Laura unfolded the story, and when she came to the end, the excitement was hot and Babylonic. Napoleon! What a word! A treasure put together to rescue him from St. Helena! Gold, French gold, English gold, Spanish and Austrian gold, all mildewing in a rotting chest somewhere back of Ajaccio! It was unbelievable, fantastic as one of those cinematograph pictures, running backward.
“But what are you going to do with it when you find it?”
“Findings is keepings,” quoted the admiral. “Perhaps divide it, perhaps turn it over to France, providing France agrees to use it for charitable purposes.”
“A fine plan, is it not, Mr. Breitmann?” said M. Ferraud.
“Findings is keepings,” repeated Breitmann, with a pale smile.
The eyes of Hildegarde von Mitter burned and burned. Could she but read what lay behind that impassive face! And he took it all with a smile! What would he do? what would he do now? kept recurring in her mind. She knew the man, or at least she thought she did; and she was aware that there existed in his soul dark caverns which she had never dared to explore. Yes, what would he do now? How would he put his hand upon this gold? She trembled with apprehension.
And later, when she found the courage to put the question boldly, he answered with a laugh, so low and yet so wild with fury that she drew away from him in dumb terror.
BREITMANN MAKES HIS FIRST BLUNDER
The secretary nerved himself and waited; and yet he knew what her reply would be, even before she framed it, knew it with that indescribable certainty which prescience occasionally grants in the space of a moment. Before he had spoken there had been hope to stand upon, for she had always been gentle and kindly toward him, not a whit less than she had been to the others.
“Mr. Breitmann, I am sorry. I never dreamed of this;” nor had she. She had forgotten Europeans seldom understand the American girl as she is or believe that the natural buoyancy of spirit is as free from purpose or intent as the play of a child. But in this moment she remembered her little and perfectly inconsequent attentions toward this man, and seeing them from his viewpoint she readily forgave him. Abroad, she was always on guard; but here, among her own compatriots who accepted her as she was, she had excusably forgotten. “I am sorry if you have misunderstood me in any way.”
“I could no more help loving you than that those stars should cease to shine to-night,” his voice heavy with emotion.
“I am sorry,” she could only repeat. Men had spoken to her like this before, and always had the speech been new to her and always had a great and tender pity charged her heart. And perhaps her pity for this one was greater than any she had previously known; he seemed so lonely.
“Sorry, sorry! Does that mean there is no hope?”