"The doctor seems to be a very clever man; but if you think it advisable to have your injury seen to by an expert – "
"Oh, it's only a simple fracture. I have every reason to believe that it is properly set. Indeed, all it needs now is efficient dressing – and time."
"How did you come to break it?"
"I was flung down the companionway when the yacht turned on her beam ends."
"But the last thing I remember, and very vividly too, is that you and I were holding to a rail and looking out through the forward window of the deck saloon. We felt a curious trembling of the hull, and the vessel swung round from the wind. There was a strange lull, and Captain Popple shouted something. I asked you what it was, and you said that the shaft had broken, and we should be dashed against the rocks in ten minutes or less. Then, I suppose, I fainted."
"I had not seen the reef. Even Captain Popple thought we should clear it. As a matter of fact, we struck within a minute."
"And you were thrown over then? I must have fallen earlier."
"Yes. My recollection is hazy as to what actually occurred."
"The marvel is that either of us is living," she said lightly. "I gather from Captain Popple that you have taken charge of affairs since we were brought ashore. Will you kindly tell me what you have done?"
"In the first instance I telegraphed to Mr. Carmac's nephew Mr. Rupert Fosdyke, his lawyer Mr. Bennett, his office, and his bankers. The text of each message was practically identical. It ran, 'Yacht wrecked and total loss off Finist?re. Mr. Carmac unfortunately killed, but all others rescued. Mrs. Carmac seriously ill, but may recover.' I'm sorry I took an exaggerated view of your state; but the circumstances seemed to warrant it. Then I sent to Paris for an embalmer. Did I do right?"
At that instant her daughter's parting words rang in her ears. "Don't make an unnecessary enemy." Good advice! She must tread warily, or her sky might fall and crush her.
"Yes. As I shall receive Mr. Fosdyke and Mr. Bennett when they arrive, I think I shall rest now," she said faintly. "I am greatly beholden to you, Mr. Raymond. You are so intimately acquainted with my husband's affairs that I should be lost without your help."
She had meant to dismiss him forthwith, with a year's salary, and Raymond himself was prepared for some such action on her part; otherwise he would never have hinted at his possession of a secret so fraught with possibilities as the existence of a grown-up daughter, a daughter too whose father was living, and actually resident in Pont Aven. He was taken aback now, and bowed as courteously as his bandaged arm would permit.
"I shall be only too happy and proud to give you my best services, Mrs. Carmac," he said.
Raymond felt that he had taken the step that counts, and resolved to make certain inquiries without delay. Already a cautious experiment with Tollemache had failed.
Captain Popple, however, had mentioned Peridot; so Raymond climbed the steep Toulifot, and within five minutes of his departure from Mrs. Carmac's quarters was at the Breton's house.
As it happened, Peridot was at home, it being the hour of d?jeuner, and a grateful incense of grilled haddock and fried potatoes greeted the visitor. He was recognized instantly of course, and invited to enter, and Peridot broke into a voluble expression of his pleasure at finding Monsieur so far recovered that he was able to take a little promenade. Raymond gathered the drift of this speech, as he understood French better than he spoke it.
"I have taken the liberty to call and thank you personally for the aid you rendered on Thursday evening," he said laboriously. "You and the others did a wonderful thing. The captain of the yacht has explained it to me. I was injured when the vessel struck, and knew little of what took place afterward."
"It was lucky for you, Monsieur, that we happened to be out that day. If we hadn't been passing at that very moment, nothing could have saved you. The people at Brigneau tell me that the yacht broke in two and fell into deep water before we were well clear of the reef."
Neither Peridot nor Raymond had any inkling of Mrs. Carmac's projected salvage work by a diver, or the Breton would have added his conviction that the fierce tides racing along the Finist?re coast would render the success of any such undertaking doubtful in the extreme.
"The gentleman who owns the Hirondelle is an artist, I believe?" went on Raymond.
"One of the most renowned," said Peridot.
"His daughter was with him?"
"The prettiest girl in Pont Aven, Monsieur."
"Is there a Madame Ingersoll?"
Now, Peridot was sober as a judge that day, and his Breton wits worked quickly. He did not fail to recall his friend's distress on hearing the name of the Stella's owner, nor his avowed desire to escape recognition. True, Monsieur Ingersoll had not gone to Paris; but Barbe had told him of the journey to Concarneau, and everyone in Pont Aven knew of Yvonne's close attendance on Madame Carmac. Moreover, did not Monsieur Ingersoll show terrible anger because of an unhappy reference to the likeness between his daughter and the American lady, and had not Peridot himself promised to lie like a gendarme if any questions were asked? Now was his chance to serve a generous patron. This little fox of a man, with beady eyes and cruel mouth, had come there to pry! Very well – he should go away stuffed with information!
All this required but a fraction of a second to flash across a lively French brain.
"Monsieur Ingersoll is a widower, Monsieur." Peridot was merely stepping back in order to jump farther.
"Ah, yes. I have heard that. His wife died before he came to Pont Aven, I suppose?"
"Oh, no, Monsieur. Poor lady! I knew her well! Her last words to me were, 'Peridot, you were born with a caul, and will never be drowned; so promise me that when my husband and little Yvonne go to sea you will always be with them.' You see, she went off in a consumption, and – "
"Pardon!" interrupted Raymond, sorely chagrined by the immense significance of the fisherman's words, supposing he had followed their meaning correctly. "Will you be good enough to speak more slowly? What were you born with?"
"Une coiffe d'enfant, Monsieur."
Raymond knew neither the word nor the curious superstition attached to it; but he caught the one thing of vital interest. "So Madame Ingersoll lived in Pont Aven?" he went on, and his rancorous tone betrayed venom and disappointment.
Peridot, convinced now that he was doing the artist a good turn, gave full play to his imagination.
"Certainly, Monsieur," he said. "Never was there a more devoted couple. Quite a romance, their courting! She was a fine lady, as anyone can see with half an eye by squinting at her daughter, and he a poor artist. Her people used to come in the summer to a ch?teau nearby, and one day when they met he gave her a beautiful pink rose. Her mother was angry, and made her throw the flower away; but an artist was not to be bested by any nose-tilted mama. He knew that they went to the church at Nizon; so he made a paper rose, and borrowed a ladder, and stuck the token between the topmost stones of an arch in the church right above their heads, so that pretty Mademoiselle Adrienne must see it when she lifted her eyes to Heaven. There was a lot of talk about that rose, and no one except the girl guessed who put it there. If you care to walk out to Nizon, Monsieur, you'll see the faded leaves stuck in the arch to this day. Of course I can't vouch for the tale; but the fact that it is told of those two shows what devoted lovers they were."
"Is Madame Ingersoll buried at Nizon?"
That was Raymond's last despairing effort. The fisherman's story tallied accurately with Mrs. Carmac's version of a sister's marriage and a family quarrel.
Peridot thought he had gone far enough: his next effort showed less exuberance. "No, Monsieur," he said, with a solemn wagging of his head, "when she died she was taken back to her own people, somewhere near Paris."
"Was she a Frenchwoman, then?"
"French and American, I believe, Monsieur. Spoke both languages like a native."
Utterly disheartened, Raymond made off. The fortune he had seen within his grasp had melted into thin air.
Peridot gazed after him, and pursed his lips. "Now I wonder what mischief that fellow is up to?" he mused.
"Jean," said his mother, "come and eat; but first ask the good Lord to save you from choking."
"Because of the lies you told that gentleman. And that yarn about the rose at Nizon!"
"What business is it of his who Mademoiselle Yvonne's mother was, or where she lived, or when she died?"
"But everyone in Pont Aven knows that Monsieur Ingersoll came here from Paris with the little one. And we women have often said to one another it was strange that never a word was uttered about his wife, whether she was alive or dead."
"Then it is high time someone spoke of the lady, and I gave her an excellent character today. All I hope is that it suffices."
It did nearly suffice. But for the tongue of a garrulous woman, Harvey Raymond would have given his close attention to matters that he might rightly deem of more pressing and immediate interest; the salving of the Stella's belongings, for instance, which came to his knowledge almost accidentally.
The more he reflected on Peridot's scraps of history the more he was convinced that he had found a mare's nest, despite Mrs. Carmac's extraordinary outburst in the Hirondelle's cabin. Exhausted and pain-tortured though he had been, he could still distinguish between the raving of dementia and the ungoverned cry of a soul just snatched from death and startled beyond measure by the apparition of a long-forgotten daughter.
Nevertheless he must have been mistaken. Mrs. Carmac had given way to a delusion. He knew that the absence of children had provided the only sorrow in the lives of a most devoted couple, and the thought had evidently taken a subconscious form in the mind of a woman whose faculties were bemused by cold and fear. Reviewing matters in the new light vouchsafed by the garrulous Breton, he saw that nearly every circumstance bore out the theory that Mrs. Carmac and the late Mrs. Ingersoll were sisters. Ingersoll's thoughtfulness in sending Tollemache with a message concerning the peculiarities of French law (the legal procedure with regard to the dead man had been intrusted to a local notary), the fact that the niece visited her aunt, and now the crushing discovery that the girl's mother was actually remembered in the village, seemed to put completely out of court any wild theory of an invalid marriage following an American divorce.
Of course if such a thing could be proved, if Carmac's English will could be upset in favor of Rupert Fosdyke, above all if Harvey Raymond alone knew the whole truth, and could wring stiff terms from Fosdyke before the latter so much as guessed at the grounds for a successful claim, then indeed a new era would open up before the eyes of one who hungered for wealth without having a spark of the genius that might create it honestly.
He was of that large and increasing class which is in many respects the worst product of modern social conditions. He had little to do, was well paid, and traveled far and wide, because Mr. and Mrs. Carmac were restless beings, and seldom lived more than three months of each year on the delightful estate they owned in Surrey. Nevertheless a canker of discontent had eaten into his moral fiber. He was a disappointed man, unscrupulous, greedy, a potential blackmailer.
Mrs. Carmac disliked him, he knew; yet she was retaining his services. That was a puzzle. He must be wary and alert. If not a prior marriage, there was something. He must probe and delve into the past. Somehow, somewhere, he would unearth a guarded secret.
Luck would have it that he met Captain Popple, standing on the "terrace," with his hands in his pockets and a pipe clenched between his teeth, gazing up at the sky.
"Good day, Sir," said the sailor. "Glad to see yer movin' around. Now if I could on'y figure out the lingo they talk in Pont Aven, I'd swap idees on the weather with any old charac-ter I saw at anchor."
"What is it you want to know, Captain?" said Raymond, hailing the other's presence as a relief from somber thoughts.
"Well, to my thinkin', the weather's goin' to clear. The wind's a trifle steadier, and gone round a point to east'ard. At this time o' year that means a risin' glass an' frost."
"A frost would be more cheerful, certainly, than a gale howling about the chimneys."
"The sea will fall too. A couple of tides should iron it out, an' I'll have a peep at that reef."
"Mrs. Carmac's orders, Sir. I'm to spare no expense in searchin' for some boxes an' other oddments."
Raymond turned abruptly, and walked to a garden seat beneath the window of the hotel dining room. He moved with a curious swing of the legs, as though his knees were unequal to the task of supporting his body.
Popple followed hastily. "W'at's up?" he cried. "Are ye feelin' bad? Been doin' too much, I s'pose."
"No. It's nothing. Could you – call a maid? If I have a sip of brandy – and rest awhile – the weakness will pass."
The skipper bustled into the hotel and found a waitress. "Cognac – queek!" he said.
The girl smiled. She understood fully.
"Oui, Monsieur," she said.
But Popple deemed the matter urgent. "Gentleman eel – vare seek," he insisted.
"Yes, Sir," said the maid, to her hearer's profound surprise. "I've got you. I'll be along before you can say 'knife.'"
"Sink me!" roared Popple. "Here have I been spittin' French all this time, an' you can sling the right stuff at me in that style!"
He received another broad smile, and the linguist vanished. Thenceforth the two held long conversations when they met; but some days elapsed before Popple realized that the chat was rather one-sided. The girl had been taught a few slang phrases by an American artist, which, together with a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the average tourist's requirements, completed her vocabulary.
"Lord love a duck, but it's a treat to hear honest English once more!" he said, returning to Raymond, whose pinched face was a ghastly yellow. "How are ye now, Sir? Gettin' over it?"
"Yes. I'm not what you would regard as robust, Captain, and Thursday afternoon's experiences placed a severe strain on my powers of resistance. Did you say you expected a frost? The weather is quite mild today, don't you think? Sit down, and join me in a drink when the brandy comes."
"Don't mind if I do, Sir. But are you sure you oughtn't to be in bed?"
"Quite sure. I walked a little too far, and I find these hills trying – that is all. Ah, here comes Marie with the medicine."
"Is that your name – Marie?" inquired Popple, eying the girl admiringly.
"Yes, Sir," and a pair of fine Breton brown eyes sparkled.
"An' very nice too!" said he. "Mighty fetchin' rig the gals have in this part," he went on, pouring out some brandy for Raymond, which the latter drank neat. "They look like so many dandy housemaids got up for a fancy ball. Now, if my old woman could see me makin' googoo eyes at a tasty bit like Marie – well, there'd be a double entry in the family log."
"What's this nonsense that Mrs. Carmac has got into her head about salving certain articles from the Stella?" said Raymond, whose voice had regained its normal harshness of tone. Small men usually have strong voices. Your giant of a fellow will pipe in a childish treble.
"Why do you say it's nonsense, Sir?" demanded Popple sharply.
"What else can it be? Salvage, in relation to a yacht pounded to pieces on an exposed reef two days ago! I don't think 'nonsense' too strong a term."
"It wouldn't be if every mortal thing had been bangin' on those rocks ever since. But the Stella was partin' amidships afore we were clear of her. She'd slip over into deep water within a few minutes, an' lie there quiet enough. Anyhow, them's my orders."
Raymond might be cantankerous because of his disablement; but Popple had suddenly remembered that Mrs. Carmac had resented the secretary's earlier interference. Raymond, however, helped to smooth over the difficulty.
"Of course I am only expressing an opinion," he said. "I admit it is not worth much. A little while ago I was speaking to Larraidou, the fisherman whom people here call Peridot, you know, and had I known then of your project I should have asked him what he thought of it."
"The sea is one big mystery, an' that's a fact," said Popple, refilling his pipe, and nodding his head to emphasize a bit of sententious philosophy born of experience. "It'll gobble up a ship, an' you'll never find a scrap of timber or a life belt to tell you what's become of her, an' in the next breath it'll show a thing as plain as though it was writ in a book. A friend of mine, skipper of a Hull trawler, missed a deckhand one day, and no one knew what had become of him. That night they shot the trawl in sixty fathom o' water, an' brought up the man's body. That's w'at the sea can do, Sir. Talk of women bein' fickle – they ain't in it with the most changeable thing on this earth."
Raymond poured out a second glass of brandy. "At any rate, you'll not recover a dead body from the Stella's wreckage," he said, with a ghastly grin.
"You never can tell," said Popple.
"But surely, Captain, you don't pretend that the finding of a drowned sailor in a trawl net was other than an accident?"
"That's as may be. S'pose some poor wastrel had been charged with knockin' a matey on the head an' chuckin' him overboard. The doctor's evidence would clear him. Then it 'ud ha been providential."
"I shall refuse to believe that you will retrieve any of the Stella's contents until I see them. Of course I know why Mrs. Carmac is so anxious that the effort should be made. There were thousands of pounds' worth of pearls and diamonds in her jewelcase. One pearl necklace alone cost ten thousand pounds many years ago, and would fetch far more today."
"Queer you should mention that, Sir," commented Popple.
"Why?" The question came with strange eagerness. The prospect of salvage was either fascinating or highly distasteful to Raymond.
"Because that's the one thing I shouldn't expect to come across."
"You are speaking in riddles, Man. What have you in your mind?"
Popple turned a mildly inquiring eye on this testy companion. He thought, "That drop o' spirit has gone the wrong way, my friend." But what he said was, "I was thinkin' of the sea's whims. It'll hide a six-decked liner an' give up a corpse. If Mrs. Carmac was keen set on pickin' up a pair o' scissors, I'd back them to turn up as ag'in' your ten-thousand-pound necklace. Mebbe that's a silly thing to say in this case. Her jew'ls are in a locked box, an' a strong one at that, because I twigged her baggage when it kem aboard, an' the lot was built for hard wear. But there you are! I'll take care she has a look at the stuff we find, an' that ends my job."
"You can count on me, Captain, for all the assistance I can render," said Raymond, and the subject dropped.
"By the way," he went on, adopting the most nonchalant tone he could command, "have you met Mrs. Carmac's niece since we came ashore?"
"Me, Sir? No. Didn't know there was any such young woman."
"You have not been told, then, that Mrs. Carmac found a long-lost niece in Miss Yvonne Ingersoll?"
Popple slapped a stout thigh, and his eyes rounded in surprise. "Sink me! but that explains it!" he cried.
"I wondered where I had seen the girl in bib an' tucker afore."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, these here caps an' streamers an' tickle-me aprons do make a heap of difference! Now what in the world will she think of me? I've passed her a dozen times without ever a 'Thank you, Miss,' or a touch of me hat. Dash my buttons! I thought my eyes were sharper'n that! Of course she was wrapped in a sou'wester an' oilskin the other day, an' so was Mrs. Carmac; so I piped the likeness then, an' even spoke of it to Mr. Ingersoll. But I must ha been rattled when I was in Mrs. Carmac's room a bit since. Of course I remember now. That was her, right enough."
"Would you mind telling me what you are rambling about, Captain Popple?"
Popple grinned. "There's a pair of us, Mr. Raymond," he cried. "You don't seem to know much about the lady, either. You met her on the stairs when you went to see Mrs. Carmac, because I happened to notice that she kem down as you went up."
"A girl in Breton costume?"
"That's it. She's lived here since she was a baby, an' I s'pose she took to the village ways."
Raymond was so astounded by a fact that, after all, was not of vital importance, that he put the next question literally to gain time for the readjustment of his ideas. "You have heard something of her history, then?"
"Oh, ay. She an' her father are well thought of in Pont Aven. A lady who's stayin' in there," and he jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the hotel, "tole me all about the pair of 'em. Mr. Ingersoll is by way of bein' a great hand at paintin'; but he settled down in this little spot nearly nineteen years ago, and has never left it. Miss Yvonne would be a baby then; but she's grown into a damn fine young woman since – an' she ain't the on'y one in the parish, if I'm any judge."