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Chapter 18 CAUGHT!

  • Karloff came around to music. The dramatist's wife should play Tosti's _Av_aria_ , Miss Annesley should play the obligato on the violin and the prima- donna should sing; but just at present the dramatist should tell them al_bout his new military play which was to be produced in December.
  • "Count, I beg to decline," laughed the dramatist. "I should hardly dare t_ell my plot before two such military experts as we have here. I should b_old to write the play all over again, and now it is too late."
  • Whenever Betty's glance fell on her father's face, the gladness in her own wa_omewhat dimmed. What was making that loved face so care- worn, the mind s_istless, the attitude so weary? But she was young; the spirits of youth neve_low long in one direction. The repartee, brilliant and at the same time wit_very sting withdrawn, flashed up and down the table like so many fireflies o_ wet lawn in July, and drew her irresistibly.
  • As the courses came and passed, so the conversation became less and les_eneral; and by the time the ices were served the colonel had engaged hi_ost, and the others divided into twos. Then coffee, liqueurs and cigars, whe_he ladies rose and trailed into the little Turkish room, where the
  • "distinguished-looking butler" supplied them with the amber juice.
  • A dinner is a function where everybody talks and nobody eats. Some have eate_efore they come, some wish they had, and others dare not eat for fear o_osing some of the gossip. I may be wrong, but I believe that half of thes_istless appetites are due to the natural confusion of forks.
  • After the liqueurs my butler concluded that his labor was done, and he offere_p a short prayer of thankfulness and relief. Heavens, what mad, fantasti_mpulses had seized him while he was passing the soup! Supposing he _had_pilled the hot liquid down Karloff's back, or poured out a glass of burgund_or himself and drained it before them all, or slapped his late colonel on th_ack and asked him the state of his liver? It was maddening, and he marvele_t his escape. There hadn't been a real mishap. The colonel had only scowle_t him; he was safe. He passed secretly from the house and hung around th_ow-window which let out on the low balcony. The window was open, an_ccasionally he could hear a voice from beyond the room, which was dark.
  • It was one of those nights, those mild November nights, to which the novelist_f the old regime used to devote a whole page; the silvery pallor on th_andscape, the moon-mists, the round, white, inevitable moon, the stirrin_reezes, the murmur of the few remaining leaves, and all that. But these bus_ays we have not the time to read nor the inclination to describe.
  • Suddenly upon the stillness of the night the splendor of a human voice brok_orth; the prima-donna was trying her voice. A violin wailed a note. A han_an up and down the keys of the piano. Warburton held his breath and waited.
  • He had heard Tosti's _Ave Maria_ many times, but he never will forget th_anner in which it was sung that night. The songstress was care-free and amon_ersons she knew and liked, and she put her soul into that magnificent an_ysterious throat of hers, And throbbing all through the song was the vibrant, loving voice of the violin. And when the human tones died away and th_nstruments ceased to speak, Warburton felt himself swallowing rapidly. The_ame Schumann's _Traumerei_ on the strings, Handel's _Largo_ , Grieg'_Papillon_ , and a _ballade_ by Chaminade. Then again sang the prima-donna; old folksy songs, sketches from the operas grand and light, _Faust_ , _Th_arber of Seville_ , _La Fille de Madame Angot_. In all his days Warburton ha_ever heard such music. Doubtless he _had_ —even better; only at this perio_e was in love. The imagination of love's young dream is the most stretchabl_hing I know of. Seriously, however, he was a very good judge of music, and _m convinced that what he heard was out of the ordinary.
  • But I must guide my story into the channel proper.
  • During the music Karloff and Colonel Annesley drifted into the latter's study.
  • What passed between them I gathered from bits recently dropped by Warburton.
  • "Good God, Karloff, what a net you have sprung about me!" said the colonel, despairingly.
  • "My dear Colonel, you have only to step out of it. It is the eleventh hour; i_s not too late." But Karloff watched the colonel eagerly.
  • "How in God's name can I step out of it?"
  • "Simply reimburse me for that twenty thousand I advanced to you in good faith, and nothing more need be said." The count's Slavonic eyes were half-lidded.
  • "To give you back that amount will leave me a beggar, an absolute beggar, without a roof to shelter me. I am too old for the service, and besides, I a_hysically incapacitated. If you should force me, I could not meet my not_ave by selling the house my child was born in. Have you discounted it?"
  • "No. Why should I present it at the bank? It does not mature till next Monday, and I am in no need of money."
  • "What a wretch I am!"
  • Karloff raised his shoulders resignedly.
  • "My daughter!"
  • "Or my ducats," whimsically quoted the count. "Come, Colonel; do not wast_ime in useless retrospection. He stumbles who looks back. I have bee_hinking of your daughter. I love her, deeply, eternally."
  • "You love her?"
  • "Yes. I love her because she appeals to all that is young and good in me; because she represents the highest type of womanhood. With her as my wife, why, I should be willing to renounce my country, and your indebtedness woul_e crossed out of existence with one stroke of the pen."
  • The colonel's haggard face grew light with sudden hopefulness.
  • "I have been," the count went on, studying the ash of his cigar, "till thi_ight what the world and my own conscience consider an honorable man. I hav_ever wronged a man or woman personally. What I have done on the order of dut_oes not agitate my conscience. I am simply a machine. The mora_esponsibility rests with my czar. When I saw your daughter, I deepl_egretted that you were her father."
  • The colonel grew rigid in his chair.
  • "Do not misunderstand me. Before I saw her, you were but the key to what _esired. As her father the matter took on a personal side. I could not ver_onscientiously make love to your daughter and at the same time—" Karloff lef_he sentence incomplete.
  • "And Betty?"—in half a whisper.
  • "Has refused me,"—quietly. "But I have not given her up; no, I have not give_er up."
  • "What do you mean to do?"
  • Karloff got up and walked about the room. "Make her my wife,"— simply. H_tooped and studied the titles of some of the books in the cases. He turned t_ind that the colonel had risen and was facing him with flaming eyes.
  • "I demand to know how you intend to accomplish this end," the colonel said.
  • "My daughter shall not be dragged into this trap."
  • "To-morrow night I will explain everything; to-night, nothing,"— imperturbably.
  • "Karloff, to-night I stand a ruined and dishonored man. My head, once held s_roudly before my fellow-men, is bowed with shame. The country I have fough_nd bled for I have in part betrayed. But not for my gain, not for my gain.
  • No, no! Thank God that I can say that! Personal greed has not tainted me.
  • Alone, I should have gone serenely into some poor house and eked out a_xistence on my half-pay. But this child of mine, whom I love doubly, for he_other's sake and her own,—I would gladly cut off both arms to spare her _ingle pain, to keep her in the luxury which she still believes rightfully t_e hers. When the fever of gaming possessed me, I should have told her. I di_ot; therein lies my mistake, the mistake which has brought me to thi_orrible end. Virginius sacrificed his child to save her; I will sacrifice m_onor to save mine from poverty. Force her to wed a man she does not love? No.
  • To-morrow night we shall complete this disgraceful bargain. The plans are al_inished but one. Now leave me; I wish to be alone."
  • "Sir, it is my deep regret—"
  • "Go; there is nothing more to be said."
  • Karloff withdrew. He went soberly. There was nothing sneering nor contemptuou_n his attitude. Indeed, there was a frown of pity on his face. He recognize_hat circumstances had dragged down a noble man; that chance had tricked hi_f his honor. How he hated his own evil plan! He squared his shoulders, determined once more to put it to the touch to win or lose it all.
  • He found her at the bow-window, staring up at the moon. As I remarked, thi_oom was dark, and she did not instantly recognize him.
  • "I am moon-gazing," she said.
  • "Let me sigh for it with you. Perhaps together we may bring it down." Ther_as something very pleasing in the quality of his tone.
  • "Ah, it is you, Count? I could not see. But let us not sigh for the moon; i_ould be useless. Does any one get his own wish-moon? Does it not always han_o high, so far away?"
  • "The music has affected you?"
  • "As it always does. When I hear a voice like madam's, I grow sad, and a pit_or the great world surges over me."
  • "Pity is the invisible embrace which enfolds all animate things. There is pit_or the wretched, for the fool, for the innocent knave, for those who ar_riminals by their own folly; pity for those who love without reward; pit_hat embraces … even me."
  • Silence.
  • "Has it ever occurred to you that there are two beings in each of us; tha_etween these two there is a continual conflict, and that the victor finall_rints the victory on the face? For what lines and haggards a man's face bu_he victory of the evil that is in him? For what makes the aged ruddy an_mooth of face and clear of eye but the victory of the good that is in him? I_s so. I still love you; I still have the courage to ask you to be my wife.
  • Shall there be faces haggard or ruddy, lined or smooth?"
  • She stepped inside. She did not comprehend all he said, and his face was i_he shadow—that is to say, unreadable.
  • "I am sorry, very, very sorry."
  • "How easily you say that!"
  • "No, not easily; if only you knew how hard it comes, for I know that i_nflicts a hurt,"—gently. "Ah, Count, why indeed do I not lov_ou?"—impulsively, for at that time she held him in genuine regard. "Yo_epresent all that a woman could desire in a man."
  • "You could learn,"—with an eager step toward her.
  • "You do not believe that; you know that you do not. Love has nothing to learn; the heart speaks, and that is all. My heart does not speak when I see you, an_ shall never marry a man to whom it does not. You ask for something which _an not give, and each time you ask you only add to the pain."
  • "This is finality?"
  • "It is."
  • "Eh, well; then I must continue on to the end."
  • She interpreted this as a plaint of his coming loneliness.
  • "Here!" she said. She held in her hands two red roses. She thrust one towar_im. "That is all I may give you."
  • For a moment he hesitated. There were thorns, invisible and stinging.
  • "Take it!"
  • He accepted it, kissed it gravely, and hid it.
  • "This is the bitterest moment in my life, and doubly bitter because I lov_ou."
  • When the portiere fell behind him, she locked her hands, grieving that all sh_ould give him was an ephemeral flower. How many men had turned from her i_his wise, even as she began to depend upon them for their friendships! Th_ark room oppressed her and she stepped out once more into the silver o_oonshine. Have you ever beheld a lovely woman fondle a lovely rose? She dre_t, pendent on its slender stem, slowly across her lips, her eyes shinin_istily with waking dreams. She breathed in the perfume, then cupped th_lower in the palm of her hand and pressed it again and again to her lips. _ong white arm stretched outward and upward toward the moon, and when i_ithdrew the hand was empty.
  • Warburton, hidden behind the vines, waited until she was gone, and then hunte_n the grass for the precious flower. On his hands and knees he groped. Th_ew did not matter. And when at last he found it, not all the treasures of th_abled Ophir would have tempted him to part with it. It would be a souveni_or his later days.
  • As he rose from his knees he was confronted by a broad-shouldered, elderly ma_n evening clothes. The end of a cigar burned brightly between his teeth.
  • "I'll take that flower, young man, if you please."
  • Warburton's surprise was too great for sudden recovery.
  • "It is mine, Colonel," he stammered.
  • The colonel filliped away his cigar and caught my butler roughly by the arm.
  • "Warburton, what the devil does this mean—a lieutenant of mine peddling sou_round a gentleman's table?"