The slave of the lamp, p.29
The Slave of the Lamp,
IN THE RUE ST. GINGOLPHE AGAIN
One would almost have said that the good citizen Jacquetot was restlessand disturbed. It was not that the little tobacco shop left aught to bedesired in the way of order, neither had the tobacconist quitted hisseat at the window-end of the counter. But he was not smoking, and atshort intervals he drew aside the little red curtain and looked out intothe quiet Rue St. Gingolphe with a certain eagerness.
The tobacconist was not in the habit of going to meet things. He usuallywaited for them to come to him. But on this particular evening ofSeptember in a year which it is not expedient to name, he seemed to belooking out into the street in order that he might not be taken bysurprise in the event of an arrival. Moreover he mopped his vastforehead at unnecessarily frequent intervals, just as one may note asnuff-taker have recourse to that solace more frequently when he isagitated than when a warm calm reigns within his breast.
"So quiet--so quiet," he muttered, "in our little street--and in theothers--who knows? It would appear that they have their shutters loweredthere."
He listened intently, but there was no sound except the clatter of anoccasional cart or the distant whistle of a Seine steamer.
Then the tobacconist returned to the perusal of the _PetitJournal_. Before he had skimmed over many lines, he looked up sharplyand drew aside the red curtain. Yes! It was some one at last. Thefootsteps were hurried and yet hesitating--the gait of a person notknowing his whereabouts. And yet the man who entered the shop a momentlater was evidently the same who had come to the citizen Jacquetot whenlast we met him.
"Ah!" exclaimed the tobacconist. "It is you!"
"No," replied the other. "It is not. I am not the citizen...Morot--Ithink you call it."
"But, yes!" exclaimed the fat man in amazement. "You are that citizen,and you are also the Vicomte d'Audierne."
The new-comer was looking round him curiously; he stepped towards thecurtained door, and turned the handle.
"I am," he said, "his brother. We are twins. There is a resemblance. Isthis the room? Yes!"
"Yes, monsieur. It is! But never was there such a resemblance."
The tobacconist mopped his head breathlessly.
"Go," said the other, "and get a mattress. Bring it and lay it on thistable. My brother is wounded. He has been hit."
Jacquetot rose laboriously from his seat. He knew now that this was notthe Vicomte d'Audierne. This man's method was quite different. He spokewith a quiet air of command, not doubting that his orders would beobeyed. He was obviously not in the habit of dealing with the People.The Vicomte d'Audierne had a different manner of speaking to differentpeople--this man, who resembled him so strangely, gave his orderswithout heeding the reception of them.
The tobacconist was essentially a man of peace. He passed out of a smalldoor in the corner of the shop, obeying without a murmur, and leavingthe new-comer alone.
A moment later the sound of wheels awoke the peaceful stillness of theRue St. Gingolphe. The vehicle stopped, and at the same instant the manpassed through the little curtained doorway into the room at the back ofthe shop, closing the door after him.
The gas was turned very low, and in the semi-darkness he stood quitestill, waiting. He had not long to wait; he had scarcely closed the doorwhen it was opened again, and some one entered rapidly, closing itbehind him. Then the first comer raised his arm and turned up the gas.
Across the little table, in the sudden flood of light, two men stoodlooking at each other curiously. They were so startlingly alike, inheight and carriage and every feature, that there was something weirdand unpleasant in their action--in their silence.
"Ah!" said the last comer. "It is thou. I almost fired!"
And he threw down on the table a small revolver.
"Why have you done this?" continued the Vicomte d'Audierne. "I thoughtwe agreed sixteen years ago that the world was big enough to contain usboth without meeting, if we exercised a little care."
"She is dead," replied the brother. "She died two years ago--the wife ofPrangius--what does it matter now?"
"I know that--but why did you come?"
"I was ordered to Paris by the General. I was near you at the barricade,and I heard the bullet hit you. Where is it?"
The Vicomte looked down at his hand, which was pressed to his breast;the light of the gas flickered, and gleamed on his spectacles as he didso.
"In my chest," he replied. "I am simply dripping with blood. It hastrickled down my legs into my boots. Very hot at first--and then verycold."
The other looked at him curiously, and across his velvety eyes therepassed that strange contraction which has been noted in the glance ofthe Vicomte d'Audierne.
"I have sent for a mattress," he said. "That bullet must come out. Adoctor is following me; he will be here on the instant."
"One of your Jesuits?"
"Yes--one of my Jesuits."
The Vicomte d'Audierne smiled and winced. He staggered a little, andclutched at the back of a chair. The other watched him without emotion.
"Why do you not sit down?" he suggested coldly. "There are none ofyour--_People_--here to be impressed."
Again the Vicomte smiled.
"Yes," he said smoothly, "we work on different lines, do we not? Iwonder which of us has dirtied his hands the most. Which of the two--thetwo fools who quarrelled about a woman. Ha? And she married a third--adolt. Thus are they made--these women!"
"And yet," said the Jesuit, "you have not forgotten."
The Vicomte looked up slowly. It seemed that his eyelids were heavy,requiring an effort to lift them.
"I do not like to hear the rooks call--that is all," he said.
The other turned away his soft, slow glance, the glance that had failedto overcome Christian Vellacott's quiet defiance--
"Nor I," he said. "It makes one remember."
There was a short silence, and then the Jesuit spoke--sharply andsuddenly.
"Sit down, you fool!" he said. "You are fainting."
The Vicomte obeyed, and at the same moment the door opened and thetobacconist appeared, pushing before him a mattress.
The Jesuit laid aside his hat, revealing the tonsure gleaming whitelyamidst his jetty hair, and helped to lay the mattress upon the table.Then the two men, the Provincial and the tobacconist of the Rue St.Gingolphe, lifted the wounded aristocrat gently and placed him upon theimprovised bed. True to his blood, the Vicomte d'Audierne uttered nosound of agony, but as his brother began to unbutton the butcher'sblouse in which he was disguised he fainted quietly. Presently thedoctor arrived. He was quite a young man, with shifting grey eyes, andhe saluted the Provincial with a nervous obsequity which was unpleasantto look upon. The deftness with which he completed the task of layingbare the wound was notable. His fingers were too clever to be quitehonest. When, however, he was face to face with the little blue-rimmedorifice that disfigured the Vicomte's muscular chest, the expression ofhis face--indeed his whole manner--changed. His eyes lost theirshiftiness--he seemed to forget the presence of the great man standingat the other side of the table.
While he was selecting a probe from his case of instruments the Vicomted'Audierne opened his eyes.
"Ah!" said the doctor, noting this at once. "You got this on theBoulevard?"
"How did you get here?" He was feeling the wounded man's pulse now.
"All the way?"
"Who carried you into this room?" asked the doctor, returning to hiscase of instruments.
"No one! I walked." The doctor's manner, quick and nonchalant, evidentlyaggravated his patient.
"Why did you do that?"
He was making his preparations while he spoke, and never looked at theVicomte.
"In order to avoid attracting attention."
This brought the doctor's glance to his face, and the result wasinstantaneous. The young man started, and into his eyes there came againthe shifty exp
"Will Monsieur take chloroform," he asked, unfolding a cleanpocket-handkerchief, and taking from his waistcoat pocket a small phial.
"But--I beg of you------"
"It is not necessary," persisted the Vicomte calmly.
The doctor looked across to the Provincial and made a hopeless littlemovement of the shoulders, accompanied by an almost imperceptibleelevation of the eyebrows.
The Jesuit replied by looking meaningly at the small glass-stopperedbottle.
Then the doctor muttered:
"As you will!"
He had laid his instruments out upon the mattress--the gas was turned upas high as it would go. Everything was ready. Then he turned his back amoment and took off his coat, which he laid upon a chair, returningtowards the bed with one hand behind his back.
Quick as thought, he suddenly darted forward and pressed the cleanhandkerchief over the wounded man's mouth and nose. The Vicomted'Audierne gave a little smothered exclamation of rage, and raised hisarms; but the Jesuit was too quick for him, and pinned him down upon themattress.
After a moment the doctor removed the handkerchief, and the Vicomte layunconscious and motionless, his delicate lips drawn back in anger, sothat the short white teeth gleamed dangerously.
"It is possible," said the surgeon, feeling his pulse again, "thatMonsieur has killed himself by walking into this room."
Like a cat over its prey, the young doctor leant across the mattress.Without looking round he took up the instruments he wanted, knowing theorder in which they lay. He had been excellently taught. The noiselessmovements of his white fingers were marvellously dexterous--neat, rapid,and finished. The evil-looking instruments gleamed and flashed beneaththe gaslight. He had a peculiar little habit of wiping each one on hisshirt-sleeve before and after use, leaving a series of thin red stripesthere.
After the lapse of a minute he raised his head, wiped something which heheld in his fingers, and passed it across to the Provincial.
"That is the bullet, my father," he said, without ceasing hisoccupation, and without raising his eyes from the wounded man.
"Will he live?" asked the Jesuit casually, while he examined the bullet.
"If he tries, my father," was the meaning reply.
The young doctor was bandaging now, skilfully and rapidly.
"This would be the death of a dog," said the Provincial, as if musingaloud; for the surgeon was busy at his trade, and the tobacconist hadwithdrawn some time before.
"Better than the life of a dog," replied the Vicomte, in his smoothlymocking way, without opening his eyes.
It was very easy to blame one woman, and to cast reflections upon theentire sex. If these brothers had not quarrelled about that woman, theywould have fallen out over something else. Some men are so: they arelike a strong spirit--light and yet potent--that floats upon the top ofall other liquids and will mingle with none.
It would seem that these two could not be in the same room withoutquarrelling. It was only with care that (as the Jesuit had coldlyobserved) they could exist in the same world without clashing. Neverwas the Vicomte d'Audierne so cynical, so sceptical, as in the presenceof his brother. Never was Raoul d'Audierne so cold, so heartless, soJesuitical, as when meeting his brother's scepticism.
Sixteen years of their life had made no difference. They were as farapart now as on one grey morning sixteen years ago, when the Vicomted'Audierne had hurried away from the deserted shore of the Cote du Nord,leaving his brother lying upon the sand with an ugly slit in his neck.That slit had healed now, but the scar was always at his throat, and inboth their hearts.
True to his training, the Provincial had not spoken the truth when hesaid that he had been ordered to Paris. There was only one man in theworld who could order him to do anything, and that man was too wise totest his authority. Raoul d'Audierne had come to Paris for the purposeof seeing his brother--senior by an hour. There were many things ofwhich he wished to speak, some belonging to the distant past, some to amore recent date. He wished to speak of Christian Vellacott--one of thefew men who had succeeded in outwitting him--of Signor Bruno, or MaxTalma, who had died within pistol range of that same Englishman, asudden, voiceless death, the result of a terrible access of passion atthe sight of his face.
But this man was a Jesuit and a d'Audierne, which latter statement isfull of import to those who, having studied heredity, know thatwonderful _inner_ history of France which is the most romanticstory of human kind. And so Raoul d'Audierne--the man whose power in theworld is like that of the fires burning within the crust of the earth,unseen, immeasurable--and so he took his hat, and left the little roombehind the tobacconist's shop in the Rue St. Gingolphe--beaten,frustrated.
The Slave of the Lamp by Henry Seton Merriman / Actions & Adventure have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes