To impute moral sublimity to a white man and a quadroon woman at one and the same time and in one and the same affair was something beyond the powers of Camille’s small soul. But he gave Attalie, on the instant, full credit, over credit it may be, and felt a momentary thrill of spiritual contagion that he had scarcely known before in all his days. He uttered not a sound; but for all that he said within himself, drawing his breath in through his clenched teeth, and tightening his fists till they trembled, “Oho-o!—Aha!—No wonder you postponed the writing of your will day by day, month by month, year in and year out! But you shall see, my fine Michie White man—dead as you are, you shall see—you’ll see if you shan’t!—she shall have the money, little or much! Unless there are heirs she shall have every picayune of it!” Almost as quickly as it had flashed up, the faint flicker of moral feeling died out; yet the resolution remained. He was going to “beat” a dead white man.
Camille glided to the woman’s side and laid a gentle yet commanding touch upon her.
“Come, there is not a moment to lose.”
“What do you want?” asked Attalie. She neither rose nor turned her head, nor even let go the dead man’s hand.
“I must make haste to fulfill the oft-repeated request of my friend here.”
“Your friend!” She still knelt, and held the hand, but turned her face, full of pained resentment, upon the speaker behind her. He was calm.
“Our friend; yes, this man here. You did not know that I was his secret confidential adviser? Well, that was all right; I told him to tell no one. But now I must carry out his instructions. Madame Brouillard, this man wished to leave you every cent he had in the world.”
Attalie slowly laid her lips on the big cold hand lying in her two hot ones and let the silent tears wet all three. Camille spoke on to her averted form:
“He may never have told you so till to-day, but he has often told me. ’I tell you, Camille,’ he used to say, ’because I can trust you: I can’t trust a white man in a matter like this.’ He told you? Yes; then you know that I speak the truth. But one thing you did not know; that this intention of his was the result of my earnest advice.—Stop! Madame Brouillard—if you please—we have no time for amazement or questions now; and less than none for expressions of gratitude. Listen to me. You know he was always afraid he would die some day suddenly? Yes, of course; everybody knew that. One night—our meetings were invariably at night—he said to me, ’Camille, my dear friend, if I should go all of a sudden some day before I write that will, you know what to do.’ Those were his exact words: ‘Camille, my dear friend, you know what to do.’” All this was said to the back of Attalie’s head and neck; but now the speaker touched her with one finger: “Madame, are your lodgers all up town?”