The passing and repassing shadows of craft gave a fitful luster to the river; so crisply white were the spanning highways that the eye grew quickly dim wit_ooking; the brisk channel breeze which moved with rough gaiety through th_rees in the gardens of the Tuileries, had, long hours before, blown away th_torm. Bright sunshine, expanses of deep cerulean blue, towering banks o_leasant clouds, these made Paris happy to-day, in spots.
The great minister gazed across the river, his hands under the tails of hi_rock, and the perturbation of his mind expressed by the frequent flapping o_hose somber woolen wings. To the little man who watched him, there was _aint resemblance to a fiddling cricket.
"Sometimes I am minded to trust the whole thing to luck, and bother no mor_bout him."
"Monsieur, I have obeyed orders for seven years, since we first recognized th_nfortunate affair. Nothing he has done in this period is missing from m_otebook; and up to the present time he has done—nothing. But just a littl_ore patience. This very moment, when you are inclined to drop it, may be th_ne. One way or another, it is a matter of no real concern to me. There wil_lways be plenty of work for me to do, in France, or elsewhere. But I am lik_n old soldier whose wound, twinging with rheumatism, announces the approac_f damp weather. I have, then, monsieur, a kind of psychological rheumatism; prescience, bookmen call it. Presently we shall have damp weather."
"You speak with singular conviction."
"In my time I have made very few mistakes. You will recollect that. Twent_ears have I served France. I was wrong to say that this affair does no_oncern me. I'm interested to see the end."
"But will there be an end?" impatiently. "If I were certain of that! But seve_ears, and still no sign."
"Monsieur, he is to be feared; this inactivity, to my mind, proves it. He i_aiting; the moment is not ripe. There are many sentimental fools in thi_orld. One has only to step into the street and shout 'Down with!' or 'Lon_ive!' to bring these fools clattering about."
"That is true enough," flapping the tails of his coat again.
"This fellow was born across the Rhine. He has served in the navy; he is _erman, therefore we can not touch him unless he commits some overt act. H_aits; there is where the danger, the real danger, lies. He waits; and it i_is German blood which gives him this patience. A Frenchman would hav_xploded long since."
"You have searched his luggage and his rooms, times without number."
"And found nothing; nothing that I might use effectively. But there is thi_aving grace; he on his side knows nothing."
"I would I were sure of that also. Eh, well; I leave the affair in your hands, and they are capable ones. When the time comes, act, act upon your ow_nitiative. In this matter we shall give no accounting to Germany."
"No, because what I do must be done secretly. It will not matter that German_lso knows and waits. But this is true; if we do not circumvent him, she wil_ake use of whatever he does."
"It has its whimsical side. Here is a man who may some day blow up France, an_et we can put no hand on him till he throws the bomb."
"But there is always time to stop the flight of the bomb. That shall be m_oncern; that is, if monsieur is not becoming discouraged and desires me t_ccupy myself with other things. I repeat: I have rheumatism, I apprehend th_amp. He will go to America."
"Ah! It would be a very good plan if he remained there."
The little man did not reply.
"But you say in your reports that you have seen him going about with some o_he Orleanists. What is your inference there?"
"I have not yet formed one. It is a bit of a riddle there, for the crow an_he eagle do not fly together."
"Well, follow him to America."
"Thanks. The pay is good and the work is congenial." The tone of the littl_an was softly given to irony.
Gray-haired, rosy-cheeked, a face smooth as a boy's, twinkling eyes behin_pectacles, he was one of the most astute, learned, and patient of the Frenc_ecret police. And he did not care the flip of his strong brown fingers fo_he methods of Vidocq or Lecoq. His only disguise was that not one of th_riminal police of the world knew him or had ever heard of him; and save hi_hief and three ministers of war—for French cabinets are given to change—hi_wn immediate friends knew him as a butterfly hunter, a searcher for beetle_nd scarabs, who, indeed, was one of the first authorities in France on th_ubjects: Anatole Ferraud, who went about, hither and thither, with a littl_ed button in his buttonhole and a tongue facile in a dozen languages.
"Very well, monsieur. I trust that in the near future I may bring you goo_ews."
"He will become nothing or the most desperate man in Europe."
"He is a scholar, too."
"All the more interesting."
"As a student in Munich he has fought his three duels. He has been a wa_orrespondent under fire. He is a great fencer, a fine shot, a daring rider."
"And penniless. What a country they have over there beyond the Rhine! He woul_ever have troubled his head about it, had they not harried him. To stir u_rance, to wound her if possible! He will be a man of great courage an_esource," said the secret agent, drawing the palms of his hands together.
"In the end, then, Germany will offer him money?"
"That is the possible outlook."
"But, suppose he went to work on his own responsibility?"
"In that case one would be justified in locking him up as a madman. Do yo_now anything about Alpine butterflies?"
"Very little," confessed the minister.
"There is often great danger in getting at them; but the pleasure i_ommensurate."
"Are there not rare butterflies in the Amazonian swamps?" cynically.
"Ah, but this man has good blood in him; and if he flies at all he will fl_igh. Think of this man fifty years ago; what a possibility he would hav_een! But it is out of fashion to-day. Well, monsieur, I must be off. There i_n old manuscript at the Bibliothèque I wish to inspect."
"Concerning this matter?"
"Butterflies," softly; "or, I should say, chrysalides."
The subtle inference passed by the minister. There were many other things to- ing and fro-ing in the busy corridors of his brain. "I shall hear from yo_requently?"
"As often as the situation requires. By the way, I have an idea. When I cabl_ou the word butterfly, prepare yourself accordingly. It will mean that th_omb is ready."
"Good luck attend you, my savant," said the minister, with a friendlines_hich was deep and genuine. He had known Monsieur Ferraud in other days. "And, above all, take care of yourself."
"Trust me, Count." And the secret agent departed, to appear again in thes_hambers only when his work was done.
"A strange man," mused the minister when he was alone. "A still strange_usiness for a genuine scholar. Is he really poor? Does he do this work t_fford him ease and time for his studies? Or, better still, does he hide _reat and singular patriotism under butterfly wings? Patriotism? More and mor_t becomes self-interest. It is only when a foreign mob starts to tear dow_our house, that you become a patriot."
Now the subject of these desultory musings went directly to the Bibliothèqu_ationale. The study he pursued was of deep interest to him; it concerned _utterfly of vast proportions and kaleidoscopic in color, long ago pinned awa_nd labeled among others of lesser brilliancy. It had cast a fine shadow i_ts brief flight. But the species was now extinct, at least so the historia_f this particular butterfly declared. Hybrid? Such a contingency was alway_ossible.
"Suppose it does exist, as I and a few others very well know it does; what _ine joke it would be to see it fly into Paris! But, no. Idle dream! Still, _hall wait and watch. And now, suppose we pay a visit to Berlin and use blun_acts in place of diplomacy? It will surprise them."
Each German chancellor has become, in turn, the repository of such politica_ecrets as fell under the eyes of his predecessor; and the chancellor wh_alked up and down before Monsieur Ferraud, possessed several which did no_est heavily upon his soul simply because he was incredulous, or affected tha_e was.
"The thing is preposterous."
"As your excellency has already declared."
"What has it to do with France?"
"Much or little. It depends upon this side of the Rhine."
"What imagination! But for your credentials, Monsieur Ferraud, I should no_isten to you one moment."
"I have seen some documents."
"Not in the least," suavely. "They are in every part genuine. They are hi_wn."
The chancellor paused, frowning. "Well, even then?"
Monsieur Ferraud shrugged.
"This fellow, who was forced to resign from the navy because of his tricks a_ards, why I doubt if he could stir up a brawl in a tavern. Really, if ther_as a word of truth in the affair, we should have acted before this. It is al_dle newspaper talk that Germany wishes war; far from it. Still, we lose n_oint to fortify ourselves against the possibility of it. Some one has bee_elling you old-wives' tales."
"Ten thousand marks," almost inaudibly.
"What was that you said?" cried the chancellor, whirling round abruptly, fo_he words startled him.
"Pardon me! I was thinking out loud about a sum of money."
"Ah!" And yet the chancellor realized that the other was telling him a_lainly as he dared that the German government had offered such a sum t_orward the very intrigue which he was so emphatically denying. "Why not tur_he matter over to your own ambassador here?"
The secret agent laughed. "Publicity is what neither your government nor min_esires. Thank you."
"I am sorry not to be of some service to you."
"I can readily believe that, your excellency," not to be outdone in the matte_f duplicity. "I thank you for your time."
"I hadn't the least idea that you were in the service; butterflies an_iplomacy!" with a hearty laugh.
"It is only temporary."
"Your _Alpine Butterflies_ compares favorably with _The Life of the Bee_."
"That is a very great compliment!"
And with this the interview, extraordinary in all ways, came to an end.
Neither man had fooled the other, neither had made any mistake in his logica_eductions; and, in a way, both were satisfied. The chancellor resumed hi_ore definite labors, and the secret agent hurried away to the neares_elegraph office.
"So I am to stand on these two feet?" Monsieur Ferraud ruminated, as he too_he seat by the window in the second-class carriage for Munich. "All the fine_he sport. Ten thousand marks! He forgot himself for a moment. And I migh_ave gone further and said that ninety thousand marks would be added to thos_en thousand if the bribe was accepted and the promise fulfilled."
Ah, it would be beautiful to untangle this snarl all alone. It would be th_inest chase that had ever fallen to his lot. No grain of sand, however small, should escape him. There were fools in Berlin as well as in Paris; and he kne_hat he knew. "Never a move shall he make that I shan't make the same; and i_ne thing I shall move first. Two million francs! Handsome! It is I who mus_ind this treasure, this fulcrum to the lever which is going to upheav_rance. There will be no difficulty then in pricking the pretty bubble. In th_eantime we shall proceed to Munich and carefully inquire into the affairs o_he grand opera singer, Hildegarde von Mitter."
He extracted a wallet from an inner pocket and opened it across his knees. I_as full of butterflies.