the foam, silvery threadlike flashes in the gloom.
Curlew were flying up the river in twos and threes; the timid sea swallows skimmed across the moors toward some quiet, lonely pool, safe from the coming tempest. In every hedge field birds were gathering, huddling together, twittering restlessly.
When I reached the cliffs I sat down, resting my chin on my clenched hands. Already a vast curtain of rain, sweeping across the ocean miles away, hid the island of Groix. To the east, behind the white semaphore on the hills, black clouds crowded up over the horizon. After a little the thunder boomed, dull, distant, and slender skeins of lightning unravelled across the crest of the coming storm. Under the cliff at my feet the surf rushed foaming over the shore, and the lançons jumped and skipped and quivered until they seemed to be but the reflections of the meshed lightning.
I turned to the east. It was raining over Groix, it was raining at Sainte Barbe, it was raining now at the semaphore. High in the storm whirl a few gulls pitched; a nearer cloud trailed veils of rain in its wake; the sky was spattered with lightning; the thunder boomed.
As I rose to go, a cold raindrop fell upon the back of my hand, and another, and yet another on my face. I gave a last glance at the sea, where the waves were bursting into strange white shapes that seemed to fling out menacing arms toward me. Then something moved on the cliff, something black as the black rock it clutched — a filthy cormorant, craning its hideous head at the sky.
Slowly I plodded homeward across the sombre moorland, where the gorse stems glimmered with a dull metallic green, and the heather, no longer violet and purple, hung drenched and dun-coloured among the dreary rocks. The wet turf creaked under my heavy boots, the black-thorn scraped and grated against knee and elbow. Over all lay a strange light, pallid, ghastly, where the sea spray whirled across the landscape and drove into my face until it grew numb with the cold.
In broad bands, rank after rank, billow on billow, the rain burst out across the endless moors, and yet there was no wind to drive it at such a pace.
Lys stood at the door as I turned into the garden, motioning me to hasten; and then for the first time I became conscious that I was soaked to the skin.
“How ever in the world did you come to stay out when such a storm threatened?” she said.
“Oh, you are dripping! Go quickly and change; I have laid your warm underwear on the bed, Dick.”
I kissed my wife, and went upstairs to change my dripping clothes for something more comfortable.
When I returned to the morning room there was a driftwood fire on the hearth, and Lys sat in the chimney corner embroidering.
“Catherine tells me that the fishing fleet from Lorient is out. Do you think they are in danger, dear?” asked Lys, raising her blue eyes to mine as I entered.
“There is no wind, and there will be no sea,” said I, looking out of the window. Far across the moor I could see the black cliffs looming in the mist.
“How it rains!” murmured Lys; “come to the fire, Dick.”
I threw myself on the fur rug, my hands in my pockets, my head on Lys’s knees.
“Tell me a story,” I said. “I feel like a boy of ten.”
Lys raised a finger to her scarlet lips. I always waited for her to do that.
“Will you be very still, then?” she said.
“Still as death.”
“Death,” echoed a voice, very softly.
“Did you speak, Lys?” I asked, turning so that I could see her face.
“No; did you, Dick?”
“Who said ‘death’?” I asked, startled.
“Death,” echoed a voice, softly.
I sprang up and looked about. Lys rose too, her needles and embroidery falling to the floor. She seemed about to faint, leaning heavily on me, and I led her to the window and opened it a little way to give her air. As I did so the chain lightning split the zenith, the thunder crashed, and a sheet of rain swept into the room, driving with it something that fluttered — something that flapped, and squeaked, and beat upon the rug with soft, moist wings.
We bent over it together, Lys clinging to me, and we saw that it was a death’s-head moth drenched with rain.
The dark day passed slowly as we sat beside the fire, hand in hand, her head against my breast, speaking of sorrow and mystery and death. For Lys believed that there were things on earth that none might understand, things that must be nameless forever and ever, until God rolls up the scroll of life and all is ended. We spoke of hope and fear and faith, and the mystery of the saints; we spoke of the beginning and the end, of the shadow of sin, of omens, and of love. The moth still lay on the floor, quivering its sombre wings in the warmth of the fire, the skull and ribs clearly etched upon its neck and body.
“If it is a messenger of death to this house,” I said, “why should we fear, Lys?”
“Death should be welcome to those who love God,” murmured Lys, and she drew the cross from her breast and kissed it.
“The moth might die if I threw it out into the storm,” I said after a silence.
“Let it remain,” sighed Lys.
Late that night my wife lay sleeping, and I sat beside her bed and read in the Chronicle of Jacques Sorgue. I shaded the candle, but Lys grew restless, and finally I took the book down into the morning room, where the ashes of the fire rustled and whitened on the hearth.
The death’s-head moth lay on the rug before the fire where I had left it. At first I thought it was dead, but, when I looked closer I saw a lambent fire in its amber eyes. The straight white shadow it cast across the floor wavered as the candle flickered.
The pages of the Chronicle of Jacques Sorgue were damp and sticky; the illuminated gold and blue initials left flakes of azure and gilt where my hand brushed them.
“It is not paper at all; it is thin parchment,” I said to myself; and I held the discoloured page close to the candle flame and read, translating laboriously:
“I, Jacques Sorgue, saw all these things. And I saw the Black Mass celebrated in the chapel of St. Gildas-on-the-Cliff. And it was said by the Abbé Sorgue, my kinsman: for which deadly sin the apostate priest was seized by the most noble Marquis of Plougastel and by him condemned to be burned with hot irons, until his seared soul quit its body and fly to its master the devil. But when the Black Priest lay in the crypt of Plougastel, his master Satan came at night and set him free, and carried him across land and sea to Mahmoud, which is Soldan or Saladin. And I, Jacques Sorgue, travelling afterward by sea, beheld with my own eyes my kinsman, the Black Priest of St. Gildas, borne along in the air upon a vast black wing, which was the wing of his master Satan. And this was seen also by two men of the crew.” I turned the page. The wings of the moth on the floor began to quiver. I read on and on, my eyes blurring under the shifting candle flame. I read of battles and of saints, and I learned how the great Soldan made his pact with Satan, and then I came to the Sieur de Trevec, and read how he seized the Black Priest in the midst of Saladin’s tents and carried him away and cut off his head, first branding him on the forehead. “And before he suffered,” said the Chronicle, “he cursed the Sieur de Trevec and his descendants, and he said he would surely return to St. Gildas. ‘For the violence you do to me, I will do violence to you. For the evil I suffer at your hands, I will work evil on you and your descendants. Woe to your children, Sieur de Trevec!’” There was a whirr, a beating of strong wings, and my candle flashed up as in a sudden breeze. A humming filled the room; the great moth darted hither and thither, beating, buzzing, on ceiling and wall. I flung down my book and stepped forward. Now it lay fluttering upon the window sill, and for a moment I had it under my hand, but the thing squeaked and I shrank back. Then suddenly it darted across the candle flame; the light flared and went out, and at the same moment a shadow moved in the darkness outside. I raised my eyes to the window. A masked face was peering in at me.
Quick as thought I whipped out my revolver and fired every cartridge, but the face advanced beyond the window, the glass melting away before it like mist, and through the smoke of my revolver I saw something creep swiftly into the room. Then I tried to cry out, but the thing was at my throat, and I fell backward among the ashes of the hearth.
When my eyes unclosed I was lying on the hearth, my head among the cold ashes. Slowly I got on my knees, rose painfully, and groped my way to a chair. On the floor lay my revolver, shining in the pale light of early morning. My mind clearing by degrees, I looked, shuddering, at the window. The glass was unbroken. I stooped stiffly, picked up my revolver and opened the cylinder. Every cartridge had been fired. Mechanically I closed the cylinder and placed the revolver in my pocket. The book, the Chronicles of Jacques Sorgue, lay on the table beside me, and as I started to close it I glanced at the page. It was all splashed with rain, and the lettering had run, so that the page was merely a confused blur of gold and red and black. As I stumbled toward the door I cast a fearful glance over my shoulder. The death’s-head moth crawled shivering on the rug.
IV The sun was about three hours high. I must have slept, for I was aroused by the sudden gallop of horses under our window. People were shouting and calling in the road. I sprang up and opened the sash. Le Bihan was there, an image of helplessness, and Max Fortin stood beside him, polishing his glasses. Some gendarmes had just arrived from Quimperlé, and I could hear them around the corner of the house, stamping, and rattling their sabres and carbines, as they led their horses into my stable.
Lys sat up, murmuring half-sleepy, half-anxious questions.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I am going out to see what it means.”
“It is like the day they came to arrest you,” Lys said, giving me a troubled look. But I kissed her, and laughed at her until she smiled too. Then I flung on coat and cap and hurried down the stairs.
The first person I saw standing in the road was the Brigadier Durand.
“Hello!” said I, “have you come to arrest me again? What the devil is all this fuss about, anyway?”
“We were telegraphed for an hour ago,” said Durand Briskly, “and for a sufficient reason, I think. Look there, Monsieur Darrel!”
He pointed to the ground almost under my feet.
“Good heavens!” I cried, “where did that puddle of blood come from?”
“That’s what I want to know, Monsieur Darrel. Max Fortin found it at daybreak. See, it’s splashed all over the grass, too. A trail of it leads into your garden, across the flower beds to your very window, the one that opens from the morning room. There is another trail leading from this spot across the road to the cliffs, then to the gravel pit, and thence across the moor to the forest of Kerselec. We are going to mount in a minute and search the bosquets. Will you join us? Bon Dieu! but the fellow bled like an ox. Max Fortin says it’s human blood, or I should not have believed it.”
The little chemist of Quimperlé came up at that moment, rubbing his glasses with a coloured handkerchief.
“Yes, it is human blood,” he said, “but one thing puzzles me: the corpuscles are yellow. I never saw any human blood before with yellow corpuscles. But your English Doctor Thompson asserts that he has —”
“Well, it’s human blood, anyway — isn’t it?” insisted Durand, impatiently.
“Ye-es,” admitted Max Fortin.
“Then it’s my business to trail it,” said the big gendarme, and he called his men and gave the order to mount.
“Did you hear anything last night?” asked Durand of me.
“I heard the rain. I wonder the rain did not wash away these traces.”
“They must have come after the rain ceased. See this thick splash, how it lies over and weighs down the wet grass blades. Pah!”
It was a heavy, evil-looking clot, and I stepped back from it, my throat closing in disgust.
“My theory,” said the brigadier, “is this: Some of those Biribi fishermen, probably the Icelanders, got an extra glass of cognac into their hides and quarrelled on the road. Some of them were slashed, and staggered to your house. But there is only one trail, and yet — and yet, how could all that blood come from only one person? Well, the wounded man, let us say, staggered first to your house and then back here, and he wandered off, drunk and dying, God knows where. That’s my theory.”
“A very good one,” said I calmly. “And you are going to trail him?”
“At once. Will you come?”
“Not now. I’ll gallop over by-and-by. You are going to the edge of the Kerselec forest?”
“Yes; you will hear us calling. Are you coming, Max Fortin? And you, Le Bihan? Good; take the dog-cart.”
The big gendarme tramped around the corner to the stable and presently returned mounted on a strong gray horse; his sabre shone on his saddle; his pale yellow and white facings were spotless.
The little crowd of white-coiffed women with their children fell back, as Durand touched spurs and clattered away followed by his two troopers. Soon after Le Bihan and Max Fortin also departed in the mayor’s dingy dog-cart.
“Are you coming?” piped Le Bihan shrilly.
“In a quarter of an hour,” I replied, and went back to the house.
When I opened the door of the morning room the death’s-head moth was beating its strong wings against the window. For a second I hesitated, then walked over and opened the sash. The creature fluttered out, whirred over the flower beds a moment, then darted across the moorland toward the sea. I called the servants together and questioned them. Josephine, Catherine, Jean Marie Tregunc, not one of them had heard the slightest disturbance during the night. Then I told Jean Marie to saddle my horse, and while I was speaking Lys came down.
“Dearest,” I began, going to her.
“You must tell me everything you know, Dick,” she interrupted, looking me earnestly in the face.
“But there is nothing to tell — only a drunken brawl, and some one wounded.”
“And you are going to ride — where, Dick?”
“Well, over to the edge of Kerselec forest. Durand and the mayor, and Max Fortin, have gone on, following a — a trail.”
“Where did they find it?”
“Out in the road there.” Lys crossed herself.
“Does it come near our house?”
“It comes up to the morning-room window,” said I, giving in.
Her hand on my arm grew heavy. “I dreamed last night —”
“So did I—” but I thought of the empty cartridges in my revolver, and stopped.
“I dreamed that you were in great danger, and I could not move hand or foot to save you; but you had your revolver, and I called out to you to fire —”
“I did fire!” I cried excitedly.
“You — you fired?”
I took her in my arms. “My darling,” I said, “something strange has happened — something that I cannot understand as yet. But, of course, there is an explanation. Last night I thought I fired at the Black Priest.”
“Ah!” gasped Lys.
“Is that what you dreamed?”
“Yes, yes, that was it! I begged you to fire —”
“And I did.”
Her heart was bearing against my breast. I held her close in silence.
“Dick,” she said at length, “perhaps you killed the — the thing.”
“If it was human I did not miss,” I answered grimly. “And it was human,” I went on, pulling myself together, ashamed of having so nearly gone to pieces. “Of course it was human! The whole affair is plain enough. Not a drunken brawl, as Durand thinks; it was a drunken lout’s practical joke, for which he has suffered. I suppose I must have filled him pretty full of bullets, and he has crawled away to die in Kerselec forest. It’s a terrible affair; I’m sorry I fired so hastily; but that idiot Le Bihan and Max Fortin have been working on my nerves till I am as hysterical as a schoolgirl,” I ended angrily.
“You fired — but the window glass was not shattered,” said Lys in a low voice.
“Well, the window was open, then. And as for the — the rest — I’ve got nervous indigestion, and a doctor will settle the Black Priest for me, Lys.”
I glanced out of the window at Tregunc waiting with my horse at the gate.
“Dearest, I think I had better go to join Durand and the others.”
“I will go too.”
“I shall suffer every moment you are away.”
“The ride is too fatiguing, and we can’t tell what unpleasant sight you may come upon. Lys, you don’t really think there is anything supernatural in this affair?”
“Dick,” she answered gently, “I am a Bretonne.” With both arms around my neck, my wife said, “Death is the gift of God. I do not fear it when we are together. But alone — oh, my husband, I should fear a God who could take you away from me!”
We kissed each other soberly, simply, like two children. Then Lys hurried away to change her gown, and I paced up and down the garden waiting for her.
She came, drawing on her slender gauntlets. I swung her into the saddle, gave a hasty order to Jean Marie, and mounted.
Now, to quail under thoughts of terror on a morning like this, with Lys in the saddle beside me, no matter what had happened or might happen, was impossible. Moreover, Môme came sneaking after us. I asked Tregunc to catch him, for I was afraid he might be brained by our horses’ hoofs if he followed, but the wily puppy dodged and bolted after Lys, who was trotting along the high-road.
“Never mind,” I thought; “if he’s hit he’ll live, for he has no brains to lose.”
Lys was waiting for me in the road beside the Shrine of Our Lady of St. Gildas when I joined her. She crossed herself, I doffed my cap, then we shook out our bridles and galloped toward the forest of Kerselec.
We said very little as we rode. I always loved to watch Lys in the saddle. Her exquisite figure and lovely face were the incarnation of youth and grace; her curling hair glistened like threaded gold.
Our of the corner of my eve I saw the spoiled puppy Môme come bounding cheerfully alongside, oblivious of our horses’ heels. Our road swung close to the cliffs. A filthy cormorant rose from the black rocks and flapped heavily across our path. Lys’s horse reared, but she pulled him down, and pointed at the bird with her riding crop.
“I see,” said I; “it seems to be going our way. Curious to see a cormorant in a forest, isn’t it?”
“It is a bad sign,” said Lys. “You know that Morbihan proverb: ‘When the cormorant turns from the sea, Death laughs in the forest, and wise woodsmen build boats.’”
“I wish,” said I sincerely, “that there were fewer proverbs in Brittany.”
We were in sight of the forest now; across the gorse I could see the sparkle of gendarmes’ trappings, and the glitter of Le Bihan’s silver-buttoned jacket. The hedge was low and we took it without difficulty, and trotted across the moor to where Le Bihan and Durand stood gesticulating.
They bowed ceremoniously to Lys as we rode up.
“The trail is horrible — it is a river,” said the mayor in his squeaky voice. “Monsieur Darrel, I think perhaps madame would scarcely care to come any nearer.”
Lys drew bridle and looked at me.
“It is horrible!” said Durand, walking up beside me; “it looks as though a bleeding regiment had passed this way. The trail winds and winds about there in the thickets; we lose it at times, but we always find it again. I can’t understand how one man — no, not twenty — could bleed like that!”
A halloo, answered by another, sounded from the depths of the forest.
“It’s my men; they are following the trail,” muttered the brigadier. “God alone knows what is at the end!”
“Shall we gallop back, Lys?” I asked.
“No; let us ride along the western edge of the woods and dismount. The sun is so hot now, and I should like to rest for a moment,” she said.
“The western forest is clear of anything disagreeable,” said Durand.
“Very well,” I answered; “call me, Le Bihan, if you find anything.”
Lys wheeled her mare, and I followed across the springy heather, Môme trotting cheerfully in the rear.
We entered the sunny woods about a quarter of a kilometre from where we left Durand. I took Lys from her horse, flung both bridles over a limb, and, giving my wife my arm, aided her to a flat mossy rock which overhung a shallow brook gurgling among the beech trees. Lys sat down and drew off her gauntlets. Môme pushed his head into her lap, received an undeserved caress, and came doubtfully toward me. I was weak enough to condone his offence, but I made him lie down at my feet, greatly to his disgust.
I rested my head on Lys’s knees, looking up at the sky through the crossed branches of the trees.
“I suppose I have killed him,” I said. “It shocks me terribly, Lys.”
“You could not have known, dear. He may have been a robber, and — if — nor —— Did — have you ever fired your revolver since that day four years ago, when the Red Admiral’s son tried to kill you? But I know you have not.”
“No,” said I, wondering. “It’s a fact, I have not. Why?”
“And don’t you remember that I asked you to let me load it for you the day when Yves went off, swearing to kill you and his father?”
“Yes, I do remember. Well?”
“Well, I— I took the cartridges first to St. Gildas chapel and dipped them in holy water. You must not laugh, Dick,” said Lys gently, laying her cool hands on my lips.
“Laugh, my darling!”
Overhead the October sky was pale amethyst, and the sunlight burned like orange flame through the yellow leaves of beech and oak. Gnats and midges danced and wavered overhead; a spider dropped from a twig halfway to the ground and hung suspended on the end of his gossamer thread.
“Are you sleepy, dear?” asked Lys, bending over me.
“I am — a little; I scarcely slept two hours last night,” I answered.
“You may sleep, if you wish,” said Lys, and touched my eyes caressingly.
“Is my head heavy on your knees?”
“No, Dick.“I was already in a half doze; still I heard the brook babbling under the beeches and the humming of forest flies overhead. Presently even these were stilled.
The next thing I knew I was sitting bolt upright, my ears ringing with a scream, and I saw Lys cowering beside me, covering her white face with both hands.
As I sprang to my feet she cried again and clung to my knees. I saw my dog rush growling into a thicket, then I heard him whimper, and he came backing out, whining, ears flat, tail down. I stooped and disengaged Lys’s hand.
“Don’t go, Dick!” she cried. “O God, it’s the Black Priest!”
In a moment I had leaped across the brook and pushed my way into the thicket. It was empty. I stared about me; I scanned every tree trunk, every bush. Suddenly I saw him. He was seated on a fallen log, his head resting in his hands, his rusty black robe gathered around him. For a moment my hair stirred under my cap; sweat started on my forehead and cheekbone; then I recovered my reason, and understood that the man was human and was probably wounded to death. Ay, to death; for there, at my feet, lay the wet trail of blood, over leaves and stones, down into the little hollow, across to the figure in black resting silently under the trees.
I saw that he could not escape even if he had the strength, for before him, almost at his very feet, lay a deep, shining swamp.
As I stepped forward my foot broke a twig. At the sound the figure started a little, then its head fell forward again. Its face was masked. Walking up to the man, I bade him tell where he was wounded. Durand and the others broke through the thicket at the same moment and hurried to my side.
“Who are you who hide a masked face in a priest’s robe?” said the gendarme loudly.
There was no answer.
“See — see the stiff blood all over his robe!” muttered Le Bihan to Fortin.
“He will not speak,” said I.
“He may be too badly wounded,” whispered Le Bihan.
“I saw him raise his head,” I said; “my wife saw him creep up here.”
Durand stepped forward and touched the figure.
“Speak!” he said.
“Speak!” quavered Fortin.
Durand waited a moment, then with a sudden upward movement he stripped off the mask and threw back the man’s head. We were looking into the eye sockets of a skull. Durand stood rigid; the mayor shrieked. The skeleton burst out from its rotting robes and collapsed on the ground before us. From between the staring ribs and the grinning teeth spurred a torrent of black blood, showering the shrinking grasses; then the thing shuddered, and fell over into the black ooze of the bog. Little bubbles of iridescent air appeared from the mud; the bones were slowly engulfed, and, as the last fragments sank out of sight, up from the depths and along the bank crept a creature, shiny, shivering, quivering its wings.
It was a death’s-head moth.
I wish I had time to tell you how Lys outgrew superstitions — for she never knew the truth about the affair, and she never will know, since she has promised not to read this book. I wish I might tell you about the king and his coronation, and how the coronation robe fitted. I wish that I were able to write how Yvonne and Herbert Stuart rode to a boar hunt in Quimperlé, and how the hounds raced the quarry right through the town, overturning three gendarmes, the notary, and an old woman. But I am becoming garrulous, and Lys is calling me to come and hear the king say that he is sleepy. And his Highness shall not be kept waiting.
THE KING’S CRADLE SONG
Seal with a seal of gold The scroll of a life unrolled; Swathe him deep in his purple stole; Ashes of diamonds, crystalled coal. Drops of gold in each scented fold. Crimson wings of the Little Death. Stir his hair with your silken breath; Flaming wings of sins to be. Splendid pinions of prophecy. Smother his eyes with hues and dyes. While the white moon spins and the winds arise. And the stars drip through the skies. Wave, O wings of the Little Death! Seal his sight and stifle his breath. Cover his breast with the gemmed shroud pressed; From north to north, from west to west. Wave, O wings of the Little Death! Till the white moon reels in the cracking skies. And the ghosts of God arise.
Mais je croy que je Suis descendu on puiz Tenebreux onquel disoit Heraclytus estre Verité cachée.
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, for which I know not:
The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
The utter desolation of the scene began to have its effect; I sat down to face the situation and, if possible, recall to mind some landmark which might aid me in extricating myself from my present position. If I could only find the ocean again all would be clear, for I knew one could see the island of Groix from the cliffs.
I laid down my gun, and kneeling behind a rock lighted my pipe. Then I looked at my watch. It was nearly four o’clock. I might have wandered far from Kerselec since daybreak.
Standing the day before on the cliffs below Kerselec with Goulven, looking out over the sombre moors among which I had now lost my way, these downs had appeared to me level as a meadow, stretching to the horizon, and although I knew how deceptive is distance, I could not realize that what from Kerselec seemed to be mere grassy hollows were great valleys covered with gorse and heather, and what looked like scattered boulders were in reality enormous cliffs of granite.
“It’s a bad place for a stranger,” old Goulven had said; “you’d better take a guide;” and I had replied, “I shall not lose myself.” Now I knew that I had lost myself, as I sat there smoking, with the sea-wind blowing in my face. On every side stretched the moorland, covered with flowering gorse and heath and granite boulders. There was not a tree in sight, much less a house. After a while, I picked up the gun, and turning my back on the sun tramped on again.
There was little use in following any of the brawling streams which every now and then crossed my path, for, instead of flowing into the sea, they ran inland to reedy pools in the hollows of the moors. I had followed several, but they all led me to swamps or silent little ponds from which the snipe rose peeping and wheeled away in an ecstasy of fright. I began to feel fatigued, and the gun galled my shoulder in spite of the double pads. The sun sank lower and lower, shining level across yellow gorse and the moorland pools.
As I walked my own gigantic shadow led me on, seeming to lengthen at every step. The gorse scraped against my leggings, crackled beneath my feet, showering the brown earth with blossoms, and the brake bowed and billowed along my path. From tufts of heath rabbits scurried away through the bracken, and among the swamp grass I heard the wild duck’s drowsy quack.
Once a fox stole across my path, and again, as I stooped to drink at a hurrying rill, a heron flapped heavily from the reeds beside me. I turned to look at the sun. It seemed to touch the edges of the plain. When at last I decided that it was useless to go on, and that I must make up my mind to spend at least one night on the moors, I threw myself down thoroughly fagged out.
The evening sunlight slanted warm across my body, but the sea-winds began to rise, and I felt a chill strike through me from my wet shooting-boots. High overhead gulls were wheeling and tossing like bits of white paper; from some distant marsh a solitary curlew called. Little by little the sun sank into the plain, and the zenith flushed with the after-glow. I watched the sky change from palest gold to pink and then to smouldering fire. Clouds of midges danced above me, and high in the calm air a bat dipped and soared. My eyelids began to droop. Then as I shook off the drowsiness a sudden crash among the bracken roused me. I raised my eyes. A great bird hung quivering in the air above my face. For an instant I stared, incapable of motion; then something leaped past me in the ferns and the bird rose, wheeled, and pitched headlong into the brake.
I was on my feet in an instant peering through the gorse. There came the sound of a struggle from a bunch of heather close by, and then all was quiet. I stepped forward, my gun poised, but when I came to the heather the gun fell under my arm again, and I stood motionless in silent astonishment. A dead hare lay on the ground, and on the hare stood a magnificent falcon, one talon buried in the creature’s neck, the other planted firmly on its limp flank. But what astonished me, was not the mere sight of a falcon sitting upon its prey. I had seen that more than once. It was that the falcon was fitted with a sort of leash about both talons, and from the leash hung a round bit of metal like a sleigh-bell. The bird turned its fierce yellow eyes on me, and then stooped and struck its curved beak into the quarry. At the same instant hurried steps sounded among the heather, and a girl sprang into the covert in front. Without a glance at me she walked up to the falcon, and passing her gloved hand under its breast, raised it from the quarry.
Then she deftly slipped a small hood over the bird’s head, and holding it out on her gauntlet, stooped and picked up the hare.
She passed a cord about the animal’s legs and fastened the end of the thong to her girdle. Then she started to retrace her steps through the covert. As she passed me I raised my cap and she acknowledged my presence with a scarcely perceptible inclination. I had been so astonished, so lost in admiration of the scene before my eyes, that it had not occurred to me that here was my salvation. But as she moved away I recollected that unless I wanted to sleep on a windy moor that night I had better recover my speech without delay. At my first word she hesitated, and as I stepped before her I thought a look of fear came into her beautiful eyes. But as I humbly explained my unpleasant plight, her face flushed and she looked at me in wonder.
“Surely you did not come from Kerselec!” she repeated.
Her sweet voice had no trace of the Breton accent nor of any accent which I knew, and yet there was something in it I seemed to have heard before, something quaint and indefinable, like the theme of an old song.
I explained that I was an American, unacquainted with Finistère, shooting there for my own amusement.
“An American,” she repeated in the same quaint musical tones. “I have never before seen an American.”
For a moment she stood silent, then looking at me she said: “If you should walk all night you could not reach Kerselec now, even if you had a guide.”
This was pleasant news.
“But,” I began, “if I could only find a peasant’s hut where I might get something to eat, and shelter.“The falcon on her wrist fluttered and shook its head. The girl smoothed its glossy back and glanced at me.
“Look around,” she said gently. “Can you see the end of these moors? Look, north, south, east, west. Can you see anything but moorland and bracken?”
“No,” I said.
“The moor is wild and desolate. It is easy to enter, but sometimes they who enter never leave it. There are no peasants’ huts here.”
“Well,” I said, “if you will tell me in which direction Kerselec lies, tomorrow it will take me no longer to go back than it has to come.”
She looked at me again with an expression almost like pity.
“Ah,” she said, “to come is easy and takes hours; to go is different — and may take centuries.”
I stared at her in amazement but decided that I had misunderstood her. Then before I had time to speak she drew a whistle from her belt and sounded it.
“Sit down and rest,” she said to me; “you have come a long distance and are tired.”
She gathered up her pleated skirts and motioning me to follow picked her dainty way through the gorse to a flat rock among the ferns.
“They will be here directly,” she said, and taking a seat at one end of the rock invited me to sit down on the other edge. The after-glow was beginning to fade in the sky and a single star twinkled faintly through the rosy haze. A long wavering triangle of water-fowl drifted southward over our heads and from the swamps around plover were calling.
“They are very beautiful — these moors,” she said quietly.
“Beautiful, but cruel to strangers,” I answered.
“Beautiful and cruel,” she repeated dreamily, “beautiful and cruel.”
“Like a woman,” I said stupidly.
“Oh,” she cried with a little catch in her breath and looked at me. Her dark eyes met mine and I thought she seemed angry or frightened.
“Like a woman,” she repeated under her breath, “how cruel to say so!” Then after a pause, as though speaking aloud to herself, “How cruel for him to say that.”
I don’t know what sort of an apology I offered for my inane, though harmless, speech, but I know that she seemed so troubled about it that I began to think I had said something very dreadful without knowing it, and remembered with horror the pitfalls and snares which the French language sets for foreigners. While I was trying to imagine what I might have said, a sound of voices came across the moor and the girl rose to her feet.
“No,” she said, with a trace of a smile on her pale face, “I will not accept your apologies, Monsieur, but I must prove you wrong and that shall be my revenge. Look. Here come Hastur and Raoul.”
Two men loomed up in the twilight. One had a sack across his shoulders and the other carried a hoop before him as a waiter carries a tray. The hoop was fastened with straps to his shoulders and around the edge of the circler sat three hooded falcons fitted with tinkling bells. The girl stepped up to the falconer, and with a quick turn of her wrist transferred her falcon to the hoop where it quickly sidled off and nestled among its mates who shook their hooded heads and ruffled their feathers till the belled jesses tinkled again. The other man stepped forward and bowing respectfully took up the hare and dropped it into the game-sack.
“These are my piqueurs,” said the girl turning to me with a gentle dignity. “Raoul is a good fauconnier and I shall some day make him grand veneur. Hastur is incomparable.”
The two silent men saluted me respectfully.
“Did I not tell you, Monsieur, that I should prove you wrong?” she continued. “This then is my revenge, that you do me the courtesy of accepting food and shelter at my own house.”
Before I could answer she spoke to the falconers who started instantly across the heath, and with a gracious gesture to me she followed. I don’t know whether I made her understand how profoundly grateful I felt, but she seemed pleased to listen, as we walked over the dewy heather.
“Are you not very tired?” she asked.
I had clean forgotten my fatigue in her presence and I told her so.
“Don’t you think your gallantry is a little old-fashioned,” she said; and when I looked confused and humbled, she added quietly, “Oh, I like it, I like everything old-fashioned, and it is delightful to hear you say such pretty things.”
The moorland around us was very still now under its ghostly sheet of mist. The plover had ceased their calling; the crickets and all the little creatures of the fields were silent as we passed, yet it seemed to me as if I could hear them beginning again far behind us. Well in advance the two tall falconers strode across the heather and the faint jingling of the hawks bells came to our ears in distant murmuring chimes.
Suddenly a splendid hound dashed out of the mist in front, followed by another and another until half a dozen or more were bounding and leaping around the girl beside me. She caressed and quieted them with her gloved hand, speaking to them in quaint terms which I remembered to have seen in old French manuscripts.
Then the falcons on the circlet borne by the falconer ahead began to beat their wings and scream, and from somewhere out of sight the notes of a hunting-horn floated across the moor.
The hounds sprang away before us and vanished in the twilight, the falcons flapped and squealed upon their perch and the girl taking up the song of the horn began to hum. Clear and mellow her voice sounded in the night air.
“Chasseur, chasseur, chassez encore, Quittez Rosette et Jeanneton, Tonton, tonton, tontaine, tonton, Ou, pour, rabattre, dês l’aurore, Que les Amours soient de planton, Tonton, tontaine, tonton.”
As I listened to her lovely voice, a gray mass which rapidly grew more distinct loomed up in front, and the horn rang out joyously through the tumult of the hounds and falcons. A torch glimmered at a gate, a light streamed through an opening door, and we stepped upon a wooden bridge which trembled under our feet and rose creaking and straining behind us as we passed over the moat and into a small stone court, walled on every side. From an open doorway a man came and bending in salutation presented a cup to the girl beside me. She took the cup and touched it with her lips, then lowering it turned to me and said in a low voice, “I bid you welcome.”
At that moment one of the falconers came with another cup, but before handing it to me, presented it to the girl, who tasted it. The falconer made a gesture to receive it, but she hesitated a moment and then stepping forward offered me the cup with her own hands. I felt this to be an act of extraordinary graciousness, but hardly knew what was expected of me, and did not raise it to my lips at once. The girl flushed crimson. I saw that I must act quickly.
“Mademoiselle,” I faltered, “a stranger whom you have saved from dangers he may never realize, empties this cup to the gentlest and loveliest hostess of France.”
“In His name,” she murmured, crossing herself as I drained the cup. Then stepping into the doorway she turned to me with a pretty gesture and taking my hand in hers, led me into the house, saying again and again: “You are very welcome, indeed you are welcome to the Château d’Ys.”
I awoke next morning with the music of the horn in my ears, and leaping out of the ancient bed, went to a curtained window where the sunlight filtered through little deep-set panes. The horn ceased as I looked into the court below.
A man who might have been brother to the two falconers of the night before stood in the midst of a pack of hounds. A curved horn was strapped over his back, and in his hand he held a long-lashed whip. The dogs whined and yelped, dancing around him in anticipation; there was the stamp of horses too in the walled yard.
“Mount!” cried a voice in Breton, and with a clatter of hoofs the two falconers, with falcons upon their wrists, rode into the courtyard among the hounds. Then I heard another voice which sent the blood throbbing through my heart: “Piriou Louis, hunt the hounds well and spare neither spur nor whip. Thou Raoul and thou Gaston, see that the epervier does not prove himself niais, and if it be best in your judgment, faites courtoisie à l’oiseau. Jardiner un oiseau like the mué there on Hastur’s wrist is not difficult, but thou, Raoul, mayest not find it so simple to govern that hagard. Twice last week he foamed au vif and lost the beccade although he is used to the leurre. The bird acts like a stupid branchier. Paître un hagard n’est pas si facile.”
Was I dreaming? The old language of falconry which I had read in yellow manuscripts — the old forgotten French of the middle ages was sounding in my ears while the hounds bayed and the hawks bells tinkled accompaniment to the stamping horses. She spoke again in the sweet forgotten language:
“If you would rather attach the longe and leave thy hagard au bloc, Raoul, I shall say nothing; for it were a pity to spoil so fair a day’s sport with an ill-trained sors. Essimer abaisser,— it is possibly the best way. Ça lui donnera des reins. I was perhaps hasty with the bird. It takes time to pass à la filière and the exercises d’escap.”
Then the falconer Raoul bowed in his stirrups and replied: “If it be the pleasure of Mademoiselle, I shall keep the hawk.”
“It is my wish,” she answered. “Falconry I know, but you have yet to give me many a lesson in Autourserie, my poor Raoul. Sieur Piriou Louis, mount!”
The huntsman sprang into an archway and in an instant returned, mounted upon a strong black horse, followed by a piqueur also mounted.
“Ah!” she cried joyously, “speed Glemarec René! speed! speed all! Sound thy horn Sieur Piriou!”
The silvery music of the hunting-horn filled the courtyard, the hounds sprang through the gateway and galloping hoof-beats plunged out of the paved court; loud on the drawbridge, suddenly muffled, then lost in the heather and bracken of the moors. Distant and more distant sounded the horn, until it became so faint that the sudden carol of a soaring lark drowned it in my ears. I heard the voice below responding to some call from within the house.
“I do not regret the chase, I will go another time. Courtesy to the stranger, Pelagie, remember!” And a feeble voice came quavering from within the house, “Courtoisie.”
I stripped, and rubbed myself from head to foot in the huge earthen basin of icy water which stood upon the stone floor at the foot of my bed. Then I looked about for my clothes. They were gone, but on a settle near the door lay a heap of garments which I inspected with astonishment.
As my clothes had vanished I was compelled to attire myself in the costume which had evidently been placed there for me to wear while my own clothes dried. Everything was there, cap, shoes, and hunting doublet of silvery gray homespun; but the close-fitting costume and seamless shoes belonged to another century, and I remembered the strange costumes of the three falconers in the courtyard. I was sure that it was not the modern dress of any portion of France or Brittany; but not until I was dressed and stood before a mirror between the windows did I realize that I was clothed much more like a young huntsman of the middle ages than like a Breton of that day. I hesitated and picked up the cap. Should I go down and present myself in that strange guise?
There seemed to be no help for it, my own clothes were gone and there was no bell in the ancient chamber to call a servant, so I contented myself with removing a short hawk’s feather from the cap, and opening the door went downstairs.
By the fireplace in the large room at the foot of the stairs an old Breton woman sat spinning with a distaff. She looked up at me when I appeared, and smiling frankly, wished me health in the Breton language, to which I laughingly replied in French. At the same moment my hostess appeared and returned my salutation with a grace and dignity that sent a thrill to my heart. Her lovely head with its dark curly hair was crowned with a head-dress which set all doubts as to the epoch of my own costume at rest. Her slender figure was exquisitely set off in the homespun hunting-gown edged with silver, and on her gauntlet-covered wrist she bore one of her petted hawks. With perfect simplicity she took my hand and led me into the garden in the court, and seating herself before a table invited me very sweetly to sit beside her. Then she asked me in her soft quaint accent how I had passed the night and whether I was very much inconvenienced by wearing the clothes which old Pelagie had put there for me while I slept. I looked at my own clothes and shoes, drying in the sun by the garden-wall, and hated them. What horrors they were compared with the graceful costume which I now wore! I told her this laughing, but she agreed with me very seriously.
“We will throw them away,” she said in a quiet voice. In my astonishment I attempted to explain that I not only could not think of accepting clothes from anybody, although for all I knew it might be the custom of hospitality in that part of the country, but that I should cut an impossible figure if I returned to France clothed as I was then.
She laughed and tossed her pretty head, saying something in old French which I did not understand, and the Pelagie trotted out with a tray on which stood two bowls of milk, a loaf of white bread, fruit, a platter of honeycomb, and a flagon of deep red wine. “You see I have not yet broken my fast because I wished you to eat with me. But I am very hungry,” she smiled.
“I would rather die than forget one word of what you have said!” I blurted out while my cheeks burned. “She will think me mad,” I added to myself, but she turned to me with sparking eyes.
“Ah!” she murmured. “Then Monsieur knows all that there is of chivalry —”
She crossed herself and broke bread — I sat and watched her white hands, not daring to raise my eyes to hers.
“Will you not eat,” she asked; “why do you look so troubled?”
Ah, why? I knew it now. I knew I would give my life to touch with my lips those rosy palms I understood now that from the moment when I looked into her dark eyes there on the moor last night I had loved her. My great and sudden passion held me speechless.
“Are you ill at ease?” she asked again.
Then like a man who pronounces his own doom I answered in a low voice: “Yes, I am ill at ease for love of you.” And as she did not stir nor answer, the same power moved my lips in spite of me and I said, “I, who am unworthy of the lightest of your thoughts, I who abuse hospitality and repay your gently courtesy with bold presumption, I love you.”
She leaned her head upon her hands, and answered softly, “I love you. Your words are very dear to me. I love you.”
“Then I shall win you.”
“Win me,” she replied.
But all the time I had been sitting silent, my face turned toward her. She also silent, her sweet face resting on her upturned palm, sat facing me, and as her eyes looked into mine, I knew that neither she nor I had spoken human speech; but I knew that her soul had answered mine, and I drew myself up feeling youth and joyous love coursing through every vein. She, with a bright color in her lovely face, seemed as one awakened from a dream, and her eyes sought mine with a questioning glance which made me tremble with delight. We broke our fast, speaking of ourselves. I told her my name and she told me hers, the Demoiselle Jeanne d’Ys.
She spoke of her fathers and mother’s deaths, and how the nineteen of her years had been passed in the little fortified farm alone with her nurse Pelagie. Glemarec Renè the piqueur, and the four falconers, Raoul, Gaston, Hastur, and the Sieur Piriou Louis, who had served her father. She had never been outside the moorland — never even had seen a human soul before, except the falconers and Pelagie. She did not know how she had heard of Kerselec; perhaps the falconers had spoken of it. She knew the legends of Loup Garou and Jeanne la Flamme from her nurse Pelagie. She embroidered and spun flax. Her hawks and hounds were her only distraction. When she had met me there on the moor she had been so frightened that she almost dropped at the sound of my voice. She had, it was true, seen ships at sea from the cliffs, but as far as the eye could reach the moors over which she galloped were destitute of any sign of human life. There was a legend which old Pelagie told, how anybody once lost in the unexplored moorland might never return, because the moors were enchanted. She did not know whether it was true, she never had thought about it until she met me. She did not know whether the falconers had even been outside or whether they could go if they would. The books in the house which Pelagie the nurse had taught her to read were hundreds of years old.
All this she told me with a sweet seriousness seldom seen in any one but children. My own name she found easy to pronounce and insisted, because my first name was Philip, I must have French blood in me. She did not seem curious to learn anything about the outside world, and I thought perhaps she considered it had forfeited her interest and respect from the stories of her nurse.
We were still sitting at the table and she was throwing grapes to the small field birds which came fearlessly to our very feet.
I began to speak in a vague way of going, but she would not hear of it, and before I knew it I had promised to stay a week and hunt with hawk and hound in their company. I also obtained permission to come again from Kerselec and visit her after my return.
“Why,” she said innocently, “I do not know what I should do if you never came back;” and I, knowing that I had no right to awaken her with the sudden shock which the avowal of my own love would bring to her, sat silent, hardly daring to breathe.
“You will come very often?” she asked.
“Very often,” I said.
“Oh,” she sighed, “I am very happy — come and see my hawks.”
She rose and took my hand again with a childlike innocence of possession, and we walked through the garden and fruit trees to a grassy lawn which was bordered by a brook. Over the lawn were scattered fifteen or twenty stumps of trees — partially imbedded in the grass — and upon all of these except two sat falcons. They were attached to the stumps by thongs which were in turn fastened with steel rivets to their legs just above the talons. A little stream of pure spring water flowed in a winding course within easy distance of each perch.
The birds set up a clamor when the girl appeared, but she went from one to another caressing some, taking others for an instant upon her wrist, or stooping to adjust their jesses.
“Are they not pretty?” she said. “See, here is a falcon-gentil. We call it ‘ignoble,’ because it takes the quarry in direct chase. This is a blue falcon. In falconry we call it ‘noble’ because it rises over the quarry, and wheeling, drops upon it from above. This white bird is a gerfalcon from the north. It is also ‘noble!’ Here is a merlin, and this tiercelet is a falcon-heroner.”
I asked her how she had learned the old language of falconry. She did not remember, but thought her father must have taught it to her when she was very young.
Then she led me away and showed me the young falcons still in the nest. “They are termed niais in falconry,” she explained. “A branchier is the young bird which is just able to leave the nest and hop from branch to branch. A young bird which has not yet moulted is called a sors, and a mué is a hawk which has moulted in captivity. When we catch a wild falcon which has changed its plumage we term it a hagard. Raoul first taught me to dress a falcon. Shall I teach you how it is done?”
She seated herself on the bank of the stream among the falcons and I threw myself at her feet to listen.
Then the Demoiselle d’Ys held up one rosy-tipped finger and began very gravely, “First one must catch the falcon.”
“I am caught,” I answered.
She laughed very prettily and told me my dressage would perhaps be difficult as I was noble.
“I am already tamed,” I replied; “jessed and belled.”
She laughed, delighted. “Oh, my brave falcon; then you will return at my call?”
“I am yours,” I answered gravely.
She sat silent for a moment. Then the color heightened in her cheeks and she held up her finger again saying, “Listen; I wish to speak of falconry —”
“I listen, Countess Jeanne d’Ys.”
But again she fell into the reverie, and her eyes seemed fixed on something beyond the summer clouds.
“Philip,” she said at last.
“Jeanne,” I whispered.
“That is all,— that is what I wished,” she sighed,—“Philip and Jeanne.”
She held her hand toward me and I touched it with my lips.
“Win me,” she said, but this time it was the body and soul which spoke in unison.
After a while she began again: “Let us speak of falconry.”
“Begin,” I replied; “we have caught the falcon.” Then Jeanne d’Ys took my hand in both of hers and told me how with infinite patience the young falcon was taught to perch upon the wrist, how little by little it became used to belled jesses and the chaperon à cornette.
“They must first have a good appetite,” she said; “then little by little I reduce their nourishment which in falconry we call pât. When after many nights passed au bloc as these birds are now, I prevail upon the hagard to stay quietly on the wrist, then the bird is ready to be taught to come for its food. I fix the pât to the end of a thong or leurre, and teach the bird to come to me as soon as I begin to whirl the cord in circles about my head. At first I drop the pât when the falcon comes, and he eats the food on the ground. After a little he will learn to seize the leurre in motion as I whirl it around my head, or drag it over the ground. After this it is easy to teach the falcon to strike at game, always remembering to ‘faire courtoisie à l’oiseau,’ that is, to allow the bird to taste the quarry.”
A squeal from one of the falcons interrupted her, and she arose to adjust the longe which had become whipped about the bloc, but the bird still flapped its wings and screamed.
“What is the matter?” she said; “Philip, can you see?”
I looked around and at first saw nothing to cause the commotion which was now heightened by the screams and flapping of all the birds. Then my eye fell upon the flat rock beside the stream from which the girl had risen. A gray serpent was moving slowly across the surface of the bowlder, and the eyes in its flat triangular head sparkled like jet.
“A couleuvre,” she said quietly.
“Is it harmless, is it nor?” I asked.
She pointed to the black V-shaped figure on the neck.
“It is certain death,” she said; “it is a viper.”
We watched the reptile moving slowly over the smooth rock to where the sunlight fell in a broad warm patch.
I started forward to examine it, but she clung to arm crying, “Don’t, Philip, I am afraid.”
“For you, Philip,— I love you.”
Then I took her in my arms and kissed her on the lips, but all I could say was: “Jeanne, Jeanne, Jeanne.” And as she lay trembling on my breast, something struck my foot in the grass below, but I did not heed it. Then again something struck my ankle, and a sharp pain shot through me. I looked into the sweet face of Jeanne d’Ys and kissed her, and with all my strength lifted her in my arms and flung her from me. Then bending, I tore the viper from my ankle and set my heel upon its head. I remember feeling weak and numb,— I remember falling to the ground. Through my slowly glazing eyes I saw Jeanne’s white face bending close to mine, and when the light in my eyes went out I still felt her arms about my neck, and her soft cheek against my drawn lips.
When I opened my eyes, I looked around in terror. Jeanne was gone. I saw the stream and the flat rock; I saw the crushed viper in the grass beside me, but the hawks and blocs had disappeared. I sprang to my feet. The garden, the fruit trees, the drawbridge and the walled court were gone. I stared stupidly at a heap of crumbling ruins, ivy-covered and gray, through which great trees had pushed their way. I crept forward, dragging my numbed foot, and as I moved, a falcon sailed from the tree-tops among the ruins, and soaring, mounting in narrowing circles, faded and vanished in the clouds above.
“Jeanne. Jeanne,” I cried, but my voice died on my lips, and I fell on my knees among the weeds. And as God willed it, I, not knowing, had fallen kneeling before a crumbling shrine carved in stone for our Mother of Sorrows. I saw the sad face of the Virgin wrought in the cold stone. I saw the cross and thorns at her feet, and beneath it I read:
“Pray for the soul of the Demoiselle Jeanne d’Ys. who died in her youth for love of Philip, a Stranger A.D. 1573.”
But upon the icy slab lay a woman’s glove still warm and fragrant.
Dust and wind had subsided, there seemed to be a hint of rain in the starless west.
Because the August evening had become oppressive, the club windows stood wide open as though gaping for the outer air. Rugs and curtains had been removed; an incandescent light or two accentuated the emptiness of the rooms; here and there shadowy servants prowled, gilt buttons sparkling through the obscurity, their footsteps on the bare floor intensifying the heavy quiet.
Into this week’s-end void wandered young Shannon, drifting aimlessly from library to corridor, finally entering the long room where the portraits of dead governors smirked through the windows at the deserted avenue.
As his steps echoed on the rugless floor, a shadowy something detached itself from the depths of a padded armchair by the corner window, and a voice he recognized greeted him by name.
“You here, Harrod!” he exclaimed. “Thought you were at Bar Harbor.”
“I was. I had business in town.”
“Do you stay here long?”
“Not long,” said Harrod slowly.
Shannon dropped into a chair with a yawn which ended in a groan.
“Of all God-forsaken places,” he began, “a New York club in August.”
Harrod touched an electric button, but no servant answered the call; and presently Shannon, sprawling in his chair, jabbed the button with the ferrule of his walking stick, and a servant took the order, repeating as though he had not understood: “Did you say two, sir?”
“With olives, dry,” nodded Shannon irritably. They sat there in silence until the tinkle of ice aroused them, and ——“Double luck to you,” muttered Shannon; then, with a scarcely audible sigh: “Bring two more and bring a dinner card.” And, turning to the older man: “You’re dining, Harrod?”
“If you like.”
A servant came and turned on an electric jet; Shannon scanned the card under the pale radiance, scribbled on the pad, and handed it to the servant.
“Did you put down my name?” asked Harrod curiously.
“No; you’ll dine with me — if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind — for this last time.”
“Going away again?”
Shannon signed the blank and glanced up at his friend. “Are you well?” he asked abruptly.
Harrod, lying deep in his leather chair, nodded.
“Oh, you’re rather white around the gills! We’ll have another.”
“I thought you had cut that out, Shannon.”
“Cut what out?”
“Well, I haven’t,” said Shannon sulkily, lifting his glass and throwing one knee over the other.
“The last time I saw you, you said you would cut it,” observed Harrod.
“Well, what of it?”
“But you haven’t?”
“No, my friend.”
“Can’t you stop?”
“I could — now. To-morrow — I don’t know; but I know well enough I couldn’t day after to-morrow. And day after to-morrow I shall not care.”
A short silence and Harrod said: “That’s why I came back here.”
“To stop you.”
Shannon regarded him in sullen amazement.
A servant announcing dinner brought them to their feet; together they walked out into the empty dining room and seated themselves by an open window.
Presently Shannon looked up with an impatient laugh.
“For Heaven’s sake let’s be cheerful, Harrod. If you knew how the damned town had got on my nerves.”
“That’s what I came back for, too,” said Harrod with his strange white smile. “I knew the world was fighting you to the ropes.”
“It is; here I stay on, day after day, on the faint chance of something doing.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Business is worse than dead; I can’t hold on much longer. You’re right; the world has hammered me to the ropes, and it will be down and out for me unless —”
“Unless you can borrow on your own terms?”
“Yes, but I can’t.”
“You are mistaken.”
“Mistaken? Who will —”
“You! Why, man, do you know how much I need? Do you know for how long I shall need it? Do you know what the chances are of my making good? You! Why, Harrod, I’d swamp you! You can’t afford —”
“I can afford anything — now.”
Shannon stared. “You have struck something?”
“Something that puts me beyond want.” He fumbled in his breast pocket, drew out a portfolio, and from the flat leather case he produced a numbered check bearing his signature, but not filled out.
“Tell them to bring pen and ink,” he said.
Shannon, perplexed, signed to a waiter. When the ink was brought, Harrod motioned Shannon to take the pen. “Before I went to Bar Harbor,” he said, “I had a certain sum —” He hesitated, mentioned this sum in a low voice, and asked Shannon to fill in the check for that amount. “Now blot it, pocket it, and use it,” he added listlessly, looking out into the lamp-lighted street.
Shannon, whiter than his friend, stared at the bit of perforated yellow paper.
“I can’t take it,” he stammered; “my security is rotten, I tell you.
“I want no security; I— I am beyond want,” said Harrod. “Take it; I came back here for this —— partly for this.”
“Came back here to — to — help me!”
“To help you. Shannon, I had been a lonely man in life; I think you never realized how much your friendship has been to me. I had nobody —— no intimacies. You never understood — you with all your friends — that I cared more for our casual companionship than for anything in the world.”
Shannon bent his head. “I did not know it,” he said.
Harrod raised his eyes and looked up at the starless sky; Shannon ate in silence; into his young face, already marred by dissipation, a strange light had come. And little by little order began to emerge from his whirling senses; he saw across an abyss a bridge glittering, and beyond that, beckoning to him through a white glory, all that his heart desired.
“I was at the ropes,” he muttered; “how could you know it, Harrod? I—— I never whined —”
“I know more than I did — yesterday,” said Harrod, resting his pale face on one thin hand.
Shannon, nerves on edge, all aquiver, the blood racing through every vein, began to speak excitedly: “It’s like a dream — one of the blessed sort — Harrod! Harrod!— the dreams I’ve had this last year! And I try — I try to understand what has happened — what you have done for me. I can’t — I’m shaking all over, and I suppose I’m sitting here eating and drinking, but —”
He touched his glass blindly; it tipped and crashed to the floor, the breaking froth of the wine hissing on the cloth.
“Harrod! Harrod! What sort of a man am I to deserve this of you? What can I do —”
“Keep your nerve — for one thing.”
“I will!— you mean that!” touching the stem of the new glass, which the waiter had brought and was filling. He struck the glass till it rang out a clear, thrilling, crystalline note, then struck it more sharply. It splintered with a soft splashing crash. “Is that all?” he laughed.
“No, not all.”
“What more will you let me do?”
“One thing more. Tell them to serve coffee below.”
So they passed out of the dining room, through the deserted corridors, and descended the stairway to the lounging room. It was unlighted and empty; Shannon stepped back and the elder man passed him and took the corner chair by the window — the same seat where Shannon had first seen him sitting ten years before, and where he always looked to find him after the ending of a business day. And continuing his thoughts, the younger man spoke aloud impulsively: “I remember perfectly well how we met. Do you? You had just come back to town from Bar Harbor, and I saw you stroll in and seat yourself in that corner, and, because I was sitting next you, you asked if you might include me in your order — do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“And I told you I was a new member here, and you pointed our the portraits of all those dead governors of the club, and told me what good fellows they had been. I found our later that you yourself were a governor of the club.”
“Yes — I was.”
Harrod’s shadowy face swerved toward the window, his eyes resting on the familiar avenue, empty now save for the policeman opposite, and the ragged children of the poor. In August the high tide from the slums washes Fifth Avenue, stranding a gasping flotsam at the thresholds of the absent.
“And I remember, too, what you told me,” continued Shannon.
“What?” said Harrod, turning noiselessly to confront his friend.
“About that child. Do you remember? That beautiful child you saw? Don’t you remember that you told me how she used to leave her governess and talk to you on the rocks —”
“Yes,” said Harrod. “That, too, is why I came back here to tell you the rest. For the evil days have come to her, Shannon, and the years draw nigh. Listen to me.”
There was a silence; Shannon, mute and perplexed, set his coffee on the window sill and leaned back, flicking the ashes from his cigar; Harrod passed his hands slowly over his hollow temples: “Her parents are dead; she is not yet twenty; she is not equipped to support herself in life; and — she is beautiful. What chance has she, Shannon?”
The other was silent.
“What chance?” repeated Harrod. “And, when I tell you that she is unsuspicious, and that she reasons only with her heart, answer me — what chance has she with a man? For you know men, and so do I, Shannon, so do I.”
“Who is she, Harrod?”
“The victim of divorced parents — awarded to her mother. Let her parents answer; they are answering now, Shannon. But their plea is no concern of yours. What concerns you is the living. The child, grown to womanhood, is here, advertising for employment — here in New York, asking for a chance. What chance has she?”
“When did you learn this?” asked Shannon soberly.
“I learned it to-night — everything concerning her — to-night — an hour before I— I met you. That is why I returned. Shannon, listen to me attentively; listen to every word I say. Do you remember a passing fancy you had this spring for a blue-eyed girl you met every morning on your way downtown? Do you remember that, as the days went on, little by little she came to return your glance?— then your smile?— then, at last, your greeting? And do you remember, once, that you told me about it in a moment of depression — told me that you were close to infatuation, that you believed her to be everything sweet and innocent, that you dared nor drift any farther, knowing the chances and knowing the end — bitter unhappiness either way, whether in guilt or innocence —”
“I remember,” said Shannon hoarsely. “But that is not — cannot be —”
“That is the girl.”
“Not the child you told me of —”
“How — when did you know —”
“To-night. I know more than that, Shannon. You will learn it later. Now ask me again, what it is that you may do.”
“I ask it,” said Shannon under his breath. “What am I to do?”
For a long while Harrod sat silent, staring out of the dark window; then, “It is time for us to go.”
“You wish to go out?”
“Yes; we will walk together for a little while — as we did in the old days, Shannon — only a little while, for I must be going back.”
“Where are you going, Harrod?”
But the elder man had already risen and moved toward the door; and Shannon picked up his hat and followed him our across the dusky lamp-lighted street.
Into the avenue they passed under the white, unsteady radiance of arc lights which drooped like huge lilies from stalks of bronze; here and there the front of some hotel lifted like a cliff, its window-pierced façade pulsating with yellow light, or a white marble mass, cold and burned out, spread a sea of shadow over the glimmering asphalt. At times the lighted lamps of cabs flashed in their faces; at times figures passed like spectres; but into the street where they were now turning were neither lamps nor people nor sound, nor any light, save, far in the obscure vista, a dull hint of lightning edging the west.
Twice Shannon had stopped, peering at Harrod, who neither halted nor slackened his steady, noiseless pace; and the younger man, hesitating, moved on again, quickening his steps to his friend’s side.
“Where are — are you going?”
“Do you not know?”
The color died our of Shannon’s face; he spoke again, forming his words slowly with dry lips:
“Harrod, why — why do you come into this street — to-night? What do you know? How do you know? I tell you I— I cannot endure this — this tension —”
“She is enduring it.”
“Yes, God is good,” said Harrod, turning his haggard face as they halted. “Answer me, Shannon, where are we going?”
“To — her. You know it! Harrod! Harrod! How did you know? I— I did not know myself until an hour before I met you; I had not see her in weeks — I had not dared to — for all trust in self was dead. To-day, downtown, I faced the crash and saw across to-morrow the end of all. Then, in my journey hellward to-night, just at dusk, we passed each other, and before I understood what I had done we were side by side. And almost instantly —— I don’t know how — she seemed to sense the ruin before us both — for mine was heavy on my soul, Harrod, as I stood, measuring damnation with smiling eyes — at the brink of it, there. And she knew I was adrift at last.”
He looked up at the house before him. “I said I would come. She neither assented nor denied me, nor asked a question. But in her eyes, Harrod, I saw what one sees in the eyes of children, and it stunned me . . . What shall I do?”
“Go to her and look again,” said Harrod. “That is what I have come to ask of you. Good-by.”
He turned, his shadowy face drooping, and Shannon followed to the avenue. There, in the white outbreak of electric lamps, he saw Harrod again as he had always known him, a hint of a smile in his worn eyes, the well-shaped mouth edged with laughter, and he was saying: “It’s all in a lifetime, Shannon — and more than you suspect — much more. You have not told me her name yet?”
“I do not know it.”
“Ah, she will tell you if you ask! Say to her that I remember her there on the sea rocks. Say to her that I have searched for her always, but that it was only to-night I knew what to-morrow she shall know and you, Shannon, you, too, shall know. Good-by.”
“Harrod! wait. Don’t — don’t go —”
He turned and looked back at the younger man with that familiar gesture he knew so well.
It was final, and Shannon swung blindly on his heel and entered the street again, eyes raised to the high lighted window under which he had laired a moment before. Then he mounted the steps, groped in the vestibule for the illuminated number, and touched the electric knob. The door swung open noiselessly as he entered, closing behind him with a soft click.
Up he sped, mounting stair on stair, threading the narrow hallways, then upward again, until of a sudden she stood confronting him, bent forward, white hands tightening on the banisters.
Neither spoke. She straightened slowly, fingers relaxing from the polished rail. Over her shoulders he saw a lamplighted room, and she turned and looked backward at the threshold and covered her face with both hands.
“What is it?” he whispered, bending close to her. “Why do you tremble? You need noT. There is nothing in all the world you need fear. Look into my eyes. Even a child may read them now. “ Her hands fell from her face and their eyes met, and what she read in his, and he in hers, God knows, for she swayed where she stood, lids closing; yielding hands and lips and throat and hair.
She cried, too, later, her hands on his shoulders where he knelt beside her, holding him at arm’s length from her fresh young face to search his for the menace she once had read there. But it was gone — that menace she had read and vaguely understood, and she cried a little more, one arm around his head pressed close to her side.
“From the very first — the first moment I saw you,” he said under his breath, answering the question aquiver on her lips — lips divinely merciful, repeating the lovers’ creed and the confession of faith for which, perhaps, all souls in love are shriven in the end.
“Naida! Naida!”— for he had learned her name and could nor have enough of it —“all that the world holds for me of good is here, circled by my arms. Nor mine the manhood to win out, alone — but there is a man who came to me to-night and stood sponsor for the falling soul within me.”
“How he knew my peril and yours, God knows. But he came like Fate and held his buckler before me, and he led me here and set a flaming sword before your door — the door of the child he loved — there on the sea rocks ten years ago. Do you remember? He said you would. And he is no archangel — this man among men, this friend with whom, unknowing, I have this night wrestled face to face. His name is Harrod.”
“My name!” She stood up straight and pale, within the circle of his arms; he rose, too, speechless, uncertain — then faced her, white and appalled.
She said: “He — he followed us to Bar Harbor. I was a child, I remember. I hid from my governess and talked with him on the rocks. Then we went away. I— I lost my father.” Staring at her, his stiffening lips formed a word, but no sound came.
“Bring him to me!” she whispered. “How can he know I am here and stay away! Does he think I have forgotten? Does he think shame of me? Bring him to me!”
She caught his hands in hers and kissed them passionately; she framed his face in her small hands of a child and looked deep, deep into his eyes: “Oh, the happiness you have brought! I love you! You with whom I am to enter Paradise! Now bring him to me!”
Shaking, amazed, stunned in a whirl of happiness and doubt, he crept down the black stairway, feeling his way. The doors swung noiselessly; he was almost running when he turned into the avenue. The trail of white lights starred his path; the solitary street echoed his haste; and now he sprang into the wide doorway of the club, and as he passed, the desk clerk leaned forward, handing him a telegram. He took it, halted, breathing heavily, and asked for his friend.
“Mr. Harrod?” repeated the clerk. “Mr. Harrod has not been here in a month, sir.”
“What? I dined with Mr. Harrod here at eight o’clock!” he laughed.
“Sir? I— I beg your pardon, sir, but you dined here alone to-night —”
“Send for the steward!” broke in Shannon impatiently, slapping his open palm with the yellow envelope. The steward came, followed by the butler, and to a quick question from the desk clerk, replied: “Mr. Harrod has not been in the club for six weeks.”
“But I dined with Mr. Harrod at eight! Wilkins, did you not serve us?”
“I served you, sir; you dined alone —” The butler hesitated, coughed discreetly; and the steward added: “You ordered for two, sir —”
Something in the steward’s troubled face silenced Shannon; the butler ventured: “Beg pardon, sir, but we — the waiters thought you might be — ill, seeing how you talked to yourself and called for ink to write upon the cloth and broke two glasses, laughing like —”
Shannon staggered, turning a ghastly visage from one to another. Then his dazed gaze centered upon the telegram crushed in his hand, and shaking from head to foot, he smoothed it out and opened the envelope.
But it was purely a matter of business; he was requested to come to Bar Harbor and identify a useless check, drawn to his order, and perhaps aid to identify the body of a drowned man in the morgue.
Et pis, doucett’ment on s’endort. On fait sa carne, on fait sa sorgue. On ronfle, et, comme un tuyan d’orgue. L’tuyan s’met à ronfler pus fort . . .
As I stepped upon the platform of a Broadway cable-car at Forty-second Street, some body said:
“Hello, Hilton, Jamison’s looking for you.”
“Hello, Curtis,” I replied, “what does Jamison want?”
“He wants to know what you’ve been doing all the week,” said Curtis, hanging desperately to the railing as the car lurched forward; “he says you seem to think that the Manhattan Illustrated Weekly was created for the sole purpose of providing salary and vacations for you.”
“The shifty old tom-cat!” I said, indignantly, “he knows well enough where I’ve been. Vacation! Does he think the State Camp in June is a snap?”
“Oh,” said Curtis, “you’ve been to Peekskill?”
“I should say so,” I replied, my wrath rising as I thought of my assignment.
“Hot?” inquired Curtis, dreamily.
“One hundred and three in the shade,” I answered. “Jamison wanted three full pages and three half pages, all for process work, and a lot of line drawings into the bargain. I could have faked them — I wish I had. I was fool enough to hustle and break my neck to get some honest drawings, and that’s the thanks I get!”
“Did you have a camera?”
“No. I will next time — I’ll waste no more conscientious work on Jamison,” I said sulkily.
“It doesn’t pay,” said Curtis. “When I have military work assigned me, I don’t do the dashing sketch-artist act, you bet; I go to my studio, light my pipe, pull out a lot of old Illustrated London News, select several suitable battle scenes by Caton Woodville — and use ’em too.”
The car shot around the neck-breaking curve at Fourteenth Street.
“Yes,” continued Curtis, as the car stopped in front of the Morton House for a moment, then plunged forward again amid a furious clanging of gongs, “it doesn’t pay to do decent work for the fat-headed men who run the Manhattan Illustrated. They don’t appreciate it.”
“I think the public does,” I said, “but I’m sure Jamison doesn’t. It would serve him right if I did what most of you fellows do — take a lot of Caton Woodville’s and Thulstrup’s drawings, change the uniforms, ‘chic’ a figure or two, and turn in a drawing labelled ‘from life.’ I’m sick of this sort of thing anyway. Almost every day this week I’ve been chasing myself over that tropical camp, or galloping in the wake of those batteries. I’ve got a full page of the ‘camp by moonlight,’ full pages of ‘artillery drill’ and ‘light battery in action,’ and a dozen smaller drawings that cost me more groans and perspiration than Jamison ever knew in all his lymphatic life!”
“Jamison’s got wheels,” said Curtis,—“more wheels than there are bicycles in Harlem. He wants you to do a full page by Saturday.”
“A what?” I exclaimed, aghast.
“Yes he does.He was going to send Jim Crawford, but Jim expects to go to California for the winter fair, and you’ve got to do it.”
“What is it?” I demanded savagely.
“The animals in Central Park,” chuckled Curtis.
I was furious. The animals! Indeed! I’d show Jamison that I was entitled to some consideration! This was Thursday; that gave me a day and a half to finish a full-page drawing for the paper, and, after my work at the State Camp I felt that I was entitled to a little rest. Anyway I objected to the subject. I intended to tell Jamison so — I intended to tell him firmly. However, many of the things that we often intended to tell Jamison were never told. He was a peculiar man, fat-faced, thin-lipped, gentle-voiced, mild-mannered, and soft in his movements as a pussy-cat.
Just why our firmness should give way when we were actually in his presence, I have never quite been able to determine. He said very little — so did we, although we often entered his presence with other intentions.
The truth was that the Manhattan Illustrated Weekly was the best paying, best illustrated paper in America, and we young fellows were not anxious to be cast adrift. Jamison’s knowledge of art was probably as extensive as the knowledge of any ‘Art editor’ in the city. Of course that was saying nothing, but the fact merited careful consideration on our part, and we gave it much consideration.
This time, however, I decided to let Jamison know that drawings are not produced by the yard, and that I was neither a floor-walker nor a hand-me-down. I would stand up for my rights; I’d tell old Jamison a few things to set the wheels under his silk hat spinning, and if he attempted any of his pussy-cat ways on me, I’d give him a few plain facts that would curl what hair he had left.
Glowing with a splendid indignation I jumped off the car at the City Hall, followed by Curtis, and a few minutes later entered the office of the Manhattan Illustrated News.
“Mr. Jamison would like to see you, sir,” said one of the compositors as I passed into the long hallway. I threw my drawings on the table and passed a handkerchief over my forehead.
“Mr. Jamison would like to see you, sir,” said a small freckle-faced boy with a smudge of ink on his nose.
“I know it,” I said, and started to remove my gloves.
“Mr. Jamison would like to see you, sir,” said a lank messenger who was carrying a bundle of proofs to the floor below.
“The deuce take Jamison,” I said to myself I started toward the dark passage that leads to the abode of Jamison, running over in my mind the neat and sarcastic speech which I had been composing during the last ten minutes.
Jamison looked up and nodded softly as I entered the room. I forgot my speech.
“Mr. Hilton,” he said, “we want a full page of the Zoo before it is removed to Bronx Park. Saturday afternoon at three o’clock the drawing must be in the engraver’s hands. Did you have a pleasant week in camp?”
“It was hot,” I muttered, furious to find that I could not remember my little speech.
“The weather,” said Jamison, with soft courtesy, “is oppressive everywhere. Are your drawings in, Mr. Hilton?”
“Yes. It was infernally hot and I worked like a nigger —”
“I suppose you were quite overcome. Is that why you took a two days’ trip to the Catskills? I trust the mountain air restored you — but — was it prudent to go to Cranston’s for the cotillion Tuesday? Dancing in such uncomfortable weather is really unwise. Good-morning, Mr. Hilton, remember the engraver should have your drawings on Saturday by three.”
I walked out, half hypnotized, half enraged. Curtis grinned at me as I passed — I could have boxed his ears.
“Why the mischief should I lose my tongue whenever that old tom-cat purrs!” I asked myself as I entered the elevator and was shot down to the first floor. “I’ll not put up with this sort of thing much longer — how in the name of all that’s foxy did he know that I went to the mountains? I suppose he thinks I’m lazy because I don’t wish to be boiled to death. How did he know about the dance at Cranston’s? Old cat!”
The roar and turmoil of machinery and busy men filled my ears as I crossed the avenue and turned into the City Hall Park.
From the staff on the tower the flag drooped in the warm sunshine with scarcely a breeze to lift its crimson bars. Overhead stretched a splendid cloudless sky, deep, deep blue, thrilling, scintillating in the gemmed rays of the sun.
Pigeons wheeled and circled about the roof of the grey Post Office or dropped out of the blue above to flutter around the fountain in the square.
On the steps of the City Hall the unlovely politician lounged, exploring his heavy under jaw with wooden toothpick, twisting his drooping black moustache, or distributing tobacco juice over marble steps and close-clipped grass.
My eyes wandered from these human vermin to the calm scornful face of Nathan Hale, on his pedestal, and then to the grey-coated Park policeman whose occupation was to keep little children from the cool grass.
A young man with thin hands and blue circles under his eyes was slumbering on a bench by the fountain, and the policeman walked over to him and struck him on the soles of his shoes with a short club.
The young man rose mechanically, stared about, dazed by the sun, shivered, and limped away.
I saw him sit down on the steps of the white marble building, and I went over and spoke to him.
He neither looked at me, nor did he notice the coin I offered.
“You’re sick,” I said, “you had better go to the hospital.”
“Where?” he asked vacantly —“I’ve been, but they wouldn’t receive me.”
He stooped and tied the bit of string that held what remained of his shoe to his foot.
“You are French,” I said.
“Have you no friends? Have you been to the French Consul?”
“The Consul!” he replied; “no, I haven’t been to the French Consul.”
After a moment I said, “You speak like a gentleman.”
He rose to his feet and stood very straight, looking me, for the first time, directly in the eyes.
“Who are you?” I asked abruptly.
“An outcast,” he said, without emotion, and limped off thrusting his hands into his ragged pockets.
“Huh!” said the Park policeman who had come up behind me in time to hear my question and the vagabond’s answer; “don’t you know who that hobo is?— An’ you a newspaper man!”
“Who is he, Cusick?” I demanded, watching the thin shabby figure moving across Broadway toward the river.
“On the level you don’t know, Mr. Hilton?” repeated Cusick, suspiciously.
“No, I don’t; I never before laid eyes on him.”
“Why,” said the sparrow policeman, “that’s ‘Soger Charlie’;— you remember — that French officer what sold secrets to the Dutch Emperor.”
“And was to have been shot? I remember now, four years ago — and he escaped — you mean to say that is the man?”
“Everybody knows it,” sniffed Cusick, “I’d a-thought you newspaper gents would have knowed it first.”
“What was his name?” I asked after a moment’s thought.
“Soger Charlie —”
“I mean his name at home.”
“Oh, some French dago name. No Frenchman will speak to him here; sometimes they curse him and kick him. I guess he’s dyin’ by inches.”
I remembered the case now. Two young French cavalry officers were arrested, charged with selling plans of fortifications and other military secrets to the Germans. On the eve of their conviction, one of them, Heaven only knows how, escaped and turned up in New York. The other was duly shot. The affair had made some noise, because both young men were of good families. It was a painful episode, and I had hastened to forget it. Now that it was recalled to my mind, I remembered the newspaper accounts of the case, but I had forgotten the names of the miserable young men.
“Sold his country,” observed Cusick, watching a group of children out of the corner of his eyes —“you can’t trust no Frenchman nor dagoes nor Dutchmen either. I guess Yankees are about the only white men.”
I looked at the noble face of Nathan Hale and nodded.
“Nothin’ sneaky about us, eh, Mr. Hilton?”
I thought of Benedict Arnold and looked at my boots.
Then the policeman said, “Well, so long, Mr. Hilton,” and went away to frighten a pasty-faced little girl who had climbed upon the railing and was leaning down to sniff the fragrant grass.
“Cheese it, de cop!” cried her shrill-voiced friends, and the whole bevy of small ragamuffins scuttled away across the square.
With a feeling of depression I turned and walked toward Broadway, where the long yellow cable-cars swept up and down, and the din of gongs and the deafening rumble of heavy trucks echoed from the marble walls of the Court House to the granite mass of the Post Office.
Throngs of hurrying busy people passed up town and down town, slim sober-faced clerks, trim cold-eyed brokers, here and there a red-necked politician linking arms with some favourite heeler, here and there a City Hall lawyer, sallow-faced and saturnine. Sometimes a fireman, in his severe blue uniform, passed through the crowd, sometimes a blue-coated policeman, mopping his clipped hair, holding his helmet in his white-gloved hand. There were women too, pale-faced shop girls with pretty eyes, tall blonde girls who might be typewriters and might not, and many, many older women whose business in that part of the city no human being could venture to guess, but who hurried up town and down town, all occupied with something that gave to the whole restless throng a common likeness — the expression of one who hastens toward a hopeless goal.
I knew some of those who passed me. There was little Jocelyn of the Mail and Express; there was Hood, who had more money than he wanted and was going to have less than he wanted when he left Wall Street; there was Colonel Tidmouse of the 45th Infantry, N.G.S.N.Y, probably coming from the office of the Army and Navy Journal, and there was Dick Harding who wrote the best stories of New York life that have been printed. People said his hat no longer fitted,—— especially people who also wrote stories of New York life and whose hats threatened to fit as long as they lived.
I looked at the statue of Nathan Hale, then at the human stream that flowed around his pedestal.
“Quand même,” I muttered and walked out into Broadway, signalling to the gripman of an uptown cable-car.
I passed into the Park by the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street gate; I could never bring myself to enter it through the gate that is guarded by the hideous pigmy statue of Thorwaldsen.
The afternoon sun poured into the windows of the New Netherlands Hotel, setting every orange-curtained pane a-glitter, and tipping the wings of the bronze dragons with flame.
Gorgeous masses of flowers blazed in the sunshine from the grey terraces of the Savoy, from the high grilled court of the Vanderbilt palace, and from the balconies of the Plaza opposite.
The white marble façade of the Metropolitan Club was a grateful relief in the universal glare, and I kept my eyes on it until I had crossed the dusty street and entered the shade of the trees.
Before I came to the Zoo, I smelled it. Next week it was to be removed to the fresh cool woods and meadows in Bronx Park, far from the stifling air of the city, far from the infernal noise of the Fifth Avenue omnibuses.
A noble stag stared at me from his enclosure among the trees as I passed down the winding asphalt walk. “Never mind, old fellow,” said I, “you will be splashing about in the Bronx River next week and cropping maple shoots to your heart’s content.”
On I went, past herds of staring deer, past great lumbering elk, and moose, and long-faced African antelopes, until I came to the dens of the great carnivora.
The tigers sprawled in the sunshine, blinking and licking their paws; the lions slept in the shade or squatted on their haunches, yawning gravely. A slim panther travelled to and fro behind her barred cage, pausing at times to peer wistfully out into the free sunny world. My heart ached for caged wild things, and I walked on, glancing up now and then to encounter the blank stare of a tiger or the mean shifty eyes of some ill-smelling hyena.
Across the meadow I could see the elephants swaying and swinging their great heads, the sober bison solemnly slobbering over their cuds, the sarcastic countenances of camels, the wicked little zebras, and a lot more animals of the camel and llama tribe, all resembling each other, all equally ridiculous, stupid, deadly uninteresting.
Somewhere behind the old arsenal an eagle was screaming, probably a Yankee eagle; I heard the “rchug! rchug!” of a blowing hippopotamus, the squeal of a falcon, and the snarling yap! of quarrelling wolves.
“A pleasant place for a hot day!” I pondered bitterly, and I thought some things about Jamison that I shall not insert in this volume. But I lighted a cigarette to deaden the aroma from the hyenas, unclasped my sketching block, sharpened my pencil, and fell to work on a family group of hippopotami.
They may have taken me for a photographer, for they all wore smiles as if “welcoming a friend,” and my sketch block presented a series of wide open jaws, behind which shapeless bulky bodies vanished in alarming perspective.
The alligators were easy; they looked to me as though they had not moved since the founding of the Zoo, but I had a bad time with the big bison, who persistently turned his tail to me, looking stolidly around his flank to see how I stood it. So I pretended to be absorbed in the antics of two bear cubs, and the dreary old bison fell into the trap, for I made some good sketches of him and laughed in his face as I closed the book.
There was a bench by the abode of the eagles, and I sat down on it to draw the vultures and condors, motionless as mummies among the piled rocks. Gradually I enlarged the sketch, bringing in the gravel plaza, the steps leading up to Fifth Avenue, the sleepy park policeman in front of the arsenal — and a slim, white-browed girl, dressed in shabby black, who stood silently in the shade of the willow trees.
After a while I found that the sketch, instead of being a study of the eagles, was in reality a composition in which the girl in black occupied the principal point of interest. Unwittingly I had subordinated everything else to her, the brooding vultures, the trees and walks, and the half indicated groups of sun-warmed loungers.
She stood very still, her pallid face bent, her thin white hands loosely clasped before her.
“Rather dejected reverie,” I thought, “probably she’s out of work.” Then I caught a glimpse of a sparkling diamond ring on the slender third finger of her left hand.
“She’ll not starve with such a stone as that about her,” I said to myself, looking curiously at her dark eyes and sensitive mouth. They were both beautiful, eyes and mouth — beautiful, but touched with pain.
After a while I rose and walked back to make a sketch or two of the lions and tigers. I avoided the monkeys — I can’t stand them, and they never seem funny to me, poor dwarfish, degraded caricatures of all that is ignoble in ourselves.
“I’ve enough now,” I thought; “I’ll go home and manufacture a full page that will probably please Jamison.” So I strapped the elastic band around my sketching block, replaced pencil and rubber in my waistcoat pocket, and strolled off toward the Mall to smoke a cigarette in the evening glow before going back to my studio to work until midnight, up to the chin in charcoal grey and Chinese white.
Across the long meadow I could see the roofs of the city faintly looming above the trees. A mist of amethyst, ever deepening, hung low on the horizon, and through it, steeple and dome, roof and tower, and the tall chimneys where thin fillets of smoke curled idly, were transformed into pinnacles of beryl and flaming minarets, swimming in filmy haze. Slowly the enchantment deepened; all that was ugly and shabby and mean had fallen away from the distant city, and now it towered into the evening sky, splendid, gilded, magnificent, purified in the fierce furnace of the setting sun.
The red disk was half hidden now; the tracery of trees, feathery willow and budding birch, darkened against the glow; the fiery rays shot far across the meadow, gilding the dead leaves, staining with soft crimson the dark moist tree trunks around me.
Far across the meadow a shepherd passed in the wake of a huddling flock, his dog at his heels, faint moving blots of grey.
A squirrel sat up on the gravel walk in front of me, ran a few feet, and sat up again, so close that I could see the palpitation of his sleek flanks.
Somewhere in the grass a hidden field insect was rehearsing last summer’s solos; I heard the tap! tap! tat-tat-t-t-tat! of a woodpecker among the branches overhead and the querulous note of a sleepy robin.
The twilight deepened; out of the city the music of bells floated over wood and meadow; faint mellow whistles sounded from the river craft along the north shore, and the distant thunder of a gun announced the close of a June day.
The end of my cigarette began to glimmer with a redder light; shepherd and flock were blotted out in the dusk, and I only knew they were still moving when the sheep bells tinkled faintly.
Then suddenly that strange uneasiness that all have known — that half-awakened sense of having seen it all before, of having been through it all, came over me, and I raised my head and slowly turned.
A figure was seated at my side. My mind was struggling with the instinct to remember.
Something so vague and yet so familiar — something that eluded thought yet challenged it, something — God knows what! troubled me. And now, as I looked, without interest, at the dark figure beside me, an apprehension, totally involuntary, an impatience to understand, came upon me, and I sighed and turned restlessly again to the fading west.
I thought I heard my sigh re-echoed — I scarcely heeded; and in a moment I sighed again, dropping my burned-out cigarette on the gravel beneath my feet.
“Did you speak to me?” said some one in a low voice, so close that I swung around rather sharply.
“No,” I said after a moment’s silence.
It was a woman. I could not see her face clearly, but I saw on her clasped hands, which lay listlessly in her lap, the sparkle of a great diamond. I knew her at once. It did not need a glance at the shabby dress of black, the white face, a pallid spot in the twilight, to tell me that I had her picture in my sketch-book.
“Do — do you mind if I speak to you?” she asked timidly. The hopeless sadness in her voice touched me, and I said: “Why, no, of course not. Can I do anything for you?”
“Yes,” she said, brightening a little, “if you — you only would.”
“I will if I can,” said I, cheerfully; “what is it? Out of ready cash?”
“No, not that,” she said, shrinking back.
I begged her pardon, a little surprised, and withdrew my hand from my change pocket.
“It is only — only that I wish you to take these,”— she drew a thin packet from her breast,——“these two letters.”
“I?” I asked astonished.
“Yes, if you will.”
“But what am I to do with them?” I demanded.
“I can’t tell you; I only know that I must give them to you. Will you take them?”
“Oh, yes, I’ll take them,” I laughed, “am I to read them?” I added to myself, “It’s some clever begging trick.”
“No,” she answered slowly, “you are not to read them; you are to give them to somebody.”
“To whom? Anybody?”
“No, not to anybody. You will know whom to give them to when the time comes.
“Then I am to keep them until further instructions?”
“Your own heart will instruct you,” she said, in a scarcely audible voice. She held the thin packet toward me, and to humor her I took it. It was wet.
“The letters fell into the sea,” she said; “there was a photograph which should have gone with them but the salt water washed it blank. Will you care if I ask you something else?”
“I? Oh, no.”
“Then give me the picture that you made of me to-day.” I laughed again, and demanded how she knew I had drawn her.
“Is it like me?” she said.
“I think it is very like you,” I answered truthfully. “Will you not give it to me?”
Now it was on the tip of my tongue to refuse, but I reflected that I had enough sketches for a full page without that one, so I handed it to her, nodded that she was welcome, and stood up. She rose also, the diamond flashing on her finger.
“You are sure that you are not in want?” I asked, with a tinge of good-natured sarcasm.
“Hark!” she whispered; “listen!— do you hear the bells of the convent!” I looked out into the misty night.
“There are no bells sounding,” I said, “and anyway there are no convent bells here. We are in New York, mademoiselle”— I had noticed her French accent —“we are in Protestant Yankee-land, and the bells that ring are much less mellow than the bells of France.”
I turned pleasantly to say good-night. She was gone.
“Have you ever drawn a picture of a corpse?” inquired Jamison next morning as I walked into his private room with a sketch of the proposed full page of the Zoo.
“No, and I don’t want to,” I replied, sullenly.
“Let me see your Central Park page,” said Jamison in his gentle voice, and I displayed it. It was about worthless as an artistic production, but it pleased Jamison, as I knew it would.
“Can you finish it by this afternoon?” he asked, looking up at me with persuasive eyes.
“Oh, I suppose so,” I said, wearily; “anything else, Mr. Jamison?”
“The corpse,” he replied, “I want a sketch by to-morrow — finished.”
“What corpse?” I demanded, controlling my indignation as I met Jamison’s soft eyes.
There was a mute duel of glances. Jamison passed his hand across his forehead with a slight lifting of the eyebrows.
“I shall want it as soon as possible,” he said in his caressing voice.
What I thought was, “Damned purring pussy-cat!” What I said was, “Where is this corpse?”
“In the Morgue — have you read the morning papers? No? Ah,— as you very rightly observe you are too busy to read the morning papers. Young men must learn industry first, of course, of course. What you are to do is this: the San Francisco police have sent out an alarm regarding the disappearance of a Miss Tufft — the millionaire’s daughter, you know. To-day a body was brought to the Morgue here in New York, and it has been identified as the missing young lady,—— by a diamond ring. Now I am convinced that it isn’t, and I’ll show you why, Mr. Hilton.”
He picked up a pen and made a sketch of a ring on a margin of that morning’s Tribune.
“That is the description of her ring as sent on from San Francisco. You notice the diamond is set in the centre of the ring where the two gold serpents’ tails cross!
“Now the ring on the finger of the woman in the Morgue is like this,” and he rapidly sketched another ring where the diamond rested in the fangs of the two gold serpents.
“That is the difference,” he said in his pleasant, even voice.
“Rings like that are not uncommon,” said I, remembering that I had seen such a ring on the finger of the white-faced girl in the Park the evening before. Then a sudden thought took shape — perhaps that was the girl whose body lay in the Morgue!
“Well,” said Jamison, looking up at me, “what are you thinking about?”
“Nothing,” I answered, but the whole scene was before my eyes, the vultures brooding among the rocks, the shabby black dress, and the pallid face,— and the ring, glittering on that slim white hand!
“Nothing,” I repeated, “when shall I go, Mr. Jamison? Do you want a portrait — or what?”
“Portrait,— careful drawing of the ring, and,— er — a centre piece of the Morgue at night. Might as well give people the horrors while we’re about it.”
“But,” said I, “the policy of this paper —”
“Never mind, Mr. Hilton,” purred Jamison, “I am able to direct the policy of this paper.”
“I don’t doubt you are,” I said angrily.
“I am,” he repeated, undisturbed and smiling; “you see this Tufft case interests society. I am —— er — also interested.”
He held out to me a morning paper and pointed to a heading.
I read: “Miss Tufft Dead! Her Fiancé was Mr. Jamison, the well known Editor.”
“What!” I cried in horrified amazement. But Jamison had left the room, and I heard him chatting and laughing softly with some visitors in the press-room outside.
I flung down the paper and walked out.
“The cold-blooded toad!” I exclaimed again and again;—“making capital out of his fiancée’s disappearance! Well, I— I’m d — nd! I knew he was a bloodless, heartless grip-penny, but I never thought — I never imagined —” Words failed me.
Scarcely conscious of what I did I drew a Herald from my pocket and saw the column entitled:
“Miss Tufft Found! Identified by a Ring. Wild Grief of Mr. Jamison, her Fiancé.”
That was enough. I went out into the street and sat down in City Hall Park. And, as I sat there, a terrible resolution came to me; I would draw that dead girl’s face in such a way that it would chill Jamison’s sluggish blood, I would crowd the black shadows of the Morgue with forms and ghastly faces, and every face should bear something in it of Jamison. Oh, I’d rouse him from his cold snaky apathy! I’d confront him with Death in such an awful form, that, passionless, base, inhuman as he was, he’d shrink from it as he would from a dagger thrust. Of course I’d lose my place, but that did not bother me, for I had decided to resign anyway, not having a taste for the society of human reptiles. And, as I sat there in the sunny park, furious, trying to plan a picture whose sombre horror should leave in his mind an ineffaceable scar, I suddenly thought of the pale black-robed girl in Central Park. Could it be her poor slender body that lay among the shadows of the grim Morgue! If ever brooding despair was stamped on any face, I had seen its print on hers when she spoke to me in the Park and gave me the letters. The letters! I had not thought of them since, but now I drew them from my pocket and looked at the addresses.
“Curious,” I thought, “the letters are still damp; they smell of salt water too.”
I looked at the address again, written in the long fine hand of an educated woman who had been bred in a French convent. Both letters bore the same address, in French:
(Kindness of a Stranger.)”
“Captain d’Yniol,” I repeated aloud —“confound it, I’ve heard that name! Now, where the deuce — where in the name of all that’s queer —” Somebody who had sat down on the bench beside me placed a heavy hand on my shoulder.
It was the Frenchman, “Soger Charlie.”
“You spoke my name,” he said in apathetic tones.
“Captain d’Yniol,” he repeated; “it is my name.”
I recognized him in spite of the black goggles he was wearing, and, at the same moment, it flashed into my mind that d’Yniol was the name of the traitor who had escaped. Ah, I remembered now!
“I am Captain d’Yniol,” he said again, and I saw his fingers closing on my coat sleeve.
It may have been my involuntary movement of recoil,— I don’t know,— bur the fellow dropped my coat and sat straight up on the bench.
“I am Captain d’Yniol.” he said for the third rime, “charged with treason and under sentence of death.”
“And innocent!” I muttered, before I was even conscious of having spoken. What was it that wrung those involuntary words from my lips, I shall never know, perhaps — but it was I, not he, who trembled, seized with a strange agitation, and it was I, not he, whose hand was stretched forth impulsively, touching his.
Without a tremor he took my hand, pressed it almost imperceptibly, and dropped it. Then I held both letters toward him, and, as he neither looked at them nor at me, I placed them in his hand. Then he started.
“Read them,” I said, “they are for you.”
“Letters!” he gasped in a voice that sounded like nothing human.
“Yes, they are for you,— I know it now —— Letters!— letters directed to me?”
“Can you not see?” I cried.
Then he raised one frail hand and drew the goggles from his eyes, and, as I looked, I saw two tiny white specks exactly in the centre of both pupils.
“Blind!” I faltered.
“I have been unable to read for two years,” he said.
After a moment he placed the tip of one finger on the letters.
“They are wet,” I said; “shall — would you like to have me read them?” For a long time he sat silently in the sunshine, fumbling with his cane, and I watched him without speaking. At last he said, “Read, Monsieur,” and I rook the letters and broke the seals.
The first letter contained a sheet of paper, damp and discoloured, on which a few lines were written:
“My darling, I knew you were innocent —” Here the writing ended, but, in the blur beneath, I read: “Paris shall know — France shall know, for at last I have the proofs and I am coming to find you, my soldier, and to place them in your own dear brave hands. They know, now, at the War Ministry — they have a copy of the traitor’s confession —— but they dare not make it public — they dare not withstand the popular astonishment and rage. Therefore I sail on Monday from Cherbourg by the Green Cross Line, to bring you back to your own again, where you will stand before all the world, without fear, without reproach.”
“This — this is terrible!” I stammered; “can God live and see such things done!”
But with his thin hand he gripped my arm again, bidding me read the other letter; and I shuddered at the menace in his voice.
Then, with his sightless eyes on me, I drew the other letter from the wet, stained envelope. And before I was aware — before I understood the purport of what I saw, I had read aloud these half effaced lines:
“The Lorient is sinking — an iceberg — mid-ocean — goodbye you are innocent — I love —”
“The Lorient!” I cried; “it was the French steamer that was never heard from — the Lorient of the Green Cross Line! I had forgotten — I—”
The loud crash of a revolver stunned me; my ears rang and ached with it as I shrank back from a ragged dusty figure that collapsed on the bench beside me, shuddered a moment, and tumbled to the asphalt at my feet.
The trampling of the eager hard-eyed crowd, the dust and taint of powder in the hot air, the harsh alarm of the ambulance clattering up Mail Street,— these I remember, as I knelt there, helplessly holding the dead man’s hands in mine.
“Soger Charlie,” mused the sparrow policeman, “shot his-self, didn’t he, Mr. Hilton? You seen him, sir,— blowed the top of his head off, didn’t he, Mr. Hilton?”
“Soger Charlie,” they repeated, “a French dago what shot his-self;” and the words echoed in my ears long after the ambulance rattled away, and the increasing throng dispersed, sullenly, as a couple of policemen cleared a space around the pool of thick blood on the asphalt.
They wanted me as a witness, and I gave my card to one of the policemen who knew me. The rabble transferred its fascinated stare to me, and I turned away and pushed a path between frightened shop girls and ill-smelling loafers, until I lost myself in the human torrent of Broadway.
The torrent took me with it where it flowed — East? West?— I did not notice nor care, but I passed on through the throng, listless, deadly weary of attempting so solve God’s justice —— striving to understand His purpose — His laws — His judgments which are “true and righteous altogether.”
“More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold. Sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb!”
I turned sharply toward the speaker who shambled at my elbow. His sunken eyes were dull and lustreless, his bloodless face gleamed pallid as a death mask above the blood-red jersey — the emblem of the soldiers of Christ.
I don’t know why I stopped, lingering, but, as he passed, I said, “Brother, I also was meditating upon God’s wisdom and His testimonies.”
The pale fanatic shot a glance at me, hesitated, and fell into my own pace, walking by my side.
Under the peak of his Salvation Army cap his eyes shone in the shadow with a strange light.
“Tell me more,” I said, sinking my voice below the roar of traffic, the clang! clang! of the cable-cars, and the noise of feet on the worn pavements —“tell me of His testimonies.”
“Moreover by them is Thy servant warned and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand His errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults. Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me. Then shall I be upright and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight,— O Lord! My strength and my Redeemer!”
“It is Holy Scripture that you quote,” I said; “I also can read that when I choose. But it cannot clear for me the reasons — it cannot make me understand —”
“What?” he asked, and muttered to himself.
“That, for instance,” I replied, pointing to a cripple, who had been born deaf and dumb and horridly misshapen,— a wretched diseased lump on the sidewalk below Sr. Paul’s Churchyard,—— a sore-eyed thing that mouthed and mowed and rattled pennies in a tin cup as though the sound of copper could stem the human pack that passed hot on the scent of gold.
Then the man who shambled beside me turned and looked long and earnestly into my eyes.
And after a moment a dull recollection stirred within me — a vague something that seemed like the awakening memory of a past, long, long forgotten, dim, dark, too subtle, too frail, too indefinite —— ah! the old feeling that all men have known — the old strange uneasiness, that useless struggle to remember when and where it all occurred before.
And the man’s head sank on his crimson jersey, and he muttered, muttered to himself of God and love and compassion, until I saw that the fierce heat of the city had touched his brain, and I went away and left him prating of mysteries that none but such as he dare name.
So I passed on through dust and heat; and the hot breath of men touched my cheek and eager eyes looked into mine. Eyes, eyes,— that met my own and looked through them, beyond — far beyond to where gold glittered amid the mirage of eternal hope. Gold! It was in the air where the soft sunlight gilded the floating moats, it was under foot in the dust that the sun made gilt, it glimmered from every window pane where the long red beams struck golden sparks above the gasping gold-hunting hordes of Wall Street.
High, high, in the deepening sky the tall buildings towered, and the breeze from the bay lifted the sun-dyed flags of commerce until they waved above the turmoil of the hives below — waved courage and hope and strength to those who lusted after gold.
The sun dipped low behind Castle William as I turned listlessly into the Battery, and the long straight shadows of the trees stretched away over greensward and asphalt walk.
Already the electric lights were glimmering among the foliage althoughthe bay shimmered like polished brass and the topsails of the ships glowed with a deeper hue, where the red sun rays fell athwart the rigging.
Old men tottered along the sea-wall, tapping the asphalt with worn canes, old women crept to and fro in the coming twilight,— old women who carried baskets that gaped for charity or bulged with mouldy stuffs,— food, clothing?— I could not tell; I did not care to know.
The heavy thunder from the parapets of Castle William died away over the placid bay, the last red arm of the sun shot up out of the sea, and wavered and faded into the sombre tones of the afterglow. Then came the night, timidly at first, touching sky and water with grey fingers, folding the foliage into soft massed shapes, creeping onward, onward, more swiftly now, until colour and form had gone from all the earth and the world was a world of shadows.
And, as I sat there on the dusky sea-wall, gradually the bitter thoughts faded and I looked out into the calm night with something of that peace that comes to all when day is ended.
The death at my very elbow of the poor blind wretch in the Park had left a shock, but now my nerves relaxed their tension and I began to think about it all,— about the letters and the strange woman who had given them to me. I wondered where she had found them,— whether they really were carried by some vagrant current in to the shore from the wreck of the fated Lorient.
Nothing but these letters had human eyes encountered from the Lorient, although we believed that fire or berg had been her portion; for there had been no storms when the Lorient steamed away from Cherbourg.
And what of the pale-faced girl in black who had given these letters to me, saying that my own heart would teach me where to place them?
I felt in my pockets for the letters where I had thrust them all crumpled and wet. They were there, and I decided to turn them over to the police. Then I thought of Cusick and the City Hall Park and these set my mind running on Jamison and my own work,— ah! I had forgotten that,—— I had forgotten that I had sworn to stir Jamison’s cold, sluggish blood! Trading on his fiancée’s reported suicide,— or murder! True, he had told me that he was satisfied that the body at the Morgue was not Miss Tufft’s because the ring did not correspond with his fiancée’s ring. But what sort of a man was that!— to go crawling and nosing about morgues and graves for a full-page illustration which might sell a few extra thousand papers. I had never known he was such a man. It was strange too — for that was not the sort of illustration that the Weekly used; it was against all precedent —— against the whole policy of the paper. He would lose a hundred subscribers where he would gain one by such work.
“The callous brute!” I muttered to myself, “I’ll wake him up — I’ll —”
I sat straight up on the bench and looked steadily at a figure which was moving toward me under the spluttering electric light.
It was the woman I had met in the Park.
She came straight up to me, her pale face gleaming like marble in the dark, her slim hands outstretched.
“I have been looking for you all day — all day,” she said, in the same low thrilling tones,—“I want the letters back; have you them here?”
“Yes,” I said, “I have them here,— take them in Heaven’s name; they have done enough evil for one day!”
She took the letters from my hand; I saw the ring, made of the double serpents, flashing on her slim finger, and I stepped closer, and looked her in the eyes.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I? My name is of no importance to you,” she answered.
“You are right,” I said, “I do not care to know your name. That ring of yours —”
“What of my ring?” she murmured.
“Nothing,— a dead woman lying in the Morgue wears such a ring. Do you know what your letters have done? No? Well I read them to a miserable wretch and he blew his brains out!”
“You read them to a man!”
“I did. He killed himself.”
“Who was that man?”
“Captain d’Yniol —”
With something between a sob and a laugh she seized my hand and covered it with kisses, and I, astonished and angry, pulled my hand away from her cold lips and sat down on the bench.
“You needn’t thank me,” I said sharply; “if I had known that,— but no matter. Perhaps after all the poor devil is better off somewhere in other regions with his sweetheart who was drowned,—— yes, I imagine he is. He was blind and ill,— and broken-hearted.”
“Blind?” she asked gently.
“Yes. Did you know him?”
“I knew him.”
“And his sweetheart, Aline?”
“Aline,” she repeated softly,—“she is dead. I come to thank you in her name.”
“For what?— for his death?”
“Ah, yes, for that.”
“Where did you get those letters?” I asked her, suddenly.
She did not answer, but stood fingering the wet letters.
Before I could speak again she moved away into the shadows of the trees, lightly, silently, and far down the dark walk I saw her diamond flashing.
Grimly brooding, I rose and passed through the Battery to the steps of the Elevated Road.
These I climbed, bought my ticket, and stepped out to the damp platform. When a train came I crowded in with the rest, still pondering on my vengeance, feeling and believing that I was to scourge the conscience of the man who speculated on death.
And at last the train stopped at 28th Street, and I hurried out and down the steps and away to the Morgue.
When I entered the Morgue, Skelton, the keeper, was standing before a slab that glistened faintly under the wretched gas jets. He heard my footsteps, and turned around to see who was coming. Then he nodded, saying:
“Mr. Hilton, just take a look at this here stiff — I’ll be back in a moment —— this is the one that all the papers take to be Miss Tufft,— but they’re all off, because this stiff has been here now for two weeks.”
I drew out my sketching-block and pencils.
“Which is it, Skelton?” I asked, fumbling for my rubber.
“This one, Mr. Hilton, the girl what’s smilin’. Picked up off Sandy Hook, too. Looks as if she was asleep, eh?”
“What’s she got in her hand — clenched tight? Oh,— a letter. Turn up the gas, Skelton, I want to see her face.”
The old man turned the gas jet, and the flame blazed and whistled in the damp, fetid air. Then suddenly my eyes fell on the dead.
Rigid, scarcely breathing, I stared at the ring, made of two twisted serpents set with a great diamond,— I saw the wet letters crushed in her slender hand,— I looked, and — God help me!— I looked upon the dead face of the girl with whom I had been speaking on the Battery!
“Dead for a month at least,” said Skelton, calmly.
Then, as I felt my senses leaving me, I screamed out, and at the same instant somebody from behind seized my shoulder and shook me savagely —— shook me until I opened my eyes again and gasped and coughed.
“Now then, young feller!” said a Park policeman bending over me, “if you go to sleep on a bench, somebody’ll lift your watch!”
I turned, rubbing my eyes desperately.
Then it was all a dream — and no shrinking girl had come to me with damp letters,— I had not gone to the office — there was no such person as Miss Tufft,— Jamison was not an unfeeling villain,— no, indeed!— he treated us all much better than we deserved, and he was kind and generous too. And the ghastly suicide! Thank God that also was a myth,— and the Morgue and the Battery at night where that pale-faced girl had — ugh!
I felt for my sketch-block, found it; turned the pages of all the animals that I had sketched, the hippopotami, the buffalo, the tigers — ah! where was that sketch in which I had made the woman in shabby black the principal figure, with the brooding vultures all around and the crowd in the sunshine —? It was gone.
I hunted everywhere, in every pocket. It was gone.
At last I rose and moved along the narrow asphalt path in the falling twilight.
And as I turned into the broader walk, I was aware of a group, a policeman holding a lantern, some gardeners, and a knot of loungers gathered about something,— a dark mass on the ground.
“Found ’em just so,” one of the gardeners was saying, “better not touch ’em until the coroner comes.”
The policeman shifted his bull’s-eye a little; the rays fell on two faces, on two bodies, half supported against a park bench. On the finger of the girl glittered a splendid diamond, set between the fangs of two gold serpents. The man had shot himself; he clasped two wet letters in his hand. The girl’s clothing and hair were wringing wet, and her face was the face of a drowned person.
“Well, sir,” said the policeman, looking at me; “you seem to know these two people — by your looks —”
“I never saw them before,” I gasped, and walked on, trembling in every nerve.
For among the folds of her shabby black dress I had noticed the end of a paper,— my sketch that I had missed!
Un souvenir heureux est peut-être, sur terre. Plus vrai que le bonheur.
A. DE MUSSET.
THE Purple Emperor watched me in silence. I cast again, spinning out six feet more of waterproof silk, and, as the line hissed through the air far across the pool, I saw my three flies fall on the water like drifting thistledown. The Purple Emperor sneered.
“You see,” he said, “I am right. There is not a trout in Brittany that will rise to a tailed fly.”
“They do in America,” I replied.
“Zut! for America!” observed the Purple Emperor.
“And trout take a tailed fly in England,” I insisted sharply.
“Now do I care what things or people do in England?” demanded the Purple Emperor.
“You don’t care for anything except yourself and your wriggling caterpillars,” I said, more annoyed than I had yet been.
The Purple Emperor sniffed. His broad, hairless, sunburnt features bore that obstinate expression which always irritated me. Perhaps the manner in which he wore his hat intensified the irritation, for the flapping brim rested on both ears, and the two little velvet ribbons which hung from the silver buckle in front wiggled and fluttered with every trivial breeze. His cunning eyes and sharp-pointed nose were out of all keeping with his fat red face. When he met my eye, he chuckled.
“I know more about insects than any man in Morbihan — or Finistère either, for that matter,” he said.
“The Red Admiral knows as much as you do,” I retorted.
“He doesn’t,” replied the Purple Emperor angrily.
“And his collection of butterflies is twice as large as yours,” I added, moving down the stream to a spot directly opposite him.
“It is, is it?” sneered the Purple Emperor. “Well, let me tell you, Monsieur Darrel, in all his collection he hasn’t a specimen, a single specimen, of that magnificent butterfly, Apatura Iris, commonly known as the ‘Purple Emperor.’”
“Everybody in Brittany knows that,” I said, casting across the sparkling water; “but just because you happen to be the only man who ever captured a ‘Purple Emperor’ in Morbihan, it — doesn’t follow that you are an authority on sea-trout flies. Why do you say that a Breton sea-trout won’t touch a tailed fly?”
“It’s so,” he replied.
“Why? There are plenty of May-flies about the stream.”
“Let ’em fly!” snarled the Purple Emperor, “you won’t see a trout touch ’em.”
My arm was aching, but I grasped my split bamboo more firmly, and, half turning, waded out into the stream and began to whip the ripples at the head of the pool. A great green dragon-fly came drifting by on the summer breeze and hung a moment above the pool, glittering like an emerald.
“There’s a chance! Where is your butterfly net?” I called across the stream.
“What for? That dragonfly? I’ve got dozens — Anax Junius, Drury, characteristic, anal angle of posterior wings, in male, round; thorax marked with —”
“That will do,” I said fiercely. “Can’t I point out an insect in the air without this burst of erudition? Can you tell me, in simple everyday French, what this little fly is this one, flitting over the eel grass here beside me? See, it has fallen on the water.”
“Huh!” sneered the Purple Emperor, “that’s a Linnobia annulus.”
“What’s that?” I demanded.
Before he could answer there came a heavy splash in the pool, and the fly disappeared.
“He! he! he!” tittered the Purple Emperor. “Didn’t I tell you the fish knew their business? That was a sea-trout. I hope you don’t get him.”
He gathered up his butterfly net, collecting box, chloroform bottle, and cyanide jar. Then he rose, swung the box over his shoulder, stuffed the poison bottles into the pockets of his silver-buttoned velvet coat, and lighted his pipe. This latter operation was a demoralizing spectacle, for the Purple Emperor, like all Breton peasants, smoked one of those microscopical Breton pipes which requires ten minutes to find, ten minutes to fill, ten minutes to light, and ten seconds to finish. With true Breton stolidity he went through this solemn rite, blew three puffs of smoke into the air, scratched his pointed nose reflectively, and waddled away, calling back an ironical “Au revoir, and bad luck to all Yankees!”
I watched him out of sight, thinking sadly of the young girl whose life he made a hell upon earth — Lys Trevec, his niece. She never admitted it, but we all knew what the black-and-blue marks meant on her soft, round arm, and it made me sick to see the look of fear come into her eyes when the Purple Emperor waddled into the café of the Groix Inn.
It was commonly said that he half-starved her. This she denied. Marie Joseph and ‘Fine Lelocard had seen him strike her the day after the Pardon of the Birds because she had liberated three bullfinches which he had limed the day before. I asked Lys if this were true, and she refused to speak to me for the rest of the week. There was nothing to do about it. If the Purple Emperor had not been avaricious, I should never have seen Lys at all, but he could not resist the thirty francs a week which I offered him; and Lys posed for me all day long, happy as a linnet in a pink thorn hedge. Nevertheless, the Purple Emperor hated me, and constantly threatened to send Lys back to her dreary flax-spinning. He was suspicious, too, and when he had gulped down the single glass of cider which proves fatal to the sobriety of most Bretons, he would pound the long, discoloured oaken table and roar curses on me, on Yves Terrec, and on the Red Admiral. We were the three objects in the world which he most hated: me, because I was a foreigner, and didn’t care a rap for him and his butterflies; and the Red Admiral, because he was a rival entomologist.
He had other reasons for hating Terrec.
The Red Admiral, a little wizened wretch, with a badly adjusted glass eye and a passion for brandy, took his name from a butterfly which predominated in his collection. This butterfly, commonly known to amateurs as the “Red Admiral,” and to entomologists as Vanessa Atalanta, had been the occasion of scandal among the entomologists of France and Brittany. For the Red Admiral had taken one of these common insects, dyed it a brilliant yellow by the aid of chemicals, and palmed it off on a credulous collector as a South African species, absolutely unique. The fifty francs which he gained by this rascality were, however, absorbed in a suit for damages brought by the outraged amateur month later; and when he had sat in the Quimperlé jail for a month, he reappeared in the little village of St. Gildas soured, thirsty, and burning for revenge. Of course we named him the Red Admiral, and he accepted the name with suppressed fury.
The Purple Emperor, on the other hand, had gained his imperial title legitimately, for it was an undisputed fact that the only specimen of that beautiful butterfly, Apatura Iris, or the Purple Emperor, as it is called by amateurs — the only specimen that had ever been taken in Finistère or in Morbihan — was captured and brought home alive by Joseph Marie Gloanec, ever afterward to be known as the Purple Emperor.
When the capture of this rare butterfly became known the Red Admiral nearly went crazy. Every day for a week he trotted over to the Groix Inn, where the Purple Emperor lived with his niece, and brought his microscope to bear on the rare newly captured butterfly, in hopes of detecting a fraud. But this specimen was genuine, and he leered through his microscope in vain.
“No chemicals there, Admiral,” grinned the Purple Emperor; and the Red Admiral chattered with rage.
To the scientific world of Brittany and France the capture of an Apatura Iris in Morbihan was of great importance. The Museum of Quimper offered to purchase the butterfly, but the Purple Emperor, though a hoarder of gold, was a monomaniac on butterflies, and he jeered at the Curator of the Museum. From all parts of Brittany and France letters of inquiry and congratulation poured in upon him. The French Academy of Sciences awarded him a prize, and the Paris Entomological Society made him an honorary member. Being a Breton peasant, and a more than commonly pig-headed one at that, these honours did not disturb his equanimity; but when the little hamlet of St. Gildas elected him mayor, and, as is the custom in Brittany under such circumstances, he left his thatched house to take up an official life in the little Groix Inn, his head became completely turned. To be mayor in a village of nearly one hundred and fifty people! It was an empire! So he became unbearable, drinking himself viciously drunk every night of his life, maltreating his niece, Lys Trevec, like the barbarous old wretch that he was, and driving the Red Admiral nearly frantic with his eternal harping, on the capture of Apatura Iris. Of course he refused to tell where he had caught the butterfly. The Red Admiral stalked his footsteps, but in vain.
“He! he! he!” nagged the Purple Emperor, cuddling his chin over a glass of cider; “I saw you sneaking about the St. Gildas spinny yesterday morning. So you think you can find another Apatura Iris by running after me? It won’t do, Admiral, it won’t do, d’ye see?”
The Red Admiral turned yellow with mortification and envy, but the next day he actually took to his bed, for the Purple Emperor had brought home not a butterfly but a live chrysalis, which, if successfully hatched, would become a perfect specimen of the invaluable Apatura Iris. This was the last straw. The Red Admiral shut himself up in his little stone cottage, and for weeks now he had been invisible to everybody except ‘Fine Lelocard who carried him a loaf of bread and a mullet or langouste every morning.
The withdrawal of the Red Admiral from the society of St. Gildas excited first the derision and finally the suspicion of the Purple Emperor. What deviltry could he be hatching? Was he experimenting with chemicals again, or was he engaged in some deeper plot, the object of which was to discredit the Purple Emperor? Roux, the postman, who carried the mail on foot once a day from Bannalec, a distance of fifteen miles each way, had brought several suspicious letters, bearing English stamps, to the Red Admiral, and the next day the Admiral had been observed at his window grinning up into the sky and rubbing his hands together. A night or two after this apparition the postman left two packages at the Groix Inn for a moment while he ran across the way to drink a glass of cider with me. The Purple Emperor, who was roaming about the café, snooping into everything that did not concern him, came upon the packages and examined the postmarks and addresses. One of the packages was square and heavy, and felt like a book. The other was also square, but very light, and felt like a pasteboard box. They were both addressed to the Red Admiral, and they bore English stamps.
When Roux, the postman, came back, the Purple Emperor tried to pump him, but the poor little postman knew nothing about the contents of the packages, and after he had taken them around the corner to the cottage of the Red Admiral the Purple Emperor ordered a glass of cider, and deliberately fuddled himself until Lys came in and tearfully supported him to his room. Here he became so abusive and brutal that Lys called to me, and I went and settled the trouble without wasting any words. This also the Purple Emperor remembered, and waited his chance to get even with me.
That had happened a week ago, and until to-day he had not deigned to speak to me.
Lys had posed for me all the week, and today being Saturday, and I lazy, we had decided to take a little relaxation, she to visit and gossip with her little black-eyed friend Yvette in the neighbouring hamlet of St. Julien, and I to try the appetites of the Breton trout with the contents of my American fly book.
I had thrashed the stream very conscientiously for three hours, but not a trout had risen to my cast, and I was piqued. I had begun to believe that there were no trout in the St. Gildas stream, and would probably have given up had I not seen the sea-trout snap the little fly which the Purple Emperor had named so scientifically. That set me thinking. Probably the Purple Emperor was right, for he certainly was an expert in everything that crawled and wriggled in Brittany. So I matched, from my American fly book, the fly that the sea-trout had snapped up, and withdrawing the cast of three, knotted a new leader to the silk and slipped a fly on the loop. It was a queer fly. It was one of those unnameable experiments which fascinate anglers in sporting stores and which generally prove utterly useless. Moreover, it was a tailed fly, but of course I easily remedied that with a stroke of my penknife. Then I was all ready, and I stepped out into the hurrying rapids and cast straight as an arrow to the spot where the sea-trout had risen. Lightly as a plume the fly settled on the bosom of the pool; then came a startling splash, a gleam of silver, and the line tightened from the vibrating rod-tip to the shrieking reel. Almost instantly I checked the fish, and as he floundered for a moment, making the water boil along his glittering sides, I sprang to the bank again, for I saw that the fish was a heavy one and I should probably be in for a long run down the stream. The five-ounce rod swept in a splendid circle, quivering under the strain. “Oh, for a gaff-hook!” I said aloud, for I was now firmly convinced that I had a salmon to deal with, and no sea-trout at all.
Then as I stood, bringing every ounce to bear on the sulking fish, a lithe, slender girl came hurriedly along the opposite bank calling out to me by name.
“Why, Lys!” I said, glancing up for a second, “I thought you were at St. Julien with Yvette.”
“Yvette has gone to Bannalec. I went home and found an awful fight going on at the Groix Inn, and I was so frightened that I came to, tell you.”
The fish dashed off at that moment, carrying all the line my reel held, and I was compelled to follow him at a jump. Lys, active and graceful as a young deer, in spite of her Pont–Aven sabots, followed along the opposite bank until the fish settled in a deep pool, shook the line savagely once or twice, and then relapsed into the sulks.
“Fight at the Groix Inn?” I called across the water. “What fight?”
“Not exactly fight,” quavered Lys, “but the Red Admiral has come out of his house at last, and he and my uncle are drinking together and disputing about butterflies. I never saw my uncle so angry, and the Red Admiral is sneering and grinning. Oh, it is almost wicked to see such a face!”
“But Lys,” I said, scarcely able to repress a smile, “your uncle and the Red Admiral are always quarrelling and drinking.”
“I know oh, dear me!— but this is different, Monsieur Darrel. The Red Admiral has grown old and fierce since he shut himself up three weeks ago, and — oh, dear! I never saw such a look in my uncle’s eyes before. He seemed insane with fury. His eyes — I can’t speak of it — and then Terrec came in.”
“Oh,” I said more gravely, “that was unfortunate. What did the Red Admiral say to his son?”
Lys sat down on a rock among the ferns, and gave me a mutinous glance from her blue eyes.
Yves Terrec, loafer, poacher, and son of Louis Jean Terrec, otherwise the Red Admiral, had been kicked out by his father, and had also been forbidden the village by the Purple Emperor, in his majestic capacity of mayor. Twice the young ruffian had returned: once to rifle the bedroom of the Purple Emperor — an unsuccessful enterprise — and another time to rob his own father. He succeeded in the latter attempt, but was never caught, although he was frequently seen roving about the forests and moors with his gun. He openly menaced the Purple Emperor; vowed that he would marry Lys in spite of all gendarmes in Quimperlé; and these same gendarmes he led many a long chase through brier-filled swamps and over miles of yellow gorse.
What he did to the Purple Emperor — what he intended to do — disquieted me but little; but I worried over his threat concerning Lys. During the last three months this had bothered me a great deal; for when Lys came to St. Gildas from the convent the first thing she captured was my heart. For a long time I had refused to believe that any tie of blood linked this dainty blue-eyed creature with the Purple Emperor. Although she dressed in the velvet-laced bodice and blue petticoat of Finistère, and wore the bewitching white coiffe of St. Gildas, it seemed like a pretty masquerade. To me she was as sweet and as gently bred as many a maiden of the noble Faubourg who danced with her cousins at a Louis XV fête champêtre. So when Lys said that Yves Terrec had returned openly to St. Gildas, I felt that I had better be there also.
“What did Terrec say, Lys?” I asked, watching the line vibrating above the placid pool.
The wild rose colour crept into her cheeks. “Oh,” she answered, with a little toss of her chin, “you know what he always says.”
“That he will carry you away?”
“In spite of the Purple Emperor, the Red Admiral, and the gendarmes?”
“And what do you say, Lys?”
“I? Oh, nothing.”
“Then let me say it for you.”
Lys looked at her delicate pointed sabots, the sabots from Pont–Aven, made to order. They fitted her little foot. They were her only luxury.
“Will you let me answer for you, Lys?” I asked.
“You, Monsieur Darrel?”
“Yes. Will you let me give him his answer?”
“Mon Dieu, why should you concern yourself, Monsieur Darrel?”
The fish lay very quiet, but the rod in my hand trembled.
“Because I love you, Lys.”
The wild rose colour in her cheeks deepened; she gave a gentle gasp, then hid her curly head in her hands.
“I love you, Lys.”
“Do you know what you say?” she stammered.
“Yes, I love you.”
She raised her sweet face and looked at me across the pool.
“I love you,” she said, while the tears stood like stars in her eyes. “Shall I come over the brook to you?”
That night Yves Terrec left the village of St. Gildas vowing vengeance against his father, who refused him shelter.
I can see him now, standing in the road, his bare legs rising like pillars of bronze from his straw-stuffed sabots, his short velvet jacket torn and soiled by exposure and dissipation, and his eyes, fierce, roving, bloodshot — while the Red Admiral squeaked curses on him, and hobbled away into his little stone cottage.
“I will not forget you!” cried Yves Terrec, and stretched out his hand toward his father with a terrible gesture. Then he whipped his gun to his cheek and took a short step forward, but I caught him by the throat before he could fire, and a second later we were rolling in the dust of Bannalec road. I had to hit him a heavy blow behind the ear before he would let go, and then, rising and shaking myself, I dashed his muzzle-loading fowling piece to bits against a wall, and threw his knife into the river. The Purple Emperor was looking on with a queer light in his eyes. It was plain that he was sorry Terrec had not choked me to death.
“He would have killed his father,” I said, as I passed him, going toward the Groix Inn.
“That’s his business,” snarled the Purple Emperor. There was a deadly light in his eyes. For a moment I thought he was going to attack me; but he was merely viciously drunk, so I shoved him out of my way and went to bed, tired and disgusted.
The worst of it was I couldn’t sleep, for I feared that the Purple Emperor might begin to abuse Lys. I lay restlessly tossing among the sheets until I could stay there no longer. I did not dress entirely; I merely slipped on a pair of chaussons and sabots, a pair of knickerbockers, a jersey, and a cap. Then, loosely tying a handkerchief about my throat, I went down the worm-eaten stairs and out into the moonlit road. There was a candle flaring in the Purple Emperor’s window, but I could not see him.
“He’s probably dead drunk,” I thought, and looked up at the window where, three years before, I had first seen Lys.
“Asleep, thank Heaven!” I muttered, and wandered out along the road. Passing the small cottage of the Red Admiral, I saw that it was dark, but the door was open. I stepped inside the hedge to shut it, thinking, in case Yves Terrec should be roving about, his father would lose whatever he had left.
Then after fastening the door with a stone, I wandered on through the dazzling Breton moonlight. A nightingale was singing in a willow swamp below, and from the edge of the mere, among the tall swamp grasses, myriads of frogs chanted a bass chorus.
When I returned, the eastern sky was beginning to lighten, and across the meadows on the cliffs, outlined against the paling horizon, I saw a seaweed gatherer going to his work among the curling breakers on the coast. His long rake was balanced on his shoulder, and the sea wind carried his song across the meadows to me:
Pray for us.
Us who toil in the sea.
Passing the shrine at the entrance of the village, I took off my cap and knelt in prayer to Our Lady of Faöuet; and if I neglected myself in that prayer, surely I believed Our Lady of Faöuet would be kinder to Lys. It is said that the shrine casts white shadows. I looked, but saw only the moonlight. Then very peacefully I went to bed again, and was only awakened by the clank of sabres and the trample of horses in the road below my window.
“Good gracious!” I thought, “it must be eleven o’clock, for there are the gendarmes from Quimperlé.”
I looked at my watch; it was only half-past eight, and as the gendarmes made their rounds every Thursday at eleven, I wondered what had brought them out so early to St. Gildas.
“Of course,” I grumbled, rubbing my eyes, “they are after Terrec,” and I jumped into my limited bath.
Before I was completely dressed I heard a timid knock, and opening my door, razor in hand, stood astonished and silent. Lys, her blue eyes wide with terror, leaned on the threshold.
“My darling!” I cried, “what on earth is the matter?” But she only clung to me, panting like a wounded sea gull. At last, when I drew her into the room and raised her face to mine, she spoke in a heart-breaking voice:
“Oh, Dick! they are going to arrest you, but I will die before I believe one word of what they say. No, don’t ask me,” and she began to sob desperately.
When I found that something really serious was the matter, I flung on my coat and cap, and, slipping one arm about her waist, went down the stairs and out into the road. Four gendarmes sat on their horses in front of the café door; beyond them, the entire population of St. Gildas gaped, ten deep.
“Hello, Durand!” I said to the brigadier, “what the devil is this I hear about arresting me?”
“It’s true, mon ami,” replied Durand with sepulchral sympathy. I looked him over from the tip of his spurred boots to his sulphur-yellow sabre belt, then upward, button by button, to his disconcerted face.
“What for?” I said scornfully. “Don’t try any cheap sleuth work on me! Speak up, man, what’s the trouble?”
The Emperor, who sat in the doorway staring at me, started to speak, but thought better of it and got up and went into the house. The gendarmes rolled their eyes mysteriously and looked wise.
“Come, Durand,” I said impatiently, “what’s the charge?”
“Murder,” he said in a faint voice.
“What!” I cried incredulously. “Nonsense! Do I look like a murderer? Get off your horse, you stupid, and tell me who’s murdered.” Durand got down, looking very silly, and came up to me, offering his hand with a propitiatory grin.
“It was the Purple Emperor who denounced you! See, they found your handkerchief at his door —”
“Whose door, for Heaven’s sake?” I cried.
“Why, the Red Admiral’s!”
“The Red Admiral’s? What has he done?”
“Nothing — he’s only been murdered.”
I could scarcely believe my senses, although they took me over to the little stone cottage and pointed out the blood-spattered room. But the horror of the thing was that the corpse of the murdered man had disappeared, and there only remained a nauseating lake of blood on the stone floor, in the centre of which lay a human hand. There was no doubt as to whom the hand belonged, for everybody who had ever seen the Red Admiral knew that the shrivelled bit of flesh which lay in the thickening blood was the hand of the Red Admiral. To me it looked like the severed claw of some gigantic bird.
“Well,” I said, “there’s been murder committed. Why don’t you do something?”
“What?” asked Durand.
“I don’t know. Send for the Commissaire.”
“He’s at Quimperlé. I telegraphed.”
“Then send for a doctor, and find out how long this blood has been coagulating.”
“The chemist from Quimperlé is here; he’s a doctor.”
“What does he say?”
“He says that he doesn’t know.”
“And who are you going to arrest?” I inquired, turning away from the spectacle on the floor.
“I don’t know,” said the brigadier solemnly; “you are denounced by the Purple Emperor, because he found your handkerchief at the door when he went out this morning.”
“Just like a pig-headed Breton!” I exclaimed thoroughly angry. “Did he not mention Yves Terrec?”
“Of course not,” I said. “He overlooked the fact that Terrec tried to shoot his father last night and that I took away his gun. All that counts for nothing when he finds my handkerchief at the murdered man’s door.”
“Come into the café,” said Durand, much disturbed, “we can talk it over, there. Of course, Monsieur Darrel, I have never had the faintest idea that you were the murderer!”
The four gendarmes and I walked across the road to the Groix Inn and entered the café. It was crowded with Britons, smoking, drinking, and jabbering in half a dozen dialects, all equally unsatisfactory to a civilized ear; and I pushed through the crowd to where little Max Fortin, the chemist of Quimperlé, stood smoking a vile cigar.
“This is a bad business,” he said, shaking hands and offering me the mate to his cigar, which I politely declined.
“Now, Monsieur Fortin,” I said, “it appears that the Purple Emperor found my handkerchief near the murdered man’s door this morning, and so he concludes”— here I glared at the Purple Emperor —“that I am the assassin. I will now ask him a question,” and turning on him suddenly, I shouted, “What were you doing at the Red Admiral’s door?”
The Purple Emperor started and turned pale, and I pointed at him triumphantly.
“See what a sudden question will do. Look how embarrassed he is, and yet I do not charge him with murder; and I tell you, gentlemen, that man there knows as well as I do who was the murderer of the Red Admiral!”
“I don’t!” bawled the Purple Emperor.
“You do,” I said. “It was Yves Terrec.”
“I don’t believe it,” he said obstinately, dropping his voice.
“Of course not, being pig-headed.”
“I am not pig-headed,” he roared again, “but I am mayor of St. Gildas, and I do not believe that Yves Terrec killed his father.”
“You saw him try to kill him last night?”
The mayor grunted.
“And you saw what I did.”
He grunted again.
“And,” I went on, “you heard Yves Terrec threaten to kill his father. You heard him curse the Red Admiral and swear to kill him. Now the father is murdered and his body is gone.”
“And your handkerchief?” sneered the Purple Emperor.
“I dropped it of course.”
“And the seaweed gatherer who saw you last night lurking about the Red Admiral’s cottage,” grinned the Purple Emperor.
I was startled at the man’s malice.
“That will do,” I said. “It is perfectly true that I was walking on the Bannalec road last night, and that I stopped to close the Red Admiral’s door, which was ajar, although his light was not burning. After that I went up the road to the Dinez Woods, and then walked over by St. Julien, whence I saw the seaweed gatherer on the cliffs. He was near enough for me to hear what he sang. What of that?”
“What did you do then?”
“Then I stopped at the shrine and said a prayer, and then I went to bed and slept until Brigadier Durand’s gendarmes awoke me with their clatter.”
“Now, Monsieur Darrel,” said the Purple Emperor, lifting a fat finger and shooting a wicked glance at me, “Now, Monsieur Darrel, which did you wear last night on your midnight stroll — sabots or shoes?”
I thought a moment. “Shoes — no, sabots. I just slipped on my chaussons and went out in my sabots.”
“Which was it, shoes or sabots?” snarled the Purple Emperor.
“Sabots, you fool.”
“Are these your sabots?” he asked, lifting up a wooden shoe with my initials cut on the instep.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then how did this blood come on the other one?” he shouted, and held up a sabot, the mate to the first, on which a drop of blood had spattered.
“I haven’t the least idea,” I said calmly; but my heart was beating very fast and I was furiously angry.
“You blockhead!” I said, controlling my rage, “I’ll make you pay for this when they catch Yves Terrec and convict him. Brigadier Durand, do your duty if you think I am under suspicion. Arrest me, but grant me one favour. Put me in the Red Admiral’s cottage, and I’ll see whether I can’t find some clew that you have overlooked. Of course, I won’t disturb anything until the Commissaire arrives. Bah! You all make me very ill.”
“He’s hardened,” observed the Purple Emperor, wagging his head.
“What motive had I to kill the Red Admiral?” I asked them all scornfully. And they all cried:
“None! Yves Terrec is the man!”
Passing out the door I swung around and shook my finger at the Purple Emperor.
“Oh, I’ll make you dance for this, my friend,” I said; and I followed Brigadier Durand across the street to the cottage of the murdered man.
They took me at my word and placed a gendarme with a bared sabre at the gateway by the hedge.
“Give me your parole,” said poor Durand, “and I will let you go where you wish.” But I refused, and began prowling about the cottage looking for clews. I found lots of things that some people would have considered most important, such as ashes from the Red Admiral’s pipe, footprints in a dusty vegetable bin, bottles smelling of Pouldu cider, and dust — oh lots of dust. I was not an expert, only a stupid, everyday amateur; so I defaced the footprints with my thick shooting boots, and I declined to examine the pipe ashes through a microscope, although the Red Admiral’s microscope stood on the table close at hand.
At last I found what I had been looking for, some long wisps of straw, curiously depressed and flattened in the middle, and I was certain I had found the evidence that would settle Yves Terrec for the rest of his life. It was plain as the nose on your face. The straws were sabot straws, flattened where the foot had pressed them, and sticking straight out where they projected beyond the sabot. Now nobody in St. Gildas used straw in sabots except a fisherman who lived near St. Julien, and the straw in his sabots was ordinary yellow wheat straw! This straw, or rather these straws, were from the stalks of the red wheat which only grows inland, and which, everybody in St. Gildas knew, Yves Terrec wore in his sabots. I was perfectly satisfied; and when, three hours later, a hoarse shouting from the Bannalec Road brought me to the window, I was not surprised to see Yves Terrec, bloody, dishevelled, hatless, with his strong arms bound behind him, walking with bent head between two mounted gendarmes. The crowd around him swelled every minute, crying: “Parricide! parricide! Death to the murderer!” As he passed my window I saw great clots of mud on his dusty sabots, from the heels of which projected wisps of red wheat straw. Then I walked back into the Red Admiral’s study, determined to find what the microscope would show on the wheat straws. I examined each one very carefully, and then, my eyes aching, I rested my chin on my hand and leaned back in the chair. I had not been as fortunate as some detectives, for there was no evidence that the straws had ever been used in a sabot at all. Furthermore, directly across the hallway stood a carved Breton chest, and now I noticed for the first time that, from beneath the closed lid, dozens of similar red wheat straws projected, bent exactly as mine were bent by the lid.
I yawned in disgust. It was apparent that I was not cut out for a detective, and I bitterly pondered over the difference between clews in real life and clews in a detective story. After a while I rose, walked over to the chest and opened the lid. The interior was wadded with the red wheat straws, and on this wadding lay two curious glass jars, two or three small vials, several empty bottles labelled chloroform, a collecting jar of cyanide of potassium, and a book. In a farther corner of the chest were some letters bearing English stamps, and also the torn coverings of two parcels, all from England, and all directed to the Red Admiral under his proper name of “Sieur Louis Jean Terrec, St. Gildas, par Moëlan, Finistère.”
All these traps I carried over to the desk, shut the lid of the chest, and sat down to read the letters. They were written in commercial French, evidently by an Englishman.
Freely translated, the contents of the first letter were as follows:
“LONDON, June 12, 1894.
“DEAR MONSIEUR (sic): Your kind favour of the 19th inst. received and contents noted. The latest work on the Lepidoptera of England is Blowzer’s How to catch British Butterflies, with notes and tables, and an introduction by Sir Thomas Sniffer. The price of this work (in one volume, calf) is £5 or 125 francs of French money. A post-office order will receive our prompt attention. We beg to remain.
“470 Regent Square, London, S.W.”
The next letter was even less interesting. It merely stated that the money had been received and the book would be forwarded. The third engaged my attention, and I shall quote it, the translation being a free one:
“DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 1st of July was duly received, and we at once referred it to Mr. Fradley himself. Mr. Fradley being much interested in your question, sent your letter to Professor Schweineri, of the Berlin Entomological Society, whose note Blowzer refers to on page 630, in his How to catch British Butterflies. We have just received an answer from Professor Schweineri, which we translate into French —(see inclosed slip). Professor Schweineri begs to present to you two jars of cythyl, prepared under his own supervision. We forward the same to you. Trusting that you will find everything satisfactory, we remain.
The inclosed slip read as follows:
“Messrs. FRADLEY TOOMER. “GENTLEMEN: Cythaline, a complex hydrocarbon. was first used by Professor Schnoot, of Antwerp, a year ago. I discovered an analogous formula about the same time and named it cythyl. I have used it with great success everywhere. It is as certain as a magnet. I beg to present you three small jars, and would be pleased to have you forward two of them to your correspondent in St. Gildas with my compliments. Blowzer’s quotation of me on page 630 of his glorious work, How to catch British Butterflies, is correct.
P.H.D., D.D., D.S., M.S.”
When I had finished this letter I folded it up and put it into my pocket with the others. Then I opened Blowzer’s valuable work, How to catch British Butterflies, and turned to page 630.
Now, although the Red Admiral could only have acquired the book very recently, and although all the other pages were perfectly clean, this particular page was thumbed black, and heavy pencil marks inclosed a paragraph at the bottom of the page. This the paragraph:
“Professor Schweineri says: ‘Of the two
old methods used by collectors for the capture of
the swift-winged, high-flying Apatura Iris, or
Purple Emperor, the first, which was using a
long-handled net, proved successful once in a
thousand times; and the second, the placing of
bait upon the ground, such as decayed meat.
dead cats, rats, etc., was not only disagreeable.
even for an enthusiastic collector, but also very
uncertain. Once in five hundred times would
the splendid butterfly leave the tops of his
favourite oak trees to circle about the fetid bait
offered. I have found cythyl a perfectly sure
bait to draw this beautiful butterfly to the
ground, where it can be easily captured. An
ounce of cythyl placed in a yellow saucer under
an oak tree, will draw to it every Apatura Iris
within a radius of twenty miles. So, if any
collector who possesses a little cythyl, even
though it be in a sealed bottle in his pocket — if
such a collector does not find a single Apatura
Iris fluttering close about him within an hour.
let him be satisfied that the Apatura Iris does
not inhabit his country.’”
When I had finished reading this note I sat for a long while thinking hard. Then I examined the two jars. They were labelled “Cythyl.” One was full, the other nearly full. “The rest must be on the corpse of the Red Admiral,” I thought, “no matter if it is in a corked bottle —”
I took all the things back to the chest, laid them carefully on the straw, and closed the lid. The gendarme sentinel at the gate saluted me respectfully as I crossed over to the Groix Inn. The inn was surrounded by an excited crowd, and the hallway was choked with gendarmes and peasants. On every side they greeted me cordially, announcing that the real murderer was caught; but I pushed by them without a word and ran upstairs to find Lys. She opened her door when I knocked and threw both arms about my neck. I took her to my breast and kissed her. After a moment I asked her if she would obey me no matter what I commanded, and she said she would, with a proud humility that touched me.
“Then go at once to Yvette in St. Julien,” I said. “Ask her to harness the dog-cart and drive to the convent in Quimperlé. Wait for me there. Will you do this without questioning me, my darling?”
She raised her face to mine. “Kiss me,” she said innocently; the next moment she had vanished.
I walked deliberately into the Purple Emperor’s room and peered into the gauze-covered box which held the chrysalis of Apatura Iris. It was as I expected. The chrysalis was empty and transparent, and a great crack ran down the middle of its back, but, on the netting inside the box, a magnificent butterfly slowly waved its burnished purple wings; for the chrysalis had given up its silent tenant, the butterfly symbol of immortality. Then a great fear fell upon me. I know now that it was the fear of the Black Priest, but neither then nor for years after did I know that the Black Priest had ever lived on earth. As I bent over the box I heard a confused murmur outside the house which ended in a furious shout of “Parricide!” and I heard the gendarmes ride away behind a wagon which rattled sharply on the flinty highway. I went to the window. In the wagon sat Yves Terrec, bound and wild-eyed, two gendarmes at either side of him, and all around the wagon rode mounted gendarmes whose bared sabres scarcely kept the crowd away.
“Parricide!” they howled. “Let him die!”
I stepped back and opened the gauze-covered box. Very gently but firmly I took the splendid butterfly by its closed fore wings and lifted it unharmed between my thumb and forefinger. Then, holding it concealed behind my back, I went down into the café.
Of all the crowd that had filled it, shouting for the death of Yves Terrec, only three persons remained seated in front of the huge empty fireplace. They were the Brigadier Durand, Max Fortin, the chemist of Quimperlé, and the Purple Emperor. The latter looked abashed when I entered, but I paid no attention to him and walked straight to the chemist.
“Monsieur Fortin,” I said, “do you know much about hydrocarbons?”
“They are my specialty,” he said astonished.
“Have you ever heard of such thing as cythyl?”
“Schweineri’s cythyl? Oh, yes! We use it in perfumery.”
“Good!” I said. “Has it an odour?”
“No — and yes. One is always aware of its presence, but nobody can affirm it has an odour. It is curious,” he continued, looking at me, “it is very curious you should have asked me that, for all day I have been imagining I detected the presence of cythyl.”
“Do you imagine so now?” I asked.
“Yes, more than ever.”
I sprang to the front door and tossed out the butterfly. The splendid creature beat the air for a moment, flitted uncertainly hither and thither, and then, to my astonishment, sailed majestically back into the café and alighted on the hearthstone. For a moment I was non-plussed, but when my eyes rested on the Purple Emperor I comprehended in a flash.
“Lift that hearthstone!” I cried to the Brigadier Durand; “pry it up with your scabbard!”
The Purple Emperor suddenly fell forward in his chair, his face ghastly white, his jaw loose with terror.
“What is cythyl?” I shouted, seizing him by the arm; but he plunged heavily from his chair, face downward on the floor, and at the moment a cry from the chemist made me turn. There stood the Brigadier Durand, one hand supporting the hearthstone, one hand raised in horror. There stood Max Fortin, the chemist, rigid with excitement, and below, in the hollow bed where the hearthstone had rested, lay a crushed mass of bleeding human flesh, from the midst of which stared a cheap glass eye. I seized the Purple Emperor and dragged him to his feet.
“Look!” I cried; “look at your old friend, the Red Admiral!” but he only smiled in a vacant way, and rolled his head muttering; “Bait for butterflies! Cythyl! Oh, no, no, no! You can’t do it, Admiral, d’ye see. I alone own the Purple Emperor! I alone am the Purple Emperor!”
And the same carriage that bore me to Quimperlé to claim my bride, carried him to Quimper, gagged and bound, a foaming, howling lunatic.
. . . . . . .
This, then, is the story of the Purple Emperor. I might tell you a pleasanter story if I chose; but concerning the fish that I had hold of, whether it was a salmon, a grilse, or a sea-trout, I may not say, because I have promised Lys, and she has promised me, that no power on earth shall wring from our lips the mortifying confession that the fish escaped.
Along the shore the cloud waves break. The twin suns sink behind the lake. The shadows lengthen In Carcosa. Strange is the night where black stars rise. And strange moons circle through the skies. But stranger still is Lost Carcosa. Songs that the Hyades shall sing. Where flap the tatters of the King. Must die unheard in Dim Carcosa. Song of my soul, my voice is dead. Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed Shall dry and die in Lost Carcosa.
Cassilda’s Song in The King in Yellow. Act 1. Scene 2.
Being the Contents of an Unsigned Letter Sent to the Author
There are so many things which are impossible to explain! Why should certain chords in music make me think of the brown and golden tints of autumn foliage? Why should the Mass of Sainte Cécile send my thoughts wandering among caverns whose walls blaze with ragged masses of virgin silver? What was it in the roar and turmoil of Broadway at six o’clock that flashed before my eyes the picture of a still Breton forest where sunlight filtered through spring foliage and Silvia bent, half curiously, half tenderly, over a small green lizard, murmuring: “To think that this also is a little ward of God!”
When I first saw the watchman his back was toward me. I looked at him indifferently until he went into the church. I paid no more attention to him than I had to any other man who lounged through Washington Square that morning, and when I shut my window and turned back into my studio I had forgotten him. Late in the afternoon, the day being warm, I raised the window again and leaned out to get a sniff of air. A man was standing in the courtyard of the church, and I noticed him again with as little interest as I had that morning. I looked across the square to where the fountain was playing and then, with my mind filled with vague impressions of trees, asphalt drives, and the moving groups of nursemaids and holidaymakers, I started to walk back to my easel. As I turned, my listless glance included the man below in the churchyard. His face was toward me now, and with a perfectly involuntary movement I bent to see it. At the same moment he raised his head and looked at me. Instantly I thought of a coffin-worm. Whatever it was about the man that repelled me I did not know, but the impression of a plump white grave-worm was so intense and nauseating that I must have shown it in my expression, for he turned his puffy face away with a movement which made me think of a disturbed grub in a chestnut.
I went back to my easel and motioned the model to resume her pose. After working awhile I was satisfied that I was spoiling what I had done as rapidly as possible, and I took up a palette knife and scraped the color out again. The flesh tones were sallow and unhealthy, and I did not understand how I could have painted such sickly color into a study which before that had glowed with healthy tones.
I looked at Tessie. She had not changed, and the clear flush of health dyed her neck and cheeks as I frowned.
“Is it something I’ve done?” she said.
“No,— I’ve made a mess of this arm, and for the life of me I can’t see how I came to paint such mud as that into the canvas,” I replied.
“Don’t I pose well?” she insisted.
“Of course, perfectly.”
“Then it’s not my fault?”
“No. It’s my own.”
“I’m very sorry,” she said.
I told her she could rest while I applied rag and turpentine to the plague spot on my canvas, and she went off to smoke a cigarette and look over the illustrations in the Courier Français.
I did not know whether it was something in the turpentine or a defect in the canvas, but the more I scrubbed the more that gangrene seemed to spread. I worked like a beaver to get it out, and yet the disease appeared to creep from limb to limb of the study before me. Alarmed I strove to arrest it, but now the color on the breast changed and the whole figure seemed to absorb the infection as a sponge soaks up water. Vigorously I plied palette knife, turpentine, and scraper, thinking all the time what a séance I should hold with Duval who had sold me the canvas; but soon I noticed that it was not the canvas which was defective nor yet the colors of Edward. “It must be the turpentine,” I thought angrily, “or else my eyes have become so blurred and confused by the afternoon light that I can’t see straight.” I called Tessie, the model. She came and leaned over my chair blowing rings of smoke into the air.
“What have you been doing to it?” she exclaimed.
“Nothing,” I growled, “it must be this turpentine!”
“What a horrible color it is now,” she continued. “Do you think my flesh resembles green cheese?”
“No, I don’t,” I said angrily, “did you ever know me to paint like that before?”
“It must be the turpentine, or something,” she admitted. She slipped on a Japanese robe and walked to the window. I scraped and rubbed until I was tired and finally picked up my brushes and hurled them through the canvas with a forcible expression, the tone alone of which reached Tessie’s ears.
Nevertheless she promptly began: “That’s it! Swear and act silly and ruin your brushes! You have been three weeks on that study, and now look! What’s the good of ripping the canvas? What creatures artists are!”
I felt about as much ashamed as I usually did after such an outbreak, and I turned the ruined canvas to the wall. Tessie helped me clean my brushes, and then danced away to dress. From the screen she regaled me with bits of advice concerning whole or partial loss of temper, until, thinking, perhaps, I had been tormented sufficiently, she came out to implore me to button her waist where she could not reach it on the shoulder.
“Everything went wrong from the time you came back from the window and talked about that horrid-looking man you saw in the churchyard,” she announced.
“Yes, he probably bewitched the picture,” I said, yawning. I looked at my watch.
“It’s after six, I know,” said Tessie, adjusting her hat before the mirror.
“Yes,” I replied, “I didn’t mean to keep you so long.” I leaned out of the window but recoiled with disgust, for the young man with the pasty face stood below in the churchyard. Tessie saw my gesture of disapproval and leaned from the window.
“Is that the man you don’t like?” she whispered.
“I can’t see his face, but he does look fat and soft. Someway or other,” she continued, turning to look at me, “he reminds me of a dream,— an awful dream I once had. Or,” she mused, looking down at her shapely shoes, “was it a dream after all?”
“How should I know?” I smiled.
Tessie smiled in reply.
“You were in it,” she said, “so perhaps you might know something about it.”
“Tessie! Tessie!” I protested, “don’t you dare flatter by saying you dream about me!”
“But I did,” she insisted; “shall I tell you about it?”
“Go ahead,” I replied, lighting a cigarette.
Tessie leaned back on the open window-sill and began very seriously.
“One night last winter I was lying in bed thinking about nothing at all in particular. I had been posing for you and I was tired out, yet it seemed impossible for me to sleep. I heard the bells in the city ring ten, eleven, and midnight. I must have fallen asleep about midnight because I don’t remember hearing the bells after that. It seemed to me that I had scarcely closed my eyes when I dreamed that something impelled me to go to the window. I rose, and raising the sash, leaned out. Twenty-fifth Street was deserted as far as I could see. I began to be afraid; everything outside seemed so — so black and uncomfortable. Then the sound of wheels in the distance came to my ears, and it seemed to me as though that was what I must wait for. Very slowly the wheels approached, and, finally, I could make out a vehicle moving along the street. It came nearer and nearer, and when it passed beneath my window I saw it was a hearse. Then, as I trembled with fear, the driver turned and looked straight at me. When I awoke I was standing by the open window shivering with cold, but the black-plumed hearse and the driver were gone. I dreamed this dream again in March last, and again awoke beside the open window. Last night the dream came again. You remember how it was raining; when I awoke, standing at the open window, my nightdress was soaked.”
“But where did I come into the dream?” I asked.
“You — you were in the coffin; but you were not dead.”
“In the coffin?”
“How did you know? Could you see me?”
“No; I only knew you were there.”
“Had you been eating Welsh rarebits, or lobster salad?” I began laughing, but the girl interrupted me with a frightened cry.
“Hello! What’s up?” I said, as she shrank into the embrasure by the window.
“The — the man below in the churchyard;— he drove the hearse.”
“Nonsense,” I said, but Tessie’s eyes were wide with terror. I went to the window and looked out. The man was gone. “Come, Tessie,” I urged, “don’t be foolish. You have posed too long; you are nervous.”
“Do you think I could forget that face?” she murmured. “Three times I saw the hearse pass below my window, and every time the driver turned and looked up at me. Oh, his face was so white and — and soft? It looked dead — it looked as if it had been dead a long time.”
I induced the girl to sit down and swallow a glass of Marsala. Then I sat down beside her, and tried to give her some advice.
“Look here, Tessie,” I said, “you go to the country for a week or two, and you’ll have no more dreams about hearses. You pose all day, and when night comes your nerves are upset. You can’t keep this up. Then again, instead of going to bed when your day’s work is done, you run off to picnics at Sulzer’s Park, or go to the Eldorado or Coney Island, and when you come down here next morning you are fagged out. There was no real hearse. That was a soft-shell-crab dream.”
She smiled faintly.
“What about the man in the churchyard?”
“Oh, he’s only an ordinary unhealthy, everyday creature.”
“As true as my name is Tessie Reardon, I swear to you, Mr. Scott, that the face of the man below in the churchyard is the face of the man who drove the hearse!”
“What of it?” I said. “It’s an honest trade.”
“Then you think I did see the hearse?”
“Oh,” I said, diplomatically, “if you really did, it might not be unlikely that the man below drove it. There is nothing in that.”
Tessie rose, unrolled her scented handkerchief, and taking a bit of gum from a knot in the hem, placed it in her mouth. Then drawing on her gloves she offered me her hand, with a frank, “Good-night, Mr. Scott,” and walked out.
II The next morning, Thomas, the bellboy, brought me the Herald and a bit of news. The church next door had been sold. I thanked Heaven for it, not that being a Catholic I had any repugnance for the congregation next door, but because my nerves were shattered by a blatant exhorter, whose every word echoed through the aisle of the church as if it had been my own rooms, and who insisted on his r’s with a nasal persistence which revolted my every instinct. Then, too, there was a fiend in human shape, an organist, who reeled off some of the grand old hymns with an interpretation of his own, and I longed for the blood of a creature who could play the doxology with an amendment of minor chords which one hears only in a quartet of very young undergraduates. I believe the minister was a good man, but when he bellowed: “And the Lorrrrd said unto Moses, the Lorrrd is a man of war; the Lorrrd is his name. My wrath shall wax hot and I will kill you with the sworrrd!” I wondered how many centuries of purgatory it would take to atone for such a sin.
“Who bought the property?” I asked Thomas.
“Nobody that I knows, sir. They do say the gent wot owns this ’ere ‘Amilton flats was lookin’ at it. ‘E might be a bildin’ more studios.”
I walked to the window. The young man with the unhealthy face stood by the churchyard gate, and at the mere sight of him the same overwhelming repugnance took possession of me.
“By the way, Thomas,” I said, “who is that fellow down there?”
Thomas sniffed. “That there worm, sir? ‘E’s night-watchman of the church, sir. ‘E maikes me tired a-sittin’ out all night on them steps and lookin’ at you insultin’ like. I’d a punched ‘is ‘ed, sir — beg pardon, sir —”
“Go on, Thomas.”
“One night a comin’ ‘ome with ‘Arry, the other English boy, I sees ’im a sittin’ there on them steps. We ‘ad Molly and Jen with us, sir, the two girls on the tray service, an’ ‘e looks so insultin’ at us that I up and sez: ‘Wat you looking hat, you fat slug?’— beg pardon, sir, but that’s ‘ow I sez, sir. Then ‘e don’t say nothin’ and I sez; ‘Come out and I’ll punch that puddin’ ‘ed.’ Then I hopens the gate an’ goes in, but ‘e don’t say nothin’, only looks insultin’ like. Then I ‘its ’im one, but, ugh! ‘is ‘ed was that cold and mushy it ud sicken you to touch ’im.”
“What did he do then?” I asked, curiously.
“And you, Thomas?”
The young fellow flushed with embarrassment and smiled uneasily.
“Mr. Scott, sir, I ain’t no coward an’ I can’t make it out at all why I run. I was in the 5th Lawncers, sir, bugler at Tel-el-Kebir, an’ was shot by the wells.”
“You don’t mean to say you ran away?”
“Yes, sir; I run.”
“That’s just what I want to know, sir. I grabbed Molly an’ run, an’ the rest was as frightened as I.”
“But what were they frightened at?”
Thomas refused to answer for a while, but now my curiosity was aroused about the repulsive young man below and I pressed him. Three years’ sojourn in America had not only modified Thomas’ cockney dialect but had given him the American’s fear of ridicule.
“You won’t believe me, Mr. Scott, sir?”
“Yes, I will.”
“You will lawf at me, sir?”
He hesitated. “Well, sir, it’s God’s truth that when I ‘it ’im ‘e grabbed me wrists, sir, and when I twisted ‘is soft, mushy fist one of ‘is fingers come off in me ‘and.”
The utter loathing and horror of Thomas’ face must have been reflected in my own for he added: “It’s orful, an’ now when I see ’im I just go away. ‘E maikes me hill.”
When Thomas had gone I went to the window. The man stood beside the church-railing with both hands on the gate, but I hastily retreated to my easel again, sickened and horrified, for I saw that the middle finger of his right hand was missing.
At nine o’clock Tessie appeared and vanished behind the screen with a merry “Good-morning, Mr. Scott.” While she had reappeared and taken her pose upon the model-stand I started a new canvas much to her delight. She remained silent as long as I was on the drawing, but as soon as the scrape of the charcoal ceased and I took up my fixative she began to chatter.
“Oh, I had such a lovely time last night. We went to Tony Pastor’s.”
“Who are ‘we’?” I demanded.
“Oh, Maggie, you know, Mr. Whyte’s model, and Pinkie McCormick — we call her Pinkie because she’s got that beautiful red hair you artists like so much — and Lizzie Burke.”
I sent a shower of spray from the fixative over the canvas and said: “Well, go on.”
“We saw Kelly and Baby Barnes the skirt-dancer and — and all the rest. I made a mash.”
“Then you have gone back on me, Tessie?”
She laughed and shook her head.
“He’s Lizzie Burke’s brother, Ed. He’s a perfect gen’l’man.”
I felt constrained to give her some parental advice concerning mashing, which she took with a bright smile.
“Oh, I can take care of a strange mash,” she said, examining her chewing gum, “but Ed is different. Lizzie is my best friend.”
Then she related how Ed had come back from the stocking mill in Lowell, Massachusetts, to find her and Lizzie grown up, and what an accomplished young man he was, and how he thought nothing of squandering half a dollar for ice-cream and oysters to celebrate his entry as clerk into the woolen department of Macy’s. Before she finished I began to paint, and she resumed the pose, smiling and chattering like a sparrow. By noon I had the study fairly well rubbed in and Tessie came to look at it.
“That’s better,” she said.
I thought so too, and ate my lunch with a satisfied feeling that all was going well. Tessie spread her lunch on a drawing table opposite me and we drank our claret from the same bottle and lighted our cigarettes from the same match. I was very much attached to Tessie. I had watched her shoot up into a slender but exquisitely formed woman from a frail, awkward child.
She had posed for me during the last three years, and among all my models she was my favorite.
It would have troubled me very much indeed had she become “tough” or “fly,” as the phrase goes, but I never noticed any deterioration of her manner, and felt at heart that she was all right.
She and I never discussed morals at all, and I had no intention of doing so, partly because I had none myself, and partly because I knew she would do what she liked in spite of me. Still I did hope she would steer clear of complications, because I wished her well, and then also I had a selfish desire to retain the best model I had. I knew that mashing, as she termed it, had no significance with girls like Tessie, and that such things in America did not resemble in the least the same things in Paris. Yet, having lived with my eyes open, I also knew that somebody would take Tessie away some day, in one manner or another, and though I professed to myself that marriage was nonsense, I sincerely hoped that, in this case, there would be a priest at the end of the vista. I am a Catholic. When I listen to high mass, when I sign myself, I feel that everything, including myself, is more cheerful, and when I confess, it does me good. A man who lives as much alone as I do, must confess to somebody. Then, again, Sylvia was Catholic, and it was reason enough for me. But I was speaking of Tessie, which is very different. Tessie also was Catholic and much more devout than I, so, taking it all in all, I had little fear for my pretty model until she should fall in love. But then I knew that fate alone would decide her future for her, and I prayed inwardly that fate would keep her away from men like me and throw into her path nothing but Ed Burkes and Jimmy McCormicks, bless her sweet face!
Tessie sat blowing rings of smoke up to the ceiling and tinkling the ice in her tumbler.
“Do you know, Kid, that I also had a dream last night?” I observed. I sometimes called her “the Kid.”
“Not about that man,” she laughed.
“Exactly. A dream similar to yours, only much worse.”
It was foolish and thoughtless of me to say this, but you know how little tact the average painter has.
“I must have fallen asleep about 10 o’clock,” I continued, “and after awhile I dreamt that I awoke. So plainly did I hear the midnight bells, the wind in the tree-branches, and the whistle of steamers from the bay, that even now I can scarcely believe I was not awake. I seemed to be lying in a box which had a glass cover. Dimly I saw the street lamps as I passed, for I must tell you, Tessie, the box in which I reclined appeared to lie in a cushioned wagon which jolted me over a stony pavement. After a while I became impatient and tried to move but the box was too narrow. My hands were crossed on my breast so I could not raise them to help myself. I listened and then tried to call. My voice was gone. I could hear the trample of the horses attached to the wagon and even the breathing of the driver. Then another sound broke upon my ears like the raising of a window sash. I managed to turn my head a little, and found I could look, not only through the glass cover of my box, but also through the glass panes in the side of the covered vehicle. I saw houses, empty and silent, with neither light nor life about any of them excepting one. In that house a window was open on the first floor and a figure all in white stood looking down into the street. It was you.”
Tessie had turned her face away from me and leaned on the table with her elbow.
“I could see your face,” I resumed, “and it seemed to me to be very sorrowful. Then we passed on and turned into a narrow black lane. Presently the horses stopped. I waited and waited, closing my eyes with fear and impatience, but all was silent as the grave. After what seemed to me hours, I began to feel uncomfortable. A sense that somebody was close to me made me unclose my eyes. Then I saw the white face of the hearse-driver looking at me through the coffin-lid —”
A sob from Tessie interrupted me. She was trembling like a leaf. I saw I had made an ass of myself and attempted to repair the damage.
“Why, Tess,” I said, “I only told you this to show you what influence your story might have on another person’s dreams. You don’t suppose I really lay in a coffin, do you? What are you trembling for? Don’t you see that your dream and my unreasonable dislike for that inoffensive watchman of the church simply set my brain working as soon as I fell asleep?” She laid her head between her arms and sobbed as if her heart would break. What a precious triple donkey I had made of myself! But I was about to break my record. I went over and put my arm about her.
“Tessie dear, forgive me,” I said; “I had no business to frighten you with such nonsense. You are too sensible a girl, too good a Catholic to believe in dreams.”
Her hand tightened on mine and her head fell back upon my shoulder, but she still trembled and I petted her and comforted her.
“Come, Tess, open your eyes and smile.”
Her eyes opened with a slow languid movement and met mine, but their expression was so queer that I hastened to reassure her again.
“It’s all humbug, Tessie, you surely are not afraid that any harm will come to you because of that.”
“No,” she said, but her scarlet lips quivered.
“Then what’s the matter? Are you afraid?”
“Yes. Not for myself.”
“For me, then?” I demanded gayly.
“For you,” she murmured in a voice almost inaudible, “I— I care — for you.”
At first I started to laugh, but when I understood her, a shock passed through me and I sat like one turned to stone. This was the crowning bit of idiocy I had committed. During the moment which elapsed between her reply and my answer I thought of a thousand responses to that innocent confession. I could pass it by with a laugh, I could misunderstand her and reassure her as to my health, I could simply point out that it was impossible she could love me. But my reply was quicker than my thoughts, and I might think and think now when it was too late, for I had kissed her on the mouth.
That evening I took my usual walk in Washington Park, pondering over the occurrences of the day. I was thoroughly committed. There was no backing out now, and I stared the future straight in the face. I was not good, not even scrupulous, but I had no idea of deceiving either myself or Tessie. The one passion of my life lay buried in the sunlit forests of Brittany. Was it buried forever? Hope cried “No!” For three years I had been listening to the voice of Hope, and for three years I had waited for a footstep on my threshold. Had Sylvia forgotten? “No!” cried Hope.
I said that I was not good. That is true, but still I was not exactly a comic opera villain. I had led an easy-going reckless life, taking what invited me of pleasure, deploring and sometimes bitterly regretting consequences. In one thing alone, except my painting, was I serious, and that was something which lay hidden if not lost in the Breton forests.
It was too late now for me to regret what had occurred during the day. Whatever it had been, pity, a sudden tenderness for sorrow, or the more brutal instinct of gratified vanity, it was all the same now, and unless I wished to bruise an innocent heart my path lay marked before me. The fire and strength, the depth of passion of a love which I had never even suspected, with all my imagined experience in the world, left me no alternative but to respond or send her away.
Whether because I am so cowardly about giving pain to others, or whether it was that I have little of the gloomy Puritan in me, I do not know, but I shrank from disclaiming responsibility for that thoughtless kiss, and in fact had no time to do so before the gates of her heart opened and the flood poured forth. Others who habitually do their duty and find a sullen satisfaction in making themselves and everybody else unhappy, might have withstood it. I did not. I dared not. After the storm had abated I did tell her that she might better have loved Ed Burke and worn a plain gold ring, but she would not hear of it, and I thought perhaps that as long as she had decided to love somebody she could not marry, it had better be me. I, at least, could treat her with an intelligent affection, and whenever she became tired of her infatuation she could go none the worse for it.
For I was decided on that point although I knew how hard it would be. I remembered the usual termination of Platonic liaisons and thought how disgusted I had been whenever I heard of one. I knew I was undertaking a great deal for so unscrupulous a man as I was, and I dreaded the future, but never for one moment did I doubt that she was safe with me. Had it been anybody but Tessie I should not have bothered my head about scruples. For it did not occur to me to sacrifice Tessie as I would have sacrificed a woman of the world. I looked the future squarely in the face and saw the several probable endings to the affair. She would either tire of the whole thing, or become so unhappy that I should have either to marry her or go away. If I married her we would be unhappy. I with a wife unsuited to me, and she with a husband unsuitable for any woman. For my past life could scarcely entitle me to marry. If I went away she might either fall ill, recover, and marry some Eddie Burke, or she might recklessly or deliberately go and do something foolish. On the other hand if she tired of me, then her whole life would be before her with beautiful vistas of Eddie Burkes and marriage rings and twins and Harlem flats and Heaven knows what. As I strolled along through the trees by the Washington Arch, I decided that she should find a substantial friend in me anyway and the future could take care of itself. Then I went into the house and put on my evening dress for the little faintly perfumed note on my dresser said, “Have a cab at the stage door at eleven,” and the note was signed “Edith Carmichael, Metropolitan Theater, June 19th, 189 —.”
I took supper that night, or rather we took supper, Miss Carmichel and I, at Solari’s and the dawn was just beginning to gild the cross on the Memorial Church as I entered Washington Square after leaving Edith at the Brunswick. There was not a soul in the park as I passed among the trees and took the walk which leads from the Garibaldi statue to the Hamilton Apartment House, but as I passed the churchyard I saw a figure sitting on the stone steps. In spite of myself a chill crept over me at the sight of the white puffy face, and I hastened to pass. Then he said something which might have been addressed to me or might merely have been a mutter to himself, but a sudden furious anger flamed up within me that such a creature should address me.
For an instant I felt like wheeling about and smashing my stick over his head, but I walked on, and entering the Hamilton went to my apartment. For some time I tossed about the bed trying to get the sound of his voice out of my ears, but could not. It filled my head, that muttering sound, like thick oily smoke from a fat-rendering vat or an odor of noisome decay. And as I lay and tossed about, the voice in my ears seemed more distinct, and I began to understand the words he had muttered. They came to me slowly as if I had forgotten them, and at last I could make some sense out of the sounds. It was this:
“Have you found the Yellow Sign?”
“Have you found the Yellow Sign?”
“Have you found the Yellow Sign?”
I was furious. What did he mean by that? Then with a curse upon him and his I rolled over and went to sleep, but when I awoke later I looked pale and haggard, for I had dreamed the dream of the night before and it troubled me more than I cared to think.
I dressed and went down into my studio. Tessie sat by the window, but as I came in she rose and put both arms around my neck for an innocent kiss. She looked so sweet and dainty that I kissed her again and then sat down before the easel.
“Hello! Where’s the study I began yesterday?” I asked.
Tessie looked conscious, but did not answer. I began to hunt among the piles of canvases, saying, “Hurry up, Tess, and get ready; we must take advantage of the morning light.”
When at last I gave up the search among the other canvases and turned to look around the room for the missing study I noticed Tessie standing by the screen with her clothes still on.
“What’s the matter,” I asked, “don’t you feel well?”
“Do you want me to pose as — as I have always posed?”
Then I understood. Here was a new complication. I had lost, of course, the best nude model I had ever seen. I looked at Tessie. Her face was scarlet. Alas! Alas! We had eaten of the tree of knowledge, and Eden and native innocence were dreams of the past — I mean — for her.
I suppose she noticed the disappointment on my face, for she said: “I will pose if you wish. The study is behind the screen here where I put it.”
“No,” I said, “we will begin something new;” and I went into my wardrobe and picked out a Moorish costume which fairly blazed with tinsel. It was a genuine costume, and Tessie retired to the screen with it enchanted. When she came forth again I was astonished. Her long black hair was bound above her forehead with a circlet of turquoises, and the ends curled about her glittering girdle. Her feet were encased in the embroidered pointed slippers and the skirt of her costume, curiously wrought with arabesques in silver, fell to her ankles. The deep metallic blue vest embroidered with silver and the short Mauresque jacket spangled and sewn with turquoises became her wonderfully. She came up to me and held up her face smiling. I slipped my hand into my pocket and drawing out a gold chain with a cross attached, dropped it over her head.
“It’s yours, Tessie.”
“Mine?” she faltered.
“Yours. Now go and pose.” Then with a radiant smile she ran behind the screen and presently reappeared with a little box on which was written my name.
“I had intended to give it to you when I went home tonight,” she said, “but I can’t wait now.”
I opened the box. On the pink cotton inside lay a clasp of black onyx, on which was inlaid a curious symbol or letter in gold. It was neither Arabic nor Chinese, nor as I found afterwards did it belong to any human script.
“It’s all I had to give you for a keepsake,” she said, timidly.
I was annoyed, but I told her how much I should prize it, and promised to wear it always. She fastened it on my coat beneath the lapel.
“How foolish, Tess, to go and buy me such a beautiful thing as this,” I said.
“I did not buy it,” she laughed.
“Where did you get it?”
Then she told me how she had found it one day while coming from the Aquarium in the Battery, how she had advertised it and watched the papers, but at last gave up all hopes of finding the owner.
“That was last winter,” she said, “the very day I had the first horrid dream about the hearse.”
I remembered my dream of the previous night but said nothing, and presently my charcoal was flying over a new canvas, and Tessie stood motionless on the model-stand.
III The day following was a disastrous one for me. While moving a framed canvas from one easel to another my foot slipped on the polished floor and I fell heavily on both wrists. They were so badly sprained that it was useless to attempt to hold a brush, and I was obliged to wander about the studio, glaring at unfinished drawings and sketches until despair seized me and I sat down to smoke and twiddle my thumbs with rage. The rain blew against the windows and rattled on the roof of the church, driving me into a nervous fit with its interminable patter. Tessie sat sewing by the window, and every now and then raised her head and looked at me with such innocent compassion that I began to feel ashamed of my irritation and looked about for something to occupy me. I had read all the papers and all the books in the library, but for the sake of something to do I went to the bookcases and shoved them open with my elbow. I knew every volume by its color and examined them all, passing slowly around the library and whistling to keep up my spirits. I was turning to go into the dining-room when my eye fell upon a book bound in yellow, standing in a corner of the top shelf of the last bookcase. I did not remember it and from the floor could not decipher the pale lettering on the back, so I went to the smoking-room and called Tessie. She came in from the studio and climbed up to reach the book.
“What is it?” I asked.
“The King in Yellow.”
I was dumbfounded. Who had placed it there? How came it in my rooms? I had long ago decided that I should never open that book, and nothing on earth could have persuaded me to buy it. Fearful lest curiosity might tempt me to open it, I had never even looked at it in book-stores. If I ever had had any curiosity to read it, the awful tragedy of young Castaigne, whom I knew, prevented me from exploring its wicked pages. I had always refused to listen to any description of it, and indeed, nobody ever ventured to discuss the second part aloud, so I had absolutely no knowledge of what those leaves might reveal. I stared at the poisonous yellow binding as I would at a snake.
“Don’t touch it, Tessie,” I said, “come down.”
Of course my admonition was enough to arouse her curiosity, and before I could prevent it she took the book and, laughing, danced away into the studio with it. I called to her but she slipped away with a tormenting smile at my helpless hands, and I followed her with some impatience.
“Tessie!” I cried, entering the library, “listen, I am serious. Put that book away. I do not wish you to open it!” The library was empty. I went into both drawing-rooms, then into the bedrooms, laundry, kitchen, and finally returned to the library and began a systematic search. She had hidden herself so well that it was half an hour later when I discovered her crouching white and silent by the latticed window in the store-room above. At the first glance I saw she had been punished for her foolishness. The King in Yellow lay at her feet, but the book was open at the second part. I looked at Tessie and saw it was too late. She had opened The King in Yellow. Then I took her by the hand and led her into the studio. She seemed dazed, and when I told her to lie down on the sofa she obeyed me without a word. After a while she closed her eyes and her breathing became regular and deep, but I could not determine whether or not she slept. For a long while I sat silently beside her, but she neither stirred nor spoke, and at last I rose and entering the unused store-room took the yellow book in my least injured hand. It seemed heavy as lead, but I carried it into the studio again, and sitting down on the rug beside the sofa, opened it and read it through from beginning to end.
When, faint with the excess of my emotions, I dropped the volume and leaned wearily back against the sofa, Tessie opened her eyes and looked at me.
We had been speaking for some time in a dull monotonous strain before I realized that we were discussing The King in Yellow. Oh the sin of writing such words,— words which are clear as crystal, limpid and musical as bubbling springs, words which sparkle and glow like the poisoned diamonds of the Medicis! Oh the wickedness, the hopeless damnation of a soul who could fascinate and paralyze human creatures with such words,— words understood by the ignorant and wise alike, words which are more precious than jewels, more soothing than Heavenly music, more awful than death itself.
We talked on, unmindful of the gathering shadows, and she was begging me to throw away the clasp of black onyx quaintly inlaid with what we now knew to be the Yellow Sign. I never shall know why I refused, though even at this hour, here in my bedroom as I write this confession, I should be glad to know what it was that prevented me from tearing the Yellow Sign from my breast and casting it into the fire. I am sure I wished to do so, but Tessie pleaded with me in vain.
Night fell and the hours dragged on, but still we murmured to each other of the King and the Pallid Mask, and midnight sounded from the misty spires in the fog-wrapped city. We spoke of Hastur and of Cassilda, while outside the fog rolled against the blank window-panes as the cloud waves roll and break on the shores of Hali.
The house was very silent now and not a sound from the misty streets broke the silence. Tessie lay among the cushions, her face a gray blot in the gloom, but her hands were clasped in mine and I knew that she knew and read my thoughts as I read hers, for we had understood the mystery of the Hyades and the Phantom of Truth was laid. Then as we answered each other, swiftly, silently, thought on thought, the shadows stirred in the gloom about us, and far in the distant streets we heard a sound. Nearer and nearer it came, the dull crunching of wheels, nearer and yet nearer, and now, outside before the door it ceased, and I dragged myself to the window and saw a black-plumed hearse. The gate below opened and shut, and I crept shaking to my door and bolted it, but I knew no bolts, no locks, could keep that creature out who was coming for the Yellow Sign. And now I heard him moving very softly along the hall. Now he was at the door, and the bolts rotted at his touch. Now he had entered. With eyes starting from my head I peered into the darkness, but when he came into the room I did not see him. It was only when I felt him envelop me in his cold soft grasp that I cried out and struggled with deadly fury, but my hands were useless and he tore the onyx clasp from my coat and struck me full in the face. Then, as I fell, I heard Tessie’s soft cry and her spirit fled to God, and even while falling I longed to follow her, for I knew that the King in Yellow had opened his tattered mantle and there was only Christ to cry to now.
I could tell more, but I cannot see what help it will be to the world. As for me I am past human help or hope. As I lie here, writing, careless even whether or not I die before I finish, I can see the doctor gathering up his powders and phials with a vague gesture to the good priest beside me, which I understand.
They will be very curious to know the tragedy — they of the outside world who write books and print millions of newspapers, but I shall write no more, and the father confessor will seal my last words with the seal of sanctity when his holy office is done. They of the outside world may send their creatures into wrecked homes and death-smitten firesides, and their newspapers will batten on blood and tears, but with me their spies must halt before the confessional. They know that Tessie is dead and that I am dying. They know how the people in the house, aroused by an infernal scream, rushed into my room and found one living and two dead, but they do not know what I shall tell them now; they do not know that the doctor said as he pointed to a horrible decomposed heap on the floor — the livid corpse of the watchman from the church: “I have no theory, no explanation. That man must have been dead for months!”
I think I am dying. I wish the priest would —
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