"Now I must explain why it is absolutely necessary that I should remain here until it is ascertained whether or not anything can be recovered from the wreck. I care little about the jewels and money that went down with the yacht. Of course, if they are found, so much the better. But the really important thing is a despatch box full of documents that was in one of Mr. Carmac's cabin trunks. It contains papers that I would not wish others to see. Will you, then, tell your father that I shall leave here the day after that case is put into my hands, or, if the sea refuses to disgorge, when I am assured that further effort at salvage is useless? The local notary, as well as the people at Brest, agrees with Captain Popple that if the remains of the Stella are lodged on the reef a close search is possible, and may yield results; but if the two parts of the hull have been washed into the tideway, we may as well abandon the project altogether. In a word, if the weather remains fine, the matter will be settled within a week, or even less. To show my gratitude to your father for the concession he has made with reference to you, I am willing that he and you should go away tomorrow, should he think it advisable. You can give me your address, and I shall let you know the date of my departure. Of course I shall be sorry – "
"No, Dearest, you are not to cry any more," and the strong young arms were flung impulsively round the grieving mother's neck. "You will only make yourself ill again. I am sure everything will work out all right in the end. Scheme and contrive as we will, it is God who decides. All that we can do is but strive to act right, to atone for mistakes, to help one another. For the rest, the future is in God's hands."
"Ah, my dear one," came the tremulous words, "a kindly Providence has given you wisdom beyond your years! It was well for you that you were reared by a man like John Ingersoll. Some day, when present bitterness is dead, and he realizes that at least I am repentant, you must tell him that in restoring to me a daughter such as you he has only shown me the depth of my folly. I little dreamed that I should ever be taught such a lesson. Yvonne, when you marry, marry for love. May Heaven pardon me, I did not! I married your father because I thought I should have what we thoughtlessly call 'a good time.' I left him, not for love of another man, but in the hope that I might secure a wealthier husband. I have never known what it means to love anyone but myself. Perhaps I shall learn now – too late!"
When Yvonne went out she found Raymond awaiting her at the doorway beneath.
"Miss Ingersoll," he said deferentially, "if you are going home, may I walk with you as far as the bridge? I would not inflict my company on you if I had not something of importance to say."
"Your company will be no infliction, at any rate, Mr. Raymond," she answered readily; though she would have vastly preferred to be alone, if only during the few minutes' interval that separated a very trying interview with her mother from the calm and smoke-laden atmosphere of the studio, where her father and Tollemache would surely be expecting her appearance at any moment.
"But it must be rather a bore that you should have to accommodate your lively pace to my slow march," said Raymond.
"Please walk as slowly as you like," she cried, with a quick sympathy which the man had counted on as establishing a species of comradeship between them. He too, like Yvonne herself a few hours earlier, had rehearsed every syllable of a conversation to which he attached the utmost importance; but, unlike her, he was following his "lines" with the glib perfection of a skilled actor.
"I hope you will pardon me also if I reach the heart of my subject without preamble, as the lawyers say," he went on. "You have met Mr. Rupert Fosdyke several times of late, and I think I am not mistaken if I assume that you are neither greatly impressed by him nor inclined to view with indifference the ridiculous flirtation he has been carrying on with Madeleine Demoret. Am I right?"
Yvonne was momentarily tongue-tied with surprise. The last thing she expected was any interference by this plausible-spoken little man in the affairs of the two people he had named. She knew that her mother disliked him, – that fear was now added to her dislike, – but she could not guess that Raymond was actually counting on her knowledge as a successful factor in the campaign he opened that night during the short stroll between the Hotel Julia and the bridge.
"Pray believe that I have intervened in this matter with the best of motives," he added hurriedly. "It is often the fate of meddlers to be misunderstood – I have been an innocent victim in that respect once already in this very place. But I felt it was due to you that I should explain the action I have taken today. You may be angry with me. I cannot help that. My own sense of right and wrong tells me that I am justified; so I may only put the circumstances before you, and leave you to decide whether you approve or condemn. In a sentence, then, I have ventured to remonstrate most openly and emphatically with Mr. Fosdyke. You may not be aware of it, but he is tempting your friend Madeleine to meet him secretly. Of course she is your friend because of the simple conditions of life which obtain in Pont Aven. In America or England you and she would fall naturally into widely different social strata. But here – in Arcady, if I may so express myself – close intimacy between you and a peasant girl is permissible, even advantageous. The case of Rupert Fosdyke is wholly outside this small local circle. His association with Madeleine must inevitably lead to a grave scandal. I have tried to put a stop to it: not without success. He assures me that he has seen her tonight for the last time. Now, Miss Ingersoll, I want you to tell me candidly, first if I have done right, and in the second place if you commend my action."
"Mr. Raymond," cried Yvonne impulsively, "I thank you from my heart. I cannot find words to express my relief at your news. You have accomplished something wonderful. Really, I am more than grateful."
"That is good to know," he said, stopping in the roadway, and bowing as humbly as his tightly strapped arm would permit. "You have said all I wished to hear, and more."
"But won't you come with me to our cottage?" she said, aware only of deep joy because of Madeleine's salvation, since it was nothing less that this queer-mannered stranger had brought about. "I have not dared to speak of this matter to my father and Mr. Tollemache. I can tell them now, and make light of it, while giving you some of the credit that is your due. Do come!"
"Not tonight, if you will excuse me. I am yet far from strong, and today's experiences have been somewhat exhausting. If you will ask me to meet Mr. Ingersoll tomorrow, or next day, I shall feel honored."
For a rascal – which he undoubtedly was – Harvey Raymond exhibited a restraint that marked a rare capacity for intrigue. He had not anticipated such a long stride in advance as an invitation by Yvonne to make her father's acquaintance then and there. But a lightning flash of clear judgment had shown that he would gain immensely by a display of modest reticence. The story would not suffer in its telling because he was not present to receive congratulations from the artist and what would be tantamount to an apology from Tollemache.
So he bowed again, with a murmured "Goodnight!" and, involuntarily as it were, stretched out his left hand, which Yvonne seized and wrung warmly. Then, apparently shocked by his own boldness, he turned abruptly, and hurried back to the annex.
During a few seconds Yvonne stared after him.
"Well," she breathed, "I have never before been so deceived in anyone – never!"
Which shows that even the brightest and most intelligent girl of nineteen may have a lot to learn of human nature before she can form reliable estimates of its true inwardness, because the time was not far distant when she would as soon have thought of crediting one of the horde of vipers then hibernating among the rocks of Brittany with any lofty conception of duty or service to mankind as Harvey Raymond with similarly benevolent intentions toward his fellow creatures.
Rupert Fosdyke departed by the earliest train next day. He did not see Mrs. Carmac again, and it was assumed by those who gave any thought to the matter that he would make for London. Bennett's clerk, however, traveling to England by the same train, did not set eyes on him again after the local tramway had delivered its passengers at Quimperl?. Fosdyke might or might not have gone home via Paris. What was quite certain was that he did not cross the Channel between St. Malo and Southampton that night, because the clerk ascertained from the purser that no one of the name was on board the steamer, and telegraphed to that effect to his employer, who wished to be kept posted as to Fosdyke's movements.
Meanwhile Raymond was so concerned about Mrs. Carmac's health that he suggested the hiring of a hotel automobile, and a run to Lorient for luncheon. Yvonne and Bennett agreed readily to accompany her, and the secretary was commissioned to order a car to be in readiness at ten-thirty A.M. Now, there were three automobiles in the garage, – a small runabout, a limousine to hold three and a chauffeur, and a huge touring car, which would accommodate six easily. He chose this last.
"As the day is bright, and there is no wind, I have selected an open car," he said on returning. "I hope you approve. Plenty of fresh air should be the best of tonics."
Yes, his mistress was pleased, if only because Yvonne must be decked out in some of the magnificent furs that the thoughtful Celeste had brought from Paris. Very charming the girl looked in a long sealskin coat with sable collar and cuffs, and a sable toque. Her mother's appraising glance spoke volumes as to plans for the future, when Yvonne came to England, and would need dressing in accordance with the new scheme of things. But Mrs. Carmac was genuinely surprised when she saw the size of the car.
"Couldn't the hotel provide a smaller one?" she asked.
"Only a closed car," explained Raymond.
"Well, since there is so much room to spare, hadn't you better come with us – that is, if your arm permits?"
"I am more than inclined to risk it," and Raymond smiled ruefully, as though tempted by this unexpected invitation. "Yes, please, I'll come. I'll only delay you a minute while I get a coat and an extra rug."
Tollemache happened to stroll out of the hotel the moment the secretary's back was turned. He shook hands with Mrs. Carmac and the lawyer, and nodded to Yvonne, on whom he permitted his eyes to dwell in an admiring if somewhat critical survey.
"Where are you off to?" he inquired.
"Lorient," said Yvonne.
"Why Lorient?" and his eyebrows rounded.
"I really don't know." She turned to Mrs. Carmac. "You tell," she said.
"Mr. Raymond has arranged everything," said Mrs. Carmac. "But why not Lorient?"
"Because it's an uninteresting place, notable only as containing the most inartistic statue in France."
"Very well. Come with us, and be our guide. We don't care where we go."
"Is Mr. Raymond joining you?"
"Then be a good Samaritan, and take that poor fellow, Jackson. He hasn't been out of his room since he was brought ashore, and his game leg will keep Mr. Raymond's crocked arm company."
"Bring him, by all means."
"'Take him,' I said, Mrs. Carmac."
"No, he must be your guest. Even then we have a spare seat."
"Done!" cried Tollemache.
Thus, when Raymond appeared, the party was larger than he had bargained for. He was all smiles, however, even when he found himself placed by the side of the lame steward, and behind the chauffeur. Tollemache sat in front; while Mrs. Carmac, Yvonne, and Bennett occupied the spacious back seat. Tollemache promptly varied the program by striking into the broad Route Nationale leading to Quimperl?. They reached the quaint old town about eleven o'clock, and luncheon was ordered at that famous posting house, the H?tel du Lion d'Or. While the meal was being prepared they went on to the beautiful Chapelle Saint Fiacre, with its remarkable rood screen of carved and painted wood and rare sixteenth century stained glass.
Tollemache insisted, too, that they should return before sunset, or the evening chill might prove dangerous. The excursion was voted delightful. The only person who felt that his projects had been completely frustrated – for that day, at any rate – was Harvey Raymond. He had hardly exchanged a word with Yvonne throughout the journey, and was hard put to it to maintain an agreeable conversation with Jackson during a five hours' run.
The steward, however, was not neglected. His manner of speech was an unfailing source of amusement to Yvonne, whose acquaintance with the Cockney dialect had hitherto been derived solely from books. He was by way of being a humorist too. When he hobbled into the Chapelle Saint Fiacre, and gazed at the history of Adam and Eve as depicted on the screen, he raised a laugh by a caustic comment.
"That ain't exactly my idee of the Gawden o' Paradise, Miss," he said, when Yvonne told him what the carvings symbolized. "You wouldn't expect Eve to be chewin' a crabapple – now, would yer, Miss?"
"But what makes you think Eve is eating a crabapple?" she cried.
"Why, Miss, look at 'er fice!" he said. "Tork abart lemons! One bite has given 'er a pine!"
In the hotel at Quimperl?, too, he created a good deal of merriment on discovering the English name of a dish which looked and tasted like chicken but figured in the menu as grenouilles ? la financi?re.
"W'at!" he cried, some natural embarrassment because of his surroundings yielding to horrified surprise. "Me eat a frog? Well, live an' learn! But I tell you strite, I'd as soon 'ave eaten a snike!"
"What is a 'snike'?" inquired Raymond.
"It's a squirmin' reptyle w'at eats frogs," said Jackson instantly, and, as the secretary had partaken freely of that particular course, the retort did not lack point.
But Raymond laughed with the others. He would have guffawed cheerfully if someone had bumped into his injured arm by way of a joke.
Bennett, being a lawyer, was not dull of perception. He claimed the front seat for the return journey; so Tollemache sat between Yvonne and her mother.
In some respects, therefore, Raymond regarded the day as spoiled. But it was far from being a failure in a general sense. He had established a precedent. During the remainder of her stay in Pont Aven, Mrs. Carmac, weather permitting, would surely hire the car every day, and, as she was hardly likely to revert to a smaller and much inferior vehicle, he in all probability would be invited to join her; while Yvonne's presence was assured.
As for other additions to the party, he must take such fortune as the gods gave. The chief and vital consideration was that he would almost infallibly be thrown into Yvonne's company during many hours daily. If he contrived also to establish himself on a friendly footing with her father, he had taken the first long stride toward the goal now clearly visible to his mind's eye.
With Rupert Fosdyke disinherited and discredited, why should not Harvey Raymond consolidate all warring interests by marrying Yvonne? Truly a brilliant notion! It followed the lines of high finance. Better than running counter to your enemy, absorb him! Though he believed he held Mrs. Carmac's millions in the hollow of his hand, were it not for Yvonne, he could act only through Fosdyke, who had flouted him openly, and would assuredly be disdainful, no matter how greatly beholden he might be to an informant. But the fact that Yvonne existed changed all that. Money talks, indeed! Money would shriek in ecstasy if the despised secretary married Mrs. Carmac's daughter.
There were obstacles in the way, of course; first, Tollemache? Raymond had weighed this possible rival's claims carefully, and did not find them overwhelming. Yvonne was the young artist's close friend of five years; but that did not necessarily mean that they were lovers. If anything, such intimacy was favorable to the newcomer. The girl herself? Well, Raymond knew he was no Adonis; but keen-eyed students of human nature had established the axiom that exceedingly pretty women often mated with the plainest of men. Here again the difficulty was not insuperable.
There remained Mrs. Carmac. Willy nilly, she must range herself determinedly on his side! Very gently, very unwillingly, letting the facts be dragged out of him with the utmost reluctance, as it were, he must make her understand that he held the power to crush her financially. During the last few days he had left no stone unturned to secure proof of an astounding romance which depended for credence otherwise on the unsupported testimony of a woman's raving. He had neither blundered nor spared expense.
That very morning, and not before, he knew. The knowledge had sustained him throughout a trying day. Each time he thought of the irresistible weapon now safe in his possession he chortled. No wonder he laughed, even when that impudent steward likened him to a snake! There was truth in the jibe. One person, at least, seated at that luncheon table would feel his fangs. Mrs. Carmac, if left in undisputed possession of her wealth, would be his puppet! She must choose between comparative pauperism and Harvey Raymond as a son-in-law! So, where she was concerned, the money that Fate had showered on her would prove a most potent factor in his behalf.
Once again, then, would money talk. If necessary, it might even sing the song of the sirens in Yvonne's ears. Why, her experiences that day, the very wearing of those costly furs, and the swift whirling over the Breton roads in a luxurious car, were not negligible quantities in the arithmetical calculations that bemused the man's subtle intellect. There was no discernible flaw in them. British law would pronounce the American divorce invalid. It followed that an estate held almost exclusively in Britain would go to the next of kin. And he alone held the key that would unlock this treasury!
Snatches of talk came to him from the three in the back seat. He could make little of it, because all three were speaking French; but when he listened occasionally he gleaned that Yvonne and Tollemache were telling Mrs. Carmac the legends of wayside chapels, – how this saint protected the crops, and that the horses and cattle, how Sainte Barbe arranged love affairs and Saint Urlou cured the gout. Each ill, each blessing, had its patron, who exorcised demons or dispensed favors at will.
Nearing Pont Aven, Yvonne startled him by leaning forward and touching his shoulder. "Why in such a brown study, Mr. Raymond?" she inquired pleasantly, thinking that perhaps the queer little man might feel he had been somewhat ignored. In her thoughts he figured invariably as a "queer little man." Her woman's intuition had suspected that queerness as something underhanded and evil; but his action with reference to Madeleine Demoret had obliterated an unfavorable first impression. Now she regarded him as an eccentric who did good by stealth.
The slight pressure of the girl's fingers thrilled him. "I was hoping there might be a healer of broken limbs in Brittany. Now I know that there is one," he answered readily enough.
"Dr. Gamier is really quite skilful," she said, and Raymond had the wit to remain silent.
It was dusk when they reached the hotel. Popple was standing there with two strangers.
"Any news?" inquired Mrs. Carmac as she alighted.
"Yes, Ma'am, an' not the best," said Popple. "The wreck is all broken up. The diver has been over the south side of the reef, and saw nothin' but scrap iron."
Neither Raymond nor Jackson had quitted his seat as yet, and the steward heard his companion laugh softly.
"Then we must abandon the search?" came Mrs. Carmac's clear, well-bred accents.
"There's just one more chanst, Ma'am," said Popple. "We can try a trawl."
"But isn't that a thing meant to catch fish?"
"It's surprisin' w'at you can ketch in a trawl sometimes, Ma'am."
"Captain Popple was telling me the other day that he has known it catch a man," put in Raymond, evidently regarding the sailor's suggestion as an excellent joke.
"I've seen a shawk in one meself," said the irrepressible Jackson.
Popple waved aside these flippant interruptions. "Mossoo Gu?ho here, from Brest," with an indicatory thumb toward one of his companions, "tells me there's a big trawler in Concarneau today, an' Peridot's boat will be there too. If you like, Ma'am, he'll go to Concarneau this evenin', an' bring both of 'em here tomorrow."
"Peridot? Why Peridot?" inquired Mrs. Carmac.
"He knows the set o' the tides so well, Ma'am. He'd help a lot."
"Well, I want to see him soon; so secure his services by all means. As for the trawler, or any appliance you think necessary, I wish Monsieur Gu?ho to understand that every effort should be made to recover the boxes I spoke of."