[Frontispiece: He went without a backward glance . . . and I knew what the parting meant to him.]
JACQUELINE OF GOLDEN RIVER
H. M. EGBERT
RALPH PALLEN COLEMAN
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
GARDEN CITY ————— NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF
TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES
INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY THE FRANK A. MUNSEY COMPANY
I. A DOG AND A DAMSEL II. BACK IN THE ROOM III. COVERING THE TRACKS IV. SIMON LEROUX V. M. LE CURE VI. AT THE FOOT OF THE CLIFF VII. CAPTAIN DUBOIS VIII. DREAMS OF THE NIGHT IX. THE FUNGUS X. SNOW BLINDNESS XI. THE CHATEAU XII. UNDER THE MOUNTAINS XIII. THE ROULETTE-WHEEL XIV. SOME PLAIN SPEAKING XV. WON—AND LOST XVI. THE OLD ANGEL XVII. LOUIS D'EPERNAY XVIII. THE LITTLE DAGGER XIX. THE HIDDEN CHAMBER XX. AT SWORDS' POINTS XXI. THE BAIT THAT LURED XXII. SURRENDER XXIII. LEROUX'S DIABLE XXIV. FULL CONFESSION XXV. THE END OF THE CHATEAU
JACQUELINE OF GOLDEN RIVER
A DOG AND A DAMSEL
As I sat on a bench in Madison Square after half past eleven in the evening, at the end of one of those mild days that sometimes occur in New York even at the beginning of December, a dog came trotting up to me, stopped at my feet, and whined.
There is nothing remarkable in having a strange dog run to one nor in seeing the creature rise on its hind legs and paw at you for notice and a caress. Only, this happened to be an Eskimo dog.
It might have been mistaken for a collie or a sheepdog by nearly everybody who saw it, though most men would have turned to admire the softness of its fur and to glance at the heavy collar with the silver studs. But I knew the Eskimo breed, having spent a summer in Labrador.
I stroked the beast, which lay down at my feet, raising its head sometimes to whine, and sometimes darting off a little way and coming back to tug at the lower edge of my overcoat. But my mind was too much occupied for me to take any but a perfunctory interest in its manoeuvres. My eight years of thankless drudgery as a clerk, following on a brief adventurous period after I ran away to sea from my English home, had terminated three days before, upon receipt of a legacy, and I had at once left Tom Carson's employment.
Six thousand guineas—thirty thousand dollars—the will said. I had not seen my uncle since I was a boy. But he had been a bachelor, we were both Hewletts, and I had been named Paul after him.
I had seen for some time that Carson meant to get rid of me. It had been a satisfaction to me to get rid of him instead.
He had been alternately a prospector and a company promoter all the working years of his rather shabby life. He had organized some dubious concerns; but his new offices on Broadway were fitted so unostentatiously that anyone could see the Northern Exploitation Company was not trying to glitter for the benefit of the small investor.
Coal fields and timber-land somewhere in Canada, the concession was supposed to be. But Tom was as secretive as a clam, except with Simon Leroux.
Leroux was a parish politician from some place near Quebec, and his clean-shaven, wrinkled face was as hard and mean as that of any city boss in the United States. His vile Anglo-French expletives were as nauseous as his cigars. He and old Tom used to be closeted together for hours at a time.
I never liked the man, and I never cared for Carson's business ways. I was glad to leave him the day after my legacy arrived.
He only snorted when I gave him notice, and told the cashier to pay me my salary to date. He had long before summed me up as a spiritless drudge. I don't believe he gave another thought to me after I left his office.
My plans were vague. I had been occupying, at a low rental, a tiny apartment consisting of two rooms, a bath, and what is called a "kitchenette" at the top of an old building in Tenth Street which was about to be pulled down. Part of the roof was gone already, and there was a six-foot hole under the eaves.
I had arranged to leave the next day, and a storage company was to call in the morning for my few sticks of furniture. I had half planned to take boat for Jamaica. I wanted to think and plan.
I had nobody dependent on me, and was resolved to invest my little fortune in such a way that I might have a modest competence, so that the dreadful spectre of poverty might never leer at me again.
The Eskimo dog was growing uneasy. It would run from me, looking round and uttering a succession of short barks, then run back and tug at my overcoat again. I began to become interested in its manoeuvres.
Evidently it wished me to accompany it, and I wondered who its master was and how it came to be there.
I stooped and looked at the collar. There was no name on it, except the maker's, scratched and illegible. I rose and followed the beast, which showed its eager delight by running ahead of me, turning round at times to bark, and then continuing on its way with a precision which showed me that it was certain of its destination.
As I crossed Madison Square the light on the Metropolitan Tower flashed the first quarter. Broadway was in full glare. The lure of electric signs winked at me from every corner. The restaurants were disgorging their patrons, and beautifully dressed women in fine furs, accompanied by escorts in evening dress, stood on the pavements. Taxicabs whirled through the slush.
I began to feel a renewal in me of the old, old thrill the city had inspired when I entered it a younger and a more hopeful man.
The dog turned down a street in the Twenties, ran on a few yards, bounded up a flight of stone steps, and began scratching at the door of a house that was apparently empty.
I say apparently, because the shades were down at every window and the interior was unlit, so far as could be seen from the street; but I knew that at that hour it must contain from fifty to a hundred people.
This place I knew by reputation. It was Jim Daly's notorious but decently conducted gambling establishment, which was running full blast at a time when every other institution of this character had found it convenient to shut down.
So the creature's master was inside Daly's, and it wished me to get him out. This was evidence of unusual discernment in his best friend, but it was hardly my prerogative to exercise moral supervision over this adventurous explorer of a chillier country even than his northern wastes. I looked in some disappointment at the closed doors and turned away.
I meant to go home, and I had proceeded about three paces when the lock clicked. I stopped. The front door opened cautiously, and the gray head of Jim's negro butler appeared. Behind it was the famous grille of cast-steel, capable, according to rumour, of defying the axes of any number of raiding reformers.
Then emerged one of the most beautiful women that I had ever seen.
I should have called her a girl, for she could not have been more than twenty years of age. Her hair was of a fair brown, the features modelled splendidly, the head poised upon a flawless throat that gleamed white beneath a neckpiece of magnificent sable.
She carried a sable muff, too, and under these furs was a dress of unstylish fashion and cut that contrasted curiously with them. I thought that those loose sleeves had passed away before the nineteenth century died. In one hand she carried a bag, into which she was stuffing a large roll of bills.
As she stepped down to the street the dog leaped up at her. A hand fell caressingly upon the creature's head, and I knew that she had one servant who would be faithful unto death.
She passed so close to me that her dress brushed my overcoat, and for an instant her eyes met mine. There was a look in them that startled me—terror and helplessness, as though she had suffered some benumbing shock which made her actions more automatic than conscious.
This was no woman of the class that one might expect to find in Daly's. There was innocence in the face and in the throat, uplifted, as one sees it in young girls.
I was bewildered. What was a girl like that doing in Daly's at half past twelve in the morning?
She began walking slowly and rather aimlessly, it seemed to me, along the street in the direction of Sixth Avenue. My curiosity was unbounded. I followed her at a decent interval to see what she was going to do. But she did not seem to know.
The girl looked as if she had stepped out of a cloister into an unknown world, and the dog added to the strangeness of the picture.
The street loafers stared after her, and two men began walking abreast of her on the other side of the road. I followed more closely.
As she stood upon the curb on the east side of Sixth Avenue I saw her glance timidly up and down before venturing to cross. There was little traffic, and the cars were running at wide intervals, but it was quite half a minute before she summoned resolution to plunge beneath the structure of the elevated railroad. When she had reached the other side she stood still again before continuing westward.
The two men crossed the street and planted themselves behind her. They were speaking in a tongue that sounded like French, and one had a patch over his eye. A taxicab was crawling up behind them. I was sure that they were in pursuit of her.
The four of us were almost abreast in the middle of the long block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. We were passing a dead wall, and the street was almost empty.
Suddenly the man with the patch turned on me, lowered his head, and butted me off my feet. I fell into the roadway, and at that instant the second fellow grasped the girl by the arm and the taxicab whirled up and stopped.
The girl's assailants seemed to be trying to force her into the cab. One caught at her arm, the other seized her waist. The bag flew open, scattering a shower of gold pieces upon the pavement.
And then, before I could get upon my feet again, the dog had leaped at the throat of the man with the patch and sent him stumbling backward. Before he recovered his balance I was at the other man, striking out right and left.
It was all the act of an instant, and in an instant the two men had jumped into the taxicab and were being driven swiftly away. I was standing beside the terrified girl, while an ill-looking crowd, gathering from God knows where, surrounded us and fought like harpies for the coins which lay scattered about.
I laid my hands on one who had grabbed a gold piece from between my feet, but the girl pulled at my arm distractedly. She was white and trembling, and her big grey eyes were full of fear.
"Help me!" she pleaded, clinging to my sleeve with her little gloved hands. "The money is nothing. I have eight thousand dollars more in my bag. Help me away!"
She spoke in a foreign, bookish accent, as though she had learned English at school. Fortunately for us the mob was too busily engrossed in its search to hear her words.
So I drew her arm through mine and we hurried toward Sixth Avenue, where we took an up-town car.
We had reached Herald Square when it occurred to me that my companion did not seem to know her destination. So we descended there. I intended to order a taxicab for her, had forgotten the dog, but now the beautiful creature came bounding up to us.
"Where are you going?" I asked the girl. "I will take you to your home—or hotel," I added with a slight upward intonation on the last word.
"I do not know where I am going," she answered slowly. "I have never been in New York until to-day."
"But you have friends here?" I asked.
She shook her head.
"But are you really carrying eight thousand dollars about with you in New York at night?" I asked in amazement. "Don't you know this city is full of thieves, and that you are in the worst district?"
For a moment it occurred to me that she might have been decoyed into Daly's. And yet I knew it was not that sort of place; indeed, Daly's chief desire was to remain as inconspicuous as possible. It was very difficult to get into Daly's.
"Do you know the character of the place you came out of?" I asked, trying to find some clue to her actions.
"The character?" she repeated, apparently puzzled at first. "Oh, yes. That is Mr. Daly's gaming-house. I came to New York to play at roulette there."
She was looking at me so frankly that I was sure she was wholly ignorant of evil.
"My father is too ill to play himself," she explained, "so I must find a hotel near Mr. Daly's house, and then I shall play every night until our fortune is made. Tonight I lost nearly two thousand dollars. But I was nervous in that strange place. And the system expressly says that one may lose at first. To-morrow I raise the stakes and we shall begin to win. See?"
She pulled a little pad from her bag covered with a maze of figuring.
"But where do you come from?" I asked. "Where is your father?"
Again I saw that look of terror come into her eyes. She glanced quickly about her, and I was sure she was thinking of escaping from me.
I hastened to reassure her.
"Forgive me," I said. "It is no business of mine. And now, if you will trust me a little further I will try to find a hotel for you."
It would have disarmed the worst man to feel her little hand slipped into his arm in that docile manner of hers. I took her to the Seward, the Grand, the Cornhil, and the Merrimac—each in turn.
Vain hope! You know what the New York hotels are. When I asked for a room for her the clerk would eye her furs dubiously, look over his book in pretense, and then inform me that the hotel was full.
At the Merrimac I sat down in the lobby and sent her to the clerk's desk alone, but that was equally useless. I realized pretty soon that no reputable hotel in New York City would accommodate her at that hour.
We were standing presently in front of the Herald office. Her hand still touched my arm, and I was conscious of an absurd desire to keep it there as long as possible.
My curiosity had given place to deep anxiety on her account. What was this child doing in New York alone, what sort of father had let her come, if her story were true? What was she? A European? Too unconventional for that. An Argentine? A runaway from some South American convent?
Her skin was too fair for Spanish blood to flow beneath it. She looked French and had something of the French frankness.
Canadian? I dared not ask her any more questions. There was only one thing to do, and, though I shrank from the suggestion, it had to be made.
"It is evident that you must go somewhere to-night," I said. "I have two rooms on Tenth Street which I am vacating to-morrow. They are poorly furnished, but there is clean linen; and if you will occupy them for the night I can go elsewhere, and I will call for you at nine in the morning."
She smiled at me gratefully—she did not seem surprised at all.
"You have some baggage?" I asked.
"No, monsieur," she answered.
She was French, then—Canadian-French, I had no doubt. I was hardly surprised at her answer. I had ceased to be surprised at anything she told me.
"To-morrow I shall show you where to make some purchases, then," I said. "And now, mademoiselle, suppose we take a taxicab."
As her hand tightened upon my arm I saw a man standing on the west side of Broadway and staring intently at us.
He was of a singular appearance. He wore a fur coat with a collar of Persian lamb, and on his head was a black lambskin cap such as is worn in colder climates, but it seldom seen in New York. He looked about thirty years of age, he had an aspect decidedly foreign, and I imagined that he was scowling at us malignantly.
I was not sure that this surmise was not due to an over-active imagination, but I was determined to get away from the man's scrutiny, so I called a taxicab and gave the driver my address.
"Go through some side streets and go fast," I said.
The fellow nodded. He understood my motive, though I fear he may have misinterpreted the circumstances. We entered, and the girl nestled back against the comfortable cushions, and we drove at a furious speed, dodging down side streets at a rate that should have defied pursuit.
During the drive I instructed my companion emphatically.
"Since you have no friends here, you must have confidence in me, mademoiselle," I said.
"And you are my friend? Well, monsieur, be sure I trust you," she answered.
"You must listen to me attentively, then," I continued. "You must not admit anybody to the apartment until I ring to-morrow. I have the key, and I shall arrive at nine and ring, and then unlock the door. But take no notice of the bell. You understand?"
"Yes, monsieur," she answered wearily. Her eyelids drooped; I saw that she was very sleepy.
When the taxicab deposited us in front of the house, I glanced hastily up and down the road. There was another cab at the east end of the street, but I could not discern if it were approaching me or stationary. I opened the front door quickly and admitted my companion, then preceded her up the uncarpeted stairs to my little apartment on the top floor. I was the only tenant in the house, and therefore there would be no cause for embarrassment.
As I opened the door of my apartment the dog pushed past me. Again I had forgotten it; but it had not forgotten its mistress.
I looked inside my bare little rooms. It was hard to say good-by.
"Till to-morrow, mademoiselle," I said. "And won't you tell me your name?"
She drew off her glove and put one hand in mine.
"Jacqueline," she answered. "And yours?"
"Paul," I said.
"Au revoir, Monsieur Paul, then, and take my gratitude with you for your goodness."
I let her hand fall and hurried down the stairs, confused and choking, for there was a wedding-ring upon her finger.
BACK IN THE ROOM
The situation had become more preposterous than ever. Two hours before it would have been unimaginable; one hour ago I had merely been offering aid to a young woman in distress; now she was occupying my rooms and I was hurrying along Tenth Street, careless as to my destination, and feeling as though the whole world was crumbling about my head because she wore a wedding-ring.
Certainly I was not in love with her, so far as I could analyze my emotions. I had been conscious only of a desire to help her, merging by degrees into pity for her friendlessness.
But the wedding-ring—what hopes, then, had begun to spring up in my heart? I could not fathom them; I only knew that my exaltation had given place to profound dejection.
As I passed up the street the taxicab which I had seen at the east end came rapidly toward me. It passed, and I stopped and looked after it. I was certain that it slackened speed outside the door of the old building, but again it went on quickly, until it was lost to view in the distance.
Had I given the pursuers a clue by my reappearance?
I watched for a few moments longer, but the vehicle did not return, and I dismissed the idea as folly. In truth, there was no reason to suppose that the man I had seen in Herald Square was connected with the two others, or that any of the three had followed us. No doubt the third man was but a street-loafer of the familiar type, attracted by Jacqueline's unusual appearance.
And, after all, New York was a civilized city, and I could be sure of the girl's safety behind the street door-lock and that of my apartment door. So I refused to yield to the impulse to go back and assure myself that she was all right. I must find a hotel and get a good night's sleep. In the morning, undoubtedly, I would see the episode in a less romantic fashion.
As I went on, new thoughts began to press on my imagination. Such an event as this, told in any gathering of men, why, they would smile at me and call me the victim of an adventuress. The tale about the father, the assumed ignorance of the conventions—how much could be believed?
Had she not probably left her husband in some Canadian city and come to New York to enjoy her holiday in her own fashion? Could she innocently have adventured to Daly's door and actually have succeeded in gaining admission? Why, many a would-be gambler had had the wicket of the grille slammed in his face by the old colored butler.
Perhaps she was worse than I was even now imagining!
I had turned up Fifth Avenue, and had reached Twelfth or Thirteenth Street when I thought I heard the patter of the Eskimo dog's feet behind me. I spun, around, startled, but there was only the long stretch of pavement, wet from a slight recent shower, and the reflection of the white arc-lights in it.
I had resumed my course when I was sure I heard the pattering again. And again I saw nothing.
A moment later I was hurrying back toward the apartment-house. My nerves had suddenly become unstrung. I felt sure now that some imminent danger was threatening Jacqueline. I could not bear the suspense of waiting till morning. I wanted to save her from something that I felt intimately, but did not understand, and at which my reason mocked in vain.
And as I ran I thought I heard the patter of the dog's feet, pacing mine.
I was rounding the corner of Tenth Street now, and again the folly of my behaviour struck home to me. I stopped and tried to think. Was it some instinct that was taking me back, or was it the remembrance of Jacqueline's beauty? Was it not the desire to see her, to ask her about the ring?
Surely my fears were but an overwrought imagination and the strangeness of the situation, acting upon a mind eagerly grasping out after adventure, being set free from the oppression of those dreadful years of bondage!
I had actually swung around when I heard the ghostly patter of the feet again close at my side. I made my decision in that instant, and hurried swiftly on my course back toward the apartment house.
I was in Tenth Street now. It was half-past two in the morning, and beginning to grow cold. The thoroughfare was empty. I fled, a tiny thing, between two rows of high, dark houses.
When at last I found my door my hands were trembling so that I could hardly fit the key into the lock.
I wondered now whether it had not been the pattering of my heart that I had heard.
I bounded up the stairs. But on the top story I had to pause to get my breath, and then I dared not enter. I listened outside. There was no sound from within.
The two rooms that I occupied were separated only by a curtain, which fell short a foot from the floor and was slung on a wooden pole, disclosing two feet between the top of it and the ceiling. The rooms were thus actually one, and even that might have been called small, for the bed in the rear room was not a dozen paces from the door.
I listened for the breathing of the sleeping girl. My intelligence cried out upon my folly, telling me that my appearance there would terrify her; and yet that clamorous fear that beat at my heart would not be silenced.
If I could hear her breathe, I thought, I would go quietly away, and find a hotel in which to sleep. I listened minute after minute, but I could not hear a sound.
At last I put my mouth to the keyhole and spoke to her. "Jacqueline," I called. The name sounded as strange and sweet on my own lips as it had sounded on hers when she told it to me. I waited.
There was no answer.
Then a little louder: "Jacqueline!"
And then quite loudly: "Jacqueline!"
I listened, dreading that she would cry out in alarm, but the same dead silence followed.
Then, out of the silence, hammering on my eardrums, burst the loud ticking of the little alarm-clock that I had left on the mantel of the bedroom. I heard that, and it must have been ticking minutes before the sound reached me; perhaps if I waited a little longer I should hear her breathing.
The alarm-clock was one of that kind which, when set to "repeat," utters a peculiar little click every two hundred and eighth stroke owing to a catch in the mechanism. Formerly it had annoyed me inexpressibly, and I would lie awake for hours waiting for that tiny sound. Now I could hear even that, and heard it repeat and repeat itself; but I could not hear Jacqueline breathe.
I took the key of the apartment door from my pocket at last and fitted it noiselessly into the lock. I stood there, trembling and irresolute. I dared not turn the key. The hall door gave immediately upon the rooms without a private passage, and at the moment when I opened the door I should be practically inside my bedroom save for the intervening curtain.
Once more I ventured:
There was not the smallest answering stir within. And so, with shaking fingers, I turned the key.
The door creaked open with a noise that must have sounded throughout the empty house. I recollected then that it was impossible to keep it shut without locking it. The landlord had long ago ceased to concern himself with his tumble-down property.
I caught at the door-edge, missed it and, tripping over a rent in the cheap mat that lay against the door inside, stumbled against the table-edge and clung there.
And even after I had caught at it, and stayed my fall, that infernal door went creaking, creaking backward till it brought up against the wall.
The room was completely dark, except for a little patch of light high up on the bedroom wall, which came through the hole the workmen had made when they began demolishing the building. I hesitated a moment; then I drew a match from my pocket and rubbed it softly into a flame against my trouser leg.
I reached up to the gas above the table, turned it on, and lit the incandescent mantle, lowering the light immediately. But even then there was no sound from behind the curtains.
They hung down close together, so that I was able to see only the gas-blackened ceiling above them and, underneath, the lower edge of the bed linen, and the bed-frame at the base, with its enamelled iron feet, The sheets hung straight, as though the bed had not been occupied; but, though there was no sound, I knew Jacqueline was at the back of the curtains.
The oppressive stillness was not that of solitude. She must be awake; she must be listening in terror.
I went toward the curtains, and when I spoke I heard the words come through my lips in a voice that I could not recognize as mine.
"Jacqueline!" I whispered, "it is Paul. Paul, your friend. Are you safe, Jacqueline?"
Now I saw, under the curtains, what looked like the body of a very small animal. It might have been a woolly dog, or a black lambkin, and it was lying perfectly still.
I pulled aside the curtains and stood between them, and the scene stamped itself upon my brain, as clear as a photographic print, for ever.
The woolly beast was the fur cap of a dead man who lay across the floor of the little room. One foot was extended underneath the bed, and the head reached to the bottom of the wall on the other side of the room. He lay upon his back, his eyes open and staring, his hands clenched, and his features twisted into a sneering smile.
His fur overcoat, unbuttoned, disclosed a warm knit waistcoat of a gaudy pattern, across which ran the heavy links of a gold chain. There was a tiny hole in his breast, over the heart, from which a little blood had flowed. The wound had pierced the heart, and death had evidently been instantaneous.
It was the man whom I had seen staring at us across Herald Square.
Beside the window Jacqueline crouched, and at her feet lay the Eskimo dog, watching me silently. In her hand she held a tiny, dagger-like knife, with a thin, red-stained blade. Her grey eyes, black in the gas-light, stared into mine, and there was neither fear nor recognition in them. She was fully dressed, and the bed had not been occupied.
I flung myself at her feet. I took the weapon from her hand. "Jacqueline!" I cried in terror. I raised her hands to my lips and caressed them.
She seemed quite unresponsive.
I laid them against my cheek. I called her by her name imploringly; I spoke to her, but she only looked at me and made no answer. Still it was evident to me that she heard and understood, for she looked at me in a puzzled way, as if I were a complete stranger. She did not seem to resent my presence there, and she did not seem afraid of the dead man. She seemed, in a kindly, patient manner, to be trying to understand the meaning of the situation.
"Jacqueline," I cried, "you are not hurt? Thank God you are not hurt. What has happened?"
"I don't know," she answered. "I don't know where I am."
I kneeled down at her side and put my arms about her.
"Jacqueline, dear;" I said, "will you not try to think? I am Paul—your friend Paul. Do you not remember me?"
"No, monsieur," she sighed.
"But, then, how did you come here, Jacqueline?" I asked.
"I do not know," she answered. And, a moment later, "I do not know, Paul."
That encouraged me a little. Evidently she remembered what I had just said to her.
"Where is your home, Jacqueline?"
"I do not know," she answered in an apathetic voice, devoid of interest.
There was something more to be said, though it was hard.
"Who?" she inquired, looking at me with the same patient, wistful gaze.
"That man, Jacqueline. That dead man."
"What dead man, Paul?"
She was staring straight at the body, and at that moment I realized that she not only did not remember, but did not even see it.
The shock which she had received, supervening upon the nervous state in which she had been when I encountered her, had produced one of those mental inhibitions in which the mind, to save the reason, obliterates temporarily not only all memory of the past, but also all present sights and sounds which may serve to recall it. She looked idly at the body of the dead man, and I was sure that she saw nothing but the worn woodwork of the floor.
I saw that it was useless to say anything more upon this subject.
"You are very tired, Jacqueline?" I asked.
"Yes, monsieur," she answered, leaning back against my arm.
"And you would like to sleep?"
I raised her in my arms and laid her on the bed, telling her to close her eyes and sleep. She was asleep almost immediately after her head rested Upon the pillow. She breathed as softly as an infant.
I watched her for a while until I heard a distant clock strike three. This recalled me to the dangers of our situation. I struck a match and lit the gas in the bedroom. But the yellow glare was so ghastly and intolerable that I turned it down.
And then I set about the task before me.
COVERING THE TRACKS
I thought quickly, and my consciousness seemed to embrace all the details of the situation with a keenness foreign to my nature.
Once, I believe, I had been able to play an active part among the men who were my associates in that adventurous life that lay so far behind me. But eight years of clerkship had reduced me to the condition of one who waits on the command of others. Now my irresolution vanished for the time, and I was my old self once more.
The first task was the disposal of the body in such a way that suspicion would not attach itself to me after I had vacated the rooms next morning.
There was a fire-escape running up to the floor of that room on the outside of the house, though there was no egress to it. It had been put up by the landlord to satisfy the requirements of some new law; but had never been meant for use, and it was constructed of the flimsiest and cheapest ironwork. I saw that it would be possible by standing on a chair to swing myself up to the hole in the wall and reach down to the iron stairs up which, I assumed, the dead man had crept after I had given him the hint of Jacqueline's abode by emerging from the front door.
I raised the dead man in my arms, looking apprehensively toward the bed. I was afraid Jacqueline would awaken, but she slept in heavy peace, undisturbed by the harsh creaking of the sagging floor beneath its double burden. I put the fur cap on the grotesque, nodding dead head, and, pushing a chair toward the wall with my foot, mounted it and managed with a great effort to squeeze through the hole, pulling up the body with me as I did so.
Then I felt with my foot for the little platform at the top of the iron stairs outside, found it, and dropped. Afterward I dragged the dreadful burden down from the hole.
I had not known that I was strong before, and I do not understand now how I managed to accomplish my wretched task.
I carried the dead man all the way down the fire-escape, clinging and straining against the rotting, rusting bars, which bent and cracked beneath my weight and seemed about to break and drag down the entire structure from the wall.
I hardly paused at the platforms outside the successive stories. The weather was growing very cold, a storm was coming up, and the wind soughed and whined dismally around the eaves.
I reached the bottom at last and rested for a moment.
At the back of the house was a little vacant space, filled with heaps of debris from the demolished portions of the building and with refuse which had been dumped there by tenants who had left and had never been removed. This yard was separated only by a rotting fence with a single wooden rail from a small blind alley.
The alley had run between rows of stables in former days when this was a fashionable quarter, but now these were mostly unoccupied, save for a few more pretentious ones at the lower end, which were being converted into garages.
Everywhere were heaps of brick, piles of rain-rotted wood, and rubbish-heaps.
I took up my burden and placed it at the end of the alley, covering it roughly with some old burlap bags which lay there. I thought it safe to assume that the police would look upon the dead man as the victim of some footpad. It was only remotely possible that suspicion would be directed against any occupant of any of the houses bordering on the cul-de-sac.
I did not search the dead man's pockets. I cared nothing who he was, and did not want to know. My sole desire was to acquit Jacqueline of his death in the world's eyes.
That he had come deservedly by it I was positive. I was her sole protector now, and I felt a furious resolve that no one should rob me of her.
The ground was as hard as iron, and I was satisfied that my footsteps had left no track; there would be snow before morning, and if my feet had left any traces these would be covered effectively.
Four o'clock was striking while I was climbing back into the room again. Jacqueline lay on the bed in the same position; she had not stirred during that hour. While she slept I set about the completion of my task.
I took the knife from the floor where I had flung it, scrubbed it, and placed it in my suit-case. Then I scrubbed the floor clean, afterward rubbing it with a soiled rag to make its appearance uniform.
I washed my hands, and thought I had finally removed all traces of the affair; but, coming back, I perceived something upon the floor which had escaped my notice. It was the leather collar of the Eskimo dog, with its big silver studs and the maker's silver name-plate.
All this while the animal had remained perfectly quiet in the room crouching at Jacqueline's feet and beside the bed. It had not attempted to molest me, as I had feared might be the case during the course of my gruesome work.
I came to the conclusion that there might have been a struggle; that it had run to its mistress's assistance, and that the collar had been torn from it by the dead man.
My first thought was to put the collar back upon the creature's neck; but then I came to the conclusion that this might possibly serve as a means of identification. And it was essential that no one should be able to identify the dog.
So I picked the collar up and carried it into the next room and held it under the light of the incandescent gas-mantle. The letters of the maker's name were almost obliterated, but after a careful study I was able to make them out. The name was Maclay & Robitaille, and the place of manufacture Quebec. This confirmed my belief concerning Jacqueline's nativity.
I pried the plate from the leather and slipped it into my pocket. I put the broken collar into my suitcase, together with the dagger, and then I set about packing my things for the journey which we were to undertake.
I had always accustomed myself to travel with a minimum of baggage, and the suit-case, which was a roomy one, held all that I should need at any time. When I had finished packing I went back to Jacqueline and sat beside her while she slept. As I sat dawn I heard a city clock strike five.
In a little while it would begin to lighten, and the advent of the day filled me with a sort of terror.
I watched the sleeping girl. Who was she? How could she sleep calmly after that night's deed? The mystery seemed unfathomable; the girl alone in the city, the robbers, the dog, the dead man, and the one who had escaped me.
Jacqueline's bag lay on the bureau and disgorging bills. There were rolls and rolls of them—eight thousand dollars did not seem too much.
Besides these, the bag contained the usual feminine properties: a handkerchief, sachet-bag, a pocket mirror, and some thin papers, coated with rice-powder.
The thought crossed my mind that the bills might be counterfeit, and I picked one up and looked carefully at it, comparing it with one from my own pocketbook. But I was soon satisfied that they were real. Well—I turned back to Jacqueline, ashamed of the suspicion that had crossed my mind.
Her soft brown hair streamed over the pillow and hung down toward the floor, a heavy mass, uncoiled from the wound braids upon her neck. Her breast rose and fell evenly with her breathing. She looked even younger than on the preceding evening. I was sure now that she was innocent of evil, and my unworthy thoughts made me ashamed. Her outstretched arm was extended beyond the edge of the bed.
I raised her hand and held in it my own, and I sat thus until the room began to lighten, watching her all the while.
It was strange that as I sat there I began to grow comforted. I looked on her as mine. When I had kissed her hands I had forgotten the ring upon her finger; and now, holding that hand in mine and running my fingers round and round the circlet of gold, I was not troubled at all. I could not think of her as any other man's. She was mine—Jacqueline.
Presently she stirred, her eyes opened, and she sat up. I placed a pillow at her back. She gazed at me with apathy, but there was also recognition in her look.
"Do you know me, Jacqueline?" I asked.
"Yes, Paul," she answered.
"My friend, Paul."
"Jacqueline, I am going to take you home," I said, hoping that she would tell me something, but I dared ask her no more. I meant to take her to Quebec and make inquiries there. Thus I hoped to learn something of her, even if the sight of the town did not awaken her memories.
"I am going to take you home, Jacqueline," I repeated.
"Yes, Paul," she answered in that docile manner of hers.
"It is lucky you have your furs, because the winter is cold where your home is."
"Yes, Paul," she repeated as before, and a few more probings on my part convinced me that she remembered nothing at all. Her mind was like a person's newly awakened in a strange land. But this state brought with it no fear, only a peaceful quietude and faith which was very touching.
"We have forgotten a lot of things that troubled us, haven't we, Paul?" she asked me presently. "But we shall not care, since we have each other for friends. And afterwards perhaps we shall pick them up again. Do you not think so, Paul?"
"Yes, Jacqueline," I answered.
"If we remembered now the memory of them might make us unhappy," she continued wistfully. "Do you not think so, Paul?"
There was a faint and vague alarm in her eyes which made me glad for her sake that she did not know.
"Now, Jacqueline," I said, "we shall have to begin to make ready for our journey."
I had just remembered that the storage company which was to warehouse my few belongings was to call that day. The van would probably be at the house early in the morning, and it was essential that we should be gone before it arrived.
Fortunately I had arranged to leave the door unlocked in case my arrangements necessitated my early departure, and this was understood, so that my absence would cause no surprise.
I showed Jacqueline the bathroom and drew the curtains. Then I went into the kitchenette and made coffee on the gas range, and, since it was too early for the arrival of my morning loaf, which was placed just within the street door by the baker's boy every day, I made some toast and buttered it.
I remember reflecting, with a relic of my old forced economy, how fortunate it was that my pound of butter had just lasted until the morning when I was to break up housekeeping.
When I took in the breakfast Jacqueline was waiting for me, looking very dainty and charming. She was hungry, too, also a good sign.
She did not seem to understand that there was anything strange in the situation in which we found ourselves. I did not know whether this was due to her mental state or to that strange unsophistication which I had already observed in her. At any rate, we ate our breakfast together as naturally as though we were a married couple of long standing.
After the meal was ended, and we had fed the dog, Jacqueline insisted on washing the dishes, and I showed her the kitchenette and let her do so, though I should never have need for the cheap plates and cups again.
"Now, Jacqueline, we must go," I said.
I placed her neckpiece about her. I closed her bag, stuffing the bills inside, and hung it on her arm. I could not resist a smile to see the little pad covered with its maze of figures among the rolls of money. I was afraid that the sight of it would awaken her memories, but she only looked quietly at it and put it away.
I wanted her to let me bank her money for her, but did not like to ask her. However, of her own account she took out the bills and handed them to me.
"What a lot of money I have," she said. "I hardly thought there was so much money in the world, Paul."
It was past eight when we left the house. I carried my suit-case and, stopping at a neighbouring express office, had it sent to the Grand Central station. And then I decided to take the dog to the animal's home.
I did not like to do so, but was afraid, in the necessity of protecting Jacqueline, that its presence might possibly prove embarrassing, so I took it there and left it, with instructions that it was to be kept until I sent for it. I paid a small sum of money and we departed, Jacqueline apparently indifferent to what I had done, though the animal's distress at being parted from her disturbed my conscience a good deal.
Still it seemed the only thing to do under our circumstances.
Quebec, then, was my objective, and with no further clue than the dog-collar. There were two trains, I found, at three and at nine. The first, which I proposed to take, would bring us to our destination soon after nine the next day, but our morning was to be a busy one, and it would be necessary to make our preparations quickly.
A little snow was on the ground, but the sun shone brightly, and I felt that the shadows of the night lay behind us.
With Jacqueline's arm drawn through mine I paid a visit to the bank in which I had deposited my legacy, and drew out fifteen hundred dollars, next depositing Jacqueline's money to my own account. It amounted to almost exactly eight thousand dollars.
The receiving teller must have thought me an eccentric to carry so large a sum, and I know he thought that Jacqueline and I had just been married, for I saw him smile over the entry that he made in my bank book.
I wanted to deposit her money in her own name, but this would have involved inquiries and explanations which I was not in a position to satisfy. So there was nothing to do but deposit it in my own, and afterward I could refund it to her.
I said that the receiving teller smiled—he wore that indescribable congratulatory look with which it is the custom to favor the newly married.
In fact, we were exactly like a honeymoon couple. Although I endeavored to maintain an air of practical self-assurance there was now a new shyness in her manner, an atmosphere of undefinable but very real sweetness in the relationship between us which set my heart hammering at times when I looked at her flushed cheeks and the fair hair, blown about her face, and hiding the glances which she stole timidly at me.
It was like a honeymoon departure, only with another man's wife; and that made the sentiment more elevated and more chivalrous, for it set a seal of honour on me which must remain unbroken till the time arrived.
I wondered, as we strolled up Fifth Avenue together, how much she knew, what she remembered, and what thoughts went coursing through her head. That child-like faith of hers was marvellously sweet. It was an innocent confidence, but it was devoid of weakness. I believed that she was dimly aware that terrible things lay in the past and that she trusted to her forgetfulness as a shield to shelter not only herself but me, and would not voluntarily recall what she had forgotten.
It was necessary to buy her an outfit of clothes, and this problem worried me a good deal. I hardly knew the names of the things she required.
I believe now that I had absurd ideas as to the quantity and consistency of women's garments. I was afraid that she would not know what to buy; but, as the morning wore away, I realized that her mental faculties were not dimmed in the least.
She observed everything, clapped her hands joyously as a child at the street sights and sounds, turned to wonder at the elevated and at the high buildings. I ventured, therefore, upon the subject that was perplexing me.
"Jacqueline," I said, "you know that you will require an outfit of clothes before we start for your home. Not too many things, you know," I continued cautiously, "but just enough for a journey."
"Yes, Paul," she answered.
"How much money shall I give you, Jacqueline?"
"Fifty dollars?" she inquired.
I gave her a hundred, and took ridiculous delight in it.
We entered a large department store, and I mustered up enough courage to address the young woman who stood behind the counter that displayed the largest assortment of women's garments.
"I want a complete outfit for—for this lady," I stammered. "Enough for,"—I hesitated again—"a two weeks' journey."
The young woman smiled in a very pleasant way, and two others, who were near enough to have overheard, turned and smiled also.
"Bermuda or Niagara Falls?" asked the young woman.
"I beg your pardon?" I inquired, conscious that my face was insufferably hot.
"If you are taking madame to Bermuda she will naturally require cooler clothing than if you are taking her to Niagara Falls," the young woman explained, looking at me with benevolent patience. And seeing that I was wholly disconcerted she added:
"Perhaps madame might prefer to make her own selection."
As I stood in the centre of the store, apparently a stumbling block to every shopper, Jacqueline flitted here and there, until a comfortable assortment of parcels was accumulated upon the counter.
"Where shall I send them, madame?" inquired the saleswoman.
There was a suit-case to be bought, so I had them transferred to the trunk and leather-goods department, where I bought a neat sole-leather suit-case which, at Jacqueline's practical suggestion, was changed for a lighter one of plaited straw.
After that I abstained from misdirecting my companion's activities.
And everybody addressed her as madame, and everybody smiled on us, and sometimes I reflected miserably upon the wedding ring, and then again smiled too and forgot, watching Jacqueline's eager face flushed with delight as she looked at the pretty things in the store.
I had meditated taking her into Tiffany's to buy her a trinket of some kind. A ring seemed forbidden, and I was weighing the choice between a bracelet and a watch, my desire to acquire a whole counter of trinkets rapidly getting the better of my judgment, when something happened which put the idea completely out of my head.
It was while Jacqueline was examining the suitcases that my attention was drawn to a tall, elderly man with a hard, drawn, and deeply lined weather-beaten face, and wearing a massive fur overcoat, open in front, who was standing in the division between the trunk department and that adjoining it, immediately behind Jacqueline. He was looking at me with an unmistakable glance of recognition.
I knew that I had seen him several times before, but, though his features were familiar, I had forgotten his name.
In fact, I had seen him only a week before, but the events of the past night had made a week seem like a week of years. I stared at him and he stared back at me, and made an urgent sign to me.
Keeping an eye on Jacqueline, and not losing sight of her at any time, I followed the tall man. As I neared him my remembrance of him grew stronger. I knew that powerful, slouching gait, that heavy tread. When he turned round I had his name on my lips.
It was Simon Leroux.
"So you've got her!" he began in a hoarse, forcible whisper. "Where did you pick her up? I was hurrying away from Tom's office when I happened to see you two entering Mischenbusch's."
I remembered then that the office in which I had drudged was only a couple of blocks away. I made no answer, but waited for him to lead again—and I was thinking hard.
"There's the devil to pay!" he went on in his execrable accent. "Louis came on posthaste, as you know, and he hasn't turned up this morning yet. Ah, I always knew Tom was close, but I never dreamed you knew anything. When I used to see sitting near the door in his office writing in those sacre books I thought you were just a clerk. And you were in the know all the time, you were! You know what happened last night?" he continued, looking furtively around.
"It was an unfortunate affair," I said guardedly.
"Unfortunate!" he repeated, staring at me out of his bloodshot eyes. "It was the devil, by gosh! Who was he?"
His face was fiery red, and he cast so keen a look at me that I almost thought he had discovered he was betraying himself.
"It was lucky I was in New York when Louis wired us she had flown," he continued—I omit the oaths which punctuated his phrases. "Lucky I had my men with me, too. I didn't think I'd need them here, but I'd promised them a trip to New York—and then comes Louis's wire. I put them on the track. I guessed she's go to Daly's—old Duchaine was mad about that crazy system of his, and had been writing to him.
"He used to know Daly when they were young men together at Saratoga and Montreal, and in Quebec, in the times when they had good horses and high-play there. I tell you it was ticklish. There was millions of dollars worth of property walking up Broadway, and they'd got her, with a taxi waiting near by, when that devil's fool strolls up and draws a crowd. If I'd been there I'd have——"
A string of vile expletives followed his last remark.
"They got on his track and followed them to the Merrimac," he continued. "And they never came out. They waited all night till nine this morning, and they never came out. My God, I thought her a good girl—it's awful! Who was he? Say, how much do you know?"
His face was dripping with sweat, and he shot an awful look at Jacqueline as she bent over the suit-case. I could hardly keep my hands off him, but Jacqueline's need was too great for me to give vent to my passion.
I remembered now that, after sending Jacqueline to the clerk's desk alone, she had gone to a side entrance and I had joined her there and left the hotel with her in that fashion. At any rate, Simon's words showed me that his hired men were not acquainted with the rest of the night's work.
I gathered from what he had said that the possession of Jacqueline was vitally important both to Leroux and to Tom Carson, for some reason connected with the Northern Exploitation Company, and that they had endeavoured to kidnap her and hold her till the man Louis arrived to advise them.
"How much do you know?" hissed Simon at me.
"Leroux," I said, "I'm not going to tell you anything. You will remember that I was employed by Mr. Carson."
"Ain't I as good as Carson? What are you going to do with her?"
"You'd better go back to the office and wait, unless you want to spoil the game by letting her see you," I said.
I was sure he was hiding from her intentionally, and I could see that he believed I was working for Carson, for though he scowled fearfully at me he seemed impressed by my words.
"I don't know whether Tom's running straight or not," he said huskily; "but let me tell you, young man, it'll pay you to keep in with me, and if you've got any price, name it!"
He shook his heavy fist over me—I believe the clerks thought he was going to strike me, for they came hurrying toward us. But I saw Jacqueline approaching, and, without another word, Leroux turned away.
Jacqueline caught sight of his retreating figure and her eyes widened. I thought I saw a shadow of fear in them. Then the memory was effaced and she was smiling again.
I instructed the store to call a messenger and have the suit-case taken at once to the baggage-room in the Grand Central station.
"Now, Jacqueline, I'm going to take you to lunch," I said. "And afterward we will start for home."
Outside the store I looked carefully around and espied Leroux almost immediately lighting a cigar in the doorway of a shop. I hit upon a rather daring plan to escape him.
Carson's offices were in a large modern building, with many elevators and entrances. I walked toward it with Jacqueline, being satisfied that Leroux was following us; entered about twenty-five yards before him, and ascended in the elevator, getting off, however, on the floor above that on which the offices were.
I was satisfied that Leroux would follow me a minute later, under the impression that we had gone to the Northern Exploitation Company, and so, after waiting a minute or two, I took Jacqueline down in another elevator, and we escaped through the front entrance and jumped into a taxicab.
I was satisfied that I had thrown Leroux off the scent, but I took the precaution to stop at a gunsmith's shop and purchase a pair of automatic pistols and a hundred cartridges. The man would not sell them to me there on account of the law, but he promised to put them in a box and have them delivered at the station, and there, in due course, I found them.
But I was very uneasy until we found ourselves in the train. And then at last everything was accomplished—our baggage upon the seats beside us and our berths secured. At three precisely the train pulled out, and Jacqueline nestled down beside me, and we looked at each other and were happy.
And then, at the very moment when the wheels began to revolve, Leroux stepped down from a neighbouring train. As he passed our window he espied us.
He started and glared, and then he came racing back toward us, shaking his fists and yelling vile expletives. He tried to swing himself aboard in his fury despite the fact that the doors were all shut. A porter pushed him back and the last I saw of him he was still pursuing us, screaming with rage.
I knew that he would follow on the nine o'clock train, reaching Quebec about five the following afternoon. That gave us five hours' grace. It was not much, but it was something to have Jacqueline safe with me even until the morrow.
I turned toward her, fearful that she had recognized the man and realized the situation. But she was smiling happily at my side, and I was confident then that, by virtue of that same mental inhibition, she had neither seen nor heard the fellow.
"Paul, it is bon voyage for both of us," she said.
"Yes, my dear."
She looked at me thoughtfully a minute.
"Paul, when we get home——"
"I do not know," she said, putting her palms to her head. "Perhaps I shall remember then. But you—you must stay with me, Paul."
Her lips quivered slightly. She turned her head away and looked out of the window at the horrible maze of houses in the Bronx and the disfiguring sign-boards.
New York was slipping away. All my old life was slipping away like this—and evil following us. I slipped one of the automatics out of my suit-case into my pocket and swore that I would guard Jacqueline from any shadow of harm.
Each minute that I spent with her increased my passion for her. I had ceased to have illusions on that score. One question recurred to my mind incessantly. Could she be ignorant that she had a husband somewhere? Would she tell me—or was this the chief of the memories that she had laid aside?
I opened one of the newspapers that I had bought at the station bookstand, dreading to find in flaring letters the headlines announcing the discovery of the body.
I found the announcement—but in small type. The murder was ascribed to a gang battle—the man could not be identified, and apparently both police and public considered the affair merely one of those daily slayings that occur in that city.
Another newspaper devoted about the same amount of space to the account, but it published a photograph of the dead man, taken in the alley, where, it appeared, the reporter had viewed the body before it had been removed. The photograph looked horribly lifelike. I cut it out and placed it in my pocketbook.
For the present I felt safe. I believed the affair would be forgotten soon. And meanwhile here was Jacqueline.
I turned toward her. She was asleep at my side, and her head drooped on my shoulder. We sat thus all the afternoon, while the city disappeared behind us, and we passed through Connecticut and approached the Vermont hills.
Then we had a gay little supper in the dining car. Afterward I walked to the car entrance and flung the broken dog collar away—across the fields. That was the last link that bound us to the past.
Then the berths were lowered and made up; and fastening from my upper place the curtain which fell before Jacqueline's, I knew that, for one night more, at least, I held her in safe ward.
M. LE CURE
The very obvious decision at which I arrived after a night of cogitation in my berth was that Jacqueline was to pass as my sister. I explained my plan to her at breakfast.
There had been the examination of baggage at the frontier and the tiresome change to a rear car in the early morning, and most of us were heavy-eyed, but she looked as fresh and charming as ever in her new waist of black lace and the serge skirt which she had bought the day before. It seemed impossible to realize that I was really seated opposite her in the dining car, talking amid the punctuating chatter of a party of red-cheeked French-Canadian school children who had come on the train at Sherbrooke, bound for their home on the occasion of the approaching Christmas holidays.
"You see, Jacqueline," I explained, "it will look strange our travelling together, unless some close relationship is supposed to exist between us. I might subject you to embarrassment—so I shall call you my sister, Miss Hewlett, and you will call me your brother Paul." And I handed her my visiting card, because she had never heard my surname before.
"I shall be glad to think of you as my brother Paul," she answered, looking at the card. She held it in her right hand, and it was not until the middle of the meal that the left hand came into view.
Then I discovered that she had taken off her wedding ring.
I wondered what thought impelled her to do this, whether it was coquetry or the same instinct which seemed to interpret the situation at all times perfectly, though it never welled up into her consciousness.
We sped northward all that morning, stopping at many little wayside stations, and as we rushed along beside the ice-bound St. Francis the air ever grew colder, and the land, deep in snow, and the tall pines, white with frost, looked like a picture on a Christmas card.
At last the St. Lawrence appeared, covered with drifting floes; the Isle of Orleans, with the Falls of Montmorency behind it; the ascending heights which slope up to the Chateau Frontenac, the fort-crowned citadel, the long parapet, bristling with guns.
Then, after the ferry had transferred us from Levis we stood in Lower Quebec.
We had hardly gone on board the ferryboat when an incident occurred that greatly disturbed me. A slightly built, well-dressed man, with a small, upturned mustache and a face of notable pallor, passed and repassed us several times, staring and smiling with cool effrontery at both of us.
He wore a lambskin cap and a fur overcoat, and I could not help associating him with the dead man, or avoiding the belief that he had travelled north with us, and that Leroux had been to see him off at the station.
I was a good deal troubled by this, but before I had decided to address the fellow we landed, and a sleigh swept us up the hill toward the chateau to the tune of jingling bells. It was a strange wintry scene—the low sleighs, their drivers wrapped in furs and capped in bearskin, the hooded nuns in the streets, the priests, soldiers, and ancient houses. The air was keen and dry.
"This is Quebec, Jacqueline," I said.
I thought that she remembered unwillingly, but she said nothing.
I dared ask her no questions. I fancied that each scene brought back its own memories, but not the ideas associated with the chain of scenes.
We secured adjacent rooms at the chateau, and leaving Jacqueline to unpack her things, and under instructions not to leave her room and promising to return as soon as possible, I started out at once to find Maclay & Robitaille's.
This proved a task of no great difficulty. It was a little shop where leather goods were sold, situated on St. Joseph Street. A young man with a dark, clean-shaven face, was behind the counter. He came forward courteously as I approached.
"I have come on an unusual mission," I began foolishly and stopped, conscious of the inanity of this address. What a stupid thing to have said! I must have aroused his suspicions immediately.
He begged my pardon and called a man from another part of the shop. And that gave me my chance over again, for I realized that he had not understood my English.
"Do you remember," I asked the newcomer, "selling a collar to a young lady recently—no, some long time ago—a dog-collar, I mean?"
The proprietor shrugged his shoulders. "I sell a good many dog-collars during the year," he answered.
I took the plate from my pocket and set it down on the counter. "The collar was set with silver studs," I said. "This was the plate." Then I remembered the name Leroux had used and flung it out at random. "I think it was for a Mlle. Duchaine," I added.
The shot went home.
"Ah, monsieur, now I remember perfectly," answered the proprietor, "both from the unusual nature of the collar and from the fact that there was some difficulty in delivering it. There was no post-office nearer the seigniory than St. Boniface, where it lay unclaimed for a long time. I think madamoiselle had forgotten all about the order. Or perhaps the dog had died!"
"Where is this seigniory?"
"The seigniory of M. Charles Duchaine?" he answered, looking curiously at me. "You are evidently a stranger, monsieur, or you would have heard of it, especially now when people are saying that——" He checked himself at this point. "It is the oldest of the seigniories," he continued. "In fact, it has never passed out of the hands of the original owners, because it is almost uninhabitable in winter, except by Indians. I understand that M. Duchaine has built himself a fine chateau there; but then he is a recluse monsieur, and probably not ten men have ever visited it. But mademoiselle is too fine a woman to be imprisoned there long——"
"How could one reach the chateau?" I interpolated.
He looked at me inquiringly as though he wondered what my business there could be.
"In summer," he replied, "one might ascend the Riviere d'Or in a canoe for half the distance, until one reached the mountains, and then——" He shrugged his shoulders. "I do not know. Possibly one would inquire of the first trapper who passed in autumn. In winter one would fly. It is strange that so little is known of the seigniory, for they say the Riviere d'Or——"
"The Golden River?"
"Has vast wealth in it, and formerly the Indians would bring gold-dust in quills to the traders. But many have sought the source of this supply in past times and failed or died, and so——" He shrugged his shoulders again.
"You see, M. Duchaine is a hermit," he continued. "Once, so my father used to say, he was one of the gayest young men in Quebec. But he became involved in the troubles of 1867—and then his wife died, and so lie withdrew there with the little mademoiselle—what was her name?"
He called his clerk.
"Alphonse, what is the name of that pretty daughter of M. Charles Duchaine, of Riviere d'Or?" he asked.
"Annette," answered the man. "No, Nanette. No Janette. I am sure it ends with 'ette' or 'ine,' anyway."
"Eh bien, it makes no difference," said the proprietor, "because, since she left the Convent of the Ursulines here in Quebec, where she was educated, her father keeps her at the chateau, and you are not likely to set eyes on M. Charles Duchaine's daughter."
A sudden stoppage in his flow of words, an almost guilty look upon his face, as a new figure entered the little shop, directed my attention toward the stranger.
He was an old man of medium size, very muscularly built, stout, and with enormous shoulders. He wore a priest's soutane, but he did not look like a priest—he looked like a man's head on a bull body. His smooth face was tanned to the colour of an Indian's—his bright blue eyes, almost concealed by their drooping, wrinkled lids, were piercing in their scrutiny.
He wore a bearskin hat and furs of surprising quality. It was not so much his strange appearance that attracted my interest as the singular look of authority upon the face, which was yet deeply lined about the mouth, as though he could relax upon occasion and become the jolliest of companions.
And he spoke a pure French, interspersed with words of an uncouth patois, which I ascribed to long residence in some remote parish.
"Bo'jour, Pere Antoine," said the shopkeeper deferentially, fixing his eyes rather timidly upon the old priest's face.
"Eh bien, who is this with whom thou gossipest concerning the daughter of M. Duchaine?" inquired Father Antoine, looking at me keenly.
"Only a customer—a stranger, monsieur," answered the proprietor, rubbing his hands together. "He wishes to see—a dog collar, was it not?" he continued, turning nervously toward me.
"You talk too much," said Pere Antoine roughly. "Now, monsieur," he said, addressing me in fair English, "what is the nature of your business that it can possibly concern either M. Duchaine or his daughter? Perhaps I can inform you, since he is one of my parishioners."
"My conversation was not with you, monsieur le cure," I answered shortly, and left the shop. I had ascertained what I needed to know, and had no desire to enter into a discussion of my business with the old man.
I had not gone three paces from the door, however, when the priest, coming up behind me, placed a huge hand upon my shoulder and swung me around without the least apparent effort.
"I do not know what your business is, monsieur," he said, "but if it were an honest one you would state it to me. If you wish to see M. Duchaine I am best qualified to assist you to do so, since I visit his chateau twice each year to carry the consolations of religion to him and his people. But if your business is not honest it will fail. End it then and return to your own country."
"I do not intend to discuss my business with you, monsieur," I answered angrily. It is humiliating to be in the physical grip of another man, even though he be a priest.
He let me go and stood eyeing me with his keen gaze. I jumped on a passing car, but looking back, I saw him striding along behind it. He seemed to walk as quickly as the car went through the crowded street, and with no effort.
When I got off in the neighbourhood of the Place d'Armes it was nearly dark; but though I could not see the old man, I was convinced that he was still following me.
I found Jacqueline in her room looking over her purchases, and took her down to dinner.
And here I had another disconcerting experience, for hardly were we seated when the inquisitive stranger whom I had seen at the ferry came into the dining-room, and after a careful survey which ended as his eyes fell on us, he took his seat at an adjacent table.
I could not but connect him with our presence there.
Leroux was due to arrive at any moment. I realized that great issues were at stake, that the man would never cease in his attempts to get hold of Jacqueline. Only when I had returned her to her father's house would I feel safe from him.
The chateau was the worst place to have made my headquarters. If I had realized the man's persistence, perhaps I would have sought less conspicuous lodgings. Leroux's behaviour at the railroad station had betrayed both an ungovernable temper when he was crossed, and to a certain extent, fearlessness.
Nevertheless I believed him to have also an elemental cunning which would dissuade him from violent measures so long as we were in Quebec. I resolved, therefore, not to avoid him, but to await his lead.
After dinner I had some conversation with one of the hotel clerks. I discovered that the Riviere d'Or flowed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the north, in the neighbourhood of Anticosti.
It was a small stream, and except for a postal station at its mouth named St. Boniface, was little known, the only occupants of those parts being trappers and Indians.
When I told the clerk that I had business at St. Boniface I think he concluded that I represented an amalgamation of fishing interests, for he became exceedingly communicative.
"You could hire dogs and a sleigh at St. Boniface for wherever your final destination is," he said, "because the dog mail has been suspended owing to the new government mail-boats, and the sleighs are idle. I think Captain Dubois would take you on his boat as far as that point, and I believe he makes his next trip in a couple of days."
He gave me the captain's address, and I resolved to call on him early the following day and make arrangements.
I was just turning away when I saw the inquisitive stranger leave the smoking-room. He crossed the hall and went out, not without bestowing a long look on me.
"Who is that man?" I asked.
"Why, isn't he a friend of yours?" inquired the clerk.
"Only by the way he stares at me," I said.
"Well, he said he thought he knew you and asked me your name," the clerk answered. "He didn't give me his, and I don't think he has been in here before."
I took Jacqueline for a stroll on the Terrace, and while we walked I pondered over the problem.
The night was too beautiful for my depression of mind to last. The stars blazed brilliantly overhead; upon our left the faint outlines of the Laurentians rose, in front of us the lights of Levis twinkled above the frozen gulf. There was a flicker of Northern Lights in the sky.
We paced the Terrace, arm in arm, from the statue of Champlain that overlooks the Place d'Armes to the base of the mighty citadel, and back, till the cold drove us in.
Jacqueline was very quiet, and I wondered what she remembered. I dreaded always awakening her memory lest, with that of her home, came that other of the dead man.
Our rooms were on the side of the Chateau facing the town, and as we passed beneath the arch I saw two men standing no great distance away, and watching us, it seemed to me.
One wore the cassock of a priest, and I could have sworn that he was Pere Antoine; the other resembled the inquisitive stranger. As we drew near they moved behind a pillar. Thus, inexorably, the chase drew near.
My suspicions received confirmation a few minutes later, for we had hardly reached our rooms, and I was, in fact, standing at the door of Jacqueline's, bidding her good night, when a bellboy came along the passage and announced that the gentleman whom I was expecting was coming up the stairs.
I said good-night to Jacqueline and went into my room and waited. I had thought it would be the stranger, but it was the priest.
I invited him to enter, and he came in and stood with his fur cap on his head, looking direfully at me.
"Well, monsieur, what is the purpose of this visit?" I asked.
"To tell you," he thundered, "that you must give up the unhappy woman who has accompanied you here."
"That is precisely what I intend to do," I answered.
"To me," he said. "Her husband——"
I felt my brain whirling. I knew now that I had always cherished a hope, despite the ring—what a fool I had been!
"I married them," continued Pere Antoine.
"Where is he?" I demanded desperately.
He appeared disconcerted. I gathered from his stare that he had supposed I knew.
"This is a Catholic country," he went on, more quietly. "There is no divorce; there can be none. Marriage is a sacrament. Sinning as she is——"
I placed my hand on his shoulder. "I will not hear any more," I said. "Go!" I pointed toward the door.
"I am going to take her away with me," he said, and crossing the threshold into the corridor, placed one hand on the door of Jacqueline's room.
I got there first. I thrust him violently aside—it was like pushing a monument; turned the key, which happily was still outside, and put it in my pocket.
"I am ready to deal with her husband," I said. "I am not ready to deal with you. Leave at once, or I will have you arrested, priest or no priest."
He raised his arm threateningly. "In God's name—" he began.
"In God's name you shall not interfere with me," I cried. "Tell that to your confederate, Simon Leroux. A pretty priest you are!" I raged. "How do I know she has a husband? How do I know you are not in league with her persecutors? How do I know you are a priest at all?"
He seemed amazed at the violence of my manner.
"This is the first time my priesthood has been denied," he said quietly. "Well, I have offered you your chance. I cannot use violence. If you refuse, you will bring your own punishment upon your head, and hers on that of the unhappy woman whom you have led into sin."
"Go!" I shouted, pointing down the passage.
He turned and went, his soutane sweeping against the door of Jacqueline's room as he went by. At the entrance to the elevator he turned again and looked back steadily at me. Then the door clanged and the elevator went down.
I unlocked the door of Jacqueline's room. I saw her standing at the foot of the bed. She was supporting herself by her hands on the brass framework. Her face was white. As I entered she looked up piteously at me.
"Who—was—that?" she asked in a frightened whisper.
"An impudent fellow—that is all, Jacqueline."
"I thought I knew his voice," she answered slowly. "It made me—almost—remember. And I do not want to remember, Paul."
She put her arms about my neck and cried. I tried to comfort her, but it was a long time before I succeeded.
I locked her door on the outside, and that night I slept with the key beneath my pillow.
AT THE FOOT OF THE CLIFF
The next morning, after again cautioning Jacqueline not to leave her room until I returned, I went to the house of Captain Dubois on Paul Street, in the Lower Town.
I was admitted by a pleasant-looking woman who told me that the captain would not be home until three in the afternoon, so I returned to the chateau, took Jacqueline for a sleigh ride round the fortifications, and delighted her, and myself also, by the purchase of two fur coats, heavy enough to exclude the biting cold which I anticipated we should experience during our journey.
In the afternoon I went back to Paul Street and found M. Dubois at home. He was a man of agreeable appearance, a typical Frenchman of about forty-five, with a full face sparsely covered with a black beard that was beginning to turn grey at the sides, and with an air of sagacious understanding, in which I detected both sympathy and a lurking humour.
When I explained that I wanted to secure two passages to St. Boniface, his brows contracted.
"So you, too, are going to the Chateau Duchaine!" he exclaimed. "Is there not room for two more on the boat of Captain Duhamel?"
I disclaimed all knowledge of Duhamel, but he looked entirely unconvinced.
"It is a pity, monsieur, that you are not acquainted with Captain Duhamel," he said dryly, "because I cannot take you to St. Boniface. But undoubtedly Captain Duhamel will assist you and your friend on your way to the Chateau Duchaine."
"Why do you suppose that I am going to the Chateau Duchaine?" I inquired angrily.
He flared up, too. "Diable!" he burst out, "do you suppose all Quebec does not know what is in the wind? But since you are so ignorant, monsieur, I will enlighten you. We will assume, to begin then, that you are not going to the chateau, but only to St. Boniface, perhaps to engage in fishing for your support. Eh, monsieur?"
Here he looked mockingly at my fur coat, which hardly bore out this presumption of my indigence.
"Eh bien, to continue. Let us suppose that the affairs of M. Charles Duchaine have interested a gentleman of business and politics whom we will call M. Leroux—just for the sake of giving him a name, you understand," he resumed, looking at me maliciously. "And that this M. Leroux imagines that there is more than spruce timber to be found on the seigniory. Bien, but consider further that this M. Leroux is a mole, as we call our politicians here. It would not suit him to appear openly in such an enterprise? He would always work through his agents in everything would he not being a mole?
"Let us say then that he arranges with a Captain Duhamel to convey his party to St. Boniface to which point he will go secretly by another route and that he will join them there and—in short, monsieur, take yourself and your friend to the devil, for I won't give you passage."
His face was purple, and I assumed that he bore no love for Simon, whose name seemed to be of considerable importance in Quebec. I was delighted at the turn affairs were taking.
"You have not a very kindly feeling for this mythical person whom we have agreed to call Leroux," I said.
Captain Dubois jumped out of his chair and raised his arms passionately above him.
"No, nor for any of his friends," he answered. "Go back to him—for I know he sent you to me—and tell him he cannot hire Alfred Dubois for all the money in Canada."
"I am glad to hear you say that," I answered, "because Leroux is no friend of mine. Now listen to me, Captain Dubois. It is true that I am going to the chateau, if I can get there, but I did not know that Leroux had made his arrangements already. In brief, he is in pursuit of me and I have urgent reasons for avoiding him. My companion is a lady——"
"Eh?" he exclaimed, looking stupidly at me.
"And I am anxious to take her to the chateau, where we shall be safe from the man——"
"A lady!" exclaimed the captain. "A young one? Why didn't you tell me so at first, monsieur? I'll take you. I will do anything for an enemy of Leroux. He put my brother in jail on a false charge because he wouldn't bow to him—my brother died there, monsieur—that was his wife who opened the door to you. And the children, who might have starved, if I had not been able to take care of them! And he has tried to rob me of my position, only it is a Dominion one—the rascal!"
The captain was becoming incoherent. He drew his sleeve across his eyes.
"But a lady!" he continued, with forced gaiety a moment later, "I do not know your business, monsieur, but I can guess, perhaps——"
"But you must not misunderstand me," I interposed. "She is not——"
"It's all right!" said the captain, slapping me upon the back. "No explanations! Not a word, I assure you. I am the most discreet of men. Madeleine!"
This last word was a deep-chested bellow, and in response a little girl came running in, staggering under the weight of the captain's overcoat of raccoon fur.
"That is my overcoat voice," he explained, stroking the child's head. "My niece, monsieur. The others are boys. I wish they were all girls, but God knows best. And, you see, a man can save much trouble, for by the tone in which I call Madeleine knows whether it is my overcoat or my pipe or slippers that I want, or whether I am growing hungry."
I thought that the captain's hunger voice must shake the rafters of the old building.
"And now, monsieur," he continued seriously, when we had left the house, "I am going to take you down to the pier and show you my boat. And I will tell you as much as I know concerning the plans of that scoundrel. In brief, it is known that a party of his friends has been quartered for some time at the chateau; they come and go, in fact, and now he is either taking more, or the same ones back again, and God knows why he takes them to so desolate a region, unless, as the rumour is, he has discovered coal-fields upon the seigniory and holds M. Duchaine in his power. Well, monsieur, a party sails with Captain Duhamel on tonight's tide, which will carry me down the gulf also.
"You see, monsieur," he continued, "it is impossible to clear the ice unless the tide bears us down; but once the Isle of Orleans is past we shall be in more open water and independent of the current. Captain Duhamel's boat is berthed at the same pier as mine upon the opposite side, for they both belong to the Saint-Laurent Company, which leases them in winter.
"We start together, then, but I shall expect to gain several hours during the four days' journey, for I know the Claire well, and she cannot keep pace with my Sainte-Vierge. In fact it was only yesterday that the government arranged for me to take over the Sainte-Vierge in place of the Claire, which I have commanded all the winter, for it is essential that the mails reach St. Boniface and the maritime villages as quickly as possible. So you must bring your lady aboard the Sainte-Vierge by nine to-night.
"I shall telegraph to my friend Danton at St. Boniface to have a sleigh and dogs at your disposal when you arrive, and a tent, food, and sleeping bags," continued Captain Dubois, "for it must be a hundred and fifty miles from St. Boniface to the Chateau Duchaine. It is not a journey that a woman should take in winter," he added with a sympathetic glance at me, "but doubtless your lady knows the way and the journey well."
The question seemed extraordinarily sagacious; it threw me into confusion.
"You see, M. Danton carried the mails by dog-sleigh before the steamship winter mail service was inaugurated," he went on, "and now he will be glad of an opportunity to rent his animals. So I shall wire him tonight to hold them for you alone, and shall describe you to him. And thus we will check M. Leroux's designs, which have doubtless included this point. And so, with half a day's start, you will have nothing to fear from him—only remember that he has no scruples. Still, I do not think he will catch you and Mlle. Jacqueline before you reach Chateau Duchaine," he ended, chuckling at his sagacity.
"Ah, well, monsieur, who else could your lady be?" he asked, smiling at my surprise. "I knew well that some day she must leave those wilds. Besides, did I not convey her here from St. Boniface on my return, less than a week ago, when she pleaded for secrecy? I suspected something agitated her then. So it was to find a husband that she departed thus? When she is home again, kneeling at her old father's feet, pleading for forgiveness, he will forgive—have no fear, mon ami."
So Jacqueline had left her home not more than a week before! And the captain had no suspicion that she was married then! Yet Pere Antoine claimed to have performed the ceremony.
To whom? And where was the man who should have stood in my place and shielded her against Leroux?
I made Dubois understand, not without difficulty, that we were still unmarried. His face fell when he realized that I was in earnest, but after a little he made the best of the situation, though it was evident that some of the glamour was scratched from the romance in his opinion.
By now we had arrived at the wharf. It was a short pier at the foot of one of the numerous narrow streets that run down from the base of the mighty cliff which ascends to the ramparts and Park Frontenac. On either side, wedged in among the floes, lay a small ship of not many tons' burden—the Claire and the Sainte-Vierge respectively. The latter vessel lay upon our right as we approached the end of the wharf.
"Hallo! Hallo, Pierre!" shouted Dubois in what must have resembled his dinner voice, and a seaman with a short black beard came running up the deck and stopped at the gangway.
"It is all right," said Dubois, after a few moments' conversation. "Pierre understands all that is necessary, and he will tell the men. And now I will show you the ship."
There was a small cabin for Jacqueline and another for myself adjoining. This accommodation had been built for the convenience of the passengers whom the Saint-Laurent Company, though its boats were built for freight, occasionally accepted during its summer runs. I was very well satisfied and inquired the terms.
"If it were not for the children there should be no terms!" exclaimed the captain. "But it is hard, monsieur, with prices rising and the hungry mouths always open, like little birds."
He was overjoyed at the sight of the fifty dollars which I tendered him. However, my generosity was not wholly disingenuous. I felt that it would be wise to make one stanch friend in that unfriendly city; and money does bind, though friendship exist already.
"By the way," I said, "do you know a priest named Pere Antoine?"
"An old man? A strong old man? Why, assuredly, monsieur," answered the captain. "Everybody knows him. He has the parish of the Riviere d'Or district, and the largest in Quebec. As far as Labrador it is said to extend, and he covers it all twice each year, in his canoe or upon snowshoes. A saint, monsieur, as not all of our priests are, alas! You will do well to make his acquaintance."
He placed one brawny hand upon my shoulder and swung me around.
"Now at last I understand!" he bellowed. "So it is Pere Antoine who is to make you and mademoiselle husband and wife! And you thought to conceal it from me, monsieur!" he continued reproachfully.
His good-humour being completely restored by this prospective consummation of the romance, the captain parted from me on the wharf on his way to the telegraph-office, repeating his instructions to the effect that we were to be aboard the boat by nine, as he would not be able to remain later than that hour on account of the tide.
It had grown dark long before and, looking at my watch, I was surprised to see that it was already past six o'clock. I had no time to lose in returning to the chateau.
But though I could see it outlined upon the cliff, I soon found myself lost among the maze of narrow streets in which I was wandering. I asked the direction of one or two wayfarers, but these were all men of the labouring class, and their instructions, given in the provincial patois, were quite unintelligible to me.
A man was coming up the street behind me, and I turned to question him, but as I decreased my pace, he diminished his also, and when I quickened mine, he went faster as well. I began to have an uneasy sense that he might be following me, and accordingly hastened onward until I came to a road which seemed to lead up the hill toward the ramparts.
The chateau now stood some distance upon my left, but once I had reached the summit of the cliff it would only be a short walk away.
The road, however, led me into a blind alley, the farther extremity being the base of the cliff; but another street emerged from it at a right angle, and I plunged into this, believing that any of the byways would eventually take me to the top of the acclivity.
As I entered this street I heard the footsteps behind me quicken and, looking around, perceived that the man was close upon me. He stopped at the moment I did and disappeared in a small court.
There was nothing remarkable in this, only to my straining eyes he seemed to bear a resemblance to the man with the patch whom I had encountered at the corner of Sixth Avenue on that night when I met Jacqueline.
I knew from Leroux's statement to me that the man had been a member of his gang. I was quite able to take care of myself under normal circumstances.
But now—I was afraid. The mighty cliff before me, the silence of the deserted alleys in which I wandered helplessly, the thought of Jacqueline alone, waiting anxiously for my return, almost unmanned me. I felt like a hunted man, and my safety, upon which her own depended, attained an exaggerated importance in my mind.
So I almost ran forward into the byway which seemed to lead toward the summit, and as I did so I heard the footsteps close behind me again.
I had entered one of the narrowest streets I had ever seen, and the most curious. It was just wide enough to admit the passage of a sleigh perhaps; the crumbling and dilapidated old houses, which seemed deserted, were connected overhead by a succession of wooden bridges, and those on my left were built into the solid rock, which rose sheer overhead.
In front of me the alley seemed to widen. I almost ran; but when I reached it I found that it was merely a bend in the passage, and the alley ran on straight as before.
On my left hand was a tiny unfenced courtyard, not more than six yards in area, and I turned into this quickly and waited. I was confident that the bend in the street had hidden me from my pursuer and, as I anticipated, he came on at a swifter rate.
He was abreast of me when I put out my hand and grasped him by the coat, while with the other I felt in my pocket for my automatic pistol.
It was not there. I had left it in the pocket of the overcoat which I had changed at the furrier's shop and had sent to the chateau. And I was looking into the villainous face of the ruffian who had knocked me down on Sixth Avenue.
"What are you following me for?" I cried furiously.
He wrenched himself out of my grasp and pulled a long knife from his pocket. I caught him by the wrist, and we wrestled to and fro upon the snow. He pummelled me about the face with his free hand, but though I was no match for him in strength, he could not get the knife from me. The keen steel slashed my fingers, but the thought of Jacqueline helped me.
I got his hand open, snatched the knife, and flung it far away among the stunted shrubs that clung to the cliffside. And we stood watching each other, panting.
He did not try to attack me again, but stood just out of my reach, grinning diabolically at me. His gaze shifted over my shoulder. Instinctively I swung around as the dry snow crackled behind me.
I was a second too late, for I saw nothing but the looming figure of a second ruffian and his upraised arm; then painless darkness seemed to enfold me, and I was conscious of plunging down into a fathomless abyss.
It sounded as though some titanic blacksmith were pounding on a mighty anvil to a devil's chorus of laughter. And I was bound to the steel, and each blow awakened hideous echoes which went resounding through my brain forever.
The blows were rhythmical, and there was a perceptible interval between each one and the next; they were drawn out and intolerably slow, and seemed to have lasted through uncountable eons.
I strove to free myself. I knew that it was a dream from which I must awaken, for the fate of the whole world depended on my awakening from the bonds of sleep.
It would be so easy to sink down into a deeper slumber, where even the clanging of the anvil beneath those hammer strokes would not longer be heard; but against this was the imperative need to save—not the world now, but——
The name was as sweet as honey upon my lips. It was something worth living for. It was—Jacqueline!
The remembrance freed me. Dimly consciousness began to return. I knew the hammering was my own heart, forcing the blood heavily through the arteries of the brain.
I had gone back to my rooms and saw a body upon the floor. Jacqueline had killed somebody, and I must save her!
All through the mist-wrapped borderland of life I heard her voice crying to me, her need of me dragging me back to consciousness. I struggled up out of the pit, and I saw light.
Suddenly I realized that my eyes were wide open and that I was staring at the moon over the housetops. With consciousness came pain. My head throbbed almost unbearably, and I was stiff with cold. I raised myself weakly, and then I became aware that somebody was bending over me.
It was a roughly dressed, rough-looking denizen of the low quarter into which I had strayed. His arms were beneath my neck, raising my head, and he was looking into my face with an expression of great concern upon his own good-natured one.
"I thought you were dead!" I could make out amid the stream of his dialect, but the remainder of his speech was beyond my understanding.
"Help me!" I muttered, reaching for his hand.
He understood the gesture, for he assisted me to my feet, and, after I had leaned weakly against the wall of a house for a minute or two, I found that I could stand unassisted.
I looked round in bewilderment.
"Where am I?" I asked, still bound by that first memory of New York.
"In Sous-le-Cap, m'sieur," answered the man.
I felt in my pocket for my watch and drew it out. It was strange that the men had not robbed me, but I suppose they had become terrified at their work and had run off. However, I did not think of that at the time.
I think my action was an automatic one, the natural refuge for a perplexed man. But the sight of the time brought back my memory, and the events of the day rushed back into my mind with a force that seemed to send an accession of new strength through my limbs.
It was a few minutes past eight. And the boat sailed at nine. I must have lain stunned in Sous-le-Cap Street for an hour and a half, at least, and only the supreme necessity of awakening, realized through unconsciousness, had saved me from dying under the snows.
I found that I could walk, and having explained to the man that I wished to go to the chateau, was taken by him to the top of a winding road near at hand, from which I could see my destination at no great distance from me.
Dismissing my friendly guide, and sending him back rejoicing with liberal largesse, I hurried as quickly as I could make my way along the ramparts, past the frowning, ancient cannon skirting the park, until I burst into the chateau at half past the hour.
I must have presented a dreadful spectacle, for my hair and collar were matted with blood, and I saw the guests stare and shrink from me. The clerk came toward me and stopped me at the entrance to the elevator.