Perched sideways on the circular wall bordering the well, in the full blaze of the midday sun, the rover of the distant seas and the fisherman of the lagoon, sharing between them a most surprising secret, had the air of two men conferring in the dark. The first word that Peyrol said was, “Well?”
“All quiet,” said the other.
“Have you fastened the cabin door properly?”
“You know what the fastenings are like.”
Peyrol could not deny that. It was a sufficient answer. It shifted the responsibility on to his shoulders and all his life he had been accustomed to trust to the work of his own hands, in peace and in war. Yet he looked doubtfully at Michel before he remarked:
“Yes, but I know the man too.”
There could be no greater contrast than those two faces: Peyrol's clean, like a carving of stone, and only very little softened by time, and that of the owner of the late dog, hirsute, with many silver threads, with something elusive in the features and the vagueness of expression of a baby in arms. “Yes, I know the man,” repeated Peyrol. Michel's mouth fell open at this, a small oval set a little crookedly in the innocent face.
“He will never wake,” he suggested timidly.
The possession of a common and momentous secret drawing men together, Peyrol condescended to explain.
“You don't know the thickness of his skull. I do.”
He spoke as though he had made it himself. Michel, who in the face of that positive statement had forgotten to shut his mouth, had nothing to say.
“He breathes all right?” asked Peyrol.
“Yes. After I got out and locked the door I listened for a bit and I thought I heard him snore.”
Peyrol looked interested and also slightly anxious.
“I had to come up and show myself this morning as if nothing had happened,” he said. “The officer has been here for two days and he might have taken it into his head to go down to the tartane. I have been on the stretch all the morning. A goat jumping up was enough to give me a turn. Fancy him running up here with his broken head all bandaged up, with you after him.”
This seemed to be too much for Michel. He said almost indignantly:
“The man's half killed.”
“It takes a lot to even half kill a Brother of the Coast. There are men and men. You, for instance,” Peyrol continued placidly, “you would have been altogether killed if it had been your head that got in the way. And there are animals, beasts twice your size, regular monsters, that may be killed with nothing more than just a tap on the nose. That's well known. I was really afraid he would overcome you in some way or other . . . .”
“Come, maître! One isn't a little child,” protested Michel against this accumulation of improbabilities. He did it, however, only in a whisper and with childlike shyness. Peyrol folded his arms on his breast:
“Go, finish your soup,” he commanded in a low voice, “and then go down to the tartane. You locked the cabin door properly, you said?”
“Yes, I have,” protested Michel, staggered by this display of anxiety. “He could sooner burst the deck above his head, as you know.”
“All the same, take a small spar and shore up that door against the heel of the mast. And then watch outside. Don't you go in to him on any account. Stay on deck and keep a lookout for me. There is a tangle here that won't be easily cleared and I must be very careful. I will try to slip away and get down as soon as I get rid of that officer.”
The conference in the sunshine being ended, Peyrol walked leisurely out of the yard gate, and protruding his head beyond the corner of the house, saw Lieutenant Réal sitting on the bench. This he had expected to see. But he had not expected to see him there alone. It was just like this: wherever Arlette happened to be, there were worrying possibilities. But she might have been helping her aunt in the kitchen with her sleeves rolled up on such white arms as Peyrol had never seen on any woman before. The way she had taken to dressing her hair in a plait with a broad black velvet ribbon and an Arlesian cap was very becoming. She was wearing now her mother's clothes of which there were chestfuls, altered for her of course. The late mistress of the Escampobar Farm had been an Arlesienne. Well-to-do, too. Yes, even for women's clothes the Escampobar natives could do without intercourse with the outer world. It was quite time that this confounded lieutenant went back to Toulon. This was the third day. His short leave must be up. Peyrol's attitude towards naval officers had been always guarded and suspicious. His relations with them had been very mixed. They had been his enemies and his superiors. He had been chased by them. He had been trusted by them. The Revolution had made a clean cut across the consistency of his wild life — Brother of the Coast and gunner in the national navy — and yet he was always the same man. It was like that, too, with them. Officers of the King, officers of the Republic, it was only changing the skin. All alike looked askance at a free rover. Even this one could not forget his epaulettes when talking to him. Scorn and mistrust of epaulettes were rooted deeply in old Peyrol. Yet he did not absolutely hate Lieutenant Réal. Only the fellow's coming to the farm was generally a curse and his presence at that particular moment a confounded nuisance and to a certain extent even a danger. “I have no mind to be hauled to Toulon by the scruff of my neck,” Peyrol said to himself. There was no trusting those epaulette-wearers. Any one of them was capable of jumping on his best friend on account of some officer-like notion or other.
Peyrol, stepping round the corner, sat down by the side of Lieutenant Réal with the feeling somehow of coming to grips with a slippery customer. The lieutenant, as he sat there, unaware of Peyrol's survey of his person, gave no notion of slipperiness. On the contrary, he looked rather immovably established. Very much at home. Too much at home. Even after Peyrol sat down by his side he continued to look immovable — or at least difficult to get rid of. In the still noonday heat the faint shrilling of cicadas was the only sound of life heard for quite a long time. Delicate, evanescent, cheerful, careless sort of life, yet not without passion. A sudden gloom seemed to be cast over the joy of the cicadas by the lieutenant's voice though the words were the most perfunctory possible.
“Tiens! Vous voilà.”
In the stress of the situation Peyrol at once asked himself: “Now why does he say that? Where did he expect me to be?” The lieutenant need not have spoken at all. He had known him now for about two years off and on, and it had happened many times that they had sat side by side on that bench in a sort of “at arm's length” equality without exchanging a single word. And why could he not have kept quiet now? That naval officer never spoke without an object, but what could one make of words like that? Peyrol achieved an insincere yawn and suggested mildly:
“A bit of siesta wouldn't be amiss. What do you think, lieutenant?”
And to himself he thought: “No fear, he won't go to his room.” He would stay there and thereby keep him, Peyrol, from going down to the cove. He turned his eyes on that naval officer, and if extreme and concentrated desire and mere force of will could have had any effect Lieutenant Réal would certainly have been removed suddenly from that bench. But he didn't move. And Peyrol was astonished to see that man smile, but what astonished him still more was to hear him say:
“The trouble is that you have never been frank with me, Peyrol.”
“Frank with you,” repeated the rover. “You want me to be frank with you? Well, I have wished you to the devil many times.”
“That's better,” said Lieutenant Réal. “But why? I never tried to do you any harm.”
“Me harm,” cried Peyrol, “to me?” But he faltered in his indignation as if frightened at it and ended in a very quiet tone: “You have been nosing in a lot of dirty papers to find something against a man who was not doing you any harm and was a seaman before you were born.”
“Quite a mistake. There was no nosing amongst papers. I came on them quite by accident. I won't deny I was intrigué finding a man of your sort living in this place. But don't be uneasy. Nobody would trouble his head about you. It's a long time since you have been forgotten. Have no fear.”
“You! You talk to me of fear. . .? No,” cried the rover, “it's enough to turn a fellow into a sans-culotte if it weren't for the sight of that specimen sneaking around here.”
The lieutenant turned his head sharply, and for a moment the naval officer and the free sea-rover looked at each other gloomily. When Peyrol spoke again he had changed his mood.
“Why should I fear anybody? I owe nothing to anybody. I have given them up the prize ship in order and everything else, except my luck; and for that I account to nobody,” he added darkly.
“I don't know what you are driving at,” the lieutenant said after a moment of thought. “All I know is that you seem to have given up your share of the prize money. There is no record of you ever claiming it.”
Peyrol did not like the sarcastic tone. “You have a nasty tongue,” he said, “with your damned trick of talking as if you were made of different clay.”
said the lieutenant, grave but a little puzzled. “Nobody will drag out that against you. It has been paid years ago to the Invalides fund. All this is buried and forgotten.”
Peyrol was grumbling and swearing to himself with such concentration that the lieutenant stopped and waited till he had finished.
“And there is no record of desertion or anything like that,” he continued then. “You stand there as disparu. I believe that after searching for you a little they came to the conclusion that you had come by your death somehow or other.”
“Did they? Well, perhaps old Peyrol is dead. At any rate he has buried himself here.” The rover suffered from great instability of feelings for he passed in a flash from melancholy into fierceness. “And he was quiet enough till you came sniffing around this hole. More than once in my life I had occasion to wonder how soon the jackals would have a chance to dig up my carcass; but to have a naval officer come scratching round here was the last thing . . . .” Again a change came over him. “What can you want here?” he whispered, suddenly depressed.
The lieutenant fell into the humour of that discourse. “I don't want to disturb the dead,” he said, turning full to the rover who after his last words had fixed his eyes on the ground. “I want to talk to the gunner Peyrol.”
Peyrol, without raising his eyes from the ground, growled: “He isn't here. He is disparu. Go and look at the papers again. Vanished. Nobody here.”
“That,” said Lieutenant Réal, in a conversational tone, “that is a lie. He was talking to me this morning on the hillside as we were looking at the English ship. He knows all about her. He told me he spent nights making plans for her capture. He seemed to be a fellow with his heart in the right place. Un homme de coeur. You know him.”
Peyrol raised his big head slowly and looked at the lieutenant.
“Humph,” he grunted. A heavy, non-committal grunt. His old heart was stirred, but the tangle was such that he had to be on his guard with any man who wore epaulettes. His profile preserved the immobility of a head struck on a medal while he listened to the lieutenant assuring him that this time he had come to Escampobar on purpose to speak with the gunner Peyrol. That he had not done so before was because it was a very confidential matter. At this point the lieutenant stopped and Peyrol made no sign. Inwardly he was asking himself what the lieutenant was driving at. But the lieutenant seemed to have shifted his ground. His tone, too, was slightly different. More practical.
“You say you have made a study of that English ship's movements. Well, for instance, suppose a breeze springs up, as it very likely will towards the evening, could you tell me where she will be to-night? I mean, what her captain is likely to do.”
“No, I couldn't,” said Peyrol.
“But you said you have been observing him minutely for weeks. There aren't so many alternatives, and taking the weather and everything into consideration, you can judge almost with certainty.”
“No,” said Peyrol again. “It so happens that I can't.”
“Can't you? Then you are worse than any of the old admirals that you think so little of. Why can't you?”
“I will tell you why,” said Peyrol after a pause and with a face more like a carving than ever. “It's because the fellow has never come so far this way before. Therefore I don't know what he has got in his mind, and in consequence I can't guess what he will do next. I may be able to tell you some other day but not to-day. Next time when you come . . . to see the old gunner.”
“No, it must be this time.”
“Do vou mean you are going to stay here tonight?”
“Did you think I was here on leave? I tell you I am on service. Don't you believe me?”
Peyrol let out a heavy sigh. “Yes, I believe you. And so they are thinking of catching her alive. And you are sent on service. Well, that doesn't make it any easier for me to see you here.”
“You are a strange man, Peyrol,” said the lieutenant. “I believe you wish me dead.”
“No. Only out of this. But you are right, Peyrol is no friend either to your face or to your voice. They have done harm enough already.”
They had never attained to such intimate terms before. There was no need for them to look at each other. The lieutenant thought: “Ah! He can't keep his jealousy in.” There was no scorn or malice in that thought. It was much more like despair. He said mildly:
“You snarl like an old dog, Peyrol.”
“I have felt sometimes as if I could fly at your throat,” said Peyrol in a sort of calm whisper. “And it amuses you the more.”
“Amuses me? Do I look light-hearted?”
Again Peyrol turned his head slowly for a long, steady stare. And again the naval officer and the rover gazed at each other with a searching and sombre frankness. This new-born intimacy could go no further.
“Listen to me, Peyrol . . . .”
“No,” said the other. “If you want to talk, talk to the gunner.”
Though he seemed to have adopted the notion of a double personality the rover did not seem to be much easier in one character than in the other. Furrows of perplexity appeared on his brow, and as the lieutenant did not speak at once Peyrol the gunner asked impatiently:
“So they are thinking of catching her alive?” It did not please him to hear the lieutenant say that it was not exactly this that the chiefs in Toulon had in their minds. Peyrol at once expressed the opinion that of all the naval chiefs that ever were, Citizen Renaud was the only one that was worth anything. Lieutenant Réal, disregarding the challenging tone, kept to the point.
“What they want to know is whether that English corvette interferes much with the coast traffic.”
“No, she doesn't,” said Peyrol: “she leaves poor people alone, unless, I suppose, some craft acts suspiciously. I have seen her give chase to one or two. But even those she did not detain. Michel — you know Michel — has heard from the mainland people that she has captured several at various times. Of course, strictly speaking, nobody is safe.”
“Well, no. I wonder now what that Englishman would call `acting suspiciously.' ”
“Ah, now you are asking something. Don't you know what an Englishman is? One day easy and casual, next day ready to pounce on you like a tiger. Hard in the morning, careless in the afternoon, and only reliable in a fight, whether with or against you, but for the rest perfectly fantastic. You might think a little touched in the head, and there again it would not do to trust to that notion either.”
The lieutenant lending an attentive ear, Peyrol smoothed his brow and discoursed with gusto of Englishmen as if they had been a strange, very little-known tribe. “In a manner of speaking,” he concluded, “the oldest bird of them all can be caught with chaff, but not every day.” He shook his head, smiling to himself faintly as if remembering a quaint passage or two.
“You didn't get all that knowledge of the English while you were a gunner,” observed the lieutenant dryly.
“There you go again,” said Peyrol. “And what's that to you where I learned it all? Suppose I learned it all from a man who is dead now. Put it down to that.”
“I see. It amounts to this, that one can't get at the back of their minds very easily.”
“No,” said Peyrol, then added grumpily, “and some Frenchmen are not much better. I wish I could get at the back of your mind.”
“You would find a service matter there, gunner, that's what you would find there, and a matter that seems nothing much at first sight, but when you look into it, is about as difficult to manage properly as anything you ever undertook in your life. It puzzled all the big-wigs. It must have, since I was called in. Of course I work on shore at the Admiralty and I was in the way. They showed me the order from Paris and I could see at once the difficulty of it. I pointed it out and I was told. . .”
“To come here,” struck in Peyrol.
“No. To make arrangements to carry it out.”
“And you began by coming here. You are always coming here.”
“I began by looking for a man,” said the naval officer with emphasis.
Peyrol looked at him searchingly. “Do you mean to say that in the whole fleet you couldn't have found a man?”
“I never attempted to look for one there. My chief agreed with me that it isn't a service for navy men.”
“Well, it must be something nasty for a naval man to admit that much. What is the order? I don't suppose you came over here without being ready to show it to me.”
The lieutenant plunged his hand into the inside pocket of his naval jacket and then brought it out empty.
“Understand, Peyrol,” he said earnestly, “this is not a service of fighting. Good men are plentiful for that. The object is to play the enemy a trick.”
“Trick?” said Peyrol in a judicial tone, “that's all right. I have seen in the Indian Seas Monsieur Surcouf play tricks on the English . . . seen them with my own eyes, deceptions, disguises, and such-like. . . . That's quite sound in war.”
“Certainly. The order for this one comes from the First Consul himself, for it is no small matter. It's to deceive the English Admiral.”
“What — that Nelson? Ah! but he is a cunning one.”
After expressing that opinion the old rover pulled out a red bandana handkerchief and after rubbing his face with it repeated his opinion deliberately: “Celui-là est un malin.”
This time the lieutenant really brought out a paper from his pocket and saying, “I have copied the order for you to see,” handed it to the rover, who took it from him with a doubtful air.
Lieutenant Réal watched old Peyrol handling it at arm's length, then with his arm bent trying to adjust the distance to his eyesight, and wondered whether he had copied it in a hand big enough to be read easily by the gunner Peyrol. The order ran like this: “You will make up a packet of dispatches and pretended private letters as if from officers, containing a clear statement besides hints calculated to convince the enemy that the destination of the fleet now fitting in Toulon is for Egypt and generally for the East. That packet you will send by sea in some small craft to Naples, taking care that the vessel shall fall into the enemy's hands.” The Préfet Maritime had called Réal, had shown him the paragraph of the letter from Paris, had turned the page over and laid his finger on the signature, “Bonaparte.” Then after giving him a meaning glance, the admiral locked up the paper in a drawer and put the key in his pocket. Lieutenant Réal had written the passage down from memory directly the notion of consulting Peyrol had occurred to him.
The rover, screwing his eyes and pursing his lips, had come to the end of it. The lieutenant extended his hand negligently and took the paper away: “Well, what do you think?” he asked. “You understand that there can be no question of any ship of war being sacrificed to that dodge. What do you think of it?”
“Easier said than done,” opined Peyrol curtly.
“That's what I told my admiral.”
“Is he a lubber, so that you had to explain it to him?”
“No, gunner, he is not. He listened to me, nodding his head.”
“And what did he say when you finished?”
“He said: `Parfaitement. Have you got any ideas about it?' And I said — listen to me, gunner — I said: `Oui, Amiral, I think I've got a man,' and the admiral interrupted me at once: `All right, you don't want to talk to me about him. I put you in charge of that affair and give you a week to arrange it. When it's done report to me. Meantime you may just as well take this packet.' They were already prepared, Peyrol, all those faked letters and dispatches. I carried it out of the admiral's room, a parcel done up in sail-cloth, properly corded and sealed. I have had it in my possession for three days. It's upstairs in my valise.”
“That doesn't advance you very much,” growled old Peyrol.
“No,” admitted the lieutenant. “I can also dispose of a few thousand francs.”
“Francs,” repeated Peyrol. “Well, you had better get back to Toulon and try to bribe some man to put his head into the jaws of the English lion.”
Réal reflected, then said slowly, “I wouldn't tell any man that. Of course a service of danger, that would be understood.”
“It would be. And if you could get a fellow with some sense in his caboche, he would naturally try to slip past the English fleet and maybe do it, too. And then where's your trick?”
“We could give him a course to steer.”
“Yes. And it may happen that your course would just take him clear of all Nelson's fleet, for you never can tell what the English are doing. They might be watering in Sardinia.”
“Some cruisers are sure to be out and pick him up.”
“Maybe. But that's not doing the job, that's taking a chance. Do you think you are talking to a toothless baby — or what?”
“No, my gunner. It will take a strong man's teeth to undo that knot.” A moment of silence followed. Then Peyrol assumed a dogmatic tone.
“I will tell you what it is, lieutenant. This seems to me just the sort of order that a landlubber would give to good seamen. You daren't deny that.”
“I don't deny it,” the lieutenant admitted. “And look at the whole difficulty. For supposing even that the tartane blunders right into the English fleet, as if it had been indeed arranged, they would just look into her hold or perhaps poke their noses here and there but it would never occur to them to search for dispatches, would it? Our man, of course, would have them well hidden, wouldn't he? He is not to know. And if he were ass enough to leave them lying about the decks the English would at once smell a rat there. But what I think he would do would be to throw the dispatches overboard.”
“Yes — unless he is told the nature of the job,” said Peyrol.
“Evidently. But where's the bribe big enough to induce a man to taste of the English pontoons?”
“The man will take the bribe all right and then will do his best not to be caught; and if he can't avoid that, he will take jolly good care that the English should find nothing on board his tartane. Oh no, lieutenant, any damn scallywag that owns a tartane will take a couple of thousand francs from your hand as tame as can be; but as to deceiving the English Admiral, it's the very devil of an affair. Didn't you think of all that before you spoke to the big epaulettes that gave you the job?”
“I did see it, and I put it all before him,” the lieutenant said, lowering his voice still more, for their conversation had been carried on in undertones though the house behind them was silent and solitude reigned round the approaches of Escampobar Farm. It was the hour of siesta — for those that could sleep. The lieutenant, edging closer towards the old man, almost breathed the words in his ear.
“What I wanted was to hear you say all those things. Do you understand now what I meant this morning on the lookout? Don't you remember what I said?”
Peyrol, gazing into space, spoke in a level murmur.
“I remember a naval officer trying to shake old Peyrol off his feet and not managing to do it. I may be disparu but I am too solid yet for any blancbec that loses his temper, devil only knows why. And it's a good thing that you didn't manage it, else I would have taken you down with me, and we would have made our last somersault together for the amusement of an English ship's company. A pretty end that!”
“Don't you remember me saying, when you mentioned that the English would have sent a boat to go through our pockets, that this would have been the perfect way?” In his stony immobility with the other man leaning towards his car, Peyrol seemed a mere insensible receptacle for whispers, and the lieutenant went on forcibly: “Well, it was in allusion to this affair, for, look here, gunner, what could be more convincing, if they had found the packet of dispatches on me! What would have been their surprise, their wonder! Not the slightest doubt could enter their heads. Could it, gunner? Of course it couldn't. I can imagine the captain of that corvette crowding sail on her to get this packet into the Admiral's hands. The secret of the Toulon fleet's destination found on the body of a dead officer. Wouldn't they have exulted at their enormous piece of luck! But they wouldn't have called it accidental. Oh, no! They would have called it providential. I know the English a little too. They like to have God on their side — the only ally they never need pay a subsidy to. Come, gunner, would it not have been a perfect way?”
Lieutenant Réal threw himself back and Peyrol, still like a carven image of grim dreaminess, growled softly:
“Time yet. The English ship is still in the Passe.” He waited a little in his uncanny living-statue manner before he added viciously: “You don't seem in a hurry to go and take that leap.”
“Upon my word, I am almost sick enough of life to do it,” the lieutenant said in a conversational tone.
“Well, don't forget to run upstairs and take that packet with you before you go,” said Peyrol as before. “But don't wait for me; I am not sick of life. I am disparu, and that's good enough. There's no need for me to die.”
And at last he moved in his seat, swung his head from side to side as if to make sure that his neck had not been turned to stone, emitted a short laugh, and grumbled: “Disparu! Hein! Well, I am damned!” as if the word “vanished” had been a gross insult to enter against a man's name in a register. It seemed to rankle, as Lieutenant Réal observed with some surprise; or else it was something inarticulate that rankled, manifesting itself in that funny way. The lieutenant, too, had a moment of anger which flamed and went out at once in the deadly cold philosophic reflection: “We are victims of the destiny which has brought us together.” Then again his resentment flamed. Why should he have stumbled against that girl or that woman, he didn't know how he must think of her, and suffer so horribly for it? He who had endeavoured almost from a boy to destroy all the softer feelings within himself. His changing moods of distaste, of wonder at himself and at the unexpected turns of life, wore the aspect of profound abstraction from which he was recalled by an outburst of Peyrol's, not loud but fierce enough.
“No,” cried Peyrol, “I am too old to break my bones for the sake of a lubberly soldier in Paris who fancies he has invented something clever.”
“I don't ask you to,” the lieutenant said, with extreme severity, in what Peyrol would call an epaulette wearer's voice. “You old sea-bandit. And it wouldn't be for the sake of a soldier anyhow. You and I are Frenchmen after all.”
“You have discovered that, have you?”
“Yes,” said Réal. “This morning, listening to your talk on the hillside with that English corvette within one might say a stone's throw.”
“Yes,” groaned Peyrol. “A French-built ship!” He struck his breast a resounding blow. “It hurts one there to see her. It seemed to me I could jump down on her deck single-handed.”
“Yes, there you and I understood each other,” said the lieutenant. “But look here, this affair is a much bigger thing than getting back a captured corvette. In reality it is much more than merely playing a trick on an admiral. It's a part of a deep plan, Peyrol! It's another stroke to help us on the way towards a great victory at sea.”
“Us!” said Peyrol. “I am a sea-bandit and you are a sea-officer. What do you mean by us?”
“I mean all Frenchmen,” said the lieutenant. “Or, let us say simply France, which you too have served.”
Peyrol, whose stone-effigy bearing had become humanized almost against his will, gave an appreciative nod, and said: “You've got something in your mind. Now what is it? If you will trust a sea-bandit.”
“No, I will trust a gunner of the Republic. It occurred to me that for this great affair we could make use of this corvette that you have been observing so long. For to count on the capture of any old tartane by the fleet in a way that would not arouse suspicion is no use.”
“A lubberly notion,” assented Peyrol, with more heartiness than he had ever displayed towards Lieutenant Réal.
“Yes, but there's that corvette. Couldn't something be arranged to make them swallow the whole thing, somehow, some way? You laugh . . . Why?”
“I laugh because it would be a great joke,” said Peyrol, whose hilarity was very short-lived. “That fellow on board, he thinks himself very clever. I never set my eyes on him, but I used to feel that I knew him as if he were my own brother; but now. . .”
He stopped short. Lieutenant Réal, after observing the sudden change on his countenance, said in an impressive manner:
“I think you have just had an idea.”
“Not the slightest,” said Peyrol, turning suddenly into stone as if by enchantment. The lieutenant did not feel discouraged and he was not surprised to hear the effigy of Peyrol pronounce: “All the same one could see.” Then very abruptly: “You meant to stay here to-night?”
“Yes. I will only go down to Madrague and leave word with the sailing barge which was to come to-day from Toulon to go back without me.”
“No, lieutenant. You must return to Toulon to-day. When you get there you must turn out some of those damned quill-drivers at the Port Office if it were midnight and have papers made out for a tartane — oh, any name you like. Some sort of papers. And then you must come back as soon as you can. Why not go down to Madrague now and see whether the barge isn't already there? If she is, then by starting at once you may get back here some time about midnight.”
He got up impetuously and the lieutenant stood up too. Hesitation was imprinted on his whole attitude. Peyrol's aspect was not animated, but his Roman face with its severe aspect gave him a great air of authority.
“Won't you tell me something more?” asked the lieutenant.
“No,” said the rover. “Not till we meet again. If you return during the night don't you try to get into the house. Wait outside. Don't rouse anybody. I will be about, and if there is anything to say I will say it to you then. What are you looking about you for? You don't want to go up for your valise. Your pistols up in your room too? What do you want with pistols, only to go to Toulon and back with a naval boat's crew?” He actually laid his hand on the lieutenant's shoulder and impelled him gently towards the track leading to Madrague. Réal turned his head at the touch and their eyes met with the strained closeness of a wrestler's hug. It was the lieutenant who gave way before the unflinchingly direct stare of the old Brother of the Coast. He gave way under the cover of a sarcastic smile and a very airy, “I see you want me out of the way for some reason or other,” which produced not the slightest effect upon Peyrol, who stood with his arm pointing towards Madrague. When the lieutenant turned his back on him Peyrol's pointing arm fell down by his side; but he watched the lieutenant out of sight before he turned too and moved in a contrary direction.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52