Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 23 CATHEWE ASKS QUESTIONS

  • 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!"
  • "Where?"
  • "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."
  • "My God!"
  • "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?"
  • Fitzgerald nodded.
  • "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?"
  • "Fact."
  • "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?"
  • incredulously.
  • "Breitmann's an example."
  • "Are you taking his part?"
  • "No, damn him! May I ask you a pertinent question?"
  • "Yes."
  • "Did he know Miss von Mitter very well in Munich?"
  • "He did."
  • "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.