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Chapter 2 THE BUTTERFLY MAN

  • The passing and repassing shadows of craft gave a fitful luster to the river; so crisply white were the spanning highways that the eye grew quickly dim 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."
  • "Admitted."
  • "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."
  • "Forgeries!" contemptuously.
  • "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.