M. Ferraud chatted gaily. Usually a man who holds his audience is of single purpose. The little Frenchman had two aims: one, to keep the conversation on subjects of his own selection, and the other, to study without being observed. Among one of his own tales (butterflies) he told of a chase he once had made in the mountains of the Moors, in Abyssinia. To illustrate it he took up one of the nets standing in the corner. In his excitable way he was a very good actor. And when he swooped down the net to demonstrate the end of the story, it caught on a button on Breitmann’s coat.
“Pardon!” said M. Ferraud, with a blithe laugh. “The butterfly I was describing was not so big.”
Breitmann freed himself amid general laughter. And with Laura’s rising the little after-dinner party became disorganized.
It was yet early; but perhaps she had some thought she wished to be alone with. This consideration was the veriest bud in growth; still, it was such that she desired the seclusion of her room. She swung across her shoulders the sleepy Angora and wished the men good night.
The wire bell in the hall clock vibrated twice; two o’clock of the morning. A streak of moon-shine fell aslant the floor and broke off abruptly. Before the safe in the library stood Breitmann, a small tape in his hand. For several minutes he contemplated somberly the nickel combination wheel. He could open it for he knew the combination. To open it would be the work of a moment. Why, then, did he hesitate? Why not pluck it forth and disappear on the morrow? The admiral had not made a copy, and without the key he might dig up Corsica till the crack of doom. The flame on the taper crept down. The man gave a quick movement to his shoulders; it was the shrug, not of impatience but of resignation. He saw the lock through the haze of a conjured face. He shut his eyes, but the vision remained. Slowly he drew his fingers over the flame.
Yet, before the flame died wholly it touched two points of light in the doorway, the round crystals of a pair of spectacles.
“Two souls with but a single thought!” the secret agent murmured. “Poor devil! why does he hesitate? Why does he not take it and be gone? Is he still honest? Peste! I must be growing old. I shall not ruin him, I shall save him. It is not goot politics, but it is good Christianity. Schlafen Sie wohl, Hochwohl geboren!”
THE WOMAN WHO KNEW
“Don’t you sometimes grow weary for an abiding place?” Laura pulled off her gauntlets and laid her hot hands on the cool lichen-grown stones of the field-wall. The bridle-rein hung over her arm. Fitzgerald had drawn his through a stirrup. “Think of wandering here and there, with never a place to come back to.”