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Chapter 18

  • It was nine o'clock and after. The great show at Olympia was at its height;
  • the packed house was roaring with delight over the daring equestrianship of
  • "Mlle. Marie de Zanoni," and the sound of the cheers rolled in to the hug_ressing-tent, where the artists awaited their several turns, and th_hevalier, in spangled trunks and tights, all ready for his call, sat huggin_is child and shivering like a man with the ague.
  • "Come, come, buck up, man, and don't funk it like this," said Señor Sperati,
  • who had graciously consented to assist him with his dressing because of th_njury to his hand. "The idea of you losing your nerve, you of all men, an_ecause of a little affair like that. You know very well that Nero is as saf_s a kitten to-night, that he never has two smiling turns in the same week,
  • much less the same day. Your act's the next on the programme. Buck up and g_t it like a man."
  • "I can't, señor, I can't!" almost wailed the chevalier. "My nerve is gone.
  • Never, if I live to be a thousand, shall I forget that awful moment, tha_ppalling 'smile.' I tell you, there is wizardry in the thing; the beast i_ewitched. My work in the arena is done—done for ever, señor. I shall neve_ave courage to look into the beast's jaws again."
  • "Rot! You're not going to ruin the show, are you, and after all the money I'v_ut into it? If you have no care for yourself, it's your duty to think abou_e. You can at least try. I tell you you must try! Here, take a sip of brandy,
  • and see if that won't put a bit of courage into you. Hello!" as a burst o_pplause and the thud of a horse's hoofs down the passage to the stables cam_olling in, "there's your wife's turn over at last; and there—listen! th_ingmaster is announcing yours. Get up, man; get up and go out."
  • "I can't, señor—I can't! I can't!"
  • "But I tell you you must."
  • And just here an interruption came.
  • "Bad advice, my dear captain," said a voice—Cleek's voice—from the other en_f the tent; and with a twist and a snarl the "señor" screwed round on hi_eel in time to see that other intruders were putting in an appearance as wel_s this unwelcome one.
  • "Who the deuce asked you for your opinion?" rapped out the "señor" savagely.
  • "And what are you doing in here, anyhow? If we want the service of a vet.,
  • we're quite capable of getting one for ourselves without having him shove hi_resence upon us unasked."
  • "You are quite capable of doing a great many things, my dear captain, eve_aking lions smile!" said Cleek serenely. "It would appear that the gallan_aptain von Gossler, nephew, and, in the absence of one who has a bette_laim, heir to the late Baron von Steinheid—That's it, nab the beggar. Played,
  • sir, played! Hustle him out and into the cab, with his precious confederate,
  • the Irish-Italian 'signor,' and make a clean sweep of the pair of them. You'l_ind it a neck-stretching game, captain, I'm afraid, when the jury comes t_ear of that poor boy's death and your beastly part in it."
  • By this time the tent was in an uproar, for the chevalier's wife had com_urrying in, the chevalier's daughter was on the verge of hysterics, and th_hevalier's prospective son-in-law was alternately hugging the great beast-
  • tamer and then shaking his hand and generally deporting himself like _espectable young man who had suddenly gone daft.
  • "Governor!" he cried, half laughing, half sobbing. "Bully old governor. It'_ver—it's over. Never any more danger, never any more hard times, never an_ore lion's smiles."
  • "No, never," said Cleek. "Come here, Madame Pullaine, and hear the good new_ith the rest. You married for love, and you've proved a brick. The dream'_ome true, and the life of ease and of luxury is yours at last, Mr. Pullaine."
  • "But, sir, I—I do not understand," stammered the chevalier. "What ha_appened? Why have you arrested the Señor Sperati? What has he done? I canno_omprehend."
  • "Can't you? Well, it so happens, chevalier, that the Baron von Steinheid die_omething like two months ago, leaving the sum of sixty thousand pound_terling to one Peter Janssen Pullaine and the heirs of his body, and that _ertain Captain von Gossler, son of the baron's only sister, meant to mak_ure that there was no Peter Janssen Pullaine and no heirs of his body t_nherit one farthing of it."
  • "Sir! Dear God, can this be true?"
  • "Perfectly true, chevalier. The late baron's solicitors have been advertisin_or some time for news regarding the whereabouts of Peter Janssen Pullaine,
  • and if you had not so successfully hidden your real name under that of you_rofessional one, no doubt some of your colleagues would have put you in th_ay of finding it out long ago. The baron did not go back on his word and di_ot act ungratefully. His will, dated twenty-nine years ago, was never altere_n a single particular. I rather suspect that that letter and that gift o_oney which came to you in the name of his steward, and was supposed to clos_he affair entirely, was the work of his nephew, the gentleman whose exit ha_ust been made. A crafty individual that, chevalier, and he laid his plan_leverly and well. Who would be likely to connect him with the death of _east-tamer in a circus, who had perished in what would appear an accident o_is calling? Ah, yes, the lion's smile was a clever idea—he was a sharp rasca_o think of it."
  • "Sir! You—you do not mean to tell me that he caused that? He never went nea_he beast—never—even once."
  • "Not necessary, chevalier. He kept near you and your children; that was al_hat he needed to do to carry out his plan. The lion was as much his victim a_nybody else—you or your children. What it did it could not help doing. Th_ery simplicity of the plan was its passport to success. All that was require_as the unsuspected sifting of snuff on the hair of the person whose head wa_o be put in the beast's mouth. The lion's smile was not, properly speaking, _mile at all, chevalier; it was the torture which came of snuff getting int_ts nostrils, and when the beast made that uncanny noise and snapped its jaw_ogether, it was simply the outcome of a sneeze. The thing would be farcica_f it were not that tragedy hangs on the thread of it, and that a life, _seful human life, was destroyed by means of it. Yes, it was clever, it wa_iabolically clever; but you know what Bobby Burns says about the best lai_chemes of mice and men. There's always a Power—higher up—that works the rui_f them."
  • With that he walked by, and, going to young Scarmelli, put out his hand.
  • "You're a good chap and you've got a good girl, so I expect you will b_appy," he said; and then lowered his voice so that the rest might not reac_he chevalier's ears. "You were wrong to suspect the little stepmother," h_dded. "She's true blue, Scarmelli. She was only playing up to those fellow_ecause she was afraid the 'señor' would drop out and close the show if sh_idn't, and that she and her husband and the children would be thrown out o_ork. She loves her husband—that's certain—and she's a good little woman; and,
  • Scarmelli!"
  • "Yes, Mr. Cleek?"
  • "There's nothing better than a good woman on this earth, my lad. Alway_emember that. I think you, too, have found one. I hope you have. I hop_ou'll be happy. What's that? Owe me? Not a rap, my boy. Or, if you feel tha_ou must give me something, give me your prayers for equal luck, and—send me _lice of the wedding cake. Good-night!"
  • And twisted round on his heel and walked out; making his way out to th_treets and facing the journey to Clarges Street afoot. For to be absolutel_ithout envy of any sort is not given to anything born of woman; and the sigh_f this man's happiness, the knowledge of this man's reward, brought upon hi_ bitter recollection of how far he still was from his own.
  • Would he ever get that reward? he wondered. Would he ever be nearer to it tha_e was to-night? It hurt—yes, it hurt horribly, sometimes, this stone-col_ilence, this walking always in shadowed paths without a ray of light, withou_he certainty of arriving _anywhere_ , though he plod onward for _ifetime—and the old feeling of savage resentment, the old sense of self-
  • pity—the surest thing on God's earth to blaze a trail for the oncoming of th_orst that is in a man—bit at the soul of him and touched him on the ra_gain.
  • He knew what that boded; and he also knew the antidote.
  • "Dollops, they broke into our holiday—they did us out of a part of it, didn'_hey, old chap?" he said, when he reached home at last and found the bo_nxiously awaiting him. "Well, we'll have a day for every hour they deprive_s of, a whole day, bonny boy. Pack up again and we'll be off to the land a_od made it, and where God's things still live; and we'll have a fortnight o_t—a whole blessed fortnight, my boy, with the river and the fields and th_lowers and the dreams that hide in trees."
  • Dollops made no reply. He simply bolted for the kit-bag and began to pack a_nce. And the morrow, when it came, found these two—the servant who was stil_ boy, and the master who had discovered the way back to boyhood'_ecrets—forging up the shining river and seeking the Land of Nightingale_gain.