When at last he came in and threw off his waterproof coat, cardano news feedthe kitchen was in order and his wife was sitting by the parlor fire with Thomson's "Land and the Book" in her hand.
Beyond that was the entrance to the philanthropist's private resiplatform to buy bitcoin with credit carddence. It had an appearance of modesty, disguising the fact that it led to luxurious apartments which crossed the complete length of the rear of the building, both at its first and second floors.Professor Blinkwell, who knew the place, directed his chauffeur to drive to the private entrance, and to wait for him there. He did not intend there should be any appearance of his having made a furtive visit. He acted on his usual principle of conforming to the natural conduct of a man whose conscience is well at ease. In the past, he had found it to be a method which served him well.
Kate was the one who normally opened the door, as she did now. Billson was in charge of the main entrance, which was closed at this hour, but there was another reason why he was not on the scene, to which we shall come.Kate took the Professor's name, which was strange to her. She knew that customers came at all hours, and such she took him to be. She asked him to take a seat in the hall, and went to give Snacklit his name. The Professor gave her a ten yards' start, and then followed her. The carpets were soft and thick and she did not hear him until she had knocked at the door of her master's room. He was close behind her then. He said: "All right, my good girl. I can manage now." She thought it discreet to withdraw.Snacklit called, "Come in," in a voice of irritation, and stared in surprise unmixed with pleasure when he saw who it was who entered. The Professor looked equally surprised at the condition of the man upon whom he intruded with so little ceremony.Snacklit lay back on a settee. There was a swelling on the side of his head where it had been first hit, and the black bruise, streaked with drying blood, had now spread over half his face. He held a reddened towel, with which he was still wiping blood from his mouth."You seem," the Professor said coldly, "to have been making a mess of things, or perhaps I should say that they have been making a mess of you."
"It's that she-devil whose been handling the stuff," Snacklit answered. "She looked as though a mouse could have made her jump; but you never know.""Well," the Professor answered, "you shouldn't have brought her here. It was the act of a fool, and I've come to see what can be done now.""You have no heart," said Rose. "She shall see him though, in spiteof you.""Oh, yes! he has a heart," said Josephine: "he is my best friend.
He will let me see my boy."All this, and the tearful eyes and coaxing yet trembling voice, washard to resist. But Aubertin saw clearly, and stood firm. He puthis handkerchief to his eyes a moment: then took the pining youngmother's hand. "And, do you think," said he, "I do not pity you andlove your boy? Ah! he will never want a father whilst I live; andfrom this moment he is under my care. I will go to see him; I willbring you news, and all in good time; I will place him where youshall visit him without imprudence; but, for the present, trust awiser head than yours or Rose's; and give me your sacred promise notto go to Frejus."Weighed down by his good-sense and kindness, Josephine resisted nolonger in words. She just lifted her hands in despair and began tocry. It was so piteous, Aubertin was ready to yield in turn, andconsent to any imprudence, when he met with an unexpected ally."Promise," said Rose, doggedly.Josephine looked at her calmly through her tears."Promise, dear," repeated Rose, and this time with an intonation sofine that it attracted Josephine's notice, but not the doctor's. Itwas followed by a glance equally subtle.
"I promise," said Josephine, with her eye fixed inquiringly on hersister.For once she could not make the telegraph out: but she could see itwas playing, and that was enough. She did what Rose bid her; shepromised not to go to Frejus without leave.
Finding her so submissive all of a sudden, he went on to suggestthat she must not go kissing every child she saw. "Edouard tells mehe saw you kissing a beggar's brat. The young rogue was going toquiz you about it at the dinner-table; luckily, he told me hisintention, and I would not let him. I said the baroness would beannoyed with you for descending from your dignity--and exposing anoble family to fleas--hush! here he is.""Tiresome!" muttered Rose, "just when"--Edouard came forward with a half-vexed face.However, he turned it off into play. "What have you been saying toher, monsieur, to interest her so? Give me a leaf out of your book.I need it."The doctor was taken aback for a moment, but at last he said slyly,"I have been proposing to her to name the day. She says she mustconsult you before she decides that.""Oh, you wicked doctor!--and consult HIM of all people!""So be off, both of you, and don't reappear before me till it issettled."Edouard's eyes sparkled. Rose went out with a face as red as fire.It was a balmy evening. Edouard was to leave them for a week thenext day. They were alone: Rose was determined he should go awayquite happy. Everything was in Edouard's favor: he pleaded hiscause warmly: she listened tenderly: this happy evening her piquancyand archness seemed to dissolve into tenderness as she and Edouardwalked hand in hand under the moon: a tenderness all the moreheavenly to her devoted lover, that she was not one of those angelswho cloy a man by invariable sweetness.
For a little while she forgot everything but her companion. In thatsoft hour he won her to name the day, after her fashion."Josephine goes to Paris with the doctor in about three weeks,"murmured she."And you will stay behind, all alone?""Alone? that shall depend on you, monsieur."On this Edouard caught her for the first time in his arms.She made a faint resistance.
"Seal me that promise, sweet one!""No! no!--there!"He pressed a delicious first kiss upon two velvet lips that in theirinnocence scarcely shunned the sweet attack.For all that, the bond was no sooner sealed after this fashion, thanthe lady's cheek began to burn.
"Suppose we go in NOW?" said she, dryly."Ah, not yet.""It is late, dear Edouard."And with these words something returned to her mind with its fullforce: something that Edouard had actually made her forget. Shewanted to get rid of him now.
"Edouard," said she, "can you get up early in the morning? If youcan, meet me here to-morrow before any of them are up; then we cantalk without interruption."Edouard was delighted."Eight o'clock?""Sooner if you like. Mamma bade me come and read to her in her roomto-night. She will be waiting for me. Is it not tiresome?""Yes, it is.""Well, we must not mind that, dear; in three weeks' time we are tohave too much of one another, you know, instead of too little.""Too much! I shall never have enough of you. I shall hate the nightwhich will rob me of the sight of you for so many hours in thetwenty-four.""If you can't see me, perhaps you may hear me; my tongue runs bynight as well as by day.""Well, that is a comfort," said Edouard, gravely. "Yes, littlequizzer, I would rather hear you scold than an angel sing. Judge,then, what music it is when you say you love me!""I love you, Edouard."Edouard kissed her hand warmly, and then looked irresolutely at herface."No, no!" said she, laughing and blushing. "How rude you are. Nexttime we meet.""That is a bargain. But I won't go till you say you love me again."Edouard, don't be silly. I am ashamed of saying the same thing sooften--I won't say it any more. What is the use? You know I loveyou. There, I HAVE said it: how stupid!""Adieu, then, my wife that is to be.""Adieu! dear Edouard.""My hus--go on--my hus--""My huswife that shall be."Then they walked very slowly towards the house, and once more Roseleft quizzing, and was all tenderness."Will you not come in, and bid them 'good-night'?""No, my own; I am in heaven. Common faces--common voices wouldbring me down to earth. Let me be alone;--your sweet words ringingin my ear. I will dilute you with nothing meaner than the stars.See how bright they shine in heaven; but not so bright as you shinein my heart.""Dear Edouard, you flatter me, you spoil me. Alas! why am I notmore worthy of your love?""More worthy! How can that be?"Rose sighed.
"But I will atone for all. I will make you a better--(here shesubstituted a full stop for a substantive)--than you expect. Youwill see else."She lingered at the door: a proof that if Edouard, at thatparticular moment, had seized another kiss, there would have been novery violent opposition or offence.But he was not so impudent as some. He had been told to wait tillthe next meeting for that. He prayed Heaven to bless her, and sothe affianced lovers parted for the night.
It was about nine o'clock. Edouard, instead of returning to hislodgings, started down towards the town, to conclude a bargain withthe innkeeper for an English mare he was in treaty for. He wantedher for to-morrow's work; so that decided him to make the purchase.In purchases, as in other matters, a feather turns the balancedscale. He sauntered leisurely down. It was a very clear night; thefull moon and the stars shining silvery and vivid. Edouard's heartswelled with joy. He was loved after all, deeply loved; and inthree short weeks he was actually to be Rose's husband: her lord andmaster. How like a heavenly dream it all seemed--the first hopelesscourtship, and now the wedding fixed! But it was no dream; he felther soft words still murmur music at his heart, and the shadow ofher velvet lips slept upon his own.
He had strolled about a league when he heard the ring of a horse'shoofs coming towards him, accompanied by a clanking noise; it camenearer and nearer, till it reached a hill that lay a little ahead ofEdouard; then the sounds ceased; the cavalier was walking his horseup the hill.Presently, as if they had started from the earth, up popped betweenEdouard and the sky, first a cocked hat that seemed in that light tobe cut with a razor out of flint; then the wearer, phosphorescenthere and there; so brightly the keen moonlight played on hisepaulets and steel scabbard. A step or two nearer, and Edouard gavea great shout; it was Colonel Raynal.
After the first warm greeting, and questions and answers, Raynaltold him he was on his way to the Rhine with despatches."To the Rhine?"I am allowed six days to get there. I made a calculation, and foundI could give Beaurepaire half a day. I shall have to make up for itby hard riding. You know me; always in a hurry. It is Bonaparte'sfault this time. He is always in a hurry too.""Why, colonel," said Edouard, "let us make haste then. Mind they goearly to rest at the chateau.""But you are not coming my way, youngster?""Not coming your way? Yes, but I am. Yours is a face I don't seeevery day, colonel; besides I would not miss THEIR faces, especiallythe baroness's and Madame Raynal's, at sight of you; and, besides,"--and the young gentleman chuckled to himself, and thought of Rose'swords, "the next time we meet;" well, this will be the next time."May I jump up behind?"Colonel Raynal nodded assent. Edouard took a run, and lighted likea monkey on the horse's crupper. He pranced and kicked at thisunexpected addition; but the spur being promptly applied to hisflanks, he bounded off with a snort that betrayed more astonishmentthan satisfaction, and away they cantered to Beaurepaire, withoutdrawing rein."There," said Edouard, "I was afraid they would be gone to bed; andthey are. The very house seems asleep--fancy--at half-past ten.""That is a pity," said Raynal, "for this chateau is the strongholdof etiquette. They will be two hours dressing before they will comeout and shake hands. I must put my horse into the stable. Go youand give the alarm.""I will, colonel. Stop, first let me see whether none of them areup, after all."And Edouard walked round the chateau, and soon discovered a light atone window, the window of the tapestried room. Running round theother way he came slap upon another light: this one was nearer theground. A narrow but massive door, which he had always seen notonly locked but screwed up, was wide open; and through the aperturethe light of a candle streamed out and met the moonlight streamingin.
"Hallo!" cried Edouard.He stopped, turned, and looked in.
"Hallo!" he cried again much louder.A young woman was sleeping with her feet in the silvery moonlight,and her head in the orange-colored blaze of a flat candle, whichrested on the next step above of a fine stone staircase, whoseexistence was now first revealed to the inquisitive Edouard.
Coming plump upon all this so unexpectedly, he quite started."Why, Jacintha!"He touched her on the shoulder to wake her. No. Jacintha wassleeping as only tired domestics can sleep. He might have taken thecandle and burnt her gown off her back. She had found a step thatfitted into the small of her back, and another that supported herhead, and there she was fast as a door.
At this moment Raynal's voice was heard calling him."There is a light in that bedroom.""It is not a bedroom, colonel; it is our sitting-room now. We shallfind them all there, or at least the young ladies; and perhaps thedoctor. The baroness goes to bed early. Meantime I can show youone of our dramatis personae, and an important one too. She rulesthe roost."He took him mysteriously and showed him Jacintha.Moonlight by itself seems white, and candlelight by itself seemsyellow; but when the two come into close contrast at night, candleturns a reddish flame, and moonlight a bluish gleam.So Jacintha, with her shoes in this celestial sheen, and her face inthat demoniacal glare, was enough to knock the gazer's eye out.
"Make a good sentinel--this one," said Raynal--"an outlying picketfor instance, on rough ground, in front of the enemy's riflemen.""Ha! ha! colonel! Let us see where this staircase leads. I have anidea it will prove a short cut.""Where to?""To the saloon, or somewhere, or else to some of Jacintha's haunts.Serve her right for going to sleep at the mouth of her den.""Forward then--no, halt! Suppose it leads to the bedrooms? Mindthis is a thundering place for ceremony. We shall get drummed outof the barracks if we don't mind our etiquette."At this they hesitated; and Edouard himself thought, on the whole,it would be better to go and hammer at the front door.
Now while they hesitated, a soft delicious harmony of female voicessuddenly rose, and seemed to come and run round the walls. The menlooked at one another in astonishment; for the effect was magical.The staircase being enclosed on all sides with stone walls andfloored with stone, they were like flies inside a violoncello; thevoices rang above, below, and on every side of the vibrating walls.
In some epochs spirits as hardy as Raynal's, and wits as quick asRiviere's, would have fled then and there to the nearest public, andtold over cups how they had heard the dames of Beaurepaire, longsince dead, holding their revel, and the conscious old devil's nestof a chateau quivering to the ghostly strains.But this was an incredulous age. They listened, and listened, anddecided the sounds came from up-stairs.