The slave of the lamp, p.18
The Slave of the Lamp,
Henry Seton Merriman
It is only when our feelings are imaginary that we analyse them. Whenthe real thing comes--the thing that only does come to a few of us--wecan only feel it, and there is no thought of analysis. Moreover, theaction is purely involuntary. We feel strange things--such things asmurder--and we cannot help feeling it. We may cringe and shrink; we maytoss in our beds when we wake up with such thoughts living, moving,having their being in our brains--but we cannot toss them off. The veryattempt to do so is a realisation, and from consciousness we spring toknowledge. We know that in our hearts we are thieves, murderers,slanderers; we know that if we read of such thoughts in a novel weshould hold the thinker in all horror; but we are distinctly consciousall the time that these thoughts are our own. This is just thedifference existing between artificial feelings and real: the one bearsanalysis, the other cannot.
Hilda Carew could not have defined her feelings on the evening of thearrival of Mr. Bodery and the Vicomte d'Audierne. She was conscious ofthe little facts of everyday existence. She dressed for dinner withsingular care; during that repast she talked and laughed much as usual,but all the while she felt like any one in all the world but HildaCarew. At certain moments she wondered with a throb of apprehensionwhether the difference which was so glaringly patent to herself couldpossibly be hidden from others. She caught strange inflections in herown voice which she knew had never been there before--her own laughterwas a new thing to her. And yet she went on through dinner and untilbedtime, acting this strange part without break, without fault--a partwhich had never been rehearsed and never learnt: a part which wasutterly artificial and yet totally without art, for it came naturally.
And through it all she feared the Vicomte d'Audierne. Mr. Bodery countedfor nothing. He made a very good dinner, was genial and even witty in amanner befitting his years and station. Mrs. Carew was fully engagedwith her guests, and Molly was on lively terms with the Vicomte; whileSidney, old Sidney--no one counted him. It was only the Vicomte whopaused at intervals during his frugal meal, and looked across the tabletowards the young girl with those deep, impenetrable eyes--shadowless,gleamless, like velvet.
When bedtime at length arrived, she was quite glad to get away from thatkind, unobtrusive scrutiny of which she alone was aware. She went to herroom, and sitting wearily on the bed she realised for the first time inher life the incapacity to think. It is a realisation which usuallycomes but once or twice in a lifetime, and we are therefore unable toget accustomed to it. She was conscious of intense pressure within herbrain, of a hopeless weight upon her heart, but she could defineneither. She rose at length, and mechanically went to bed like one in atrance. In the same way she fell asleep.
In the meantime Mr. Bodery, Sidney Carew, and the Vicomte d'Audiernewere smoking in the little room at the side of the porch. A single lampwith a red shade hung from the ceiling in the centre of this room,hardly giving enough light to read by. There were half-a-dozen deeparmchairs, a divan, and two or three small tables--beyond that nothing.Sidney's father had furnished it thus, with a knowledge and appreciationof Oriental ways. It was not a study, nor a library, nor a den; butmerely a smoking-room. Mr. Bodery had lighted an excellent cigar, andthrough the thin smoke he glanced persistently at the Vicomted'Audierne. The Vicomte did not return this attention; he glanced at theclock instead. He was thinking of Signor Bruno, but he was too politeand too diplomatic to give way to restlessness.
At last Mr. Bodery opened fire from, as it were, a masked battery; forhe knew that the Frenchman was ignorant of his connection with one ofthe leading political papers of the day. It was a duel between sheerskill and confident foreknowledge. When Mr. Bodery spoke, Sidney Carewleant back in his chair and puffed vigorously at his briar pipe.
"Things," said the Englishman, "seem to be very unsettled in France justnow."
The Vicomte was engaged in rolling a cigarette, and he finished thedelicate operation before looking up with a grave smile.
"Yes," he said. "In Paris. But Paris is not France. That fact is hardlyrealised in England, I think."
"What," inquired Mr. Bodery, with that conversational heaviness of touchwhich is essentially British, "is the meaning of this disturbance?"
Sidney Carew was enveloped in a perfect cloud of smoke.
For a moment--and a moment only--the Vicomte's profound gaze rested onthe Englishman's face. Mr. Bodery was evidently absorbed in theenjoyment of his cigar. The smile that lay on his genial face like amask was the smile of a consciousness that he was making himselfintensely pleasant, and adapting his conversation to his company in aquite phenomenal way.
"Ah!" replied the Frenchman, with a neat little shrug of bewilderment."Who can tell? Probably there is no meaning in it. There is so often nomeaning in the action of a Parisian mob."
"Many things without meaning are not without result."
Again the Vicomte looked at Mr. Bodery, and again he was baffled.
"You only asked me the meaning," he said lightly. "I am glad you did notinquire after the result; because there I should indeed have been atfault. I always argue to myself that it is useless to trouble one'sbrain about results. I leave such matters to the good God. He willprobably do just as well without my assistance."
"You are a philosopher," said Mr. Bodery, with a pleasant and friendlylaugh.
"Thank Heaven--yes! Look at my position. Fancy carrying in France to-daya name that is to be found in the most abridged history. One needs to bea philosopher, Mr. Bodery."
"But," suggested the Englishman, "there may be changes. It may all comeright."
The Vicomte sipped his whisky and water with vicious emphasis.
"If it began at once," he said, "it would never be right in my time. Notas it used to be. And in the meantime we are in the present--in thepresent France is governed by newspaper men."
Sidney drew in his feet and coughed. Some of his smoke had gone astray.
Mr. Bodery looked sympathetic.
"Yes," he said calmly, "that really seems to be the case."
"And newspaper men," pursued the Vicomte, "what are they? Men of noeducation, no position, no sense of honour. The great aim of politiciansin France to-day is the aggrandisement of themselves."
Mr. Bodery yawned.
"Ah!" he said, with a glance towards Sidney.
Perhaps the Frenchman saw the glance, perhaps he was deceived by theyawn. At all events, he rose and expressed a desire to retire to hisroom. He was tired, he said, having been travelling all the previousnight.
Mr. Bodery had not yet finished his cigar, so he rose and shook handswithout displaying any intention of following the Vicomte's example.
Sidney lighted a candle, one of many standing on a side table, and ledthe way upstairs. They walked through the long, dimly lighted corridorsin silence, and it was only when they had arrived in the room set apartfor the Vicomte d'Audierne that this gentleman spoke.
"By the way," he said, "who is this person--this Mr. Bodery? He was nota friend of your father's." Sidney was lighting the tall candles thatstood upon the dressing-table, and the combined illumination showed withremarkable distinctness the reflection of his face in the mirror. Fromwhence he stood the Frenchman could see this reflection.
"He is the friend of a great friend of mine; that is how we know him,"replied Sidney, prizing up the wick of a candle. He was still rising tothe occasion--this dull young Briton. Then he turned. "ChristianVellacott," he said; "you knew his father?"
"Ah, yes: I knew his father."
Sidney was moving to the door without any hurry, and also without anyintention of being deterred.
"His father," continued the Vicomte, winding his watch meditatively,"was brilliant. Has the son inherited any brain?"
"I think so. Good night."
When the door was closed the Vicomte looked at his watch. It was almostmidnight.
"The Reverend Father Talma will have to wait till to-morrow morning," hesaid to himself. "I cann
In the meantime, Sidney returned to the little smoking-room at the sideof the porch. There he found Mr. Bodery smoking with his usualcomposure. The younger man forbore asking any questions. He poured outfor himself some whisky, and opened a bottle of soda-water withdeliberate care and noiselessness.
"That man," said Mr. Bodery at length, "knows nothing about Vellacott."
"You think so?"
"I am convinced of it. By the way, who is the old gentleman who came totea this afternoon?"
"Signor Bruno, do you mean?"
"I suppose so--that super-innocent old man with the white hair who wearswindow-glass spectacles."
"Are they window-glass?" asked Sidney, with a little laugh.
"They struck me as window-glass--quite flat. Who is he--beyond his name,I mean?"
"He is an Italian refugee--lives in the village."
Mr. Bodery had taken his silver pencil from his waistcoat pocket, andwas rolling it backwards and forwards on the table. This was indicativeof the fact that the editor of the _Beacon_ was thinking deeply.
"Ah! And how long has he been here?"
"Only a few weeks."
Mr. Bodery looked up sharply.
"Is _that_ all?" he inquired, with an eager little laugh.
"Then, my dear sir, Vellacott is right. That old man is at the bottom ofit. This Vicomte d'Audierne, what do you know of him?"
"He is an old friend of my father's. In fact, he is a friend of thefamily. He calls the girls by their Christian names, as you have heardto-night."
"Yes; I noticed that. And he came here to-day merely on a friendlyvisit?"
"That is all. Why do you ask?" inquired Sidney, who was getting ratherpuzzled.
"I know nothing of him personally--except what I have learnt to-day. Formy own part, I like him," answered Mr. Bodery. "He is keen and clever.Moreover, he is a thorough gentleman. But, politically speaking, he isone of the most dangerous men in France. He is a Jesuit, an activeRoyalist, and a staunch worker for the Church party. I don't know muchabout French politics--that is Vellacott's department. But I know thatif he were here, and knew of the Vicomte's presence in England, he wouldbe very much on the alert."
"Then," asked Sidney, "do you connect the presence of the Vicomte herewith the absence of Vellacott?"
"There can be little question about it, directly or indirectly.Indirectly, I should think, unless the Vicomte d'Audierne is ascoundrel."
Sidney thought deeply.
"He may be," he admitted.
"I do not," pursued Mr. Bodery, with a certain easy deliberation, "thinkthat the Vicomte is aware of Vellacott's existence. That is my opinion."
"He asked who you were--if you were a friend of my father's."
"And you said--"
"No! I said that you were a friend of a friend, and mentionedVellacott's name. He knew his father very well."
"Were you"--asked Mr. Bodery, throwing away the end of his cigar andrising from his deep chair--"were you looking at the Vicomte when youanswered the question?"
"And there was no sign of discomfort--no flicker of the eyelids, forinstance?"
Mr. Bodery nodded his head in a businesslike way, indicative of the factthat he was engaged in assimilating a good deal of useful information.
"There is nothing to be done to-night," he said presently, as he made amovement towards the door, "but to go to bed. To-morrow the _Beacon_will be published, and the result will probably be rather startling. Weshall hear something before to-morrow afternoon."
Sidney lighted Mr. Bodery's candle and shook hands.
"By the way," said the editor, turning back and speaking more lightly,"if any one should inquire--your mother or one of your sisters--you cansay that I am not in the least anxious about Vellacott. Good night."
The Slave of the Lamp by Henry Seton Merriman / Actions & Adventure have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes