Volume III
Chapter XVI. Wherein Love Knows No Law Save the Man's Will
 

In another week it was announced that Mademoiselle Victorine would take a month's holiday; to the sorrow of her chief, and to the delight of Mr. Meyerbeer, who had not yet discovered his man, though he had a pretty scandal well-nigh brewed.

Count Ploare was no more, Gaston Belward was. Zoug-Zoug was in the country at Fontainebleau, working at his picture. He had left on the morning after Gaston discovered Andree. He had written, asking his nephew to come for some final sittings. Possibly, he said, Mademoiselle Cerise and others would be down for a Sunday. Gaston had not gone, had briefly declined. His uncle shrugged his shoulders, and went on with other work. It would end in his having to go to Paris and finish the picture there, he said. Perhaps the youth was getting into mischief? So much the better. He took no newspapers.--What did an artist need of them? He did not even read the notices sent by a press-cutting agency. He had a model with him. She amused him for the time, but it was unsatisfactory working on "The King of Ys" from photographs. He loathed it, and gave it up.

One evening Gaston and Andree met at the Gare Montparnasse. Jacques was gone on, but Annette was there. Meyerbeer was there also, at a safe distance. He saw Gaston purchase tickets, arrange his baggage, and enter the train. He passed the compartment, looking in. Besides the three, there was a priest and a young soldier.

Gaston saw him, and guessed what brought him there. He had an impulse to get out and shake him as would Andree's cub a puppy. But the train moved off. Meyerbeer found Gaston's porter. A franc did the business.

"Douarnenez, for Audierne, Brittany," was the legend written in Meyerbeer's note-book. And after that: "Journey twenty hours--change at Rennes, Redon, and Quimpere."

"Too far. I've enough for now," said Meyerbeer, chuckling, as he walked away. "But I'd give five hundred dollars to know who Zoug-Zoug is. I'll make another try."

So he held his sensation back for a while yet. Of the colony at the Hotel St. Malo, not one of the three who knew would tell him. Bagshot had sworn the others to secrecy.

Jacques had gone on with the horses. He was to rent a house, or get rooms at a hotel. He did very well. The horses were stalled at the Hotel de France. He had rented an old chateau perched upon a hill, with steps approaching, steps flanking; near it strange narrow alleys, leading where one cared not to search; a garden of pears and figs, and grapes, and innumerable flowers and an arbour; a pavilion, all windows, over an entranceway, with a shrine in it--a be-starred shrine below it; bare floors, simple furniture, primitiveness at every turn.

Gaston and Andree came, of choice, with a courier in a racketing old diligence from Douarnenez, and they laughed with delight, tired as they were, at the new quarters. It must be a gipsy kind of existence at the most.

There were rooms for Jacques and Annette, who at once set to work with the help of a little Breton maid. Jacques had not ordered a dinner at the hotel, but had got in fresh fish, lobsters, chickens, eggs, and other necessaries; and all was ready for a meal which could be got in an hour.

Jacques had now his hour of happiness. He knew not of these morals-- they were beyond him; but after a cheerful dinner in the pavilion, with an omelette made by Andree herself, Annette went to her room and cried herself to sleep. She was civilised, poor soul, and here they were a stone's throw from the cure and the church! Gaston and Andree, refreshed, travelled down the long steps to the village, over the place, along the quay, to the lighthouse and the beach, through crowds of sardine fishers and simple hard-tongued Bretons. Cheerful, buoyant at dinner, there now came upon the girl an intense quiet and fatigue. She stood and looked long at the sea. Gaston tried to rouse her.

"This is your native Brittany, Andree," he said. She pointed far over the sea:

"Near that light at Penmark I was born."

"Can you speak the Breton language?"

"Far worse than you speak Parisian French."

He laughed. "You are so little like these people!"

She had vanity. That had been part of her life. Her beauty had brought trade when she was a gipsy; she had been the admired of Paris: she was only twenty three. Presently she became restless, and shrank from him. Her eyes had a flitting hunted look. Once they met his with a wild sort of pleading or revolt, he could not tell which, and then were continually turned away.

If either could have known how hard the little dwarf of sense and memory was trying to tell her something.

This new phase stunned him. What did it mean? He touched her hand. It was hot, and withdrew from his. He put his arm around her, and she shivered, cringed. But then she was a woman, he thought. He had met one unlike any he had ever known. He would wait. He would be patient. Would she come--home? She turned passively and took his arm. He talked, but he knew he was talking poorly, and at last he became silent also. But when they came to the steep steps leading to the chateau, he lifted her in his arms, carried her to the house, and left her at their chamber- door.

Then he went to the pavilion to smoke. He had no wish to think-- at least of anything but the girl. It was not a time for retrospect, but to accept a situation. The die had been cast. He had followed what --his nature, his instincts? The consequence?

He heard Andree's voice. He went to her.

The next morning they were in the garden walking about. They had been speaking, but now both were silent. At last he turned again to her.

"Andree, who was the other man?!" he asked quietly, but with a strange troubled look in his eyes.

She shrank away confused, a kind of sickness in her eyes.

"What does it matter?!" she said.

"Of course, of course," he returned in a low, nerveless tone.

They were silent for a long time. Meanwhile, she seemed to beat up a feverish cheerfulness. At last she said:

"Where do we go this afternoon, Gaston?"

"We will see," he replied.

The day passed, another, and another. The same: she shrank from him, was impatient, agitated, unhappy, went out alone. Annette saw, and mourned, entreated, prayed; Jacques was miserable. There was no joyous passion to redeem the situation for which Gaston had risked so much.

They rode, they took excursions in fishing-boats and little sail-boats. Andree entered into these with zest: talked to the sailors, to Jacques, caressed children, and was not indifferent to the notice she attracted in the village; but was obviously distrait. Gaston was patient--and unhappy. So, this was the merchandise for which he had bartered all! But he had a will, he was determined; he had sowed, he would reap his harvest to the useless stubble.

"Do you wish to go back to your work?!" he said quietly, once.

"I have no work," she answered apathetically. He said no more just then.

The days and weeks went by. The situation was impossible, not to be understood. Gaston made his final move. He hoped that perhaps a forced crisis might bring about a change. If it failed--he knew not what! She was sitting in the garden below--he alone in the window, smoking. A bundle of letters and papers, brought by the postman that evening, were beside him. He would not open them yet. He felt that there was trouble in them--he saw phrases, sentences flitting past him. But he would play this other bitter game out first. He let them lie. He heard the bells in the church ringing the village commerce done--it was nine o'clock. The picture of that other garden in Paris came to him: that night when he had first taken this girl into his arms. She sat below talking to Annette and singing a little Breton chanson:

                   "Parvondt varbondt anan oun,
                    Et die don la lire!
                    Parvondt varbondt anan oun,
                    Et die don la, la!"

He called down to her presently. "Andree!"

"Yes."

"Will you come up for a moment, please?"

"Surely."

She came up, leaving the room door open, and bringing the cub with her.

He called Jacques.

"Take the cub to its quarters, Jacques," he said, quietly.

She seemed about to protest, but sat back and watched him. He shut the door--locked it. Then he came and sat down before her.

"Andree," he said, "this is all impossible."

"What is impossible?"

"You know well. I am not a mere brute. The only thing that can redeem this life is love."

"That is true," she said, coldly. "What then?"

"You do not redeem it. We must part."

She laughed fitfully. "We must--?"

She leaned towards him.

"To-morrow evening you will go back to Paris. To-night we part, however: that is, our relations cease."

"I shall go from here when it pleases me, Gaston!"

His voice came low and stern, but courteous:

"You must go when I tell you. Do you think I am the weaker?"

He could see her colour flying, her fingers lacing and interlacing.

"Aren't you afraid to tell me that?!" she asked.

"Afraid? Of my life--you mean that? That you will be as common as that? No: you will do as I tell you."

He fixed his eyes on hers, and held them. She sat, looking. Presently she tried to take her eyes away. She could not. She shuddered and shrank.

He withdrew his eyes for a moment. "You will go?!" he asked.

"It makes no difference," she answered; then added sharply: "Who are you, to look at me like that, to--!"

She paused.

"I am your friend and your master!"

He rose. "Good-night," he said, at the door, and went out.

He heard the key turn in the lock. He had forgotten his papers and letters. It did not matter. He would read them when she was gone--if she did go. He was far from sure that he had succeeded. He went to bed in another room, and was soon asleep.

He was waked in the very early morning by feeling a face against his, wet, trembling.

"What is it, Andree?!" he asked. Her arms ran round his neck.

"Oh, mon amour! Mon adore! Je t'aime! Je t'aime!"

In the evening of this day she said she knew not how it was, but on that first evening in Audierne there suddenly came to her a strange terrible feeling, which seemed to dry up all the springs of her desire for him. She could not help it. She had fought against it, but it was no use; yet she knew that she could not leave him. After he had told her to go, she had had a bitter struggle: now tears, now anger, and a wish to hate. At last she fell asleep. When she awoke she had changed, she was her old self, as in Paris, when she had first confessed her love. She felt that she must die if she did not go to him. All the first passion returned, the passion that began on the common at Ridley Court. "And now--now," she said, "I know that I cannot live without you."

It seemed so. Her nature was emptying itself. Gaston had got the merchandise for which he had given a price yet to be known.

"You asked me of the other man," she said. "I will tell you."

"Not now," he said. "You loved him?"

"No--ah God, no!" she answered.

An hour after, when she was in her room, he opened the little bundle of correspondence.--A memorandum with money from his bankers. A letter from Delia, and also one from Mrs. Gasgoyne, saying that they expected to meet him at Gibraltar on a certain day, and asking why he had not written; Delia with sorrowful reserve, Mrs. Gasgoyne with impatience. His letters had missed them--he had written on leaving Paris, saying that his plans were indefinite, but he would write them definitely soon. After he came to Audierne it seemed impossible to write. How could he? No, let the American journalist do it. Better so. Better himself in the worst light, with the full penalty, than his own confession--in itself an insult. So it had gone on. He slowly tore up the letters. The next were from his grandfather and grandmother--they did not know yet. He could not read them. A few loving sentences, and then he said:

"What's the good! Better not." He tore them up also. Another--from his uncle. It was brief:

You've made a sweet mess of it, Cadet. It's in all the papers to- day. Meyerbeer telegraphed it to New York and London. I'll probably come down to see you. I want to finish my picture on the site of the old City of Ys, there at Point du Raz. Your girl can pose with you. I'll do all I can to clear the thing up. But a British M.P.--that's a tough pill for Clapham!

Gaston's foot tapped the floor angrily. He scattered the pieces of the letter at his feet. Now for the newspapers. He opened Le Petit Journal, Coil Blas, Galignani, and the New York Tom-Tom, one by one. Yes, it was there, with pictures of himself and Andree. A screaming sensation. Extracts, too, from the English papers by telegram. He read them all unflinchingly. There was one paragraph which he did not understand:

There was a previous friend of the lady, unknown to the public, called Zoug-Zoug.

He remembered that day at the Hotel St. Malo! Well, the bolt was shot: the worst was over. Quid refert? Justify himself?

Certainly, to all but Delia Gasgoyne.

Thousands of men did the same--did it in cold blood, without one honest feeling. He did it, at least under a powerful influence. He could not help but smile now at the thought of how he had filled both sides of the equation. On his father's side, bringing down the mad record from Naseby; on his mother's, true to the heathen, by following his impulses --sacred to primitive man, justified by spear, arrow, and a strong arm. Why sheet home this as a scandal? How did they--the libellers--know but that he had married the girl? Exactly. He would see to that. He would play his game with open sincerity now. He could have wished secrecy for Delia Gasgoyne, and for his grandfather and grandmother,--he was not wilfully brutal,--but otherwise he had no shame at all; he would stand openly for his right. Better one honest passion than a life of deception and miserable compromise. A British M.P.?--He had thrown away his reputation, said the papers. By this? The girl was no man's wife, he was no woman's husband!

Marry her? Yes, he would marry her; she should be his wife. His people? It was a pity. Poor old people--they would fret and worry. He had been selfish, had not thought of them? Well, who could foresee this outrage of journalism? The luck had been dead against him. Did he not know plenty of men in London--he was going to say the Commons, but he was fairer to the Commons than it, as a body, would be to him--who did much worse? These had escaped: the hunters had been after him. What would he do? Take the whip? He got to his feet with an oath. Take the whip? Never--never! He would fight this thing tooth and nail. Had he come to England to let them use him for a sensation only--a sequence of surprises, to end in a tragedy, all for the furtive pleasure of the British breakfast-table? No, by the Eternal! What had the first Gaston done? He had fought--fought Villiers and others, and had held up his head beside his King and Rupert till the hour of Naseby.

When the summer was over he would return to Paris, to London. The journalist--punish him? No; too little--a product of his time. But the British people he would fight, and he would not give up Ridley Court. He could throw the game over when it was all his, but never when it was going dead against him.

That speech in the Commons? He remembered gladly that he had contended for conceptions of social miseries according to surrounding influences of growth and situation. He had not played the hypocrite.

No, not even with Delia. He had acted honestly at the beginning, and afterwards he had done what he could so long as he could. It was inevitable that she must be hurt, even if he had married, not giving her what he had given this dompteuse. After all, was it so terrible? It could not affect her much in the eyes of the world. And her heart? He did not flatter himself. Yet he knew that it would be the thing--the fallen idol--that would grieve her more than thought of the man. He wished that he could have spared her in the circumstances. But it had all come too suddenly: it was impossible. He had spared, he could spare, nobody. There was the whole situation. What now to do?--To remain here while it pleased them, then Paris, then London for his fight.

Three days went round. There were idle hours by the sea, little excursions in a sail-boat to Penmark, and at last to Point du Raz. It was a beautiful day, with a gentle breeze, and the point was glorified. The boat ran in lightly between the steep dark shore and the comb of reef that looked like a host of stealthy pumas crumbling the water. They anchored in the Bay des Trepasses. An hour on shore exploring the caves, and lunching, and then they went back to the boat, accompanied by a Breton sailor, who had acted as guide.

Gaston lay reading,--they were in the shade of the cliff,--while Andree listened to the Breton tell the legends of the coast. At length Gaston's attention was attracted. The old sailor was pointing to the shore, and speaking in bad French.

"Voila, madame, where the City of Ys stood long before the Bretons came. It was a foolish ride."

"I do not know the story. Tell me."

"There are two or three, but mine is the oldest. A flood came--sent by the gods, for the woman was impious. The king must ride with her into the sea and leave her there, himself to come back, and so save the city."

The sailor paused to scan the sea--something had struck him. He shook his head. Gaston was watching Andree from behind his book.

"Well, well," she said, impatiently, "what then? What did he do?"

"The king took up the woman, and rode into the water as far as where you see the great white stone--it has been there ever since. There he had a fight--not with the woman, but in his heart. He turned to the people, and cried: 'Dry be your streets, and as ashes your eyes for your king!' And then he rode on with the woman till they saw him no more--never!" Andree said instantly:

"That was long ago. Now the king would ride back alone."

She did not look at Gaston, but she knew that his eyes were on her. He closed the book, got up, came forward to the sailor, who was again looking out to sea, and said carelessly over his shoulder:

"Men who lived centuries ago would act the same now, if they were here."

Her response seemed quite as careless as his: "How do you know?"

"Perhaps I had an innings then," he answered, smiling whimsically.

She was about to speak again, but the guide suddenly said:

"You must get away. There'll be a change of wind and a bad cross-current soon."

In a few minutes the two were bearing out--none too soon, for those pumas crowded up once or twice within a fathom of their deck, devilish and devouring. But they wore away with a capricious current, and down a tossing sea made for Audierne.