Louis Tracy.

Flower of the Gorse



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"As it happened, there was one man who kept an eye on you. Jackson here was below at the time, preparing tea. The sudden racing of the engines, the stoppage of the screw, and the fact that the yacht was drifting told him what had occurred. Then he heard the cry, 'All hands on deck!' and was himself running along the gangway when he saw you rush down the main companion and dart into the cabin occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Carmac. Thinking you might need his help, he followed you.

"By the time he reached the door you had Mrs. Carmac's box open, and had snatched the jewelcase, which, being locked, you stuffed into a breast pocket. Then you turned to Mr. Carmac's trunk, and were about to insert a key, when the yacht struck, and fell on her beam ends. The heavy trunk rolled on top of you, and broke your arm. Jackson thought you were killed; but in the same instant he was flung across the lower saloon, and had his ankle dislocated. When he was lying there you managed to crawl in and join him, and each of you was carried out by the crew later. Is that the correct story, Jackson?"

"True as the Gospel, every word, s'elp me!" said Jackson.

"So you see, Raymond, this poor fellow didn't know what to think during the last few days. He couldn't swear that you actually took the case, because you were kneeling beside the box, and your back was toward him. But you took something, and until the search was made and the robbery discovered he could not be certain what it was. He had his suspicions, but wisely kept a still tongue; though, had he left Pont Aven earlier, he meant to tell me what he had seen. Last night he and Captain Popple and I reviewed the facts carefully. In the first instance, we believed that you meant to drop the jewels overboard today, and then cause a careful search to be made in that exact place. I know why you were willing to relinquish your loot. I'll deal with that side of a nasty business in a minute or two. Secondly, I called on Dr. Garnier early this morning, and both he and the nurse assured me that, notwithstanding the physical agony you were suffering when brought ashore, you insisted on removing your coat yourself, placed it on a chair, and stipulated that your clothes should not be touched by anyone. Of course I had to do a bit of guessing; but I guessed right."

Yvonne, now that the shock of an extraordinary and painful scene was yielding to a sense of its paramount importance in view of Raymond's previous attitude, was gazing at Tollemache with new wonder in her eyes. The light-hearted, happy-go-lucky dabbler in art had conducted this remarkable investigation into a crime with the easy assurance of a skilled lawyer. He had marshaled his facts lucidly. He had decided on the one method that would insure complete success, and had adopted it without hesitation. Each trenchant sentence had a sledge-hammer effect on the culprit, who saw his inmost thoughts laid bare mercilessly, yet in a manner wholly devoid of heat or bluster.

She could not find it in her heart to pity Raymond; but she was aware, for the first time in her life, of a species of awe with regard to Tollemache.

The man who was judge and jury and prosecuting counsel in this new and thrilling form of criminal procedure had not, however, reached the end of his brief. He nodded to Popple and Jackson.

"Thanks," he said quietly. "We've carried that job almost to a finish without a hitch. I'll join you on the terrace when Mrs. Carmac has settled matters with this chap."

Raymond made one last effort to assert himself. "I have not interfered with your stage effect," he sneered. "It was not necessary. I shall explain to Mrs. Carmac, and to none other, why her jewels came to be in my care."

"Don't think it!" said Lorry, smiling pleasantly into the vengeful face raised to his. "I'm not through with you yet. You're dealing with a man now, not with a terrified woman. So long, you two! I'll soon make an end of our unworthy secretary!"

The two men saluted silently and went out.

When the door had closed on them Tollemache drew some sheets of manuscript from a pocket.

"You've heard the evidence and verdict, Raymond," he said, piercing the defeated schemer with unwavering eyes. "Now I shall proceed to pass sentence. I have jotted down here a full confession. In return for my clemency you will undertake never to interfere in any way with regard to Mrs. Carmac's second marriage. You understand exactly what I mean. You and I both know why you were giving up to the vagaries of the sea thousands of pounds' worth of pearls and diamonds.

"This bargain is between you and me. Mrs. Carmac herself is not a party to it. I return her jewels, and she asks no questions. So long as you hold your tongue, and leave her in peace, she will ignore the facts I have made known this morning. Breathe one syllable affecting her private affairs, whether today, or next year, or in twenty years, and your signed confession of the theft is handed over to the proper authorities. You need not hope to extricate yourself by appeals or threats. Your fate doesn't rest with Mrs. Carmac, but with me, and if the occasion arises I'll crush you as I would a scorpion. Sit down, if you're tired, or feel faint. But keep your wits active.

"It's now or never for you! You either agree or go to jail, and if you choose the latter course, you'll find French law devilish unpleasant to any scoundrel who tries to bolster up his offense by trading on a woman's bygone history."

CHAPTER XIV
A BRETON RECKONING

Raymond squirmed, but signed the confession. Tollemache forced the belief that he was in deadly earnest. The blackmailer had either to accept the proffered terms or concoct schemes of reprisal in a cell. At the last moment Mrs. Carmac intervened.

"I know what it means to be tempted, and to yield," she said sadly, realizing now that her own somewhat checkered record was not hidden from anyone in that room. "You, Mr. Raymond, have only yourself to blame for your misfortunes. Even your physical injury is the direct outcome of an attempt to steal the few trinkets I prize. But I would never forgive myself if I turned you out into the world penniless and suffering. Please tell me the truth. Have you any money?"

"Very little," came the sullen answer. "I have spent a good deal during the last few days."

"But how?" she cried, genuinely surprised. "You are under no expense here."

"Since candor is in the air, I may as well acquaint you with the facts," said Raymond bitterly. "You blurted out your own secret, and I thought I saw a way of improving my position. I should have won too if it were not for a piece of cursed ill luck in the finding of those boxes. I employed Duquesne to ferret out your early history in Paris. If I disappear, you had better pay him well, or he may take it into his head to go to Rupert Fosdyke with the story. Of course I don't expect you to place much credence in anything I say; but mere commonsense should show you that the only safe course is to send me to Paris with sufficient means to secure Duquesne's silence. That is a fair offer. Take it or leave it, as you will. Let me point out, however, that the Madeleine Demoret affair supplies a reasonable excuse for my journey, and, if you are as generous as you can afford to be, I promise to devote myself wholly to the task of diverting any suspicions Duquesne may have formed as to the motive behind my previous instructions."

Tollemache, with a wisdom beyond his years, seemed to know when to strike and when to hold his hand. Raymond's suggestion was eminently reasonable. The evil spirit that had raised all this commotion could best allay it.

"Come, Yvonne," he said. "Let us leave Mrs. Carmac to determine this matter as she thinks fit. I offer no opinion. Mrs. Carmac has not compounded a felony, – that responsibility rests with me, – and, if she chooses to employ Raymond in a personal undertaking, I cannot interfere. He knows the penalty if she is troubled by any future act of his. I'll hunt him round the globe!"

Yvonne never knew what terms her mother made with Raymond. That they did not err on the side of parsimony may be taken for granted. Long after the tornado that swept through Pont Aven that Christmastide was forgotten by all save a few, the ex-secretary was able to buy a share in an automobile agency.

Lorry was hugely amused as the two descended the stairs. "Socrates believes there isn't any guile in my composition," he grinned. "I wonder what he'll say when he reads the screed to which that beauty has just put his left-handed signature?"

"Dad will agree with me that you carried a very difficult matter through with great skill, Lorry," said Yvonne.

"But the joke is that if Raymond stuck to his guns I was done for. Who cares tuppence whether a skunk like him goes to prison or not? Not a soul! But the whole press of Europe would stand up on its hind legs and roar if the Carmac millions were thrown into the melting pot of the law courts. Don't you see, Yvonne, I had to rush Raymond off his feet. I've broken about twenty statutes made and provided. If he had shown one quarter the nerve in that room which he displayed when the Stella was drifting on to the reef, he could have laughed at me."

"For all that, Lorry, you were very clever, and I think you're a dear," said Yvonne quietly.

Neither her father nor her lover should ever be told now of the sordid compact that Raymond had put before her during that memorable walk by the side of the Aven. She would simply erase the hateful record from her mind; but she could not close her eyes to the certain fact that Raymond's daring project had shriveled into nothingness because he saw that, no matter what the consequences, Mrs. Carmac's daughter would never marry a common thief. That phase had passed like the stupor of a nightmare. The vital problem presented by her mother's future remained insoluble as ever.

In the crowded Place they met Peridot. There was no chance of avoiding him: he had seen them leaving the annex. Before they could join Popple and Jackson beneath the sycamores the fisherman barred the way, cap in hand.

"Pardon, Ma'mselle," he said, speaking with a civility that hardly masked a note of defiance, "have you any news of Madeleine?"

"Nothing definite, nothing reliable," she answered, striving valiantly to convey the impression that the mystery of Madeleine's whereabouts would soon be cleared up satisfactorily.

"Nothing that you would care to tell, Ma'mselle – is that it?"

"No, Peridot. Madeleine said she was going to Quimperl?; but I have heard that she is in Paris. That is all I know – probably all that anyone in Pont Aven knows."

She had flushed under the fisherman's penetrating, scornful gaze not because of the effort to conceal a scanty budget concerning her wilful friend's flight, but out of sheer sympathy with the man, whom she knew to be consumed with wrath and shame.

"Then I shall be justified in killing any man who calls her a strumpet?" went on Peridot icily. He had used a Breton word which Tollemache did not understand, but Yvonne's gasp of horror was eloquent, and Lorry came to the rescue.

"You must have taken leave of your senses, Peridot, to address Mademoiselle Yvonne in that manner," he said.

The fisherman spat, an unprecedented thing. "Gars!" he growled. "Taken leave of my senses, have I? I'd like to see you if your girl had bolted with the first well dressed dandy who made eyes at her. Scratch a Russian and you find a Tatar, they say. Scratch Monsieur Tollemache and you might find – Peridot!"

With that he left them, swaggering off among the throng of peasants as though he had not a care in the world. Yvonne's troubled glance followed him. Here was a new Peridot, a man out of whose life was fled the light-hearted gaiety and spirit of good-fellowship that had made him so popular in the village. No sooner, it would seem, was one cloud dispelled than another gathered. Yvonne shuddered with foreboding; for in those gray-green eyes she had seen the lurid light of a volcano.

During some days peace reigned in that small circle of a small community with which this chronicle has dealt so intimately. Mrs. Carmac did not hurry her departure. She promised Yvonne that on arriving in London she would consult Bennett as to her exact position. She neither affirmed nor denied that Walter Carmac had renewed his American citizenship. Ingersoll, when the girl brought a faithful record of the discussion between her mother and herself, drew the only reasonable inference, – that no steps had been taken in that direction. The knowledge was disheartening. Not without cause did he say to Tollemache that he had fathomed his wife's nature to the depths. Were it possible for her to end her days in real communion with the husband and child she had forsaken deliberately, she would gladly have renounced wealth and social position. As it was, she meant to cling fiercely to the bulk of her possessions, thinking that thereby she would have a stronger hold on Yvonne, since she hoped to draw the girl nearer by the lure that money alone could spread so enticingly.

Undoubtedly she had it in mind to provide ample revenues for the Fosdyke family, with guarantees of large interests in the estate at her death, and thus close the only source that threatened discredit and loss. But this was the half-measure that so often spells disaster. Its outcome lay in the lap of the gods, and the gods were frowning on her.

Meanwhile she lingered on in Pont Aven. The equable climate suited her health, she said. She dreaded the formalities with regard to the succession, and wanted to leave all such disagreeable details to the lawyers. Until Madeleine Demoret's affair was settled she wished to remain within call of Paris. These were excuses. They deceived none, Yvonne least of any. The girl's affection never wavered for an instant when the interests of father and mother were at war. Her father could not be at ease until the woman who had broken his life was far from the village, and the daughter was on pins and needles of anxiety that the mother should depart.

Raymond – suddenly reverted to type, become once more the discreet, unobtrusive secretary – reported that Madeleine and Fosdyke seemed to have quarreled. He had visited the girl, and found her uncommunicative and rebellious. Fosdyke had gone to England. He supplied Madeleine's address, and Yvonne wrote, in friendly and sympathetic strain, asking for news of her welfare. By this time Ingersoll had advised the cessation of any effort to persuade her to return. It was not in human nature to expect the girl to endure the slights that would inevitably attend her reappearance. To her Pont Aven must henceforth be a sealed Paradise. If ever she saw the place again, she would tread its familiar ways a stranger and unregarded.

At last came a letter from Madeleine herself. Its tone was honest, and very much to the point. She had imagined that Rupert Fosdyke meant marriage. When she was disillusioned she spurned him, and had obtained a situation as a nurse, her country speech and Breton costume being passports to ready employment. It was better so. Paris takes a more lenient view of certain aspects of life than Pont Aven.

Singularly enough, during those days no word of love was spoken between Tollemache and Yvonne. The mine was laid, and the smallest spark would fire it; but the spark was not forthcoming, and for the excellent reason that Lorry wished Mrs. Carmac and her millions far away before he asked Yvonne to marry him. If, in some distant time, the girl's mother insisted on enriching her, it would be difficult to defeat her intent. But it was Yvonne he wanted, not Mrs. Carmac's money. He was more attached to Ingersoll than to his own father, a narrow-minded Philistine who had cut himself adrift from a son because the ingrate preferred art to money spinning.

If once he and Yvonne were wed, Mrs. Carmac's ambitious schemes in behalf of her beautiful "niece" would go by the board. Circumstances had made it impossible that father and mother should meet, even at their daughter's wedding – and where could such a marriage take place but in Pont Aven, and who should spread the wedding feast but M?re Pitou?

So Lorry bided his time; though Yvonne read him like a book, and the knowledge that her mother's continued residence in the village alone prevented Lorry from taking her in a bearlike grip and telling her that she was the one woman he had ever loved, or ever would love, gave active reinforcement to her anxiety concerning her father, whose well-being, she was convinced, depended on the prompt and complete restoration of life to its normal plane.

Thus, when preparations were being made by M?re Pitou for the R?veillon – that cheerful feast which enlivens the midnight of Christmas – Yvonne did not hesitate to tell her mother that on that occasion at least they would see little of each other, and perhaps less in the immediate future, as she was going with her father to Concarneau.

Mrs. Carmac took the hint gracefully. As a preliminary she sent Captain Popple and Jackson to England; the one to become a sort of factotum in her Surrey house, the other to join the staff in her Charles Street residence.

"Ask your father, as a last concession, to allow you to travel with me as far as St. Malo when I leave on the twenty-sixth," she said. "It will be a long and weary journey otherwise. Have you a friend who can accompany you? You would need to stay one night in St. Malo and return here next day."

Ingersoll did not demur. It was arranged that Barbe should go with Yvonne; so one heart, at least, rejoiced, since the mere prospect of such an outing brought untold joy to a little maid who regarded St. Malo as a place so unutterably remote that it figured in her mind only as a geographical expression somewhat akin to Timbuktu and the North Cape of Lapland.

Yvonne left her mother about four o'clock on Christmas Eve. Tollemache was waiting for her, and together they strolled to the cottage. There was much to be done, because M?re Pitou expected a large party. Peridot, though specially invited, had refused to come. Indeed, his manner was so gruff that Barbe, who acted as messenger, was moved to tears while relating the reception accorded her.

"Tcha!" snorted her mother. "That's a man's way, all over. When a woman gives him the slip he'll sulk and paw the ground like an angry bull for a week or so. Then he'll drown his sorrows in cognac, and at the next Pardon you'll see him squaring up to some pretty girl as if the other one had never existed. What about that sardine boat which the American lady promised him? That should widen his mouth when it reaches the quay."

M?re Pitou never alluded to Mrs. Carmac by name. To a Frenchwoman the word presented no difficulty; but, owing to some whim, Yvonne's "aunt" was "the American lady," and was never promoted to greater intimacy of description in the old woman's speech.

"The vessel is ordered in Concarneau," said Yvonne. "With complete equipment it is to cost five thousand francs. Mrs. Carmac has also given another five thousand francs to the notary to be invested for Peridot; who is well aware of both gifts, but has neither called nor written to express his thanks."

"The worm!" cried Madame. "Peridot, indeed! He ought to be christened Asticot!"

As an asticot is a maggot, it was well that none but Yvonne had overheard M?re Pitou's biting comment, or the fisherman's new nickname might have stuck, its point being specially appreciable in a fishing community.

The weather that night was peculiarly calm and mild, even for Southern Brittany. Shortly after midnight Ingersoll, who had been watching Yvonne and Tollemache dancing the gavotte, in which the girl was an adept, and her lover a sufficiently skilful partner to show off her graceful steps to the utmost advantage, suddenly decided to smoke a cigar in the open air.

He quitted the studio by a French window, and strolled into the garden, which stretched some little way up the steep slope of the hill, and through a narrow strip toward the road on one side of the cottage. Owing to the feast, Pont Aven was by no means asleep; but the streets were empty, as the people were either entertaining or being entertained. In a house near the church a girl was singing the "Adeste fideles" in a high, pure treble. Those in her company, men, women, and children, burst into the harmonious chorus, "Venite, adoremus; venite adoremus in Bethlehem." As the appeal swelled and then died away, and the girl's voice took up the solo, Ingersoll remembered the verse, "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God," and his eyes grew dim with unshed tears.

The hymn ceased. From some more distant gathering came the strumming of a banjo in the latest Boulevard refrain. Ingersoll smiled at that. Not often might any man hear twenty centuries summed up so concisely. He was about to re?nter the cottage when a woman, hatless, but with head and face veiled in a shawl of black lace, appeared indistinctly in the roadway. He knew instantly that it was his wife. Only two women in Pont Aven walked with such ease and elegance, and they were Yvonne and her mother.



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