Flower of the Gorse
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Ingersoll spoke in the tone of one who was recalling the past without pain; but his glance followed the last stragglers of the procession to Nizon, – Nizon, with its finely carved Calvary, and its high-perched stone cross bearing the tortured body of the Christ.
"Father dear," cried Yvonne impulsively, "I have made up my mind. You are powerless; but I can act. I will not have you harrowed and wounded at every turn. You and I, together with Lorry and Peridot, saved my mother's life. She must repay us by the only means she possesses, – by conferring the freedom of our own small Paradise."
"Yvonne," he sighed, "some day soon you will be marrying."
Whereat the girl almost laughed. "No matter what happens, that is the last thing I should dream of doing," she said.
"But why? It is the one thing that a girl of your age should have mainly in mind. Even in this small community, you might find a most excellent and chivalric husband – "
"Meaning Lorry," said Yvonne, without hesitation.
"Well – yes."
"But – I don't care for Lorry – in that way."
"Has he ever asked you?"
"No. Once or twice, perhaps, he has hinted that Barkis was willing. The last time was no later than the day of the wreck."
"And what did you say?"
"I was nearly angry with him."
"You would prefer him, I suppose, to a man of the Rupert Fosdyke type?"
"I loathe the sight of Rupert Fosdyke!"
"How has he offended you?"
"In no way that I can put into words. He is very courteous, and quite a clever talker, and he tries to make every woman he meets believe that she is the one creature on earth he adores."
"Then poor Lorry, with his chummy slang and abounding good conceit with himself and all the world, – excepting this Mr. Raymond, I take it, – compares but indifferently with the smooth-spoken Rupert?"
"Lorry! He's a man! He's worth a million Fosdykes!"
Ingersoll, well pleased, adopted the sound policy of leaving well enough alone. "Still, you have given me no specific reason for your dislike of Fosdyke," he persisted.
"You read my mind too plainly, Dad," she protested, smiling vexedly. "I didn't mean to tell you, hoping matters would adjust themselves; as, indeed, they may do now, if these invaders withdraw. But Madeleine has quite lost her head over him."
"Madeleine Demoret!" Ingersoll was evidently amazed, as well he might be, seeing that Breton maids are less approachable by strangers than the girls of almost any other nationality.
"Yes, and the worst thing is that I am to blame."
"But how can that be possible?"
"Mr. Fosdyke arrived here last Saturday, and of course I was introduced to him as Mrs. Carmac's niece. The necessity for any such pretense is rather hateful, and he did not render it more acceptable by claiming me as a cousin. Really, Dad, with the slightest encouragement on my part, he would have kissed me!"
"Shocking!" said Ingersoll.
"Father dear, don't make fun of me.His cousinly kiss would have burnt my cheek."
"I can't profess fierce indignation because a young man tried to seize a good opportunity to kiss a pretty young woman."
"Well, he didn't dare make the attempt," declared Yvonne spiritedly. "He realized at once that I would have slapped his face soundly for his pains."
"But are you serious about Madeleine? I mean, rather, do you think she is really enamored of him, or merely showing off for Peridot's benefit?"
"So serious that I am profoundly thankful the settled weather has kept Peridot at sea."
"Do they meet frequently?"
"I hate suspecting people, Dad; so I can only say that I don't know. Let us get away from all this worry for a day. Send Barbe for Lorry, and ask him to d?jeuner. Then the three of us will walk by the Belon road to Mo?lan, and have tea at the inn. It will do us a heap of good."
Mrs. Carmac, after a burst of hysterical sobbing which her nephew tried to stop by a few conventional words of sympathy, subsided into even more exasperating silence as the carriage rolled back from Nizon. Fosdyke, being an egotist, did not exert himself to console her; he was, indeed, profoundly relieved when the wretched journey came to an end. He helped his aunt to alight, but did not attempt to escort her into the annex. Instead he waited until the second carriage drove up, and Bennett appeared.
"Am I wanted for any formalities?" he inquired offhandedly.
"Not at present, Mr. Fosdyke," was the quiet answer.
"Isn't it customary that the will should be read after the funeral?"
"Yes, if it is available."
"Surely my uncle did not die intestate?" The question was shot out with a fiery eagerness that showed how joyfully any indication of the absence of a will would have been received.
"No," said Bennett, after a pause. "Mr. Carmac's will, in duplicate, is lodged in my office and at his bank. I did not bring my copy, as I had no reason to believe that events would shape themselves as they have done. But a confidential clerk is on the way with the document. He telegraphed from St. Malo this morning that he had caught a train that should reach Pont Aven about half past four this afternoon. At five o'clock, if convenient to you, I suggest that we meet in Mrs. Carmac's rooms."
Then Fosdyke knew that the gray-haired lawyer had been playing with him; but he only said airily, "Such distractions as seem to flourish in Pont Aven will probably leave me at liberty about the time you name, Mr. Bennett."
The lawyer nodded, kept a stiff upper lip, and followed Mrs. Carmac.
"The old fox!" growled Fosdyke savagely, careless who heard him. "I'll bet good money he has feathered his own nest all right!"
The mayor, the doctor, and the notary, who had descended close at hand, wondered what had put this elegant young gentleman into a temper. Raymond and Popple understood well enough, but said nothing.
"I suppose you ought to invite these local gentlemen to take a glass of wine?" suggested the secretary.
"I'll see them boiled first!" was the amiable answer.
Then Raymond, in his slow French, gave the invitation on his own behalf; but the Pont Aven men were not slow-witted, and courteously excused their further attendance.
"I've a notion that a gargle of some sort wouldn't come amiss," observed Popple thoughtfully.
"I can't drink now," fumed Fosdyke. "Raymond, a word with you!"
Raymond, however, had been furtively engaged in taking stock of Rupert Fosdyke during the last few days.
"Sorry," he said, "but our chat must be postponed. Mrs. Carmac would be exceedingly annoyed if she heard that we were inhospitable. You ought not to have spoken the way you did before those French gentlemen. It was distinctly bad form."
If a timid hare coursed by a greyhound were suddenly to turn and admonish its pursuer, the dog would hardly be more surprised than Fosdyke when this queer-looking little secretary dared to chide him. He was so completely taken aback that he laughed.
"I guess you're right," he said. "Order a bottle of champagne. I'll ask those fellows to dinner, and do them well. Then they'll forgive me. Lead on, Macduff! And cursed be he who first cries 'Hold! Enough!'"
Fosdyke's changed mood was distinctly more agreeable. Popple, for one, deemed him a rather peppery young gentleman, but none the worse because he spoke out freely.
"Life's a rum thing, anyhow," said the skipper, when the three were seated in the dining room of the hotel, which was otherwise empty. "About this very hour this day week the Stella was makin' bad weather of it off some little islands north of the Aven. I wanted to put in here; but Mrs. Carmac wouldn't hear of it. I must push on for Lorient, she said – an' the pore gentleman we've just planted on top of the hill there was chaffin' her about bein' afraid o' spooks. Sink me! Who's the spook now?"
"I don't see what ghosts had to do with Pont Aven," said Fosdyke sharply.
"Neither do I, Sir," said Popple. "It was a funny remark, look at it any way you like."
"Both of you seem to forget Mrs. Carmac's niece," put in Raymond suavely. The conversation had suddenly taken a dangerous turn, and it must be headed deftly into a safer channel.
"What of her?" demanded Fosdyke.
"Well, she represents the family disagreement which estranged Mrs. Carmac and the late Mrs. Ingersoll. You see, Mr. Fosdyke, your aunt was aware that her sister lived here, but evidently did not know she was dead. That fact would account for her disinclination to visit Pont Aven. In a word, Fate drove us on to that wretched reef, which you, Captain, will see more of if this fine weather lasts. How goes the salvage scheme?"
"I've got a diver, an' the right sort of craft to stand by. Has its own steam, an' a derrick, an' it'll be alongside Les Verr?s at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. I'm sorry I can't find that chap Peridot. They tell me he's away with the fishin' fleet; but some of the boats may come in by tonight's tide."
"What is there to salve?" said Fosdyke.
"Banknotes, an' jew'lry, an' dockyments," said Popple.
"Rather a wild-goose chase, isn't it?"
"That is a point on which our worthy friend and I differ," put in the secretary. "I bow to his superior judgment, of course; but I shall be vastly surprised if he brings ashore anything worth having."
"It's a bit of a handicap not havin' Peridot," grumbled the sailor.
"Who is Peridot?" demanded Fosdyke.
"A Breton, whom Mr. Ingersoll employs occasionally on his cutter," explained Raymond. "He, and an American named Tollemache, together with Mr. Ingersoll and his daughter, were concerned in the rescue."
"Mighty lucky thing for the rest of you that they were at sea that day," commented Fosdyke, with a certain viciousness born of a thought that had darted through his mind. "It was a close call, I'm told. Two minutes after the last man was taken off the Stella smashed up."
Raymond smiled. He knew exactly what this dutiful nephew was thinking. Had the Stella been lost with all on board, there would have been some chance of the Carmac estate passing to nephew and nieces, notwithstanding the will. Mrs. Carmac might have been legally presumed to have died first, or, failing that, her relatives might have remained unknown.
"Mrs. Carmac means to present Peridot with a sardine boat of his own," he said, waiting until Fosdyke was surfeited with the gall of his own evil notion. "Then," he went on, gazing contemplatively at a cart laden with casks of cider lumbering across the square, "then, I am given to understand, Peridot will marry a girl named Madeleine Demoret, and settle down in prosperity and content."
There was a pause. Captain Popple, who really had no reason to complain of any deficiency of vision, either literal or figurative, poured out another glass of champagne, and watched the wine creaming.
"This fortunate person, Peridot, owns a queer name," said Fosdyke, surveying the secretary with a steady scrutiny. "Isn't a peridot a precious stone of sorts?"
"Yes; but his real name is Larraidou. The other is only a nickname, arising from the curious color of his eyes. He's by way of being a humorist too; though I fancy he could reveal a very ugly disposition if roused."
"Humor of any variety is surely out of place in Pont Aven," said Fosdyke. "Here's to Peridot remaining several more days with the fishing fleet – and damn his eyes!" He rose and went out.
"Affable kind o' young gent, that," commented Popple. "A trifle quick on the trigger, though. I was glad to hear you touchin' him up a bit, Sir. You did it neatly – twice, an' all."
"Twice?" Raymond affected astonishment.
But Popple was a wary bird too. "No business of mine, anyhow," he said shortly, and, finishing his wine with a gulp, betook himself upstairs, where the injured steward was still confined to his bedroom.
The sprained ankle had proved awkward; practically it amounted to a dislocation, and Dr. Garnier would not yet allow the patient to put the injured foot on the ground. A cheerful little Cockney, the steward had interested Yvonne at once by his happy-go-lucky demeanor when brought on board the Hirondelle. Each day she had visited him for a few minutes. Tollemache seldom passed without exchanging a few lively words with him, and he was a positive godsend to Popple.
"Well, Harry my boy, how goes it?" was the skipper's greeting.
The invalid was sitting up in an easy chair, placed in front of a low window. Thus he could gaze into the square beneath, and see its whole extent. In summer the dense foliage of the sycamores would have blocked the view; but in mid-December their bare branches hid nothing.
"Fine, Cap'n," he answered. "Mr. Tollemache tole me the doctor said I might hop downstairs tomorrow. This d'y week I'll be leggin' it back to England, 'ome, an' work."
"Mebbe, an' mebbe not," said Popple, settling his bulk into another chair, and beginning to fill a pipe.
"'Strewth, Cap'n, you're the larst man I'd tike for a Job's comforter," said the steward.
"W'at's the rush?"
"No rush; but I'm goin' along all right, an' 'er Lydyship won't want to keep a chap like me 'angin' abart."
"S'pose you get a job here?"
"Now, I arsk you, Cap'n, w'at can I do in a plice where they tork neither French nor English? I'd be a byby among 'em – a silly byby."
"This salvage business may last a bit. If you like, I'll ax Mrs. Carmac to put your name on the books."
"Cap'n, d'y mean it? Well, you are a brick! It'll help a lot if I earn a quid or two while I'm crocked. I've been thinkin' abart this salvage idee. W'at's behind it?"
"Just pickin' up any odds an' ends we come across. But that's a funny question. Got something in your noddle?"
"Nothink, Cap'n. On'y it struck me that w'at between sea an' rock the Stella must be pretty well dished by this time."
"Everybody says that," growled Popple. "An' that's just why I've a fixed notion we'll find more'n anyone bargains for."
He was busy with his pipe, which refused to draw freely, so failed to perceive that the steward was gazing out into the square with a curiously brooding stare. Harry Jackson had been taught by a hard world not to blurt out everything he knew.
"Harry," said Popple suddenly, "would ye like a tonic?"
"Would a duck swim, Cap'n?" said Harry instantly.
"There was a glass or two left in a bottle of the boy downstairs. 'Arf a mo! I'll ax Marie if it's still on tap."
Harry stared again out of the window. This time his glance followed Harvey Raymond, who was strolling toward the bridge. He watched the secretary's thin figure, its ungainliness being somewhat enhanced by the stiffly bandaged arm, until Popple returned in triumph with nearly a pint of champagne and a wine-glass.
"There you are, Son!" he cried joyously. "Put that where the cat can't get it. You're drinkin' Mr. Raymond's health."
"Am I?" said Harry. "Then, 'ere's to him, the swab!"
"Hullo! Don't you like him?"
"'E ain't my sort, Cap'n. Monkey-fice, we chaps forrard used to call 'im."
"Sink me! You didn't see much of him."
"Didn't need to. 'E's the kind o' jumped-up snotty who torks to men beneath 'im as if they was dawgs. When a real toff calls me 'Jackson' I s'y 'Yes, Sir'; but when that blighter did the sime thing I wanted to bung 'im one in the jawr."
"Well, I'm dashed!" breathed Popple, surveying his friend with manifest approval. "Now, who'd ha thought he'd stirred you up in that way? Between you an' me, Harry, I'm not too fond of him meself. I suspicioned that Mrs. Carmac meant to fire him last week; but I was mistaken. Anyhow, 'Live an' let live' is my policy. So long as he doesn't interfere with me, I'll leave him alone."
"Sime 'ere," agreed Jackson.
Mrs. Carmac passed a restless afternoon. Twice she summoned her maid, Celeste, who had come from Paris on receipt of a telegram, meaning to send that discreet tirewoman for Yvonne, yet twice changed her mind.
As the hour fixed by Bennett drew near, she felt more reconciled to Yvonne's prolonged absence. She was beginning to realize the perplexities and embarrassments to which her daughter was being subjected daily.
The lawyer was first to arrive. "I am glad of the opportunity of having a word with you in private," he said. "Of course you are acquainted with the disposition your husband made of his estate; but Rupert Fosdyke may be disagreeably surprised. If he protests, do not be drawn into argument. Please leave matters in my hands."
"Am I to say nothing at all?" she demanded.
"Nothing controversial. If he blusters, and asks questions, refer him to me."
"He knows already that Walter viewed his – what shall I call them? – social entanglements with disfavor."
"Yes. For all that, he may be hoping for more than he will get."
"Wouldn't it be wise to soften the blow by an act of voluntary generosity?"
Bennett shook his head. "It would be construed rather as weakness than as strength," he said. "Fosdyke is not poor. On ten thousand dollars a year a man can live very comfortably, even in society. An extra couple of thousand will keep his hunters or run a car. No, Mrs. Carmac. Your husband's intentions are set forth very clearly, and I advise you not to depart from them in the slightest particular."
Five o'clock came and passed; but Fosdyke did not put in an appearance. They waited ten minutes, and the lawyer was about to suggest that the will should be read without more delay when a hasty step on the stairs and an imperative knock on the door announced the errant one's advent.
He apologized gracefully enough. "I went for a stroll," he said, "and missed my way in the dark. I hope I have not kept you waiting?"
"It did not matter, Rupert," said Mrs. Carmac.
"Well, now that we have come together, suppose we get to business," said the lawyer, unfastening a brief bag and extracting from its depths a bulky parchment. He began reading at once. Mrs. Carmac sat very still, a listener whose thoughts hardly kept pace with the loud-sounding legal jargon. Fosdyke, however, followed every word attentively. First in order was a long list of bequests to various institutions, and legacies or annuities to servants. Annuities of five thousand dollars a year to each of Carmac's two nieces succeeded. Then came a personal reference:
There was no hint of tremor or emphasis in Bennett's tone as he recited that onerous clause. He treated Fosdyke's legacy with the same sangfroid he had displayed in detailing a bequest of fifty-two pounds per annum to an aged gardener attached to the Surrey mansion.
But the despoiled heir bubbled into instant frenzy. He could hardly believe his ears when the amount was disclosed. The generous treatment of his sisters prepared him for at least five times the sum they would receive, and his sallow face grew livid when he knew that the dead man's hand still retained its grip.
He gasped something; but the lawyer promptly raised his voice, with the air of a man who was not to be stayed in an important undertaking because of an incensed legatee. Thereafter Fosdyke paid little heed. He understood, it is true, that the whole of the residue of the real and personal estate was left unconditionally to "my dear wife, Stella Carmac," and that the said Stella Carmac, John Carruthers Bennett, and the public trustee were named as trustees, with the ordinary provisions as to the appointment of successors.
But these things reached his senses through a haze of fury and disappointed greed. He was almost beside himself with rage. Two thousand five hundred dollars a year! This slight woman in black, sitting there downcast and melancholy, would have at command an income of quarter of a million! Bitter as were his thoughts toward his uncle's widow, he was even more enraged with the smug lawyer. If murder would have served his purpose, Fosdyke was in a mood to choke the life out of the gray-haired man whose voice had droned out that sentence of almost complete excommunication.
"Can I have a copy of that precious screed?" he said, and if each word had been a poison-tipped arrow Bennett would have died a sudden and painful death.
"A copy of any will of which probate is granted in England can be obtained by application at Somerset House," said the lawyer calmly; "but in this instance, as you are interested, I see no reason why, with Mrs. Carmac's consent, an uncertified copy should not be supplied from my office."
"I am not thinking of contesting it," went on Fosdyke bitterly. "I have no doubt that the robbery has been carried out in accordance with the law."
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