"Mr. Ingersoll lost his wife here. That probably accounts for his wish to remain."
Popple's face creased in a frown of perplexity. "That isn't w'at the lady said," he explained. "Her story was that Mrs. Ingersoll died in Paris, probably when the baby was born. Anyhow, no one in Pont Aven had ever seen her, as she axed particular. Not that it could ha been any business of hers, but a woman likes to ferret out every atom of gossip, an' there's bound to be a lot of talk about any girl as good lookin' as Miss Ingersoll."
Popple little guessed – he never knew – what a tornado he let loose by those words. "Dear me! Dear me! How very curious!" gasped Raymond.
And at that moment Yvonne herself came across the Place from Le Sellin's, having undergone a process of "fitting" to which her mother was unequal. The two were alike even in height and figure. If anything, Mrs. Carmac was rather more slender than her daughter, because the girl's muscles were well developed by long walks and plenty of exercise in an outrigger, whereas the older woman had been self-indulgent and frail all her life.
Both men stood up. She noticed their action, and protested smilingly.
"Please don't rise, Mr. Raymond," she said. "I hope you don't think I have neglected you, but I have inquired from Dr. Garnier several times as to your well-being, and I knew you were in good hands here, while my own time has been occupied in looking after Mrs. Carmac, who was really very ill until this morning. As for you, Captain Popple, I didn't need to glance twice at you to see that a small thing like a shipwreck hadn't disturbed you in the least."
"Miss," said Popple, "you'll believe me, I know, when I say I didn't reckernize you upstairs. Sink me! I couldn't imagine that any young lady could look so pretty in two different ways."
She laughed delightedly, for the first time since the doleful twin sisters, Sorrow and Suffering, had discovered her. "Now I understand why a sailor has a lass in every port," she said. "You cannot fail to be a success with the girls if you talk to them in that fashion."
Popple had never before been accused of being a ladykiller. He grinned, and his red face grew purple. "Me, Miss?" he cried. "Bless your little heart! I was on'y tellin' the solemn truth. You looked like a seafarin' angel when I saw you through the scud an' spray dashin' over that reef. An' now – well, if the folk hereabout want to advertise Pont Aven, they ought to put you on a poster."
"Captain, I must not have my head turned by such compliments. Wait till Tuesday, our market day, and you will meet dozens of girls who put me in the shade. Is your arm fairly comfortable, Mr. Raymond?"
The secretary, whose eyes had glowered on every unstudied poise and trick of expression that stamped Yvonne as Mrs. Carmac's daughter, even to a markedly clear enunciation, and an almost coquettish sidelong glance when specially amused, had been given time to collect his faculties by Popple's tribute of admiration.
"Yes, thank you, Miss Ingersoll," he said, striving to tune his harsh voice to a note of reverential courtesy.
"Lorry," cried the smiling girl, "come out here and tell these flatterers how horrid I can be at times!"
Raymond turned so quickly that he wrenched his arm slightly, and was hard put to it to suppress a groan. Tollemache was standing at the open window directly behind the seat that Popple and himself had occupied. How long had he been there? What had he heard? Certainly the path of the evildoer was not being made smooth, and the scheming secretary had experienced various thrills in the course of one short hour.
"Mr. Raymond is a shrewd judge of womankind, I am sure," said Tollemache quietly, "and he would never accept my estimate of you, Yvonne. Will you be home for tea? And may I come? I have some news for you."
Yvonne simply announced that he would find her at the cottage about four o'clock. Then, with a hand-wave to her friend and a graceful bow to the others, she hurried to the annex, running into Peridot as she went.
"Ah, bon jour, Ma'mselle!" he cried, smiling broadly and flourishing his cap. "Did Monsieur Tollemache tell you what a fool I made of myself the other night?"
"No," she said. "Nothing Monsieur Tollemache could say would shake my high opinion of you. How is Madeleine? I haven't seen her since the supper party."
"Neither have I, Ma'mselle," and the merry Breton face suddenly became woebegone.
"What, then? Have you quarreled?"
"She too was vexed with me."
"I'll put that right, Peridot. Kenavo." [Breton for "Au revoir."]
"Kenavo, Ma'mselle," and Peridot strolled toward the quay, but not without a sharp glance at the man whom he had gulled so thoroughly.
"Lord love a duck!" sighed Popple. "I wish my eddication hadn't been neglected when I was a nipper. I wasn't brought up. I was fetched up. Just listen to them two! Well, I'll bear in the direction of the telegraph office. I'm expectin' a wire from Brest about a diver. So long, Mr. Raymond!"
"Goodby, Captain. If you want me during the next two hours, I shall be in my room."
Popple lumbered away, and Raymond would have gone to the annex had he not been stayed by Tollemache.
"A word with you, Mr. Raymond. I want to explain that Mr. Ingersoll and his daughter are my closest friends."
The secretary wheeled round slowly. He had no fear of this stalwart young American, whom he classed with the well dressed, athletic, feather-brained "nuts" of British society.
"I think you are to be envied," he said smilingly.
Tollemache did not smile. His frank features were thought-laden and stern. Yvonne would have read his expression unerringly. Lorry was troubled but determined.
"I am not parading the friendship for any other reason than as a warning that I shall not tolerate any prying into their affairs," he said, evidently choosing the words with care.
Raymond affected vast astonishment. "If you overheard the conversation between Captain Popple and me, you must be aware that I knew little or nothing about Mr. Ingersoll and Mademoiselle Yvonne," he retorted.
"That wasn't your fault, I imagine."
"I don't understand what you are driving at. Suppose I have shown some interest in them, isn't it reasonable – people to whom I owe my life?"
"A most excellent sentiment, Mr. Raymond. Don't forget it, and wander into bypaths, where you will most certainly meet me. And I'm a big, hulking fellow, you know, who is likely to block the way."
"Again I say that I have done nothing to deserve the implied threat."
"And again I say that I'll lick the stuffing out of anyone who so much as tries to annoy my friends."
"I have no wish to feel otherwise than exceedingly grateful to them, and I cannot allow you or any other person to dictate to me in the matter. Your remarks are – incomprehensible."
Tollemache gave him no further reply than a steady stare, which discomfited Raymond far more than any words. With an angry sniff he abandoned the contest, and walked unsteadily across the irregular cobble-stones that paved the roadway.
In the ordinary course of events the mortal remains of Walter Carmac would have been inclosed in a leaden shell and transhipped to the United States for burial. But a woman's whim intervened. Mrs. Carmac suddenly decreed that the interment should take place at Nizon. Pont Aven possesses no cemetery of its own. Nizon, perched on the plateau of a neighboring hill, provides a final resting place for dwellers in the valley. Thither was borne in state a huge casket containing the body of the dead millionaire.
Such a funeral had not been seen at Pont Aven in many a year. The village turned out en masse. By that time everyone knew of the extraordinary coincidence that brought Yvonne to the rescue of a wrecked vessel that had her aunt on board. When the news spread that the woman was immensely rich local interest rose to boiling point.
Many and various, therefore, were the conjectures of the crowd as soon as it was seen that the widow, who insisted on attending the ceremony, was not accompanied by her niece. She was escorted to a carriage by her husband's nephew, a tall, slim, dark-featured young man of aristocratic appearance. In a second carriage were seated Bennett, the lawyer, head of the firm of Bennett, Son & Hoyle, an elderly man who had conveyancing and mortgage stamped on his shrewd yet kindly face; Captain Popple, hectic in a suit of black; and Raymond, looking smaller and more dejected than ever in his mourning attire. That was all, in so far as relatives and friends were concerned.
The third and last carriage contained a local notary, the mayor of Pont Aven, and Dr. Garnier.
Mrs. Carmac's unexpected decision that her husband should be buried in Brittany was made known only when it was impossible for others to come from a distance. With one exception, the steward whose ankle was sprained, the crew of the Stella had been sent to England; so the millionaire was followed to the grave by few who were acquainted with him in life. But the village saw to it that the cort?ge lost nothing in dignity or size. Gendarmes, custom house officials, and various town functionaries marched behind the carriages. Half a dozen sailors of the French marine yielded to the national love of a spectacle, and fell into line. Then came the townsfolk in serried ranks, the Breton garb of men and women adding a semibarbaric touch of color.
A Paris correspondent of a New York daily expressed the opinion to a colleague that the bereaved wife had acted right in burying her husband within sight of the sea that had claimed him as a victim.
"At first," he said, "I thought it a somewhat peculiar proceeding. Now I begin to understand. If I had any choice in the matter, I should certainly prefer to find my last home in this peaceful little spot rather than fill lot number so-and-so in a crowded cemetery."
"Tastes differ," said the other. "Personally I'd like to have my ashes bottled and put in a window overlooking Broadway. Who comes in for all the money?"
"The widow, I'm told."
"Doesn't young Fosdyke get a slice?"
"Don't know. No good trying to worm anything out of Bennett."
"Fosdyke looks like a southern Frenchman. He's English, I suppose?"
"Yes, by birth and residence. But his father was an American, – came over with a racing crowd in the '80's, – and married a pretty Creole."
"Oh, is that it?"
"Well, there's a drop of negro blood in the family; away back, perhaps, but unmistakable. Did you ever meet Carmac?"
"A tremendous fellow; but years ago he was as thin as Fosdyke."
"How did they make their money?"
"Cotton, and backing the North during the Civil War. That's why they left the States. The pure-blooded Southerners didn't like 'em, anyway, and the men who fought under Lee and Stonewall Jackson would have tarred and feathered the whole tribe afterward."
"What's this I hear about a niece discovered in Pont Aven by the lady?"
"Haven't you seen her?"
"Then take my advice, and quit by the next train. You're too impressionable. One glimpse of her, and your life's a wreck. She's the prettiest ever."
"Why isn't she here today?"
"Ask me another. But if I were Fosdyke, I'd be in no hurry to rush back to smoky London. By hook or by crook I'd keep Uncle's money in the family."
This well informed cynic had not gone an inch beyond the known facts concerning the Carmacs. At twenty-five the man now dead was endowed with that peculiar quality of looks which is often the heritage of men and women of mixed descent, when all other traces of a negroid strain are eliminated save the black and plentiful hair, the brilliant eyes, the strong white teeth, a supple frame, and a definite thickness of skin which makes for perfect complexion and coloring.
As Walter Carmac had been in youth so was his nephew now. Rupert Fosdyke had often been described as "the best-looking man in London society." The tribute came from the opposite sex. Men, for the most part, disliked him because of his egregious vanity. But he was no carpet knight. He played polo regularly at Ranelagh, was a keen fox hunter, and had ridden his own horses in steeplechases at Warwick, Leamington, and other county fixtures. He was a prominent "first nighter" in theatrical circles, and knew a great many musical comedy celebrities by abbreviated versions of their assumed Christian names. This latter weakness had brought him into court as a principal in a somewhat notorious breach of promise case, and his uncle and he had quarreled irrevocably on that occasion.
Rupert regarded the older man as a philanthropic "muff," and dared to tell him so, though such candor was likely to prove expensive. His own income was ten thousand dollars a year, provided by trustees of his mother's estate. He contrived only to exist on this sum, and would not have been guilty of the folly of alienating a millionaire uncle, who had no heir, but for the onerous conditions laid down for his future career. He was to abandon the "fast set," take Raymond's place as Carmac's secretary, and marry.
Rupert laughed derisively. "Goodby!" he said. "Try again when I'm forty."
After that the two remained at arm's length. And now the nephew was following his uncle's body to the grave, and gazing with curiously introspective eyes at the tiny panorama unfolded by the quaint old village as the leading carriage moved slowly onward.
Singularly enough, he was a prominent figure in Pont Aven that day. Not only was he discussed by the multitude, but he was not wholly ignored by a gray-haired man and a girl dressed in quiet tweed, who had walked to the summit of the lofty spur that separates Nizon from the Bois d'Amour, and were watching the long procession climbing the Concarneau road.
Ingersoll had returned from Concarneau early that morning. Yvonne, troubled in spirit because of certain hints dropped by Mrs. Carmac, had written to her father an urgent request to come home.
"Yvonne," said Ingersoll, breaking a long silence, "why is Mrs. Carmac burying her husband here?"
"She has not told me, Dad, but I am beginning to fear that she means to remain in Pont Aven."
The girl's voice was low and unemotional; but her father was not deceived by its studious monotone. He looked down at the village in which they had passed so many peaceful years, at the cluster of sardine boats, – among them the Hirondelle, laid up near the quay, – at the tortuous river, thrusting its silvery bends ever toward the open sea, at the favorite paths over the gorse-clad shores, leading on the one hand to the Ch?teau du H?nan and on the other to the Menhirs and the hamlet of Rosbras. Those riverside walks abounded in beauty spots. He had painted them all, in many lights and in most seasons. They held a perennial charm. He could have sketched each secluded dell from memory with almost photographic accuracy, and hardly made an error in the type of the surrounding foliage, whether of lordly and treacherous elms, or close-knit firs, or blossom-covered apple trees.
"It is hard!" he said at last, almost unconsciously.
Yvonne heard, and her eyes grew dim. "It is more than hard," she murmured. "It is thoughtless."
A fierce joy surged into her father's heart, yet he only said softly, "We must find another hermitage, my dear one."
"Why should we be driven out of the place we have made our home?" she cried, yielding suddenly to the overwhelming demand for a confidant. "My mother has the wide world to choose from. Why should she settle in Pont Aven? I am sorry for her, and she is very lovable and gracious; but no power on earth can part you and me, Dad. Oh, I have been so miserable during these wretched days! I have had the wildest, maddest thoughts. If only she had not made a new life so impossible! She, my mother, another man's wife!"
The sheer necessity of calming the girl's hysterical outburst imposed a restraint on Ingersoll he was far from feeling. "We need not contemplate heroic measures today, at any rate," he soothed her. "Mrs. Carmac's present mood supplies no warranty of her actions next week or next month. Though she may seem to have recovered from the strain of the wreck, probably she is still very shaken and low-spirited. That phase will pass. She has many interests elsewhere – and few here. Moreover, you know me too well to believe that I would forbid you ever to hear from or see her again. That would be foolish, criminal. You are a grown woman now, Yvonne. Life has revealed some of its riddles, bared some of its brutal crudities. I can never forget, strive as I might, that you have met your mother. Let us bide a wee, Sweetheart. Let us wait till you and your mother have discussed an awkward situation openly. I gathered from your letters that she is saddened and disillusioned, and I shall be slow to believe that she really contemplates a permanent residence in Pont Aven. She and I cannot dwell in the same small village. If she stays, I go. Why, then, should she wish to bury herself alive here?"
Yvonne dried her eyes. "I'm so glad I brought you back, Dad," she said more cheerfully. "It is such a relief to hear you tackling a problem that has nearly driven me crazy. You see, I had no one to talk to. I couldn't confide in Lorry; though I imagine he guesses the truth – "
"Why do you think that?" broke in Ingersoll quickly.
"It seems that some days ago he overheard a conversation between Captain Popple and Mr. Raymond, Mr. Carmac's secretary, the man whose arm was injured. He was writing in the old dining room at Julia's, and heard voices outside. At first he paid no heed; but some reference to an attempt at salvage on the wreck appeared to upset Mr. Raymond very considerably. Then, when Mr. Raymond became calmer, he led the talk round to us – to our history, I mean. Some lady had given Captain Popple certain details picked up from village gossips. The captain – quite innocently, Lorry thought – corrected a silly story which Mr. Raymond had got from Peridot, and Mr. Raymond grew quite excited. Lorry has seen Peridot, and finds that Mr. Raymond actually went to his cottage and questioned him – about us. Peridot told him some outrageous fibs – "
"He would," said Ingersoll, with a grim smile.
"Well, Lorry is such a loyal soul that he didn't hesitate to warn Mr. Raymond very plainly that he must mind his own business."
"Exactly what one might expect from Lorry too."
"I don't attach much weight to Mr. Raymond's prying, nor does Mrs. Carmac. I told her. Was that right?"
"But I couldn't help seeing that Lorry must have formed some theory of his own, or he would never have interfered."
"If Lorry were our only bugbear, our troubles would be light. Have you met this Raymond?"
"Oh, yes. Often. He comes to Mrs. Carmac daily for orders; though she or I have to write letters and telegrams, as he can only print laboriously with his left hand."
"Have you seen a good deal of Rupert Fosdyke?"
Now Yvonne had not mentioned Fosdyke's name in her letters. She did not like him. Indeed, she mistrusted him from the moment of their first meeting, when the gallant Rupert favored her with a glance of surprised admiration; which, however, faded into a covert scrutiny on hearing that she was Mrs. Carmac's niece.
Her sentiments toward this new-found "cousin" had developed speedily from passive indifference into active resentment of his ways. Of course there was nothing in Pont Aven to interest an ultra "man about town"; so Fosdyke took to escorting Yvonne from the hotel to M?re Pitou's cottage. At first she yielded out of politeness. When the short promenade became an established custom, and Fosdyke even called for her at the hours she might be expected to visit her mother, she was at a loss to know how to get rid of him. She thought first of Tollemache; but instinct told her that he and Fosdyke would mingle as amicably as fire and oil, and with similar results. Then she sought the assistance of Madeleine Demoret, and thereby added a new burden to an already heavy load; for the village girl became straightway infatuated about the handsome stranger, and Fosdyke, who spoke French fluently, took malicious pleasure in annoying the pretty prude, as he classed Yvonne, by flirting with Madeleine.
No wonder, therefore, that the girl should have longed for her father's company and protection; though she looked at him now with an air of bewilderment.
"You know something of him, then?" she said, searching the worn face with anxious eyes.
"I know his name. I attended his mother's wedding. Indeed, why trouble to conceal the fact that it was then I first saw your mother? She was a brides-maid, a girl of fourteen, and already notable as a musical prodigy. I did not meet her again for six years, when her voice had given way, and she began to dabble in art. Mr. and Mrs. Fosdyke brought their little son to our wedding. He was an extraordinarily pretty child, and almost attracted more attention than the bride."