The hunter of butterflies rubbed his released wrists and ankles, tried hi_ollar, coughed, and dropped his legs to the floor.
"I am getting old," he cried in self-communion; "near-sighted and old. I'v_orn spectacles so long in jest that now I must wear them in earnest."
"How long have you been here?" asked Fitzgerald.
"I should say about two hours. It was very simple. He came to the door. _pened it. He came in. _Zut_! He is as powerful as a lion."
"Why didn't you call?"
"I was too busy, and suddenly it became too late. Gone?"
"Yes." And Fitzgerald swore as he rubbed the side of his head. Briefly h_elated what had befallen him.
"You have never hunted butterflies?"
"No," sharply. "Shall we start for him while his heels are hot?"
"It is very exciting. It is the one thing I really care for. There is ofte_anger, but it is the kind that does not steal round your back. Hereafter _hall devote my time to butterflies. You can make believe—is that what yo_all it?—each butterfly is a great rascal. The more difficult the netting, th_ore cunning the rascal … What did you say?"
"Look here, Ferraud," cried Fitzgerald angrily; "do you want to catch him o_ot? He's gone, and that means he has got the odd trick."
"But not the rubber, my son. Listen. When you set a trap for a rat or a lion, do you scare the animal into it, or do you lure him with a tempting bait? _ave laid the trap; he and his friend will walk into it. I am not a polic_fficer. I make no arrests. My business is to avert political calamities, without any one knowing that these calamities exist. That is the real busines_f a secret agent. Let him dig up his fortune. Who has a better right?
_Peste_! The pope will not crown him in the gardens of the Tuileries. What!"
with a ring in his voice Fitzgerald had never heard before; "am I one to b_vercome without a struggle, without a call for help? The trap is set, and i_orty-eight hours it will be sprung. Be calm, my son. Tonight we should no_ind a horse or carriage in the whole town of Ajaccio."
"But what are you going to do?"
"Go to Aïtone, to find a hole in the ground."
"But the admiral!"
"Let him gaze into the hole, and then tell him what you will. I owe him tha_uch. Come on!"
"To the admiral, to tell him his secretary is a fine rogue and that he ha_tolen the march on us. A good chase will soften his final disappointment."
"You're a strange man."
"No; only what you English and Americans call a game sport. To start on eve_erms with a man, to give him the odds, if necessary. What! have beaters fo_y rabbits, shoot pigeons from traps? _Fi donc_!"
"Hang it!" growled the young man, undecided.
"My son, give me my way. Some day you will be glad. I will tell you this: I a_laying against desperate men; and the liberty, perhaps honor, of one you lov_s menaced."
"Sh! Ask me nothing; leave it all to me. There! They are coming. Not a word."
The admiral's fury was boundless, and his utterances were touched here an_here by strong sailor expressions. The scoundrel! The black-leg! And he ha_rusted him without reservation. He wanted to start at once. Laura finall_ucceeded in calming him, and the cold reason of M. Ferraud convinced him o_he folly of haste. There was a comic side to the picture, too, but they wer_ll too serious to note it; the varied tints of the dressing-gowns, the bath- slippers and bare feet, the uncovered throats, the tousled hair, the eye_till heavy with sleep. Every one of the party was in Ferraud's room, an_heir voices hummed and murmured and their arms waved. Only one of them di_erraud watch keenly; Hildegarde. How would she act now?
Fitzgerald's head still rang, and now his mind was being tortured. Laura i_anger from this madman? No, over his body first, over his dead body. Ho_ften had he smiled at that phrase; but there was no melodrama in it now. He_iberty and perhaps her honor! His strong fingers worked convulsively; to pu_hem round the blackguard's throat! And to do nothing himself, to wait upo_his Frenchman's own good time, was maddening.
"Your head is all right now?" as she turned to follow the others from th_oom.
"It was nothing." He forced a smile to his lips. "I'm as fit as a fiddle now; only, I'll never forgive myself for letting him go. Will you tell me on_hing? Did he ever offend you in any way?"
"A woman would not call it an offense," a glint of humor in her eyes. "Rea_ffense, no."
"He proposed to you?"
The suppressed rage in his tone would have amused if it hadn't thrilled he_trangely. "It would have been a proposal if I had not stopped it. Goo_ight."
He could not see her eyes very well; there was only one candle burning.
Impulsively he snatched at her hand and kissed it. With his life, if need be; ay, and gladly. And even as she disappeared into the corridor the though_ntruded: Where was the past, the days of wandering, the active and passiv_dventures, he had contemplated treasuring up for a club career in his ol_ge? Why, they had vanished from his mind as thin ice vanishes in the sprin_unshine. To love is to be borne again.
And Laura? She possessed a secret that terrified her one moment and enrapture_er the next. And she marveled that there was no shame in her heart. Never i_ll her life before had she done such a thing; she, who had gone so calml_hrough her young years, wondering what it was that had made men turn awa_rom her with agony written on their faces! She would never be the same again, and the hand she held softly against her cheek would never be the same hand.
Where was the tranquillity of that morning?
Fitzgerald found himself alone with Ferraud again. There was going to be n_issembling; he was going to speak frankly.
"You have evidently discovered it. Yes, I love Miss Killigrew, well enough t_ie for her."
" _Zut_! She will be as safe as in her own house. Had Breitmann not gone to- night, had any of us stopped him, I could not say. Unless you tell her, sh_ill never know that she stood in danger. Don't you understand? If I marre_ne move these men intend to make, if I showed a single card, they woul_efeat me for the time; for they would make new plans of which I should no_ave the least idea. You comprehend?"
"It all lies in the hollow of my hand. Breitmann made one mistake; he shoul_ave pushed me off the boat, into the dark. _He_ knows that I know. And ther_e confuses me. But, I repeat, he is not vicious, only mad."
"Where will it be?"
"It will _not_ be;" and M. Ferraud smiled as he livened up the burnt wick o_is candle.
"Treachery on the part of the drivers? Oh, don't you see that you can trust m_holly?"
"Well, it will be like this;" and reluctantly the secret agent outlined hi_lan. "Now, go to bed and sleep, for you and I shall need some to draw upo_uring the next three or four days. Hunting for buried treasures was never _unketing. The admiral will tell you that. At dawn!" Then he adde_himsically: "I trust we haven't disturbed the royal family below."
"Hang the royal family!"
"Their own parliament, or Reichstag, will arrange for that!" and the littl_an laughed.
Dawn came soon enough, yellow and airless.
"My dear," said Mrs. Coldfield, "I really wish you wouldn't go."
"But Laura and Miss von Mitter insist on going. I can't back out now,"
protested Coldfield. "What are you worried about? Brigands, gun-shots, and al_hat?"
"He will be a desperate man."
"To steal a chest full of money is one thing; to shoot a man is another.
Besides, the admiral will go if he has to go alone; and I can't desert him."
"Very well. You will have to take me to Baden for nervous prostration."
"Humph! Baden; that'll mean about two-thousand in fresh gowns from Vienna o_aris. All right; I'm game. But, no nerves, no Baden."
"Go, if you will; but _do_ take care of yourself; and let the admiral g_first_ , when there's any sign of danger."
Coldfield chuckled. "I'll get behind him every time I think of it."
"Kiss me. They are waiting for you. And be careful."
It was only a little brave comedy. She knew this husband and partner of hers, hard-headed at times, but full of loyalty and courage; and she was confiden_hat if danger arose the chances were he would be getting in front instead o_ehind the admiral. A pang touched her heart as she saw him spring into th_arriage.
The admiral had argued himself hoarse about Laura's going; but he had to giv_n when she threatened to hire a carriage on her own account and follow. Thus, Coldfield went because he was loyal to his friends; Laura, because she woul_ot leave her father; Hildegarde, because to remain without knowing what wa_appening would have driven her mad; M. Ferraud, because it was a trick in th_ame; and Cathewe and Fitzgerald, because they loved hazard, because they wer_oing with the women they loved. The admiral alone went for the motiv_pparent to all: to lay hands on the scoundrel who had betrayed hi_onfidence.
So the journey into the mountains began. In none of the admiral's document_as it explained why the old Frenchman had hidden the treasure so far inland, when at any moment a call might have been made on it. Ferraud put forward th_upposition that they had been watched. As for hiding it in Corsica at all, every one understood that it was a matter of sentiment.
Fitzgerald keenly inspected the drivers, but found them of the ordinary breed, in velveteens, red-sashes, and soft felt hats. As they made the noon stop, on_hing struck him as peculiar. The driver of the provision carriage had littl_r nothing to do with his companions. "That is because _he_ is mine,"
explained M. Ferraud in a whisper. They were all capable horsemen, and on thi_ourney spared their horses only when absolutely necessary. The great America_signori_ were in a hurry. They arrived at Carghese at five in the afternoon.
The admiral was for pushing on, driving all night. He stormed, but the driver_ere obdurate. At Carghese they would remain till sunrise; that was final.
Besides, it was not safe at night, without moonshine, for many a mile of th_oad lipping tremendous precipices was without curb or parapet. Not a foo_ill dawn.
In the little _auberge_ , dignified but not improved by the name of Hôtel d_rance, there was room only for the two women and the older men. Fitzgeral_nd Cathewe had to bunk the best they could in a tenement at the upper end o_he town; two cots in a single room, carpetless and ovenlike for the heat.
Cathewe opened his rug-bag and spread out a rug in front of his cot, for h_asn't fond at any time of dirty, bare boards under his feet. He began t_ndress, silently, puffing his pipe as one unconscious of the deed. Cathew_ooked old. Fitzgerald hadn't noticed the change before; but it certainly wa_ fact that his face was thinner than when they put out to sea. Cathewe, hi_ipe still between his teeth, absently drew his shirt over his head. The pip_ell to the rug and he stamped out the coals, grumbling.
"You'll set yourself afire one of these fine days," laughed Fitzgerald fro_is side of the room.
"I'm safe enough, Jack, you can't set fire to ashes, and that's about all _mount to." Cathewe got into his pajamas and sat upon the bed. "Jack, _hought I knew something about this fellow Breitmann; but it seems I'v_omething to learn."
The younger man said nothing.
"Was that yarn of Ferraud's fact or tommy-rot?"
"The great-grandson of Napoleon! Here! Nothing will ever surprise me again.
But why didn't he lay the matter before Killigrew, like a man?"
Fitzgerald patted and poked the wool-filled pillow, but without success. I_emained as hard and as uninviting as ever. "I've thought it over, Arthur. I'_ave done the same as Breitmann," as if reluctant to give his due to th_issing man.
"But why didn't this butterfly man tell the admiral all?"
"He had excellent reasons. He's a secret agent, and has the idea tha_reitmann wants to go into France and make an emperor of himself."
"Do men dream of such things to-day, let alone try to enact them?"
"Breitmann's an example."
"Are you taking his part?"
"No, damn him! May I ask you a pertinent question?"
"Did he know Miss von Mitter very well in Munich?"
"Was he quite square?"
"I am beginning to believe that he was something between a cad and _coundrel."
"Did you know that among her forebears on her mother's side was the Abbe Fanu, who left among other things the diagram of the chimney?"
"So that was it?" Cathewe's jaws hardened.
Fitzgerald understood. Poor old Cathewe!
"Most women are fools!" said Cathewe, as if reading his friend's thought.
"Pick out all the brutes in history; they were always better loved than decen_en. Why? God knows! Well, good night;" and Cathewe blew out his candle.
So did Fitzgerald; but it was long before he fell asleep. He was straining hi_ars for the sound of a carriage coming down from Evisa. But none came.