Louis Tracy.

Flower of the Gorse



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Lorry obeyed cheerfully. He believed he had blundered on a means of discomfiting the rascally secretary, and, that laudable object once attained, the path was clear for his own love making. Though his aims and hopes differed from Harvey Raymond's as the open sea from a slime-covered morass, he too made the mistake of imagining that money could level all obstacles; which, if regarded as an infallible maxim, is misleading alike to the just and the unjust.

Usually, when returning to the hotel from the cottage, he took the short cut by the footbridge on which Yvonne had encountered Madeleine and Fosdyke. He was aware, however, that the girl habitually used the slightly longer but more open highway. So he turned into the Concarneau road, and was approaching the main bridge (the famous old pont that gives the village its name) when he saw two people sauntering slowly toward the harbor, and apparently engaged in close converse. They were some distance away, and partly hidden in the deep shadow of a fifteenth century mill with curious carvings beneath the roof of a lion and a man; but he could not be mistaken as to Yvonne and Raymond, for no other girl in Pont Aven carried herself with Yvonne's grace, and the misshapen little secretary was in a class apart.

Evidently Raymond had offered his escort to Yvonne, and they were extending a somewhat late promenade to enable the former to convey such news as he had to give of the journey to Quimperl?. Possibly he had received an answer from that mysterious "friend" Duquesne. Nevertheless Tollemache was aware of a sudden lessening of his exaltation. It was as though when overheated by exertion he had entered a cold and clammy vault. He could give no valid reason why he should not quicken his pace and overtake Yvonne with her father's message. Yet he hung back, conscious of a sense of intrusion, yet furious with himself on account of this inexplicable hesitancy.

Finally he compromised. Yvonne would surely not take a prolonged stroll after ten o'clock at night. He would walk a little way up the old Concarneau road (so called because, after the fashion of ancient tracks, it climbs a steep hill boldly, while its modern supplanter follows a longer and easier sweep) and keep in the gloom of the ancient houses clustered there until he saw her making for the cottage. With growing impatience, and a prey to not a little misgiving, he waited fully half an hour.

At last she appeared, walking swiftly and alone. And now his anxiety yielded to astonishment. Coming quietly down the hill, and crossing the Place au Beurre, he was just in time to see her vanish into the obscurity of the Rue Mathias. At any rate, then, she was heading for M?re Pitou's. Glancing toward the harbor, he fancied he could make out Raymond at the end of the short, narrow street.

He did not think it necessary to lurk in the background until Raymond passed, but went to the hotel and stood on the terrace under the sycamores, but well in view of anyone approaching the annex.

Soon Raymond came, picking his steps with careful slowness, and keeping to the well lighted center of the square.

His chin was sunk in the upturned collar of an overcoat, and he had the aspect of one lost in thought. Yet he seemed to know of Tollemache's presence, and raised his eyes in a steady stare when the two were within a few yards of each other.

He did not speak, but his pallid face creased into a malevolent grin. Whether or not this was intended as a polite recognition, Tollemache neither knew nor cared. He returned Raymond's stare with the impassivity of a Red Indian, and, though puzzled and distressed, resolved to look in on Harry Jackson before retiring for the night.

In after life Tollemache never forgot that moment. It was big with fate. Perhaps, if left to their own course, events might have followed the same channel next day or some succeeding day. But there could be no questioning the tremendous significance of that particular hour when its outcome was recalled in the after light of accomplished facts.

Thenceforth there was no damming the torrent that swept away men and women in its fury. Some were lost for evermore, some were thrown, bruised and maimed, on far distant strands; but all were caught in an irresistible flood, and, if Tollemache were a visionary, he might have heard the rush of mighty waters as he turned to enter the hotel.

CHAPTER XII
WHEREIN BOTH THE REEF AND MR. RAYMOND YIELD INFORMATION

Yvonne was looking forward to Raymond's return from Quimperl? with an ill concealed restlessness that drew a sympathetic inquiry from her mother.

"Are you still fretting about Madeleine?" she said.

This solicitude was not feigned; but it centered wholly in Yvonne. The folly, or stupidity, of some pert village maid whom she had never either seen or cared to see did not interest Mrs. Carmac in the least. Had she voiced her real feeling in the matter she would have condemned her daughter's lack of proportion. During half a lifetime she had dwelt among the elect. To her it was quite immaterial whether or not Madeleine's career was ruined. Nor was this a mere pose on her part. She had trained herself to think that way. Yet, so sharply may deeds clash with personal inclination, both she and Walter Carmac were noted for their philanthropy. She strove to do good, but not by stealth. She could lecture Rupert Fosdyke with genuine zeal; but, while seeking to reform the victimizer, she had little pity for the victim. From her point of view, Madeleine was one of a fixed percentage of girls who rebelled against the social law. Of course one tried to reduce their number; but it was almost bad form to wear one's heart out because the expected had happened.

Yvonne, though she would not have cared to put her impressions into words, was aware of this attitude on her mother's part, and it saddened her inexpressibly. At such moments a seemingly impassable gulf yawned between them. Madeleine had been her trusted associate since they were babies together, toddling up the hill in convoy of some older girl to the kindergarten class in the convent. She knew that her friend was pure-minded and warm-hearted. Nothing could have shocked her so greatly as the discovery that a man like Rupert Fosdyke should have succeeded in so brief a time in undermining the moral structure that Brittany builds so solidly in its women folk.

"I shall never cease fretting about her," she answered. "If by some cruel chance Mr. Raymond's friend fails me, I am minded to ask my father to come with me to Paris tomorrow. Madeleine will not resist me if once we are brought face to face."

"Your father has far too much sense," said Mrs. Carmac composedly.

"Oh, please don't talk in that strain. I cannot bear it!" pleaded the girl.

"It hurts, of course; but isn't it better to look at the facts squarely? I am surprised that Mr. Raymond, who has more experience of life, should have flown on a wild-goose chase to Quimperl?. It is nothing else. If Madeleine is actually on her way to Paris, the journey is a matter of obvious arrangement. Rupert will unquestionably meet her at the Gare St. Lazare, and what opportunity will your deputy have then of making any appeal to the girl herself? Rupert would simply take him by the collar and swing him aside. You see, Yvonne, I am forty-two, and you are twenty. We survey life from different angles."

"From different levels, at any rate," said Yvonne, closing her ears to the cold accuracy of her mother's reasoning. "You gaze down on us simple Pont Avenois from the altitude of New York and London, while I cannot peer above the eaves of our little mills. I am looking now through the low door of a desolate cottage, and I can discern a broken-hearted woman crooning her sorrow by the embers of a dying fire. Oh, Mother, Mother, if ever you would have me love you as a daughter, you must try and realize that my very heartstrings are twined round my Breton friends, that I rejoice with them and grieve with them, that I love them for their many virtues and condone their few faults! I have never knowingly wished evil to anyone, but if God in His mercy should preserve my dear Madeleine from that horrid man I would not care what means His wisdom adopted. Even though Fosdyke marries her, Madeleine will not be happy, and I cannot think that if he meant to behave honorably he would have tempted her to plunge her people into such distress by leaving home clandestinely."

Mrs. Carmac could have rocked with laughter at the notion of Rupert Fosdyke marrying Madeleine Demoret; but she curbed the impulse. Despite her primitive simplicity, Yvonne was in an excitable mood that night, and this affair must be allowed to settle itself without disturbing their good relations.

"Well," she sighed, affecting an accord she did not feel, "we can only hope now that your telegram will prove effective. Who is the person whose aid Mr. Raymond is securing?"

"A Monsieur Duquesne."

Mrs. Carmac wrinkled her smooth forehead. "I have not heard the name," she said, after a pause. "But there is nothing unusual in that. Raymond is curiously secretive. Any other man, living in a household on the footing he occupied in the Chase and in Charles Street, would have spoken at times of his relatives. He, for all I knew of his earlier history, might have been born in – Saturn. I was going to say Mars; but Mr. Raymond does not meet one's ideal of a Martian."

At that Yvonne was constrained to smile. Neither she nor the woman who dismissed Raymond and Duquesne so flippantly could guess what sinister influences lurked behind the association of those two men. An astrologer would have found something ominous in that haphazard reference to the planetary harbingers of disaster, Saturn and Mars, and, oddly enough, a half-thought of the sort did flit through Yvonne's mind, because she often found amusement and interest, during the mild and clear winters of Brittany, in reading the firmament from a stellar atlas, and there was hardly a constellation in the northern heavens she could not name at sight.

At that moment, however, relief from a rather forced conversation came in the shape of Captain Popple's burly form.

"Beg pardon, Ma'am, for intrudin' at this time," he said, when admitted, "but I thought you'd like to hear the result of today's operations on the reef. Atween Peridot an' a trawl, we've been doin' things."

"Is Peridot here – in Pont Aven?" interrupted Yvonne, blanching in quick alarm.

"Yes, Miss. He kem from Concarneau this mornin', an' I've brought him up the river on tonight's tide."

"Where is he now?"

"I'm not quite sure, Miss. He left me a couple o' minutes since. While I was havin' a word with Jackson, Peridot went up the hill."

"Was he tired?"

Popple was undoubtedly perplexed by this sudden concern as to Peridot's physical condition; but he answered readily enough, "Well, Miss, if he isn't, he ought to be. We've been hard at it, high water an' low, for fourteen hours."

Yvonne was so visibly relieved that Popple's bewilderment increased. Of course he had heard no word of Madeleine's flight, and he could not understand that if Peridot had gone home and to bed there was a chance that the fisherman might leave the village again early in the morning without being told the disastrous news, since Madame Larraidou was a cautious old body, who would not vex her son with idle gossip.

Popple hesitated. If further details of Peridot's well-being were needed, he was ready to vouch for the Breton's apparent good health and complete sobriety.

Mrs. Carmac fathomed his difficulty at once.

"Go on, Captain," she smiled. "Miss Ingersoll only wanted to be assured that Peridot was safe in his cottage. His mother was anxious about him – that is all."

"No need, Ma'am, I assure you," said Popple earnestly. "He's one of the best, is Peridot. For a Frenchman, I've never met his ekal. I had a sort of notion he'd bring good luck, an' he did too. We've got your boxes!"

Mrs. Carmac stood up. Her pale cheeks flushed with gratification. "I am more than pleased," she cried. "Where are they? Can they be brought here tonight?"

"No, Ma'am; not both, that is. Like meself, I reckon, you're forgettin' the ways of a French custom house. I've got yours, because it was open; but the other one, which is locked, had to be left in a shed down below there until the key is produced. I tried to tell some chap in a blue coat and cheese-cutter cap that if poor Mr. Carmac had any cigars or cigarettes in his cabin trunk they wouldn't be of much account after soakin' in salt water for a matter o' ten days or thereabouts; but, bless your heart, he wouldn't listen. Mossoo Gu?ho, the gentleman from Brest, tole me I'd have to bring the key in the mornin', or, more likely, force it open; so I left it at that."

Mrs. Carmac was puzzled, and showed it. "You say my box is open. Do you mean, that it has been smashed to pieces?" she inquired.

"It's hardly been scratched, Ma'am. You see, it was this way: When the yacht broke in two the fore part was carried clean away by the sea. The trawl picked up fittin's an' bits o' machinery two hundred yards from the reef. But the after part must ha held together longer, an' the heavy seas didn't get at it quite so fierce like. Anyhow, Peridot sort o' nosed out where them boxes might be lyin', an' we sent the diver down – an' sure enough there they were."

"Could the box have been wrenched open while being lifted to the surface?"

Popple scratched his head dubiously, not because of any doubt suggested by Mrs. Carmac's question, but on account of a problem that had bothered him ever since the salvage was effected.

"No, Ma'am," he said, evidently weighing his words. "It received no rough usage. It wasn't locked."

"But it was!" insisted the lady, rather emphatically. "I locked it myself before coming on deck after we left Brest. I remember doing so most distinctly."

"Then it's a myst'ry, Ma'am, – a real myst'ry, seein' as the lock has been turned. The wards are full o' sand, of course; but that has nothin' to do with their position."

"Where is the box now?"

"Outside on a handcart, Ma'am. Jackson's on guard. That's been his job all day – just sittin' on that box. You see, Ma'am, you tole me you was particular about it an' the other one; so I've taken care that each of 'em reaches you just as we found it."

"Will you kindly ask the hotel porters to carry the one box here now?"

"Cert'nly, Ma'am. There's on'y one thing. The contents are in a sad mess. The sight of 'em may upset you."

"No, no. The loss of the clothing is immaterial. Please have the box brought in."

Popple lost no time. Mrs. Carmac was explaining to Yvonne that the solitary article of jewelry she valued, a necklace of graded pearls, had been left in a locked case, itself inclosed in a locked box, when a porter entered and dumped a rust-covered steel trunk on the floor. Popple untied the knots of a rope that kept the lid in position. Unquestionably, if Mrs. Carmac had turned the key in the lock on leaving her cabin, it had been opened later, either by accident or design.

The owner dropped to her knees instantly. After an alarmed glance at an arrangement of straps beneath the lid, she piled a number of sodden and salt-stained articles on the floor. Soon she was gazing disconsolately at an empty box. The jewelcase was not there. But she was more than disturbed, she was exceedingly annoyed.

"I have been robbed!" she cried. "Someone on board the Stella possessed a key that would open a Yale lock, a thing that called for careful planning. I have lost twenty thousand pounds' worth of pearls and diamonds!"

"Mr. Raymond tole me the necklace alone was worth ten thousand, Ma'am," breathed Popple thickly.

"Mr. Raymond! How came you and he to be discussing the value of my jewels?" She was on her feet now, glowering in anger, a woman despoiled of her prized possessions, and ready to suspect anyone.

Popple was apologetic. He felt as if he were personally in default. "We was talkin' one day about the salvage, Ma'am. If you remember, you mentioned a lot o' money in notes, which ought to turn up in the trunk at the customs shed, and it seemed sort o' nateral that Mr. Raymond an' I should talk things over."

"Yes, yes. Of course he knew all about the notes and the rest. Don't look at me in that stupid fashion. I am not accusing you or Mr. Raymond of stealing my belongings. But how can one account for this wretched business? Who could have dared to go to my cabin, when the robbery must be discovered before we reached port that night? I locked both case and box. Here are the keys. Celeste found them in a special pocket inside the skirt I wore that day. My husband's keys were in his pocket too. They were brought to me by the mayor on behalf of the police."

She was talking excitedly, almost at random, and had snatched at a porte-monnaie to display the keys, as though the fact that they existed and were in her keeping supplied proof positive that she could not be mistaken.

"It's an awkward business, an' that's the solemn truth, Ma'am," wheezed Popple. "It 'ud please me an' Jackson if you'd send for the police an' have 'em search us an' our rooms. Not that we've got much beyond a few bits o' linen – "

"You and Jackson – the steward!" repeated Mrs. Carmac shrilly. "Did you know already that my jewels were gone?"

"We guessed it, Ma'am. We didn't like the look o' that there box, an' that's a fact."

She stamped a foot angrily on the floor of polished wood. "It does not concern you or Jackson," she cried. "I would as soon think of blaming Mr. Raymond, who was with me in the deck saloon during all those miserable hours – "

"Blaming me for what, Mrs. Carmac?" came in the secretary's harsh voice. The door had been left open when the box was brought in, and Raymond himself was standing there now. He had just returned from Quimperl?, and had the semblance of a man pierced with cold, as the night had suddenly grown chilly. His small eyes roved from Mrs. Carmac's irritated face to Yvonne, who was still seated, and had not interfered in the conversation. Then they dwelt on the empty trunk and the disheveled heap of its contents.

"You've recovered some of your baggage, I see," he went on quietly. "Is that the box containing your jewelcase?"

"It is the box that did contain it at one time," came the vexed rejoinder.

"Do you mean that the case is not there?"

"Yes. Someone has stolen it. I care nothing about the diamonds; but the pearls were given me by Mr. Carmac, and cannot be replaced."

"But – forgive the question – why did you say you do not blame me?"

"I blame no one, you least of any, as you are the one man who was never near my cabin since I quitted it."

Raymond advanced farther into the room. After one sharp glance at the flustered sailor, he gazed again at the limp collection of garments on the floor, from which a light haze of steam was curling lazily, as the temperature of the apartment was many degrees higher than that of the wet and closely packed lingerie and dresses.

"This is a very serious matter," he said slowly. "Unfortunately most of the Stella's crew have left Pont Aven."

"My men were not thieves, Mr. – " broke in Popple fiercely.

"I am not even hinting that they were," said Raymond. "I only mention the chief obstacle in the way, of a search for the missing gems – granted the almost incredible thing that any man on board the Stella stole them in the belief that he could win clear with his loot before Mrs. Carmac discovered her loss. Do you mean to send for the police?" he continued, addressing Mrs. Carmac. "And – that reminds me – what of the money Mr. Carmac carried in one of his trunks? Is that gone also?"

Mrs. Carmac snapped that she did not mean to trouble the police. The sooner she was out of Pont Aven and free of its oppressive atmosphere the better she would be pleased. Then, apparently ashamed of her petulance, she explained the mystery of the open lock.

Raymond tried to be helpful. He frowned judicially. "Where did you actually place the jewelcase?" he asked.

"In those straps," she said, pointing to the slings attached to the inside of the lid.

"Then isn't it at least possible that you did not actually lock the box, though believing you had done so? In this event the case, being heavy, may have fallen out, and be now somewhere in the locality where the box was found."

"No," said Popple. "The diver had his orders. He searched pertic'lar." His tone was gruff, even hostile. He would be hard to convince that the secretary's reference to the departed members of the yacht's company was not meant as a slur on their character.

Raymond ignored Popple's curtness. "Still, as you yourself said, Captain, the sea acts in a curiously uncertain way at times," he replied blandly. "There will be no harm in making a fresh search tomorrow. Weather permitting, I shall accompany you, if for no other reason than a wish to see once again a place where some of us – not all, unhappily – were so providentially rescued."



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