The words stumbled over each other in disorder on his lips, all trying to get out at once; then he seemed to despair of finding expression for his thoughts and in disgust threw on the table a small box and a large envelope, both bearing the stamp of the chancellor’s office.
“There are my cross and my brevet. They are yours, friend. I could not keep them.”
At bottom the words did not signify much. Jansoulet adorning himself with Jenkins’s ribbon might very well have been guilty of illegality. But a piece of theatrical business is not necessarily logical; this one brought about between the two men an effusion of feeling, embraces, a generous battle, at the end of which Jenkins replaced the objects in his pocket, speaking of protests, letters to the newspapers. The Nabob was again obliged to check him.
“Be very careful you do no such thing. To begin with, it would be to injure my chances for another time—who knows, perhaps on the 15th of August, which will soon be here.”
“Oh, as to that,” said Jenkins, jumping at this idea, and stretching out his arm as in the Oath of David, “I solemnly swear it.”
The matter was dropped at this point. At luncheon the Nabob was as gay as usual. This good humour was maintained all day, and de Gery, for whom the scene had been a revelation of the true Jenkins, the explanation of the ironies and the restrained wrath of Felicia Ruys whenever she spoke of the doctor, asked himself in vain how he could enlighten his dear patron about such hypocrisy. He should have been aware, however, that in southerners, with all their superficiality and effusion, there is no blindness, no enthusiasm, so complete as to remain insensible before the wisdom of reflection. In the evening the Nabob had opened a shabby little letter-case, worn at the corners, in which for ten years he had been accustomed to work out the calculations of his millions, writing down in hieroglyphics understood only by himself his receipts and expenditures. He buried himself in his accounts for a moment, then turning to de Gery:
“Do you know what I am doing, my dear Paul?” he asked.
“I am just calculating”—and his mocking glance thoroughly characteristic of his race, rallied the good nature of his smile—“I am just calculating that I have spend four hundred and thirty thousand francs to get a decoration for Jenkins.”
Four hundred and thirty thousand francs! And that was not the end.