Hildegarde felt uneasy. Breitmann toyed with the bread crumbs. He wa_nattentive besides.
"Napoleon. There is an old scandal," mused M. Ferraud. "I don't think that an_f you have heard it."
"That will interest me," Fitzgerald cried. "Tell it."
M. Ferraud cleared his throat with a sharp ahem and proceeded to burnish hi_rystals. Specks and motes were ever adhering to them. He held them up to th_ight and pretended to look through them: he saw nothing but the secretary'_bstraction.
"We were talking about treasures the other night," began the Frenchman, "and _ame near telling it then. It is a story of Napoleon."
"Never a better moment to tell it," said the admiral, rubbing his hands i_leasurable anticipation.
"I say to you at once that the tale is known to few, and has never had an_ublicity, and must never have any. Remember that, if you please, Mr.
Fitzgerald, and you also, Mr. Breitmann."
"I beg your pardon," said Breitmann. "I was not listening."
M. Ferraud repeated his request clearly.
"I am no longer a newspaper writer," Breitmann affirmed, clearing the fog ou_f his head. "A story about Napoleon; will it be true?"
"Every word of it." M. Ferraud folded his arms and sat back.
During the pause Hildegarde shivered. Something made her desire madly t_hrust a hand out and cover M. Ferraud's mouth.
"We have all read much about Napoleon. I can not recall how many lives rang_houlder to shoulder on the booksellers' shelves. There have been letters an_emoirs, anecdotes by celebrated men and women who were his contemporaries.
But there is one thing upon which we shall all agree, and that is that th_mperor was in private life something of a beast. As a soldier he was the pee_f all the Caesars; as a husband he was vastly inferior to any of them. Thi_tory does not concern him as emperor. If in my narrative there occur_nything offensive, correct me instantly. I speak English fluently, but ther_re still some idioms I trip on."
"I'll trust you to steer straight enough," said the admiral.
"Thank you. Well, then, once upon a time Napoleon was in Bavaria. The countr_as at that time his ablest ally. There was a pretty peasant girl."
A knife clattered to the floor. "Pardon!" whispered Hildegarde to Cathewe. "_m clumsy." She was as white as the linen.
Breitmann went on with his crumbs.
"I believe," continued M. Ferraud, "that it was in the year 1813 that th_mperor received a peculiar letter. It begged that a title be conferred upon _retty little peasant boy. The emperor was a grim humorist, I may say i_assing; and for this infant he created a baronetcy, threw in a parcel o_and, and a purse. That was the end of it, as far as it related to th_mperor. Waterloo came and with it vanished the empire; and it would be a lon_ime before a baron of the empire returned to any degree of popularity. Fo_ears the matter was forgotten. The documents in the case, the letters o_atent, the deeds and titles to the land, and a single Napoleonic scrawl, these gathered dust in the loft. When I heard this tale the thing whic_ppealed to me most keenly was the thought that over in Bavaria there exist_he only real direct strain of Napoleonic blood: a Teuton, one of those wh_ad brought about the downfall of the empire."
"You say exists?" interjected Cathewe.
"You have proofs?" demanded Fitzgerald.
"The very best in the world. I have not only seen those patents, but I hav_een the man."
"Very interesting," agreed Breitmann, brushing the crumbs into his hand an_ropping them on his plate. "But, go on."
"What a man!" breathed Fitzgerald, who began to see the drift of things.
"I proceed, then. Two generations passed. I doubt if the third generation o_his family has ever heard of the affair. One day the last of his race, i_learing up the salable things in his house—for he had decided to leas_t—stumbled on the scant history of his forebears. He was at school then; _romising youngster, brave, cheerful, full of adventure and curiosity.
Contrary to the natural sequence of events, he chose the navy, where he di_ery well. But in some way Germany found out what France already knew. Her_as a fine chance for a stroke of politics. France had always watched; withou_ear, however, but with half-formed wonder. Germany considered the case: wh_ot turn this young fellow loose on France, to worry and to harry her? So, quietly Germany bore on the youth in that cold-blooded, Teutonic way she has, and forced him out of the navy.
"He was poor, and poverty among German officers, in either branch, is a ba_hing. Our young friend did not penetrate the cause of this at first; for h_ad no intention of utilizing his papers, save to dream over them. The bloo_f his great forebear refused to let him bow under this unjust stroke. H_ought a craft, an interesting one. The net again closed in on him. He bega_o grow desperate, and desperation was what Germany desired. Desperation woul_ake a tool of the young fellow. But our young Napoleon was not without wit.
He plotted, but so cleverly and secretly that never a hand could reach out t_tay him. Germany finally offered him an immense bribe. He threw it back, fo_ow he hated Germany more than he hated France. You wonder why he hate_rance? If France had not discarded her empire—I do not refer to the secon_mpire—he would have been a great personage to-day. At least this must be on_f his ideas.
"And there you are," abruptly. "Here we have a Napoleon, indeed with all th_atience of his great forebear. If Germany had left him alone he would to-da_ave been a good citizen, who would never have permitted futile dreams t_nter his head, and who would have contemplated his greatness with the smil_f a philosopher. And who can say where this will end? It is pitiful."
M. Ferraud repressed the admiration in his eyes. It was a singular duel. "Whe_e see a madman rushing blindly over a precipice it is a human instinct t_each out a hand to save him."
"But how do you know he is rushing blindly?" Breitmann smiled this question.
Hildegarde sent him a terrified glance. But for the stiff back of her chai_he must have fallen.
M. Ferraud demolished an olive before he answered the question. "He has allie_imself with some of the noblest houses in France; that is to say, with th_ost heartless spendthrifts in Europe. Napoleon IV? They are laughing behin_is back this very minute. They are making a cat's-paw of his reall_agnificent fight for their own ignoble ends, the Orleanist party. To wrea_etty vengeance on France, for which none of them has any love; to embroil th_overnment and the army that they may tell of it in the boudoirs. This is th_im they have in view. What is it to them that they break a strong man'_eart? What is it to them if he be given over to perpetual imprisonment? Did _ourbon ever love France as a country? Has not France always represented t_hem a purse into which they might thrust their dishonest hands to pay fo_heir base pleasures? Oh, beware of the conspirator whose sole portion in lif_s that of pleasure! I wish that I could see this young man and tell him all _now. If I could only warn him."
Breitmann brushed his sleeve. "I am really disappointed in your climax, Mr.
"I said nothing about a climax," returned M. Ferraud. "That has yet to b_nacted."
"A descendant of Napoleon, direct! Poor devil!" The admiral was thunderstruck.
"Why, the very spirit of Napoleon is dead. Nothing could ever revive it. I_ould not live even a hundred days."
"Less than that many hours," said M. Ferraud. "He will be arrested the momen_e touches a French port."
"Father," cried Laura, with a burst of generosity which not only warmed he_eart but her cheeks, "why not find this poor, deluded young man and give hi_he treasure?"
"What, and ruin him morally as well as politically? No, Laura; with money h_ight become a menace."
"On the contrary," put in M. Ferraud; "with money he might be made to put awa_is mad dream. But I'm afraid that my story has made you all gloomy."
"It has made me sad," Laura admitted. "Think of the struggle, the self-denial, and never a soul to tell him he is mad."
The scars faded a little, but Breitmann's eyes never wavered.
"The man hasn't a ghost of a chance." To Fitzgerald it was now no puzzle wh_reitmann's resemblance to some one else had haunted him. He was rathe_ewildered, for he had not expected so large an order upon M. Ferraud'_romise. "Fifty years ago… "
"Ah! Fifty years ago," interrupted M. Ferraud eagerly, "I should have throw_y little to the cause. Men and times were different then; the world was les_ordid and more romantic."
"Well, I shall always hold that we have no right to that treasure."
"Fiddlesticks, Laura! This is no time for sentiment. The questions buzzing i_y head are: Does this man know of the treasure's existence? Might he no_lready have put his hand upon it?"
"Your own papers discredit that supposition," replied Cathewe. "A stunnin_arn, and rather hard to believe in these skeptical times. What is it?" h_sked softly, noting the dead white on Hildegarde's cheeks.
"Perhaps it is the smoke," she answered with a brave attempt at a smile.
The admiral in his excitement had lighted a heavy cigar and was consuming i_ith jerky puffs, a bit of thoughtlessness rather pardonable under the stres_f the moment. For he was beginning to entertain doubts. It was not impossibl_or this Napoleonic chap to have a chart, to know of the treasure's existence.
He wished he had heard this story before. He would have left the women a_ome. Corsica was not wholly civilized, and who could tell what might happe_here? Yes, the admiral had his doubts.
"I should like to know the end of the story," said Breitmann musingly.
"There is time," replied M. Ferraud; and of them all, only Fitzgerald caugh_he sinister undercurrent.
"So, Miss Killigrew, you believe that this treasure should be handed over t_ts legal owner?" Breitmann looked into her eyes for the first time tha_vening.
"I have some doubt about the legal ownership, but the sentimental and mora_wnership is his. A romance should always have a pleasant ending."
"You are thinking of books," was Cathewe's comment. "In life there is mor_dventure than romance, and there is seldom anything more incomplete in every- day life than romance."
"That would be my own exposition, Mr. Cathewe," said Breitmann.
The two fenced briefly. They understood each other tolerably well; only, Cathewe as yet did not know the manner of the man with whom he was matched.
The dinner came to an end, or, rather, the diners rose, the dinner having thi_our or more been cleared from the table; and each went to his or her state- room mastered by various degrees of astonishment. Fitzgerald moved in a kin_f waking sleep. Napoleon IV! That there was a bar sinister did not matter.
The dazzle radiated from a single point: a dream of empire! M. Ferraud had no_ested; Breitmann was mad, obsessed, a monomaniac. It was grotesque; i_roubled the senses as a Harlequin's dance troubles the eyes. A great-grandso_f Napoleon, and plotting to enter France! And, good Lord! with what? Tw_illion francs and half a dozen spendthrifts. Never had there been a wilder, more hopeless dreamer than this! Whatever antagonism or anger he had harbore_gainst Breitmann evaporated. Poor devil, indeed!
He understood M. Ferraud now. Breitmann was mad; but till he made a decisiv_troke no man could stay him. So many things were clear now. He was after th_reasure, and he meant to lay his hands upon it, peacefully if he could, violently if no other way opened. That day in the Invalides, the old days i_he field, his unaccountable appearance on the Jersey coast; each of thes_hings squared themselves in what had been a puzzle. But, like the admiral, h_ished that there were no women on board. There would be a contest of som_rder, going forward, where only men would be needed. Pirates! He rolled int_is bunk with a dry laugh.
Meantime M. Ferraud walked the deck alone, and finally when Breitman_pproached him, it was no more than he had been expecting.
"Among other things," began the secretary, with ominous calm, "I should lik_o see the impression of your thumb."
"That lock was an ingenious contrivance. It was only by the merest accident _iscovered it."
"It must be a vile business."
"Serving one's country? I do not agree with you. Wait a moment, Mr. Breitmann; let us not misunderstand each other. I do not know what fear is; but I do kno_hat I am one of the few living who put above all other things in the world, France: France with her wide and beautiful valleys, her splendid mountains, her present peace and prosperity. And my life is nothing if in giving it I ma_onfer a benefit."
"Why did you not tell the whole story? A Frenchman, and to deny oneself _limax like this?"
M. Ferraud remained silent.
"If you had not meddled! Well, you have, and these others must bear the brun_ith you, should anything serious happen."
"Without my permission you will not remain in Ajaccio a single hour. But tha_ould not satisfy me. I wish to prove to you your blindness. I will make you _roposition. Tear up those papers, erase the memory from your mind, and I wil_lace in your hands every franc of those two millions."
Breitmann laughed harshly. "You have said that I am mad; very well, I am. Bu_ know what I know, and I shall go on to the end. You are clever. I do no_now who you are nor why you are here with your warnings; but this will I sa_o you: to-morrow we land, and every hour you are there, death shall lurk a_our elbow. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly. So well, that I shall let you go freely."
"A warning for each, then; only mine has death in it."