Edgar Saltus.

Mr. Incoul's Misadventure





CHAPTER XIV.
KARL GROWS A MOUSTACHE

For several days Mr. Incoul was much occupied. He left the house early and returned to it late. One afternoon he sent for Karl. Since the return to Paris the couriers duties had not been arduous; they consisted chiefly in keeping out of the way. On this particular afternoon he was not immediately discoverable, and when at last he presented himself it was in the expectation that the hour of his dismissal had struck. He bowed, nevertheless, with the best grace in the world, and noticing that his employers eyes were upon him, gazed deferentially at the carpet.

Mr. Incoul looked at him in a contemplative way for a moment or two. Karl, he said at last, and Karl raised his eyes.

Yes, sir.

Have you any objections to shaving your whiskers?

I, sir? not the slightest.

I will be obliged if you will do so. This afternoon you might go to Cumberlands and be measured. I have left orders there. Then take a room at the Meurice; you have money, have you not? Very good, keep an account of your expenditures. In a week I will send you my instructions. That will do for to-day.

An hour later Mr. Incoul was watching a game of baccarat at the Cercle des Capucines.

Meanwhile Lenox Leigh had given much of his time to the pleasures of Mirettes society. In making her acquaintance at Biarritz he had been actuated partly by the idleness of the moment and partly by the attracting face of celebrity. He had never known a danseuse; indeed, heretofore, his acquaintance with women had been limited to those of his own monde, and during the succeeding days he hovered about her more that he might add a new photograph to a mental album than with any idea of conquest. She amused him extremely. In her speech she displayed a recklessness of adjective such as he had never witnessed before. It was not that she was brilliant, but she possessed that stereotyped form of repartee which is known as bagou, and which the Parisian takes to naturally and without effort. Mirette seemed to have acquired it in its supremest expression. One day, for instance, the curiosity of her circle of admirers was aroused by a young actress who, while painfully plain, squandered coin with remarkable ease. Whom do you suppose she gets the money from? some one asked, and Mirette without so much as drawing breath answered serenely, A blind man. In spite of the bagou Mirette was not a Parisian. She was born in the provinces, at Orl?ans, and was wont to declare herself a lineal descendant of Joan of Arc. She lied with perfect composure; if reproached she curled her lips. Lies whiten the teeth, she would say, an argument which it was impossible to refute.

Under the empire she would have been a success; under a republic she complained of the difficulty of making two ends meet. Now Lenox was not rich, but he was an American, and the Americans have assumed in Paris the position which the English once held.

Their coffers are considered inexhaustible. On this subject, thanks to Mrs. Mackay, Mr. Incoul, the Vanderbilts, the Astors and a dozen others, there is now no doubt in the mind of the French. To be an American is to be a Vesuvius of gold pieces.

As a native of the land of millions, Lenox found that his earliest attentions were received with smiles, and in time when a Russian became so scratched that the Tartar was visible, Mirette welcomed him with undisguised favor.

Like many another, Lenox had his small vanities; he would have liked to have thought himself indispensable to Maidas happiness, but in her absence he did not object to being regarded as the cavaliere servente of the first lady of the ballet. Between the two women the contrast was striking. Mirette, as has been hinted, was reckless of adjective; she was animal, imperious, and at times frankly vulgar. Maida was her antithesis. She shrank from coarseness as from a deformity. Both represented Love, but they represented the extremes. One was as ignorant of virtue as the other was unconscious of vice. One was Mylitta, the other Psyche. Had the difference been less accentuated, it would have jarred. But the transition was immeasurable. It was like a journey from the fjords of Norway to the jungles of Hindustan. That Psyche was regretted goes without the need of telling, but Mylitta has enchantments which are said to lull regret.

In the second week of October the bathing was still delicious. The waves encircled one in a large, abrupt embrace. Mirette would have liked to remain, the beach was a daily triumph for her. There was not a woman in the world who could have held herself in the scantiest of costumes, under the fire of a thousand eyes, as gracefully as she. No sedan-chair for her indeed. No hurrying, no running, no enveloping wrap. No pretense or attempt to avoid the scrutiny of the bystanders. There was nothing of this for her. She crossed the entire width of sand, calmly, slowly, an invitation on her lips and with the walk and majesty of a queen. The amateurs as usual were tempted to applaud. It was indeed a triumph, an advertisement to boot, and one which she would have liked to prolong. But she was needed at the Op?ra and so she returned to Paris accompanied by Lenox Leigh.

In Paris it is considered inconvenient for a pretty woman to go about on foot, and as for cabs, where is the self-respecting chorus-girl who would consent to be seen in one? Mirette was very positive on this point and Lenox agreed with her thoroughly. He did not, however, for that reason offer to provide an equipage. Indeed the wherewithal was lacking. He had spent more money at Biarritz than he had intended, perhaps ten times the amount that he would have spent at Newport or at Cowes, and his funds were nearly exhausted.

As every one is aware a banker is the last person in the world to be consulted on matters of finance. If a client has money in his pocket a banker can transfer it to his own in an absolutely painless manner, but if the clients pocket is empty what banker, out of an op?ra-bouffe, was ever willing to fill it? Lenox reflected over this and was at a loss how to act. The firm on whom his drafts were drawn held nothing on their ledgers to his credit. He visited them immediately on arriving and was given a letter which for the moment he fancied might contain a remittance. But it bore the Paris postmark and the address was in Maidas familiar hand. As he looked at it he forgot his indigence, his heart gave an exultant throb. He had promised himself that when he met her again matters should go on very much as they had before, and he had further promised himself that so soon as his former footing was re-established he would give up Mirette. He was therefore well pleased when the note was placed in his hands. It had a faint odor of orris, and he opened it as were he unfolding a lace handkerchief. But from what has gone before it will be understood that his pleasure was short lived. The note was brief and categoric, he read it almost at a glance, and when he had possessed himself of the contents he felt that the determination conveyed was one from which there was no appeal, or rather one from which any appeal would be useless. He looked at the note again. The handwriting suggested an unaccustomed strength, and in the straight, firm strokes he read the irrevocable. It is done, he muttered. I can write Finis over that. He looked again at the note and then tore it slowly into minute scraps, and watched them flutter from him.

He went out to the street and there his earlier preoccupation returned. It would be a month at least before a draft could be sent, and meanwhile, though he had enough for his personal needs, he had nothing with which to satisfy Mirettes caprices. Et elle en avait, cette dame! The thought of separating from her did not occur to him, or if it did it was in that hazy indistinguishable form in which eventualities sometimes visit the perplexed. If Maidas note had been other, he would have washed his hands of Mirette, but now apparently she was the one person on the Continent who cared when he came and when he went. In his present position he was like one who, having sprained an ankle, learns the utility of a crutch. The idea of losing it was not agreeable. Beside, the knowledge that his intimacy with the woman had been envied by grandees with unnumbered hats was to him a source of something that resembled consolation.

Presently he reached the boulevard. He was undecided what to do or where to turn, and as he loitered on the curb the silver head of a stick was waved at him from a passing cab; in a moment the vehicle stopped. May alighted and shook him by the hand.

I am on my way to the Capucines, he explained, in his blithesome stutter. Theres a big game on; why not come, too?

A big game of what?

B-b, why baccarat of course. What did you suppose? M-marbles?

Lenox fumbled in his waistcoat pocket. Yes, Ill go, he said.

Five minutes later he was standing in a crowded room before a green table. He had never gambled, and hardly knew one card from another, but baccarat can be learned with such facility that after two deals a raw recruit can argue with a veteran as to whether it is better to stand on five or to draw. Lenox watched the flight of notes, gold and counters. He listened to the monotonous calls: Jen donne! Carte! Neuf! The end of the table at which he stood seemed to be unlucky. He moved to the other, and presently he leaned over the shoulder of a gamester and put down a few louis. In an hour he left the room with twenty-seven thousand francs.

A fraction of it he put in his card-case, the rest he handed to Mirette. It was not a large sum, but its dimensions were satisfactory to her. Ce ptit chat, she said to herself, je savais bien quil ne ferait pas le lapin. And of the large azure notes she made precisely one bite.

Thereafter for some weeks things went on smoothly enough. Mirettes mornings were passed at rehearsals, but usually the afternoons were free, and late in the day she would take Lenox to the Cascade, or meet him there and drive back with him to dinner. In the evenings there was the inevitable theatre, with supper afterwards at some cabaret ? la mode. And sometimes when she was over-fatigued, Lenox would go to the club and try a hand at baccarat.

He was not always so fortunate as on the first day, but on the whole his good luck was noticeable. It is possible, however, that he found the excitement enervating. He had been used to a much quieter existence, one that if not entirely praiseworthy was still outwardly decorous, and suddenly he had been pitch-forked into that narrowest of circles which is called Parisian life. He may have liked it at first, as one is apt to like any novelty, but to nerves that are properly attuned a little of its viciousness goes a very great way.

It may be that it was beginning to exert its usual dissolvent effect. In any event Lenox, who all his life had preferred water to wine, found absinthe grateful in the morning.

One afternoon, shortly after the initial performance of the new ballet, he went from his hotel to the apartment which Mirette occupied in the Rue Pierre-Charon. He was informed that she was not at home. He questioned the servant as to her whereabouts, but the answers he received were vague and unsatisfactory. He then drove to the Cascade, but Mirette did not appear. After dinner he made sure of finding her. In this expectation he was again disappointed.

The next day his success was no better. He questioned the servant uselessly. Madame was not at home, she had left no word. To each of his questions the answer was invariable. It was evident that the servant had been coached, and it was equally evident that at least for the moment his companionship was not a prime necessity to the first lady of the ballet.

As he left the house he bit his lip. That Mirette should be capricious was quite in the order of things, but that she should treat him like the first comer was a different matter. When he had last seen her, her manner had left nothing to be desired, and suddenly, without so much as a p. p. c., her door was shut, and not shut as it might have been by accident; no, it was persistently, purposely closed.

Presently he reached the Champs-Elys?es. It was Sunday. A stream of carriages flooded the avenue, and the sidewalks were thronged with ill-dressed people. The crowd increased his annoyance. The possibility of being jostled irritated him, the spectacle of dawdling shop-keepers filled him with disgust. He hailed a cab in which to escape; the driver paid no attention; he hailed another; the result was the same, and then in the increasing exasperation of the moment he felt that he hated Paris. A fat man with pursed lips and an air of imbecile self-satisfaction brushed against him. He could have turned and slapped him in the face.

Without, however, committing any overt act of violence, he succeeded in reaching his hotel. There he sought the reading-room, but he found it fully occupied by one middle-aged Englishwoman, and leaving her in undisturbed possession of the Times, he went to his own apartment. A day or two before he had purchased a copy of a much applauded novel, and from it he endeavored to extract a sedative. Mechanically he turned the pages. His eyes glanced over and down them, resting at times through fractions of an hour on a single line, but the words conveyed no message to his mind, his thoughts were elsewhere, they surged through vague perplexities and hovered over shadowy enigmas, until at last he discovered that he was trying to read in the dark.

He struck a light and found that it was nearly seven. I will dress, he told himself, and dine at the club. In half an hour he was on his way to the Capucines. The streets were still crowded and the Avenue de lOp?ra in which his hotel was situated, vibrated as were it the main artery of the capital. As he approached the boulevard he thought that it would perhaps be wiser to dine at a restaurant; he was discomfited and he was not sure but that the myriad tongue of gossip might not be already busy with the cause of his discomfiture. He did not feel talkative, and were he taciturn at the club he knew that it would be remarked. Bignons was close at hand. Why not dine there? In his indecision he halted before an adjacent shop and stood for a moment looking in the window, apparently engrossed by an assortment of strass and imitation pearls. The proprietress was lounging in the doorway. Si Monsieur veut entrer she began seductively, but he turned from her; as he did so, a brougham drew up before the curb and Mirette stepped from it.

Lenox, in his surprise at the unexpected, did not at first notice that a man had also alighted. He moved forward and would have spoken, but Mirette looked him straight in the eyes, as who should say Allez vous faire lanlaire, mon cher, and passed on into the restaurant.

Her companion had hurried a little in advance to open the door, and as he swung it aside and Mirette entered Lenox caught a glimpse of his face. It was meaningless enough, and yet not entirely unfamiliar. Who is the cad, he wondered. Yet, after all, what difference did it make? He could not blame the man. As for jealousy, the word was meaningless to him. It was his amour propre that suffered. He smiled a trifle grimly to himself and continued his way.

At the corner was a large picture shop. An old man wrapped in a loose fur coat stood at the window looking at the painting of a little girl. The child was alone in a coppice and seemingly much frightened at the approach of a flock of does. Unconsciously Lenox stopped also. He had been so bewildered by the suddenness of the cut that he did not notice whether he was walking or standing still.

And so it was for this, he mused, that admittance had been denied him. But why could she not have had the decency to tell him not to come instead of letting him run there like a tradesman with a small bill? Certainly he had deserved better things of her than that. It was so easy for a woman to break gracefully. A note, a word, and if the man insists a second note, a second word; after that the man, if he is decently bred, can do nothing but raise his hat and speed the parting guest. Beside, why would she want to break with him and take up with a fellow who looked like a barber from the Grand H?tel? Who was he any way?

His eyes rested on the picture of the little girl. The representation of her childish fright almost diverted his thoughts, but all the while there was an undercurrent which in some dim way kept telling him that he had seen the mans face before. And as he groped in his memory the picture of the child faded as might a picture in a magic lantern, and in its place, vaguely at first and gradually better defined, he saw, standing in the moonlight, on a white road, a coach and four. To the rear was the terrace of a h?tel, and beyond was a shimmering bay like to that which he had seen at San Sebastian.

My God, he cried aloud, its Incouls courier!

The old man in the fur coat looked at him nervously, and shrank away.

CHAPTER XV.
MAY EXPOSTULATES

That evening the Wainwarings and the Blydenburgs dined at the house in the Parc Monceau. The Blydenburgs had long since deserted Biarritz, but the return journey had been broken at Luchon, and in that resort the days had passed them by like chapters in a stupid fairy tale.

They were now on their way home; the pleasures of the Continent had begun to pall, and during the dinner, Mr. Blydenburg took occasion to express his opinion on the superiority of American institutions over those of all other lands, an opinion to which he lent additional weight by repeating from time to time that New York was quite good enough for him.

There were no other guests. Shortly before ten the Wainwarings left, and as Blydenburg was preparing to take his daughter back to the hotel, Mr. Incoul said that he would be on the boulevard later, and did he care to have him he would take him to the club, a proposition to which Blydenburg at once agreed.

Harmon, said Maida, when they were alone, are you to be away long?

During dinner she had said but little. Latterly she had complained of sleeplessness, and to banish the insomnia a physician had recommended the usual bromide of potassium. As she spoke, Mr. Incoul noticed that she was pale.

Possibly not, he answered.

She had been standing before the hearth, her bare arm resting on the velvet of the mantel, and her eyes following the flicker of the burning logs but now she turned to him.

Do you remember our pact? she asked.

He looked at her but said nothing. She moved across the room to where he stood; one hand just touched his sleeve, the other she raised to his shoulder and rested it there for a seconds space. Her eyes sought his own, her head was thrown back a little, from her hair came the perfume of distant oases, her lips were moist and her neck was like a jasmine.

Harmon, she continued in a tone as low as were she speaking to herself, we have come into our own.

And then the caress passed from his sleeve, her hand fell from his shoulder, she glided from him with the motion of a swan.

Come to me when you return, she added. Her face had lost its pallor, it was flushed, but her voice was brave.

Yet soon, when the door closed behind him, her courage faltered. In the eyes of him whose name she bore and to whom for the first time she had made offer of her love, she had seen no answering affection merely a look which a man might give who wins a long-contested game of chess. But presently she reassured herself. If at the avowal her husband had seemed triumphant, in very truth what was he else? She turned to a mirror that separated the windows and gazed at her own reflection. Perhaps he did think the winning a triumph. Many another would have thought so, too. She was entirely in white; her arms and neck were unjeweled. I look like a bride, she told herself, and then, with the helplessness of regret, she remembered that brides wear orange blossoms, but she had none.

The idler in Paris is apt to find Sunday evenings dull. There are many houses open, it is true, but not infrequently the idler is disinclined to receptions, and as to the theatres, it is bourgeois to visit them. There is, therefore, little left save the clubs, and on this particular Sunday evening, when Mr. Incoul and Blydenburg entered the Capucines, they found it tolerably filled.

A lackey in silk knee breeches and livery of pale blue came to take their coats. It was not, however, until Blydenburg had been helped off with his that he noticed that Mr. Incoul had preferred to keep his own on.

The two men then passed out of the vestibule into a room in which was a large table littered with papers, and from there into another room where a man whom Mr. Incoul recognized as De la D?che was dozing on a lounge, and finally a room was reached in which most of the members had assembled.





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