THE GOOSE GIRL, THE LURE OF THE MASK, THE MAN ON THE BOX, ETC.
With Illustrations by
HOWARD CHANDLER CHRISTY
[Transcriber's note: All illustrations were missing from book.]
GROSSET & DUNLAP
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
I A MEMORABLE DATE II THE BUTTERFLY MAN III A PLASTER STATUETTE IV PIRATES AND SECRETARIES V NO FALSE PRETENSES VI SOME EXPLANATIONS VII A BIT OF ROMANTIC HISTORY VIII SOME BIRDS IN A CHIMNEY IX THEY DRESS FOR DINNER X THE GHOST OF AN OLD REGIME XI PREPARATIONS AND COGITATIONS XII M. FERRAUD INTRODUCES HIMSELF XIII THE WOMAN WHO KNEW XIV THE DRAMA BEGINS XV THEY GO A-SAILING XVI CROSS-PURPOSES XVII A QUESTION PROM KEATS XVIII CATHEWE ADVISES AND THE ADMIRAL DISCLOSES XIX BREITMANN MAKES HIS FIRST BLUNDER XX AN OLD SCANDAL XXI CAPTAIN FLANAGAN MEETS A DUKE XXII THE ADMIRAL BEGINS TO DOUBT XXIII CATHEWE ASKS QUESTIONS XXIV THE PINES OF AITONE XXV THE DUPE XXVI THE END OF THE DREAM
A SPLENDID HAZARD
A MEMORABLE DATE
A blurring rain fell upon Paris that day; a rain so fine and cold that it penetrated the soles of men's shoes and their hearts alike, a dispiriting drizzle through which the pale, acrid smoke of innumerable wood fires faltered upward from the clustering chimney-pots, only to be rent into fragments and beaten down upon the glistening tiles of the mansard roofs. The wide asphalts reflected the horses and carriages and trains and pedestrians in forms grotesque, zigzagging, flitting, amusing, like a shadow-play upon a wrinkled, wind-blown curtain. The sixteenth of June. To Fitzgerald there was something electric in the date, a tingle of that ecstasy which frequently comes into the blood of a man to whom the romance of a great battle is more than its history or its effect upon the destinies of human beings. Many years before, this date had marked the end to a certain hundred days, the eclipse of a sun more dazzling than Rome, in the heyday of her august Caesars, had ever known: Waterloo. A little corporal of artillery; from a cocked hat to a crown, from Corsica to St. Helena: Napoleon.
Fitzgerald, as he pressed his way along the Boulevard des Invalides, his umbrella swaying and snapping in the wind much like the sail of a derelict, could see in fancy that celebrated field whereon this eclipse had been supernally prearranged. He could hear the boom of cannon, the thunder of cavalry, the patter of musketry, now thick, now scattered, and again not unlike the subdued rattle of rain on the bulging silk careening before him. He held the handle of the umbrella under his arm, for the wind had a temper mawling and destructive, and veered into the Place Vauban. Another man, coming with equal haste from the opposite direction, from the entrance of the tomb itself, was also two parts hidden behind an umbrella. The two came together with a jolt as sounding as that of two old crusaders in a friendly joust. Instantly they retreated, lowering their shields.
"I beg your pardon," said Fitzgerald in French.
"It is of no consequence," replied the stranger, laughing. "This is always a devil of a corner on a windy day." His French had a slight German twist to it.
Briefly they inspected each other, as strangers will, carelessly, with annoyance and amusement interplaying in their eyes and on their lips, all in a trifling moment. Then each raised his hat and proceeded, as tranquilly and unconcernedly as though destiny had no ulterior motive in bringing them thus really together. And yet, when they had passed and disappeared from each other's view, both were struck with the fact that somewhere they had met before.
Fitzgerald went into the tomb, his head bared. The marble underfoot bore the imprint of many shoes and rubbers and hobnails, of all sizes and—mayhap—of all nations. He recollected, with a burn on his cheeks, a sacrilege of his raw and eager youth, some twelve years since; he had forgotten to take off his hat. Never would he forget the embarrassment of that moment when the attendant peremptorily bade him remove it. He, to have forgotten! He, who held Napoleon above all heroes! The shame of it!
To-day many old soldiers were gathered meditatively round the heavy circular railing. They were always drawn hither on memorable anniversaries. Their sires and grandsires had carried some of those tattered flags, had won them. The tides of time might ebb and flow, but down there, in his block of Siberian porphyry, slept the hero. There were some few tourists about this afternoon, muttering over their guide-books, when nothing is needed on this spot but the imagination; and that solemn quiet of which the tomb is ever jealous pressed down sadly upon the living. Through the yellow panes at the back of the high altar came a glow suggesting sunshine, baffling the drab of the sky outside; and down in the crypt itself the misty blue was as effective as moonshine.
Napoleon had always been Fitzgerald's ideal hero; but he did not worship him blindly, no. He knew him to have been a brutal, domineering man, unscrupulous in politics, to whom woman was either a temporary toy or a stepping-stone, not over-particular whether she was a dairy-maid or an Austrian princess; in fact, a rascal, but a great, incentive, splendid, courageous one, the kind which nature calls forth every score of years to purge her breast of the petty rascals, to the benefit of mankind in general. Notwithstanding that he was a rascal, there was an inextinguishable glamour about the man against which the bolts of truth, history, letters, biographers broke ineffectually. Oh, but he had shaken up all Europe; he had made precious kings rattle in their shoes; he had redrawn a hundred maps; and men had laughed as they died for him. It is something for a rascal to have evolved the Code Napoleon. What a queer satisfaction it must be, even at this late day, nearly a hundred years removed, to any Englishman, standing above this crypt, to recollect that upon English soil the Great Shadow had never set his iron heel!
Near to Fitzgerald stood an elderly man and a girl. The old fellow was a fine type of manhood; perhaps in the sixties, white-haired, and the ruddy enamel on his cheeks spoke eloquently of sea changes and many angles of the sun. There was a button in the lapel of his coat, and from this Fitzgerald assumed that he was a naval officer, probably retired.
The girl rested upon the railing, her hands folded, and dreamily her gaze wandered from trophy to trophy; from the sarcophagus to the encircling faces, from one window to another, and again to the porphyry beneath. And Fitzgerald's gaze wandered, too. For the girl's face was of that mold which invariably draws first the eye of a man, then his intellect, then his heart, and sometimes all three at once. The face was as lovely as a rose of Taormina. Dark brown were her eyes, dark brown was her hair. She was tall and lithe, too, with the subtle hint of the woman. There were good taste and sense in her garments. A bunch of Parma violets was pinned against her breast.
"A well-bred girl," was the grateful spectator's silent comment. "No new money there. I wish they'd send more of them over here. But it appears that, with few exceptions, only freaks can afford to travel."
Between Fitzgerald and the girl was a veteran. He had turned eighty if a day. His face was powder-blown, an empty sleeve, was folded across his breast, and the medal of the Legion of Honor fell over the Sleeve. As the girl and her elderly escort, presumably her father, turned about to leave, she unpinned the flowers and offered them impulsively to the aged hero.
"Take these, mon brave," she said lightly; "you have fought for France."
The old man was confused and his faded eyes filled. "For me, mademoiselle?"
"Thanks, mademoiselle, thanks! I saw him when they brought him back from St. Helena, and the Old Guard waded out into the Seine. Those were days. Thanks, mademoiselle; an old soldier salutes you!" And the time-bent, withered form grew tall.
Fitzgerald cleared his throat, for just then something hard had formed there. Why, God bless her! She was the kind of girl who became the mother of soldiers.
With her departure his present interest here began to wane. He wondered who she might be and what part of his native land she adorned when not gracing European capitals. Well, this was no time for mooning. He had arrived from London the day proceeding, and was leaving for Corfu on the morrow, and perforce he must crowd many things into this short grace of time. He was only moderately fond of Paris as a city; the cafes and restaurants and theaters amused him, to be sure; but he was always hunting for romance here and never finding it. The Paris of his Dumas and Leloir no longer existed. In one way or another, the Louvre did not carry him back to the beloved days; he could not rouse his fancy to such height that he could see D'Artagnan ruffling it on the staircase, or Porthos sporting a gold baldric, which was only leather, under his cloak. So then, the tomb of Napoleon and the articles of clothing and warfare which had belonged to him and the toys of the poor little king of Rome were far more to him than all the rest of Paris put together. These things of the first great empire were tangible, visible, close to the touch of his hand. Therefore, never he came to Paris that he failed to visit the tomb and the two museums.
To-day his sight-seeing ended in the hall of Turenne, before the souvenirs of the Duc de Reichstadt, so-called the king of Rome. Poor, little lead soldiers, tarnished and broken; what a pathetic history! Abused, ignored, his childish aspirations trampled on, the name and glory of his father made sport of; worried as cruel children worry a puppy; tantalized; hoping against hope that this night or the next his father would dash in at the head of the Old Guard and take him back to Paris. A plaything for Metternich! Who can gaze upon these little toys without a thrill of pity?
"Poor little codger!" Fitzgerald murmured aloud.
"Yes, yes!" agreed a voice in good English, over his shoulder; "who will ever realize the misery of that boy?"
Fitzgerald at once recognized his jousting opponent of the previous hour. Further, this second appearance refreshed his memory. He knew now where he had met the man; he even recalled his name.
"Are you not Karl Breitmann?" he asked with directness.
"Yes. And you are—let me think. Yes; I have it. You are the American correspondent, Fitzgerald."
"And we met in Macedonia during the Greek war."
"Right. And you and I, with a handful of other scribblers, slept that night under the same tent."
"I did not recall you when we bumped a while ago; but once I had gone by you, your face became singularly familiar."
"Funny, isn't it?" And Fitzgerald took hold of the extended hand. "The sight of these toys always gets into my heart."
"Into mine also. Who can say what might have been had they not crushed out the great spirit lying dormant in his little soul? I saw Bernhardt and Coquelin recently in L'Aiglon. Ah, but they play it! It drove me here to-day. But this three-cornered hat holds me longest," with a quick gesture toward the opposite wall. "Can't you see the lean face under it, the dark eyes, the dark hair falling upon his collar? What thoughts have run riot under this piece of felt? The brain, the brain! A lieutenant at this time; a short, wiry, cold-blooded youngster, but dreaming the greatest dream in the world!"
Fitzgerald smiled. "You are an enthusiast like myself."
"Who wouldn't be who has, visited every battlefield, who has spent days wandering about Corsica, Elba, St. Helena? But you?"
"My word, I have done the same things."
They exchanged smiles.
"What written tale can compare with this living one?" continued Breitmann, his eyes brilliant, his voice eager and the tone rich. "Ah! How many times have I berated the day I was born! To have lived in that day, to have been a part of that bewildering war panorama; from Toulon to Waterloo! Pardon; perhaps I bore you?"
"By George, no! I'm as bad, if not worse. I shall never forgive one of my forebears for serving under Wellington."
"Nor I one of mine for serving under Bluecher!"
They laughed aloud this time. It is always pleasant to meet a person who waxes enthusiastic over the same things as oneself. And Fitzgerald was drawn toward this comparative stranger, who was not ashamed to speak from his heart. They drifted into a long conversation, and fought a dozen battles, compared this general and that, and built idle fancies upon what the outcome would have been had Napoleon won at Waterloo. This might have gone on indefinitely had not the patient attendant finally dandled his keys and yawned over his watch. It was four o'clock, and they had been talking for a full hour. They exchanged cards, and Fitzgerald, with his usual disregard of convention, invited Breitmann to dine with him that evening at the Meurice.
He selected a table by the window, dining at seven-thirty. Breitmann was prompt. In evening clothes there was something distinctive about the man. Fitzgerald, who was himself a wide traveler and a man of the world, instantly saw and was agreeably surprised that he had asked a gentleman to dine. Fitzgerald was no cad; he would have been just as much interested in Breitmann had he arrived in a cutaway sack. But chance acquaintances, as a rule, are rudimental experiments.
They sat down. Breitmann was full of surprises; and as the evening wore on, Fitzgerald remembered having seen Breitmann's name at the foot of big newspaper stories. The man had traveled everywhere, spoke five languages, had been a war correspondent, a sailor in the South Seas, and Heaven knew what else. He had ridden camels and polo ponies in the Soudan; he had been shot in the Greece-Turkish war, shortly after his having met Fitzgerald; he had played a part in the recent Spanish-American, and had fought against the English in the Transvaal.
"And now I am resting," he concluded, turning his chambertin round and round, giving the effect of a cluster of rubies on the table linen. "And all my adventures have been as profitable as these," indebted for the moment to the phantom rubies. "But it's all a great stage, whether you play behind the wings or before the lights. I am thirty-eight; into twenty of those years I have crowded a century."
"You don't look it."
"Ah, one does not need to dissipate to live quickly. The life I have led has kept me in health and vigor. But you? You are not a man who travels without gaining material."
"I have had a few adventures, something like yours, only not so widely diversified. I wrote some successful short stories about China once. I have had some good sport, too, here and there."
"You live well for a newspaper correspondent," suggested Breitmann, nodding at the bottle of twenty-eight-year-old Burgundy.
"Oh, it's a habit we Americans have," amiably. "We rough it for a few months on bacon and liver, and then turn our attention to truffles and old wines and Cabanas at two-francs-fifty. We are collectively, a good sort of vagabond. I have a little besides my work; not much, but enough to loaf on when no newspaper or magazine cares to pay my expenses in Europe. Anyhow, I prefer this work to staying home to be hampered by intellectual boundaries. My vest will never reach the true proportions which would make me successful in politics."
"You are luckier than I am," Breitmann replied. He sipped his wine slowly and with relish. How long was it since he had tasted a good chambertin?
Perhaps Fitzgerald had noticed it when Breitmann came in. The latter's velvet collar was worn; there was a suspicious gloss at the elbows; the cuff buttons were of cheap metal; his fingers were without rings. But the American readily understood. There are lean years and fat years in journalism, and he himself had known them. For the present this man was a little down on his luck; that was all.
A party came in and took the near table. There were four; two elderly men, an elderly woman, and a girl. Fitzgerald, as he side-glanced, was afforded a shiver of pleasure. He recognized the girl. It was she who had given the flowers to the veteran.
"That is a remarkably fine young woman," said Breitmann, echoing Fitzgerald's thought.
The waiter opened the champagne.
"Yes. I saw her give some violets this afternoon to an old soldier in the tomb. It was a pretty scene."
"Well," said Breitmann, raising his glass, "a pretty woman and a bottle!"
It was the first jarring note, and Fitzgerald frowned.
"Pardon me," added Breitmann, observing the impression he had made, smiling, and when he smiled the student slashes in his cheeks weren't so noticeable. "What I should have said is, a good woman and a good bottle. For what greater delight than to sip a rare vintage with a woman of beauty and intellect opposite? One glass is enough to loose her laughter, her wit, her charm. Bah! A man who knows how to drink his wine, a woman who knows when to laugh, a story-teller who stops when his point is told; these trifles add a little color as we pass. Will you drink to my success?"
"In what?" with Yankee caution.
"In whatever the future sees fit to place under my hand."
"With pleasure! And by the same token you will wish me the same?"
Their glasses touched lightly; and then their glances, drawn by some occult force, half-circled till they paused on the face of the girl, who, perhaps compelled by the same invisible power, had leveled her eyes in their direction. With well-bred calm her interest returned to her companions, and the incident was, to all outward sign, closed. Whatever took place behind that beautiful but indifferent mask no one else ever learned; but simultaneously in the minds of these two adventurers—and surely, to call a man an adventurer does not necessarily imply that he is a chevalier d'industrie—a thought, tinged with regret and loneliness, was born; to have and to hold a maid like that. Love at first sight is the false metal sometimes offered by poets as gold, in quatrains, distiches, verses, and stanzas, tolerated because of the license which allows them to give passing interest the name of love. If these two men thought of love it was only as bystanders, witnessing the pomp and panoply—favored phrase!—of Venus and her court from a curbstone, might have thought of it. Doubtless they had had an affair here and there, over the broad face of the world, but there had never been any barbs on the arrows, thus easily plucked out.
"Sometimes, knowing that I shall never be rich, I have desired a title," remarked Fitzgerald humorously.
"And what would you do with it?" curiously.
"Oh, I'd use it against porters, and waiters, and officials. There's nothing like it. I have observed a good deal. It has a magic sound, like Orpheus' lyre; the stiffest back becomes supine at the first twinkle of it."
"I should like to travel with you, Mr. Fitzgerald," said Breitmann musingly. "You would be good company. Some day, perhaps, I'll try your prescription; but I'm only a poor devil of a homeless, landless baron."
Fitzgerald sat up. "You surprise me."
"Yes. However, neither my father nor my grandfather used it, and as the pitiful few acres which went with it is a sterile Bavarian hillside, I have never used it, either. Besides, neither the Peerage nor the Almanac de Gotha make mention of it; but still the patent of nobility was legal, and I could use it despite the negligence of those two authorities."
"You could use it in America. There are not many 'Burke's' there."
"It amuses me to think that I should confide this secret to you. The wine is good, and perhaps—perhaps I was hungry. Accept what I have told you as a jest."
They both became untalkative as the coffee came. Fitzgerald was musing over the impulse which had seized him in asking Breitmann to share his dinner. He was genuinely pleased that he had done so, however; but it forced itself upon him that sometime or other these impulses would land him in difficulties. On his part the recipient of this particular impulse was also meditating; Napoleon had been utterly forgotten, verbally at least. Well, perhaps they had threshed out that interesting topic during the afternoon. Finally he laid down the end of his cigarette.
"I have to thank you very much for a pleasant evening, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"Glad I ran into you. It has done me no end of good. I leave for the East to-morrow. Is there any possibility of seeing you in the Balkans this fall?"
"No. I am going to try my luck in America again."
"My club address you will find on my card. You must go? It's only the shank of the evening."
"I have a little work to do. Some day I hope I may be able to set as good a dinner before you."
"Better have a cigar."
"No, thank you."
And Fitzgerald liked him none the less for his firmness. So he went as far as the entrance with him.
"Don't bother about calling a cab," said Breitmann. "It has stopped raining, and the walk will tone me up. Good night and good luck."
And they parted, neither ever expecting to see the other again, and equally careless whether they did or not.
Breitmann walked rapidly toward the river, crossed, and at length entered a gloomy old pension over a restaurant frequented by bargemen, students, and human driftwood. As he climbed the badly lighted stairs, a little, gray-haired man, wearing spectacles, passed him, coming down. A "pardon" was mumbled, and the little man proceeded into the restaurant, picked a Figaro from the table littered with newspapers, ensconced himself in a comfortable chair, and ordered coffee. No one gave him more than a cursory glance. The quarter was indigent, but ordinarily respectable; and it was only when some noisy Americans invaded the place that the habitues took any unusual interest in the coming and going of strangers.
Up under the mansard roof there was neither gas nor electricity. Breitmann lighted his two candles, divested himself of his collar, tie, and coat, and flung them on the bed.
"Threadbare, almost! Ah, but I was hungry to-night. Did he know it? Why the devil should I care? To work! Up to this night I have tried to live more or less honestly. I have tried to take the good that is in me and to make the most of it. And," ironically, "this is the result. I have failed. Now we'll see what I can accomplish in the way of being a great rascal."
He knelt before a small steamer trunk, battered and plentifully labeled, and unscrewed the lock. From a cleverly concealed pocket he brought forth a packet of papers. These he placed on the table and unfolded with almost reverent care. Sometimes he shrugged, as one does who is confronted by huge obstacles, sometimes he laughed harshly, sometimes his jaws hardened and his fingers writhed. When he had done—and many and many a time he had repeated this performance, studied the faded ink, the great seal, the watermarks—he hid them away in the trunk again.
He now approached the open window and leaned out. Glittering Paris, wonderful city! How the lights from the bridges twinkled on the wind-wrinkled Seine! Over there lay the third wealth of the world; luxury, vice, pleasure. Eh, well, he could not fight it, but he could curse it deeply and violently, which he did.
"Wait, Moloch, wait; you and I are not done with each other yet! Wait! I shall come back, and when I do, look to yourself! Two million francs, and every one of them mine!"
He laid his head on his hands. It ached dully. Perhaps it was the wine.
THE BUTTERFLY MAN
The passing and repassing shadows of craft gave a fitful luster to the river; so crisply white were the spanning highways that the eye grew quickly dim with looking; the brisk channel breeze which moved with rough gaiety through the trees in the gardens of the Tuileries, had, long hours before, blown away the storm. Bright sunshine, expanses of deep cerulean blue, towering banks of pleasant clouds, these made Paris happy to-day, in spots.
The great minister gazed across the river, his hands under the tails of his frock, and the perturbation of his mind expressed by the frequent flapping of those somber woolen wings. To the little man who watched him, there was a faint resemblance to a fiddling cricket.
"Sometimes I am minded to trust the whole thing to luck, and bother no more about him."
"Monsieur, I have obeyed orders for seven years, since we first recognized the unfortunate affair. Nothing he has done in this period is missing from my notebook; and up to the present time he has done—nothing. But just a little more patience. This very moment, when you are inclined to drop it, may be the one. One way or another, it is a matter of no real concern to me. There will always be plenty of work for me to do, in France, or elsewhere. But I am like an old soldier whose wound, twinging with rheumatism, announces the approach of damp weather. I have, then, monsieur, a kind of psychological rheumatism; prescience, bookmen call it. Presently we shall have damp weather."
"You speak with singular conviction."
"In my time I have made very few mistakes. You will recollect that. Twenty years have I served France. I was wrong to say that this affair does not concern me. I'm interested to see the end."
"But will there be an end?" impatiently. "If I were certain of that! But seven years, and still no sign."
"Monsieur, he is to be feared; this inactivity, to my mind, proves it. He is waiting; the moment is not ripe. There are many sentimental fools in this world. One has only to step into the street and shout 'Down with!' or 'Long live!' to bring these fools clattering about."
"That is true enough," flapping the tails of his coat again.
"This fellow was born across the Rhine. He has served in the navy; he is a German, therefore we can not touch him unless he commits some overt act. He waits; there is where the danger, the real danger, lies. He waits; and it is his German blood which gives him this patience. A Frenchman would have exploded long since."
"You have searched his luggage and his rooms, times without number."
"And found nothing; nothing that I might use effectively. But there is this saving grace; he on his side knows nothing."
"I would I were sure of that also. Eh, well; I leave the affair in your hands, and they are capable ones. When the time comes, act, act upon your own initiative. In this matter we shall give no accounting to Germany."
"No, because what I do must be done secretly. It will not matter that Germany also knows and waits. But this is true; if we do not circumvent him, she will make use of whatever he does."
"It has its whimsical side. Here is a man who may some day blow up France, and yet we can put no hand on him till he throws the bomb."
"But there is always time to stop the flight of the bomb. That shall be my concern; that is, if monsieur is not becoming discouraged and desires me to occupy myself with other things. I repeat: I have rheumatism, I apprehend the damp. He will go to America."
"Ah! It would be a very good plan if he remained there."
The little man did not reply.
"But you say in your reports that you have seen him going about with some of the Orleanists. What is your inference there?"
"I have not yet formed one. It is a bit of a riddle there, for the crow and the eagle do not fly together."
"Well, follow him to America."
"Thanks. The pay is good and the work is congenial." The tone of the little man was softly given to irony.
Gray-haired, rosy-cheeked, a face smooth as a boy's, twinkling eyes behind spectacles, he was one of the most astute, learned, and patient of the French secret police. And he did not care the flip of his strong brown fingers for the methods of Vidocq or Lecoq. His only disguise was that not one of the criminal police of the world knew him or had ever heard of him; and save his chief and three ministers of war—for French cabinets are given to change—his own immediate friends knew him as a butterfly hunter, a searcher for beetles and scarabs, who, indeed, was one of the first authorities in France on the subjects: Anatole Ferraud, who went about, hither and thither, with a little red button in his buttonhole and a tongue facile in a dozen languages.
"Very well, monsieur. I trust that in the near future I may bring you good news."
"He will become nothing or the most desperate man in Europe."
"He is a scholar, too."
"All the more interesting."
"As a student in Munich he has fought his three duels. He has been a war correspondent under fire. He is a great fencer, a fine shot, a daring rider."
"And penniless. What a country they have over there beyond the Rhine! He would never have troubled his head about it, had they not harried him. To stir up France, to wound her if possible! He will be a man of great courage and resource," said the secret agent, drawing the palms of his hands together.
"In the end, then, Germany will offer him money?"
"That is the possible outlook."
"But, suppose he went to work on his own responsibility?"
"In that case one would be justified in locking him up as a madman. Do you know anything about Alpine butterflies?"
"Very little," confessed the minister.
"There is often great danger in getting at them; but the pleasure is commensurate."
"Are there not rare butterflies in the Amazonian swamps?" cynically.
"Ah, but this man has good blood in him; and if he flies at all he will fly high. Think of this man fifty years ago; what a possibility he would have been! But it is out of fashion to-day. Well, monsieur, I must be off. There is an old manuscript at the Bibliotheque I wish to inspect."
"Concerning this matter?"
"Butterflies," softly; "or, I should say, chrysalides."
The subtle inference passed by the minister. There were many other things to-ing and fro-ing in the busy corridors of his brain. "I shall hear from you frequently?"
"As often as the situation requires. By the way, I have an idea. When I cable you the word butterfly, prepare yourself accordingly. It will mean that the bomb is ready."
"Good luck attend you, my savant," said the minister, with a friendliness which was deep and genuine. He had known Monsieur Ferraud in other days. "And, above all, take care of yourself."
"Trust me, Count." And the secret agent departed, to appear again in these chambers only when his work was done.
"A strange man," mused the minister when he was alone. "A still stranger business for a genuine scholar. Is he really poor? Does he do this work to afford him ease and time for his studies? Or, better still, does he hide a great and singular patriotism under butterfly wings? Patriotism? More and more it becomes self-interest. It is only when a foreign mob starts to tear down your house, that you become a patriot."
Now the subject of these desultory musings went directly to the Bibliotheque Nationale. The study he pursued was of deep interest to him; it concerned a butterfly of vast proportions and kaleidoscopic in color, long ago pinned away and labeled among others of lesser brilliancy. It had cast a fine shadow in its brief flight. But the species was now extinct, at least so the historian of this particular butterfly declared. Hybrid? Such a contingency was always possible.
"Suppose it does exist, as I and a few others very well know it does; what a fine joke it would be to see it fly into Paris! But, no. Idle dream! Still, I shall wait and watch. And now, suppose we pay a visit to Berlin and use blunt facts in place of diplomacy? It will surprise them."
Each German chancellor has become, in turn, the repository of such political secrets as fell under the eyes of his predecessor; and the chancellor who walked up and down before Monsieur Ferraud, possessed several which did not rest heavily upon his soul simply because he was incredulous, or affected that he was.
"The thing is preposterous."
"As your excellency has already declared."
"What has it to do with France?"
"Much or little. It depends upon this side of the Rhine."
"What imagination! But for your credentials, Monsieur Ferraud, I should not listen to you one moment."
"I have seen some documents."
"Not in the least," suavely. "They are in every part genuine. They are his own."
The chancellor paused, frowning. "Well, even then?"
Monsieur Ferraud shrugged.
"This fellow, who was forced to resign from the navy because of his tricks at cards, why I doubt if he could stir up a brawl in a tavern. Really, if there was a word of truth in the affair, we should have acted before this. It is all idle newspaper talk that Germany wishes war; far from it. Still, we lose no point to fortify ourselves against the possibility of it. Some one has been telling you old-wives' tales."
"Ten thousand marks," almost inaudibly.
"What was that you said?" cried the chancellor, whirling round abruptly, for the words startled him.
"Pardon me! I was thinking out loud about a sum of money."
"Ah!" And yet the chancellor realized that the other was telling him as plainly as he dared that the German government had offered such a sum to forward the very intrigue which he was so emphatically denying. "Why not turn the matter over to your own ambassador here?"
The secret agent laughed. "Publicity is what neither your government nor mine desires. Thank you."
"I am sorry not to be of some service to you."
"I can readily believe that, your excellency," not to be outdone in the matter of duplicity. "I thank you for your time."
"I hadn't the least idea that you were in the service; butterflies and diplomacy!" with a hearty laugh.
"It is only temporary."
"Your Alpine Butterflies compares favorably with The Life of the Bee."
"That is a very great compliment!"
And with this the interview, extraordinary in all ways, came to an end. Neither man had fooled the other, neither had made any mistake in his logical deductions; and, in a way, both were satisfied. The chancellor resumed his more definite labors, and the secret agent hurried away to the nearest telegraph office.
"So I am to stand on these two feet?" Monsieur Ferraud ruminated, as he took the seat by the window in the second-class carriage for Munich. "All the finer the sport. Ten thousand marks! He forgot himself for a moment. And I might have gone further and said that ninety thousand marks would be added to those ten thousand if the bribe was accepted and the promise fulfilled."
Ah, it would be beautiful to untangle this snarl all alone. It would be the finest chase that had ever fallen to his lot. No grain of sand, however small, should escape him. There were fools in Berlin as well as in Paris; and he knew what he knew. "Never a move shall he make that I shan't make the same; and in one thing I shall move first. Two million francs! Handsome! It is I who must find this treasure, this fulcrum to the lever which is going to upheave France. There will be no difficulty then in pricking the pretty bubble. In the meantime we shall proceed to Munich and carefully inquire into the affairs of the grand opera singer, Hildegarde von Mitter."
He extracted a wallet from an inner pocket and opened it across his knees. It was full of butterflies.
A PLASTER STATUETTE
Fitzgerald's view from his club window afforded the same impersonal outlook as from a window in a car. It was the two living currents, moving in opposite directions, each making toward a similar goal, only in a million different ways, that absorbed him. Subconsciously he was always counting, counting, now by fives, now by tens, but invariably found new entertainment ere he reached the respectable three numerals of an even hundred. Sometimes it was a silk hat which he followed till it became lost up the Avenue; and as often as not he would single out a waiting cabman and speculate on the quality of his fare; and other whimsies.
That this was such and such a woman, or that was such and such a man never led him into any of that gossip so common among club-men who are out of touch with the vital things in life. Even when he espied a friend in this mysterious flow of souls, there was only a transient flash of recognition in his eyes. When he wasn't in the tennis-courts, or the billiard- or card-rooms, he was generally to be found in this corner. He had seen all manner of crowds, armies pursuing and retreating, vast concords in public squares, at coronations, at catastrophes, at play, and he never lost interest in watching them; they were the great expressions of humanity. This is perhaps the reason why his articles were always so rich in color. No two crowds were ever alike to him, consequently he never was at loss for a fresh description.
To-day the Italian vender of plaster statuettes caught his eye. For an hour now the poor wretch hadn't even drawn the attention of one of the thousands passing. Fitzgerald felt sorry for him, and once the desire came to go over and buy out the Neapolitan; but he was too comfortable where he was, and beyond that he was expecting a friend.
Fitzgerald was thirty, with a clean-shaven, lean, and eager face, russet in tone, well offset by the fine blue eyes which had the faculty of seeing little and big things at the same time. He had dissipated in a trifling fashion, but the healthy, active life he lived in the open more than counteracted the effects. A lonely orphan, possessing a lively imagination, is seldom free from some vice or other. There had never been, however, what the world is pleased to term entanglements. His guardian angel gave him a light step whenever there was any social thin ice. Oh, he had some relatives; but as they were neither very rich nor very poor, they seldom annoyed one another. He was, then, a free lance in all the abused word implies; and he lived as he pleased, spending his earnings freely and often carelessly, knowing that the little his father had left him would keep a moderately hungry wolf from the door. He had been born to a golden spoon, but the food from the pewter one he now used tasted just as good.
"So here you are! I've been in the billiard-room, and the card-room, and the bar-room."
"Talking of bar-rooms!" Fitzgerald reached for the button. "Sit down, Hewitt, old boy. Glad to see you. Now, I'll tell you right off the bat, nothing will persuade me. For years I've been jumping to the four points of the compass at the beck of your old magazine and syndicate. I'm going to settle down and write a novel."
"Piffle!" growled the editor, dropping his lanky form into a chair. "Thank goodness, they haven't swivel chairs in the club. I've been whirling round in one all day—a long, tall Scotch, please—but a novel! I say, piffle!"
"Piffle it may be, but I'm going to have a whack at it. If I ever do another article it will be as a millionaire's private secretary. I should like to study his methods for saving his money. What is it this time?"
"A dash to the North Pole."
"Never again north of Berlin or south of Assuan for mine. No."
"Come, Fitz; a great chance."
"When you sent me to Manila I explored hell for you, but I've cooled off considerably since then. No ice for mine, except in silver buckets."
"You've made a pretty good thing out of us; something like five thousand a year and your expenses; and with the credentials we've always given you, you have been able to see the world as few men see it."
"That's just the trouble. You've spoiled me."
"Well, you may take my word for it, you won't have the patience to sit down at home here and write a hundred thousand words that mean anything. There's no reason why you can't do my work and write novels on the side. We both know a dozen fellows who are doing it. We've got to have this article, and you're the only man we dare trust alone on it, if it will flatter you any to know it."
"Come, pussy, come!"
"If it's a question of more money—"
"Perish the thought!" cried Fitzgerald, clasping his knees and rocking gently. "You know as well as I do, Hewitt, that it's the game and not the cash. I've found a new love, my boy."
"Double harness?" with real anxiety. Hewitt bit his scrubby mustache. When a special correspondent married that was the end of him.
"There you go again!" warned the recalcitrant. "If you don't stop eating that mustache you'll have stomach trouble that no Scotch whisky will ever cure. The whole thing is in a nutshell," a sly humor creeping into his eyes. "I am tired of writing ephemeral things. I want to write something that will last."
"Write your epitaph, Jack," drawled a deep voice from the reading table. "That's the only sure way, and even that is no good if your marble is spongy."
"Oh, Cathewe, this is not your funeral," retorted the editor.
"Perhaps not. All the same, I'll be chief mourner if Jack takes up novel writing. Critics don't like novels, because any one can write an average story; but it takes a genius to turn out first-class magazine copy. Anyhow, art becomes less and less particular every day. The only thing that never gains or loses is this London Times. Someday I'm going to match the Congressional Record and the Times for the heavyweight championship of the world, with seven to one on the Record, to weigh in at the ringside."
"You've been up north, Arthur," said Fitzgerald. "What's your advice?"
"Don't do it. You've often wondered how and where I lost these two digits. Up there." The Times rattled, and Cathewe became absorbed in the budget.
Arthur Cathewe was a tall, loose-limbed man, forty-two or three, rather handsome, and a bit shy with most folk. Rarely any one saw him outside the club. He had few intimates, but to these he was all that friendship means, kindly, tender, loyal, generous, self-effacing. And Fitzgerald loved him best of all men. It did not matter that there were periods when they became separated for months at a time. They would some day turn up together in the same place. "Why, hello, Arthur!" "Glad to see you, Jack!" and that was all that was necessary. All the enthusiasm was down deep below. Cathewe was always in funds; Fitzgerald sometimes; but there was never any lending or borrowing between them. This will do much toward keeping friendship green. The elder man was a great hunter; he had been everywhere, north and south, east and west. He never fooled away his time at pigeons and traps; big game, where the betting was even, where the animal had almost the same chance as the man. He could be tolerably humorous upon occasions. The solemn cast to his comely face predestined him for this talent.
"Well, Fitz, what are you going to do?"
"Hewitt, give me a chance. I've been home but a week. I'm not going to dash to the Pole without having a ripping good time here first. Will a month do?"
"Oh, the expedition doesn't leave for two months yet. But we must sign the contract a month beforehand."
"To-day is the first of June; I promise to telegraph you yes or no this day month. You have had me over in Europe eighteen months. I'm tired of trains, and boats, and mules. I'm going fishing."
"Ah, bass!" murmured Cathewe from behind his journal.
"By the way, Hewitt," said Fitzgerald, "have you ever heard of a chap called Karl Breitmann?"
"Yes," answered Hewitt. "Never met him personally, though."
"I have," joined in Cathewe quietly. He laid down the Times. "What do you know about him?"
"Met him in Paris last year. Met him once before in Macedonia. Dined with me in Paris. Amazing lot of adventures. Rather down on his luck, I should judge."
"Couple of scars on his left cheek and a bit of the scalp gone; German student sort, rather good-looking, fine physique?"
"That's the man."
"I know him, but not very well." And Cathewe fumbled among the other newspapers.
"Dine with me to-night," urged Hewitt.
"I'll tell you what. See that Italian over there with the statues? I am going to buy him out; and if I don't make a sale in half an hour, I'll sign the dinner checks."
"I'll take half of that bet," said Cathewe, rising. "It will be cheap."
Ten minutes later the two older men saw Fitzgerald hang the tray from his shoulders and take his position on the corner.
"I love that chap, Hewitt; he is what I always wanted to be, but couldn't be." Cathewe pulled the drooping ends of his mustache. "If he should write a novel, I'm afraid for your sake that it will be a good one. Keep him busy. Novel writing keeps a man indoors. But don't send him on any damn goose chase for the Pole."
"Well, he might discover it. But, honestly, it's so God-forsaken and cold and useless. I have hunted musk-ox, and I know something about the place. North Poling, as I call it, must be a man's natural bent; otherwise you kill the best that's in him."
"Heaven on earth, will you look! A policeman is arguing with him." Hewitt shook with laughter.
"But I bought him out," protested Fitzgerald. "There's no law to prevent me selling these."
"Oh, I'm wise. We want no horse-play on this corner; no joyful college stunts," roughly.
Fitzgerald saw that frankness must be his card, so he played it. "Look here, do you see those two gentlemen in the window there?"
"Yes. I made a wager that I could sell one of these statues in half an hour. If you force me off I'll lose a dinner."
"Well, I'll make a bargain with you. You can stand here for half an hour; but if you open your mouth to a woman, I'll run you in. No fooling; I'm talking straight. I'm going to see what your game is."
So the policeman turned to his crossing and reassumed his authority over traffic, all the while never losing sight of the impromptu vender.
Many pedestrians paused. To see a well-dressed young man hawking plaster Venuses was no ordinary sight. They knew that some play was going on, but, with that inveterate suspicion of the city pedestrian, none of them stopped to speak or buy. Some newsboys gathered round and offered a few suggestions. Fitzgerald gave them back in kind. No woman spoke, but there wasn't one who passed that didn't look at him with more than ordinary curiosity. He was enjoying it. It reminded him of the man who offered sovereigns for shillings, and never exchanged a coin.
Once he turned to see if his friends were still watching him. They were, two among many; for the exploit had gone round, and there were other wagers being laid on the result. While his head was turned, and his grin was directed at the club window, a handsome young woman in blue came along. She paused, touched her lips with her gloved hand meditatingly, and then went right-about-face swiftly. Some one in the window motioned frantically to the vender, but he did not understand. Ten minutes left in which to win his bet. He hadn't made a very good bargain. Hm! The young woman in blue was stopping. Her exquisite face was perfectly serious as her eyes ran over the collection on the tray. They were all done execrably, something Fitzgerald hadn't noticed before.
"How much are these apiece?"
"Er—twenty-five cents, ma'am," he stammered. As a matter of fact he hadn't any idea what the current price list was.
"You seem very well dressed," doubtfully; "and you do not look hungry."
"I am doing this for charity's sake," finding his wits. The policeman hovered near, scowling. He was powerless, since the young woman had spoken first.
"Charity," in a half-articulated voice, as if the word to her possessed many angles, and she was endeavoring to find the proper one to fit the moment.
A blank pause. "My own, ma'am, of which I am the head." There was no levity in tone or expression.
By now every window in the club framed a dozen or more faces.
"I will take this Canova, I believe," she finally decided, opening her purse and producing the necessary silver. "Of course, it is quite impossible to send this?"
"Yes, ma'am. Sending it would eat up all the profits." But, with ill-concealed eagerness, "If you will leave your address I can send as many as you like."
"I will do that."
Incredible as it seemed, neither face lost its repose; he dared not smile, and the young woman did not care to. There was something familiar to his memory in the oval face, but this was no time for a diligent search.
"Hey, miss," yelled one of the newsboys, "you're t'rowin' your money away. He's a fake; he ain't no statoo seller. He's doing it for a joke!"
Fitzgerald lost a little color, that was all. But his customer ignored the imputation. She took out a card and laid it on the tray, and without further ado went serenely on her way. The policeman stepped toward her as if to speak, but she turned her delicate head aside. The crowd engulfed her presently, and Fitzgerald picked up the card. There was neither name nor definite address on it. It was a message, hastily written; and it sent a thrill of delight and speculation to his impressionable heart. Still carrying the tray before him he hastened over to the club, where there was something of an ovation. Instead of a dinner for three it became one for a dozen, and Fitzgerald passed the statuettes round as souvenirs of the most unique bet of the year. There were lively times. Toward midnight, as Fitzgerald was going out of the coat room, Cathewe spoke to him.
"What was her name, Jack?"
"Hanged if I know."
"She dropped a card on your tray."
Fitzgerald scrubbed his chin. "There wasn't any name on it. There was an address and something more. Now, wait a moment, Arthur; this is no ordinary affair. I would not show it to any one else. Here, read it yourself."
"Come to the house at the top of the hill, in Dalton, to-morrow night at eight o'clock. But do not come if you lack courage."
That was all. Cathewe ran a finger, comb-fashion, through his mustache. He almost smiled.
"Where the deuce is Dalton?" Fitzgerald inquired.
"It is a little village on the New Jersey coast; not more than forty houses, post-office, hotel, and general store; perhaps an hour out of town."
"What would you do in my place? It may be a joke, and then again it may not. She knew that I was a rank impostor."
"But she knew that a man must have a certain kind of daredevil courage to play the game you played. Well, you ask me what I should do in your place. I'd go."
"I shall. It will double discount fishing. And the more I think of it, the more certain I become that she and I have met somewhere. By-by!"
Cathewe lingered in the reading-room, pondering. Here was a twist to the wager he was rather unprepared for; and if the truth must be told, he was far more perplexed than Fitzgerald. He knew the girl, but he did not know and could not imagine what purpose she had in aiding Fitzgerald to win his wager or luring him out to an obscure village in this detective-story manner.
"Well, I shall hear all about it from her father," he concluded.
And all in good time he did.
PIRATES AND PRIVATE SECRETARIES
It was a little station made gloomy by a single light. Once in so often a fast train stopped, if properly flagged. Fitzgerald, feeling wholly unromantic, now that he had arrived, dropped his hand-bag on the damp platform and took his bearings. It was after sundown. The sea, but a few yards away, was a murmuring, heaving blackness, save where here and there a wave broke. The wind was chill, and there was the hint of a storm coming down from the northeast.
"Any hotel in this place?" he asked of the ticket agent, the telegraph operator, and the baggageman, who was pushing a crate of vegetables off a truck.
"Swan's Hotel; only one."
"Do people sleep and eat there?"
"If they have good digestions."
"Whisky's no good, either."
"Thanks again. This doesn't look much like a summer resort."
"Nobody ever said it was. I beg your pardon, but would you mind taking an end of this darned crate?"
"Not at all." Fitzgerald was beginning to enjoy himself. "Where do you want it?"
"In here," indicating the baggage-room. "Thanks. Now, if there's anything I can do to help you in return, let her go."
"Is there a house hereabouts called the top o' the hill?"
"Come over here," said the agent. "See that hill back there, quarter of a mile above the village; those three lights? Well, that's it. They usually have a carriage down here when they're expecting any one."
"Who owns it?"
"Old Admiral Killigrew. Didn't you know it?"
"Oh, Admiral Killigrew; yes, of course. I'm not a guest. Just going up there on business. Worth about ten millions, isn't he?"
"That and more. There's his yacht in the harbor. Oh, he could burn up the village, pay the insurance, and not even knock down the quality of his cigars. He's the best old chap out. None of your red-faced, yo-hoing, growling seadogs; just a kindly, generous old sailor, with only one bee in his bonnet."
"What sort of bee?"
"Pirates!" in a ghostly whisper.
"Pirates? Oh, say, now!" with a protest.
"Straight as a die. He's got the finest library on piracy in the world, everything from The Pirates of Penzance to The Life of Morgan."
"But there's no pirate afloat these days."
"Not on the high seas, no. It's just the old man's pastime. Every so often, he coals up the yacht, which is a seventeen-knotter, and goes off to the South Seas, hunting for treasures."
"By George!" Fitzgerald whistled softly. "Has he ever found any?"
"Not so much as a postage stamp, so far as I know. Money's always been in the family, and his Wall Street friends have shown him how to double what he has, from time to time. Just for the sport of the thing some old fellows go in for crockery, some for pictures, and some for horses. The admiral just hunts treasures. Half-past six; you'll excuse me. There'll be some train despatches in a minute."
Fitzgerald gave him a good cigar, took up his bag, and started off for the main street; and once there he remembered with chagrin that he had not asked the agent the most important thing of all: Had the admiral a daughter? Well, at eight o'clock he would learn all about that. Pirates! It would be as good as a play. But where did he come in? And why was courage necessary? His interest found new life.
Swan's Hotel was one of those nondescript buildings of wood which are not worth more than a three-line paragraph even when they burn down. It was smelly. The kitchen joined the dining-room, and the dining-room the office, which was half a bar-room, with a few boxes of sawdust mathematically arranged along the walls. There were many like it up and down the coast. There were pictures on the walls of terrible wrecks at sea, naval battles, and a race horse or two.
The landlord himself lifted Fitzgerald's bag to the counter.
"A room for the night and supper, right away."
"Here, Jimmy," called the landlord to a growing, lumbering boy, "take this satchel up to number five."
The boy went his way, eying the labels respectfully and with some awe. This was the third of its kind he had ported up-stairs in the past twenty-four hours.
Fitzgerald cast an idle glance at the loungers. There were half a dozen of them, some of them playing cards and some displaying talent on a pool table, badly worn and beer-stained. There was nothing distinctive about any of them, excepting the little man who was reading an evening paper, and the only distinctive thing about him was a pair of bright eyes. Behind their gold-rimmed spectacles they did not waver under Fitzgerald's scrutiny; so the latter dismissed the room and its company from his mind and proceeded into dinner. As he was late, he dined alone on mildly warm chicken, greasy potatoes, and muddy coffee. He was used often to worse fare than this, and no complaint was even thought of. After he had changed his linen he took the road to the house at the top of the hill. Now, then, what sort of an affair was this going to be, such as would bend a girl of her bearing to speak to him on the street? Moreover, at a moment when he was playing a grown-up child's game? She had known that he was prevaricating when he had stated that he represented a charitable organization; and he knew that she knew he knew it. What, then? It could not be a joke; women never rise to such extravagant heights. Pirates and treasures; he wouldn't have been surprised at all had Old Long John Silver hobbled out from behind any one of those vine-grown fences, and demanded his purse.
The street was dim, and more than once he stumbled over a loose board in the wooden walk. If the admiral had been the right kind of philanthropist he would have furnished stone. But then, it was one thing to give a country town something and another to force the town council into accepting it. The lamp-posts, also of wood, stood irregularly apart, often less than a hundred feet, and sometimes more, lighting nothing but their immediate vicinity. Fitzgerald could see the lamps, plainly, but could separate none of the objects round or beneath. That is why he did not see the face of the man who passed him in a hurry. He never forgot a face, if it were a man's; his only difficulty was in placing it at once. Up to this time one woman resembled another; feminine faces made no particular impression on his memory. He would have remembered the face of the man who had just passed, for the very fact that he had thought of it often. The man had come into the dim radiance of the far light, then had melted into the blackness of the night again, leaving as a sign of his presence the creak of his shoes and the aroma of a cigarette.
Fitzgerald tramped on cheerfully. It was not an unpleasant climb, only dark. The millionaire's home seemed to grow up out of a fine park. There was a great iron fence inclosing the grounds, and the lights on top of the gates set the dull red trunks of the pines a-glowing. There were no lights shining in the windows of the pretty lodge. Still, the pedestrians' gate was ajar. He passed in, fully expecting to be greeted by the growl of a dog. Instead, he heard mysterious footsteps on the gravel. He listened. Some one was running.
"Hello, there!" he called.
No answer. The sound ceased. The runner had evidently taken to the silent going of the turf. Fitzgerald came to a stand. Should he go on or return to the hotel? Whoever was running had no right here. Fitzgerald rarely carried arms, at least in civilized countries; a stout cane was the best weapon for general purposes. He swung this lightly.
"I am going on. I should like to see the library."
He was not overfond of unknown dangers in the night; but he possessed a keen ear and a sharp pair of eyes, being a good hunter. A poacher, possibly. At any rate, he determined to go forward and ring the bell.
Both the park and the house were old. Some of those well-trimmed pines had scored easily a hundred and fifty years, and the oak, standing before the house and dividing the view into halves, was older still. No iron deer or marble lion marred the lawn which he was now traversing; a sign of good taste. Gardeners had been at work here, men who knew their business thoroughly. He breathed the odor of trampled pine needles mingled with the harsher essence of the sea. It was tonic.
In summer the place would be beautiful. The house itself was built on severe and simple lines. It was quite apparent that in no time of its history had it been left to run down. The hall and lower left wing were lighted, but the inner blinds and curtains were drawn. He did not waste any time. It was exactly eight o'clock when he stepped up to the door and pulled the ancient wire bell. At once he saw signs of life. The broad door opened, and an English butler, having scrutinized his face, silently motioned him to be seated. The young man in search of an adventure selected the far end of the hall seat and dandled his hat. An English butler was a good beginning. Perhaps three minutes passed, then the door to the library opened and a young woman came out. Fitzgerald stood up.
Yes, it was she.
"So you have come?" There was welcome neither in her tone nor face, nor was there the suggestion of any other sentiment.
"Yes. I am not sure that I gave you my name, Miss Killigrew." He was secretly confused over this enigmatical reception.
She nodded. She had been certain that, did he come at all, he would come in the knowledge of who she was.
"I am John Fitzgerald," he said.
She thought for a space. "Are you the Mr. Fitzgerald who wrote the long article recently on the piracy in the Chinese Seas?"
"Yes," full of wonder.
Interest began to stir her face. "It turns out, then, rather better than I expected. I can see that you are puzzled. I picked you out of many yesterday, on impulse, because you had the sang-froid necessary to carry out your jest to the end."
"I am glad that I am not here under false colors. What I did yesterday was, as you say, a jest. But, on the other hand, are you not playing me one in kind? I have much curiosity."
"I shall proceed to allay it, somewhat. This will be no jest. Did you come armed?"
"Oh, indeed, no!" smiling.
She rather liked that. "I was wondering if you did not believe this to be some silly intrigue."
"I gave thought to but two things: that you were jesting, or that you were in need of a gentleman as well as a man of courage. Tell me, what is the danger, and why do you ask me if I am armed?" It occurred to him that her own charm and beauty might be the greatest danger he could possibly face. More and more grew the certainty that he had seen her somewhere in the past.
"Ah, if I only knew what the danger was. But that it exists I am positive. Within the past two weeks, on odd nights, there have been strange noises here and there about the house, especially in the chimney. My father, being slightly deaf, believes that these sounds are wholly imaginative on my part. This is the first spring in years we have resided here. It is really our summer home. I am not more than normally timorous. Some one we do not know enters the house at will. How or why I can't unravel. Nothing has ever disappeared, either money, jewels, or silver, though I have laid many traps. There is the huge fireplace in the library, and my room is above. I have heard a tapping, like some one hammering gently on stone. I have examined the bricks and so has my father, but neither of us has discovered anything. Three days ago I placed flour thinly on the flagstone before the fireplace. There were footprints in the morning—of rubber shoes. When I called in my father, the maid had unfortunately cleaned the stone without observing anything. So my father still holds that I am subject to dreams. His secretary, whom he had for three years, has left him. The butler's and servants' quarters are in the rear of the other wing. They have never been disturbed."
"I am not a detective, Miss Killigrew," he remarked, as she paused.
"No, but you seem to be a man of invention and of good spirit. Will you help me?"
"In whatever way I can." His opinion at that moment perhaps agreed with that of her father. Still, a test could be of no harm. She was a charming young woman, and he was assured that beneath this present concern there was a lively, humorous disposition. He had a month for idleness, and why not play detective for a change? Then he recalled the trespasser in the park. By George, she might be right!
"Come, then, and I will present you to my father. His deafness is not so bad that one has to speak loudly. To speak distinctly will be simplest."
She thereupon conducted him into the library. His quick glance, thrown here and there absorbingly, convinced him that there were at least five thousand volumes in the cases, a magnificent private collection, considering that the owner was not a lawyer, and that these books were not dry and musty precedents from the courts of appeals and supreme. He was glad to see that some of his old friends were here, too, and that the shelves were not wholly given over to piracy. What a hobby to follow! What adventures all within thirty square feet! And a shiver passed over his spine as he saw several tattered black flags hanging from the walls; the real articles, too, now faded to a rusty brown. Over what smart and lively heeled brigs had they floated, these sinister jolly rogers? For in a room like this they could not be other than genuine. All his journalistic craving for stories awakened.
Behind a broad, flat, mahogany desk, with a green-shaded student lamp at his elbow, sat a bright-cheeked, white-haired man, writing. Fitzgerald instantly recognized him. Abruptly his gaze returned to the girl. Yes, now he knew. It was stupid of him not to have remembered at once. Why, it was she who had given the bunch of violets that day to the old veteran in Napoleon's tomb. To have remembered the father and to have forgotten the daughter!
"I was wondering where I had seen you," he said lowly.
"Where was that?"
"In Napoleon's tomb, nearly a year ago. You gave an old French soldier a bouquet of violets. I was there."
"Were you?" As a matter of fact his face was absolutely new to her. "I am not very good at recalling faces. And in traveling one sees so many."
"That is true." Queer sort of girl, not to show just a little more interest. The moment was not ordinary by any means. He was disappointed.
"Father!" she called, in a clear, sweet voice, for the admiral had not heard them enter.
At the call he raised his head and took off his Mandarin spectacles. Like all sailors, he never had any trouble in seeing distances clearly; the difficulty lay in books, letters, and small type.
"What is it, Laura?"
"This is Mr. Fitzgerald, the new secretary," she answered blandly.
"Aha! Bring a chair over and sit down. What did you say the name is, Laura?"
"Sit down, Mr. Fitzgerald," repeated the admiral cordially.
Fitzgerald desired but one thing; the privilege of laughter!
NO FALSE PRETENSES
A private secretary, and only one way out! If the girl had been kind enough to stand her ground with him he would not have cared so much. But there she was vanishing beyond the door. There was a suggestion of feline cruelty in thus abandoning him. He dared not call her back. What the devil should he say to the admiral? There was one thing he knew absolutely nothing about, and this was the duties of a private secretary to a retired admiral who had riches, a yacht, a hobby, and a beautiful, though impulsive daughter. His thought became irrelevant, as is frequent when one faces a crisis, humorous or tragic; here indeed was the coveted opportunity to study at close range the habits of a man who spent less than his income.
"Come, come; draw up your chair, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"I beg your pardon; I—that is, I was looking at those flags, sir," stuttered the self-made victim of circumstances.
"Oh, those? Good examples of their kind; early part of the nineteenth century. Picked them up one cruise in the Indies. That faded one belonged to Morgan, the bloodthirsty ruffian. I've always regretted that I wasn't born a hundred years ago. Think of bottling them up in a shallow channel and raking 'em fore and aft!" With a bang of his fist on the desk, setting the ink-wells rattling like old bones, "That would have been sport!"
The keen, blue, sailor's eye seemed to bore right through Fitzgerald, who thought the best thing he could do was to sit down at once, which he did. The ticket agent had said that the admiral was of a quiet pattern, but this start wasn't much like it. The fire in the blue eyes suddenly gave way to a twinkle, and the old man laughed.
"Did I frighten you, Mr. Fitzgerald?"
"Well, every secretary I've had has expected to see a red-nosed, swearing, peg-legged sailor; so I thought I'd soften the blow for you. Don't worry. Sailor?"
"Not in the technical sense," answered Fitzgerald, warming. "I know a stanchion from an anchor and a rope from a smoke-stack. But as for travel, I believe that I have crossed all the high and middle seas."
"Sounds good. Australia, East Indies, China, the Antilles, Gulf, and the South Atlantic?"
"Yes; round the Horn, too, and East Africa." Fitzgerald remembered his instructions and spoke clearly.
"Well, well; you are a find. In what capacity have you taken these voyages?"
Here was the young man's opportunity. This was a likeable old sea-dog, and he determined not to impose upon him another moment. Some men, for the sake of the adventure, would have left the truth to be found out later, to the disillusion of all concerned. The abrupt manner in which Miss Killigrew had abandoned him merited some revenge.
"Admiral, I'm afraid there has been a mistake, and before we go any further I'll be glad to explain. I'm not a private secretary and never have been one. I should be less familiar with the work than a Chinaman. I am a special writer for the magazines, and have been at odd times a war correspondent." And then he went on to describe the little comedy of the statuettes, and it was not without some charm in the telling.
Plainly the admiral was nonplussed. That girl; that minx, with her innocent eyes and placid face! He got up, and Fitzgerald awaited the explosion. His expectancy missed fire. The admiral exploded, but with laughter.
"I beg pardon, Mr. Fitzgerald, and I beg it again on my daughter's behalf. What would you do in my place?"
"Show me the door at once and have done with it."
"I'm hanged if I do! You shall have a toddy for your pains, and, by cracky, Laura shall mix it." He pushed the butler's bell. "Tell Miss Laura that I wish to see her at once."
"Very well, sir."
She appeared shortly. If Fitzgerald admired her beauty he yet more admired her perfect poise and unconcern. Many another woman would have evinced some embarrassment. Not she.
"Laura, what's the meaning of this hoax?" the admiral demanded sternly. "Mr. Fitzgerald tells me that he had no idea you were hiring him as my secretary."
"I am sure he hadn't the slightest." The look she sent Fitzgerald was full of approval. "He hadn't any idea at all save that I asked him to come here at eight this evening. And his confession proves that I haven't made any mistake."
"But what in thunder—"
"My dear, give me credit for resisting the desire to make the term stronger. Mr. Fitzgerald's joke, I take it, bothered no one. Yours has put him in a peculiar embarrassment. What does it mean? You went to the city to get me a first-class secretary."
"Mr. Fitzgerald has the making of one, I believe."
"But on your word I sent a capable man away half an hour gone. He could speak half a dozen languages."
"Mr. Fitzgerald is, perhaps, as efficient."
Fitzgerald's wonder grew and grew.
"But he doesn't want to be a secretary. He doesn't know anything about the work. And I haven't got the time to teach him, even if he wanted the place."
"Father," began the girl, the fun leaving her eyes and her lips becoming grave, "I do not like the noises at night. I have not suggested the police, because robbery is not the motive."
"Laura, that's all tommyrot. This is an old house, and the wood always creaks with a change of temperature. But this doesn't seem to touch Mr. Fitzgerald."
The girl shrugged.
"Well, I'm glad I told that German chap not to leave till he heard again from me. I'll hire him. He looks like a man who wouldn't let noises worry him. You will find your noises are entirely those of imagination."
"Have it that way," she agreed patiently.
"But here's Mr. Fitzgerald still," said the admiral pointedly.
"Not long ago you said to me that if ever I saw the son of David Fitzgerald to bring him home. Till yesterday I never saw him; only then because Mrs. Coldfield pointed him out and wondered what he was doing with a tray of statuettes around his neck. As I could not invite him to come home with me, I did the next best thing; I invited him to call on me. I was told that he was fond of adventures, so I gave the invitation as much color as I could. Do I stand pardoned?"
"Indeed you do!" cried Fitzgerald. So this was the Killigrew his father had known?
"David Fitzgerald, your father? That makes all the difference in the world." The admiral thrust out a hand. "Your father wasn't a good business man, nor was he in the navy, but he could draw charts of the Atlantic coast with his eyes shut. Laura, you get the whisky and sugar and hot water. You haven't brought me a secretary, but you have brought under my roof the son of an old friend."
She laughed. It was rich and free-toned laughter, good for any man to hear. As she went to prepare the toddy, the music echoed again through the hall.
"Sometimes I wake up in the morning with a new gray hair," sighed the admiral. "What would you do with a girl like that?"
"I'd hang on to her as long as I could," earnestly.
"I shall," grimly. "Your father and I were old friends. There wasn't a yacht on these waters that could show him her heels, not even my own. You don't mean to tell me you're no yachtsman! Why, it ought to be in the blood."
"Oh, I can handle small craft, but I don't know much about the engine-room. What time does the next train return to New York?"
"For you there'll be no train under a week. You're going to stay here, since you've been the victim of a hoax."
"Disabuse your mind there, sir. I don't know when I've enjoyed anything so thoroughly."
"But you'll stay? Oh, yes!" as Fitzgerald shook his head. "The secretary can do the work here while you and I can take care of the rats in the hold. Laura's just imagining things, but we'll humor her. If there's any trouble with the chimney, why, we'll get a bricklayer and pull it down."
"Miss Killigrew may have some real cause for alarm. I saw a man, or rather, I heard him, running, as I came up the road from the gates. I called to him, but he did not answer."
"Is that so? Wasn't the porter at the gates when you came in?"
"No. The footpath was free."
"This begins to look serious. If the porter isn't there the gate bell rings, I can open it myself by wire. I never bother about it at night, unless I am expecting some one. But in the daytime I can see from here whether or not I wish to open the gate. A man running in the park, eh? Little good it will do him. The house is a network of burglar alarms."
"Wires can be cut and quickly repaired."
"But this is no house to rob. All my valuables, excepting these books, are in New York. The average burglar isn't of a literary turn of mind. Still, if Laura has really heard something, all the more reason why you should make us a visit. Wait a moment. I've an idea." The admiral set the burglar alarm and tried it. The expression on his face was blank. "Am I getting deafer?"
"No bell rang," said Fitzgerald quickly.
"By cracky, if Laura is right! But not a word to her, mind. When she goes up-stairs we'll take a trip into the cellar and have a look at the main wire. You've got to stay; that's all there is about it. This is serious. I hadn't tested the wires in a week."
"Perhaps it's only a fuse."
"We can soon find out about that. Sh! Not a word to her!"
She entered with a tray and two steaming toddies, as graceful a being as Hebe before she spilled the precious drop. The two men could not keep their eyes off her, the one with loving possession, the other with admiration not wholly free from unrest. The daring manner in which she had lured him here would never be forgetable. And she had known him at the start? And that merry Mrs. Coldfield in the plot!
"I hope this will cheer you, father."
"It always does," replied the admiral, as he took the second glass. "I have asked Mr. Fitzgerald to spend a week with us."
"Thank you, father. It was thoughtful of you. If you had not asked him, the pleasure of doing so would have been mine. Mrs. Coldfield pointed you out to me as a most ungrateful fellow, because you never called on your father's or mother's friends any more, but preferred to gallivant round the world. You will stay? We are very unconventional here."
"It is all very good of you. I am rather a lonesome chap. The newspapers and magazines have spoiled me. There's never a moment so happy to me as when I am ordered to some strange country, thousands of miles away. It is in the blood. Thanks, very much; I shall be very happy to stay. My hand-bag, however, is at Swan's Hotel, and there's very little in it."
"A trifling matter to send to New York for what you need," said the admiral, mightily pleased to have a man to talk to who was not paid to reply. "I'll have William bring the cart round and take you down."
"No, no; I had much rather walk. I'll turn up some time in the morning, say luncheon, if that will be agreeable to you."
"As you please. Only, I should like to save you an unpleasant walk in the dark."
"I don't mind. A dark street in a country village this side of the Atlantic holds little or no danger."
"I offered to build a first-class lighting plant if the town would agree to pay the running expenses; but the council threw it over. They want me to build a library. Not much! Hold on," as Fitzgerald was rising. "You are not going right away. I shan't permit that. Just a little visit first."
Fitzgerald resumed his chair.
"Have a cigar. Laura is used to it."
"But does Miss Killigrew like it?" laughing.
"Cigars, and pipes, and cigarettes," she returned. "I am really fond of the aroma. I have tried to acquire the cigarette habit, but I have yet to learn what satisfaction you men get out of it."
Conversation veered in various directions, and finally rested upon the subject of piracy; and here the admiral proved himself a rare scholar. By some peculiar inadvertency, as he was in the middle of one of his own adventures, his finger touched the burglar alarm. Clang! Brrrr! From top to bottom of the house came the shock of differently voiced bells. The two men gazed at each other dumfounded. But the girl laughed merrily.
"You touched the alarm, father."
"I rather believe I did. And a few minutes before you came in with the toddies I tried it and it didn't work."
It took some time to quiet the servants; and when that was done Fitzgerald determined to go down to the village.
"Good night, Mr. Fitzgerald," said the girl. "Better beware; this house is haunted."
"We'll see if we can't lay that ghost, as they say," he responded.
The admiral came to the door. "What do you make of it?" he whispered.
"You possibly did not press the button squarely the first time." And that was Fitzgerald's genuine belief.
"By the way, will you take a note for me to Swan's? It will not take me a moment to scribble it."
Finally the young man found himself in the park, heading quickly toward the gates. He searched the night keenly, but this time he neither heard nor saw any one. Then he permitted his fancy to take short flights. Interesting situation! To find himself a guest here, when he had come keyed up for something strenuous! Pirates and jolly-rogers and mysterious trespassers and silent bells, to say nothing of a beautiful young woman with a leaning toward adventure! But the most surprising turn was yet to come.
In the office of Swan's hotel the landlord sat snoozing peacefully behind the desk. There was only one customer. He was a gray-haired, ruddy-visaged old salt in white duck—at this time of year!—and a blue sack-coat dotted with shining brass buttons, the whole five-foot-four topped by a gold-braided officer's cap. He was drinking what is jocularly called a "schooner" of beer, and finishing this he lurched from the room with a rolling, hiccoughing gait, due entirely to a wooden peg which extended from his right knee down to a highly polished brass ferrule.
Fitzgerald awakened the landlord and gave him the admiral's note.
"You will be sure and give this to the gentleman in the morning?"
"Certainly, sir. Mr. Karl Breitmann," reading the superscription aloud. "Yes, sir; first thing in the morning."
Karl Breitmann! Fitzgerald pulled off a shoe, and carefully deposited it on the floor beside his chair. Private secretary to Rear Admiral Killigrew, retired; Karl Breitmann! He drew off the second shoe, and placed it, with military preciseness, close to the first. Absently, he rose, with the intention of putting the pair in the hall, but remembered before he got as far as the door that it was not customary in America to put one's shoes outside in the halls. Ultimately, they would have been stolen or have remained there till the trump of doom.
Could there be two Breitmanns by the name of Karl? Here and there, across the world, he had heard of Breitmann, but never had he seen him since that meeting in Paris. And, simply because he had proved to be an enthusiastic student of Napoleon, like himself, he had taken the man to dinner. But that was nothing. Under the same circumstances he would have done the same thing again. There had been something fascinating about the fellow, either his voice or his manner. And there could be no doubting that he had been at ebb tide; the shiny coat, the white, but ragged linen, the cracked patent leathers.
A baron, and to reach the humble grade of private secretary to an eccentric millionaire—for the admiral, with all his kindliness and common sense, was eccentric—this was a fall. Where were his newspapers? There was a dignity to foreign work, even though in Europe the pay is small. There was trouble going on here and there, petty wars and political squabbles. Yes, where were his newspapers? Had he tried New York? If not, in that case, he—Fitzgerald—could be of some solid assistance. And Cathewe knew him, or had met him.
Fitzgerald had buffeted the high and low places; he seldom made mistakes in judging men offhand, an art acquired only after many initial blunders. This man Breitmann was no sham; he was a scholar, a gentleman, a fine linguist, versed in politics and war. Well, the little mystery would be brushed aside in the morning. Breitmann would certainly recognize him.
But to have forgotten the girl! To have permitted a course of events to discover her! Shameful! He jumped into bed, and pulled the coverlet close to his nose, and was soon asleep, sleep broken by fantastic dreams, in which the past and present mixed with the improbable chances of the future.
Thump-thump, thump-thump! To Fitzgerald's fogged hearing, it was like the pulse beating in the bowels of a ship, only that it stopped and began at odd intervals, intermittently. At the fourth recurrence, he sat up, to find that it was early morning, and that the sea lay; gray and leaden, under the pearly haze of dawn. Thump-thump! He rubbed his eyes, and laughed. It could be no less a person than the old sailor in the summer-yachting toggery. Drat 'em! These sailors were always trying to beat sun-up. At length, the peg left the room above, and banged along the hall and bumped down the stairs. Then all became still once more, and the listener snuggled under the covers again, and slept soundly till eight. Outside, the day was full, clear, and windy.
On the way to the dining-room, he met the man. The scars were a little deeper in color and the face was thinner, but there was no shadow of doubt in Fitzgerald's mind.
"Breitmann?" he said, with a friendly hand.
The other stood still. There was no recognition in his eyes; at least, Fitzgerald saw none.
"Breitmann is my name, sir," he replied courteously.
"I am Fitzgerald; don't you remember me? We dined in Paris last year, after we had spent the afternoon with the Napoleonic relics. You haven't forgotten Macedonia?"
Breitmann took the speaker by the arm, and turned him round. Fitzgerald had been standing with his back to the light. The scrutiny was short. The eyes of the Bavarian softened, though the quizzical wrinkles at the corners remained unchanged. All at once his whole expression warmed.
"It is you? And what do you here?" extending both hands.
Some doubt lingered in Fitzgerald's mind; yet the welcome was perfect, from whichever point he chose to look. "Come in to breakfast," he said, "and I'll tell you."
"My table is here; sit by the window. Who was it said that the world is small? Do you know, that dinner in Paris was the first decent meal I had had in a week? And I didn't recognize you at once! Herr Gott!" with sudden weariness. "Perhaps I have had reason to forget many things. But you?"
Fitzgerald spread his napkin over his knees. There was only one other man breakfasting. He was a small, wiry person, white of hair, and spectacled, and was at that moment curiously employed. He had pinned to the table a small butterfly, yellow, with tiny dots on the wings. He was critically inspecting his find through a jeweler's glass.
"I am visiting friends here," began Fitzgerald. "Rear Admiral Killigrew was an old friend of my father's. I did not expect to remain, but the admiral and his daughter insisted; so I am sending to New York for my luggage, and will go up this morning." He saw no reason for giving fuller details.
"So it must have been you who brought the admiral's note. It is fate. Thanks. Some day that casual dinner may give you good interest"
The little man with the butterfly bent lower over his prize.
"Do you believe in curses?" asked Breitmann.
"Ordinary, every-day curses, yes; but not in Roman anathemas."
"Neither of those. I mean the curse that sometimes dogs a man, day and night; the curse of misfortune. I was hungry that night in Paris; I have been hungry many times since, I have held honorable places; to-day, I become a servant at seventy-five dollars a month and my bread and butter. A private secretary."
"But why aren't you with some newspaper?" asked Fitzgerald, breaking his eggs.
Breitmann drew up his shoulders. "For the same reason that I am renting my brains as a private secretary. It was the last thing I could find, and still retain a little self-respect. My heart was dead when the admiral told me he had already engaged a secretary. But your note brought me the position."
"But the newspapers?"
"None of them will employ me."
"In New York, with your credentials?"
"I don't quite understand."
"It would take too long to explain."
"I can give you some letters."
"Thank you. It would be useless. Secretly and subterraneously, I have had the bottom knocked out from under my feet. Why, God knows! But no more of that. Some day I will give you my version."
The little man smiled over his butterfly, took out a wallet, something on the pattern of a fisherman's, and put the new-found specimen into one of the mica compartments, in which other dead butterflies of variant beauty reposed.
"So I become a private secretary, till the time offers something better." Breitmann stared at the sea.
"I am sorry. I wish I could help you. Better let me try." Fitzgerald stirred his coffee. "You are convinced that there is some cabal working against you in the newspaper business? That seems strange. Some of them must have heard of your work—London, Paris, Berlin. Have you tried them all?"
"Yes. Nothing for me, but promises as thick as yonder sands."
The little man rose, and walked out of the room, smiling.
"Splendid!" he murmured. "What a specimen to add to my collection!"
"Do you know what your duties will be?" Fitzgerald inquired.
"They will consist of replying to begging letters from the needy and deserving, from crazy inventors, and ministers. In the meantime, I am to do translating, together with indexing a vast library devoted to pirates. Droll, isn't it?" Breitmann laughed, but this time without bitterness.
"It is a harmless hobby," rather resenting Breitmann's tone.
"More than that," quickly; "it is philanthropic, since it will employ me for some length of time."
"When do they expect you?"
"At half-after ten."
"We'll go up together, then. Did you see the admiral's daughter?"
"A daughter? Has he one?" Breitmann accepted this news with an expression of disfavor.
"Yes; and charming, I can tell you. It's all very odd. In Paris that night, they both sat at the next table."
"Why did you not speak to them?"
"Didn't know who they were. The admiral was one of my father's boyhood friends, and I did not meet them till very recently;" which was all true enough. For some unaccountable reason, Fitzgerald found that he was on guard. "I have ordered an open carriage. If you have any trunks, I can take them up for you."
"It will be good of you."
They proceeded to finish the repast, and then sought the office, for their reckoning. Later, they strolled toward the water front. Fitzgerald, during moments when the talk lagged, thought over the meeting. There was a false ring to it somewhere. If Breitmann had been turned down in all the offices in New York, there must have been some good cause. Newspapers were not passing over men of this fellow's experience, unless he had been proved untrustworthy. Breitmann had not told him everything; he had even told him too little. Still, he would withhold his judgment till he heard from New York on the subject. Cathewe hadn't been enthusiastic over the name; but Cathewe was never inclined to enthusiasms.
Passing the angle of the freight depot brought the little harbor into full view. A fine white yacht lay tugging at her cables.
"There's a beauty," said Fitzgerald admiringly.
"She looks as if she could take care of herself. How fresh the green water-line looks! She'll be fast in moderate weather; a fair thousand tons, perhaps."
"A close guess."
"I understand she belongs to my employer. I hope he takes the sea soon. I suppose you know that I have knocked about some as a sailor."
"That will help you into the good graces of the admiral."
"How dull and uninteresting the coast-lines are here! No gardens, no palms, nothing of beauty."
"You must remember the immensity of this coast and that our summers are really less than three months. Here comes one who can tell us about the yacht," cried Fitzgerald, espying the peg-legged sailor. "I say!" he hailed, as the old sailor drew nigh; "you are on the Laura, are you not?"
"Yessir. An' I've bin on her since she wus commissioned as a pleasure yacht, sir. Capt'n."
"Fought under th' commodore in th' war, sir; an' he knows me, an' I knows him; an' when Flanagan is on th' bridge, he doesn't signal no pilots between Key West an' St. Johns."
"I am visiting the admiral," said Fitzgerald, amused.
"Oh!" Captain Flanagan ducked, with his hand to his cap. On land, he was likely to imitate landsmen in manners and politeness; but on board he tipped his hat to nobody; leastwise, to nobody but Miss Laura, bless her heart! "I reckon one o' you is th' new sec'rety."
"Yes, I am the new secretary," replied Breitmann, unsmiling.
"Well, well!" as if, while he couldn't help the fact, it was none the less to be pitied. "You'll be comin' aboard soon, then. Off for th' Banks. Take my word for it, you'll find her as stiddy as one o' your floatin' hotels, sir, where you don't see no sailor but a deck hand as swabs th' scuppers when a beam sea's on. Good mornin'!" And Captain Flanagan stumped off toward the village.
Breitmann shrugged contemptuously.
"He may not be in European yachting form," admitted Fitzgerald, "but he's the kind of man who makes a navy a good fighting machine."
"But we usually pick out gentlemen to captain our private yachts."
"Oh, this Flanagan is an exception. There is probably a fighting bond between him and the admiral; that makes some difference. You observed, he called the owner by the title of commodore, as he did thirty-five years ago. Ten o'clock; we should be going up."
The carriage was at the hotel when they returned. They bundled in their traps, and drove away.
The little man now dropped into the railway station, and stuck his head into the ticket aperture. The agent, who was seated before the telegraph keys, looked up.
"No tickets before half-past ten, sir."
"I am not wanting a ticket. I wish to know if I can send a cable from here."
"A cable? Sure. Where to?"
"Yes, sir. I telegraph it to the cable office in New York, and they do the rest. Here are some blanks."
The other wrote some hieroglyphics, which made the address impossible to decipher, save that it was directed mainly to Paris. The body of the cablegram contained a single word. The writer paid the toll, and went away.
"Now, what would you think of that?" murmured the operator, scratching his head in perplexity. "Well, the company gets the money, so it's all the same to me. Butterflies; and all the rest in French. Next time it'll be bugs. All right; here goes!"
A BIT OF ROMANTIC HISTORY
The house at the top of the hill had two names. It had once been called The Watch Tower, for reasons but vaguely known by the present generation of villagers. To-day it was generally styled The Pines. Yet even this had fallen into disuse, save on the occupant's letter paper. When any one asked where Rear Admiral Killigrew lived, he was directed to "the big white house at the top o' the hill."
The Killigrews had not been born and bred there. Its builder had been a friend of King George; that is, his sympathies had been with taxation without representation. One day he sold the manor cheap. His reasons were sufficient. It then became the property of a wealthy trader, who died in it. This was in 1809. His heirs, living, and preferring to live, in Philadelphia, put up a sign; and being of careful disposition, kept the place in excellent repair.
In the year 1816, it passed into the hands of a Frenchman, and during his day the villagers called the house The Watch Tower; for the Frenchman was always on the high balcony, telescope in hand, gazing seaward. No one knew his name. He dealt with the villagers through his servant, who could speak English, himself professing that he could not speak the language. He was a recluse, almost a hermit. At odd times, a brig would be seen dropping anchor in the offing. She was always from across the water, from the old country, as villagers to this day insist upon calling Europe. The manor during these peaceful invasions showed signs of life. Men from the brig went up to the big white house, and remained there for a week or a month. And they were lean men, battle-scarred and fierce of eye, some with armless sleeves, some with stiff legs, some twisted with rheumatism. All spoke French, and spat whenever they saw the perfidious flag of old England. This was not marked against them as a demerit, for the War of 1812 was yet smoking here and there along the Great Lakes. Suddenly, they would up and away, and the manor would reassume its repellent aloofness. Each time they returned their number was diminished. Old age had succeeded war as a harvester. In 1822, the mysterious old recluse surrendered the ghost. His heirs—ignored and hated by him for their affiliation with the Bourbons—sold it to the father of the admiral.
The manor wasn't haunted. The hard-headed longshoremen and sailors who lived at the foot of the hill were a practical people, to whom spirits were something mostly and generally put up in bottles, and emptied on sunless, blustery days. Still, they wouldn't have been human if they had not done some romancing.
There were a dozen yarns, each at variance with the other. First, the old "monseer" was a fugitive from France; everybody granted that. Second, that he had helped to cut off King Lewis' head; but nobody could prove that. Third, that he was a retired pirate; but retired pirates always wound up their days in riotous living, so this theory died. Fourth, that he had been a great soldier in the Napoleonic wars, and this version had some basis, as the old man's face was slashed and cut, some of his fingers were missing, and he limped. Again, he had been banished from France for a share in the Hundred Days. But, all told, nothing was proved conclusively, though the villagers burrowed and delved and hunted and pried, as villagers are prone to do when a person appears among them and keeps his affairs strictly to himself.
But the next generation partly forgot, and the present only indifferently remembered that, once upon a time, a French emigre had lived and died up there. They knew all there was to know about the present owner. It was all compactly written and pictured in a book of history, which book agents sold over the land, even here in Dalton.
All these things Fitzgerald and his companion learned from the driver on the journey up the incline.
"Where was this Frenchman buried?" inquired Breitmann softly.
"In th' cemet'ry jest over th' hill. But nobody knows jest where he is now. Stone's gone, an' th' ground's all level that end. He wus on'y a Frenchman. But th' admiral, now you're talkin'! He pays cash, an' don't make no bargain rates, when he wants a job done. Go wan, y' ol' nag; what y' dreamin' of?"
"There might be history in that corner of the graveyard," said Breitmann.
"Who knows? Good many strange bits of furniture found their way over here during those tremendous times. Beautiful place in the daytime; eh?" Fitzgerald added, with an inclination toward The Pines.
"More like an Italian villa than an Englishman's home. Good gardeners, I should say."
"Culture and money will make a bog attractive."
"Is the admiral cultured, then?"
"I should imagine so. But I am sure the daughter is. Not that veneer which passes for it, but that deep inner culture, which gives a deft, artistic touch to the hand, softens the voice, gives elegance to the carriage, with a heart and mind nicely balanced. Judge for yourself, when you see her. If there is any rare knickknack in the house, it will have been put there by the mother's hand or the daughter's. The admiral, I believe, occupies himself with his books, his butterflies, and his cruises."