Simon stared at me incredulously.
“I do not understand you in the least, now, M. Hewlett,” he exclaimed. “You are to keep the money. I do not go back upon my bargains.”
“It is not, however, your money,” I retorted, though I knew that it soon would be. “I shall return it to Mme. d’Epernay, who entrusted me with it. Beyond that I care nothing as to its ultimate destination, though perhaps I can guess. Naturally I do not carry eight thousand dollars about with me——”
“Ten thousand!” shouted Simon.
“Mme. d’Epernay gave me eight thousand,” I said. “I do not know anything about ten thousand. Probably Mr. Daly has the rest. But, as I was saying, I shall give you a check——”
Leroux burst into loud laughter and slapped me heartily upon the shoulder.
“Paul Hewlett,” he said, with genuine admiration, “you are as good as a play. My friend, it would have paid you to have accepted my own offer. However, you declined it and I shall not renew it. Well, let us take your check, and it shall be accepted in full settlement.” He winked at me and thrust his tongue into his cheek.
I was too sick at heart to pay attention to his buffoonery. I sat down at the table and, taking up a pen which lay there, wrote a check for eight thousand dollars, making it out to Jacqueline d’Epernay. This I handed to her.
“Adieu, madame,” I said.
“Adieu, monsieur,” she answered almost inaudibly, her head bent low.
I went out of the room, still gripping my pistol, and I took care to let Simon see it as we descended the stairs side by side. The noisy laughter in the ballroom had ceased, but I heard Raoul and Jean Petitjean quarrelling, and their thick voices told me that they were in no condition to aid their master.
Then there were only Leroux and Philippe Lacroix to deal with. I could have saved the situation.
What a fool I had been! What an irresolute fool! I never learned.
As we reached the bottom of the stairs Philippe Lacroix came out of the ballroom carrying a candle. I saw his melancholy, pale face twist with surprise as he perceived me.
“Philippe, this is M. Paul Hewlett,” said Leroux. “To-morrow you will convey him to the cabin of Pere Antoine, where he will be able to make his own plans. You will go by way of le Vieil Ange.”
Lacroix started violently, muttered something, and passed up the stairs, often turning to stare, as I surmised from the brief occasions of his footsteps.
“Now, M. Hewlett, I shall show you your sleeping-quarters for to-night,” Leroux continued to me, and conducted me out into the fenced yard. A number of Eskimo-dogs were lying there, and one of them came bounding up to me and began to sniff at my clothes, betraying every sign of recognition.
This I knew to be the beast that I had taken to the home. How it had managed to make its escape I could not imagine; but it had evidently come northward with hardly a pause; and not only that, but had accompanied us on our journey from St. Boniface at a distance, like the half-wild creature that it was.