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Title: The Bird of Paradise
Author: E Phillips Oppenheim
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202041.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Bird of Paradise
Author: E Phillips Oppenheim



Also published as "Floating Peril."

*

Published in book form in 1936.

*

Serialised in The Sydney Morning Herald commencing 25 December 1935
and
Serialised in the Argus (Melbourne) commencing 16 December 1935

THE BIRD OF PARADISE (a.k.a. FLOATING PERIL) E PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

Published 1936.

Serialised in The Sydney Morning Herald commencing 25 December 1935 and
Serialised in the Argus (Melbourne) commencing 16 December 1935


*

The Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday 24 December 1935
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17229613

"HERALD'S" NEW SERIAL. Story by E. Phillips Oppenheim. "THE BIRD OF
PARADISE."

The new story by E. Phillips Oppenheim entitled "The _Bird of Paradise_"
of which the serial rights have been purchased by the Herald will begin
to morrow.

A young American on his yacht, the _Bird of Paradise_ in the harbour at
Antibes, is puzzled by the desire he finds in visitors coming aboard at
different times to buy the vessel from him. His first mysterious
experience is when he finds a girl in full evening dress swimming
alongside. The next is when a man occupying an important position in the
French Cabinet, who is accompanied by a well-known banker, calls with a
demand for sale at a high price. A French gunboat slips into the harbour
and drops anchor close to the yacht and remains there. A fascinating
danseuse is a visitor. And so on, and with the material of conspiracies,
French politics, love and adventure the story is woven around the yacht
with that peculiar polish in dialogue and fascinating colouring
characteristic of the popular author. The reader early gets an inkling
of what is afoot but the air of mystery never lapses and the necessity
for finding out what the ingenuity of the writer is leading up to will
be found to continue and grow right through to the end.

* * *



CHAPTER I

Hamer Wildburn sat suddenly up in his wide and luxurious cabin bed, with
the start of the sound sleeper unexpectedly awakened. His hands clasped
his pyjama clad knees. He listened intently. Through the wide open
porthole opposite came the thirty seconds flash from Antibes lighthouse.
From the shore road, which skirted the bay, there was the faint hoot of
a belated motor car. Closer at hand the lazy murmur of the sea against
the sides of his anchored yacht. Then more distinctly, he heard again
the sound which had at first awakened him. This time there was no doubt
about it. A human voice from the open space. A woman's cry of appeal.
The soft but purposeful splashing of a swimmer keeping herself
afloat...The young man hastened out of bed, ran up the companionway, and
leaned over the side. What he saw almost immediately below was enough to
startle anyone. A woman was floating upon her back, a woman, not in the
day-by-day scanty but sufficient bathing dress of the moment, but a
woman in evening dress, with the glint even of Jewels around her neck.

"What on earth's the matter?" he called out "Have you fallen in from
anywhere?"

"Please do not ask foolish questions," was the composed reply. "Let down
your steps. I have upset my canoe, and I must come on board for a
moment."

Wildburn's hesitation was only momentary. He unscrewed the hooks,
lowered the chain, and let down the steps into the sea. The woman, with
a few tired strokes, swam towards him. She showed no particular signs of
weakness or panic, but she clutched almost feverishly at his hand, and
the moment she reached the deck she calmly but completely collapsed.
With a thrill of horror, Wildburn realised that a portion of her black
chiffon gown which clung so tightly to her body bore traces of a darker
stain than the discolouration of the sea. His natural stream of
questions died away upon his lips, as she became a dead weight upon his
arm.

There was a quivering narrow shaft of light piercing the skies eastwards
when the woman opened her eyes. Wildburn gave a sigh of relief. He held
a glass of brandy once more to her lips. Her fingers guided it and she
sipped some feebly.

"I will give you some coffee presently," he promised. "By an unfortunate
chance, I am alone on the boat. I gave my _matelot_ and his boy the night
off."

She fingered the blanket by which she was covered. A look of mild horror
shone out of her eyes. Hanging from the ropes which supported the
forward awning was a black shapeless object.

"My gown!" she gasped.

"I had to take it off," he explained coolly. "I was not sure whether you
were seriously hurt. I am glad to find that you are not. I have bound up
your shoulder. You may find it stiff and a little painful at first, from
the salt water, but it is not serious."

She lay quite still. Her hands were underneath the rug. From a very damp
satin bag she produced a handkerchief, and wiped her forehead.

"I suppose it was necessary for you to play lady's maid?" she asked
weakly.

"Absolutely," he assured her. "You were still bleeding, and I could not
tell how serious your wound might be I--er--exercised every precaution."

She looked up at him earnestly. Apparently her scrutiny of his features
satisfied her. Wildburn was not good looking in the ordinary sense of
the word, but he had pleasant features, a freckled, sunburnt complexion,
and the humourous gleam of understanding in his eyes.

"I am sure you did what you thought was best," she said. "I ran my canoe
into one of those stationary fishing boats."

If it occurred to him to make any comment upon her journeying amongst
them at an early hour in the morning, alone and in evening dress, he
refrained.

"I always said that they ought to show a light," he remarked. "I have
seen your canoe. It is drifting in shorewards."

"Give me some more brandy," she begged. "I wish to speak to you before
we are disturbed."

"I can hear the kettle boiling now," he told her. Wouldn't you like
coffee?"

"Coffee would be better," she admitted. "You are being very kind to me.
I thank you."

Still somewhat dazed, Wildburn descended the steps, made the coffee, and
remounted.

"I'm sorry," he apologised, "that there will be no milk. They bring it
to me from the shore at seven o'clock."

"It smells too delicious as it is," she declared.

"If you will swing a little round," he advised her, "with another
cushion or two behind your back you will be more comfortable. You can
sit up now and, you see, I will put this rug round your knees. Directly
you have had your coffee you had better go down to my cabin and take off
the remainder of your wet things."

"You have perhaps a stock of ladies clothing on board?" she asked
curiously.

"If I had known of your projected visit," he replied, "I should have
provided some. As it is you will have to content yourself with a set or
my pyjamas. You will find them in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe by
the side of the bed."

She looked at him meditatively. Wildburn was a trifle over six feet, and
she herself, slim and elegant as she seemed, could scarcely have been
more than five feet five. Furthermore, Wildburn was broad shouldered
with a man's full chest. She sighed.

"I am going to look ridiculous," she complained.

"I should forget that for the moment," he ventured, as he set down her
empty coffee cup. "You seem to be quite warm. I wonder whether you are
feeling strong enough to satisfy my curiosity before you go down below."

"What do you want to know?" she asked.

He looked around the harbour. There were no unusual lights, no
indications of any other yacht having come in during the night.

"Well, where you come from first of all. Then why you choose to paddle
about the bay in the small hours of the morning in your ordinary evening
clothes, and lastly, why you should choose my boat for your objective."

She was watching that broadening shaft of light uneasily.

"What is the time?" she inquired.

"Five o'clock," he told her. "Do you mind if I smoke a cigarette whilst
you explain your adventure?"

"I will smoke one too." she said, holding out her hand. "As to
explaining my adventure, I find it difficult. You smoke good tobacco, I
am glad to see. Thank you," she added as she leaned towards his _briquet_.

There was a silence. As yet there were no signs of life either on the
small _plage_ or anywhere upon the sea. They were surrounded by the
brooding background of the woods which fringed the inlet. The lights in
the few villas had long been extinguished. The tops of a row of tall
cypresses stood out like dark smudges against the coming dawn.

"Well?" he asked after a brief pause.

"After all, I find it difficult," she admitted. "Where I came from it
does not matter. I started, as you perceive, in a hurry, I am rather
impulsive. There was something which had to be done."

"Something which had to be done between three and four o'clock in the
morning by a young lady still wearing valuable jewellery and dressed for
the evening sounds," he pointed out, "mysterious."

"Life," she told him evasively, "is mysterious."

"You will have to be a little more definite," he insisted, with some
impatience. "I have done my best to help you under these singular
circumstances, but I want to know where you came from and what you
want."

"Indeed," she murmured, drawing the blanket more securely around her.

"Think it over for a few minutes," he proposed. "Go down below--the
hatch is open--five steps, first door to the right, and you will come to
a very untidy cabin. There are plenty of clean towels on the settee. I
have rubbed you as best I could. You had better try and get yourself
quite dry. Put on some pyjamas and my dressing gown--which you will find
there--then come up and explain yourself."

"You will trust me in your cabin then," she observed, struggling to her
feet.

"Why shouldn't I? You do not appear to be in distressed circumstances
and I have nothing in the world worth stealing."

She looked at him for a moment with an expression which baffled him.

"Are you as honest as you seem?" she asked abruptly.

"I think so," he answered, mystified.

Without further comment she rose to her feet and, holding the blanket
about her as though it were an ermine cape, disappeared down the stairs.
Wildburn waited for what seemed to him to be an unconscionable time,
then he poured out another cup of coffee, lit a fresh cigarette, and
strolled round the deck. Once more in the misty twilight of dawn he
satisfied himself that no strange craft had entered the bay during the
night. The tiny restaurant on the _plage_ was still closed. The beautiful
_château_ which, with its thickly growing woods, occupied the whole of the
western side of the bay offered no signs of life. The windows of the few
villas on the other side were still lifeless blanks...He paused before
the sodden black frock flapping in the faint breeze, took it down and
shook it. A fragment of the sash disclosed within the name of a world
famous dressmaker. Then he turned round to find his unaccountable
visitor standing by the side of him.

"Of course I know that I look ridiculous," she admitted querulously. "I
hope that your manners will stand the strain and that you will not laugh
at me."

The tell-tale lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth deepened, but
if he felt any inclination towards mirth he restrained it.

"I never realised that I had such good taste in night apparel," he
assured her. "The prospect of your immediate future however, causes
me--I must confess--some disquietude. Perhaps you are staying near
here--at some place where I can send for clothes?"

"We will see about that presently," she replied. "It is a matter of no
great importance."

She seemed to find the twinkle in his eyes, as he stole another look at
her, unduly irritating.

"These things are all trifles," she declared with a frown. "Where I live
or who I am does not matter. What do you want to know about me?"

"Let's get to something definite," he begged. "What were you doing
swimming round my boat at three o'clock in the morning in an evening
frock from the Rue de la Paix?"

She sighed.

"So you realised that?"

"No more evasions, please," he insisted sternly. "Facts."

"I came," she confided, "to pay you a visit."

"Very kind of you," he acknowledged. "You have robbed me of two or three
hours' sleep, you have given me a great deal of anxiety, and even now I
have not the faintest idea as to who you are or what you could want from
me. Please be more explicit."

"You can give me another cigarette first," she demanded.

He handed her his case and _briquet_. "And now?"

"First of all, let me be sure that I am not making a mistake," she
continued. "Your name is Hamer Wildburn? This is the yacht _Bird of
Paradise_?"

"Correct."

"A very delightful boat."

"You flatter me. And then?"

"Is it for sale?"

"Certainly not." She sighed.

"That makes it more difficult. Will you sell it?"

He considered the matter for a moment.

"Why should I? It exactly suits me, and I am not in urgent need of
money. I should only have to go and buy another one. No, I will not sell
it."

For the second or third time she looked anxiously out seawards. She was
watching the point around which incoming vessels must enter the bay.

"Will you charter it?" she persisted. "For a month if you like, even for
a shorter time?"

"I shouldn't dream of such a thing," he assured her. "I have owned half
a dozen small boats in my lifetime. I have never chartered one of them.
I have just filled up with stores, and all my belongings are on board. I
have settled down until the late autumn. There was never anyone less
anxious to part with one of his possessions than I am to part with this
little boat."

She rose to her feet with a staccato cry which thrilled him. Above the
low land on the other side of the point a thin wireless mast was
suddenly visible. The powerful engines of a large motor yacht broke the
stillness. The woman's expression became haggard. That far-off
monotonous sound was like the tocsin of fate.

"Hamer Wildburn," she said, "I have risked my life in this enterprise,
which I suppose you look upon only as an act of folly."

"I simply do not understand it," he protested.

"I was at my villa in Mougins last night. I received a telephone
message--something very important. Directly I received it I drove myself
down here. My car is still there under the trees. There was no one to
bring me to your boat--the little restaurant was locked up. There was
not a soul on the beach, nothing but a darkness which seemed
impenetrable. I took a canoe--you know what happened to me. I ran into
one of those fishing boats and swam the rest of the way. Do you think it
was a trifle which made me so desperate?"

"Perhaps not," he admitted, thoroughly dazed. "But what is it all about?
What do you want my boat in particular for? There are hundreds just like
it."

"I cannot tell you why I want it," she declared hopelessly. "That is the
hateful part of the whole business. It is a matter of dire secrecy. But
I will tell you this--before many days are past you will sell or part
with it to someone. It may be taken from you by force. If you are
obstinate it may cost you your life. Why not deal with me? I am the
first to come to you. I am told that you bought it in Marseilles harbour
for something under two thousand pounds. Let me put some men on board
and take it away this morning and I will give you a cheque for four
thousand pounds on the Credit Lyonnais. You will see my name then and
you will know that it will be met. Make up your mind please, quickly.
Listen! What is it that approaches?"

He answered without turning round. His eyes were fixed upon the paler
beam from the lighthouse. The twilight of dawn had settled upon the grey
sea.

"That is only a fishing boat going out," he said, listening for a moment
to the soft swish of the oars. "There is a mist falling. Come below into
the cabin and we will discuss this matter."


Auguste, _matelot_ and assistant navigator of the _Bird of Paradise_,
brought the dinghy round to the side of the yacht. He looked with
surprise at the steps.

"Monsieur has perhaps taken an early swim," Jean, his subordinate
suggested.

Auguste was a man of apprehensions. He glanced around and the longer he
looked the less he liked the appearance of things.

"Monsieur would not use the steps," he pointed out. "Besides, he is
nowhere in sight. There is one of the canoes from the beach, too,
floating there which has been capsized."

With a few swift strokes he reached the steps, backed water deftly and
swung round. He pulled himself on to the deck and left Jean to attach
the boat. There were signs of disturbance everywhere--rugs thrown about
the place where someone had sat in damp clothes, empty glasses, empty
coffee cups. Auguste scratched his head in perplexity. The situation
might have seemed obvious enough but Monsieur Wildburn was not like
that. He descended the companionway with hasty footsteps. There was
silence below but the door of the little salon was closed. He opened it
and peered inside. There were evidences of recent occupation there--wine
glasses and a bottle of brandy--but no sign of any human being. He
knocked at the door of the cabin opposite. There was no reply. He turned
the handle and looked cautiously in. At the first glance he scented
tragedy. His feet seemed frozen to the mat. He tried to call out, and he
was noted amongst the seamen of the port as being a lusty shouter, but
this time his effort was in vain. The cabin itself was in the wildest
disorder and doubled up across its floor, his arms outstretched, faint
groans dribbling from his lips, the owner of the _Bird of Paradise_ was
facing the last act in the drama of that strange morning.

An hour later, settled on deck in a _chaise longue_ piled up with
cushions, with his face turned windwards and a cup of tea by his side,
Hamer Wildburn felt life once more stirring in his pulses. The colour
was slowly returning to his healthy sunburnt face. His breathing was
more natural. Auguste watched him with satisfaction.

"Monsieur is better?" he demanded interrogatively.

"Nothing left but a thumping headache and that passes,"' the young man
acknowledged. "Why is Jean bringing the dinghy round?"

"One goes to acquaint the _gendarmerie_, Monsieur," Auguste replied.

"One does nothing of the sort," was the sharp rejoinder.

Auguste's eyes grew round with surprise.

"But Monsieur has been drugged!" he exclaimed. "That Monsieur himself
admitted. He has also been robbed without a doubt. Every drawer in the
cabin is open. The one with the false front has been smashed. Thieves
have been at work here without a doubt."

"I do not believe that I have been robbed Auguste," his master replied.
"There is nothing worth stealing upon the boat. In any case I do not
want any gendarme or the Commissaire of Police or anyone of that sort
down here. I forbid either you or Jean to say a word about this
happening."

Auguste was disappointed. He had seen himself the hero of a small
sensation.

"It must be as Monsieur wishes, of course," he grumbled.

"It must if you want to keep your posts, you two," the young man told
them. "Now, listen to me. Did you seen an overturned canoe when you came
in?"

"But certainly," Auguste replied. "It was one of those left for hire at
the _plage_. Jean took it back some time ago."

"Where is the small dinghy?"

"Jean found it upon the _plage_ and brought it back, Monsieur," Auguste
explained. "It would seem that the thief of last night first of all took
the canoe from the _plage_, ran into something, for the bows are badly
damaged, perhaps swim to the boat and took the small dinghy for the
return journey."

"Excellent Auguste," his master said approvingly. "You are probably
right. Now go to the shore and have a look at the end of the road under
the trees Tell me if there are any fresh signs of a motor car having
stood there during the night. Let me know at once if you discover
anything."

"And Monsieur does not wish me to approach the gendarmes?" the man asked
as he turned away.

"I forbid it," was the firm injunction. "You will go straight to the
spot I have told you of and return here."

Auguste executed his commission and returned within a quarter of an
hour.

"A heavy car has been standing there recently, Monsieur," he reported.
"Louget--he is one of the boatmen down at the _plage_--told me that he had
seen a coupe turn out of the road just as he arrived about an hour ago."

"Did he notice the occupant?"

"But that he was too slim and small," Auguste recounted, "Louget would
have believed him to have been Monsieur."

"Why?" Wildburn asked. "No one would call me either slim or small."

"It was because of the clothes, Monsieur," Auguste explained. "The
driver was apparently wearing a fawn-coloured pullover such as Monsieur
sometimes has on, and a yachting _casquette_."

"Go and see if anything is missing from my cabin," Wildburn directed.
"Don't stop to clear up. I shall probably do that myself later on."

This time Auguste's absence was a brief one.

"The pullover such as Louget described is missing," he announced. "Also
the casquette."

The young man sighed.

"We progress, Auguste," he said, finishing his tea and sitting up in his
chair. "Without the help of the police we have discovered in what garb
the thief made his escape and the manner of his doing so. I am also
minus a lamb's-wool pullover, to which I was greatly attached."

Auguste had apparently lost interest in the affair. He tied up the
dinghy and looked over his shoulder.

"Has Monsieur any commands for the morning?"

"None at present."

"Monsieur does not wish for the services of a doctor?"

"Don't be a fool," Wildburn replied irritably. "There's nothing whatever
the matter with me. I may have had one drink too many."

"It is always possible," Auguste admitted. "In the meantime, what does
Monsieur propose to do with this?"

He produced from under his coat and shook out that very exquisite but
fantastic fragment of lace and crepe georgette from which Wildburn had
torn off one sleeve In the small hours of the morning. He hold it out
fluttering in the morning breeze. Wildburn studied it meditatively.

"It resembles a lady's gown, Auguste," he observed.

Auguste was not discussing the matter. As a matter of fact, he was a
disappointed man. He was no lover of women himself, and he fancied that
in his master he had met with a kindred spirit.

"Put it downstairs in the salon, Auguste. Another piece of evidence we
have collected, you see. Very soon we shall probably be able to lay our
hands upon the culprit without calling in the police at all."

"Monsieur's cabin is in a state of great disorder," Auguste reported.
"It would be as well to go through his effects and see if anything has
been stolen. The box which Monsieur calls his _caisse noire_ does not
appear to be in its place."

Wildburn rose to his feet and made his way below. He looked around his
cabin critically. Nearly every drawer had been pulled out, and in some
cases the contents had been emptied onto the floor. Every possible
hiding-place seemed to have been ransacked, and a collection of letters,
ties, shirts, and wearing apparel of every sort littered up the place.
Two panels had been smashed with some heavy instrument. The cabin, in
fact, bore every trace of a feverish search. Wildburn sat on the edge of
the bed and lit a cigarette. He was a harmless young man of twenty-six,
who had graduated from Harvard some four years ago, and he was picking
up a little experience in journalism on the staff of one of his father's
papers. There were no complications in his life. He had never sought
adventure in its more romantic forms, nor had adventure sought him.
There was certainly nothing amongst his possessions worthy of the
attention of so elegant a woman as his visitor of a few hours before, a
woman, too, who was prepared to write a cheque for four thousand pounds.
And yet, however long he considered the matter, certain facts remained
indisputable. A woman who was a perfect stranger to him had boarded his
ship alone at 3 o'clock in the morning, had ransacked his belongings,
and, in order to do so undisturbed, had resorted to the old-fashioned
method of doctoring his coffee! Once again he asked himself the
question--what was there amongst his very ordinary possessions which
should plunge him, without any warning, into the middle of so curious an
adventure?

CHAPTER II

The flash from the Antibes lighthouse, which had been growing paler and
paler in the opalescent light, suddenly ceased. There was a faint pink
colouring now in the clouds eastward. A sort of hush seemed to have
fallen upon the sea. Morning had arrived. Upon the deck of the shapely
yet--with its black hull--somewhat sinister-looking yacht, which had
crept slowly into the bay during the hours of velvety twilight, a man in
silk pyjamas and dressing gown was strolling slowly up and down. The
captain, who had been superintending the final lowering of the anchors,
approached and saluted him respectfully.

"This, Monsieur le Baron," he announced, "is the Bay of Caroupe."

The man in the pyjamas nodded. He was somewhat thickly built and
inclined towards corpulence, but he carried himself with confidence and
a certain distinction. He spoke French, too, but with scarcely a
Parisian accent.

"The place has a pleasant aspect," he remarked. "One wonders to find it
so deserted. An American boat, I see," he went on, pointing to the _Bird
of Paradise_.

The captain was full of information--crisp and eloquent.

"The _Bird of Paradise_, Monsieur le Baron. A schooner yacht built in
Marseilles by English men--thirty tons or so. The property of Mr. Hamer
Wildburn--an American. He is apparently on board at the present moment."

"And how did you gather all this information?" the other inquired.

"I looked him up in the 'Yacht Chronicle,' Monsieur," the captain
confided. "In a small harbour such as this I like to know who my
neighbours are."

"How do you know that the owner is on board himself?"

"They hoisted the house burgee at sunrise with the Stars and Stripes."

The man in pyjamas threw away the stump of his cigarette and lit another
thoughtfully.

"Her lines seem to me to be good," he remarked. "She has no appearance
to you, Captain, of having been built for any specific purpose?"

"None that I can discover, Monsieur," was the somewhat puzzled reply.
"She has all the ordinary points of a schooner yacht of her tonnage and
description."

The Baron stared across at the small vessel riding so peacefully at
anchor, and if his close survey did not indicate any intimate nautical
knowledge it nevertheless betrayed intense interest.

"Does Monsieur Mermillon know that we have arrived?" he inquired.

"He was called as we entered the bay," the captain replied. "Those were
his orders. Behold, Monsieur arrives."

A slim man of early middle-age, tall, and of distinguished appearance,
with a broad forehead and masses of iron-grey hair, emerged from the
companionway. The Baron, whom he greeted with a courteous nod and a wave
of the hand, advanced to meet him.

"Our information, it appears, was correct so far, Edouard," he confided.
"That small boat there is the _Bird of Paradise_. It gives one rather a
thrill to look at her, eh, and to realise that there may be truth in
Badoit's statement?"

Monsieur Edouard Mermillon, at that moment perhaps the most talked-about
man in Europe, strolled with his friend towards the rail and gazed
thoughtfully across the hundred yards or so which separated them from
the _Bird of Paradise_.

"Dying men are supposed to have a penchant for speaking the truth," he
observed. "I myself believe in his story. It is perhaps unfortunate
under the circumstances that the boat should be owned by an American."

The Baron, whose full name was the Baron Albert de Brett, shrugged his
shoulders.

"What docs it matter?" he remarked. "The Americans have their fancy for
a bargain like the men of every other race. I was wondering when you
proposed to visit him."

"I see no great cause for haste," Mermillon replied. "It is obvious that
the owner of the boat has no idea of the truth or he would not be lying
here without any pretence at concealment."

His friend evidently held different views. He shook his head
disapprovingly.

"In my opinion," he declared, "not a minute should be wasted. Imagine if
there should be a leak in our information--if others should suspect."

"Seven o'clock in the morning is an early calling hour," Mermillon
observed.

"On an occasion like this," was the swift retort, "one does not stand
upon ceremony."

"The _petit dejeuner_," Mermillon suggested.

"After that I consent."

The Baron ceded the point.

"We will proceed to that as soon as possible then," he said. "I shall
not have an easy moment until we are in touch with this American."

Over coffee and rolls, which were served on deck, the Baron became
meditative. He seemed scarcely able to remove his eyes from the _Bird of
Paradise_.

"In my opinion," he declared finally, crumbling a roll between his
fingers, "our plans as they stand at present are indifferently made.
They involve possible delay, and delay might well mean unutterable
catastrophe. I am inclined to think that Chicotin's method would be the
best solution."

His host regarded him tolerantly.

"Chicotin should be our last resource, my dear Albert," he insisted.
"Such methods carry no certainty, no conviction. They involve also
risk."

"The risk I cannot appreciate," de Brett argued. "On the contrary, I
look upon destruction--absolute annihilation--as the safest, the only
logical course open to us."

The steel grey eyes of his companion flashed for a moment with eager
longing. His indifference was momentarily abandoned. There was an
underlying note of passion in his tone.

"Annihilation, my dear Baron," he murmured. "Who but a child would not
realise what that would mean to us? Surely there were never six men in
this universe who suffered so much for one mistake. We suffer--we shall
go on suffering until the end. But your method of annihilation is crude.
How can we be sure that we are arriving at it? We are working upon
presumption. We believe, but we need certainty. Every inch of that
lazy-looking craft might drift to the skies in ashes or to the bottom of
the sea in melting metal. We could see the place where she is riding so
gracefully an empty blank, but yet we should never know. There would be
always moments when the nightmare would return and fear would visit us
in the night."

The Boron wiped his closely cropped brown moustache with his napkin. He
considered the problem, and sighed. Something in his companion's voice
had been convincing.

"I agree," he sighed. "A moment's doubt would plunge the souls of all of
us into agony. We will approach this young American. We are fortunate
that it is not too late."

There came the sound of a gentle ticking, a purring in the air, and then
again a ticking. The Baron started.

"Your private wireless, Edouard. I thought you were closed off."

"I am in touch with only two men in the world," Mermillon replied.
"Gabriel, the editor of the 'Grand Journal,' and Paul himself."

"Paul would never permit himself to speak on any wireless," de Brett
declared anxiously.

"The very fact that he is risking it," Mermillon observed, with a slight
shrug of the shoulders, "convinces one that the matter is urgent. We
shall know in a minute at any rate."

The Baron lit a cigarette. He had fat pudgy hands, on one of the fingers
of which he wore a massive signet ring. They trembled so that even his
slight task was difficult. His host of the expressionless face watched
him. A smile of contempt would have made him seem more human.

"Your man Jules can decode?" de Brett asked.

"He is capable of that," was the quiet reply. "Our code has been
committed to memory by seven people. He is one. It has never been set
down in print or ink. It has no existence save in the brains of the
two men who compiled it and the five who understand it. Yes, my
dear friend," Mermillon added, lifting his head and listening to the
approaching footsteps, "Jules can decode, and in a moment we shall know
whether our friend is simply telling us news of the weather in Paris or
whether the wild beasts are loose."

A neatly dressed young man, wearing blue serge trousers, a blue shirt,
and yachting cap, presented himself and bowed to Mermillon.

"A brief message and very easily decoded, Monsieur," he announced. "It
is from your private bureau. Monsieur Paul desires to inform you that
General Perissol has ordered out his most powerful 'plane and is leaving
his private flying ground this morning."

"His destination?"

"That will be wirelessed to us as soon as he starts. At any rate, he is
coming south."

The Baron's eyes were almost like beads as he gazed out at the _Bird of
Paradise_ rolling slightly in the swell. Even his imperturbable
companion had glanced immediately in the some direction.

"Where was the General when the message was sent?" the latter inquired.

"With the Chief of the Police at his private house in the Bois de
Boulogne."

De Brett moistened his dry lips.

"An early call that," he muttered. "It is now a quarter to eight. There
are signs of life upon the boat yonder."

Mermillon rose to his feet and gave a brief order to one of the sailors.
In a few moments there was the sound of quick explosions from a small
motor dinghy which had shot round to the lowered gangway. The two men
embarked and crossed the little sheet of shimmering water which
separated them from the _Bird of Paradise_.

"Abandon for my special pleasure, Albert," his companion begged, "that
appearance of a man who mounts the guillotine. We are going to pay a
friendly call upon an unknown American and make him a business
proposition which cannot fail to be of interest. The matter is
simplicity itself. We loitered before in a room where the very whispers
spelt death, but I never noticed on that occasion that your complexion
assumed such an unbecoming hue. Remember, dear Baron," his friend
concluded, "that fear is the twin sister of danger. The greatest agony
can be ended by death, and one can only die once."

The Baron's rotund body ceased to shake. His features stiffened. His
companion had succeeded in what had obviously been his desire--he had
made a man of him.

"Why these sickening platitudes?" he exclaimed. "We must all have our
fits of nerves--except you, perhaps. Permit me mine. They will pass
when the danger comes. You others have less to fear than I. It is not
one knife that will be at my throat if the fates desert me. It will be a
thousand--a hundred thousand!"

"All the more reason for courage and self-restraint," was the smoothly
spoken reply. "I say no more. Remember that we are arrived. Our host is
already in sight. He seems prepared to receive us. Jean," he added,
turning to the mechanic, "Monsieur seems to indicate that the gangway is
down on the other side. With this swell it would naturally be so. We
wish to go on board. We are paying a visit to Monsieur."

Everything was made quite easy for the two callers. The rope from the
dinghy was caught by a waiting seaman, and Hamer Wildburn, leaning down
himself, extended a steadying hand. Minister of State Edouard Mermillon
stepped lightly on to the deck. His companion followed him. The _Bird of
Paradise_, for the second time within a few hours, was to receive
visitors of distinction.

"Say, you two are early birds," Hamer Wildburn observed with a welcoming
smile. "What can I do for you gentlemen?"

"First of all pardon us for the informality of this call," Mermillon
begged. "We should have waited until later in the day, but the matter is
pressing."

"That's all right," the other answered. "I watched you come in an hour or
so ago. A fine boat, that of yours. A fast one, too, I should think."

"Our engines are exceedingly powerful," Mermillon admitted. "To tell you
the truth, however, for the moment I am more interested in your boat
than in my own. You call her, I think, the _Bird of Paradise_?"

"That's right."

"And she was built at Marseilles?"

"Designed by an Englishman. She was built by the firm of Partrout. They
are French, of course, but as a matter of fact every man employed upon
her was, I believe, English."

"My name," the newcomer announced, "is Mermillon."

"Not Monsieur Edouard Mermillon, the French Minister for Foreign
Affairs?" Wildburn exclaimed.

"That is so," Mermillon acknowledged. "My companion here is Baron Albeit
de Brett."

"Proud to know you both," was the courteous but somewhat mystified,
rejoinder. "My name is Wildburn--Hamer Wildburn--and I come from New
York."

De Brett looked at the young American curiously.

"That is odd," he observed. "I cannot remember meeting you before, Mr
Wildburn, but your name sounds familiar."

The young man offered his cigarette case.

"I write occasionally for one of the American newspapers, which is
published in Paris," he confided, "and I sometimes sign my name."

"The reason for this visit," Mermillon intervened, "is easily disclosed.
I have a nephew who comes of age within a few weeks, and whose great
passion is for the sea. I should like to buy exactly this type of craft
as a present for him. If by any remote chance, Monsieur Wildburn, this
boat itself is for sale it would give me the utmost pleasure to pay you
what you consider her value."

"You want to buy my boat?" Wildburn exclaimed incredulously.

"That was rather the idea," Mermillon admitted. "Why does that fact
afford you so much surprise?"

"Because only a few hours ago," the young man told him, "someone else
paid me a visit with the same object."

"You did not sell her?" the Baron interrupted anxiously.

"Nothing doing," Wildburn assured them "Nothing doing with the first
would-be purchaser and nothing doing with you gentlemen. I am delighted
to see you both, but I am sorry you have had the trouble of coming. My
boat is not for sale."

"There is one question I would like to ask," the Baron ventured eagerly.
"Who has been here before us wanting to buy the boat?"

"My dear Albert!" Mermillon remonstrated, "We must not be too
inquisitive. I know my friend's idea of course," he continued, turning
back to Wildburn. "He is wondering whether some other member of my
family has had the same idea or perhaps even Claude, my nephew, himself.
This," he added, turning round, "is so exactly what the lad has always
wanted."

"The offer came from--no matter where." Wildburn said. "I have no reason
to believe, however, that it came from anyone of your own people. In any
case it makes no difference. The boat is not for sale."

Mermillon had the air of one suffering from a mild but not insupportable
disappointment.

"You would not object, Monsieur Wildburn, I hope," he asked, "if I
ordered from the builders the exact duplicate of this admirable craft?"

"I should not have the faintest objection in the world," Wildburn
assured him, "but it would take them at least ten months to build a boat
of this description."

Mermillon threw up his hands.

"Ten months--but it is unbelievable!" he exclaimed. "The young are not
used to such delays. To wait for ten months would be impossible. Under
those regrettable circumstances Monsieur Wildburn," he went on after a
momentary pause, "you will not be offended if I ask whether this
decision of yours not to sell your boat is absolutely final. I am only a
French politician, not a world-famed banker like my friend here, and, as
you know, French politicians are not amongst the wealthy ones of the
world. Still, in the present instance, I might almost say that money is
no object."

Wildburn appeared a little distressed. His visitor's tone and manner
were alike charming.

"I have been one of your sincere admirers, Monsieur Mermillon," he said,
"and I should hate to seem in any way discourteous to a person of such
distinction, but the fact of it is that just now I am not in need of
money, and the boat suits me exactly. Instead of finishing my vacation,
as I had planned, cruising around in these seas, I should have all the
trouble of dealing with specifications and superintending the rebuilding
of another boat. Allow me to offer you chairs. Auguste!" he called out
"Deck chairs here for these gentlemen."

The two visitors were soon comfortably ensconced. Their host produced
cigarettes and cigars. Mermillon resumed the conversation.

"It is obvious," he remarked "that the matter would present
inconveniences to you. That I should take into account."

"It would be a beastly nuisance," Hamer Wildburn assented. "That is why
I am afraid I must remain obstinate. I love France, but I hate
Marseilles. I have no wish to return there. What I want to do is to
spend the rest of the summer idling about here."

"I do not blame you," Mermillon declared. "I find it very natural. The
situation is delightful, and you have, doubtless, many friends. Still,
there is this to be considered--I do not weary you by my persistence, I
trust."

"Not in the least," Wildburn assured him, "but I am afraid you will find
me very ungracious. Believe me, I honestly do not wish to sell the boat.
It would interest me a great deal more to congratulate you upon some of
your marvellous successes in the world of international politics."

Mermillon bowed.

"You flatter me," he acknowledged, smiling. "I must explain this,
however before I--throw up the sponge. Is not that how you call it?
Apart from my official position I possess, as you may have heard, a
considerable fortune. I have such simple tastes in life that money with
me has lost its significance. You will excuse the vulgarity of this
statement. It comes into our discussion."

"No vulgarity at all," Wildburn assured his visitor "You should hear
some of our westerners at home talk about their dollars. I am frankly
delighted to meet a man over on this side who admits that he has any
money left. It seems to be the fashion everywhere to plead poverty. I am
rather tired of meeting poor men. This means, I suppose," he added,
"that I can write my own cheque if I consider giving up the boat?"

Mermlllon smiled.

"Not quite," he said "It might come very nearly to that if you are the
man of common sense I think you are."

"May I make a suggestion?" de Brett intervened. "My friend Mermillon
here has shown me a side of his character which I must confess that I
never knew before. He is as impetuous as a boy about this present he
wishes to make his nephew. I am afraid I am of a more cautions
temperament. May I suggest that before discussing the matter further we
just take a look below and a glance at the engines? For what else am I
here?"

"With the greatest pleasure," Wildburn replied, rising promptly to his
feet. "Follow me, gentlemen. After your yacht, Monsieur Mermillon, you
will find it a little cramped, but there is plenty of room for one
person--or even two."

The three men descended the companionway. They inspected the owner's
cabin, which certainly had its charm. They glanced at thee galley, and
appreciated the power and condition of the Diesel engines. They ended in
the salon, which was as handsome as a liberal expenditure and good taste
could make it.

"I came prepared to criticise," de Brett confessed. "I am lost in
admiration."

Mermillon seemed for the moment to have lost interest in the details
which he had been admiring so generously. He was gazing at a particular
spot on the carpet of the small salon. Wildburn perceived his diverted
attention and frowned.

"My _matelot_ had a day off yesterday," he explained. "I am afraid that
you find the place a little untidy."

"It is scarcely that, Monsieur Wildburn," the visitor replied
courteously. "There is some derangement of the apartment, it is true,
but it was something else which attracted me. You are alone here, I
think you said?"

"I certainly am."

Mermillon stooped lightly down and picked up from the carpet the object
which had attracted his attention. He held it out to Wildburn. It was a
very beautiful emerald of large size and finely cut!

"No wonder there are others besides myself," he remarked, "who would be
willing to pay you a large price for your yacht if there is much
jewellery of this description to be picked up."

The young American's face was suddenly dark. His voice lost its
smoothness. His attempted indifference was badly assumed.

"I have visitors occasionally," he admitted. "Thank you for the emerald.
I have no doubt that my latest visitor will be here to claim it very
soon."

"She should not be blamed," Mermillon murmured. "I am a judge of gems,
and I must confess that I envy her the possession of that one. However,
we did not come here to discuss precious stones. I am satisfied with all
that you have shown me, Monsieur Wildburn. I want your boat. My cheque
book is at your disposal."

"I don't want to seem obstinate," Hamer Wildburn said smiling. "I will
sell her to you on one condition."

"Well?"

"That I deliver her in two months' time after I have finished my
cruise."

The eyebrows of Edouard Mermillon were slightly upraised, and the Baron
frankly scowled. It was obvious that both men were disappointed.

"In two months' time," the former pointed out, "my nephew's birthday
will be forgotten. The cruising season will be over. My gift would have
no significance. If you are willing to sell at all I should prefer to
pay for immediate delivery. Let us bring this matter to a point. I will
offer you five thousand pounds cash for her as she stands or," he added
with a smile, "I will make it twenty five thousand if the emerald is
included!"

Wildburn shook his head.

"The emerald, although I cannot believe it is worth that much," he said
"is not mine to dispose of. It will be returned to its owner as soon as
I can assure myself of her identity and her whereabouts. As regards your
offer am I permitted to ask you a question, Monsieur Mermillon? Even
rich men do not throw money away heedlessly. Why do you offer me so much
more than my boat is worth?"

"Why indeed," the Baron echoed with a little gesture of disapproval. "I
think that my friend has lost his senses."

"In buying and selling," Mermillon said suavely, "one does not disclose
even to one's friends one's reasons for wishing to operate. I want this
boat very badly my dear new friend."

The American shrugged his shoulders. For some reason or other his
attitude had become a shade less courteous towards his distinguished
visitors.

"Then let me say at once Monsieur Mermillon, that no cheque which you
could write would buy my boat." he announced. "I deeply appreciate the
honour of your visit and I should have been proud and happy if I had
been able to serve you. In this matter I cannot. After that I think you
will agree with me that further conversation would be waste of time."

There was a brief silence. Mermillon appeared to be deep in reflection.
In the end he rose to his feet.

"If you should change your mind within the next few days, Monsieur
Wildburn," he said disconsolately, "I should be glad to hear from you.
Since you have refused my offer of five thousand pounds, however, I am
quite content to believe that you do not wish to sell the boat at all.
For the present, therefore, we will consider the matter closed."

The Baron also rose to his feet with apparent alacrity.

"I congratulate you, my friend, Edouard," he exclaimed, patting his
shoulder. "That was a foolish offer which you made. Monsieur Wildburn
sets, I think, too high a value upon his possession."

The two men made their way to the gangway, the American strolling
behind. The affair of embarkation was only a matter of seconds.

"I trust," Mermillon said courteously, as he took the wheel of the motor
boat, "that you will pay us a visit on the _Aigle Noir_ before you leave
the harbour. We are generally at home at the time of the aperitif."

"I shall be delighted," the young man promised, as he waved his hand in
farewell.

The motor boat shot away, made a circle, and headed for the _Aigle
Noir_. Both men remained speechless until they were half way across.
Then the Baron spoke. His voice was thick and dubious.

"I do not understand," he muttered.

"What is it that you do not understand, my friend?" Mermillon asked him.

"I do not understand that young man refusing an offer of five thousand
pounds for a boat which is obviously worth less than two."

"Then you show less than your usual astuteness," was the caustic reply.
"Although it seemed to me to be bad policy to allude to the fact, he
told us himself that he had received another offer for the boat. The
emerald which I picked up in his little salon is the property of Louise
de Fantany."

The Baron's face showed signs of fear. His complexion was a most
unwholesome colour. He dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief.

"Louise de Fantany." he repeated. "And barely an hour ago we heard that
Perissol had ordered a 'plane for the south!"

Mermillon brought the boat with skilful precision to the gangway steps
of the yacht. He sprang lightly to the deck, and led the way to their
favourite corner.

"Deeply as I regret such methods in these civilised days," he sighed, "I
fear that there is now no alternative. Chicotin must take a hand."

CHAPTER III

Lucienne de Montelimar, a dazzlingly attractive young woman, with her
yellow-gold hair, her deep brown eyes, and her perfect complexion, only
beautified by its coat of sunburn, sat upon the topmost of the steps
leading from the _château_ grounds to the private dock and gazed
thoughtfully across the bay to where, at about a hundred yards'
distance, the _Bird of Paradise_ lay at anchor. In something like thirty
seconds after her arrival Hamer Wildburn had dived from his boat with a
terrific splash and was swimming powerfully towards her. She welcomed
him with the smile which had already turned the heads of half the young
men in Paris.

"You are swimming well this morning," she approved. "I am afraid that if
we race you will beat me. Nevertheless, we shall try presently."

"You have some time to spare to-day?" he asked eagerly.

"An incredible amount," she assured him. "My father started early this
morning to motor over to some forest lands where he hopes later to find
pheasants. Mother has gone to Cannes, and when she starts doing a tour
of the dressmakers' shops there is no telling what will become of her.
Anyway, I know if she is lunching at all that she is lunching with my
aunt at La Napoule. I am neglected. In a day or two the house will be
full. At present there is no one of account."

"If the honest endeavours of one worthy young man can save your feeling
the chill of loneliness," he promised her, "I am at your disposition."

She looked at him speculatively.

"I am not sure," she said. "There are some quite agreeable English
people who proposed themselves for a bathing party, and there is dancing
at the villa of the people on the hill. Besides, I have so much time on
my hands that you will probably get tired of me. _Enfin,_ if I let you
stay with me all the day you will use up that wonderful vocabulary of
French!"

"Try me," he begged. "I read and live and think nothing but French now.
I am almost prepared to be naturalised Furthermore, if you trust
yourself to me I will tell you breathless stories--wildly exciting
ones--of things which have happened to me here within a kilometre of
your _château_. Monte Cristo isn't in it."

She sighed, although the twinkle in her eyes was scarcely one of
melancholy.

"More women are conquered by curiosity than anything else in the world,"
she declared. "Very well, I agree. I am dying to swim, even before I
listen to your adventures."

She dived from the stone quay. He followed her, and they went off
together. They hurried towards the open sea, the faint tang of an
easterly breeze in their faces, the sunshine glorious in her hair and
deepening the tan upon his naked back, the love of living and of each
other in their hearts. There was nothing in their conversation, however,
to indicate their beatific condition. Perhaps at that time they scarcely
realised it themselves.

"Look out for the wash from that speed-boat," he advised. "I am coming
the other side of you."

"Look down, Hamer," she cried once. "There is a green carpet of leaves
at the bottom of the sea twenty feet down. Just the colour of my bathing
suit, too. I should love to go and walk about there."

"I will buy you a diver's outfit," he promised.

"It must be a green one," she insisted. "To-morrow you must teach me
that crawl. I don't do it properly."

He lay on his back and lazed for a moment. "Lucienne," he asked, "you
are sure you are real? You have not just stolen up out of those forests
underneath?"

"I am so real that I am hungry," she declared. "I suggest that we turn.
Tell me, whose is the yacht that came in this morning?"

"It belongs to a very distinguished person--one of your greatest
statesmen--Mermillon."

She looked across at the boat with interest. "Father knows him quite
well," she said. "I hope he will come to the _château_."

"I see in the French paper this morning," Hamer remarked, "that he is
cruising in search of a complete rest. Throw your body out straighter,
Lucienne. That's marvellous."

"Let us go a little nearer to the _Aigle Noir_," she proposed. "I should
like to see Monsieur Mermillon. They say that he and the President
between them have saved France during the last crisis."

"French politics get me all confused," he confessed. "Don't talk too
much, Lucienne. There is a stiffish current now for a few minutes."

She made a grimace but she obeyed. Soon they were swimming with their
faces to the _plage_, with the dark line of trees and the hidden Esterels
before them.

"I think this is the most beautiful spot on the coast," he said
enthusiastically.

"So do I," she agreed. "What have you for lunch?"

He reflected for a moment.

"Plenty of fish, anyway," he confided. "We had a good haul this morning.
Then, there is a cold chicken I didn't touch yesterday, and heaps of
fruit and vegetables."

"Delicious," she murmured, turning on her back for a moment. "Anyway, I
shan't be able to wait till luncheon time. I'm too hungry. I shall have
one of your breakfast rolls, if you have not eaten them all, and an
early cocktail."

"You are the sort of girl," he declared, "a fellow ought to marry."

"Why don't you, then?" she asked. "You have all day to try and make me
fall in love with you."

"That sounds a trifle old-fashioned but very exciting," he gasped. "Now,
if you look up, you can see Mermillon, He is very elegant in what looks
like white linen, but I think it is white tussore or something of that
sort. The shorter, thick-set man sitting with him is the Baron de
Brett."

"What--the banker?" she exclaimed.

"Banker, speculator, millionaire, and secret hoarder of gold--all these
things and a little more."

She looked at the two men curiously. De Brett had already called his
host's attention to the pair and was staring at the girl with unashamed
admiration. Mermillon, who was reading from a pile of papers, his
secretary standing by his side, only glanced at them for a few seconds.

"Baron de Brett used to be a friend of mother's," the girl confided. "I
do not think I like him very much. All the same, I am afraid I am going
to be faithless to you, Hamer. I adored the way Mermillon looked as
though I were a performing sea lioness and then went on with his work.
He has never looked up since, either..."

Wildburn, who had been swimming under water for a few seconds, came up
and recovered his breath.

"I was thinking of drowning myself," he told her, "but I have changed my
mind. I remembered a passage in a modern novel I was reading last night,
at least, I don't remember the passage, but I remember the sense of it.
One chap knows all about women and he is giving a younger chap a lesson.
'Indifference as a weapon to excite interest in the opposite sex no
longer leads to success,' he said. 'The latest fashion is all the old
stuff over again. Shyness, sentiment, moonlight walks, simple nervous
love making.'"

"Commencing with holding hands under the table, I suppose," she mocked.

"Anyway," he concluded, "the fashion at the moment, is the young for the
young. Girls have left off falling in love with hoary-headed sinners.
They are not looking any longer for a man with experience. The
fashionable passion of the moment is for innocence."

"You must lend me that book," Lucienne gasped, as she clutched at the
chains of the "_Bird of Paradise_."

"It ought to have quite a vogue down in this part of the world."

They stood together upon the deck for a moment--a splendid sight in
their bathing-suits, upon which and their limbs the seashine was still
glistening.

"What you need." he observed thoughtfully, "Is a peignoir."

"Nice thoughtful boy," she assented. "Do you see a rather
attractive-looking young woman in black seated on those steps, with a
huge bathing-bag, gazing anxiously in our direction?"

"I do," he admitted.

"Well, that is Annette, my faithful maid, who is there according to
orders. If you will kindly send your dinghy across for her. I will
borrow your cabin and change."

He gave a brief order, and the dinghy shot out.

"There are two of my breakfast rolls left for you," he told her. "I am
now going to make the cocktails."

"Well," she said, smiling, "whether you make love to me the new way or
the old way, I think we are going to have a very happy time."

They were young and already sufficiently in love to be content with that
monosyllabic and purely personal exchange of remarks which goes to make
the conversation of young people in their position. They chattered in
the canoe which they took out after the early cocktail and rolls, made
fun of one another's occasional mishaps with the paddles, attempted
hair-raising feats of racing to the terror of competing craft, then each
in turn tried paddling alone.

"Fine exercise," she told him encouragingly, as he struggled against the
current.

"I would sooner do deep-breathing exercises on the boat," he groaned.

They showed one another strange evolutions and contortions on the deck.
Each performed incredible feats. Each welcomed the call to luncheon when
it came. It was not until they had finished and were seated in two
_chaises longues_ in the sunshine that they gave a serious thought to the
world about them.

"Now tell me about these strange adventures of yours, Mr. Monte Cristo,"
she begged. "I am happy and lazy, and perhaps a little sleepy, otherwise
I am all attention."

"You may be sleepy but I do not think you will go to sleep," he assured
her. "How is this picture for a start? A very beautiful woman in full
evening dress, wearing even her jewels, hanging on to my chains at 3
o'clock this morning, with a canoe turned upside down drifting behind
her?"

"You are not in earnest?" the girl exclaimed.

"Absolutely."

"Did she come on board?"

"Of course she did. She came out to pay me a call."

Lucienne set up in her chair.

"Go on with that story, please!"

"She came with a request. I refused it. We drank some coffee together.
Really I am rather ashamed to admit this, but I was not expecting
anything of the sort--she positively and absolutely, in the most
melodramatic fashion, drugged me! When I had slept it off in about an
hour's time she had turned my whole cabin and saloon upside down and
disappeared."

"Of course you dreamt all this," Lucienne declared incredulously.

"I dreamt nothing," he insisted. "Do you know who she was?"

"Not the slightest idea. She didn't leave a card."

"Are you going to do anything about it? You have sent for the
gendarmes--yes?"

"Not likely! For one tiling I don't suppose anyone would believe my
story, and for another-what's the good? She didn't steal anything that I
can see."

"What was the request she made that you refused?"

"She wanted to buy the boat."

Lucienne leaned over and took his wrist in her hand.

"Pulse quite normal," she observed. "There is no exaggeration in what
you tell me? It is a true story?"

"Absolutely."

"To buy the boat," Lucienne repeated in amazement. "Why didn't she send
an agent or come in the daytime?"

"I'm telling you all I know," he assured her. "I will pass on to the
next adventure when we have finished with this one."

"What--two in one night?"

"Well, the second one took place this morning to be exact," he admitted.
"You know the yacht that came in with Edouard Mermillon and the Baron de
Brett on board? We saw them while we were swimming."

"Of course."

"Somewhere about hall-past eight this morning," he continued, "Mermillon
and the baron arrived here in a dinghy to pay me a call."

"But, my dear friend, what an honour!" she exclaimed incredulously.

"Yes, I suppose it was," he agreed. "I had not looked al it from that
point of view."

"What did they want?" she asked. "To buy my boat."

Her brown eyes were suddenly larger than ever. Her eyebrows were raised,
her forehead wrinkled. She was tantalizingly beautiful, and much too
engrossed in Wildburn's story to notice that he was holding her hand.

"What on earth did they want your boat for?"

"Monsieur Mermillon wished to make a present of it to his nephew who
comes of age next week. He offered me about three times what I gave for
it."

"What did you say?"

"I refused. I do not want to sell it, anyway. I do not want to move a
foot or a yard from this place. I dare say if the _château_ had not been
up there," he went on, looking through the trees, "and you had not been
in tile _château_, and we were not both fond of swimming--well, I might
have looked at the matter differently. As it is, no one buys my boat. No
one is going to send me away."

"That is a great compliment to me," she acknowledged. "It appears
incredible. You throw away money, which they say is all that you
Americans think of, just to play in the sunshine here with me."

"I happen to like being with with you, Lucienne," he pleaded. I happen
to like the days we spend together here better than anything in the
world that money could buy."

"And they tell me," she sighed, "that American men do not know how to
make love."

"Making love is not a matter of nationality," he assured her. "You just
have to feel what you say. That's all."

I am beginning to be afraid, she whispered. In France we are not quite
so direct as this."

"Our way is better," Wildburn declared confidently. We wait until we are
sure of ourselves and then we speak."

"Then as I am sure that I should like a cup more coffee and I see that
there is some may I ask you for it?"

He prepared it carefully and handed it to her without a word. She took a
cigarette from the opened box and lit it. When she broke the silence her
speech was a little uncertain although her voice was soft. There was a
note almost of pathos in her tone.

"I have not met many of your country people, Hamer," she said, "but I
know there is much freedom between all you young people--men mid girls.
Is this the way you talk to your girl friends?"

"Not unless we happen to mean what we are saying," was his prompt
assurance.

"Are you sure that you meant what you said to me?"

"Every bit of it and a great deal more."

She laid her hand once more upon his. "Keep the rest. Keep it back just
a little time. We are so happy here."

"You will still come to swim and pass your time with me?" he begged.

"So long as I can," she promised. "In a few days time the _château_ will
be filled with guests. That is a different thing. Just now let us go on
pretending that we are children and play together. Soon, very soon
perhaps, if you still wish to, we will talk more seriously."

Her fingers were cold upon his firm hard flesh. Although he pretended
not to notice he could see the rapid rising and falling of her small
bosoms. Discretion or insight--some gift of the gods--guided him. He was
content to wait. Furthermore he helped her out of the labyrinth of
emotion into which they had wandered.

"Now will you tell me what you think of my twenty-four hours
adventures?"

There was a very sweet light in her eyes and he was conscious of her
gratitude. For several moments she was silent. Her face was hidden
behind her beautifully shaped, enamelled vanity-case. He looked away
towards the distant mountains of the Italian frontier and watched the
efforts of a small sailing yacht to elude the mistral and enter the bay.
Presently she closed the case with a snap.

"Tell me, Hamer," she asked, Do you carry treasure on board?"

"Not in a general way," he assured her. I have nothing but a man's
ordinary jewellery, a few possibly rare books and my wearing apparel."

"Then what do these people want to buy your boat for?"

"Can't imagine. But for your visit I should have been thinking of
nothing else. I tell you frankly, though, I have not the slightest idea
There is nothing that I can see about her in which she is different from
any other boat of her class. She was built by Englishmen, which might
make her a trifle more valuable, but that would scarcely account for
this rush of would-be purchasers."

"To whom did she belong before you bought her?"

"A very pertinent question," he approved. "A Frenchman named Dupont. She
was built for him specially, and he took the most meticulous interest in
every one of the smallest details of her construction. He made one trip
in her, professed himself satisfied, paid for her in cash, planned a
cruise for the following week, left Marseilles, and disappeared."

"Disappeared?" she repeated. "Isn't that rather difficult?"

"He did it anyway. The boat builder discovered that his addresses were
false, his name was false, and no one knew anything about him in the
quarter where he was supposed to live. In due course, after the legal
formalities had been attended to, she came on the market. That's how I
bought her."

"There was a mystery about her from the first, then," Lucienne observed.
"Did you buy her furniture and fittings and all that sort of thing?"

"Practically," he assured her. "Of course, I added a few oddments
myself. I had her painted a different colour, and had the cupboards put
in. She is an ordinary schooner yacht, just under thirty tons, soundly
and strongly built, but not a loophole of mystery anywhere about her
construction."

"And yet," Lucienne murmured, "you have had one wild woman attack you at
three o'clock in the morning, France's premier statesman, and one of the
world's greatest financiers--all offering you two to three times as much
as she is worth. Hamer, if I were you I would sell her and get out of
it."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," he promised. "I will sell her to the first
person who tells me the truth as to why they want to buy her,"

Lucienne rose to her feet.

"A wonderful idea," she approved. "Except, if I were you, I would not
sell her to that little man in the dinghy below. He has been round twice
while we have been talking, and I don't like the look of him."

Hamer Wildburn leaned over by her side. Below them a pale faced, dark
eyed man with a mass of black hair unshaded from the sun, dressed in
violently red trousers and blue shirt open at the neck came drifting by
in a small row boat. He looked up at Wildburn and attempted some form of
salute.

"A beautiful leetle boat," he called out. "I like to see over--yes?"

Wildburn shook his head.

"Sorry," he refused. "She is not on exhibition."

"Pardon, Monsieur," the man remarked, rowing, however, nearer to the
steps as though he failed to understand.

Wildburn addressed him rapidly in French. "No one is allowed on board,"
he said, "so get away from there, please."

"Perhaps afterwards," the little man begged. "Monsieur will understand
that I am interested in ships of this class. I know all about engines. I
could perhaps suggest--"

"My boat pleases me as it is," Wildburn interrupted. "Let it be
understood, my friend, that neither you nor any other casual visitors
are going to set foot on board. Off you go."

The man made a sulky withdrawal. Wildburn and the girl exchanged
glances.

"I think you were quite right," the latter approved. "I have never seen
that man before, but he is detestable. If there was any thing evil to be
done upon your boat he would be the man to do it."

"He won't have the chance." Wildburn assured her confidently.

A small boat from the _château_ landing stage came alongside, and
Lucienne's maid extended her hands regretfully.

"Mais Mademoiselle," she announced, "you are urgently needed at the
_château_. Madame la Duchesse has telephoned from Cap d'Ail. The Comtesse
de Lirigny has arrived with two friends, and they are walking in the
grounds. Madame has telephoned to beg that you will entertain any
visitors until she returns. There was the yacht of the Marquis de St.
Pierre in the harbour, and someone landing as I left. I thought it best
to warn Mademoiselle."

"Quite right, Annette," her young mistress agreed. "_Au revoir_, my dear
host," she added, clasping her two hands for a moment over his. "If our
evening swim does not arrive, still there is to-morrow. I think you have
let loose within me a spirit of mischief amongst other things. I shall
swim out before the telephone or callers have become a nuisance, and
stay until I am fetched. That will please you--yes?"

"It will make me very happy," he assured her.

CHAPTER IV

Royalty was giving a dinner party at the rendezvous which on that superb
night seemed to be the centre of the universe--the Summer Casino at
Monte Carlo. Royalty was giving it because the invitation said so, but a
humbler admirer of court life was providing the cheque. Curtsies had
been duly made and introductions effected. His Majesty was talking to
the reigning favourite amongst his lady friends. His Foreign Minister
was engaged in earnest conversation with Monster Edouard Mermillon, the
famous French statesman The member of the suite who was acting as master
of ceremonies, and was carrying about a list in his hand, made urgent
approach.

"Monsieur Mermillon," he begged the lady whom you are to have the honour
of conducting in to dinner is close by. You will permit me this
opportunity of presenting you?

Mermillon, with a friendly little nod, ended his conversation and turned
away. He was almost immediately face to face with a woman who, for
looks, was certainly the star of the evening. She was standing
momentarily alone, having detached herself from a little crowd of
acquaintances as the master of ceremonies made his approach.

"Madame la Princesse," the latter said, "you permit me to present to you
your neighbour at this evenings ceremony--Monsieur Mermillon--whom you
tell me that you have never met but whom you know, of course, by
reputation. Monsieur Edouard Mermillon--la Princesse de Fantany."

Mermillon bowed low over her fingers and raised them to his lips.

"Chance has hitherto been unkind to me," he said. "I am forced to live a
somewhat enclosed life, but I know very well that there is no Parisian
who would not esteem the honour I receive to-night."

The master of ceremonies faded away. The Princes murmured a polite
acknowledgment of her companions words.

"It is a great pleasure, Princess," the latter continued, "to find you
in these parts. It is a great pleasure, too, to think that I bring you
good news."

"How is that possible, Monsieur?" she asked. "It sounds intriguing. Do
explain."

"It was my great good fortune," he confided, "to discover in a remote
corner of a small pleasure yacht, only a few hours ago, one of those
jewels which Madame wears with such distinction."

She was silent for a moment. The eyes whose colour no one had been able
to determine absolutely, which seemed sometimes the softest of grey, and
sometimes the palest blue, for the moment lost their lustre. She looked
at him stonily.

"Jewels of mine," she repeated, "in a small yacht here? Ah, Monsieur,
you are mistaken--or have I perhaps a thieving maid?"

"I might believe myself mistaken," he answered, but for the fact that
the jewels were purchased on your behalf, I was told, at Christie's one
disappointing day, and I was one of those who were left behind in the
bidding. It was the famous Marie Antoinette necklace composed of
entirely flawless emeralds."

"It is true that I own that treasure," the Princess replied, "but you
will observe that I am wearing it this evening."

He bowed. There was a faintly amusing smile upon his lips. Mermillon was
far too clever a man to have been a mere Cabinet Minister.

"You are wearing it indeed, Princess," he assented. "But the pendant
emerald--the joy of the whole collection--is missing."

"You are going to be like one of the magicians of old and produce it
from your waistcoat pocket?" she asked.

"Alas, I cannot do that," he regretted. "I, with all my family, have been
cursed with the inconvenient gilt of honesty. I restored it to the owner
of the boat. Pardon me if I point out that my excited friend, the good
administrator of the feast, has given the signal. It follows that we
should join the procession."

The woman swept her gown into place and laid her fingers upon his arm.
They passed through an admiring vortex of spectators to their chairs.
They sat with the stars and the blue dome of the cloudless sky above
them and the sea, motionless since the dying away of the evening breeze,
stretching away before them. The tables were plenteously and elaborately
decorated with the flowers of the day. From the moment of taking her
place she seemed to have fully recovered her composure. She became once
more the unafraid beauty whom all Parisians adored.

"To leave for a moment, Monsieur, the subject of my possible
indiscretion, which I can assure you was nothing of the sort," she said,
"I find it strange to meet you in this somewhat unfamiliar entourage. In
Paris for the last twelve months, I have scarcely been to a reception
for dinner where your name has not been the engrossing topic. Yet we
have never met."

I make no pretence, Madame, of taking part in any form of social life
while I am in harness."

"I can well understand that," she said sympathetically. "Men who take
the burdens of a struggling country upon their shoulders can find little
time for the distractions of Paris."

She was addressed by the neighbour on her left. For a few minutes she
talked to him lightly of a recent meeting, a dinner party at the
Armenonville. The exigencies of the situation having been complied with,
she turned once more to Mermillon.

"You are passing your vacation in this neighbourhood?" she asked,

"So far as one can call it a vacation," he replied. "I am on my yacht in
company with a great financier, who tries night and day to convert me to
his own ideas as to the gold standard, and I receive portfolios from
Paris twice a day. The true vacation which rested the minds and souls of
men came to an end with the telegraph, telephone, and wireless. These
are the tentacles thrown out to keep us slaves for ever."

"Science takes a hand, too, on the other side," she reminded him. "She
can transport you now with incredible speed from the scene of your
labours."

He shook his head gently.

"The scene of our labours is wherever we happen to be," he told her.

"I find that a little enigmatic," she complained.

"Who speaks in plain words nowadays?" he rejoined. "The age of being
natural is past. We are all playing some game or other, and we must veil
our words, conceal our thoughts."

"Surely, the great Monsieur Mermillon is not obliged to play a part,"
she laughed mockingly. "The emperors of the world are supposed, are they
not, to be monuments of truth?"

"The only one whom I have met," he replied lightly, "was a shocking
liar."

"The fault was probably not with him," she ventured. "It was in the soil
of his country."

Mermillon glanced round the table. "By-the-bye," he remarked, "I am
somewhat disappointed to-night."

"I am not flattered."

"Madame requires no reassurance from me in that respect," he smiled. "I
was thinking of my old friend, General Perissol. I thought that he might
have been here."

"You have given him too much work to do," she said.

"His activities are at least distributed," Mermillon reminded her. "He
has a bureau in every great city of France."

"Is it necessary for him to visit them individually?" she asked. "It
seems to me that one reads reports signed by him issued from Paris most
days."

"I have heard," he confided, "that sometimes those reports are issued
with the sole purpose of confusing the world as to his actual
whereabouts. _Par exemple_, this morning there is issued a decree from him
dated from Paris dealing with the activities of the Communists in
Marseilles, yet Perissol is not in Paris. He is very much nearer to us
than that."

"You speak," she observed, "as though the movements of General Perissol
were my chief interest in life."

"Are they not?" he inquired, with purposeful daring.

She continued her dinner as though she had not heard his question. He
took the opportunity to address a few remarks to his neighbour on the
other side--a very distinguished personage who had been eagerly awaiting
his attentions. At their close he was aware of a change in the
Princess's attitude towards him. Her beautiful shoulder was turned an
inch or two away. She was talking to a friend across the table. It was
some time before she even gave him the opportunity of addressing her
again. When he did so his tone was as courteous as ever, but she
realised that his thrust had been an intentional one. There was a
suggestion that the buttons had been removed from the foils.

"If my questions gave offence, Princess," he said, "I am sorry. As I
dare say you know, I am responsible for the department which General
Perissol administers so excellently, and it is permitted to me to have
sometimes a slight curiosity as to his movements. I have, of course, the
means for satisfying myself as to these matters, but I thought perhaps I
might have learnt from you without effort whether our friend had arrived
in these parts."

"_Cher_ Monsieur Mermillon," she protested with a faint gesture of
reproach, "you credit me with too intimate a knowledge of the General's
movements. He is, without doubt, a friend of mine, but I have never even
heard of him in these parts. Why should he come here?"

"Why, indeed?" Mermillon agreed sympathetically. "It is without doubt as
you say--one has never heard of him here. Yet one has heard of a
Monsieur Benoit who lives in great seclusion in a villa amongst the
pines, on the lighthouse hill, at Garoupe."

She turned and looked at him. His face was inscrutable. He seemed to be
studying the contents of his wineglass. When he returned her glance, he
knew, however, that the risk he had taken had been worth while.

"Do you," she asked, "keep a private army of spies?"

"One must make oneself secure," he answered.

"You do not trust General Perissol--the greatest patriot France ever
had?"

He considered his reply for a moment.

"I would trust to his patriotism," he conceded, "but the time might come
when I found his judgment at fault. In my position, I cannot afford to
be dependent on any one department of the administration or any one man.
I have known men betray their country, not from any lack of patriotism,
but from lack of judgment."

"I see," she murmured.

"Furthermore," he went on, "it is to be acknowledged that, at the
present moment, our friend, notwithstanding his many brilliant gifts, is
confronted with a nervous depression which many months of failure have
induced."

"How do you know that he has failed?" she asked.

Louise de Fantany was haunted for months afterwards by that sudden swift
turn of the head, the light momentarily flashing in the eyes of the man
by her side. She felt suddenly helpless as though, indeed, he was seeing
through all that was at the back of her mind.

"If he has not failed," Mermillon replied, "he has committed a graver
fault still. He has neglected to confide the news of his success,
partial or complete, to the administration from which he holds his
post."

"He may have had his reasons for that," she ventured.

"Alas, none of them would hold water. Our friend is the servant of his
state. A servant who withholds the confidence of his doings from his
employers places himself in a somewhat dangerous position..."

Permission to dance had been given to the members of the party. The
minister leaned towards his neighbour.

"There is perhaps one last word," he said, "which could be more safely
spoken in the seclusion of a crowd. Will you honour me, Princess?"

She rose to her feet with a mechanical word of gracious assent. It was
some few minutes after their leisurely progress had started that they
found themselves at last amidst a crowd of completely unfamiliar people.
The moment came, however.

"You do not suspect General Perissol of disloyalty?" she asked.

"Towards his country or towards his chief?"

"Towards either."

"It is my opinion," he said, "that the people who put him into office
and who are responsible to France for their action are the only ones
whom he should consider."

"I see," she murmured. "The plain truth is that you have mistrusted
Perissol, you have had him spied upon and you have made this discovery.
Well, I will tell you something even at the risk of my own reputation.
His possession of a secret identity and his possession of the villa on
the lighthouse hill have nothing to do with his work for France or with
any form of political intrigue or enterprise."

"_Nid d'amour_?" he whispered. "Precisely."

"And you happen to know that?"

"I am the person concerned."

Mermillon sighed ruefully. There was no evidence that he found the news
specially important, yet both were perhaps aware of a certain change in
the atmosphere.

"The man who has had such happiness granted to him," Mermillon observed,
"can scarcely be censured if he does not hesitate to accept it. At the
same time Paris and Antibes are a long way apart."

"His coming here is not an everyday affair. Besides, there is
Marseilles."

"Marseilles is an important centre," the minister admitted..."I wonder
if by chance the General is anywhere in the neighbourhood now."

"I have told you a good deal," she said. "To disclose his movements
would be an impossibility. You are in a position to ascertain them for
yourself."

"A matter of time only," Mermillon confessed. "We had better, perhaps,
with your permission, return, Princess. My dancing can scarcely compare
with the efforts of some of these younger men."

"Which is to say," she laughed, "that having succeeded in wringing my
secret from me you want to got away as quickly as possible."

"Not at all," he assured her. "Nothing would give me greater pleasure
than to spend the rest of the evening _tête-à-tête_. There are still many
things I should like to ask."

"There is one, Monsieur," she said, fingering for a moment the vacant
place in her necklace, "which I hope as a man of honour and gallantry
you will forget."

Mermillon was smiling to himself somewhat cryptically as he took leave
of his companion, and, having made his excuses to his host, left a few
minutes later. There was a murmur of interest amongst the other guests
as he disappeared.

"The most brilliant politician France has had for years," a famous
banker declared.

"Almost the only one who has come through all these terrible scandals
scatheless," someone else remarked.

"Scatheless personally, but they may yet prove his ruin," a woman of
great consequence observed. "There is calm just now, but the people of
France will never forgive if they are kept in ignorance as to what has
become of all those other missing millions. They will always have the
idea that they have been swindled."

The signal to leave came at last, and a somewhat turgid babble of small
talk came to an end. Everyone hoped that they would catch another
glimpse of the great French statesman in the Sporting Club. Edouard
Mermillon, however, was no gambler with _jetons_.

CHAPTER V

Rumours of an unlimited baccarat bank presided over by the fabulously
wealthy Belgian banker, Baron de Brett, filled the Sporting Club that
evening. With rolls of notes in front of him and stacks of the famous
hundred thousand franc plaques, making the small space immediately
around him at the end of the table look rather like a remote comer of
Aladdin's cave, the Baron himself--bland unruffled, with a large cigar
in his mouth and a gleam of pleasure in his eyes--won and lost millions
on the turn of a card. There were many very distinguished people amongst
the crowd, but the great French statesman, of whom everyone had hoped to
catch a glimpse, and who had been a guest at the Royal dinner party, was
absent, as was also another visitor to the rooms, who was always a great
attraction, the Princess de Fantany.

"Most disappointing," an English Cabinet Minister complained to his
host. "I don't care a fig about this spectacular gambling--it may be a
put-up job for all anyone knows--but if there was one man in this world
with whom I wished for five minutes' conversation before I leave for
Italy to-morrow it was Edouard Mermillon."

His host for the evening--a well-known American resident of the place,
who had long ago shaken himself free from the trammels of international
finance and politics--expressed his polite regrets.

"Mermillon very seldom comes this way," he confided, "and when he does
he is almost as difficult to get hold of as royalty itself. I know for
certain that he left directly after dinner. His hat and coat are gone,
and the concierge called his car."

The Englishman sighed.

"A private word with him might have been immensely useful," he grumbled.
"You do not interest yourself in our troubles nowadays, Mason, but I can
tell you that they are real enough."

"I have had plenty of worry in my time," the American replied. "My stuff
now is invested where neither the mice nor the tigers can get at it, and
I've quit worrying."

"It is not altogether a matter of finance," the Englishman remarked.

"I had a kind of idea," Mr. Seth Mason observed, rolling round his cigar
between his fingers, "that affairs in France were looking pretty good
these days. She is the quaintest country on the face of the map. She has
done everything in the most illogical fashion, she ought to be in
trouble in half a dozen different quarters, and she isn't. It has all
panned out right for her, somehow. A good many people say that it is
mostly due to this chap you wanted to get hold of--Mermillon."

"He is the man with the brains," the Englishman admitted. "In my
opinion, if he had the chance, he could be a greater man and a greater
figure in Europe than any of these opportunist dictators."

"The only question about him in my mind," the American put in, "is
whether he is dead square."

"What makes you suspect him?" the other asked curiously.

"There is no doubt that he is the man who saved France from revolution
after those governmental scandals. It was just dawning upon the people
that the Tositi affair was nothing but a pimple on a huge body of
corruption. They were just beginning to seethe with fury, to demand
something more than these sham investigations, when Mermillon takes the
matter into his hands. There is no doubt that with his eloquence and his
cleverness he has calmed things down for the moment. The other fellows
were all for putting taxes on to make up the deficiency. He took 'em
off. If you want to put a Frenchman in a good humour you take off a tax
in which he is interested. Some day or other, however, one or two pretty
awkward questions will have to be answered, especially if an honest
budget is presented. When that time comes Mermillon will have to declare
himself."

The Englishman rose gloomily to his feet.

"I would be quite content to let the future look after itself if I could
have had that five minutes' talk with Edouard Mermillon tonight," he
declared. "See you later, Mason, I'm going to watch the baccarat and get
a word with de Brett if I can. He is a great friend of Mermillon's and
if he's coming back he would be sure to know."

The French Minister was not the only one who had hurried away from the
Royal dinner party. Mermillon's car had scarcely reached Villefranche
when the famous car of the Princess de Fantany flashed past him. It was
not for nothing that she had earned her reputation as a lover of speed.
She possessed the fastest motor boat upon the coast, and the car into
which she stepped on leaving the Sporting Club climbed the lighthouse
hill at Antibes in something like 40 minutes after her departure. The
iron gate before which it paused was opened by one of its three
guardians, who appeared from some mysterious obscurity, without
question. The car climbed the steep unlit avenue and drew up in front of
what seemed like a deserted villa. A single touch of the bell, however,
and the door was thrown open. Lights flashed out in every direction, and
several shadowy figures approached towards Louise from the background. A
young man hurried out to meet her.

"Monsieur le General is on the terrace, Princess."

She passed across the hall and out through a side door, which the young
man had opened for her, with the air of an _habitue_, and was received
almost at once by another of the famous men of the day. He strode across
the terrace to greet her from the small table at which he had been
working with his secretary--a tall, brown-bearded man of powerful
physique and quick, impulsive movements. He had the frame of a Hercules,
and the iron jaw of a man of deeds, but his voice was unexpectedly
gentle and restrained. The fixed eyeglass in his left eye somehow
softened his expression.

"Louise, my dear friend," he exclaimed as he took her into his arms.
"This is indeed a beautiful surprise. I had no idea you would have been
able to get away from the party so early."

"There was nothing more I could do there," she confided, sinking into
the chair to which he led her. "Besides, I have news for you."

He waved his secretary away. They were alone in the shadow of the pine
trees.

"Something which happened at the dinner?" he inquired.

"Let me tell you," she begged. "I was placed next to Edouard Mermillon.
Lily arranged that for me, it was quite easy. You were right, of course,
in all your information. He and de Brett are both on board the '_Aigle
Noir_.' But there is something else."

"Well?"

"Events are moving quickly. They have only just arrived, but he has
already been on board the '_Bird of Paradise_.' He has tried to buy
it--he offered even an absurd price. This young man, Hamer Wildburn, who
owns the boat must know."

"Mon Dieu! But how did you arrive at this information?"

"From Lily Montelimar. She, too, was dining. Lucienne, her daughter, has
made friends with Hamer Wildburn, the young man who owns the boat. She
told her mother of my foolish little enterprise and of their visit.
Fortunately the young man doesn't know me by sight."

"Wildburn's dossier is harmless enough," General Perissol reflected.

"There is more to tell you, Armand. I fear that it means complications.
He knows of your presence here."

"Ah!"

"For your sake beloved," she went on, "I have sacrificed my reputation.
He believes that you come here secretly to be near me--as indeed you
did before this thing happened. It is so, is it not, Armand?"

"For no other reason," he assured her. "It seems to me then that no
great harm is done."

She clung to his arm.

"Alas, there is worse to be told," she went on anxiously. "You must not
be angry, my lover. It was all the result of that foolish hope of mine
that I might be of use to you. He knows that I, too, have visited the
'_Bird of Paradise_.'"

"That is without doubt awkward," ha admitted.

"You remember the Marie Antoinette necklace that I bought in London?"
she continued. "He also was at the sale. As a matter of fact he was
bidding against me. I am wearing it--as you see. He recognised it and he
saw that the pendant was missing. I dropped that pendant on the '_Bird
of Paradise_.' He saw it there."

Perissol's expression was for a moment grim. He remained silent,
however.

"My dear," she went on, clinging to his arm, "I was so ashamed of my
ridiculous failure--the attempt, I think, came from reading these
foolish English detective stories, in which the woman always seems to be
able to do anything--that I never made any inquiries even about my
emerald. I was willing to consider it lost, although it is invaluable,
if the young man didn't find out to whom it belonged and return it. But
there you are. He saw it, and he knows of my visit. You are not angry,
Armand?"

"Not I," he answered fondly. "What you don't realise, my dear Louise, is
this. You bring more valuable information than you have given away.
Edouard Mermillon should never have let you know of his visit to that
young man. It is the first mistake I have ever detected in him. You tell
me that he has actually been on board the _Bird of Paradise_?"

"I know it for a fact," she replied. "Not only that, but I know that he
tried to buy the boat. That, of course, he would not have told me, but
he knows nothing about the girl and her friendship with the young man.
Two boats in the same harbour--it was nothing that he should have paid a
visit. It is just chance that I found out the real object of the visit."

"After all," he assured her with a smile, "you have been much cleverer
than you had any idea of. Lily Montelimar is your cousin, isn't she? The
young man is, of course, a friend of the family. Your visit to him might
easily be explained. Louise, I thank you. With the whole of my staff,
who can be trusted watching, you are the first one who has brought me
anything definite."

She leaned a little forward, and she gave him what his eyes demanded. He
held her tightly in his arms for several minutes, then he released her,
sat back in his chair and tapped thoughtfully upon the table.

"The owner of the _Bird of Paradise_, this young man, Hamer Wildburn,
refused to sell," he reflected. "What, then, will be Mermillon's next
step? It must be something rapid beyond a doubt, something he must have
already decided upon when he was so naive with you."

He looked away into the darkness for a few moments, then he rose
suddenly to his feet. It was as though he had received some disturbing
inspiration. He called for his secretary, who appeared almost at once.

"Raymond," he inquired, "can you tell me who is the Admiral in charge at
Toulon?"

"_Bien sûr_, Monsieur. He is Admiral Montreux, and his flagship is the
_Revanche_."

"The private line is in order?"

"Without a doubt, sir."

"An all night service, of course?"

"_Parfaitement, mon General_."

"Get through to the Admiral. An official message of importance. I will
speak myself."

The young man faded away.

"You are in no hurry, Louise?" Perissol asked, resuming his seat.

"Am I ever in a hurry when I come to see you?" she protested, with a
faint smile.

"You spoil me," he answered tenderly. "But then you know how much your
presence soothes me, how I love having you here."

He touched a bell. A _maître d'hotel_ appeared a moment or so later.

"Jean," his master announced, "I said no dinner, but I will eat
something--cold things. Don't forget my favourite cheese, some fruit and
wine--you know the champagne Madame la Princesse prefers. Serve out here
on this table. In the meantime an aperitif. You serve for two, of
course."

"But, mon ami," Louise laughed as the man hurried away, "you forget that
I have been to a Royal dinner party."

"I know those feasts," he answered. "Besides, if you were talking to our
friend, what time had you to eat. I myself should not have dined, which,
after all, is a bad thing. Gastronomically speaking, your arrival is a
miracle for me, and your news a tonic. We shall hear a champagne cork
pop under these trees."

She looked around.

"You are well taken care of here?" she asked. "I have twenty night
watchmen about the place and ten day ones," he assured her, "I know
there are men who desire my life, and with very good reason. For my
country's sake I do not take risks."

Aperitifs were served whilst a couple of servants were making rapid
preparations at the table. Perissol moved his chair closer to his
guest's and held her hand. They raised their glasses to one another.

"Great news," he repeated. "All may now go well. Mermillon would never
have taken the risk of trying to buy the boat himself if he had not been
completely confident. It was a mistake. When a man makes his first
mistake it leads easily to others."

She raised her glass once more.

"I drink to the hope," she said, "that the day of her deliverance is
approaching for our beloved France."

They set down their glasses empty. The first course of the supper which
had been ordered appeared in an incredibly short space of time. As they
took their seats the buzzer of the telephone which Raymond had placed
upon the table was agitated. Perissol lifted up the receiver. The
servant faded away.

"I speak with the battleship _Revanche_?" he asked. "The Admiral is on
board?...Never mind if he is in bed or tired. This is a matter of public
service. It is General Perissol speaking."

There was a pause. Perissol covered the transmitter with his hand and
spoke to his guest.

"It is a happy augury," he declared. "The first step in our enterprise
meets with success. Delay might have been fatal. The Admiral is on
board."

He replaced the receiver once more to his ear.

"_Allo, allo_! It is Admiral Montreux with whom I speak?...Good. I am
Perissol--General Perissol. Listen, my confrere, listen!...Yes, I know
that it is extraordinary, but the times are extraordinary...I assure you
that I am General Perissol, Chef de la Surete Nationale, exercising the
privileges of my new post. I can give you, if you wish, the code number
of the naval branch of the Intelligence Department. Ah, you recognise my
voice now. That is good. Listen, Admiral! I am a suppliant. If you
telephoned me in distress and asked me for the sake of La Patrie to send
you ten thousand policemen it would be done. I ask you for the loan of
any one of your smallest armed craft, one that draws no more than ten
metres, if possible, and armed--as lightly as you will, but armed--and
with searchlights fitted...Garoupe--yes. Garoupe Bay--_près d'Antibes_...A
thousand thanks, Admiral. Good things may come to both of us out of
this, harm can come to neither...Good. A motor boat will be waiting
outside the bay, and again a thousand thanks, dear Admiral..._Termine_."

Perissol laid down the receiver, tapped on the table, and the servants
reappeared. The service of the meal was soon in progress.

"Of course, I remain bewildered," Louise observed.

Her host pointed through a narrow opening in the pine woods from which
it was possible to obtain a view of the bay.

"Mermillon is not a man to be baulked," he said. "For reasons we know of
he wants that ship. For reasons which we do not know of, but which are
almost as curious, the owner declines to sell it even at what must be an
enormous profit. Common sense suggests the rest. You follow me?"

"My intelligence so far has been equal to the effort," Louise assured
him.

"Mermillon is following the tactics of one of the world's conquerors. It
was Caesar, I think, who said: 'What I cannot possess I destroy.' The
_Bird of Paradise_ is too interesting a yacht for us to stand by and see
her destroyed, hence I seek protection for her."

"Why not seize her boldly in the name of the Government?" Louise
suggested.

"Remember, as yet I know nothing," Perissol reminded her. "Edouard
Mermillon is in far too strong a position for me to risk a stroke of
that sort. At the present moment I suspect that he knows more than I do.
Soon it may be the other way round, then I can assure you that I shall
not hesitate."

Louise meditated for a moment.

"Will the lion," she asked, with a faint smile at the corners of her
Ups, "take advice from the mouse?"

"Accepting your simile." he replied promptly, "try me."

"Mermillon knows that you are here. Why not make the first move
yourself? After all, what is more natural than that you should pay a
visit of ceremony or friendship, whichever you like to call it, upon a
fellow Cabinet Minister?"

Perissol reflected for a moment, then he tool, her hand in his.

"The mouse has spoken," he said. "I will pay that visit to-morrow
morning."

CHAPTER VI

Mermillon himself received his unexpected caller at the head of the
gangway. He had just emerged from the sea and the sting of the salt
water had brought a faint glow into the ivory pallor of his cheeks.

"An unexpected pleasure, this, General," he exclaimed, "until last night
I had no idea that you were a visitor in these parts."

Perissol smiled, accepted a cigarette and a chair.

"You are just from the sea," he pointed out. "Please change your wet
things. I shall remain here with great comfort."

"I shall enjoy better a cigarette and a cup of coffee if I remain as I
am," Mermillon assured his visitor. "When the sun shines I have adopted
the custom of using it instead of a towel. Besides, you are just from
Paris, beyond a doubt. I am curious for your news."

"I have no news," the General confessed. "Events in Paris are calm, for
a wonder. Both my chief subordinates are there. I ventured myself to
take a few days."

Mermillon patted his companion on the shoulder.

"My dear friend," he declared, "no one deserves it more. No one is a
better judge of when Paris may safely be left. Is it my fancy or did I
not hear that you had a charming chalet in these parts?"

"It is an old villa, well enclosed, almost a hiding-place, up on the
lighthouse hill," Perissol replied. "It suits me for my brief vacations.
I require a measure of solitude. You and I have both very full official
lives, if I may venture to compare my occupation to yours. Sometimes it
is necessary to get away from the voices."

Mermillon sipped his coffee thoughtfully. He buttered himself a roll
with great deliberation.

"I agree with you, my dear colleague," he assented. "Sometimes it
happens, however, that one finds oneself, as they say in
England--'combining business with pleasure.'"

Perissol moved no muscle of his face. There was a light of mild inquiry
in his eyes.

"The boat yonder, for instance--" Perissol nodded indifferently.

"We did hear rumours that she had been in the hands of suspected
people," he admitted. "Exaggerated rumours, I fancy."

"Ah, you have interested yourself in her, then?" Mermillon asked,
smiling.

"To some small extent," Perissol admitted. "We had the opportunity of
examining her as she lay in Toulon harbour. We made use of the Naval
Secrets Bill and examined her all over. There was nothing. She was
ownerless then, or her owner was away, I forget which, so we were able
to go about our task without interruption. When I return to Paris I can,
if it interests you, send you the papers."

The Cabinet Minister shook his head.

"I have enough business of my own to attend to," he observed a little
ruefully, "without interfering in your department. She belongs to an
Englishman now, they tell me."

"Englishman or American," Perissol replied, "I forget which."

"A very pig-headed fellow," Mermillon declared. "Apart from those faint
rumours which your investigations seem to have squashed, I would have
bought the boat for my lad. I offered the owner quite a decent price,
but he would have nothing to say to me. The personal characteristics of
these Anglo-Saxons are exactly on a par with their national tendencies.
They have always made life very difficult for politicians who take a
broader outlook."

"I feel that I can never be sufficiently thankful," Perissol reflected,
"for the fact that I understand nothing about international politics. I
think that if I were able to look out upon the world to-day with the
inner knowledge that a trained politician, such as yourself, must have I
should go crazy. It is certain that I should never be able to continue
my work."

"I appreciate your point of view," Mermillon meditated, "but there must
be times, General, when you are forced to come into touch, and very
close touch, too, with internal politics."

Perissol shook his head. He had accepted a cigarette after his coffee,
and was leaning back in his chair smoking with an air of calm enjoyment.

"It is my business," he said, "to keep down crime. That is sufficient."

"When I first entered the Chamber," Mermillon confided, "a young man,
full of ambition, and with a very single purpose, I might have agreed
with you. To-day-well, there is still the shadow of that ghastly case
which no patriotic Frenchman mentions but which we all remember. That
and the man's sudden death afterwards. There was crime there, and there
has been an aftermath of crime; but, alas, we all know that there was
also politics."

"That case was not typical," Perissol pointed out. "There has never been
another like it. All France is hoping that there never will be again."

"And with good reason," Mermillon declared fervently.

"Believe me. General, you are well off to be at the head of a great
service which is' not directly concerned with politics. There are men
whom we meet day by day in Paris, men who are loved and men who are
hated, who, at the back of our minds, we know have to bear the burden of
almost intolerable secrets. They have to bear that burden for the sake
of La Patrie. Believe me, the embers of that flaming bonfire of filth
are still alight."

"This sounds like drama," Perissol muttered, "out of place amongst such
serenity as this--this strengthening sunshine and the whispering wind."

"It is drama." Mermillon insisted, "drama walking in a guise it has
never assumed before, but very terrible drama. I think that there is no
one else in the world to whom I would say this, Perissol, but even
to-day a blunderer, by a single ill-advised action, if chance gave him
the opportunity, might bring about the ruin of the country we both love
so much.

"Yon go beyond me," Perissol confessed. "I will give you an analogy,"
Mermillon suggested, gazing across the bay and watching a figure upon
the _Bird of Paradise_. "There are many explorers and philosophers who
will tell you that the class of people who have done more harm in the
world than any other have done it through being over zealous to do good.
So, in the case to-day of our beloved Mother country, she is in danger
only when people, whilst working with the honest belief that their end
and aim is for her good, might bring about a great catastrophe. Such
people are cursed with narrow vision."

"Except," General Perissol acknowledged, "that I believe I understand
something of the dynamics of crime, a great deal concerning its
distribution, and have theories of my own as to dealing with it. I am an
ignorant man. When you talk about any catastrophe to be brought about by
plotters which might threaten the security of France, you talk in a
language which I do not understand. If you spoke of war I might follow
you. I gather, however, that it is not war you mean."

"Cast your thoughts back to that forbidden period," Mermillon enjoined
sadly. "Think of some of those whose names you have heard whispered in
connection with it. It is the corruption of humanity, of educated
humanity, the corruption which has found its way into the best and most
secret places which I have in my mind. Compared with that the menace of
Germany or any foreign power is nothing. The philandering of England,
the commercial outcry against us from America, the perpetualally waved
sword of Italy will never harm us. If France perishes the deed is her
own."

"But surely our present position--" Perissol began.

"Let us have done with the subject," Mermillon interrupted. "Discussive
talk is useless and it will never come within your province, dear
General, to strike either the blow that would free France or the blow
that would cripple her for ever. You must not take me too seriously. You
know the critics of my career do sometimes say this against me, that I
have done good work, that I am a sound statesman, and that I have shown
myself a real patriot, but that I am also something of a dreamer. Let us
leave it at that. I may have that faculty of seeing too far across the
horizon into a visionary kingdom. Sometimes too strong a vision bleeds
horrible fancies...We are to have a strange neighbour, it seems."

He inclined his head seaward towards the opening of the bay. There was a
line of dark smoke curling upward from a long grey vessel moving at a
considerable speed. Mermillon examined it through his glasses in
interested fashion.

"What on earth can this be?" he exclaimed.

"Probably an old-fashioned oil tanker on its way to Antibes harbour,"
Perissol observed, as he rose to his feet. "I see them sometimes from my
windows."

Mermillon, his glasses still in his hand, moved to the side of the
yacht.

"But this is unbelievable," he pointed out. "It is a small gunboat--one
of our own, I imagine, to judge by the flag. What on earth can she be
doing coming in here?"

She was travelling now at half-speed--a shallow grey warship of somewhat
antiquated type, but still formidable with her sharp bow and the morning
sun flashing upon her forward guns. Perissol looked at her steadily.

"I do not understand naval movements," he remarked, "but is it not
strange that she should be travelling alone?"

"I should have thought so," Mermillon agreed, lowering his glasses.
"Certainly she has no business in here."

The two men watched her with interest as she made slow progress towards
them. An officer upon the bridge held a chart in one hand. Two marines
were taking soundings. Her anchor went down finally in the middle of the
bay about a hundred yards away from the _Bird of Paradise_.

"Incredible," Mermillon murmured.

"Incredible, but it has happened," Perissol observed. "After all, it is
not the first time."

"It is one of those apparently simple affairs which intrigue one," the
other reflected. "I shall forget for the moment that I am spending my
brief vacation incognito. I shall send across a note to the commander
and ask for an explanation of his visit."

"Why not wait and see if he has not brought some sort of a message for
you?" Perissol suggested.

Mermillon shook his head.

"I am devoured by a curiosity which is worse than the curiosity of a
woman," he confessed with an easy smile. "I must know, and know at once,
what an unescorted French gunboat is doing in Garoupe Bay. You will
excuse me while I write a note, General. Perhaps you would like the
pinnace to take you ashore?"

"I think I should like to wait and hear the news," the latter said.
"Ah," he added, with a change of tone. "My curiosity is already
assuaged."

"What do you mean?" Mermillon demanded, pausing on his way below.

Perissol pointed to the landing stage belonging to the great _château_ in
the woods opposite.

"The Marquis de Montelimar who lives opposite," he confided, "has two
sons in the navy. He has also one singularly attractive daughter. Look!
I fancy that the mystery is solved."

A motor boat had shot out from the basin at the end of which was the
landing stage. Her prow was in the air from the moment she started.
Almost before Mermillon had time to reply she was half way to the
gun-boat.

"A possible solution, without a doubt," the latter admitted.
"Nevertheless, I shall invite the commander to make me a call. Private
excursions in gunboats of the French navy are not exactly orthodox.
Every now and then," he concluded, with a shrug of the shoulders, "even
a Cabinet Minister who has the reputation of being an economist has to
assert himself."

General Perissol did what he seldom did--he hesitated. The situation
presented its own special difficulties.

"In a way, my friend," he said, "I, too, am greatly intrigued by this
arrival. I, too, when I reflect upon the matter, feel that it is within
the province of my duty to pay a visit to the commander. Should you
consider me in any way intrusive if I ventured to accompany you?"

Mermlllon's smile was altogether disarming.

"My dear General," he said, "how could you imagine such a thing? Nothing
would give me greater pleasure. I shall delay you only a matter of five
or ten minutes whilst I clothe myself. The cutter will be ready. We will
solve this mystery together. _A bientôt_."

The motor boat which had put off from the beach of the Marquis de
Montelimar drew up with a great commotion on the far side of the
gunboat. Rather reluctantly an _échelle_ was let down. Louise, in
beautifully cut blue flannel pyjamas and seaman's jersey, ran lightly up
the steps. An officer stood at the top, who saluted, but the opening on
to the deck was barred.

"You will pardon me, Madame," he announced, "but visitors are not
allowed without due notice."

"I am sure your commander will have a word with me," Louise insisted.
"The matter is urgent."

"Your name, Madame?" the officer enquired. "I am the Princess de
Fantany, but my name does not matter. I have a private message from the
person whom the commander has come to meet here, which must be delivered
instantly."

The officer saluted and made a brief report to his commander. The latter
made his appearance almost at once. His manner was not exactly
hospitable.

"We know who you are, of course, Princess," he admitted, "but, as my
lieutenant has told you, we are not prepared to receive visitors."

"Naturally," she replied, "but listen. You have come here with orders
from your Admiral at Toulon, but at the instigation of the Chef de la
Surete of France. I am in General Perissol's confidence, as he will tell
you when you meet. There is also here in the bay another Cabinet
Minister--the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. You have
instructions, I believe, to reveal to no one except to General Perissol
the reason for your coming."

"My mission entails a certain amount of secrecy," the commander
acknowledged, a little bewildered. One thing, however, is certain--I am
here to do the bidding of the Chef de la Surete Nationale."

"Then please accept these instructions, which will be confirmed
personally by him in the course of the morning," she begged. "You are
here to take soundings of the place and to present a report to the
Admiralty. It is quite a usual thing, I believe, for ships of your class
to pay visits of this description."

The pinnace was lying by tile side of the "_Aigle Noir_" and already
Mermillon had appeared in the act of descending the gangway. Louise's
expression and tone at once became vital.

"You will please understand that this is a serious matter," she
continued. "I do not ask you to take my word. You admit that you are
here to do the bidding of General Perissol--the most important man in
France--and to keep silent as to your business from anyone else. I
simply ask you to remember that. The General has special need of your
services, but without secrecy they would be useless."

"Did the General send you here to me, Princess?" the commander inquired.

"He did not, because he has not had time," she answered. "The trouble is
that you have arrived twenty-four hours before you were expected. I
happen to know something of the position. I saw your arrival and I
hastened here to remind you. You must answer questions and obey orders
only from Monsieur le General and no one else must know that you are
here at his bidding."

"This is entirely in accordance with my instructions, Princess," the
commander acquiesced after a moment's reflection. "I will accept your
hint. I will confer with no one else until I have spoken privately with
the General. At the same time, most regretfully, I can only repeat that
I must not allow you on board without permission from General Perissol."

She laughed at him lightly.

"I have not the least desire to come," she assured him. "I have
accomplished all that I wish. Later on, however, you will probably
receive a visit from my great friends here at the _château_. The Marquis
de Montelimar has two sons in the navy."

"François is on one of our destroyers at Toulon," the commander
remarked, unbending at last. "We shall hope to have the pleasure of
entertaining you on board then, Princess."

The sound of the approaching launch terrified her. She ran down the
stops back into the boat and shot away at a great speed. She pretended
not to notice the arriving visitors. The commander remained in his place
to receive his guests. It was the General who first mounted the steps.
Mermillon was watching with a slight frown upon his face the retreating
launch, headed now for the open sea with a long line of white foam
behind it.

The commander leaned over the rail as the two men mounted.

"May I inquire as to the reason for your visit, gentlemen?" he asked.

"Certainly, Commander," Mermillon replied. "I will tell you our names
which may do instead. Mine is Edouard Mermillon, and I have the honour
to be, as you probably know, a minister in the French Cabinet. The
gentleman behind me is, however, a really famous person. He is General
Perissol, occupying the new post of Chef de la Surete of the whole of
the French police. He has also a portfolio."

The commander stood on one side. The other officers saluted. The way was
made clear.

"I am proud to receive you, gentlemen," the former said. "Please step on
board. We have nothing very luxurious in the way of accommodation here,"
he added, as he ushered them down the deck. "Such as we have, however,
is at your disposition. This is my cabin."

Cigarettes and cigars were produced. Mermillon courteously waved them
on one side.

"At this hour of the morning we are full of apologies for our visit. I
happened to be on the deck of my boat with General Perissol here, and
saw you come in, commander. I must confess to having been greatly
intrigued."

"In what manner, sir?"

"Why, I find it difficult to understand what affairs a naval unit could
possibly have, unattached to any force, in a small bay like this."

There was a moment's silence. In Mermillon's lazy voice there had been
no trace of anything beyond a mild curiosity. Perissol was standing--a
little in the background--a grim and silent figure. It was an
unfortunate position in which he had been placed. If things went ill, he
was preparing himself. Nevertheless, the commander's reply was an
immense relief to him.

"Well, sir," the latter confided, "our navy regulations book, as you
know, forbids us to answer any question from strangers, but a Cabinet
Minister has, of course, special rights. I have been sent here by the
admiral at Toulon to take some soundings around the opening of this bay
at various states of the tide."

"I must admit," Mermillon acknowledged frankly, "that I never dreamt of
such a thing. I thought of every reason for your presence here, but
that. By-the-by, you have been so courteous that I shall venture upon
one more question--was it my fancy, or did you not receive a lady
visitor a few minutes ago?"

"I did not receive her, sir," was the prompt denial. "It would have been
utterly contrary to regulations."

"Did she go so far as to explain the reason of her coming?" Mermillon
persisted gently.

"I gathered," the other explained, "that she was staying at the _château_,
the owner of which--the Marquis de Montelimar--has two sons in the navy,
both in our fleet. She wished to offer me the hospitality of her
friends, but I had to tell her we could not accept until our work here
was finished."

Mermillon rose to his feet.

"I am obliged to you, sir," he said, "for answering my question so
frankly. Your boat, I see, is the Fidélité. And your name?"

"Commander Berard. At your service, Monsieur."

Mermillon extended his hand.

"We shall not detain you a moment longer. Is your business likely to
take you long?"

"About a week, I should think. I shall telephone each day to the
Admiral. He will tell me if the result of my work here is in any way
interesting and if it is worth continuing."

"If you stay long enough and have an hour to spare at any time,"
Mermillon invited graciously, "the hospitality of my yacht is at your
service. I should be delighted to see you for lunch or dinner any day if
you will signal first to be sure that we are on board. We are lying
across the bay there."

"I shall venture to pay my respects, sir," the commander assured his
distinguished visitor.

Mermillon let his fingers dabble in the water on their swift homeward
voyage. He seemed a little thoughtful.

"I am afraid," he reflected, "I must have seemed to be making rather a
fool of myself to that young man."

Perissol, who still preserved his attitude of indifference, shook his
head.

"Your questions were perfectly in order," he remarked. "The only point
is--I don't know exactly what replies you expected to receive. Charting
the coast waters is one of the duties of the navy."

CHAPTER VII

"'Fresh as the foam, new bathed in Paphian wells,'" Hamer Wildburn
quoted as, stooping down, he pulled Lucienne from the water, up the
steps and on to his boat, the sea shine glittering upon her bathing
suit. "Say, if you had not come this morning, I should have put on my
shore clothes and presented myself at the _château_."

"A young man who can quote poetry lying on his stomach," she laughed
"deserves a visit from Aphrodite herself. I am terribly sorry, Hamer my
dear but we have a houseful, and you know what that means. Thank
goodness we have our own bay the other side so I can escape sometimes. I
must lie in the sun while I dry."

"Your peignoir is here," he pointed out. "I fetched it up directly I saw
you on the quay."

"Plenty of cushions are all I want for the moment," she answered, "then
a cigarette and perhaps another swim."

"And luncheon?" he asked eagerly.

"Not a chance," she sighed "We have a houseful of young people at the
_château_. You can come up and join us if you like."

"Not to-day, I'm afraid," he regretted. "You forget that I am a
struggling journalist. I have to get some of my stuff off to Paris this
afternoon. It's good to see you, Lucienne."

"And it's such a relief to be here," she assured him. "You have made me
feel very unsocial, my dear Hamer. I no longer like to sit in a
chattering group and talk scandal and nonsense. I am becoming a serious
person."

She took his hand and twined her fingers between his.

"I don't want you ever to change," he said. "I love your gaiety. I am
sometimes rather a sober sort of chap myself. It does one good to hear
your laughter and have to rack one's brains to keep pace with you."

"Dear Hamer," she murmured, "kiss me."

He obeyed, after a tentative glance around. She scoffed at him as she
drew away.

"_Que tu es sot_!" she exclaimed. "Did you think I hadn't made sure that
no one was looking? That was a psychological minute. It may not recur
during the whole of my visit. There was not a soul on the quay, and we
are just out of sight from the _plage_. However, you probably don't like
kissing. It's a pity."

"Don't be an idiot or I shall take you below," he threatened. "Tell me
something, will you, Lucienne?"

"I'll see. What is it?"

"For the last three or four days there has been a very powerful motor
boat lying in your pool there, a white one with a rather large cabin
aft, and I should think very powerful engines She doesn't belong to you
people, does she?"

"No, she belongs to Louise de Fantany. She is a great friend of the
house, and we let her keep it there when she wants to. She has a lovely
_château_, but it is up in the mountains."

"Louise de Fantany," he repeated. "Tell me about her."

"So soon?" Lucienne sighed.

"Nothing of that sort," he declared scornfully, "and no secrets from
you, my sweetheart. She is the lady who swam aboard my yacht at 3
o'clock in the morning! You know--I've told you all about her visit."

Lucienne sat up with a gasp.

"The half-naked woman who tried to do that old-fashioned stunt--to drug
you?"

"Don't make me blush," he begged. "She's the woman all right. I caught a
glimpse of her this morning."

"What was she doing here?" Lucienne asked curiously. "She hasn't been
to the _château_."

"She drove up in a fast car at about a hundred kilometres an hour," he
replied, "came like a streak down to the motor boat, started up in 30
seconds, and shot over to the gunboat. She didn't go on board, but she
talked to the commander for a few minutes and then went off seawards,
going at a terrific pace."

"She's crazy," Lucienne declared.

"That's how I figure it out," he agreed. "Anyway, if she's a friend of
yours, I thought you might return the emerald she dropped here that
night."

Lucienne's eyes were wide open. She lifted herself once more from her
recumbent position.

"Not one of her famous emeralds?"

"I don't know anything about famous jewels," the young man answered. "I
only know that it's an emerald."

"And she hasn't been to claim it?"

"The first glimpse I have had of her since was this morning in the motor
boat."

An expression of blank bewilderment was reflected in Lucienne's charming
face.

"Ah! _par exemple_!" she murmured. "My dear, do you know what that
necklace is worth?"

"No idea."

"She gave a hundred and eighty thousand pounds for it--pounds sterling,
mind!"

"Then she was crazy," he declared, "to go in swimming with that much
round her neck."

She turned over on her side to face her companion. Those soft brown eyes
were filled with something more than curiosity.

"Hamer," she demanded, "why did she take risks like that? What is there
on this harmless little boat to send people demented in that fashion? A
French Cabinet Minister has arrived here to try and buy it, Louise de
Fantany tried to do the same thing and when she found you didn't want to
sell, she searched the place. What for? You are not anybody in
disguise, are you Hamer? You are not a secret agent of one of the world's
great politicians incognito with boxes full of treaties in your
wardrobe?"

He shook his head.

"The whole thing has got me set," he confessed. I'm just a journalist,
I've told you that before."

"Journalists come across secrets sometimes," she reflected.

"The greatest secret of my life," he replied, is that I adore you."

"I wish you didn't have to keep it a secret," she said naively. The
_château_ is full of eligible young Frenchmen and my beloved mamma is
beginning to get curious about you. Such clever people mothers, when
they have ingenuous daughters like me to deal with. She knows that there
is someone and she is beginning to realise that it's you."

"I'll speak to your father whenever you give me permission. I've told
you that before," he reminded her.

"To-morrow then or the next day," she sighed. "I warn you that you may
find him just a little difficult."

Hamer nodded.

"I can quite understand that," he admitted. I must seem a pretty useless
sort of person to him, living on a boat and writing articles for the
Paris edition of an American newspaper. Got a Duke staying there, too,
haven't you?"

"How did you know that?" she demanded.

"I see the French paper every morning. Gets the news quicker than any
other. 'Amongst the guests staying at the _château_ de la Garoupe...Duc de
Montessset.'"

She made a little grimace.

"I suppose you think it odd, Hamer," she confided, "that in a republican
country like this one thinks of titles any more. I don't think I do. The
old world that one hears about has fallen away. Perhaps it is as well.
We are all more genuine men and women nowadays, but if you have been
born in it there is a sort of glamour that holds. Mother has nearly
shaken herself free. Father--never."

"He would like to see you the Duchesse de Montesset?"

"Even if there were no _château_, no money, no estates, I believe that he
would," she admitted. "I have tried my best to laugh him out of such
ideas. We have no court to go to. It is not dignified to be always
accepting our position only at the hands of foreigners. I am a
Frenchwoman, and I tell father that the only thing I can do is to be a
Frenchwoman like the others. Being a duchess would make me no different.
There is no reality about it. Guy is not particularly intelligent, he is
not madly good looking, his manners are no better than other young
men's. The _château_ is wonderful. There is already a scheme headed by the
mayor of the nearest town to take it over--with some sort of a
recompense, I suppose--and turn it into a museum. There is no dignity in
the position of being a French aristocrat in a republican country."

He put his arm round her.

"You are going to be an American citizen," he told her, "and you shall
live in any country of the world you choose."

"Well, that's something," she sighed. "You will give up America for me
then?"

"Pay visits there now and then, of course. I think you would like New
York."

"I feel to-day that I should love any place with you, Hamer," she
whispered. "When the sun shines like this I feel that it must be France,
but then I feel so affectionate, too, that it really doesn't matter.
Give me one of your cigarettes, and the lightest cocktail you can make
and I shall swim home, be punctual for lunch, and see what I can do with
daddy. If I come and wave to you in the afternoon you are to come over
in the dinghy."

"You are an adorable child," he said a little huskily, "and this time I
don't care whether anyone is looking or not..Afterwards I'll fetch the
emerald."

The cigarette was smoked, the cocktail duly approved. Then Hamer
Wildburn produced a small wooden box, and in the centre of it the
pendant emerald. She gave a little gasp.

"Hamer," she exclaimed, "it is the pendant. It is the best emerald of
the whole necklace."

He nodded.

"So Monsieur Mermillon seemed to think when he pointed it out."

She looked at it for several moments intently.

"Why on earth doesn't Louise come and claim it?" she marvelled.

"I have asked myself that question more than once," Hamer Wildburn
admitted gravely. "The only conclusion I can come to is that if she
makes a fuss about, it she must disclose the fact of her visit here. She
is in some sort of a plot and she wants to keep behind the curtain.
Well, when you give her this back you can tell her that her secret
doesn't exist, that I am no chatterbox. Unless it becomes necessary I
shall never mention the fact of her visit here--especially if she is a
friend of yours."

She handed the box back.

"You don't think that I am going to swim with this in my hand," she
protested. "Keep it, Hamer, or send it up by your _matelot_ some time.
Louise lives at the _château_ de Mougins, only about ten kilometres from
here."

He thrust the box into the pocket of his trousers. "I'll tell you what I
shall do while you are frivolling with this crowd," he said. "I'm going
over the boat with the plan and a hammer to tap the panels. I'm going to
turn the old lady inside out to see what I've got that brings Cabinet
Ministers here to beg, and a Princess to commit a crime and leave behind
a twenty thousand pound emerald. Think of me as spending the afternoon
in a sort of Aladdin's cave, Lucienne."

"I don't think you have any treasure aboard at all," she told him,
pausing for a minute on the last step. "I think you have another man--or
perhaps a woman--in the Iron Mask whom you are keeping locked up in a
small hole somewhere in the galley and whom you let out at nights. When
I get back I shall consult the Almanac and see if any crowned head or
dictator is missing. If you are playing gaoler to one of these, Hamer,
you can begin to shiver in your shoes. Father and I between us will spot
him."

With a little backward wave of the hand she dived gracefully into the
sea. Almost immediately she turned over upon her back, and, facing the
boat, threw him a kiss.

"_A demain, mon amour_," she called to him softly.



CHAPTER VIII


A small but perfectly appointed seaplane circled gracefully round the
Bay of Garoupe, and finally alighted within a yard or two of the _Aigle
Noir_. A few moments later the Baron de Brett, looking very smart in his
white flannels and rakish-looking panama, climbed the gangway of the
boat and descended into the lounge. Mermillon, who had just finished
working with a messenger from his bureau in Paris, sent the latter away.
He swung round to greet his friend.

"Well, what luck?" he asked. "_Comme toujours, je gagne_," was the
indifferent reply. "But enough of that. Explain to me quickly--what is
the meaning of a gunboat in the bay?"

The French statesman shrugged his shoulders slightly. His manner was
evidently intended to convey the impression that the matter was of no
particular moment.

"I interviewed the commander a few minutes after his arrival," he
confided. "He is here to take soundings. It is a part of the coast which
the French Navy have never considered seriously, either for purposes of
attack or defence, and he is here to draw up a report."

"But for us," the Baron exclaimed, "the affair is an impossibility! Can
you not telephone to the admiral and request its withdrawal? You surely
have enough influence for that--the noises disturb your repose--you are
here on a much-needed vacation, and must have complete rest."

"I have considered the matter," Mermillon replied. "I tell you frankly I
do not see what possible excuse I can invent. It is not seemly for a
politician on vacation to interfere with the activities of either of the
services. To what real nuisance can we claim that we are subjected on
account of the presence of the gunboat? It might disturb our fishing. It
might, in this small space, render the waters of the bay less
attractive, but can a good Frenchman complain of such a thing?"

"A mild remonstrance," the Baron suggested.

Mermillon shook his head. "You are not a diplomat, my dear friend," he
commented. "An angry one would be more disarming."

"Why the devil doesn't that pig-headed American go for a cruise?" the
Baron demanded furiously. "We could deal with him on the open seas all
right."

"We might be able to," Mermillon agreed, "but can you tell me how to get
him on to the open seas? He is on terms of close friendship with the
Montelimars, the people at the _château_. A very beautiful young lady from
there visits him daily. They lunch together often upon the boat. If you
were this pig-headed person you would be the first to find it difficult
to move away under such conditions. That, I think, was at the back of
his mind when he offered to sell the boat in two months' time. He has no
intention of leaving his situation here until matters are arranged.
Incidentally, the young lady will have a fortune of millions."

The Baron grunted.

"The Montelimars are wealthy enough," he admitted. "We once did some
business together."

"If you have done business with him, my dear Baron," Mermillon remarked
with a smile, "perhaps we had better keep away from the _château_
altogether."

"Not at all," was the half indignant reply. "We have met only on
questions of high finance and Montelimar, or rather the firm he was
connected with, made money by our transaction."

Mermillon touched the bell by his side. "We will have a word with
Chicotin," he decided.

There was no difficulty about that for the latter was, they were
informed, waiting outside for an audience. Monsieur Chicotin, whose
nationality was Russian, had survived an infamous past by reason of his
skill in the manufacture of explosives. He was even now in possession of
several diplomas from various nations and, in moments of expansion and
in the right company, he was accustomed to boast that he had slain more
men with his own fingers than any regiment of soldiers in the world. He
was a smooth, dapper-looking person, with eyes set far too close
together, in appearance a cross between a gigolo and an apache.
Mermillon motioned him to a seat and waited until the door was closed.
It transpired that Monsieur Chicotin was angry.

"I am here to demand," he began, "if all my work is to be for nothing.
Why do you ask me to solve an interesting and important scientific
problem and then allow it to be rendered useless?"

"You are apparently suffering from some hallucination," Mermillon
observed gently. "I sent for you to ask how near you were to the
completion of your task."

"One--two hours," was the eager reply. "I hesitate to put the finishing
touches because they should only be there a brief period before use. I
have done what you asked me for. I have produced an instrument,
adjustable by clockwork, which would destroy the boat you pointed out to
me--not to clumsy fragments, not like the affairs of my younger days
which blew a man's head in one direction and his legs in the other, but
left his body without demolition. I have achieved a wonderful task. My
success is so great that I assure you gentlemen that placed on any part
of the _Bird of Paradise_ my engine would not blow her up in the
old-fashioned parlance. It would disintegrate her. There would not be a
recognisable molecule of timber or of metal or of any known material
substance to be found afterwards. She and all that she is made of would
disappear into air. The theoretical scientist would tell you that
absolute destruction is impossible. As a matter of practice--no. Any
class of man with any class of intelligence might search these seas,
might employ divers underneath and searchers upon all the near land, and
not one fragment or atom would they ever discover of the ship itself or
any anyone who had been on her at the time of the explosion."

"Marvellous," Mermillon acknowledged with a congratulatory smile. "You
have earned your money at any rate, Chicotin. It is for us to take
advantage of your success."

"You will be almost as clever as I have been if you do," the Russian
replied gloomily. "Shall I tell you what that gunboat is here for?"

"We understand," Mermillon confided, "that she is here to take
soundings. She already has a boat at work."

"_Quelle blague_!" Chicotin exclaimed scornfully. "I am a man with
curiosity and I make inquiries. I know that soundings in this bay are
worth nothing to the French navy. I take a walk. I see and I observe. On
one side of that boat there are guns-small guns, but loaded. On the
other there is a range of powerful searchlights. They have a new double
reflector on an apparatus ready to set to work at a moment's notice. How
am I to cross the bay, get the two minutes which is all I need on board
the _Bird of Paradise_, whilst by day there are four look-out men to
observe me, and at night one of the most powerful searchlights in the
world? Taking soundings, indeed! What folly! They have heard that
Chicotin is at work. Believe me, those guns and those searchlights are
there for that reason!"

"Getting you on board and away again must be our responsibility,"
Mermillon assured him. "You have completed your share of the bargain. We
accept your word that the instrument is all that you say. The amount
promised--fifty thousand francs--will creep into your banking account at
the Credit Lyonnais in Marseilles in the same way as payments have been
made before."

"_C'est quelque chose_," Chicotin admitted.

"It is a great deal, my friend," Mermillon insisted. "It frees you from
all anxiety. Not a single soul--neither the messenger nor the manager of
the bank--knows how that money comes there. But it arrives. You will be
in a position to begin spending it in four days' time. If, having
finished your work, you feel the need of a little relaxation before
then, here is something that may help."

He flicked a small packet of _mille_ notes across the table. Chicotin
snatched them up with talon-like fingers.

"It is a gracious gesture this which I accept," he declared.

"In the meantime," his employer continued, "I understand that you have
left the absolute completion of your work of art until immediately
before its use is required."

"You are perfectly correct," Chicotin assented. "There is no clumsiness
in my work. The instrument as it is at present--it looks too beautiful
for destruction--is perfectly harmless. You could smash it to pieces
with a hammer and nothing would happen, but one hour's work, the
contents of a small phial in a certain cell and you have the most
complete weapon of destruction which the fingers of an artist have ever
completed."

The little man was bursting with vanity. He wiped the perspiration from
his damp, unwholesome forehead. Without asking permission, he rolled
some shreds of villainous-looking tobacco into a soiled paper and
commenced to smoke furiously.

"Very well, then," Mermillon decided. "Leave everything as it is,
Chicotin. Remain patient while we consider what is to be done. Accept
our congratulations, my brave man, upon an excellent piece of work."

Chicotin shook hands with his two patrons and swaggered out. Mermillon
watched him until he disappeared with a gleam of amusement in his eyes.
Then he turned to his companion.

"And now, my dear Baron," he suggested, "search in the recesses of that
marvellous brain of yours. What can now be effected."

"I propose," the Baron said, "to pay a visit to my dear friend, the
Marquise de Montelimar. What may come of it we will discuss later in the
day."

"It is probably an inspired idea," Mermillon assented graciously. "If
you do not return for lunch, my friend, I shall understand."

The Baron retired to his suite with the object of making some change in
his toilet. An hour later his car turned into the spacious grounds of
the _château_ de la Garoupe.

CHAPTER IX

The Baron de Brett was ushered at once on to the fine broad terrace of
the _château_, where he was received in friendly and flattering fashion.
It seemed in every way to be a fortuitous visit. The Marquise was
enchanted to meet again her old admirer, and the young people, who had
just trooped in from bathing, were duly impressed by the presence in
their midst of one of the prominent figures in world finance. The
Marquis, a tall and dignified personage, who had at one time been a
senator, greeted his visitor with especial cordiality.

"I could scarcely believe it when I heard that you were in these parts,"
he said. "If I had not known that you were in the company of a very
distinguished man who prefers always to spend his vacation in solitude I
should have ventured to pay my respects."

"You would have been very welcome," the Baron assured his friend.
"Edouard Mermillon is, however, I must admit, a queer fellow. We have
separate suites, of course, and I see very little of him. He is fonder
of solitude than any man I ever knew."

"Not so his _camarade, mon ami_," the Marquise intervened. "I heard of
your running an enormous bank at Monte Carlo last night surrounded by
half the beautiful women in Europe."

"An exaggeration," the Baron declared. "Exaggeration, I can assure you.
The eyes of all the ladies whom I chanced to notice were fixed upon the
cards. They were searching for eights and nines rather than for
compliments."

"Nevertheless," the Marquise sighed, "Monte Carlo must have been quite
like the old days. I hear you had good fortune, too. How thrilling! Of
course, they don't permit women to run a bank, and I should never have
the courage anyway, but I think that it must be fascinating."

"I was a humble loiterer in the background," a young man of the party
remarked. "I saw the Baron pay out on one hand nearly seven hundred
thousand francs."

"Ah, well, baccarat and the sunshine don't go together," the Baron
observed, accepting a cocktail and lighting a cigarette. "Pray do not
imagine for one moment that I am imposing upon your hospitality by
calling before luncheon. The fact is that I live almost at the end of
the wire. I have just finished to-day's business, but I am never certain
that I may not be called away. Edouard has one of his clerks in the
bureau with him, and is busy with despatches. I thought it opportune to
come and greet my friends."

"Your place is already laid," the Marquise pointed out, "At this time of
the year we keep open house. We shall be broken-hearted if you fail us."

There was a little chorus of confirmation. Lucienne herself come over to
his side and patted his hand.

"Baron," she begged, "do not disappoint us all. I have so many friends
in Paris and Brussels whose news I desire."

The Baron beamed on everyone.

"Never was a more willing surrender," he declared. "It is a great joy to
be amongst so many young people, all so thoroughly happy. Such a season
for sport, too! Aquaplaning is, alas, an enterprise for the young, but
the fast motor boat driving I enjoy, and I can still swim enough to find
pleasure in it. By-the-by, what's the meaning of a gunboat in this
peaceful district? It gives one quite a sinister feeling to see those
unmasked guns."

"The presence of a gunboat is easily explained," the Marquis confided.
"The _Fidélité_ has been told off from Toulon to take soundings here,
technical business, I suppose, but necessary. I called on the commander
this morning--a pleasant fellow and a good officer, I should think. He
lunches here to-morrow."

"Well, I'm glad that there's such a reasonable explanation for its
presence," the Baron observed, flicking the ash from his cigarette. "Our
friend Edouard is a trifle nervous these days, and I think he was
inclined to wonder whether any hints had been received at headquarters
as to the necessity for keeping him guarded."

"I should think that was highly improbable," the Marquis pronounced. "I
am glad to notice signs of a wave of sanity both in the Press and in
public speeches which have been made lately. Besides, how could Edouard
Mermillon have excited ill-feeling amongst any class of people? He is
one of the few men towards whom France looks for her salvation."

"I am entirely in accord with you," the Baron agreed. "I think the man
who raised a hand against Mermillon would be torn to pieces if the mob
could get at him. By the by, who is the young man who owns the very
attractive small yacht lying nearest to you?"

"Better ask Lucienne," was her father's unenthusiastic reply. "She
appears to know more about him than any of us."

"Absurd," the girl laughed, peering down through the trees to where the
_Bird of Paradise_ was lying in the distance. "His name is Hamer
Wildburn, and he is a young American journalist, who is very agreeable,
but a trifle cranky as most of his race are."

"He arrived during my absence in Paris," the Marquis observed, "and I
have not yet had the opportunity of meeting him."

"He behaves well and carries himself as a man of breeding," the Marquise
said indulgently. "I was pleased with his manners when he lunched here.
He appears to prefer solitude on the boat, though, or to swim with
Lucienne, to any attractions we can offer him."

"That sounds incomprehensible, indeed," the Baron declared.

"His boat is very attractive," Lucienne remarked, "and he came down here
to study and lead a very simple life."

"The _Bird of Paradise_ is a Jewel," de Brett agreed. "Edouard took a
great fancy to it and tried to buy it from him. He offered him, I think,
a great deal more than it was worth, but the young man refused to part
before the end of the season. To a person of such consequence as Edouard
Mermillon his refusal seemed just a trifle ungracious."

"I don't see why he should part with his boat to anyone if he wishes to
keep her," Lucienne objected. "He is, I think, well off. He has settled
down thoroughly to enjoy his summer after his own fashion. You
millionaires," she concluded, patting the Baron once more on the hand,
"must be taught that you can't buy everything in the world."

"Alas," de Brett sighed, "It is our hard fate to realise that every day.
Money helps us nowhere nowadays. It is why I remain a bachelor."

There was an undercurrent of mirth. They most of them knew, none better
than the Marquise, the stories of the Baron's various escapades.
Lucienne indulged in a little grimace.

"I adore money," she confided. "You might not find me, for instance, so
implacable as that young man."

"'A peasant does not try to drag down a star,'" the Baron quoted. "The
discouragement of failure has shattered my later days. I may even find
myself in a monastery--"

"For heaven's sake let the Baron have anything he likes rather than
drive him into a monastery!" the Marquis interrupted. "I have been
through two financial crises. I should never have the courage to face a
third."

Lunch was announced and they all trooped to the farther end of the
terrace. De Brett, seated on the Marquise's right, talked amiably to his
hostess of their mutual friends in Paris, the beauty of their present
surroundings, and the charm of possessing a great estate literally by
the side of the sea.

"Always," he remarked, "I admire, my dear friend, your husband's
tenacity of purpose. He has had the courage to cut himself off from the
stir of life. The world of politics and finance know him no more. In
Paris he remains an outstanding figure in the social life of the old
regime. Here he becomes the indolent sun worshipper drinking in renewed
life every one of these wonderful days."

The Marquise shrugged her shoulders.

"Henri, for all his great gifts," she confided, "was always afflicted
with a gift of indolence."

"He thrives upon it," her neighbour observed. "I, who seldom find myself
with an hour that is not occupied, envy him."

"I do not think that you need." she replied, a little pettishly. "Men
need something vital in their lives. Life without risk," she went on,
lowering her voice, "would be a tasteless affair."

The Baron smiled cryptically. He, too, had memories."

"Again it is a matter of temperament," he said. "Temperament and the
nature of the risk. The time has arrived in my life when the risks are
all financial. There is a flavour of dead ashes in their stimulation."

She laughed softly, and patted the back of his hand.

"You say those sort of things hoping for contradiction," she challenged
him. "I shall disappoint you. I shall not contradict, but I do not
believe you. Where was she found at last, that wonderful Argentine
dancer, who disappeared from the Ambassadeurs without giving notice to
her director? Ah, well," she went on, "do not be alarmed. Fragments of
that sort of gossip which come my way sometimes I keep to myself. At any
rate your method of living must have its good points. With your pink and
white complexion and ingenuous manner I should say that things just now
were going well with you."

"One has fewer anxieties," he admitted.

"For the sake of the country I am glad to hear you say that. These
terrible crises, then, have really passed? Since Henri adjured politics
we are so completely removed from the world that nowadays I hear
nothing."

"Politics and finance are not so closely allied as they used to be," he
explained. "Perhaps that is so much to the good. Still, with Edouard
Mermillon remaining my greatest friend, of course I hear things. On the
surface France is a saved country."

"Saved from what?" she asked curiously.

"Communism, anarchy, a cataclysmic upheaval worse than anything that
ever happened in Russia," he told her. "Believe me, France was nearer to
it than the looker-on would ever believe. One hopes now, though, that
the storm has died away. So long as no other great scandal arrives I
think that the spirit of the people will remain quiet."

Luncheon came to its appointed end. There was a general move into more
comfortable chairs. The Baron found an empty one next to his hostess.
They were a little removed from the others, and a sudden movement to
watch a passing liner clearly visible at the end of the long avenue left
them almost alone.

"Lily," he whispered, and it was strange how low his voice could become
upon occasion, "I am a suppliant for your help."

"You intrigue me."

"Lucienne and that young American are great friends, are they not?"

The gesture of the Marquise was eloquent. "Young people take so much
liberty nowadays," she complained, "one does not know how to control
them. It is true what you say, however. Lucienne and the young man are
on very friendly terms."

"I want his yacht."

"_Quelle idée_! For yourself?"

"No, for Edouard Mermillon. He wants it for a birthday present to his
nephew."

She leaned even further back in her chair. She was looking over the tops
of the pine trees at the sky.

"You must not count on me," she told him. "I have no more interests
outside my daily life. Besides, I have very little influence over
Lucienne, and I am inclined to like the young man."

"Then, you would be doing him the best turn in the world," de Brett
assured her, "If you persuaded him that a wish of Edouard Mermillon's
was better granted."

She shook her head.

"The young man is not the sort that is easily frightened," she said. "No
arguments of that kind would have the slightest weight with him. You
know the Anglo-Saxon temperament as well as I do. They are not to be
reasoned with. He would simply become more obstinate."

"Consult with Lucienne," he begged. "She might be able to suggest
something."

"Why should I?" she protested. "I have told you the truth. I have
gratified all the taste I ever had for intrigue. I want to be left
alone. Besides, you can't ask favours in that manner without any
explanation. You should take me into your confidence. What possible
reason can Edouard Mermillon have for wanting that boat and no other?"

De Brett watched his fellow guests strolling back to their places, and
his tone became more urgent.

"The secret is too compromising a one to inflict upon you."

"Mysterious but unsatisfying. Frankly, Albert, I am not very much
interested in your request, and as for Lucienne--to tell you the truth I
believe there is only one thing she desires in life."

"What is that?" he demanded. "To marry Hamer Wildburn."

"I should think one of the most beautiful young women in France--her
mother's daughter, too, for charm us well as looks," he added with a
little bow, "should find that easy enough, provided her parents made no
obstacle."

"Are you suggesting that we should do so?" she asked. "Threats, instead
of promises now. My dear Albert, be sensible. We are old friends, it is
true, and any ordinary favour I should probably grant you, but when you
ask me to interfere with my daughter's happiness, to threaten to
withhold our consent to her marriage with this young man if she does not
humour you in this way--why, the thing becomes ridiculous. I certainly
decline to interfere."

"Please don't take that attitude," he begged.

"It is for the good of himself and everyone else that that young man
parts with his boat to Edouard Mermillon. He loses nothing. There are a
dozen others like it, and with the money Mermillon offers him he could
buy one double the size. If he refuses to sell, I will be quite frank
with you, he will be threatened with a certain amount of risk--not from
Mermillon himself, naturally, but from entirely outside agencies."

The Marquise was annoyed.

"It is a stupid business this," she declared angrily. "I myself have
been on the boat. I have been in the cabin and the little saloon. I have
even been in the galley. There is no one concealed there. There is no
place for any form of concealment. Not all the innuendoes in the world
could make a mystery ship of the _Bird of Paradise_. You would do much
better to persuade Edouard Mermillon to abandon his whim. No more, if
you please. The subject wearies me."

"You refuse me your help, then," he concluded sadly, as he rose to his
feet.

"Oh, I will not say that altogether" she temporised, "but I have no
inducements to offer, and I do not wish to hurt or offend this young
American gentleman whom Lucienne esteems so highly. A word of mild
advice I might give him if the subject arises naturally. That is all."

The Baron's valedictory smile and bow were pleasant, but she recognised
a somewhat sinister air of disappointment lurking beneath. She watched
his disappearing figure with a certain amount of uneasiness. Her husband
approached and sank into the vacant chair by her side.

"Our friend did not pay us a long visit to-day," he observed.

"Albert has lost the art of being interesting," she said. "He is
learning to be prolix. He dwells upon trifles."

"Nevertheless," he said, "I am sorry that he hurried. I wanted to ask
him about this new colonial loan. Its success depends entirely upon
whether Mermillon gives it his blessing."

"My dear Henri," she replied reproachfully, "I thought that you had
altogether abandoned your interests in high finance."

The Marquis smiled cryptically.

"An occasional speculation is permitted," he remarked, "when one knows."

CHAPTER X

Lucienne scrambled up the steps of the _Bird of Paradise_ and wrapped
_herself_ in the _peignoir_ which its owner was holding out for her.

"I hope you keep my belongings safely locked up," she laughed. "If you
have any more people searching the ship you will lose your reputation if
it is discovered that you have my powder-box, my peignoir, and spare
bathing suit on board."

"Your possessions have a cupboard to themselves," he assured her.
"Sometimes at night when I am feeling very sentimental, I take them out
and have a little conversation with them."

"Not the bathing suit, I hope?"

"The bathing suit more even than any."

"Most improper," she decided, "but rather charming of you."

"Why are you so late?" he asked.

She settled herself comfortably in the lounge chair he was holding.

"Some slight trouble with the elders of the family," she confided,
holding out her hand for a cigarette, "backed up in this instance by the
yellow-haired young Duke who I discovered yesterday bathes in a bracelet
and an anklet! They all thought that I ought to have gone to our
neighbour's swimming picnic party. I came to the conclusion it would
bore me. The discussion, however, took up valuable time."

"Well, you are here at last," he remarked cheerfully, if a little
tritely.

"You have enough luncheon for two?" she asked.

He reflected.

"Nothing good enough for you, but whatever I have is at your service.
There's fruit--some peaches and nectarines. There is a small ham which
could be released from its glass covering, and a brawn. Salad, of
course, some of your favourite cheese, and a Vin Blanc de Bellet."

"It sounds like a feast for the gods," she declared. "May I stay and
share it with you?"

"Of course you may," he assured her. "I should have had fish, too, but
this wretched gunboat seems to have driven them all out of the bay.
Anyway, I hauled up my baskets empty this morning. Auguste can cook some
vegetables, though."

"When I left you the other day," she meditated, "there was a delicious
smell of fried potatoes floating out of the galley porthole."

"There shall be fried potatoes," he promised her. She sighed
contentedly.

"What a joy it is to be greedy," she murmured. "Until I face the family
wrath I shall now be perfectly happy."

"Why don't you let me get this marriage affair fixed up, Lucienne?" he
pleaded. "It wouldn't matter any more about the family, then."

She smoothed his hand gently.

"I don't want to run the slightest risk of spoiling this adorable
summer."

"Might be the making of it."

"It could not be," she assured him. "For one thing, it would not be
nearly so piquant it I were allowed to steal down here to spend an hour
or two with you instead of doing it when I am supposed to be somewhere
else. And then--I wish I could explain it to you, _mon cher_--marrying and
getting married is not so simple a thing in my country as in yours. My
mother, I think, would have no objections. She has developed a somewhat
belated penchant for mild flirtations, and she is always afraid that I
might interfere. With my father it is another matter. He would be
terribly formal. He would want to know such a great deal about you, and
even I know so little."

Wildburn frowned slightly. His good humoured face took on a new
expression.

"What sort of things?" he asked. "Money social stuff--my genealogical
tree--that kind of rubbish?"

"That kind of rubbish is considered rather important," she answered, a
trifle unsympathetically. "But, leaving that out for the moment, he
would want to know what you were doing living down here by yourself on a
mystery yacht which everyone wants to buy."

"Not everyone," he remonstrated. "There was the beautiful adventuress
out of the story book who swam aboard and disappeared after leaving all
the contents of my cupboard upon the bed and me very clumsily doped.
Then your famous statesman, Mermillon, and his banker friend, de Brett.
No one else that I know of."

"Behold another would-be purchaser!" she exclaimed. "I want to buy it,
Hamer."

"Don't be absurd," he scoffed. "I saw your father's yacht, the _Hermione_,
in Marseilles Harbour only a few weeks ago. It is 20 times the size of
this--a perfect palace of luxury."

"I want something I can sail myself with a little help," she confided.
"I want this yacht--this particular one."

He looked at her thoughtfully, lit a cigarette, and blew out a cloud of
smoke.

"You would resell it?" he asked.

"How clever you are!" she exclaimed. "I should hate to, but I might be
tempted. But listen, Hamer--not before I had ransacked her from end to
end, tapped every panel for secret hiding-places, felt in the boards for
springs, gone over her with a shipbuilder, inch by inch. Then, when I
had either possessed myself of her secret or discovered that she hadn't
one, I might sell."

"But I have already searched everywhere," he reminded her. "And now,
listen," he went on gravely. "There is something kind of mysterious to
me in your having joined the little company of people who want this
boat. You shall have her with pleasure, my dear Lucienne, as a wedding
present. What about that?"

"It's an idea," she admitted. "I will give you time to think it over,"
he suggested, rising to his feet. "I know what that thirsty gleam in
your eyes means."

"The perfect lover," she murmured.

"I will go through all the necessary business with your father whenever
you tell me to," he continued. "There are some things about me he may
not like, but I don't see that there is anything to which he could
seriously object. No one is good enough for you, of course, my dear," he
added, leaning over her chair.

"You really, think that?"

"Of course I do."

"Then kiss me, please."

He obeyed, with flattering alacrity. Her arms left his neck a moment or
so later with reluctance.

"I never thought of myself as a marrying man." he confessed. "I had all
sorts of ideas, but they didn't exactly shape themselves that way. I
expect I shall get the hang of it all right, though."

"I am beginning to think that you will do for me very well," she assured
him. "You notice things so beautifully. I like your having seen that
thirsty gleam in my eyes."

"Two minutes--no longer," he promised.

In less than that time he reappeared from the companionway, and she was
listening with lazy pleasure to the tinkling of ice in the silver
shaker.

"Well, is it to be a bargain?"

"Supposing I am not allowed to marry you?"

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-one."

"Then you can marry me all right if you want to. You won't starve. You
may lose, perhaps, what you call your social position or a portion of
it. You will probably like some of my friends and dislike the others
cordially. You may hate my profession, still, if you care for me enough
to marry me you will probably make allowances."

She held out her arms and drew his face downwards. This time there were
people upon the _plage_, but there was a certain recklessness about her
action.

"Of course," she murmured as their lips met, "if anyone has seen this
you will have to marry me."

Their cocktails were served on deck in picnic fashion, and with a
pleasant absence of formalities. Lucienne was more silent than usual.
He, on the other hand, had abandoned for the moment his natural
taciturnity. He pointed to one of the small cutters returning to the
gunboat.

"This is really," he declared, "a bay of mysteries. Can you imagine why
that old hulk is here?"

"I think so," she answered. "Father called on the commander yesterday,
and he came to dinner. The Admiralty are issuing a new chart of the
smaller Mediterranean bays, and they are here to take soundings."

"Seems queer to me," he observed. "I should not have said there were any
soundings in this bay worth a snap of the fingers to the French or any
other navy."

"Well, that's what the commander said," she told him. "He asked
questions about you, too. You really are an American, aren't you?"

He nodded.

"Half and half. My father was an American, my mother French. There was a
great struggle about where I should be brought up. My father won. He was
a pretty lenient sort of man, but there were some things he was firm
about. I spent four years at Harvard, and I have been on the Continent
most of the time since."

"You are becoming more interesting every moment," she declared.

"You had better hold on a bit," he warned her. "There's nothing very
romantic about me. I am a journalist. I write regularly for the Paris
edition of one of our home newspapers in which my father is interested."

"That's not so bad," she told him encouragingly. "I know several French
journalists who come to my mother's receptions. Is your father very rich
that he has an interest in a newspaper?"

"I should think he was fairly well off," Hamer acknowledged.

"That may help with dad," she reflected. "He pretends to think more of
family than anything else, but he is really a terrible money grubber. I
have a little money of my own, too, left me by an aunt. All that I shall
want from you on our wedding day, if not before, is this boat."

"As a journalist," he confided, "nothing is more unsettling to my peace
of mind than unsatisfied curiosity. Couldn't you tell me just what
you've got on your mind, all of you people, about this '_Bird of
Paradise_'?"

"I couldn't," she replied firmly, "for the simple reason that I haven't
the faintest idea. You see, the whole point of the matter is this--the
secret of the '_Bird of Paradise_' is the secret of other people."

"It is the first duty of a journalist," he observed, "to find out other
people's secrets. I expect they would be awfully bucked at my New York
office if I sent them a marvellous original story."

"Well, you may do that some day," she promised him. "The day after our
wedding day, perhaps."

"What about making that to-morrow?" he suggested.

"Absurd! We are not living in Hollywood. We have to be married in a
church and before the Mayor, and we have to have the consents of our
parents, and there have to be some sort of legal papers--even when
settlements are not necessary. I know all about it. My hand was once
asked in marriage by one of my own country people. Then came that
wretched little war in Morocco, and, alas! he disappeared."

"Sorry," the young man murmured.

"I cannot claim much sympathy," she replied. "I had only seen him twice,
and then in a crowded salon. I am afraid that the chief feelings I had
about him were of mild dislike. Still, I should have married him, I
suppose, if he had come back from Africa."

Auguste announced luncheon, and they took their places at the improvised
table, set out aft under the awning.

"Nothing makes me so domestic," she sighed, "as these little
_a deux_. I think I shall make you a good wife, Hamer."

"You will make an adorable one."

"If I am as well fed as this, I shall at least be a good tempered one,"
she assured him, as she finished mixing the salad and served it.

"Hamer, there never was such a ham. Where ever do you get them?"

"Ship's stores," he told her. "We put them on at Gibraltar."

"And to think that all my wretched house guests," she reflected, "are
squatting in uncomfortable positions on the sands or leaning against
jagged rocks, and eating sandwiches from one hand and balancing a
luke-warm drink in the other! I am afraid I shall be a better wife than
a hostess, Hamer."

"Don't let's entertain at all then," he proposed. "Two is such a
wonderful number."

"Hamer," she broke in, looking downwards, "who is that villainous
looking foreign person in the small dinghy? He has been round the boat
twice."

"No idea," was the somewhat indifferent reply.

"Remember," she warned him, "you must take the greatest care of your
boat now that it has become a consideration of our marriage. It must be
delivered to me in good condition the day afterwards."

"I hope my boat is not the only consideration?"

"It is not. I like you very much, Hamer, dear. I have never really quite
understood what it means to love anybody, but I think that I love you. I
am quite sure that I am going to very much. Nevertheless, I must have
the boat."

"Before I part with her I shall give her a good overhauling myself," he
announced. "The _Bird of Paradise_ is a nice little craft, and I think I
bought her cheap, but I really do not know what there is about her to
send people crazy."

"You have had quite an interesting time, anyhow, since you tied up your
corps mort here," she remarked.

"You bet, I have. The most interesting and the most wonderful time of my
life."

There was a brief but happy pause. She leaned back and straightened her
hair.

"We are going to have such fun up at the _château_ this evening," she told
him. "My revered father is sufficiently ruffled already because I backed
out of going to the party, but when he knows how I have spent the day,
and what the result of it all has been, there will be, as you say, don't
you, fur flying?"

"He'll want to kick me out, you mean, when I pay my formal visit?" Hamer
suggested.

"Father would never kick anybody. His manners are the most perfect thing
about him. He may make difficulties, however."

"Shouldn't take a bit of notice of them," the young man advised her
confidently. "I feel that I shall make a marvellously good husband."

"You fulfil the first qualification of a husband all right," she
declared, laughing. "You are full of assurance and you amuse me
tremendously. You know what Moliere said in one of his comedies--that
the husband who keeps his wife amused never loses her?"

"Don't try me too high," he begged. "Remember, there is no international
standard of humour, and I shan't want to part with you."

"I shall be a wife worth keeping," she promised him hopefully. "Not only
am I, as you may have noticed, remarkably pretty, but I can be very
affectionate."

"You are the prettiest girl I ever saw," he pronounced. "I always adored
chestnut hair and brown eyes. Your mouth too--well, I could write a
column, being a professional journalist, on your mouth alone."

She glanced in the mirror which she had withdrawn from her bag.

"Yes, I think you are right," she agreed. "It is a wonderful
mouth--tender and yet provocative. I am not sure about my ears, though.
You had better examine them."

"You will drive me crazy presently," he warned her.

"I'll yet you off my ears then for the time being. We will set Auguste's
mind at rest and go and have our coffee. I see it at the other end of
the deck."

They resumed their deck chairs, and she leaned back happily.

"Hamer, darling, I think it is wonderful to be engaged," she declared.
"I always had a strange fancy for you, you know. The first time I ever
saw you you were on deck wringing out your own bathing suit, and you
seemed so capable...I wonder who that villainous-looking foreigner can
be? He is still drifting about."

"And interested in the boat," Hamer remarked with a frown. "Never takes
his eyes off it."

Chicotin, who was the solitary occupant of the dinghy, stared at them
aggressively, as though he were aware of their criticism. Hamer rose to
his feet and leaned over the side.

"What do you want round here?" he demanded. "Are you looking for anyone
on board?"

Chicotin stared at him insolently.

"I make small promenade," he said. "I not hurt your boat."

"Where do you come from?"

"My business," was the prompt reply.

"He's a horrible fellow," Hamer observed, turning round to his
companion. "I don't, quite see what we can do, though. The sea is free
to him as well as to us."

She came to his side and took his arm, frowning slightly. The longer she
looked at the intruder the deeper grew the disgust in her face. The man
suddenly bent to his oars and moved off.

"Hamer," she confided, "the most unpleasant idea has come to me."

"What is it?"

"You have had three mysterious offers to buy the _Bird of Paradise_. You
are unwilling to sell. If these people wish to give so much more money
than the boat is worth it must be for one of two reasons."

"Go on, clever girl."

"It must be because there is something terribly valuable concealed on
board--jewels or something of that sort. Or something terribly
incriminating--stolen papers or bonds. If it was that, Hamer, and they
couldn't get hold of the boat, they might try to destroy it!"

"What good would that do?" he demanded. "Stupid! They would get rid of
something they were afraid of."

He smiled incredulously.

"Lucienne, my dear," he expostulated, "where on earth could anything be
hidden upon the boat that I don't know about? I have no valuables or
papers myself. My first visitor, too, pretty well ransacked the place.
If there had been anything to be discovered I should think that the
Princess would have had it."

Lucienne shook her head. Nothing that he had said seemed to reassure
her.

"Do your two men sleep on board," she asked.

"Why, yes," he told her. "In the galley there. Why?"

"You don't keep a watch, I suppose?"

"Never thought of it," he admitted. "I never heard of a burglary at
sea."

"Well, keep one to-night and the next few nights," she begged. "Just to
please me."

"All right," he promised. "I believe the men sleep on deck, anyway, this
hot weather."

"Have you a revolver?"

"Did you ever know an American without one? I will keep it loaded at my
bedside if you say the word."

"Please do. And if there is any further attempt, or if any strangers
visit you, will you promise to let me know?"

"Faithfully."

She drew a sigh of relief.

"Now I must really depart," she announced, with a glance at her wrist
watch. "It has been a lovely morning, Hamer. Thank you so much."

"Swimming back, or shall I take you in the dinghy?"

She handed him her watch and adjusted her cap.

"I'll swim," she decided. "If I want you to come to-night and send a
note will it be all right?"

"I'll come over in less than no time," he promised her.

They crossed the deck. She drew off her peignoir and stood poised for a
moment at the top of the steps--a slim, fairy-like figure, seductively
feminine, notwithstanding the almost boyishly straight line.

"Wait for my message," she called to him, as she turned round and trod
water after her almost perfect dive.

He waved his hand and stood watching her until she landed.

CHAPTER XI

The girl slipped during the last few steps of her furious dance in the
roughly built _café chantant_ at Garoupe, and would have fallen from the
slightly raised platform into the scanty row of chairs below, but for
the promptness of a man seated there alone, who rose swiftly to his feet
and caught her in his arms. She lay there for a moment or two, panting,
an epitome of abandon in her tumbled skirts, her mass of disarranged
black hair, and the trembling of her passion-riven body. The man gazed
down at her in amazement.

"It is without a doubt the little Tanya!" he exclaimed.

She raised her head, which had rested upon his shoulder, stared at him a
moment, then sank into the cane chair by his side.

"Paul Chicotin!" she cried. "It is thou, Paul, my little one."

"Large enough to have saved you from a bad fall," he reminded her. "And
you, what are you doing here, dancing like a crazy thing in a village
barn?"

"Oh, la la," she scoffed. "You will find fault with my performance next.
I dance here because I choose. Remain where you are, little one. More
must come of this."

She stood up and bowed to the small audience, who were still applauding.
Another performer--a man--came forward to do his gymnastic turn. She
caught Chicotin by the arm.

"This is a meeting," she exclaimed. "It means much to me. I need not
perform unless I choose. We are going to drink a glass of wine
together--yes?"

They left the scantily filled barn, crossed the road, and entered a
café, rather a famous café in its way, with its table set against the
stone wall, a precipice a few feet away. There was a screen of plane
trees around the place. The lighting was almost negligible. She led the
way to a table in the corner. He summoned a waiter from out of the
shadows and ordered a bottle of champagne. She looked at him curiously
from those marvellous black eyes of hers, which seemed to be flecked
with gold.

"Things march well with thee, then," she observed.

"With those who know where to look for it, there is always money," he
replied, boastfully.

"You are still a worker for The Cause," she asked, dropping her voice.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"No."

Her face was almost ugly as she leaned towards him.

"You are a renegade," she demanded.

"Bah, such folly!" he answered. '"Years ago I was a nihilist. I was also
an anarchist. Later I joined the Communist party. Now I belong to no
party. I am an egoist. I work for myself, and myself only. My genius is
for those who choose to pay for it."

"Ah!"

There was a world of meaning in the long drawn-out interjection. He
rolled a cigarette and lit it. She watched his fingers and hands as
though fascinated.

"In one thing I am unchanged," he declared. "I hate the people who
possess wealth while I have nothing, but it is not for vague causes or
for the community or any society that I labour now. It is for Paul
Chicotin."

"Is it not that you serve the world best when you labour for the
oppressed masses," she demanded, "when you work to destroy the
capitalist and the aristocrat?"

"Perhaps so," he answered indifferently, "Only I do not care any longer
for the masses. I work only for Paul Chicotin."

She bit her upper lip thoughtfully. It was not until the wine was served
that she relaxed.

"To the sacred cause of the people," she said, raising her glass.

"To Paul Chicotin and Tanya," he countered. "In the world I have lost
touch with, little one, I have not lost my fondness for thee. There is a
lover--yes?"

"Plenty," she assured him. "I give myself where the cause demands it. I
am not like you. I have no self outside it."

"If you give yourself to me," he suggested cunningly, "you might
rekindle my enthusiasm."

"I wonder," she answered.

He held her hand. They kissed in the darkness, yet she was guarded even
in her love making.

"What do you do here, Paul?" she asked.

"I have completed a marvellous piece of work within the last few days,"
he confided, "work no other person in the world could have ventured
upon. For it I have already received fifty thousand francs. In a day or
two I am to receive a further hundred thousand."

There was a covetous gleam in her eyes.

"Who is it that has such sums of money to spend and what is this work?"
she demanded with apparent carelessness. "I remember you only as an
indolent student who tampered with fine machinery and made clocks."

"This," he admitted, "is a clock. It is a clock _de luxe_. It is a clock
such as never before has been fashioned. It is the most amazing piece of
machinery in the world."

"Tell me some more," she begged.

"There is no more to tell," he rejoined. "It is not as it was in the old
days when we worked in a band. I work now for a single employer and I
have no place in his counsels."

"You have become a tool once more," she scoffed.

"I have earned money," he replied, "but I have earned money for Paul
Chicotin. I have a bank balance such as a man might be proud of. Before
this week is over I shall add to it one hundred thousand francs. Think
of that, Tanya! Only a man of genius could succeed in such a fashion."

"I know more of the men of genius," she sighed, "who fail. Perhaps they
fail because their aims are lofty, because they work only for those who
suffer."

"I am one of those who suffer and have suffered," he answered doggedly.
"Now I work for myself...Tell me what you are doing here?"

She leaned across the table, a familiar attitude, her elbows firmly
planted, her oval face between her long, tapering fingers. She was
sallow in complexion and her make-up was negligible. Her eyes, however,
were brilliant and her full lips invitingly red. She was without doubt a
Jewess.

"Tell me first," she insisted, "for whom you perform these works. Who
has bought that cunning brain of yours, Paul, and those marvellous
fingers? In whose cause do you labour?"

"The cause of Paul Chicotin," he repeated.

"And who reaps the benefit of your brain?"

"Paul Chicotin."

"It is all you are disposed to tell me?"

"It is as much as is good for you to know." She brooded over his
response, smoking his cigarettes with fierce little gulps, drinking the
wine greedily.

"Often they have asked for you in The Circle, Paul," she confided.

"The Circle for me does not exist any longer," he declared. "I am no
longer a philanthropist. I shall soon be old. Life is only a matter of a
few short years and then--gone--gone," he added with a snap of the
fingers. "The ash heap gets us in the end. I wheeze no more of suffering
humanity. It is folly that the strong should work for the weak, the
clever man for the fool. I work for Paul Chicotin. Mine is the one
unassailable philosophy of the world. I rely on no one. I depend on no
one. I use my genius for myself."

She looked at him searchingly. She had the air of one seeking to
penetrate into the man's mind, to learn what was there beneath the mere
words. The fragmentary moonlight seemed to have changed her whole
expression. She was no longer the Paris _gamine_ dancing before a crude
audience for unworthy applause. The hidden enthusiasm of a woman with a
purpose in life had almost spiritualised her. She neglected her
champagne. In that moment he was dimly aware of, although he viciously
resented, the change in their relations.

"So your genius now," she murmured, "goes not for The Cause, but to make
life soft for Paul Chicotin."

"It is ill put," he grunted, "but the meaning is the same."

"I liked it better," she told him, "when, without a scruple you blew off
the heads and legs of innocent people to reach the one guilty one."

"And spent my days hungry, my nights in squalor, and every second in
fear."

"And now," she continued, "you work for a master. What is the task,
Paul, mon petit? You work on a machine perhaps to drive a hundred
toilers on to the streets because it will do their work, or are you the
paid servant of an assassin?"

"I work for Paul Chicotin," he repeated, doggedly. "That is why I can
offer you champagne, a little flat at Juan or Nice, if you care to stay
in these parts, and man, hours of the day and night in my company."

She sighed.

"I was starving when I wandered over here from Marseilles," she
confided. "In a sense you are right, I suppose. The Circle is in
trouble. We have good leaders, but they have no power. All our efforts
fade away in speeches forgotten as soon as they are made, for our
audiences seem to have melted away. Never has there been such an
opportunity as we possess at present, and we cannot use it. If we had
the money now that we had in the old times, the money to bribe, to buy
the secrets of our enemies, we would brush away this fog which hangs
over our beloved country. We would set the guillotine flashing once more
in the Place de la Republique. We would see the heads tumble of the men
who are sucking; her life blood away."

He looked uneasily around.

"That sort of talk," he warned her, "would get you into trouble
nowadays."

"The leaves of the plane trees would need to betray us then, dear Paul,"
she pointed, out, "for there is no one else here, no one to listen to a
poor little dancing girl whose heart aches for the suffering millions.
We know who those men are who have betrayed her but they are far above
our reach. We need a few men of courage like Paul Chicotin used to be."

He caressed her fingers and she permitted his touch passively.

"Paul Chicotin, the Killer for The Cause," he whispered, "is dead, but
Paul Chicotin, the lover of Tanya, remains."

"Passion is dead in my heart," she sighed. "The man who wakes it must be
one of us. Tell me then, my friend, since you think so dearly of me--for
whom is it that you work?"

He shook his head.

"I answer all your questions, Tanya," he complained. "I tell you
everything. To me you are dumb. Why are you singing for sous when your
place is at the _Folies Bergères_? Are you down here for The Circle?"

"The Circle has been driven out of Paris," she confided. "It is
re-established secretly, oh, and with so much caution, in Marseilles. I
have a mission here, but it is so hard to make progress--penniless and
without friends."

He drew from his pocket a _porte-monnaie_ stuffed with notes and threw it
on the table before her.

"Never again call yourself penniless," he chided. "Chicotin is at least
faithful to his loves. You have been my _bonne amie_, Tanya. You need
money? It is yours."

"I will take money," she told him, "only from my lover."

"Can I not be he once more?" Chicotin pleaded.

She shook her head sadly, although there was promise in her eyes.

"You have been, dear Paul," she admitted, "and a wonderful lover, too.
You might be again, but you would have to remember that the price of my
love would be--not your _mille_ notes, but your help."

"But how can I help?" he demanded. "I have told you that Paul the Killer
is dead. I work only for myself. I have no heart for any Cause. France,
Italy, Russia--they are all one to me. Patriotism was once a religion in
my heart. I have outlived that. I am Chicotin the individual. I love
life, I love wine, I love comfort, and I love luxury, and--I love you."

"Prove it," she begged, clutching at his hand. "I am not asking you to
become again The Killer, the scourge upon the earth, as the bourgeois
Press once called you. Help me with a word or two of information."

"Well?"

She rose casually enough to her feet and looked searchingly around the
place. Satisfied as to their complete detachment she resumed her chair,
folded her arms and leaned across the table towards him.

"It has long been known, Paul," she said, "that France has been the
carcase upon which a number of her so-called statesmen have fastened
themselves--pilfering money, stealing it in huge sums, sucking her dry
with the help of such poor dupes as the man whom they shot at Geneva for
fear he should breathe a word as to his accomplices. Those men are still
alive. For all we know they are still engaged in the greatest orgy of
robbery that the world has ever known. The aristocrats, whose heads
filled the baskets at the time of the revolution, and whose blood ran
down the gutters, were innocent babes compared to these men. They
believed that they had the right to oppress the poor. They were blatant
in their lives as they were in their deaths. These men whom we
Communists hate so now call themselves of the people. They profess to
rule France for the people. They call themselves honest citizens of the
Republic. They sit in the high places. Their mistresses hung with Jewels
roll in their Limousines and befoul the very atmosphere of our adored
Paris. Listen Paul," she went on, clutching him fiercely by the
shoulder. "If we were in a position to publish the truth all France
would be on our side, revolution would sweep over the country like a
devouring wind. There would come the Soviet of France, starting upon the
heights, not having to tear its way upwards with bleeding fingers.
France, the real France, would rule the world. Bear with me, Paul, a
minute, I implore you."

She drank wine, holding the glass to her lips with trembling fingers.

"Calm yourself, my little Tanya," her companion begged. "This is good
for the meetings. It is good when you are in company with the others,
but remember--we seem to be alone, but one never knows. Calm yourself, my
child. I am here waiting to listen."

"Well, listen, then," she went on a moment or so later. "I was with
Berthold a few minutes before he died on the scaffold. There was a
company of gendarmes there and a _commissaire_ of police. They believed me
to he his sister. Berthold's last speech was overheard by all these
people--also the priest--but he was clever. He knew what I was there for,
and he knew that a direct word from him to me, and a bullet from the
revolver the chief of the gendarmes was holding would silence him before
he could finish his sentence. He told me of a little money in his
lodgings. 'Leave Paris alone,' he advised me. 'Get out of Marseilles.
There is no future for you there. Find work at one of those pleasant
places on the coast--Cannes, Juan, Nice. In the pleasure haunts of the
world they will let you alone and you may forget.' Then the signal was
given. Berthold's cigarette was placed between his lips, He passed
through the door."

"Well?" Chicotin asked a little breathlessly.

"Berthold told me with those dying words that the truth was to be found
in these parts," she pointed out. "That is why I am here. Can you help
me, my lover that used to be, my lover who might still hold me in his
arms?"

Paul Chicotin shivered although the night was warm, and the perfume of
the flowering shrubs that, hung over the terrace was heavy and soothing.

"Was the money in his room?" he asked.

"The money was there--a few hundred francs, barely more. There had been a
letter. It was gone. The place was swept bare. The police had seen to
that. They knew very well what he was striving to tell me. They stood
around in the room of execution to see that he carried the secret of
what he had learnt with, him to the grave."

Chicotin lit a fresh cigarette with shaking yellow-stained fingers.
Already the stumps of a dozen were on the table.

"The thing is probably a myth," he declared. "There is nothing to
grasp--no starting point. What good can you do groping about this coast
looking--for what? You don't know. Berthold should have had the courage
to shout one name, one hint. The bullet would have been a pleasanter
death."

"Berthold was wiser than you," she told him scornfully. "He knew that if
he had spoken that definite word, if he had given me any hint which it
was possible to follow, I should never have seen the sunlight again."

Chicotin shivered once more. He was sure of himself but he was at heart
a sentimentalist.

"Is there anything to keep you here?" he asked.

"Nothing," she assured him. "I come to all these places on the chance.
There are ten francs owing to me for the song and dance to-night. My
room I pay for by the day. My clothes are only fit to be destroyed."

They rose and he took her arm.

"I have a small car," he said. "Shall it be Nice or Juan?"

They passed out of the garden café into the shadow-hung street. She
clung to his arm.

"Where you wish--where you wish," she breathed so softly that the words
almost died away before they reached his ears. She clung to his arm,
however. She followed his guidance.

CHAPTER XII

Louise, arm in arm with Perissol, walked in the pine-hung gardens of the
villa, on the lighthouse hill, and breathed in happiness with the
sunlight and the fragrant breeze.

"My dear beloved," she murmured, as they paused for a moment to look
down upon the bay, "if only this dark cloud could pass away. If only we
could be happy here together, and feel that France was herself again."

His stern face relaxed slightly for the moment, as he pressed her arm.

"It is the uncertainty of it all that is so nerve racking," he declared.
"Action I never fear. It may be ugly, it may be dangerous, but it is
movement. Here we live in a state of suspended animation. I used to say
that I feared nothing in life. To-day I am afraid of making a mistake. I
might find myself at any moment in such a position that, if I were to do
the right and honourable thing, men might point to me in days to come as
having been the man who was responsible for the ruin of his country."

"Some day or other," she told him, "you will have to come to a woman for
advice."

"I know very well what yours would be," he admitted, "but then,
probably, even you do not grasp all the side issues."

"As, for instance?"

"If I were to make the discovery which I am dimly beginning to
apprehend, do you realise to whom I should have to make my report?"

She shook her head.

"I imagine to the Chamber of Deputies."

"Not at all. I should have to make my report to the person who is
responsible for my appointment, the man who, in the absence of the
Premier, is the leader of the House Edouard Mermillon."

"That gives you ideas?" He smiled bitterly.

"It gives me ideas as to why I received the unique appointment I hold."

"Figure me now, beloved, as a living note of interrogation."

He looked around. They were in the loneliest part of the grounds. Their
solitude was absolute.

"Edouard Mermillon is probably at the present moment the most brilliant
politician France has possessed for years. I do not think that there is
his equal for astuteness in Europe. He has confided to me his ideas as
to what the foreign policy of France should be. To my mind they were
inspired. If he is able to carry them out France will never have
anything more to fear from Germany or any other foreign nation."

"Marvellous," she whispered.

"He knows very well that I did not seek office," Perissol continued.
"He knows very well that I do not care for personal advancement or
honours I seek only to serve my country with all my heart and soul. He
throws down the gage to me and he smiles. If by any chance what one is
driven dimly to suspect turned out to be true and he was found to be
implicated in these recent horrible events, should I be the man, he asks
himself, to expose him? He knows very well that I would rather shield
him, because no one else in the world could carry out his marvellous
policy and because without him France would at once drift into the hands
of the Communists."

Louise was more than a little startled. She betrayed it, perhaps, in her
manner.

"You see a long way," she ventured.

"Further than my critics will allow," he said smiling. "But you, dear, I
want you to understand the peculiar nature of the problem all this
presents, even though fate should place in my hands the knowledge of the
truth. How am I to use that knowledge? Picture me rising in the Chamber
and denouncing the one man upon whom the safety of the country depends.
Picture me alternately going to him privately and saying, 'Send in your
portfolio and disappear or I disclose the truth.' In either case the
wound to France would be mortal."

"Then if you were a perfectly logical being," she decided, "you would
join the malefactors."

"I suppose I should," he admitted. "The only thing is that this is an
illogical world and an illogical position. I must carve my own way out.
The trouble is that the light comes slowly. See what would happen,
Louise, if I did what I more than once felt inclined to do. I would not
mind," he added, with a grim smile, "making a serious wager with you
that if I were to go down to the '_Aigle Noir_' to-day and close myself
in with Edouard Mermillon and the Baron de Brett and tell them all I
know, tell them what I suspect but cannot prove, the Baron would light a
cigar, Edouard Mermillon one of his precious cigarettes, and he would
ask me with that wonderful smile of his and that gentle voice, 'What are
you going to do about it, General?' I could not answer him."

"I can understand what you say about Mermillon," she said, thoughtfully.
"He has already created an entirely different atmosphere in two of the
countries where we were becoming highly unpopular. He has just that
mesmeric gift that the English Jew of the last century, Disraeli, is
reputed to have had. But de Brett--I cannot follow you there."

"De Brett, of course, personally counts for nothing," Perissol admitted,
"but anything serious that happened to him would disorganise the whole
banking world of Europe. Finance plays far too important a role in sound
government nowadays. De Brett has been a good friend to France and we
should be face to face with a terrible financial crisis if we impeached
him and if he retaliated."

"I am glad I am not a man," Louise exclaimed. "The study of all these
possibilities is almost maddening."

"I share your thankfulness, dearest," he assured her tenderly. "If I
hadn't a companion with a plastic mind like yours to come to these days
life would be utterly unendurable. I seem to have turned into a sort of
super-detective since I took up my new office. I see before me the
promised land of accomplishment but my heart and judgment fail me."

Perissol and his companion continued their walk through the woods. In
sheltered places the perfume of the pines, sweet and aromatic, was
almost overpowering. There were barer spots, however, where the east
wind, warmed by the tropical sun, was like a breath of Paradise. She
clung to his arm passionately.

"If this were my last word to you I would say it," she declared. "At all
costs preserve your confidence in yourself. Others have said it--not I
alone--that the time must come when one man will save France. You will be
that man. You have the will, you have the power, you have just that
touch of genius which is necessary. Other countries have yielded to the
inspiration of one-man government. France has nothing to lose by
following suit."

"I lack one quality," he told her a little sadly, "amongst many others,
of course. I fear that I lack ambition."

"But think of the wonder of it," she urged. "If one could revive France
and live. Our country is too beautiful to be brought to the threshold of
ruin by all these plots and counter plots."

"The plots and counter plots," he reminded her, "are all the result of
the evil underneath. It is this eager desire to enjoy, this foolish
passion for luxury, which has created the fantastic hankering after
wealth even in the minds of some of our finest citizens. That honest
bourgeois class that Balzac taught us to appreciate, who were content
with a simple house and a simple life, seems to have passed out of
existence."

"I am afraid," Louise sighed, "my sex is largely to blame. It is the
women who goad men on, always wanting more and more money nowadays."

"French women were always extravagant," he agreed, "but in my younger
days their menkind were strong enough to keep them within bounds. To-day
the world is suffering--Paris goes on spending. Neither the conscience
nor the will of man is strong enough to bear the strain. Communism," he
wound up, "Is an infernal creed, but if ever the time existed or could
exist which might seem to justify some of its principles it is to-day."

"Communism! Horrible!" she shivered.

"There is something good in every creed if it be honest," he declared.
"All the same, the triumph of Communism in France to-day would mean her
ruin. Listen--"

There were footsteps to be heard through the undergrowth. Raymond
appeared suddenly before them. He had descended the slope by one of the
narrow paths which intersected the broader avenues, and he was a little
breathless.

"Mon General," he announced. "The Chef de la Surete of Marseilles is
anxious to speak to you."

"On the telephone?"

"No, monsieur. He came to Cannes by 'plane, and has motored over here.
He would like to return in half an hour, if possible."

"I will mount to the house at once. You will excuse?" he added, turning
to Louise. "Come yourself, I beg of you, by the easier way. I am
interested to hear what Monsieur Boyer has to say."

He waved his hand in farewell and climbed the steep hillside with giant
strides, leaving his secretary breathless far in the rear. In less than
ten minutes he was on the terrace where a stiff-looking little man with
military bearing, black moustache and imperial, in strictly conventional
clothes, was awaiting him.

"Mon General," he said, saluting. Perissol took him by the arm.

"Come into my study," he invited. "We shall be quite alone. You can
disclose your news there."

Boyer was a man renowned, in the circles amongst which he moved, for his
precise manner of dress, of speech, and of deportment. On this occasion,
however, it was easy to see that he was suffering from some sort of
shock. He found it difficult to remain seated quietly in the chair which
his host had designated.

"My chief," he began, "you will understand that I am in a state of some
disturbance. Early this morning I found occasion to dismiss from the
service of the country two members of the detective staff of my bureau,
two men who have held for many years important positions connected with
the Port of Marseilles."

General Perissol stiffened into sudden attention. He glanced towards the
door to be sure that it was closed and out on to the terrace, which was
entirely deserted.

"You have further news concerning the _Bird of Paradise_?" he asked, as
he stepped back again.

"News which should have been yours twenty-four hours after the first
inquiry you put in, General," was the regretful reply. "Amongst my
faults the worst, perhaps, is that I am too much inclined to trust my
subordinates. Figure to yourself, General, for twenty years these two
men have served me and served the State. They have been heavily
bribed--even now I am not sure by whom--but that may transpire. For the
moment they remain in the cells. The _Bird of Paradise_ was built to the
order and instructions of a man who gave the name of Dupont. It was in
his possession for one month, and, from the information I possess, I
have no doubt whatever that the man Dupont was no other than the man
whose name is forbidden in France--the man who was shot at Geneva."

"He sailed the boat?" the General demanded.

"For one month. He cruised about Toulon, Bandol, and as far as Sainte
Maxime. Either his wife or some other woman was on board with him."

"You have the plans of the boat?"

"General, the story of my humiliation continues. The plans have been
stolen--when or how no one in the bureau has the slightest idea. These
two miscreants who lie in the cells are of course responsible."

"The ship's builders?"

"Partrout et Fils--a well-known firm--but every single man employed was an
Englishman. They seem to have come over for the sole purpose of building
the _Bird of Paradise_. Afterwards they returned home again and it is
curious that in no single case have I been able to discover one who left
an address. My subordinate has already telephoned to London. We shall,
of course, in time, trace down one or two of them."

"Was the present purchase of the boat a genuine one?" the General asked.

"Of that, I think, there seems to be no reasonable doubt," was the eager
reply. "The young man's name as on the charter has been confirmed. It
is, as he had announced, Hamer Wildburn. He is an American and a
contributor to the Paris edition of an American newspaper. His record is
perfectly clean and the purchase seems to have been an ordinary
legitimate one. It took place through an agent, who has since given up
business, and it appears that the price paid was in the neighbourhood of
sixteen hundred pounds."

"This is all the information you have been able to collect?"

"For the moment, General, I regret that it is all."

Perissol paced the room thoughtfully for a moment.

"Monsieur Boyer," he said. "We are always, to a certain extent, at the
mercy of our subordinates, and fifteen to twenty years is a long period
of service. When, however, false reports are accompanied by the theft of
the plans of a suspected boat the matter presents itself in a serious
light."

"Mon General," Boyer pleaded. "I offer no excuse. I have a wife and
family. I have been in the service for forty years. Some of the most
dangerous of the felons that haunted Marseilles have been brought to the
scaffold in my time. It was I, with a revolver in my hand, who took
Berthold."

"That is all to the good," the General admitted. "The arrest of Berthold
and his execution was good work. It is not my custom to act harshly. It
would influence my opinion very much if during the next week the plans
of the _Bird of Paradise_ were discovered."

"Everything that is humanly possible shall be done," Boyer promised.
"There is another matter, General, concerning which I should like to
speak. It is not directly connected with the affair of the _Bird of
Paradise_, but it might turn out to be of some consequence.

"Proceed," his chief invited.

"The little friend and mistress of Berthold, the anarchist, who passed
as his sister, and who was with him during his last few minutes, bears
the name of Tanya Vizille. His last words bequeathed to her some money
in his rooms, and recommended her to come to these parts. The
recommendation may have had no significance, but one wonders. The money
was less than three hundred francs, but the girl is living in a
luxurious flat at Juan, dancing at nights and spending money freely. She
has been the companion of Communists and anarchists all her days, and is
herself suspected of being a member of what they call The Circle. She is
associated at the present moment with a man named Chicotin, a Russian,
who is now employed by Edouard Mermillon, the Cabinet Minister, on his
yacht. He is supposed to be a sort of super-engineer, but he is under
strong suspicion of having been at various times in his career a
manufacturer of--bombs."

"I should continue to have the young woman watched," the General
advised. "At present, I can connect her in no way with our immediate
anxieties, but one cannot tell. Now permit me to offer you some
refreshment, Monsieur Boyer."

"A glass of wine in haste, with pleasure," the other accepted. "My great
anxiety now is to return. I am expecting a report on the matter of the
missing plans of the _Bird of Paradise_ this evening."

"Compose yourself, my dear Boyer," his chief begged, after the wine had
been served. "The more I think of this affair the less I am inclined to
blame you. You may be sure that it would not be a light thing that would
cause me to exercise extreme measures in the case of such an official as
you, with such a period of long service behind him."

"Your words inspire me with the deepest gratitude, my General," the
other said fervently.

"Tell me now," Perissol went on. "I shall not detain you, I understand
your haste. But in a few words--how do you find things in Marseilles? We
have our own great and special anxieties in Paris just now, I can assure
you, but Marseilles is often in our thoughts."

"Marseilles, until the coming of the millennium or the day of doom,"
Boyer declared, "will be one of the hotbeds of crime in France. There is
one thing to be borne in mind, however. Political crime does not
flourish to the same extent as personal vice and lawlessness. We have to
deal chiefly with subtle and daring acts of robbery and violence by
bands of criminals associated only for the purpose of gain. There are
many places in France to-day of little note where Communism and even
anarchy flourish more than with us. Berthold was an exception. His fate
has terrified many."

Boyer rose to his feet and the General saw him to his car.

"I wish you a successful flight home, and have no anxieties," were the
latter's last words. "Solve the mystery of the _Bird of Paradise_ for me
and there shall be something for your buttonhole."

CHAPTER XIII

Chicotin, a little sulky, obeyed his employer's unexpected summons a few
mornings later, and presented himself in the latter's suite just before
noon. He was wearing a mauve silk shirt, which came from a Paris
_chemisier_, blue trousers from St. Tropez, and blue espadrilles, with a
red handkerchief knotted around his neck. The whole effect was
exceedingly chic according to the summer fashions of the moment. His
master looked at him from head to foot with a faint smile of amusement
upon his lips.

"Very nice, indeed, Chicotin," he observed. "The costume of
Juan-les-Pins, without a doubt."

"Monsieur did not send for me to discuss my clothes, I presume," the man
rejoined sullenly.

"Certainly not. They happen to amuse me, that's all. I sent for you,
Chicotin, to inquire as to why you are neglecting your duties."

"Duties? My task is finished."

"The first part of it only."

Chicotin pointed through the portholes.

"Monsieur would not desire that I committed suicide by venturing on
board the _Bird of Paradise_ with those searchlights playing? It would
end the whole affair."

"You await, then, the withdrawal of the gunboat?"

"But naturally. The withdrawal of the gunboat or the cessation of the
searchlights."

"And in the meantime you inhabit a flat in Juan-les-Pins with your
mistress, regardless of the fact that you have been allotted quarters on
board here and that you are being paid a handsome salary for acting as
my consulting engineer."

"The title is a sinecure," Chicotin pointed out. "There is nothing to be
done to engines that are stationary."

"You are mistaken," Mermillon replied. "I require you to remain on duty.
What else do I pay you for?"

"I am not an eight-hour mechanic or a slave," Chicotin protested. "I am
willing to carry out my contract when there is anything to be done. When
there is not why should I stay and gaze at dumb machinery in an
atmosphere entirely disagreeable to me? You have divined rightly. My
mistress is at Juan-les-Pins. I prefer to be there with her."

"That is very interesting," Mermillon observed tonelessly, "but I have
sent for you to say that in future you will report each morning for
orders and again at 6 o'clock in the evening."

Chicotin's face darkened.

"There can be no orders to give under the present conditions," he
grumbled. "If Monsieur wishes to hasten the finish of this business he
would have that gunboat removed."

"No one but a fool like you could have made such a suggestion," was the
caustic reply. "One lives nowadays in a glasshouse of publicity. If the
gunboat were sent away at my request, and things were to happen on board
the _Bird of Paradise_ directly afterwards, the situation, so far as I
was concerned, might easily become embarrassing."

Chicotin's face was dark with anger.

"It is not fair that my efforts should be hampered in such a fashion,"
he insisted. "I have carried out my contract. I have produced an even
more wonderful machine than I promised. It is no fault of mine that
conditions prevent its being used. Unless you can smooth the way to
bring this business to an end, I think that you should make me a further
advance on account of the hundred thousand."

"There will be no more money until the affair is concluded," Mermillon
warned him. "That event would find me without a doubt in a generous
frame of mind. What have you done with the fifty thousand francs?"

"I had debts," the man admitted. "Then--since you seem to know it--it is
nothing to be ashamed of--I have a little friend in Juan who sends the
_mille_ notes spinning. It is not given to all men to live like hermits."

"Your manner of life does not interest me," Mermillon assured him.
"There will be no more money until the deed is accomplished, and until
then you will report at 10 o'clock every morning and 6 every evening. On
the other hand, on the day when your coup is successfully dealt your
extra bonus will be raised to a hundred and fifty thousand francs."

Chicotin's eyes shone with desire. One hundred and fifty thousand
francs! What could not be done with such a sum? Tanya could have the
bracelet she coveted, and a few thousand francs for The Cause, if it
made her happy. He himself could play roulette like a prince. What he
would win! He moistened his dry lips.

"I could, perhaps, arrange so .that the attachments on board were
unnecessary," he muttered. "It could be done with a few hours' work. All
that I would have to do in that case would be to accelerate the time
fuse and leave the despatch box into which I have fitted it on board.
Getting away would still be a risk."

"One hundred and fifty thousand francs is worth a risk," his employer
told him coolly.

"I shall need to visit the chemist's," Chicotin announced. "I must go
there at once. At six o'clock I will return. I shall work all night.
During the early morning I may devise a scheme for getting on board."

"Very good," Mermillon agreed.

Chicotin drew a piece of paper from his pocket and wrote a name and
address. He passed it to his employer.

"If I succeed for you, but disappear myself into atoms, which is clearly
possible, I desire that you will pay the money to my friend."

"It is a reasonable request."

"I have Monsieur's permission to depart then?"

"Under the present circumstances the sooner the better."

From their chairs under the awning, which covered most of the deck of
the _Aigle Noir_, de Brett and his host watched Chicotin step into the
little dinghy and push off towards the shore.

"Our friend inspires me with a theme for a brief essay," Mermillon
remarked. "It is a strange thing how many famous criminals have
delighted in exotic and luxurious attire. These American gangsters, for
instance, the list of their wardrobes, silk shirts, and silk
underclothes, filled whole columns of the newspapers a year or so ago.
One very notorious bootlegger gunman is said to have found his way into
what is known as New York society, and to have become a recognised
arbiter in the knowledge of clothes and of luxury appurtenances. Our
Chicotin has gone out to-day to conquer like a tropical bird of
brilliant plumage. To-night he will work for hours in a suit of
overalls, with death waiting for him round the corner if he makes a
single mistake."

"Very likely for us, too," de Brett grumbled. "Lily has invited me to
dinner. The Marquis has been called suddenly to Paris. I think I shall
accept her invitation."

"Do, my dear fellow, by all means," Mermillon agreed. "I am afraid I
have been rather a dull host," he apologised, "although there have been
many matters of business which we have profitably discussed."

"We could have discussed them equally well in Paris or Brussels." the
Baron pointed out, "and I confess that I am tired of the quiet life.
Your society, my dear Edouard, is always wonderful, and I must admit
that the sight of that infernal little schooner yacht fascinates me.
Still, I shall tear myself away before long."

"You will go to Paris?"

De Brett shook his head thoughtfully.

"To Brussels, I fancy, until this matter is finally settled. I shall be
at the end of the telephone there. I shall hear quickly of your success
or of disaster."

There was a subtle significance in the faint twitching of Mermillon's
lips, which scarcely amounted to a smile.

"You are fortunate, my dear Albert," he said, "to be a citizen of two
countries, and a native of only one. Brussels will always provide an
asylum for you."

The Baron permitted himself a little gesture of contempt.

"Pshaw!" he exclaimed. "For men like you and me no asylum will ever be
necessary."

"If the world knows what is good for it, you are right, my friend," his
companion assented. "But sometimes men--even nations--achieve
insanity...Ah, now approaches one of the enjoyable moments of the day.
Here is something worth talking about. I have finished with my
despatches. One of them, by-the-by, to our friend over in London, is I
think a masterpiece. I have worked Chicotin into a reasonable frame of
mind. In half an hour's time there will be luncheon and at this moment
cocktails are arriving."

"And so," de Brett remarked, looking over across the narrow strip of sea
between the _Aigle Noir_ and the gunboat, "is a visitor."

"Our friend, the commander, paying his return visit," Mermillon
observed. "I begged him to come in the morning, to be sure of finding us
at home. _Matelot_, _l'échelle_!"

The two men strolled over to the rail to greet their guest. The latter
saluted them respectfully. These were very great men whom he had the
honour of visiting.

"Delighted to see you, Commander," Mermillon said, as they shook hands.
"You are in time to join us in our pre-luncheon cocktail. Perhaps you
will give us the pleasure of your company at _déjeuner_?"

"Sorry," the visitor regretted, "My first officer is away for the day.
An aperitif I will accept with pleasure."

The three men sat down, and, after a few minutes' general conversation,
Mermillon made tactful reference to the work upon which the gunboat was
supposed to be engaged.

"I am not a naval man, Commander, I must admit," he said, "but the
nature of your operations here has been somewhat of a surprise to me."

"If one may go so far as to admit the fact," the officer replied, "they
have been equally a surprise to me. We continue the work according to
instructions. I took the precaution of having them confirmed from
Toulon."

"Your men appear to me," the Baron observed, "remarkably well
disciplined. They make little disturbance. The presence of a ship of
war, however, in a tiny pleasure bay like this is naturally a trifle
disconcerting. My distinguished friend here, the Minister for Foreign
Affairs, has been engaged for some time upon a scheme to be submitted to
the Counsel of Europe, the object of which is to secure peace for the
world. Those rakish-looking guns of yours only a few hundred yards away
must, I fancy, be disconcerting."

The commander smiled broadly.

"You will understand," he said, "that I cannot discuss my mission here
in a general way, but there is no harm in confiding to you my personal
impression. I cannot help believing that I was simply sent here because
of the presence of a French Minister of great distinction and a banker
of international fame."

"Someone in that case would seem to have been a trifle officious,"
Mermillon reflected.

"If I may continue to speak entirely personally," the commander went on,
"I am not at all sure that my presence here, from the point of view I
have just suggested, is not a wise dispensation. Marseilles and Toulon
are both dangerous centres of Communism in these days. Le Prefet of
Toulon, who visited the Admiral not long ago, has many anxieties. Deeds
of violence in the city occur with lamentable frequency, and I fear that
the next 10 years will witness many of them. In a beautiful holiday
centre such as this it would be ruinous and most distressing to the
inhabitants to have tragedy, as it were, thrust down their throats. A
few extra precautions are worth taking. At the same time, Monsieur le
Ministre," the officer added, rising to his feet and turning
respectfully to his distinguished host, "if there is anything in the
conduct of our operations which can be altered to suit your convenience,
I should only be too glad to consent to it, so long as it does not clash
with my instructions."

"You are very kind, sir," the latter acknowledged. "Your name, I think
you said, was Berard?"

The young man bowed. Mermillon rose to his feet and laid his hand upon
his shoulder as they walked together towards the gangway.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "if you could arrange to discontinue those
searchlights, say after 3 o'clock, it would be a blessing. I am here for
a vacation, it is true, but I have messengers from Paris every day and
sometimes I am working with them until long after midnight. My best
hours for sleep are from 3 o'clock until eight."

The commander saluted.

"I will give orders for the searchlights to cease an hour earlier, that
is at 3 o'clock," he promised. "If at any future time I can be of
service, Monsieur, I am at your disposition."

"I shall not forget your courtesy, sir," Mermillon assured him.

The Baron was helping himself to another cocktail when his host resumed
his seat.

"You see, I have solved Chicotin's difficulty," the latter remarked. "It
was an idea, I think."

The Baron lit a cigar and smoked thoughtfully for several moments.

"An idea, beyond a doubt," he admitted. "Yet one has to consider this.
If anything curious were to happen between the hours of 3 and 4 o'clock
and our young friend was court-martialled he would naturally disclose
the fact that it was at our request that he discontinued those
searchlights."

Mermillon smiled.

"Ah, my dear Albert," he said. "I think that fortune is with us because
the small things march our way. I happen to know through your friend,
the Marquise, that the young American, Hamer Wildburn, was the first to
protest against the searchlights. I have exchanged courtesies with the
young man. It would be natural for me to use my influence to help him in
the matter. You will excuse me, Baron? I go to have a word with
Chicotin. He will be a happy man. He is now a step nearer the fortune at
which he aims."

Chicotin and Tanya dined late that evening in the garden of the
Provençal Hotel. They had chosen one of the small tables, half hidden
amongst the trees. Chicotin was an ardent lover, and he liked the
surreptitious caresses impossible in a crowded room. It was 11 o'clock
when they sat down for dinner, but what an evening it had been! They had
gambled a little at the Casino and won. They had drunk cocktails there,
crossed the road, and danced at Maxim's. Cocktails there, and so on to
the Provençal Bar, where they spent a pleasant hour. Then back to
Tanya's room, where two new frocks from Cannes had just arrived, and
must be tried on with the aid of Chicotin, who always declared that if
he had not been a miraculous machinist he would have been a ladies'
dressmaker. He dared even to put the finishing touches and criticise the
creations of one of the most famous dressmakers in the world. Each gown
awoke in him fresh transports. Tanya at last escaped.

"You are terrible to-night, my dear Paul," she cried. "Remember that the
night is young."

His expression suddenly changed.

"Yes, the night is young," he agreed. "At 3 o'clock--"

She stood rigidly in front of her mirror.

"Yes?" she Queried

"At 3 o'clock I shall be gay still, but not with you, dear one."

She half turned her head.

"With another woman, perhaps?"

"With no other woman."

"I should think not, indeed," she murmured, coming across the room
towards him, her arms outstretched, that terribly seductive look in her
eyes. "At 3 o'clock, what?" she went on, her right arm around his neck,
the fingers of her left hand caressing his cheek. "Tell me, my lover,
what is it that you do at 3 o'clock?"

"A trifling commission," he confided. "Something to be done by Paul
Chicotin that he may pay for more frocks for Tanya, more of the _jetons_
one flings upon the board, more of the glorious sunshine of life."

"Three o'clock," she repeated wonderingly.

"Ah, well, forget that," he enjoined, "or if you will speak of it again
remember this it is an affair of two hundred thousand francs."

"Paul!" she remonstrated, patting his cheek once more. "There is no man
in the world clever enough to earn two hundred thousand francs at 3
o'clock in the morning."

He suddenly realised the hour, the number of cocktails he had drunk, his
companion with her blind enthusiasms.

"I talk no more," he insisted. "I am fatigued with hunger. I have spoken
for our little table under the trees at the Provençal. You will wear the
robe cerise. I will arrange that scarf. Then at half-past two, I leave
you for an hour, and at half-past three, when Juan sleeps, will be our
next hour of love."

She pinched his cheeks.

"I am your slave, little one," she submitted. "Come and choose what
remains of my toilette."

So that was how they came to dine under the trees at the Provençal and
Tanya was seductive and amorous in turn, as he liked her best. When the
lights went out and the waiters began to linger around impatiently they
crossed the way to Maxim's, where they danced under the trees and found
a seat once more in the background. Chicotin glanced at his watch.

"It is _triste_ here this evening," he declared. "We are the only two who
seem to have gaiety in our hearts and the flavour of living upon our
lips. There is an hour before I start."

She sprang to her feet.

"We go home then--yes?" she invited. "You may rest there if you will. The
car is outside my door. You can start from there."

They walked through the maze of pavement cafes with their dance gardens
and small restaurants. His fingers trembled as they turned the key of
Tanya's door. They mounted to the first floor. With a little laugh she
threw herself upon the couch.

"Give me a drink, dear lover," she cried. "There is everything there on
the side--champagne even. Open a bottle and have a drink to your
enterprise. Sit here. I will spare you just that much room," she went
on, making a little circle in the air. "We will talk together and I will
pronounce a benediction upon your enterprise. You are going to rob
someone, perhaps? A brave deed. It is for you people with brains to take
their possessions away from the plutocrats. I love a daring thief. Paul.
I love you."

The fingers which tore away the wires of the champagne bottle trembled.
Paul Chicotin was treading on air. Even to himself he was great. A man
with a brave enterprise before him--an enterprise which was to save or
destroy a country. He poured out the wine, drained a glassful, and took
another over to her. Passion flamed in his eyes.

"Drink," he begged. "Drink quickly."

She drew him down on to the side of the couch.

"Paul," she whispered, "I shall remain here counting the seconds while
you are away. I pray for you. Tell me what it is that you do. What is it
that you carry about in that despatch box which you look at so
anxiously?"

She drank half the contents of the glass, then she placed it to his
lips. He drained the remainder greedily.

"I do what it is not within the power of any other man in the world to
accomplish," he confided. "I save France from revolution, I spread to
the winds of heaven written words which might have brought her to the
threshold of ruin. Two hundred thousand francs is little enough to pay.
It is my brain which has done this. It is your lips and your arms which
will reward."

He drew her to him and she easily yielded to his embrace--one arm around
his neck, the other, however, still free.

"Paul," she murmured, "what is it then you do?"

"The last record," he cried. "At three o'clock it will be back amongst
the atoms of the universe--gone for all time, Tanya!"

There was a sudden pain in his back. The eyes that a moment before had
seemed luminous with love were glaring at him. He was drunk! He was sure
he must be drunk. But the pain. His head was swimming. He fell back.
Tanya slipped from his arms. He lay on the floor and he felt the slow
ebbing away of life.

CHAPTER XIV

At the sound of the stroke of the hour of three, a metallic yet somehow
significant chime, from the chapel hidden in the lighthouse woods.
Mermillon rose slowly to his feet and leaned over the side of the boat.
The Baron, in his pyjamas and dressing-gown, had already taken his place
there. The seconds passed without a word between the two men. The
commander of the French gunboat was evidently qualifying for promotion.
The play of the searchlights had ceased some five minutes before. Black
darkness enveloped the small bay. The long slanting beam from the
Antibes lighthouse passed over the top of the woods, searched the far
seas, but it did nothing to illumine the sombre obscurity below.
Mermillon drew a little nearer to his companion. A very rare emotion
trembled in his voice.

"If Chicotin succeeds," he said, "It will be within the next five
minutes."

"A long time to wait," the Baron growled. Mermillon leaned speechless
over the side. His face had lost its calm satirical expression, and he
was like a man stretched upon the rack. He stood slightly turned away so
that not even his companion could see the agony through which he was
passing. Neither of the two men seemed to be able to preserve the sense
of time, but when the quarter chimed from the chapel in the woods,
though even the seconds had seemed intolerably long, Mermillon gave vent
to a groan of surprise.

"Chicotin has failed," he muttered.

"Name of heaven, what was that?" the Baron exclaimed with a start.

Whatever the sound denoted, it came, alas, from the far distance. A low
rumbling first, as though of thunder, then a crash, an opening of the
black skies over westward as though to let out a flood of summer
lightning. Then silence--darkness and silence more profound than ever.

The commander of the gunboat heard it, sprang from his bunk, and hurried
up on deck also to gaze around at nothing. Perissol heard it and leaned
over from his balcony, straining his eyes and striving to penetrate the
darkness of the near horizon. Tanya, who had been dealing a hand in Juan
Casino, heard it a great deal more distinctly, and almost dropped the
cards from her bejewelled fingers. The little company of eight seated at
the table stared at one another without any inclination to move. Tanya,
whose bank now amounted to a good many _mille_, and who had just had _banco_
called against her, was the first to recover herself. Perhaps because
she understood. She showed no sign of the relief which had set her
wicked little heart dancing with joy.

"Whatever has happened," she exclaimed, "it is not for our harm. Let us
finish the hand."

She gave the card which had been demanded--ten--and triumphantly, with her
amazing finger nails, pointed to the six which she had already shown
upon the table. The man who had gone _banco_, with a shrug of the
shoulders, opened his pocket book and counted out the money. Tanya
leaned back in her chair humming a little tune. Poor Chicotin! His
boasts, then, had not been idle ones.

"_Un banco de quatorze mille_," the _croupier_ announced.

This time no one paid any attention. The little company had recovered
from then stupor and everyone except Tanya had rushed to the doors.

"_La main passe_," Tanya declared, stretching out her hand and clutching
her winnings. Everything had happened according to plan.

The Baron was a few minutes late in the morning for his _petit dejeuner_,
which he made a rule of sharing with his host in a pleasant corner of
the deck. He found Mermillon with the _Eclaireur_ gripped in his hand.
He had evidently just finished reading something of interest.

"_Eh bien, mon ami_?" de Brett exclaimed inquiringly.

Mermillon laid down his paper.

"It is the old story," he confided. "God and men make plans and women
destroy them. I knew that vain little fool of a Chicotin was playing the
Don Juan. I ought to have confined him to the ship until his work was
done."

"What then has happened?" the Baron demanded.

"One has to guess. We, I think, can gill in the blanks better than
anyone. A block of flats newly built in Juan-les-Pins, only one of which
was occupied, has been blown to pieces--wrecked completely and absolutely
soon after 3 o'clock this morning. The owner of the flat was playing
_chemin-de-fer_ at the Casino. All that this journal professes to know
about her is that she came from Marseilles and that she had a
lover--apparently wealthy--who was with her earlier in the evening.
According to this paper the two dined at the Provençal Hotel and were
seen soon after midnight to enter the flat--the man carrying a small
despatch case. The girl, however, took her accustomed place at her
favourite _chemin-de-fer_ table at the Casino shortly after 2. At a
quarter-past 3 came the explosion."

"Did we not hear it?" the Baron muttered. "The adjectives used by these
French journalists in trying to describe its effect," Mermillon
continued, stirring his coffee, "suggest that Chicotin told us the
truth. The flat and its contents have gone up into thin air. There is
not even an indication as to whether any human being was in the
building. Not an article of furniture or clothing of any description
remains. It stood, fortunately, upon an empty space, but every window in
the neighbourhood was shattered and several small buildings forty yards
away were wrecked. A small saloon car standing at the entrance was
scattered in morsels of metal and upholstery right across the road.
_Enfin, mon cher Baron_, we have lost our dear Chicotin."

The Baron plucked up his spirits.

"Under the circumstances, I think," he remarked cheerfully, as he
buttered himself a piece of toast, "it is perhaps the best thing that
could have happened. Alive, whether successful or unsuccessful, he would
have been a terrible nuisance."

Mermillon sighed as he glanced to where the _Bird of Paradise_ was
swaying gracefully at her moorings.

"It is now my turn," de Brett went on, "to disclose some news. In a few
weeks' time the _Bird of Paradise_ will have changed hands."

Mermillon's eyebrows were faintly uplifted. His guest continued.

"There has been, as you may be aware, something in the nature of a
flirtation between Hamer Wildburn, the owner of the _Bird of Paradise_,
and Mademoiselle Lucienne de Montelimar I dined last night, as you know,
at the _château_. Madame took me into her confidence. A marriage, it
seems, is on the _tapis_ between the two young people."

"This sounds interesting," Mermillon observed.

"It becomes more and more so," de Brett proceeded "As I have already
told you, I have intimated to the Marquise our desire to acquire the
boat. She has used all her influence with her daughter and the young man
has promised Lucienne that she shall have it for a wedding gift."

Mermillon leaned back from the table and lit a cigarette.

"How does that strike you, Baron?" he asked. "The _Bird of Paradise_ in
the hands of the girl, eh? It doesn't strike me that our position will
be greatly improved. He will probably make it a condition that she does
not dispose of it."

De Brett smiled, and his smile had none of the attractive qualities that
his companion's possessed. His lips were pudgy and his eyes beadlike.

"The mother and I are old friends," he confided. "We have talked of this
matter seriously, and I believe that we shall at any rate have
facilities--through a third person if necessary--to gain at least
temporary possession of the boat. The affairs of one's youth sometimes
turn out to one's advantage in later years." he added with a little
chuckle. "The Marquise at one time did me the honour to accept me as her
cavalier. She has every reason to afford me now what assistance is in
her power."

Mermillon turned away from his companion as though to study once more
the outline the "_Bird of Paradise_." His real intention was to mask the
slight expression of disgust which came so often into his face during
his conversations with his guest.

"You are an amazing man, Albert," he murmured. "You have influence
everywhere."

De Brett chuckled once more.

"I say only this of myself," he declared.

"Other men submit to having their schemes wrecked and their future
ruined for the sake of a woman. I, too, love women, but I make them
serve my purpose."

Mermillon rose as though to stretch himself and walked to the rail of
the yacht. For a moment or two he remained standing upright gazing
steadily seawards. There were those amongst his contemporaries who
criticised him sometimes as a dreamer. This might have been one of those
moments which justified such an idea, for the thoughts of Edouard
Mermillon, premier Minister of France, were far away in an island in the
Pacific, where the sole intrigues were amongst the natives in their
bargaining for fish or coral or wives, where wealth was useless, and
ambition ineffective. The island belonged to him--his by right of
purchase and charter. He looked across the sea with gleaming eyes and it
was not for any human being to know the longing in his heart. He heard
his guest's slippered feet approach. The light went out from his face. A
stony calm took its place.

"In the meantime," the Baron observed, rubbing his hands, "I am a man of
action. I commence the affair. I have despatched a messenger already to
Mademoiselle Lucienne, begging her to bring the young man over here this
afternoon, and take tea or an aperitif with us. I have done well--yes?"

"Prompt action is certainly your forte, my friend," Mermillon conceded.


CHAPTER XV


Commander Berard, who had been invited by signal to join the small
afternoon party on board the _Aigle Noir_, arrived half an hour later
than expected towing behind his launch a small dinghy.

"Brought you back some ship's property, I think, sir," he observed, as
he shook hands with Mermillon.

The latter strolled to the side of the yacht with his visitor, who
pointed downwards. Mermillon signalled for the captain, who promptly
joined them.

"That's our dinghy, sir, all right," was the unhesitating decision. "It
was reported missing to me when I made my morning rounds. Might one ask,
sir, where you picked it up?"

"We didn't pick it up exactly," the commander explained. "One of my men
on leave was taking a promenade and found it underneath those
overhanging bushes."

"How do you account for that, Captain?" Mermillon asked.

The former shook his head.

"How can one account for an incident so extraordinary?" he replied. "No
one is allowed to take out a boat or even one of the smaller dinghies
without express permission. Monsieur Chicotin is the only one who has
occasionally taken a liberty."

"It appears to me," the, commander volunteered, "as though one of your
crew had helped himself to a little extra leave during the night time
and had hidden that boat with the idea of getting back at any hour in
the morning."

"A very plausible suggestion," Mermillon decided. "After all, this is a
pleasure yacht and a too rigid discipline is scarcely called for. From
the decks here my men can often hear the music being played at
Juan-les-Pins. I expect now and then some of the gay minded ones find it
too much for them. The matter is not of any particular importance."

"I thought at first it might have been someone intending to pay you a
visit," the commander remarked to Wildburn. "It was nearer your boat
than anyone's."

"Sorry to have missed a visitor," the latter observed. "It might have
been another bidder for the boat."

"The boat," Lucienne reminded him sternly, "is not for sale. It is
pledged to me. You have perhaps heard," she went on, smiling at
Mermillon, "the _Bird of Paradise_ is to be my wedding present from
Hamer."

"I am out of luck," Mermillon complained ruefully. "I tried so hard to
buy that small yacht, but Mr, Wildburn was adamant."

"I don't think he liked parting with her even to me," Lucienne confided.
"He was very sweet about it, though."

Her host dismissed the subject with a little wave of the hand.

"My nephew, at any rate, is not hard to please," he said. "So long as it
is a boat and has sails and something in the way of a engine she is his
natural home. I never asked de Brett what he discovered about your
engines, by-the-by. Mr. Wildburn."

"Twin Diesel," the Baron reported. "Quite enough for her size. I never
believe in overpowering a boat."

They went back to their interrupted tea, which was served in the most
approved English fashion. Afterwards they were shown over the yacht, and
Lucienne, especially, was loud in her praises.

"When the _Bird of Paradise_ belongs to me Monsieur Mermillon," she
said, "I shall perhaps make you a generous offer. Hamer permits I shall
propose that we exchange boats!"

"I expect you will find me perfectly willing," he replied. "My nephew
would find a ship of this size entirely a white elephant. It costs more
than I can afford to keep it in condition. To tell you the truth, one
reason why I asked the Baron to cruise with me as my guest was the hope
that some evening after we had discussed a bottle of his favourite wine
together I might sell it to him!"

"Dismiss the idea, my friend," de Brett advised. "In Brussels we are all
as poor as church rats. Besides which, we are not yachtsmen. We spend
our money on horses and racing cars."

"Has anyone," Berard asked, "been in to Juan to see the scene of the
explosion?"

"I have," Hamer Wildburn replied.

"And I," the Baron echoed. "I have never seen a thing so extraordinary."

"The police and the firemen together are, I am informed, confounded,"
Mermillon declared. "They have wired to Paris for two scientists to come
down from a Government laboratory. It seems that some new explosive of
terrific power must have been used, for there are literally no remains,
A house and furniture, and possibly human beings, have never been known
to disappear in such a fashion before. Nothing remains but dust and
ashes."

"Of course, the usual stories are going about," the Baron observed. "I
lunched at the Provençal, and they are full of it. Two or three people
declare that they positively saw an aeroplane of German make pass over
last night a few minutes before the explosion. They think that it was
just an experiment, and that they had observers in the vicinity."

"The most arrant sensationalism, I should imagine," Mermillon
pronounced. "I hear that there were no lives lost at all. A wild looking
young Jewish danseuse, Mademoiselle Tanya, who was the only known
tenant, is reported as having been seen about during the evening with a
man, but she declares that they parted long before she entered the
Casino, and that he did not even enter her apartment. She herself was
safely seated at the _chemin-de-fer_ table an hour before the explosion."

"Is it the same Mademoiselle Tanya, I wonder," Lucienne asked, "who was
dancing at a café up in one of those hill villages a week or two ago? We
were getting up a party to go and see her, but we were told that she had
left."

"I should doubt it very much," the Baron replied. "The performances you
are speaking of were of a much move artistic nature. I have seen Tanya
in the Casino at Juan. She has a somewhat wild appearance, but she is
beautifully dressed, and she has jewellery. One is told that she has
received large salaries in Paris in well-known places of amusement. The
_Folies Bergère_, even, was mentioned."

Wildburn leaned forward in his place.

"Nevertheless, I believe her to be the same," he declared. "I saw her
dance at a very ordinary café indeed just at the back of Garoupe. She
was shabbily dressed and, so far as I could see, she wore no jewellery.
That may have been done to keep up the part of the female apache which
she was representing. I have seen her since at the Casino at Juan, and,
as the Baron told us, she made a very different appearance."

"This is distressing news," Lucienne observed, "I pictured you, my dear
Hamer, spending your nights writing that book or your articles for the
paper. When have you found time to disport yourself at Juan?"

"I have been in too great a state of mental disturbance during the last
few weeks," the young man confessed with a grin, "to settle down to any
serious work. If you care to see the young woman I will take you to
Juan, any night you like. Unless she is scared back to Paris by having
had her flat blown up we are certain to find her playing _chemin_."

"I will dine with you this evening at the Casino," Lucienne suggested.
"Mother is going over to Monte Carlo. See what you have let yourself in
for!"

"A very pleasant evening, it seems to me,"' the young man exclaimed,
with a proper amount of enthusiasm. "I will call for you at about nine
o'clock. They dine pretty late there, I believe. I suppose, Monsieur
Mermillon," he went on, turning a little diffidently towards his
distinguished host, "it would not be possible for you to discover
anything about the person who helped himself to your dinghy last night?
I have noticed a very suspicious-looking fellow hanging around in a
small boat for several evenings lately."

"Well, I was rather leaving that to my captain," Mermillon replied
courteously. "Matters of discipline amongst the crew scarcely enter into
my activities You are interested?"

"Only because the dinghy was hidden some forty or fifty yards from my
own boat," Wildburn pointed out. "It might almost seem, as the commander
indicated, that someone had intended to pay me a nocturnal visit."

"Mademoiselle Tanya, perhaps!" Lucienne suggested. "I scarcely expected
to be honoured so far as that," he replied. "Still, between ourselves,"
he added, looking round, "there his been a certain mysterious interest
in my little craft, and I have already received at least one unwelcome
visitor. I have not a thing on board worth stealing, but apparently
there are people about who think that I have. I should really like to
know who hid the dinghy under those bushes and for what purpose."

"I will speak to the captain myself," Mermillon promised graciously.
"Every effort shall be made to clear the matter up. I am inclined to
suspect my wireless operator. He is rather a gay young Lothario and a
wizard with those small boats. He can paddle without making a sound. He
is off duty just now, I am afraid, but later on I will have a word or
two with him myself."

"Of course, it might have been he," Wildburn agreed, "but on the other
hand it doesn't explain his hiding the boat in those bushes."

The Baron looked up with a twinkle in his eye.

"Our neighbour is becoming nervous," he said "Now is your time, Edouard,
to bid him a trifle less than that ridiculous five thousand. I think Mr.
Wildburn might possibly be induced to break his contract with
Mademoiselle and get rid of his supposed treasure boat for--shall we
say?--four thousand!"

"And I thought that you were my friend, Baron!" Lucienne exclaimed
reproachfully.

"You needn't worry, my dear," Wildburn put in. "I shall sell my craft to
no one at any price. It's yours the day we are married. That's my bribe
to get you to hurry events up!"

She hung on to his arm.

"Quite unnecessary," she whispered. "To-morrow would suit me admirably!"

"Hello! More visitors," the Baron pointed out "We are popular to-day,
Edouard."

Mermillon turned his head lazily. The others were already looking down
the deck with obvious curiosity. General Perissol, a fine figure of a
man even in his loosely fitting flannels, was approaching, escorted by
the first officer.

"It is my friend, our famous neighbour from the lighthouse hill,"
Mermillon announced. "I can guess what has brought him here."

He rose to his feet and held out his hands. The General clasped them and
greeted the others to whom he was presented with a comprehensive bow.

"You have come, my dear General, without doubt, to solve for us the
mystery of that amazing explosion this morning," Mermillon hazarded.

"Not entirely for that purpose."

"You are very welcome in any case," his host assured him. "That chair is
comfortable? Good. Shall we have some fresh tea made or will you join us
in our first cocktail?"

"Thank you, I will take the cocktail. Will you, however, present me
first to the young lady? I have an idea that she is the daughter of my
old friend, the Marquis de Montelimar."

"A thousand apologies," Mermillon said. "In the little fraternity of the
bay it never occurred to me that you would not have met. Permit me,
Mademoiselle--General Perissol--one of the most dangerous and important
men in this troubled country of ours--Mademoiselle de Montelimar."

"Your father is an old friend of mine, Mademoiselle," the General
remarked as he shook hands. "It is owing to your frequent absences
abroad, I imagine, that we never met."

"I am glad that I have been fortunate at last." Lucienne answered. "I'm
afraid that the greater part of my last two years has been spent in
England and Italy. Let me present a young man in whom I have some slight
interest--Mr Hamer Wildburn."

"A great pleasure," the General said, shaking hands.

"Now for the news, sir," Mermillon insisted. "You have the air of one
bearing tidings."

"I have none," Perissol confessed calmly. "I am a policeman, and the
police always keep what news they have to themselves. I am here in
search of clues to this latest crime myself if anyone has any help to
offer."

"We are all quite ready to assist the law," Mermillon assured him. "But
what is the crime?"

"Sabotage," the General replied. "The blowing up of a new block of flats
with an absolutely novel explosive."

"But this is a purely local affair," General Mermillon protested "You
surely do not occupy yourself with such trifles."

"I do not," Perissol admitted, "except where they touch the fringe of
larger interests. The Chef de la Surete of the neighbourhood has been to
see me. He is a nervous man, and he feared to approach you personally. I
undertook to lessen his responsibilities in the matter. He is anxious to
know whether you have had in your employ an engineer by the name of
Chicotin?"

"Paul Chicotin?" Mermillon repeated. "Why, certainly, Paul Chicotin has
been my consulting engineer for some short time. He left me yesterday."

"May I presume to ask a further question?"

"By all means, _cher General_."

"You perhaps dismissed him?"

"Not at all. I ought to have done, because there was not enough work for
him, but he himself was the first to realise this. He left entirely of
his own accord. In fact, he has been so useful that I promised to take
him back if he did not succeed in finding agreeable occupation."

"You know of his past?"

"Ah, there I am at a loss," Mermillon acknowledged. "Very little, I'm
afraid. I knew that he was a Russian by birth, and amazingly skilful in
dealing with machinery. He has increased the speed of my engines, for
instance, without expense to me or change of fuel, by at least three
knots.

"I can assure you," the General announced, with a certain dry inflection
in his tone, "that he did not start life as a marine engineer, nor is
that his special forte. However, I agree that we need not concern
ourselves with his misdeeds of a generation ago. The point is that he is
suspected of being concerned in the affair of the explosion at
Juan-les-Pins last night."

"_Incroyable_!" the Baron exclaimed. "A young dandy like Chicotin to mix
himself up with an affair like that!"

"It is possible, my confrere," the General continued, taking no notice
of the interruption "that with many more important matters upon your
mind you have neglected to notice the man Chicotin, or to concern
yourself in his doings. He is the reputed lover of Mademoiselle Tanya,
the dancer, and is said to have spent upon her a considerable amount of
money. It is certain that in his younger days he was a skilled
manufacturer of bombs."

"Bombs!" Lucienne cried. "What horrible things you make us listen to,
General."

"What could a marine engineer know about bombs?" Hamer Wildburn
protested.

"The bomb which destroyed the block of flats in Juan-les-Pins could have
been made by no amateur," the General went on, ignoring the young man's
query. "A more wholesale piece of destruction I have never seen."

Mermillon sat up in his chair. It was obvious that he was disturbed.

"My dear General," he protested. "You do indeed bring a note of tragedy
into our little haven of rest. I should be deeply grieved if what you
suggest turned out to be the truth."

"I fear that there is very little doubt about it," the General
pronounced gravely. "Quite unwittingly on the part of its officers or
Monsieur Mermillon, of course, I am afraid that the _Aigle Noir_ has
been harbouring a very dangerous criminal."

"This is most unpleasant information," Mermillon acknowledged. "At the
same time, if it is true the police are to be congratulated upon having
got so far in their investigations."

"As I explained," the General continued "Monsieur Sarciron himself, the
local Chef de la Surete, would have paid you this visit, but he
hesitated to do so, knowing that you were here seeking a period of
complete tranquility. He asked me to come unofficially and make these
few inquiries. You will not, I imagine, object to a visit from the
gendarmes to search Monsieur Chicotin's belongings and to ask your
captain a few questions."

"Not in the least," was the emphatic response. "In the meantime I myself
am immensely curious to know what has become of that strange little man,
and why, if he was bent on crime, he concerned himself with an empty
flat."

"The mystery will probably unfold itself in time," Perissol surmised.
"Our friend Sarciron has already a theory. If it is correct you will
never, I am afraid, see your engineer again."

"And the theory?" de Brett asked

"He believes that Chicotin was in the flat when the explosion took
place."

"If it was he who made the bomb," Hamer Wildburn remarked, "that was the
best place for him."

"Sarciron believes also," the General proceeded, "that Chicotin was
deeply enamoured of this Mademoiselle Tanya, who is a dangerous
character, and a woman of many lovers. He believes that Chicotin
quarrelled with her that night, and that she left him and went to the
Casino. Chicotin remained behind, and in some way or other managed to
work out his scheme of destruction, involving himself in it."

They had all been seated in a circle listening, and, as neither the
General nor Mermillon himself had made any effort to keep the
conversation secret, their interest had been growing all the time. Hamer
Wildburn leaned forward in his place.

"Perhaps I ought not to say so," he ventured, "but I do not believe in
the theory of your local Chef do la Surete."

The General looked at him tolerantly. "And why not?" he asked.

"If Chicotin had wanted vengeance upon the girl," Hamer pointed out, "he
would have waited until she was in the flat, and then exploded the bomb.
For a man of that type it was a senseless thing to do--to commit suicide
and blow up her flat whilst Mademoiselle Tanya was seated happily in the
Casino."

"Reasonable," the General admitted. "You have an alternative theory of
your own, perhaps?"

"I have," Hamer assented, "but you would probably laugh at it."

"Let us hear it, at any rate," Perissol begged.

"I believe that the bomb was intended for me, or rather for my boat."

"Hamer!" Lucienne cried.

"You are surely not serious," the General demanded.

"Well, I rather think I am," the young man persisted. "Certain things
that have happened lately have put me on my guard, and for two nights I
have taken to keeping a sort of watch myself, and both nights, between
the searchlight flashes, I have seen a small boat of some sort between
me and the shadow of the trees. Each time there was the same slim man in
the boat, wearing a beret and a pullover, and each time he had a parcel
between his feet--a parcel, or it might have been a leather case. Last
night I was particularly on the look-out for him, because for some
reason or other the searchlights left off earlier than usual. He didn't
appear, but there was the dinghy under the trees."

There was a puzzled silence, broken at last by the commander.

"The searchlights left off earlier last night or rather this morning,"
he explained, "at Monsieur Mermillon's request. I can quite understand
that they must have been a nuisance to everyone."

"I owe you at least four hours' sleep for your forbearance," Mermillon
observed graciously. "Before you left this afternoon I intended to
express my gratitude."

"Have you any personal knowledge of this man Chicotin?" the General
inquired, turning to Wildburn.

"I have never spoken to him in my life except to ask him what he meant
by hanging around my boat about a week ago," was the terse reply. "I
began to think that I must have a false keel filled with precious stones
or half a ton of cocaine!"

Mermillon smiled.

"I am afraid that little romance, Mr. Wildburn, is rather discounted by
the fact that to blow up your ship would destroy any secret treasure
that might be stored upon her or any value that she might have. However,
the General will probably mention your theory to his friend, Monsieur
Sarciron. He will naturally find it a little difficult to account for
the bomb being in Juan-les-Pins while your boat is here, however."

"He might have been waiting for the searchlights to stop," the young man
suggested thoughtfully. "Curiously enough, the explosion took place
within about ten minutes of the time that they left off."

Lucienne turned towards the commander with an idea of her own.

"Did you tell anyone that you were going to stop the searchlights
earlier last night?" she asked, curiously.

"Never mentioned it to a soul," he assured her. "As a matter of fact, I
only gave the order a few minutes beforehand."

The clock from the chapel in the woods struck the hour. The commander
rose hastily to his feet.

"You will excuse me," he begged. "I am keeping an evening watch. I shall
give you a respite again, Monsieur Mermillon, after three o'clock. I
wish everybody good evening."

The commander hurried off and Hamer Wildburn and his companion followed
suit a short time later. Only Perissol lingered. The frown upon his
forehead had become more pronounced.

"The situation," he remarked dolefully, "is becoming a trifle more
complicated."

Mermillon was inclined to be curt. He rose to his feet and sauntered
along towards the gangway. It was almost an invitation to his guest to
take his departure.

"I must confess," he admitted "that I am a little bored with my recreant
marine engineer and this ingenuous young American with his mysterious
boat. I have not yet finished my day's despatches which it occurs to me,
are of more vital importance."

Perissol promptly took the hint.

"I am very much obliged to you, sir," he acknowledged, "for the time you
have given me. The solution of this matter will without a doubt present
itself."

"I cannot see that the affair is of more than local importance," was the
terse reply.

CHAPTER XVI

The dinner party _a deux_ at Juan-les-Pins had been very happily
accomplished. The rising of the moon found Hamer Wildburn and Lucienne a
little weary, but exceedingly content, still seated at their table on
the terrace of the Casino. The place was thinning out, for the gambling
was in full swing, but the divine stillness of the night, the queer
attraction of the hanging lights, the softly played music, had tempted
many to linger.

"When," the young man asked, not for the first time, "is that father of
yours really coming back from Paris?"

"I wish I knew," she answered. "I want my boat."

"And I want you," he sighed.

"Would it be very unmaidenly of me," she whispered, "If I told you that
you would find me quite ready?"

"Of course, you are driving me crazy," he complained. "I wonder if you
have any idea how beautiful you look to-night in that white frock and
just the pearls?"

She shook her head. "I have no idea," she told him. "Tell me, please."

"Well, you look just the most exquisite thing on earth," he assured her.
"I swear that your eyes have grown larger during the last few days and
as for those eye-lashes of yours--why, no one could describe them. Shall
I say a few words about your hair?"

"What lovely nonsense," she interrupted. "But I love to hear it. I love
being here with you, too, especially to-night, Hamer. Shall I tell you
something strange?"

"Do," he begged.

"For the first time in my life I think I know what fear is."

"Fear?" he repeated incredulously. "Being afraid, do you mean?"

"Yes."

"But what are you afraid of?"

"I can't tell you. Life. It is not so much a personal fear. I seem to
feel somehow that things are happening. The sort of feeling one might
have if one were very religious and were told in a vision that the world
were coming to an end. That is how I feel about life just now."

"For a sane and healthy young woman," he declared, "I don't think I ever
heard anything so absurd. Try another glass of champagne, dear,
quickly,"

She obeyed him, but the look of trouble remained in her eyes.

"Of course, I know that I'm silly," she acknowledged "There's only one
thing in life I take seriously except you, and that's France."

He nodded sympathetically,

"A grand country," he agreed, "but what's wrong with it? I thought that
since Edouard Mermillon and Chauvanne accepted portfolios in the
Cabinet, and they created that wonderful new post for Perissol--a fine
fellow, that--everything was so much better and sounder."

"On the surface," she answered. "Perissol is splendid, of course, but I
can't help wishing that he were back in Paris."

"Even a superman must have a holiday sometimes," Hamer protested. "I saw
in one of the papers that he had not been away from the bureau since the
day he accepted his office, five months ago."

"Of course, I have a thoroughly stupid idea," she confessed, "but there
it is. I believe he is down here watching Mermillon."

Hamer Wildburn stared across at her without comprehension.

"But listen, sweetheart," he said. "I read the French papers a good
deal. It's my job rather not to come a bloomer over any of these things.
It was Mermillon's brilliant speech in the Chamber which united the
votes of all parties except the extremists and gave Perissol his post.
Why, look at them this afternoon, how friendly they were."

"I know," she assented without enthusiasm "I dare say I'm crazy, Hamer,
but even the _Temps_ predicted once that if anything happened in the way
of a rising in France, if someone fanned up the embers of all those
terrible scandals of a year ago into flames again, it would happen
during this period of long vacation with everyone away. Think of it now.
The President is in his country house somewhere in the Pyrenees, where
he boasts that he hasn't a telephone and a motor car can only reach him
with difficulty. As for Monsieur Chauvanne, no one knows where he is. He
left Cherbourg in his own yacht, which is quite large enough to sail
round the world, and a little paragraph in one of the papers this
morning pointed out that his boat has not been reported since she left
France. I wish I knew the General well enough. I would tell him that I
think he ought to be back in Paris."

"If there had been anything going on there," Hamer pointed out, "I
should have heard of it through my paper. Even the Communists must rest
some time, you know. Put all these things out of your mind. I never did
thoroughly understand French politics," he went on. "I spent a year in
Paris trying to study them, and in the end I think I understood a little
less than when I began. All I know is that the present Cabinet is
considered the strongest which France has had for a long time."

"I expect it is all right," she declared more cheerfully. "I suppose I
am too happy in myself. That is what has made me feel nervous lately.
Home influences, too, I suppose."

"Your father is not in politics, is he?"

Hamer asked.

She shook her head.

"He is interested, of course, but outside it all. That is where I think
France is wrong. The old aristocracy are looked upon coldly whenever
they make any attempt to serve their country, yet no one cares for
France more than we do, Hamer!"

"Dearest."

"Will you say yes if I ask you a favour?"

"I should think it highly probable, if it's anything about this dance
I'm all for it."

They gilded off together--a kind of slow blues--the movements of which
were so smooth that they formed no hindrances to conversation.

"This is my favour," she said. "Of course, I have been all over her
once, but I want to thoroughly explore the _Bird of Paradise_."

"Why, you're welcome to do that whenever you choose," he assented
promptly. "Any day you like. I don't mind confessing that after certain
events and certain inexplicable happenings lately I have been going
round myself with a hammer and divining rod--speaking metaphorically."

"Did you discover anything?"

"Not a thing. I have done my best, but I can't see anything about her
which makes her worth even a penny more than the eighteen hundred pounds
I gave for her. There is no space for hidden treasure of any very large
amount, and the people who are chiefly interested in her don't seem like
people who are hungry for money. There's a woman there," he added,
moving his head slightly in the direction of a couple a little ahead of
them, "who could probably give us an idea what to look for."

"The Princess!" the girl exclaimed. "I don't think that she knows
anything."

"Why did she turn my cabin inside out, then?" Hamer demanded. "Why did
she put stuff in my coffee? What did she come to the boat at all for?"

"She is an impulsive creature," Lucienne declared. "I never mentioned
the drug, of course, but I did ask her why she turned all your things
inside out after you had been so kind and pulled her out of the water.
She insisted upon it that all she wanted was a scarf! Her neck was cold,
and she wanted to hide the jewellery she was wearing! Be careful, Hamer.
She is coming to speak to us. That is the Marquis de St. Pierre she is
with."

Louise and her escort came up to the table at which the others had just
reseated themselves. Hamer Wildburn was introduced. There was a little
family conversation, then Louise turned smilingly to the young American.

"And my beautiful boat," she asked, "where you made me so comfortable
when I was stupid and overturned my canoe? You are taking care of it?"

"I am doing my best," he assured her. "I never dreamed that I was
acquiring so popular a possession when I bought her."

"She is coming into the family very soon," Lucienne confided. "I am
going to marry Mr. Wildburn, although my people don't know it yet, and
he has promised me the '_Bird of Paradise_' for a wedding present."

Louise was a little startled.

"I congratulate Mr. Wildburn heartily," she said, "and of course, my
dear Lucienne, you know that I wish you every happiness. I regret,
though, that he has promised you the '_Bird of Paradise_.' I want to buy
it. I told him so that night. You wouldn't rather have a pearl necklace,
would you, dear? We might make an exchange."

"You don't suppose that one could barter the wedding present of a
bridegroom to his bride?" Lucienne protested. "When it becomes mine it
is mine for ever. I am not sure that I shall keep her where she is. You
are all so jealous. I think I shall take her round into our private
harbour on the other side..."

"Tell me about dear Armand," Louise begged. "I haven't seen him for a
whole day. I don't think he looks in the least rested."

"We met him on the _Aigle Noir_ this afternoon," Wildburn remarked. "He
seemed all right. Lonely life for him up there, I should think. No
distraction and nothing but messengers going backwards and forwards all
the time."

"That's the worst of French politics, especially if a man is in the
Cabinet," Louise sighed. "A Minister is never left alone even on his
vacation. Busy little secretaries with their portfolios follow him about
wherever he is. That's why so many of them go into hiding. Armand, too,
is so conscientious. That reminds me--I have invited myself to lunch
there to-morrow. I shall try and make him take me out somewhere...Is
this a joke of yours, Lucienne, or are you and Mr. Wildburn really
engaged?"

"We are waiting for the family sanction," the girl replied. "I telephone
father every day and warn him that terrible things are going on here,
but it doesn't seem to hurry him up. Since he developed this intense
interest in politics and finance Paris seems to draw him like a magnet."

"You will permit me," the Marquis intervened, "to offer you my heartfelt
wishes for your happiness, Lucienne, and to congratulate you, sir," he
added, turning to Wildburn. "If the hour of the night permitted I would
suggest that we drink your health, As it is," glancing towards Louise,
"I am afraid that we must be leaving."

"I am at your disposition, St. Pierre," she told him.

"Your mention of your father reminds me that I saw him in Paris three
days ago," the Marquis remarked as he shook hands with Lucienne."

"Enjoying himself?" she asked.

"Very much the reverse, I should say," the Marquis replied.

"He was with two very well known men lunching at Henry's and discussing
some apparently weighty matter with great vigour."

"I thought you never left your property here now, Marquis," Lucienne
observed, shaking her finger at him.

"I leave very seldom," he admitted. "On this occasion I found Paris
unbelievably _triste_. Everyone seems to be moving about as though they
were bowed down with woe and expecting a thunderstorm at any moment. Of
gaiety there is very little. My heart was light for the first time when
I returned to my _château_ here."

"What is it all about, anyway?" Wildburn asked. "I have an office in
Paris and I hear very much the same reports, but no one seems to know
why. France has at least succeeded in getting together a strong and
reputable Cabinet. She is the only nation which seems to understand
finance--bleeding us poor foreigners to death, as a matter of fact. I
should think that everyone ought to be walking on tiptoe."

"How can one tell where one gets these feelings from?" the Marquis
sighed, "So far as I am concerned, it is perhaps because I am growing
old. The wines which I used to find so wonderful in my favourite
restaurants seem to have lost their flavour. The girls dance with heavy
feet. Their eyes call no longer. The little chansons which once amused
us so are toneless. Perhaps it is Paris that is growing old."

"Au revoir," Louise exclaimed. "I must lake my old friend away or I
shall have the migraine."

"A nice cheerful old bird, that," Hamer Wildburn observed dolefully, a
moment or two later.

"The trouble with St. Pierre," Lucienne murmured, as she rose to her
feet, "is that he has too much courage to admit defeat. He is really
seventy-five years old and he thinks that he is sixty-five. He has an
income of perhaps a million francs, and he believes that it is
three--which I believe it was not long ago. He was too devoted to his
wife to ever marry again, and he has too good taste to care about a
housekeeper."

"Pretty good summing up for an ingenue," Hamer Wildburn acknowledged, as
he paid the bill.

CHAPTER XVII

Soon after midnight Perissol, sitting in his shirt sleeves before his
desk, was disturbed by the entrance of Raymond, the chief of his
secretaries. The young man was looking grave.

"Mon General," he announced. "I regret to say that our private wire to
Paris has probably been tampered with. I can get no connection."

"Ring up on the other exchange," Perissol ordered. "Speak to the night
chef. Tell him to report the breakdown to Monsieur Laporte, and if the
line is not in order by nine o'clock to-morrow morning Laporte himself
is suspended. You understand that?"

"_Parfaitement, monsieur_. An important message has just come through very
much delayed on the ordinary line."

"Well?"

"Monsieur Lavandou has just passed through Avignon on his way
southward."

"Coming to see me?"

"That was the message. Monsieur Lavandou is travelling by automobile,
and paused only for a moment, leaving the message to be transmitted by
the telephone bureau."

"Lavandou on his way here!" the General repeated. "What does that mean?
There is no news of Chauvanne or we should have had it upon the
wireless."

"None whatever. Two or three of the Paris evening papers have commented
upon the fact. They have communicated with Lloyd's in London. The yacht
Monsieur Chauvanne is on has not been reported since she left
Cherbourg."

"And Lavandou on his way here," Perissol meditated. "Pass word down to
the lodge, Raymond, that Monsieur Lavandou's car is to be sent through
without delay."

"That is already done, General," the secretary replied. "May I suggest,
in view of what must be an important interview, that you have an hour's
sleep? Lavandou's car can scarcely get here before four o'clock."

The General leaned back in his chair, a little wearily. He dropped his
eyeglass and smoothed his eyes.

"On the contrary, Raymond," he said, "I think I will get into the pool
for a quarter of an hour. I certainly could not sleep until I know
Lavandou's mission. What time are you off duty?"

"Another five hours, General. I only came on at eleven o'clock. Andre
will relieve me then. He knows already about the telephone."

"The message to the commandant at Antibes went through on the local
line, I suppose?" Perissol inquired.

"Quite early this evening, General. The commandant's reply was that
everything was prepared."

Perissol dismissed the young man with a nod. Afterwards he passed
through the French windows, descended the terrace, and, reaching the
swimming pool, slipped off his clothes and plunged in. For a quarter of
an hour he swam peacefully. Then, with a sigh of contentment, he dried
himself with towels from a hidden grotto, and resumed his clothes. He
lit a cigar and paced the terrace which surrounded the villa, his brow
furrowed with thought, a new anxiety added to the cares of the
moment...Chauvanne was without a doubt the one vulnerable spot in the
Cabinet, Lavandou, his understudy, was to be trusted, but here was
Lavandou, after only a month of office, on his way down rushing
southwards obviously with tidings of great import...Perissol took little
notice of the falling moon, which had been flooding the whole bay and
the surrounding country with beauty. He watched only the distant road
with its many twists and turns, which led from Cannes. It was fruitless
watching for the end brought pain rather than relief. A furiously-driven
car came tearing up the last few corkscrew bends, lights flashing and
horn blowing. A few minutes later a middle-aged man, his possibly
official clothes covered by a motoring duster, his hair and face
powdered with dust, stumbled out through the hastily-opened door on to
the terrace.

"My dear Lavandou," the General exclaimed, "you are worn out. Don't tell
me that you have come from Paris in the day?"

"I left at six o'clock this morning," the man replied, sinking on to one
of the garden seats. "Of course, I meant to fly, but the aviation ground
was watched. The authorities advised me by telephone that no plane was
available for me. I suppose if I had ventured there it would have been
the end. They say that there are assassins at every corner in Paris."

"But what is it then that has arrived?" Perissol demanded anxiously.
"The last time we met you were exuberant with joy over your new
appointment. What is this catastrophe that has brought you here in such
a state? For heaven's sake, explain."

"I have made a horrible discovery," the newcomer groaned, throwing his
hat away from him and passing his hands through his dust-sprinkled hair.

"Surely it can't be so horrible as all that," Perissol remonstrated.
"You want food and drink, I can see. Afterwards, perhaps affairs will
shape differently."

"Wine, perhaps," the other assented. "Food afterwards. Mon General, I
think the world is coming to an end!"

"Well, that has to happen some time," was the philosophical response.

"Then it had better happen now," Lavandou declared.

A servant brought out wine. The tired man drank feverishly.

"The chauffeur," he begged. "Please see to his wants. He has driven like
one inspired."

"His wants will be attended to," his host assured him. "Now, Lavandou,"
he added, as soon as the door was closed. "No more of this suspense. Let
me have your news if you have any."

"France lately," Lavandou faltered, "has lost by death or disgrace some
of her finest sons, yet the debacle has not yet begun. One begins to
fear for others--others more trusted--more beloved."

The General looked around. He drew his friend through the French windows
into the study and closed the door.

"Spies even here?" Lavandou asked bitterly. "One never knows," was the
even rejoinder. "I have learnt caution in my later days. It appears to
me that you are going to speak of serious things."

"You shall judge. You will remember that my appointment was made only a
short time before Chauvanne was to leave for his long delayed vacation,
I had several interviews with him and learnt the outline of my work. At
the final one he seemed to me a little mysterious.

"'If you come to anything, Lavandou,' he instructed, 'that you do not
understand place it on one side until my return. Do not seek the advice
of anyone else. You and I and our staff are to run this bureau. You
understand?'

"Of course, I assured him that I understood perfectly. I have dealt with
big figures all my life, as you know, General, and I had no fears.
Nevertheless, I determined to leave nothing to chance. I asked him to
give me his destination secretly in case anything of great importance
should happen. He shook his head. There was that queer look about his
eyes that I had noticed during the last six or seven months.

"'I am not going to give you the chance of communicating with me,
Lavandou,' he replied. 'My doctor tells me that unless I get a complete
rest I shall become a wreck for life. I am leaving on a yacht in three
days' time, and I am sailing westwards. I shall touch no port until I am
obliged to and I have given orders to have the wireless disconnected.
Voila. Continue with the routine work and leave anything you don't
understand for my return.' That was his farewell."

"It seems reasonable enough." Perissol commented.

"Wait! The first task which fell to my lot was to tabulate; and master
the details of the recently subscribed 5 per cent. National Loan. The
papers have announced the subscription of nine hundred millions. The
actual amount received was thirteen hundred millions."

The General smiled.

"My dear Lavandou," he expostulated. "A mistake of four hundred millions
is incredible."

"That is the curse of it!" Lavandou cried. "There could not be a
mistake. There is not a mistake. Do you not understand what I am telling
you? Four hundred millions of francs have disappeared from the Treasury
books! They have gone into space--into air--whatever you like. But we are
not talking now of possible mistakes. They have gone where many another
hundred million has gone during the last 12 months."

Perissol was serious enough now.

"There is no possibility of any blunder, my friend?" he asked hoarsely.

"None whatever, my General," was the agonised reply. "Four hundred
million francs have disappeared and two men, beside myself and
Chauvanne, must be aware of this."

"Who are they?"

"Edouard Mermillon and the Baron de Brett."

"Mermillon!"

There was a brief silence. Perissol was standing with folded arms
looking into space. In the fading light he seemed to have grown in
stature. He was like some emblematical figure of past ages standing up
to greet the morning.

"The one man who might have saved the country," he murmured. "The one
man concerning whom no word of scandal has ever been spoken."

"De Brett was without a doubt at the back of it," Lavandou groaned.
"That is easily proved. It is the whole of the subscriptions from
Belgium which are unaccounted for."

"Do they know at the bureau what you have discovered?" Perissol asked.

"They might surmise," Lavandou acknowledged. "I discovered days ago that
I am surrounded by spies. I am convinced that a record has been kept of
how many hours I have been at the bureau, where I have lunched and dined
and with whom I have conversed. Early this morning I rang up an
aerodrome. Within a few minutes afterwards I had word from a friend that
I had better not ask for a 'plane."

"And you?"

"Of course I asked for one. It was official business and I had a perfect
right to. The reply came almost at once. There was no private 'plane
available for at least 48 hours."

"And Chauvanne is still away on that infernal yachting cruise?"

"Bound for an unknown port without wireless. That is what they believe
at the Bureau, at any rate, and what he told me. It was because I could
not communicate with him that I tried to solve what seemed to be quite a
trifling matter myself. In the course of my attempts I stumbled upon the
truth. I take no credit for this thing, General, but I assure you that a
super-accountant with the most astute financial brain in Europe might go
over these accounts day after day without making the discovery that I
did. It was entirely due to my not being able to ask the chief a single
question and having to invent a checking system of my own."

The General buried his face for a moment in his hands.

"Where is this thing going to end?" he groaned.

"In the ruin of France," Lavandou replied solemnly. "You and I will
survive, if we survive at all, to see her in the hands of the
Communists. We shall see her a country without soul or living purpose
drifting to her ruin."

Perissol seemed to gain strength from the other's weakness. He lit a
cigarette and looked with calm contempt at the broken down man upon the
bench.

"You are overtired, my friend," he said. "Your effort has been too much.
Eat and drink and then smoke. You will then see things in a less gloomy
light."

The two men talked until the moon paled in the sky and a cool breeze
stole from eastwards with the incoming tide. Curiously enough, for the
first part of the time, they spoke very little of the grim tragedy by
which they were confronted. Something even stronger than themselves
seemed to drive them into a strangely inspired dissertation on life and
death. Afterwards, however, for hours on end they faced the truth with
grim directness. The sun had already risen when Lavandou held out his
hands.

"My friend," he said, "my friend of twenty years, you have at all times
supported me. You will not misjudge me. You will understand if the world
reviles that I take the only course a man can take. If I disclose my
discoveries to the Press or outside the bureau it will be a nail in the
coffin of France. I cannot report to my chief, and I have a terrible
feeling in my heart that we shall never see him again. If discovery
comes I shall know what to do, I am fortunately a man without family, or
I might hesitate. France demands her sacrifice, and she shall have it."

The General wrung his friend's hand. The automobile was waiting and he
had no words.

"Under certain circumstances you have found the only solution," he
reflected sadly. "But courage, mon ami. Chauvanne may return. There is
something in the breath of this air that gives me hope. A morning even
as beautiful may dawn for France."

CHAPTER XVIII

Two of the greatest men in France opened their morning papers three days
later at the same moment. Edouard Mermillon, in a sheltered corner of
the _Aigle Noir_ sat before his _petit déjeuner_ of fragrant coffee, fresh
rolls with Normandy butter, and wonderful peaches--General Perissol,
seated in a corner of his terrace before a far more Spartan meal.
Mermillon read one column, swung round in his place, and sent for his
secretary. Afterwards he poured out his coffee and prepared a peach in
leisurely fashion.

"Jules," he directed, "telephone at once to the air depot at Cannes. Ask
at what time the morning 'plane for Paris goes, and whether it is
necessary to stop at Lyons. If so, demand further if a private 'plane
can be commandeered for Government service.. One moment, Baron," he
cried to his friend, who, in bathing attire, had just stepped up the
gangway.

The latter wrapped himself in the dressing gown which his valet was
holding out for him.

"I drip," he cried, "and the water was cold. Is it news of importance?"

"It might almost be called that," Mermillon assured him.

The Baron came unwillingly to the table and clutched the paper which his
host extended to him. The healthy glow of a few seconds ago passed from
his features. The flesh seemed to sag in his cheeks. His eyes, normal
enough in a general sort of way, seemed to become like beads.

"_Gaston Lavandou Suicide:_

"_Le Sous-Secretaire du Bureau de Finance est trouve mort dans
l'appartement de Madame Jacqueline, l'actrice bien connue de la Comedie
Francaise._"

"_Ciel!_" de Brett exclaimed. "What does this mean?"

Mermillon shrugged his shoulders.

"It appears quite clear," he said, "that there exists, or rather did
exist until early this morning, one more prodigious fool in the world.
If you read further you will see that Gaston Lavandou called earlier in
the evening upon his mistress and found her and his rival. She appears
to have been a little brutal to Lavandou and to have left for the
theatre with this man who is at present unknown. Lavandou, instead of
behaving like a man of fashion and a philosopher, blows out his brains
in her apartment and leaves behind a letter which reads like the
sentimental caterwauling of a disappointed tom-cat!"

"_Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire_?" the Baron exclaimed, his voice hoarse with
fear. "Another man will have to be appointed and Chauvanne is away. Who
will be able to fix the limit to his possible investigations?"

"What must be done is clear," Mermillon declared. "I must get to Paris
in time to appoint a successor to Lavandou who is one of our own party
and a man we can trust. I have sufficient authority for that. They say
that Chauvanne has no wireless on his yacht. I begin to ask myself,
perhaps, whether his destination was not Brazil. Anyway someone in
authority must be at the Bureau of Finance within a few hours. Drink
some coffee. You ave shivering."

"I should spit it out," the Baron answered. He glanced at the headlines,
read the paragraph again, then he laid the paper upon the table.

"Only one thing can happen," he groaned. "If Chauvanne does not return
the President will order an outside investigation at the bureau."

"Nothing of that sort is likely to happen," Mermillon said calmly. "I
shall reach Paris in time to appoint a successor and when you read the
paper carefully you will see that this fellow Lavandou has made it as
clear as day that his suicide had nothing whatever to do with finance."

"I don't think," the Boron said, with chattering teeth, "that I shall go
to Paris."

"In any case you had better go and change," Mermillon advised him, with
a slight but distinct note of scorn in his tone. "You could scarcely go
to Brussels like that."

General Perissol was perhaps calmer, but when he laid down the newspaper
there were tears in his eyes. He was still seated in his place gazing
out seawards when Louise, who had hurried past the servant who would
have announced her, swept through the French windows and with extended
arms came breathlessly towards him.

"My dear friend," she cried. "My poor dear Armand! I heard the news an
hour ago. I rushed here."

He held her hands for a moment in silence. Then he fetched a garden
chair and placed it by his side.

"But Lavandou of all men!" she exclaimed. "One saw nothing of him in
society. Once you gave a reception and I talked to him for a few
minutes. I thought him a shy man. He was difficult to talk to, and
seemed only anxious to get away. He is the last person in the world I
should have suspected of an intrigue like that. Lavandou, a lover of
women, to that extent! It seems incredible."

"He was no lover of women," the General answered sadly.

"Then what was he?" she demanded. "A hero," was the brief response.

Louise held her forehead for a minute.

"I am bewildered," she confessed. "Give me some of your coffee if you
have any left."

A butler, who had been hovering in the background, brought a fresh
supply. Louise sipped a little and leaned back in her chair.

"You suspected this?" she asked.

"I feared it," Perissol admitted. "Lavandou was here three days ago."

"But you take it so calmly," she exclaimed. "You show no anger. Surely
this thing which he has done--for a deputy, for a man on his way to high
office--is ignominious. It is dastardly. His letter is the letter of a
mad but peevish schoolboy. He seems to wish the world to know that he
has abandoned his career and killed himself because a woman has been
faithless to him. He seems to glory in his disgrace."

"You do not understand yet," Perissol said gravely.

She looked back at the paragraph.

"But what more is there to understand?" she demanded. "I have never
known you before to be mistaken in a man. You must have understood his
disposition."

"I knew it better than any other man," Perissol told her. "I knew his
habits well. I know that women for him were only a slight but pleasant
pastime. What he loved more than anything else in the world was France.
He died for France. He gave more than his life for France; he gave his
honour."

"You are trying to bewilder me," she complained.

"You and I will share this secret," he said, "or the secret of what I
believe."

She smiled.

"Have I ever broken faith with you, Armand?"

"Never, dearest. I trust you now, although this matter goes beyond the
life or death of one man."

"You terrify me."

"Lavandou came to me a man distraught, as you know. He was a skilful
mathematician as well as a great financier. He understood the art of
juggling with figures possibly better than any man in France. He was set
an important task--to tabulate the amounts received from different
departments of France and neighbouring countries to this last great
national loan launched by Chauvanne. In the course of his work he came
to a cul de sac. If Chauvanne had been in the country he would have
asked one simple question, easily answered, and all would have been
well. Chauvanne being away, he applied a method of his own to test
certain results. The outcome was alarming. He discovered, beyond a
doubt, that some four hundred millions of the loan had never been
tabulated at all."

"Then what had become of them?" she asked breathlessly.

He shook his head.

"We must pause there," he told her.

"But it is impossible," she protested. "You have begun: you must finish.
Armand--what does this mean?"

He reflected for some moments, then he continued.

"You know what I have long suspected," he said. "You know that while I
rest here, apparently taking my usual vacation in the usual fashion,
such brains as I have are at work in Paris, in Brussels, in Lyons, in
London, in other centres. I may find myself before long in the same
terrible position as Lavandou. He knew very well this smouldering
feeling of discontent all through France, this horrible, only
half-stifled suspicion that the Tositi investigation has failed, that
the discoveries which have been made are only external discolorations
of a foul disease. Lavandou knew very well that the publication of this
discovery--another four millions gone into the pockets of robbers of the
State--would have been as good as a battle cry to the Communists, the
anarchists, and the riff-raff who would wreck France. Nevertheless,
their outcry would have raised a fire of passionate discontent. The
President would have had to call the Chamber together and without a
doubt the Government would have fallen. Who is left to take our place?
Not one single soul. With no Government what would happen to France?"

"Is there no honest political party, then," she cried, "no one who can
be trusted?"

"The men are there," he answered. "Plenty of them. But they have never
been brought together. They are kept apart by trifles--personal
predilections, prejudices--all things not worth a moment's consideration.
They want the right leader, the strong ringing voice telling the truth,
and France could once more have the most powerful and patriotic
Government in the world. But the electioneering has been all wrong. The
people have been deceived. She will right herself, but Lavandou saw the
truth. She must right herself slowly without any of these violent
discoveries or shocks. She must right herself at a time when the men who
can deal with a crisis are at hand and ready to act."

"Give up your police work, Armand," she begged him. "The stamping out of
crime is a slight thing compared to the future of France. Take a bold
plunge."

He drew her even closer to him. His strong features were moved with
agitation.

"Don't you see, Louise, the people whom I most mistrust have shown their
genius by placing me in the Cabinet? You forgot that I am no longer Chef
de la Surete of Paris. I have powers over the whole of France. I am a
Minister, too, with a portfolio. If I have to change my portfolio I
shall do it, but the last year in my present position has
enabled me to find out more about the Communists and the secret plotters
against the Government than I could have found out in any other way. I
have no ambitions, dearest, for myself, but I have a desire which is a
real passion to see France again in safe waters."

Her arm stole round his neck. They were completely alone. She stroked
his face gently. Her fingers seemed to travel down those lines which had
grown deeper during the last few minutes.

"Meanwhile," she whispered, "you starve yourself. You work night and
day, your thoughts concentrated upon others. You give your life, your
passion, your heart to one task. Great though it may be, Armand, it is
also selfish. You keep others who love you suffering."

His eyes softened. He held her hands and drew her from her chair to the
place on the bench by his side. Her head fell on his shoulder. She
raised her lips.

"For the rest, sweetheart," he said, "help me if you will. Go on helping
me. If I have seemed distant at times, it is because I fear to
draw anyone so famous and beautiful a you, one whom I love so well,
into the whirlpool. This morning I am either weaker or stronger--Heaven
knows which--but remember this, those who fight in this secret battle,
which at any moment may blaze up into furious pandemonium, live under a
death sentence. Realise that, Louise, and choose."

Her lips, on fire with passion, met his once more.

"You know how I shall choose," she sobbed. "I, too, want to serve--not,
alas, for the sake of France only, but because I love you."

There were sounds within the house. She resumed her seat with gay,
stealthy movements. Her face had become like the face of a young girl.
She leaned towards him with shining eyes.

"My trunks are already at the station," she whispered. "We dine
here--yes?"

"At your own hour," he said. "Bring your own maid. It was a foolish
thought of mine to go to Paris. I have others who can serve me there. I
shall do better to stay away until the moment of crisis."

"If only we can have even twenty-four hours," she prayed.

"Lavandou has given us that--and longer," he assured her. "You had better
bring your maid. Remember that my household here is rough enough. You
will have to reconstruct it. You muse make me live once more like a
civilised man. Perhaps I shall be able to cope better with these
elegants of the coast--Edouard Mermillon, de Brett, the Marquis de
Montelimar, and St. Pierre, who called the other day and looked with
horror at my shabby grey trousers!"

"We will live for one another and France," she declared fervently, "and,
if necessary, I will do the cocking."

CHAPTER XIX

The walls of the Casino at Juan-les-Pins were plastered with
announcements of a great attraction.

"_TANYA VIZILLE des Folies Bergeres de Paris, Trois representations
seulement: Toutes les nuits sont des nuits de gala. Prix du diner frs.
100. Il est prudent de retenir ses places_."

An hour before the second night of her appearance, Mademoiselle Tanya
sat in the retiring room allotted to her in the Casino suffering the
ministrations of her coiffeur and manicurist. There was a pile of
evening papers by her side to which she was also giving some attention.

"Mademoiselle's triumph last night was unparalleled," the coiffeur
confided in almost an awed tone. "Seldom have we seen such a fury
amongst an audience. To-night there is not a table to be had."

"_Zut_," Tanya scoffed. "They are easy to please--this little world. In
Paris it is the same. It is here I live. The great critics come to my
room."

"So one has heard, Mademoiselle," the coiffeur ventured. "And in the
midst of her triumph Mademoiselle disappeared. One heard she was dancing
up at a small café in this neighbourhood. It was perhaps a _canard,
cela_."

"I do as I please," Tanya said curtly. "Sometimes I am bored with life,
then I look for a quiet spot and to amuse myself I dance for a few
francs. I send the people crazy just the same. They ask me: 'Why am I
not in Paris? Do I wish for introductions?'--and I laugh. That pleases me
and I go back again. But there are other things I care about as much as
the stage."

"As _par exemple_?"

"You are my coiffeur," Tanya reminded him curtly. "Arrange my hair and
ask no more questions."

The man was coldly angry, for he saw the smile on the lips of the
manicurist. He obeyed, however.

"There is a young man who has a boat near here--an American, I believe.
They tell me that he seldom comes to the Casino. A Mr. Hamer Wildburn,"
Tanya said. "He is a client of yours perhaps? You may answer when I
speak to you," she added a little sharply, as the man hesitated.

"I do not know the gentleman, Mademoiselle," he regretted.

"Nor, it seems, does anyone else," she complained. "He keeps his yacht
in Garoupe Bay. It is called the _Bird of Paradise_. Does that assist?"

"I do not know him," the coiffeur repeated The manicurist paused for a
moment at her task.

"Mademoiselle," she confided eagerly, "I do not know the gentleman of
whom you speak, but I have seen him several times with a very good
client of mine, Mademoiselle de Montelimar, the daughter of the Marquise
de Montelimar. One has heard a rumour that they are fiances."

"What sort of a young man is he?" The manicurist shook her head.

"He is of fine appearance--tall and strong," she said. "He speaks with an
American accent. He appears _gentil_. Mademoiselle kept him waiting once
for a quarter of an hour, and he was not like these short tempered
English. He only laughed."

"You have not seen him to-day?"

"Not to-day, Mademoiselle."

"_Ecoute, ma chere_," Tanya said, leaning towards the girl, "If you see
him while you are here--wherever I am--come and tell me. It shall mean a
_cadeau_ for you. You understand?"

"_Mais parfaitement, Mademoiselle_," the girl assented. "If one might
choose one's _cadeau_ I would value a signed photograph--just Tanya--more
than anything else in the world."

"Even that shall be arranged," the danseuse promised graciously. "I am
only here for a day or two. I stay at the Provençal, as my flat was
blown up with all my clothes. It was very inconvenient."

There was a tap at the door. A _chasseur_ entered. He was wearing a sky
blue uniform and a peaked cap, and he evidently meant to make the best
of this visit. He approached Tanya's chair before he made the
announcement, and he regarded her with veneration.

"It is a gentleman who has called to see Mademoiselle."

"He gave you his name?" the _danseuse_ asked eagerly.

"He said that his name was Suess, and that he had just arrived from
Paris. He wears the ribbon of the Legion d'Honneur."

The enthusiasm died out of Tanya's voice.

"_C'est bien_," she said. "It is a gentleman whom I desire to see. He can
be shown in."

The boy made a lingering retreat. This visit into Mademoiselle's room,
with its perfumes and suggestions of the stage, to say nothing of
Tanya's own daring _deshabille_, was a moving event. He left reluctantly,
but with the door once closed, he hurried to the man who was waiting in
the hall--a pale-faced man, with a full, round stomach, short, but with a
very upright carriage. The man wore spectacles, although the eyes behind
them seemed bright enough.

"If you will follow me, Sir," the boy invited.

Monsieur Suess did as he was bidden. He was wearing a dinner coat and
white waistcoat, and he carried in his hand a paper bag of flowers. He
was clean shaven, and his age was not easily guessed. The boy knocked
once more at the door of the dressing-room and announced the visitor
with an air.

"Gentleman to see Mademoiselle Tanya. Monsieur Suess."

Tanya turned her head and nodded.

"Find yourself a place somewhere, Adolf," she begged. "My hair is almost
finished--also my nails. You understand that I dance to-night?"

"All Juan-les-Pins has been telling me so from the walls and from the
lips of an excited people," Monsieur Suess replied, with a bow. "I will
not congratulate you upon your success, my dear Tanya. It is inevitable.
Still, it will be very pleasant to see you once more making wild men of
us."

"I do not think that I should have much luck at that with you, my
friend," she observed, leaning forward to look at her hair. "It is not
good, but it will do," she added, turning to the coiffeur. "Monsieur le
Directeur will pay you at the caisse, and you, too," she added to the
manicurist. "I have no costume which would admit of a pocket."

The two took their leave. Suess, who was not far from the door, shook
the handle gently after they had left. He took off his gloves and looked
round the room with keen piercing glances. Tanya threw herself upon a
couch. Her _deshabille_ would have shocked a man with a different outlook
upon life. Monsieur Suess was not shocked.

"We are all right here," she said shortly. "Before we begin let me tell
you this. If another gentleman is announced--a Mr. Hamer Wildburn--leave
me at once. It is important that I should see him."

"_L'amour ou les affaires_?" Monsieur Suess enquired, with a complete
absence of jealousy in his tone."

"Don't be a fool," she answered. "A book of love would be less
interesting to me than a page of affaires. You should know that."

"Yes, Tanya," he admitted. "You are without a doubt devoted."

"Tell me how this affair of Lavandou has been received in Paris?" she
asked.

"A disappointment," he announced. "The train was all laid. The blaze
should have reached the skies. Then came the publication of the letter,
the interviews with Madame Jacqueline. The thing fizzled out in sneers
and laughter."

She moved in her place impatiently.

"That, although it was known that Lavandou was in the Bureau of Finance,
that he was practically taking Chauvanne's place during his absence!"

"There has been no hint at defalcations," he said regretfully. "It does
not appear that there have been any. We have no Press to compete with
theirs. We did what we could. No one listened to us."

"Nevertheless, you have something else on your mind, comrade," Tanya
said, "or you would not have come all this way."

"I have something else in my mind," he confessed. "It is a serious
affair. All the same, I wish you would not lie three quarters naked
before me. You know the sort of man I am."

She shook with barely suppressed laughter. Her face was impish.

"Oh, yes, I know, Adolf," she admitted. "Do I not know? But those things
arc for afterwards. You men think too much of women."

"And you women," he growled, with a gleam in his eyes. "It is not for
your own pleasure that you writhe in those shreds of clothing, that you
have always the air of longing to kick them off! A man works better who
is not starved."

She caught up a beautifully embroidered opera cloak, wrapped it around
her tightly and clutched it with one hand.

"Now, a truce to your complaints, Adolf," she enjoined. "You had more
than this to tell me or you would not have come. The other things are
for afterwards--if at all. I do not know. It depends upon my mood."

"You wrote to us of the man Chicotin." Her face darkened."

"Another fool who had great things within his grasp and lost his head
about me!" she scoffed. "Well?"

"You know what Berthold was in Marseilles for?"

"He said he came to see me," she said. "There was other business, I
suppose?"

"Berthold was not like me," Suess confided. "He loved you well enough
but he never wholly trusted you."

"The man is a fool," she answered carelessly, "who ever trusts wholly
any woman."

"I sometimes ask myself whether you are a woman," he snarled. "I think
you are a wild animal--a tigress. I think blood is more to you than love.
You have no sentiment--no softness. Bah, I could spit!"

She laughed.

"But, you won't, dear Adolf," she mocked him. "You know very well that
it is I who fire your blood--who make you feel like great deeds."

"Well, let us speak now seriously," Suess continued sullenly. "There is
something else to be done. Berthold believed that Tositi left a written
confession somewhere in Marseilles. Not only a confession for himself
but the confession of his confederates."

"It has had something to do with a ship, then," Tanya declared. "He was
always down around the docks."

"You are quite right," Suess admitted. "It had something to do with a
ship. Berthold got as far as that when, as you know, the police made a
swoop upon him. I will not say that Berthold had not earned the
scaffold, but they gave him no chance. They executed him within a few
hours for a crime that was never proved against him. They wanted him out
of the world just as they wanted Tositi out of the world and just as
they will want you or me out of the world if we discover the truth."

"They won't get rid of me like that," Tanya scoffed. "I have escaped
from prison three times always the same way. There are no doors will
remain closed on me if men are the gaolers."

Suess shivered. In his heart he believed that Tanya was telling the
truth.

"Listen," he went on. "Berthold discovered the name of the boat on which
is hidden this secret. It is the _Bird of Paradise_. Tositi had it
built, for himself and some woman."

"Everything is clear to me now," Tanya announced, sitting up. "You are
not all fools at headquarters, Adolf. You have discovered something. If
the confession of Tositi and his friends, or any part of the story of
their doings, really exists, it is on a yacht not half a dozen
kilometres from this spot!"

"Who owns it?" Suess demanded.

"A young American--Hamer Wildburn," she declared. "He looks too honest to
be anything but stupid, but I have written to him. I have asked him to
come and see me, either before the show or after. I think it will be
after the show. He will come to that, and he will not keep away."

"You are certainly as seductive as ever, you little beast," Suess
admitted. "You are also more conceited. As for me, I only find you
fairly well."

"Oh, la, la," she laughed. "A few moments ago you were shivering. If I
had not put this coat on--"

"Well?"

"Oh, nothing. Only I know the signs when a man is nearly losing his
head."

"You have an idea to work upon?" he asked.

"If the young man comes to me, the confession will be mine," she said.
"If he does not come, I shall visit the boat in the night. If he will
not give me the papers--whatever they are--I shall stab him, like I did
Chicotin, by-the-by, and help myself. I am very clever at that."

"And if you are arrested?" he asked.

"I shall say that it was in self-defence," she said coolly. "I shall be
tried by jury. I shall probably dine at night, when it is all over, with
the Judge, and I shall have enough flowers for a palace. I have always
rather fancied myself as the heroine of a _cause célèbre_."

"And if you succeed?"

"You will find me either here, at the Provençal, or in the little
dancing place next door," she replied. "There will be serious business
afoot then. Are you ready for it, Adolf Suess? That is what I ask
myself. There will be far more danger in success than failure."

"If you can implicate Chauvanne or any one of the Ministers--Edouard
Mermillon would be the best of all--the train is still ready. The fires
could be lit in a matter of seconds," he answered.

"But money--how about money?" she asked. "It would require a woman to ask
a question so foolish," he scoffed. "There will be a mob of a hundred
thousand loose in Paris and there will be ten thousand sane men to look
after them. We know where to put our hands upon all the money we shall
need, my little one. We must use the mob. It will be the same in every
city in France. But we have brains as well, remember. We can put into
the Chamber at least three Governments who would rule this country on
the finest Soviet principles. It is not going to be a muddled affair. I
can assure you of that. We have men ready for every post. The mob shall
have their way up to a certain point, but the mob do not know where to
look for the real loot. The banks will be our affair."

"I wonder who will look after me?" Tanya speculated.

"The wisest man," Suess said, rising to his feet, "will be the man who
leaves you alone."

She laughed and threw her slipper after his disappearing figure. Bare
legged and with the opera cloak slipping from her shoulders, she chased
him out of the room, throwing his hat after him. Then she flung herself
into a chair and rang a handbell vigorously.

"My bath," she called to the woman who made an unexpectedly swift
appearance. "My half bottle of champagne, my dry biscuits, my
cigarettes. In an hour I must dance. Wait on me quickly, Aimee. To-night
I must be beautiful."

"More diamonds to-night," the old woman cried with a satyr-like grin.

"Serious business to-night, my old pet," Tanya declared, springing to
her feet. "In a week's time the diamonds may be for you, and for
me--this--"

She stretched up her hands suddenly, arched her feet, and she danced.
She danced softly at first and quietly. She crept like a cat, she sprang
like a tigress. Then she seemed to be standing quite still. It was only
her body that moved. Her eyes seemed to be piercing the ceiling. Then
she became rigid. She was absolutely motionless. Her hands dropped to
her sides. Her eyes became glazed. The fingers of one hand sought her
throat. It was death that visited her...She drew a little breath.

"You don't understand that, Grannie."

The woman mumbled something. Tanya moved to the table, picked up a
biscuit, and bit into it with her strong white teeth.

"Open the wine, Grannie," she directed.

CHAPTER XX

That night, once more Tanya danced to the enthusiastic plaudits of a
huge audience. It was said, with absolute truth, that on that particular
night she created a perfect furore. There were men, and women, too,
wedged in amongst the crowds standing up in the background, who forgot
themselves and their manners, in a wild struggle to force themselves
into some place where they could catch a glimpse of that struggling
phantasy of a black gown, the white limbs, scarlet lips, and blazing,
eyes--calling, and calling, and calling. An elderly _boulevardier_ of the
last decade made his escape mopping his forehead.

"My Heaven!" he exclaimed. "It is like when Cleo danced for those three
weeks of her madness. Men fought their way on to the stage. They had to
have a guard for her. That woman is a she devil, I tell you! There was,
never a lady of the pavement who pleaded so eloquently as she."

But there were others, colder critics, who fancied that they detected
that night an uneasiness in Tanya's movements. Her eyes searched
everywhere for something they failed to find. In her dressing-room
afterwards, both bolts of the door firmly fastened, she flung her frock
away and cursed like a mad person. Adolf Suess, smoking a cigar, her
sole companion, watched her in amusement.

"_Pas de chance, petite,_" he murmured looking, at her with twinkling eyes
as he lit a cigarette. "_Et le souper, hein_?"

She flashed round upon him.

"You are a black-hearted pig." she shouted You think more of your
stomach than your _patrie_!"

"And you, little one, think more of your hurt vanity than your failure
here."

"And you call yourself a deputy," she cried. "You are supposed to
represent forty thousand eager Communists. You represent nothing except
your appetite."

Suess was shivering a little, but he laughed at her. "I am the gentleman
who prefers the blonde," he said. "I know your tricks too well, little
Tanya. You would never tear the soul out of my body, and this man you
want--he will not come near you."

"A great compliment, my dear. He is afraid."

"Go and ring the bell three times," she told him. "I need Aimee."

"Shall I help?" he asked, with an unpleasant grin.

She stood facing him, her arms akimbo, but defiance in every feature.

"If you came near me, if you put your filthy hands within reach," she
cried, "I would forget La Patrie for the first time in my life. Except
that I fear you might be some small loss to her, I would stick a knife
in your back! Remember that, and do what I tell you. Ring for Aimee."

He moistened his dry lips and obeyed. Presently there was a sound of
voices outside the door, Aimee's grumbling and protesting. She
knocked--three times quickly and then twice. Satisfied, Tanya unfastened
the door and peered out. Aimee slipped in. Tanya was on the point of
closing the door when she recognised a face in the background.

"Tanya, don't be so cruel," a young man with pallid features and
straw-coloured hair drawled. "There's Francois St. Pierre here and two
other of my fellow-guests from the _château_. The little restaurant at
Garoupe keeps open for you. Supper is all ordered. If you disappoint us
we will come and howl the show down to-morrow night."

She laughed mockingly.

"Poor little boys," she jeered. "What could you do against the crowd of
those who love my art? You would be thrown out. Nevertheless, the
thought of supper is good. You are sure we can have it at Garoupe?'"

"One hour," the young man with straw-coloured hair, the Duc de Montesset
declared with emphasis, "it took us to persuade Monsieur and Madame
Crestner to keep their place open. There is a bouillabaisse there
cooked, by the chef from Marseilles, and there's a pate that came from
Montpellier."

"Shall I make myself beautiful or shall I come to you like a
guttersnipe?" she asked. "I can do either. The guttersnipe will be
quicker."

"Let it be so," the Duc replied. "Come as yourself."

"You pay for that later on, Monsieur le Duc, when that nice looking
friend of yours sits on the other side!" she threatened.

"Be off with you to the bar in the baccarat room. I will be there in
twenty minutes."

She slammed the door and bolted it.

"Wash the stuff off me, Aimee," she ordered. "Make me, if you can, like
the girl going to her first communion! Perhaps to-night I get a little
revenge. Who can tell?"

Aimee took possession. Tanya opened her eyes a few seconds later to find
Suess still there.

"Get out!'" she ordered. "Haven't you heard? My plans for the evening
are made. Why do you sit there staring at me? Go and play with some of
the little _poules_ in the bar."

"So there is to be no supper?'" he asked sullenly.

"Not with you, _mon vieux_," she assured him.

"How will these others help you?" he grumbled. "I thought to-night all
was to be for La Patrie."

"You fool!"' she answered. "You think of nothing but yourself. What do I
care for those boys? The man with whom I am going to supper, the Due de
Montesset, he is the unfortunate suitor of Mademoiselle de Montelimar,
and it is Monsieur Hamer Wildburn who is his rival. Monsieur Hamer
Wildburn will not come to me. Perhaps something may be done through one
who hates him."

"This business may be all a legend," Suess declared, rising unwillingly
to his feet.

"_Zut_, you have the brains of a rabbit!" she cried. "I go--I ask no
questions. I just see and I know. Fifty yards away from the _Bird of
Paradise_ is a Government gunboat with naked guns and a searchlight. In
a villa on the hill opposite is the great General, the one strong man of
France--would to Heaven he belonged to us!--watching, and between him and
the gunboat Edouard Mermillon in his yacht--watching. No one dare move by
force. No one knows exactly how to move, but I am going to find out,
Adolf Suess, and it will not be by force."

"And later?"

"There will be no later," she answered fiercely. "Go and wait till the
morning. If there is anything to be told--you are my official chief--you
will know it. After that--Marseilles and Paris and Lyons must be told
simultaneously. If I succeed the end begins. You have the article
written attacking the authenticity of Lavandou's dying letter? You have
the statement from Madame Jacqueline?"

"I know my business," the man growled. "If you succeed--I laugh when I
think of your success--two of the papers which have the largest
circulation in France will publish both. The revolution will commence
to-morrow."

She rose to her feet--unrecognisable, pale, with dark spiritual eyes, the
exquisite shape of her body nowhere concealed by the simple black robe
which was all she wore.

"To think," she meditated, "that one man's obstinacy stands between us
and triumph. I will give," she went on, and for a moment she seemed
almost like a religious devotee before the altar, although the pagan
words were trembling upon her lips. "I will give more than I have ever
given any man or any human being before in my life. I will kill myself
in his arms afterwards if he wishes it, or live for him for ever, or
just as gladly, if I can get what I want that way. I will murder him
without blenching. Farewell, Adolf. If you still worship the black gods
of Madagascar get down on your knees and pray."

It was a wild supper party in strange surroundings. The restaurant was
little more than a shed built to offer luncheon and dinner to the
bourgeoisie of Nice, situated upon the _plage_ itself, and in the very
shadow of the _château_. The tables were merely wooden planks upon
trestles, the chairs hard, except that Tanya sat upon a great pile of
cushions enthroned like a queen. Tablecloths and napkins were of course
linen, but all was scrupulously clean. The cutlery was crude. Everywhere
was the impression of an almost barbaric simplicity. Nevertheless,
Monsieur le Patron's chickens were famous and his _langouste a
l'Américaine_ and _bouillabaisse_ unsurpassed. At this hour in the morning
there was only one waiter, beside Monsieur and Madame, to wait upon
their guests, but never was a supper party received with so much
acclamation. Never did gaiety soar to such heights. The champagne--very
good champagne, too--flowed like water. Tanya, in turn voluptuous and
spiritual, was an inspiration. There were seven in the party and five
were already demented with drink and enthusiasm. Only Montesset sat by
her side coldly sober, his strangely coloured eyes flaming all the time
with an icy passion. She judged the time ripe and she leaned over and
whispered in his ear.

"Where is the American to-night--the fiance they say of Mademoiselle de
Montelimar?"

"Heavens knows. On his boat, I suppose."

"And Mademoiselle?"

"She and the Marquise are at Monte Carlo. They are passing the night
there. We invited the young man to come with us to your show, but he
refused."

"Pig," she answered. "Listen, Guy. It pleases you, this party--yes?"

"There are too many of us," he said. "It pleases me because I am next to
you, and soon they will go away."

"I, too," she whispered. "I wait for that. I want to ruffle that
wonderful hair of yours, and I want--well, for that I can wait no
longer."

She leaned over and kissed him upon the lips. His arms would have closed
wildly around her, but she sat up with a laugh just in time.

"I have an idea," she cried. "Let us go out and wake this sleeping
hermit who will not come to see me dance."

There was a burst of applause from everyone except Montesset. A spot of
colour was burning in his cheeks. His hands, which had been perfectly
steady a moment before, shook as he raised his glass to his lips.

"I think the party has lasted long enough," he pronounced. "You fellows
are all at home. The _château_ is only two hundred yards up the drive. I
shall take Mademoiselle back to Juan."

"Not yet," they shouted almost in unison. "We can't part with
Mademoiselle. Tanya!"

They all stood up and drank to her. They threw the empty glasses with a
crash upon the floor and called for fresh ones. The patron made a note
of the number broken, and promptly supplied them.

"Listen," Tanya said. "I agree with you others. Guy shall drive me home
presently, but not yet. Guy is my love. Let us take boats and board this
fierce American and make him join us. If he refuses we will make him
swim."

The roar of applause might almost have awakened Hamer in his bunk.

"Has he plenty to drink," one man demanded, "or shall we take champagne
on board?"

"Take champagne." Tanya advised. "We will be on the safe side."

They trooped down to the edge of the _plage_. The moon was a little misty,
but there was still light. They packed bottles of champagne in the bows
of a heavy cutter, and bestowed themselves upon the seats. The patron, a
little doubtfully, started them off. Montesset and Tanya sat in the aft
seat together.

"You are not happy?" Tanya whispered, squeezing his arm.

"I am impatient," he answered. "I am not sure that this is not a foolish
business, although we are all drunk, so it doesn't matter. The American
has not our temperament, however. He may be disagreeable."

She laughed gaily.

"He will forget all that," she declared, "when he sees the present which
we have brought him."

CHAPTER XXI

Hamer sat suddenly up in his bed. He slept always with his door open,
and he was conscious of a dark figure blotting out the moonlight. His
visitor tapped at the door, and a familiar voice hailed him.

"There's a boatload of young people from the _château_ here, sir," his
_matelot_ announced.

"From the _château_," Hamer repeated incredulously. "Why, it's 3 o'clock.
What on earth do they want, Auguste?"

"If you ask me, sir, I think they want a drink. There's the young Duke
there amongst them, and two or three of the other gentlemen who have
been on board with Mademoiselle. There's a pinnace from the _Fidélité_
here, too. They seem to keep an eye on us all the night. I told the
bo'sun to lie to until you came up on deck."

Hamer Wildburn wrapped himself in his dressing gown and ran lightly up
the steps. The two boats--the boat from the _Fidélité_ a little in the
background--were both on the starboard side. Hamer was greeted at once
with cheers as he made his appearance.

"What do you want, you fellows?" he demanded.

"Sorry if we're a nuisance," Montesset drawled. "The fact is we've been
having supper on the _plage_ there, and we thought we'd come out and see
you. Do you feel inclined to offer us a drink? If not, we'll offer you
one. We've got some champagne here."

"Very nice of you," Wildburn observed, with a marked absence of
enthusiasm, "but isn't it a bit late for this sort of thing?"

"Oh, we're making a night of it." Montesset replied "There's no one at
home at the _château_, as I dare say you know. We have been having supper
down on the _plage_. Can we come up?"

"Of course you may," Hamer invited. "Let down the gangway, Auguste, and
go back to sleep. Tell the men from the _Fidélité_ that it's all right.
These are friends from the _château_."

They came clambering up the steps. Hamer started when he saw the slight
figure in black emerge from the obscurity and spring on deck.

"This," the Duke announced, "is the most marvellous artiste upon the
French stage--Mademoiselle Tanya Vizille. She has been dancing to-night
at Juan and driving the people crazy. Since then she has had supper with
us down here."

She held out her hand.

"I wished Monsieur to come and see me dance," she said reproachfully,
"but I looked for him and he was not there. Is it not your English
saying that if Mahomet will not come to the mountain the mountain must
go to Mahomet? You see--I am here."

"But understand, Hamer, my friend," Montesset declared, lurching forward,
"My mountain. You are my mountain, aren't you, Tanya?"

"Ah, I am the mountain of whom I love for the moment," she confided.
"Sometimes I change my mind. Sometimes there come feelings which carry
one away and the world changes, and if the world changes the woman in it
must change too."

"Well, this all sounds very nice," Hamer remarked as good-humouredly as
he knew how. "What do you want to drink?'' Where will you sit? Out on
deck or down in the saloon? I think perhaps we had better go below. We
have a gunboat within hearing of us and a famous French statesman who is
here for a rest."

"I should like to go below," Tanya said softly. "I should like to see
more of your boat, Mr. Wildburn."

"You needn't worry about the famous French statesman," Montesset
observed. "He flew to Paris this morning. The suicide of Chauvanne's
understudy, I expect. However, Mademoiselle wishes to go below. Come
along."

Wildburn led the way. They seated themselves, with some difficulty,
round his small table in the salon. He waved their contributions on one
side, produced champagne and opened it. They drank to his health. One of
the crowd sang a song.

"You must please sit down," Tanya whispered to her host. "Near me,
please."

Hamer produced a stool and seated himself upon it. Tanya's hand slipped
into his. He lifted it on to the table and left his own upon it.
Montesset watched with a scowl.

"Your champagne is wonderful, Monsieur Hamer," Tanya said, smiling at
him. "I drink to your health and to your boat--the _Bird of Paradise_ you
call it--yes?"

Hamer drank with her. Montesset left his glass untouched.

"I was disappointed," the girl continued, "that Monsieur did not come
and see me me dance."

"I have heard all about it," Hamer said courteously. "I am told that
well-brought-up and respectable young men go perfectly insane when they
watch you. From all I have heard I think that perhaps I was wise not to
go."

"Why were you wise.'"

"Because I had the marvellous good fortune to become engaged only a day
or so ago," he told her.

"That is very pleasant," she admitted. "All young men must become
engaged. All young men must marry and found families, but there is no
reason why the moments of insanity should not continue sometimes. Every
passion that makes the heart beat faster is good for men--and women too.
Besides, they say that you Americans keep women too far away from your
hearts even when you bring them into your homes. I am a great artist at
playing upon the heart-strings, Monsieur Hamer."

"If you are going to talk this sort of rubbish I'm off on deck,"
Montesset said, a little roughly. It's too hot down here anyway."

"Do." Tanya begged. "All of you go. Mr. Wildburn and I will follow
directly. I have something to say to him."

"So this is why you brought us here!"

Montesset exclaimed, a furious light in his eyes.

She laid her hand upon his arm.

"Guy," she said, and there was a note of warning in her tone, "you risk
everything when you talk to me like that. I am in earnest when I tell
you that I have something I wish to say to Mr. Wildburn. If you think
that I am going to ask him to make love to me you are wrong. What I have
to say to him deals with other matters. Now will you go?"

"Come on Guy," a young cousin of Montelimar's who was by far the
soberest of the party, enjoined. "Wildburn's all right. He's not like us
poor simple-hearted Frenchmen who go crazy for the sake of a great
artist in love, like Tanya. Besides, he's engaged to Lucienne all right.
I am to be one of the witnesses."

Still grumbling, Guy led the way on to the deck. Hamer Wildburn looked
curiously at his companion.

"You wrote me to come to the show, to come to your room or to the
Provençal," he reminded her abruptly. "I am very much flattered, Miss
Tanya, because I know that you are a great artist. But what do you want
with me?"

"It is very difficult," she complained, "and I have so little time."

"You are quite right about that," he agreed. You will have Montesset
down here in a minute. He doesn't like your leaving him. Please tell me
quickly what it is."

"Monsieur Wildburn" she said, and probably not one single soul amongst
her thousands of admirers would have recognised her voice or herself as
she spoke. "I have a religion. That religion is worship of my country,
because I believe that she is being led to ruin. I am a Communist. I
believe that only the Communists can save France."

"What!" Hamer Wildburn exclaimed. What on earth--"

"You must take me seriously," she begged. "Communism may mean many
things. You don't understand what it does mean. It means the giving of
real liberty to people who are being deceived and robbed every day of
their lives. It means giving the people liberty to breathe upon their
own soil the air of the country they love--free men and free women with
the right to live and the right to the means of living."

"That is very sensibly said," he acknowledged. "But my deal Mademoiselle
Tanya, at this time of the night with a lover aching for you on board,
why start a discussion of this sort with me?"

"Because," she explained, "by some diabolical chance you can render the
Communists of France the greatest service in the world."

"I?" Wildburn cried.

"You. Not because you are yourself but because you are the owner of the
_Bird of Paradise_."

Hamer Wildburn for a moment was devoid of words. He struck the table
with his hands so that the glasses rattled.

"What!" he exclaimed "The boat again."

"Yes," she admitted. "It is the boat again. I do not suppose that I am
the first person in the world to ask what I am going to ask you. You
want it out short. I will try. Berthold, my comrade, who was executed in
Marseilles, he gave me the hint. Something--signed papers,
cheques--something in writing, exists upon this boat which would break
the bourgeois Government of France, which would set France on fire from
one end to the other, which would deliver her into our hands--into the
hands of the Communists. We have a Government ready to step in. We have
every means at hand and [are] prepared to stop the worst developments of
revolution. We want what you have here on the _Bird of Paradise_ to
start it."

"But, my dear young lady," Hamer Wildburn protested, "I have heard
something of this before but not so eloquently put. I have been all over
the ship myself. I have searched in every possible place. I can assure
you that there is nothing the _Bird of Paradise_ can reveal which would
help you in the least."

"You think not," she smiled incredulously.

"Listen I know more than you do. I cannot go direct to the spot, but I
have a hint, an idea. Give me three hours alone here, whenever you like.
Oh, if you were one of that crowd upstairs, if you were a man like all
these others, I would ask you what reward you needed. If you wanted me I
would be your slave for the rest of my days. If you wanted money you
should have it year by year from the new Government. Your name should be
enshrined as one of the benefactors of France. There is nothing that you
could ask for that should not come to you in the future There is nothing
from me that you could not have in the present. But give me those three
hours!"

"I'm sorry Mademoiselle Tanya," Hamer said firmly. "But in the terse
language of my country--there's nothing doing. I hate the principles of
Communism, although I admit I never heard them put so sweetly as you
have done, but I should not run any risks. If I thought there was
anything hidden on my boat which would cause such an upheaval in the
country as you suggest, I should find it myself and I should consider in
whose hands to place it."

There was a disturbance of voices on deck. Montesset came down the
companionway dangerously quiet.

"You are wanted on deck, Hamer Wildburn," he announced. "Tanya, you come
with me. This thing has gone far enough."

She pointed to her companion, who had risen to his feet.

"If he asks me to stay," she said, "I would never leave him for the rest
of my life. He will not give me what I want, but he is at least a man."

They mounted on deck. Hamer was conscious from the first moment that he
was moving in an atmosphere of animosity. They were all Montesset's
friends and they all seemed to resent Tanya's attitude. Montesset
stepped forward and held Tanya for the moment by the wrist.

"What do you mean by that?" he demanded. ''You are my guest. It is I who
brought you here. You are coming with me."

"Take your hand away," she ordered. "I shall only go because I must. If
Monsieur Wildburn there invites me to stay I remain."

"Upon this boat."

"Upon this boat?"

"With him--alone?"

"With him alone," she repeated. "For to-night and as long as he chooses
to keep me."

"Look here," Hamer intervened. "Don't let there be any misunderstanding
about this. Mademoiselle Tanya does not care about me, nor I about her.
She has an idea that I will permit her to stay and search my boat for
heaven knows what if she offers me, what I understand," he added, with
perhaps a faint show of sarcasm, "belongs, Montesset, to you. Take her
away, all of you. She and I have nothing to do with one another.
Mademoiselle is a very charming and talented young lady, with great
gifts, but nothing which she could say would induce me to keep her on
this boat for ten minutes longer than is necessary. Is that plain
enough?"

There was a new fire now in Tanya's eyes; a very wicked fire it was.
Trouble--there must be trouble at any cost.

"I hear," she said sadly. "It is not quite what he said downstairs, but
if he insists that I must go, I must go. Another time may do very well
for him. It suits me not at all."

"So you mean to come back another time?" the Duke demanded.

She looked timidly up at Hamer.

"Whenever he wants me," she assented. "Whenever he will send for me.
Whenever he will let me come."

Montesset turned round to his friends.

"Have we not rather forgotten how we proposed to wind up the evening?"
he reminded them. "We thought of inviting Mr. Wildburn to take a swim
with us?"

There was a little murmur.

"Why not?"

"It will teach him to keep his hands off other people's property,"
someone else muttered.

"You must not hurt him." Tanya insisted.

Hamer Wildburn took off his dressing gown. "I am not inclined to swim
with you," he said. "You came on my boat uninvited guests and I beg you
to leave it--all of you--and take Mademoiselle with you."

Montesset moved forward.

"We wish you to go with us," he confided. "There is a little lesson you
should learn."

"Look here, Montesset," Hamer rejoined angrily, "you are all drunk. Get
away and take the girl with you. I hate hitting a smaller man than
myself, but you are for it if this goes on any longer."

Montesset sprang towards him. Two of the others came on either side. The
other two struggled to find a place. Montesset went down like a log with
a straight left-hander which caught him on the point of the jaw, and the
right was ready for his successor as he came along. The cousin of the
Montelimars made a lunging blow at Hamer, a signet ring on his finger,
and cut into his cheek. In another moment he was over the side. The two
who were left on their feet paused. Wildburn had had enough hesitation.
He closed with both of them. One, a heavy fellow, the most drunken of
the lot, he knocked down without the slightest difficulty. The other
one, too small to hit, who was already fading away, he caught up round
the middle and threw over the side.

"Now, out you go," he ordered Montesset, who was sitting up, and his
friend who was trying to struggle to his feet. "Quick! Both of you."

Montesset swayed for a moment, and then rushed in.

"This is your trouble--not mine," Hamer declared, easily, evading his
wild blows. "You are drunk--all of you. You can't fight. You can have all
of this medicine you like."

After those first few moments there was only a blundering resistance.
Wildburn had seen them all swim, and he was reckless. One by one he
pushed or threw them overboard, and drew up the steps to which Montesset
was already hanging.

"Get into your boat and clear out," he shouted, as he shook him loose.
"If any one of you wants a hiding in the morning you can have it. You
are too drunk now."

Montesset, a ludicrous-looking object, his hair plastered down over his
face, his clothes clinging to him, stood up and shook his fist. He
shouted, but he seemed to have lost control over his voice. What he said
was incomprehensible. One by one he pulled the others into the cutter.

"Be off with you," Wildburn called out. "What are you doing hanging
around here?"

They rowed a few strokes and still waited, then very slowly they dipped
their oars again and went off shorewards. His last glimpse of them, all
shouting and talking amongst themselves, puzzled Hamer for the moment.
He had a vague feeling that he had forgotten something. Suddenly he felt
something clinging softly to his arm, a little body pressed against his,
an inch or two of fine muslin with one of the world's newest perfumes
pressed against his cheek.

"You are a brave man, Monsieur Wildburn," Tanya murmured. "If you will
come downstairs I will bathe your cheek. He was _méchant_, that man with
the ring. He struck you when you were not looking. Soon I will bind it
up for you very nicely."

He stared down at her in amazement. He realised suddenly what it was he
had forgotten. He had forgotten Tanya.

CHAPTER XXII

A very soft voice sounded in his ear as he remained for the moment
thunderstruck.

"And so I remain, Monsieur Hamer."

He opened his lips and, if he had spoken at the moment of his intention,
the words would have been very decisive and more than a little harsh,
but looking downwards it seemed to him that he was discovering a new
Tanya. Out of her pale, beautifully shaped face her eyes were shining
pleadingly, sweetly up into his. The _diablerie_ had gone from her.
Something had taken its place--something which mocked his intelligence to
give it a name.

"Monsieur Hamer," she pleaded, "you permit me to stay a little time? I
talk with you out here on the deck. First I go down below. I fetch a
towel. I bathe your cheek because the blood runs on to your neck. I do
that well, for I am a good nurse. Then we talk for a few moments,
please. You will hear a Tanya speak to you whom the world has never
heard before."

A few seconds ago Hamer had fancied himself proof against all the
pleading and all the lure in the world, yet at her words he seemed
nerveless. He felt like a man who holds in his hands a butterfly and
fears to crush it.

"All right," he agreed. "My cheek does smart a bit."

She walked quickly towards the companionway and disappeared. His eyes
followed her critically--dubiously. There were no tricks with her skirt,
no backward turn of the head, none of that quaint swaying of the body
which seemed a heritage of her dancing. She walked swiftly and with a
sylphlike grace, but she walked as any other woman of her charm would
have done. Hamer sat down upon a bench and looked out across the expanse
of darkened sea.

"Well," he exclaimed to himself. "This girl is a witch."

She was some little time before she reappeared. When she did so she had
a damp towel hanging over her shoulder, a sponge between her fingers,
and a glass with something that fizzed in her hand.

"You drank nothing," she said, as she came to him. "I watched you. You
drink now half a glass of wine."

"And you?" he asked. She shook her head.

"I am like you," she said. "I drink because it serves my purpose. If I
lived the life of an ordinary human being--oh, how wonderful it would
be--I should be like others. My single aperitif, my glass of white wine,
my glass of champagne, perhaps, for dinner. But fate has me tied. I live
as I must...Your head on one side, please. So."

With gentle fingers she bathed his wound, looked at it critically,
placed upon it a square compress and two pieces of sticking plaster.

"I think that is best," she decided. "The disinfectant may hurt for a
minute. It will soon be well. You drink your wine--yes? And now, Mr.
Hamer Wildburn, because I feel at any moment you may want to send me
from your boat, I talk to you as one human being to another--yes'"

"Why not?" he answered

"Forget all that you have thought of me," she continued. "Forget that I
tried to win you over to do my will in the way that other women try. I
am not good--I do not pretend that--but I do not wish to do evil. The
sacrifices I make I make because I have big things in my heart."

"You are a very extraordinary person," he acknowledged, "but if you want
to be turned loose on this boat as you told me--"

"Hush." she interrupted. "Let me finish. I was not born like that, but I
have become heart and soul a slave to one burning desire--to work in the
cause of freedom for the people in this world who have never known
freedom, but chiefly for the people in the next world who are to come,
who might breathe a different air and might climb instead of stumbling
all the way through the foul places. There is no name for the need of us
who are in earnest. Communism will do as well as any other. But what we
want, those of us who are so much in earnest and the thousand who are
not for more selfish reasons, perhaps, is to chase away from control
this bourgeois money-grabbing Government, and put in a Government of men
who are willing to work, not to enrich themselves, but to build the
foundations of the future race in different fashion."

He looked at her curiously.

"Your name is Russian," he said.

"And I am a Russian," she answered. "Perhaps some day I will tell you my
real name. I am Russian. I have lived in Russia since the Soviet. I have
watched the crude beginnings of what will come in fifty years' time--a
glorious climax. I have watched the mistakes we have all deplored. I
have watched the miserable futility, the cruelty, the wickedness, the
bloodthirstiness of the birth of a new faith, and I am going to say of a
new religion. Because I criticised I had to flee for my life. I joined
some people, but they had as little as I had. I drifted into becoming a
member of what they call The Circle here--the Communists. Russia was
badly treated in the old days, Mr. Wildburn. It had a cruel and ignorant
aristocracy, who became the ruin of the country, but who are responsible
for the coming of the Soviet. France has a greedy and ignorant
bourgeoisie who will be responsible for the coming of the French
Soviet."

"Are you trying to convert me to a new faith?" he asked, in a very
different tone to any he had ever used to her before.

"No," she said. "I could not do that. You are an Anglo-Saxon. You are
too fixed, you are too honest to make believe, you have that terrible
facility for taking things as they are. I could do nothing with you,
Hamer Wildburn. You are too strong for me. All that I could hope for
would be that you should realise that I am in earnest. I will tell you
what I want from you in plainer words than you have ever been told by
anyone else, and then you will reflect--you will think perhaps that you
would do not much harm if you helped me."

He moved uneasily in his place.

"I am beginning to believe, my dear young lady," he observed, "that I
and the whole world may be mistaken about you. If that is so it is your
own fault. On the other hand, so far as regards the concrete thing which
you ask of me--the possession of this boat--that is an impossibility."

She waved his words away.

"This boat was built by Tositi," she confided. "He, with all his faults,
was a man of imagination. He loved the sea and he loved the woman for
whom he built it. She cared little for him, perhaps, but she saw through
him the means to an end."

All the time the sea lapped gently against the sides of the yacht. The
long straight beam from the Antibcs lighthouse flashed across its sullen
surface and across the sleeping hills. Of found there was none. The
world slept.

"Go on, please," he begged.

"Tositi, it is true," she admitted, "was the tool of many men in greater
positions than he, but he was their willing tool. He was their
deliberate accomplice. All his life his great ambition had been to move
in the greater places of the world. He had no ideals. He was nothing of
a dreamer. He was a clod of a man, but he had the greedy ambitions of
the egotist. He wanted the applause of the multitude without being
capable of doing or producing anything to deserve it."

"That is a poor epitaph for a man," he murmured.

"It was given to me to see the truth about him," she answered. "With it
all he had the gifts which belong to that order of human being. He was
cunning. He helped the greater men than he to rob, and he saw them go
off with the greater share of the spoils. He knew perfectly well,
although he bore it uncomplainingly, that in two cases out of three the
result, if things should ever be discovered, was fastened upon his
shoulder. But Tositi never slept. In every one of the great frauds
wherein he was at the same time the tool and the instigator, he
preserved some little fragment of proof that he was not the only one
concerned, that greater than he had planned what he only carried out. He
kept these proofs care fully and added to them week by week, month by
month. He picked the millions out of the fire for the great men who
called themselves his friends but kept him a long way in the background,
but he had them all the time safe in his net. He knew it and, when they
failed to save him, when one of the schemes went awry and Tositi was to
be the sacrifice, he sent them a warning word of what might happen. What
did happen was the contents of a dozen revolvers were emptied into his
body within twelve hours. That was the end of Tositi. Unfortunately he
did not live long enough to protect himself. It was only after his death
that they learnt through another man of his cunning The truth is coming
to them piece by piece. They know that Tositi's damning records are
concealed somewhere upon this boat where you and I are sitting. They
know that if he had had time to get to them he would have been allowed
to walk out of the country with millions in his pockets. That, however,
never happened. Tositi is dead but the records remain. Two people know
where. The man who designed the boat and the builder."

"And they--" he began.

"It is known that they went off together to America."

Silently Hamer rose to his feet, went below, busied himself in the
galley for a few minutes, and came up carrying a packet of cigarettes.

They both spoke for a moment or two without speech.

"So that is the secret of the _Bird of Paradise_," he said at last.

"The secret but not the key," she reminded him.

"It can never happen," he went on "because I do not possess it, but
supposing I handed you the key, supposing I turned you loose and you
discovered these records?"

"I should proceed with discretion," she said, "but what would happen is
this. The Government would fall and, as soon as they tried to create
another, a little note to one of the proposed members, and that, too,
would never come to being. Then the newspapers. We should set a match to
the bonfires already built. After that the floodgates would be let
loose. The men whom we have already decided upon would march to their
places with the millions of people behind them. There would be excesses,
of course. There would be bloodshed. Innocent people would suffer.
Property would be destroyed. But, at one leap, France would spring into
freedom. Those who are behind the scenes in this thing have learnt from
the French republic. They have learnt from the Russian Soviet. They
learnt what blunders to avoid. They have learnt to rebuild commencing
where others have left off. Humanity would owe a great debt, a debt she
could never pay, to the man who supplies the key."

"I, alas, can never be that man. Mademoiselle," Hamer announced. "I
cannot help believing in you. You are, I think, the most wonderful
person I ever met. When I think of what you have sacrificed from sheer
devotion to a cause, from consecrated altruism, I respect and honour
you. I can say no more except that I am ashamed when I tell you that I
am pledged to keep my word to the girl I am going to marry. Frankly, I
suspect her father is implicated in these records, but there it is. My
word is given. I shall keep it."

"It is such a pity," she sighed "So small the cause; so mighty a result.
You and I together could be responsible for the making of a great
country. You must keep your word to this nicely brought up young lady
who has a devotion to her family."

"It has to be like that," he confessed.

She looked at him steadily.

"Yes," she agreed, "if you say so. I do not fancy that anything I could
say or do would change you. It is amazing that you should be the man
that you are, the great stumbling block to the coming of the Millennium,
but such as you are you must remain...May I be put ashore?"

Hamer produced his whistle.

"One word more," he said. "You have given me a great deal of your
confidence. You knew without asking that you were safe. What are you
going to do about this business?"

"I am going to take the _Bird of Paradise_ from you if I can," she told
him. "If they had dared, if they had felt convinced, as I could have
convinced them, that the records they sought were here, it would have
been destroyed by now a hundred times over. I am the only one who knows,
and I must have your boat whole. You have chosen to shelter a group of
wicked men, Monsieur Hamer Wildburn. It may cost you your life, though
it shall not if I can help it."

"That's kind of you," he said, "but it must be war, then."

"I must have the boat," she insisted, "and I must see that it is not
destroyed. It is not for myself. It is not for any glory that may come
to me in the future. Probably no one will know. I shall never be a Joan
of Arc to France, because I am not French. It is not for France I offer
myself. It is for humanity. The day will come some time when nations
will flow the one into the other like the seas. That will be the time of
freedom."

Hamer blew his whistle, and Auguste appeared from the galley almost at
once. Hamer's instructions were simple and decisive.

"You will take this young lady to the _plage_, Auguste," he said. "You
will find my car in the first shed. Drive mademoiselle to the Provençal
Hotel, or wherever else she directs. First, get me an overcoat from
downstairs."

Auguste did as he was bidden. Hamer felt curiously moved as he took her
hands at the top of the steps. She seemed very frail and tired in the
gleaming light of the dawn, grey and ghastly before the coming of the
sun. Yet, when she smiled it was another face.

"You have been gentle and kind with me, Mr. Wildburn," she confessed. "I
have met with the great failure of my life just when success seemed so
near, but I can feel no bitterness towards you. You see with the eyes
given you. No one can change them."

He kissed her cold fingers, threw the coat over her shoulders, and stood
on deck till the dinghy passed into the little wisp of mist which hung
over the border of the _plage_.

Chapter XXIII

Lucienne arrived on board the _Bird of Paradise_ towards 5 o'clock on
the following afternoon. She had abandoned the absolute negligee in
which the Riviera was revelling at the moment, and wore a white beach
frock, a panama hat, and carried a sunshade. She came round the point in
one of the motor boats which were kept in the private bay of the
_château_, and, though she smiled as she recognised Hamer waiting for her,
there was a slight restraint about the wave of her hand.

"You look terribly formal," he told her.

"This is entirely a formal visit," she assured him, as he drew her chair
back under the awning. "I imagine you must have been expecting me. I
have come to break off our engagement."

"Not a chance," he answered. "If I was not so pleased to see you I
should have sent you back again for that speech."

"Where is the scene of this bloody encounter?" she demanded.

He pointed to the deck. "Up and around there."

"And is it true that you threw my alternate suitor, second Duke of
France, into the sea?"

"Absolutely. I should probably do it again unless he came to apologise."

"Apologise for what?"

He told her the story up to his having been left on board with Tanya.
Every now and then her eyes lit up, and she had hard work to restrain a
smile.

"Up to the present moment, dear Hamer, my sympathies are with you," she
admitted. "A tiresome lot of young men we seem to have collected at the
_château_, and I knew nothing of the supper party. So it was they who
brought Mademoiselle Tanya on board?"

"It certainly was," he replied.

"But there is more to be told," she insisted. "According to your own
story, the prize of the night seems to have been Mademoiselle Tanya."

"It might seem so," he admitted. "She remained on board, sitting just
about where you are, and I by her side, for at least an hour and a half
after they had left. Then I lent her an overcoat, Auguste rowed her to
the _plage_, and drove her home to the Provençal. If the circumstance," he
went on, "is of any import, I might add that she did not move from that
chair from the time of the departure of her friends until I sent her
away."

"I must be in an inquisitive frame of mind," Lucienne confessed,
"because I find myself asking questions all the time. Why did she stay
here with you an hour and a half after the others? To see the sun rise?"

"Well, we did see the sun rise for that matter," he acknowledged, "but
she stayed to add herself to the number of those who have bewildered me
with their offers for my boat, and she stayed a little longer to
elucidate once and for all the mystery of the _Bird of Paradise_."

"Hamer! You are talking nonsense,"

Lucienne declared.

"If you say that again I shall kiss you," he threatened.

"Things are not so bad as I feared," she conceded, "but I should regard
any attempt on your part towards familiarities of that sort as an
impertinence which I should promptly resent."

He leaned over and kissed her. She made not the slightest resistance,
and he had a very strong idea that she returned the caress.

"What happened was this," he said. "Tanya suddenly changed from a mad
_gamine_ to a young woman of sound common sense--a most inspired person.
She told me some things which I would rather not pass on for the moment,
but they were purely political. She told me others which I will confide
to you. The reason, from different points of view, that different people
want to acquire the _Bird of Paradise_, is because cunningly hidden in
various parts of her are the detailed reports made by that fellow Tositi
as to his dealings with some of your greatest politicians."

Lucienne had gone a little paler. She was leaning forward in her chair.

"Is Mademoiselle Tanya being bribed by one of these men?" she asked.

"By no means," he answered. "She is working for herself and for her
party. She is a Communist, and she wants to start a new era in this
country. It is true that she egged those half-drunken young men on to
bring her on board. It is true, I believe, that in the first instance
she encouraged a row so that if I got knocked out she would be free of
the place, but she had only one motive for coming or for staying here.
She wanted those records."

Lucienne removed her hat. She placed one of her small delicate hands on
either side of Hamer's cheeks, drew his face down, and kissed him.

"Now I feel better," she declared. "She did try to vamp you, though."

"All in the way of business," he denied. "I told her that I was engaged,
and that Americans did not understand the vamping dodge. It was then she
became earnest and talked to me like a serious woman."

"You didn't let her have the records?"

"Not a chance," he answered. "Where they are I don't know myself. What
to do with the boat I don't know. What I am sure of, though, is that,
there is going to be some trouble here before very long."

"The boat is mine," she reminded him calmly.

"Then, for heaven's sake, come and marry me to-morrow at Nice, and take
possession," he suggested. "I'm as ready for a fight as most men, but I
honestly don't see any fun in being shot or murdered in my sleep just
because I happen to own a boat which possesses secrets. It is not as
though I cared a fig either way. I am neither a philanthropist nor a
sentimentalist. Anyone can govern France for all I care. For a moment or
two that young woman last night nearly converted me, then I thought of
that gunboat and Perissol on the hill. They would never let her get away
with anything. Why on earth, Lucienne, can't we go to General Perissol
and tell him what we believe. He must have a suspicion of it already. He
is the man to deal with the affair."

She shook her head sadly.

"Hamer, dearest," she said,'"There is more to be considered. General
Perissol is not France any more than Edouard Mermillon is France. Father
is coming back from Paris next week. We must wait till then."

"And in the meantime," he observed, "what is to happen if my Joan of
Arc, with a thousand Marseillais behind her, sweep through the gendarmes
here, as they easily could, and seize the boat? What about that,
Lucienne?"

"Did you part on friendly terms with your Joan of Arc, as you call her?"

"Yes. But make no mistake about this," he insisted. "She made me no
promise. I don't amount in her eyes to a husk of chaff. She wants the
secret of the boat in her hands, and then, according to her, the whole
of the French Government is doomed."

Lucienne simply pointed backwards over her shoulder. He followed the
direction of her gesture, and suddenly realised that the guns of the
_Fidélité_ were practically trained upon them.

"So that's what the gunboat's there for, is it?" he demanded, with
indications of anger in his tone.

She laid her hand upon his.

"Hamer, dear," she said, "remember this. You are the unfortunate
possessor of a bone of contention. The final issue does not concern you.
The only insupportable catastrophe would be if your Joan of Arc, as you
call her, were to succeed. Otherwise the whole thing would be, as I
think you say in English, stalemate. It would be settled in the way my
father wishes it settled."

Hamer gazed gloomily across the stretch of sea landwards. Since the
first inkling of the fact that the _Bird of Paradise_ carried treasure
of some sort it seemed to him that the situation had never been so
unsatisfactory. He fancied that he could almost hear Tanya's gentle
beseeching voice, the music which her simple eloquence had sometimes
imparted to it, the pleading which, regardless of all the small things
of life come so convincingly from her heart. And for those few minutes,
minutes which he was destined never to forget, the little guttersnipe,
as he had heard her called, and as she had more than once seemed to him,
had attained to something like a stainless spirituality. He recalled
that exquisite simplicity of verbiage and motive which had so nearly
undermined even his promise. Every other argument those people had
brought to bear upon him seemed suddenly sordid. Even Lucienne was
begging only for her father's material safety and well being. Beside all
this Tanya's message seemed to come to him from a different and a
cleaner world.

"You are not Hesitating, Hamer?" Lucienne asked him softly.

He made no effort to explain. There was no human being, he felt, who
could have understood. For the moment, however, he was spared the
necessity of a response. The small dinghy from the shore was rocking
below. A boy, exhausted with his efforts, was resting upon his oars and
in the band of his cap was an oblong strip of pale green.

"For me?" Hamer called out. The boy nodded.

"_Une depeche pour Monsieur_. Urgent."

Auguste's hand steadied the boat. The boy passed him the message. Hamer,
with an apologetic glance towards his companion, tore the perforated
edges. He read, and read again. The message took his breath away. It was
dated from Paris that morning.

"I wish to see you at the earliest possible moment on an urgent matter.
Cancel every engagement and come to me at once. Ned will meet you at Le
Bourget. Buy 'plane if necessary.--Luke."

Hamer's surprise choked him. He uttered no word or exclamation. He
simply read the message over for the third time.

"No bad news, I hope?" Lucienne asked, gravely curious.

The young man came to himself. He passed the message to her, handed down
ten francs to the boy and waved him away.

"Who is this from?" she inquired. "My father."

"I thought he never came to Europe nowadays."

"He has not been for two years. It must be ten since he was in France."

"His message sounds very urgent," she remarked.

"Something very extraordinary must have happened," he agreed. "I have
heard my father say he never intended to visit France again and I have
never known him to change his mind."

Lucienne sighed.

"Well, I am afraid there is no doubt about it," she said. "You will have
to go."

"Come up to the Cap with me," he begged, "while I telephone. We can
decide there whether I take a 'plane or the six o'clock Blue Train."

"The weather's bad for flying inland," she reminded him anxiously. "We
had a message this morning. My cousin thought of flying; one of the
young men you knocked to pieces. He heard that it was snowing at
Grenoble."

"I hate flying anyway," he replied, "but if they guarantee me a
reasonable passage I suppose I will have to go. What I am thinking about
is, though--what about the boat?"

"I will take care of her for you," Lucienne promised.

"You will do nothing of the sort," he objected firmly. "It would not
surprise me in the least to come back--when I do come back--and find her
blown to smithereens, like that flat in Juan was the other night. I
don't want you anywhere near her, my dear."

"If you want to keep things just as they are," she suggested, after a
moment's pause, "why not have a word or two with Commander Berard?"

He nodded.

"It seems the most sensible thing," he decided.

"I will help Auguste pack your bag," she said, "while you take the
dinghy across."

"What a luxury!" he smiled. "I never felt so nearly married in my life."

"Like the feeling?"

"It's swell," he assured her.

Commander Berard was reticent, but reasonable.

"You see, Commander," Hamer explained, "I know very well that you are
supposed to be down here taking soundings, and the rest of it, and that
you could not be expected to enter upon any activities outside, but
there is the most important French Cabinet Minister within a few yards
of you. There is the chief of all the police of France up on the hill,
and you may possibly have gathered from them that my boat is an object
of interest to certain undesirable people."

Berard's expression was unchanging. He said nothing. He merely listened.

"We will leave it at that," Hamer went on. "I am compelled to go to
Paris to-day. It is my father who has sent for me. I shall leave Auguste
in charge, of course, and he has Jean with him. I want to ask you
unofficially whether you could not--bearing all things in mind--place a
small guard upon her until I get back? That and your guns ought to be
enough."

"I think I should be justified in going as far as that, Mr. Wildburn,"
the commander admitted. "The only thing is that if my action is not
approved of by General Perissol I shall have to withdraw my men."

"I'll take the risk," Hamer agreed.

CHAPTER XXIV

Hamer Wildburn alighted from the Paris Blue Train at the Gare de Lyons
on the following morning, and held out his hand to the bespectacled
young man who hurried up to him.

"Well, Ned, old fellow," he greeted him. "This is a nice surprise to
spring upon one. What's all the fuss about?"

"Can't tell you a single thing, Hamer. We only heard that the old man
was on his way over when he was half a day out of Cherbourg. I expect he
had hard work dodging the newspaper men at the other end and those radio
fellows. We had instructions to take the suite he used to have in the
old days at the Meurice and to get you here at once. The suite was easy
enough, but you took a bit of moving."

"I hate Paris anyway--especially at this time of the year," Hamer
confessed, handing the ticket for his registered luggage to a porter. "I
thought it would have done the old man good to have come down to my part
of the world, and, anyway, I didn't waste any time in telephoning. There
was a storm blowing south, around Uriage way, and there were no 'planes
leaving of any sort."

"It blew hard here last night," the young man observed. "The chief heard
from Le Bourget that no 'plane would be leaving Cannes so he didn't
expect you before."

"What's, it all about?" Hamer inquired. "It isn't a thing we talk much
about, but I know for a fact that he never meant to set foot in France
again as long as he lived."

"We were just as much surprised as you were," Ned Foster answered, as
they made their way towards the exit. "So far we have not heard a word
of explanation."

"Something to do with the newspaper, perhaps?"

His companion shrugged his shoulders.

"Shouldn't be surprised. We have to run the paper as we are told, of
course, but we run it at a good many millions of francs loss because of
our politics. I am never quite sure when I get down in the mornings that
I shan't find the office blown up."

They stepped into the waiting automobile, and drove off after a very
brief delay. Hamer looked about him with distaste. It was a grey
morning, but the air was heavy and oppressive.

"Well, I hope he won't keep me long," he remarked fervently. "I am
really having the time of my life down there, Ned. I am doing my stunt
of work for you fellows, and meeting some very interesting people--French
politicians most of them, by-the-bye. I have also just become engaged to
the prettiest and sweetest girl you ever saw out of the States, or in
them either, for that matter."

Ned Foster started.

"Does the chief know that?" he asked.

"It won't be popular news, I don't suppose, but he will know as soon as
I see him," the other replied. "I have not had time to write yet. What
sort of a humour is he in?"

"Dangerous, I should say. Dangerous, with a touch of the mysterious. He
is too amiable to be natural. So far, although he came over on a fast
boat, and insisted upon a special train from Cherbourg, he has done
nothing but loll about in the sitting-room, smoking those terrible
cigars. He has not been near the office, and he doesn't want to see
Jimmy Pollen until to-morrow. I had hard work to keep Jimmy away. He's
afraid the governor may have an idea of shutting up here."

"Is he out of bed yet--the governor, I mean?"

"Got up at six, and had his coffee and rolls. He went out last night in
his ordinary clothes, after having dinner in his room, but he was back
before midnight. I think he was only having a look round the place."

"Well, I wish he had chosen another time for this surprise visit," Hamer
grumbled. "I'm a dutiful son when it comes to the point, and all that,
but I was just planning a cruise to Bandol and Toulon when I got your
despatch."

"Living on that little boat of yours?"

"I should say I am. Sleep on deck most nights. It's a good life."

"You can get the same sort or thing at Palm Beach or Newquay," his
patriotic friend reminded him.

Hamer shook, his head.

"No, you can't," he denied. "Too many people. Too much to do. Too many
late parties it's so artificial at those places. We lead the simple life
down my way. Besides, you see--"

"I understand," the other interrupted. "The sweetest and prettiest girl
in the world out side the States--or in them for that matter--lives
there!"

"You can chaff, but you wait till you see her," Hamer laughed.

Luke Scott Wildburn, who was accounted one of the most successful men in
the world, welcomed his son with a good natured smile and a hearty
handshake. He was a tall, fine looking man with a good deal of his
son's physique, but with the worn lines of coming age in his face, and a
touch of langour in his manner which some people thought was
affectation, but which he had possessed all his life. He was dressed,
notwithstanding the heat, with great formality, and he had apparently
been dictating letters to one of his typists, who left the room and
hurried away at the entrance of the two visitors.

"Well, young fellow, you hated coming away, I suppose?" he remarked,
pushing his chair further away from the table and crossing his legs.

"So would you, sir, if you had been in my place," his son replied. "It's
no weather for Paris. I wonder you can stand that kit."

"I have an early appointment with the President," Scott Wildburn
explained, "and you know we Americans have the reputation of overdoing
the right thing for fear of doing the wrong. What do you say about it,
Ned?"

"Before midday, sir, even in diplomatic circles, a certain negligence of
costume is permitted in August."

"Hear him," his chief chuckled. "He's a walking encyclopaedia. He will
suggest your first proper remarks when you are introduced to a
fashionable cocotte, a princess, or a crowned head. I don't know what I
should do without Ned."

"Thank you, sir," the young man replied. "I hope you will never have
occasion to."

"Apt, you see, as usual...To return to the subject of my black coat, I
think that I am one of those people who are proof against these changes
of climate, perhaps because I am of a sedentary turn of life. You must
have some coffee after your journey, Hamer. Order _petit déjeuner_ in the
smaller salon, Ned, for Hamer. I will ring up your room when I want
anybody or anything. See that a car and servant are ready at half past
eleven for my visit. After that time you and Hamer can fade away for
lunch somewhere if you want to. I am invited by the President."

Father and son strolled into a smaller room, and Ned hastened away.
Scott Wildburn threw himself into an easy chair, and lit an atrocious
looking cigar. Hamer followed suit with a cigarette.

"So you are having a good time, are you, young fellow?"

"I like it," Hamer confessed. "It would not suit you, sir, but then I
was never so fond of action as you are."

"I don't know that I am particularly fond of action," his father
meditated. "On the other hand, I cannot see how anybody finds any time
for dawdling with only thirty or forty years of actual life."

"I suppose one develops even when one dawdles," Hamer reflected. "I have
not been utterly lazy either. I have written two articles a week for the
paper, read a good bit, and I have the outline of a novel ready to start
upon. I like working all right, but I like working in my own way and at
my own time. I should hate an official post, for instance, with all its
responsibilities and complications, and I should never be able to manage
an immense organisation like yours, with all your staff to keep in their
places. Incidentally, sir, I was going to write to you in a few days to
tell you that I am engaged to be married."

His father raised his eyebrows.

"Better be careful," he advised. "This is France, not America. You are
supposed to be in it for life when you start that sort of thing over
here."

"I hope I shall be," Hamer declared. "When you have seen my young woman
you will hope so, too, for my sake."

"Confident young feller, aren't you? How old are you, Hamer?"

"Twenty-six, sir."

"A year older than I thought. Well, I'm glad that you are not one of
these crazy super-sportsmen, anyway. You look as though you took plenty
of exercise."

"I swim three times a day," Hamer said, "play tennis most days, a little
golf now and then, and enough canoeing to keep my muscles in order every
evening."

"Well, well," his father said tolerantly. "It is not every man who is
born ambitious. I am not really sure," he went on, "that to be
ambitious--unless it is a very definite and worthy form of ambition--is
not a sign of weakness. Tell me about the young lady. I am afraid that
she must be French."

"She is, sir."

"Innkeeper's daughter or princess, eh?"

"Half-way between the two, I suppose. I believe her family is quite
good. They own the _château_ close to where my boat is moored.
Her name is Montelimar--Lucienne de Montelimar."

"Very pretty," his father observed approvingly. "The name sounds
familiar."

"Her father, the Marquis de Montelimar, has been French ambassador in
several European capitals, I believe," Hamer confided. "I think you will
like him. For a Frenchman he has quite a broad outlook."

"If it becomes necessary I shall, of course, be prepared to make the
acquaintance of the family," Scott Wildburn said after a moment's
hesitation. "You are aware, however, of course, of my prejudices. I have
no great friendship for the French, as I think you know...Tell me about
this boat of yours, Hamer."

"The _Bird of Paradise_," the young man replied in some surprise. "Oh,
she isn't much, but then I never had any ambition to own a yacht.
Nothing like your Valkyrie or even the Storm Cloud. She's just a
thirty-ton schooner yacht, built by a Frenchman for his honeymoon, with
one large cabin and a decent little saloon. Just big enough for me to
get some fun out of sailing her and cruising around--although I haven't
done much of that lately."

"Something in the nature of an engine, I suppose?"

"Diesels. Why don't you come down and see her? I think you told me that
you've never been down to the Riviera in the summer."

"That may happen. You are fond of the boat, I suppose?"

"I am, rather," Hamer confessed.

"How much did you give for her?"

"Eighteen hundred pounds, sir. She was not particularly cheap, but I
thought she was worth it, and she was so exactly what I wanted."

"Bought her at Marseilles, didn't you?"

"Why, how did you know that, sir?" Hamer asked, more surprised than
ever. "I didn't know that I had ever written you about her."

"You haven't--and yet I know," his father observed, smiling. "Now, I am
going to give you a chance of doing a little remunerative business. You
say that you gave eighteen hundred pounds for her. I am going to buy her
from you at five thousand."

To Hamer Wildburn his father's words wore perhaps the greatest shock of
his life. He dropped his cigarette upon the carpet, and stared across
the room open-mouthed. There was no doubt whatever but that Scott
Wildburn was in earnest. He was smiling at his son's astonishment, but
he had by no means the appearance of a man who had embarked upon a jest.

"Come, Hamer, don't look as though you had lost your senses," he
admonished his son. "Sit up and take notice. I want to buy the _Bird of
Paradise_. I am offering you five thousand pounds for her; cheque before
you leave this room."

"What on earth," Hamer gasped, as a flood of memories came rushing into
his brain, "do you want to buy the _Bird of Paradise_ for?"

His father tapped the ash from his cigar into the plate by his side.

"Well, I may tell you that some day," he promised. "Just at present it
doesn't matter, does it? I'll give you a cheque for the amount now, or
if you see anything you fancy at a few thousands more that won't matter.
I'll give you the Storm Cloud if you care to sail her across. That's the
sort of enterprise that might appeal to you, I imagine. She would cross
the Atlantic all right. She has done it twice already. What about it,
Hamer? I have a crew ready. When can I put them on board?"

"You have rather taken my breath away." his son acknowledged. "Do you
know, sir, that nearly everyone in the neighbourhood has been trying to
buy that boat from me?"

Scott Wildburn stiffened visibly.

"What do you mean by' everyone in the neighbourhood'?"

"Why, Monsieur Edouard Mermillon, the Minister for Foreign Affairs,
General Perissol, the man who has the wonderful new post, in the
Ministry, and controls the whole of the police of France. He has not
made me any definite offer, but it is easy to see that he's interested.
I have since discovered that a very beautiful woman who swam from the
shore one night and turned my cabin inside out is his _chere amie_. Then
there is a young woman, a danseuse, but you wouldn't know about her."

"Anyone else?"

"Well, no one has made a direct offer to me," Hamer confessed, "but
Lucienne--that's Lucienne de Montelimar, you know, the girl I am engaged
to marry--has made me promise to give it to her for a wedding present."

There was a brief silence. Scott Wildburn had drawn his chair further
back and his face seemed to have relapsed into the shadows.

"Mermillon," he muttered. "Let me see--he is Minister for Foreign
Affairs. General Perissol. H'm. I should have thought he would have
adopted another line. Montelimar's daughter. A young danseuse: mixed up
in some intrigue, I suppose. All this is very strange, Hamer."

"It is bewildering."

"From what I remember of your younger days," his father remarked, "it
seems to me that you never had the bump of curiosity very strongly
developed. I presume the same idiosyncrasy has survived your
adolescence. But seriously, Hamer, haven't you ever wondered what they
wanted your boat for?"

"I have racked my brains," the young man acknowledged. "Even Lucienne
wouldn't tell me. I always imagined that she wanted it for sentimental
reasons. You see, we really met on board. I pulled her in when she was
exhausted swimming on a rough day and since then we have spent a good
deal of time on board together. Mermillon wanted it for a present to his
nephew. That seemed quite reasonable. Then, for the first time, within
the last few days, the danseuse I have spoken of gave me an idea. I
thought I saw a gleam of light. Now you come along and I am all in the
dark again. You could not want the boat for the same reason that my
little friend. Mademoiselle Tanya wanted it."

"You think not," his father observed.

"I don't think. I'm sure of it, Dad," Hamer declared. "Why not tell me
what you do want her for? It would help me out of a dilemma, anyway."

"Serve you right if I did tell you," was the somewhat grim reply.

"Well, for heaven's sake, do. The story I have heard seems to me most
terribly improbable, but I was never so curious about anything in my
life."

"Bottle it up, my boy," his father advised him. "Believe me, you are a
safer man, in France, at any rate, not to know...And now I'm afraid I'm
going to disappoint you, Hamer. I want that boat. I must have her--and at
once."

Something in his father's tone startled him. He looked up in surprise.

"But, Dad," he expostulated, "I've told you I've promised it to
Lucienne. It is the only thing she has ever asked me for."

"And that may be the only promise you have ever broken," was the quiet
reply, "but you will have to break it."

There was a short but somewhat awkward silence.

Scott Wildburn had sunk back in his comfortable chair, and his eyes--cold
and relentless--were fixed upon his son. The fingers of his right hand
drummed restlessly upon the table by his side. Hamer was in the throes
of a great bewilderment. His father's request, almost demand, had come
like a thunderbolt. He temporised--weakly, as he realised afterwards.

"You won't mind my writing to Lucienne, sir?" he said at last. "I must
give some explanation. You see," he went on, a little awkwardly, "she
looks upon the boat as her own already."

"That is, of course, unfortunate," his father admitted calmly, "but it
can't be helped. I want possession within the next few hours. I have
brought a crew of my own over from New York to take her to Marseilles.

"From New York?" Hamer gasped.

"I can assure you that this is no sudden impulse. Nothing in the world
but to acquire possession of the '_Bird of Paradise_' would have brought
me back to France."

Hamer leaned forward with his hand behind his head.

"I'm sorry, dad," he reiterated. "I must speak lo Lucienne first. I
cannot break the first promise I ever made to her without some
explanation."

Considering the number of years which had passed since anyone had even
hesitated for a single moment to do the bidding of the great
millionaire, his present attitude was exemplary. He showed no signs of
losing his temper. He even smiled indulgently.

"Hamer," he said, "I do not propose lo enter into lengthy explanations,
but it has already, no doubt, dawned upon you that we are up against no
ordinary situation. The fact that you risk your life every moment that
you stay upon that boat means, I am sure, very little to you because you
are courageous, almost rash, by disposition. But you must get this
firmly into your head. I should not ask you to break your promise to the
young woman whom yon propose to marry if there were not vital and
overwhelming reasons for doing so. You would not be able to comprehend
if I were to tell you why I am making this demand upon you. You will
have to accept the bald facts. I must have the boat and at once."

"I will get on the telephone to Lucienne," Hamer proposed.

"You must do nothing of the sort," his father enjoined firmly. "You must
tell her nothing until the boat is safely in my possession."

Hamer was beginning slowly to recover his poise. He was perhaps more
uncomfortable, though, than he had ever been in his life.

"Dad," he said, "I am not sure that I can do what you ask me until I
have spoken to Lucienne."

Scott Wildburn looked thoughtfully across at his son. There, alas, was
the same firm chin, the same steady eyes, the same note of determination
in the voice. It was a duplication of himself and his own obstinacy with
which he was confronted.

"This is going to be a very awkward affair, Hamer," he meditated.

"A very awkward affair for me, without doubt," his son replied. "I
realise, of course, what it may mean to refuse what you ask me. I am
afraid, however, that I cannot let that make any difference."

"Good lad," his father approved. "Quite the right attitude."

A waiter had entered the room during the last few minutes with the _petit
dejeuner_, which he wheeled up on a small table lo Hamer's side. Scott
Wildburn rose to his feet.

"I shall leave you alone for a quarter of an hour," he said. "You can
talk to Ned if you like. Sometimes that young man has gleams of positive
inspiration. Between you, you may be able to work something out."

"I'm sorry to be such a nuisance, sir," Hamer regretted.

"Under the unfortunate circumstances," his father admitted. "I am not
surprised that this trouble has arisen. However, we must try and get
over it somehow...They have given you my special coffee, I hope? You
will find it delicious. I shall be back within a quarter of an hour."

"Well?"

Scott Wildburn had returned. Hamer had dealt with his breakfast, and
smoked two cigarettes without coming any nearer to a solution of the
quandary in which his father's demands had placed him.

"Thinking doesn't seem to be of any use," he confessed ruefully. "I must
ask Lucienne before I give away her property."

"Not her property until your wedding day, I understood," his father
objected. "Still, I won't quibble. I will take you into my confidence
instead. I will tell you why I must have the boat."

CHAPTER XXV

Scott Wildburn settled himself in his chair and lit one of his amazing
cigars.

"It is Ned's idea that I should extend this confidence to you," he
began. "Quite a stroke of genius, I call it. He proposed that I should
tell you the truth. You will be murdered, of course, if anyone finds out
that you know, but then so should I. It will be simply one more taking a
chance. Scared?"

"Not a bit."

"I didn't suppose you would be. Well, you don't read my newspapers, I
suppose?"

"I certainly do," Hamer assented. "You read my editorials?"

"Every one of them,"

"Then you can judge where my sympathies have been as regards France
during the last few years."

"The whole world knows that," Hamer agreed. "You have not given them a
chance to forget it either. You have been, if not an enemy, a very stern
critic of French policy practically the whole of the time since the
war."

The newspaper millionaire nodded acquiescence.

"I mention this," he said, "because it will help you to understand why a
certain adventure was offered to me. One day a Frenchman, who had been
persistently demanding an interview for days, succeeded in finding his
way into my private office in New York. He stated his case in very few
words."

"'I have read your newspapers,' he confided, 'day by day. I married an
American and I have lived over here. That is why I understand your point
of view. You hate France--for personal as well as political reasons.'

"That was going pretty far, you know. I remember the time when I should
have thrown any man out of the room who had dared to say that to me."

"I can quite understand."

"Well," Scott Wildburn went on, "my visitor's next sentence was
something startling.

"'I can put you,' he assured me, 'in a position to ruin France as a
civilised country, at any rate, for several generations.'"

"Must have been a madman." Hamer declared.

"He was no madder than I am," Scott Wildburn rejoined "He went on to
tell me his story. The proofs he had to offer were insignificant. The
whole thing might very easily have been a faked up tale, but he left my
office with a certified cheque for fifty thousand dollars in his pocket.
He could have had more if he had asked for it. Even if it were not true,
his story was almost worth the money."

Hamer, who was deeply interested, reverted unconsciously to the slang of
his younger days.

"Gee," he muttered "I would like to have been there!"

"He would probably have convinced you as he did me," Scott Wildburn
continued. "He reminded me of the Tositi frauds in which a number of
public men were concerned, and the discovery of which has given the
Communist cause in France a tremendous leg up on account of the number
of men in politics and public life who are involved. He went on to
assure me that the Tositi affair itself was only like one little twig on
a great tree. He assured me of what I have sometimes suspected--that
France is being bled through her public services by politicians to an
incredible extent. According to him, there is scarcely a man in politics
who is not deeply implicated in a gigantic scheme of national
embezzlement. The six arch embezzlers formed a small circle, and,
according to this visitor of mine, incredible as it seems, the amount of
their defalcations would have pretty well paid France's debt to
America."

"How could a country be bled to that extent?" Hamer demanded
incredulously.

"The thing begins at the bottom," Scott Wildburn pointed out. "You
should realise that in a budget of fifty milliards or thereabouts the
officials, the pensioners, and those in receipt of government assistance
of some kind or other call for at least twenty-five milliards, which
must never appear either before the Chamber or in print. The French
budget is a gigantic plum cake for those who are nearest to help
themselves, and there are very few who do not get some of the plums.
From that the whole scheme moves upwards...At the time of the Tositi
affair the man who had been the tool of the circle warned them promptly
that unless he was protected, certain proofs which he had collected of
their wrongdoing would be placed in the hands of his counsel. Their
answer was a dozen revolver bullets in Tositi's body. You may think it
was a queer thing this, Hamer, my boy--I scarcely believed in it
myself--but the French outlook and temperament are different to ours.
Anyway, I bought the clue which would enable me to handle that list of
six names, and the written evidence which Tositi had in his possession,
for fifty thousand dollars and a further fifty thousand later on."

"Do you mean to say that you have this evidence?"

"No, but I know where the records are which would damn some of the
greatest statesmen in France and plunge the whole country into
confusion," Scott Wildburn answered. "They are on your boat, the _Bird
of Paradise_."

Hamer was speechless. He could think of nothing but Tanya. He seemed to
be back on the boat on that moonless night when she had sat by his side
and calmly told him her wonderful story. He remembered her words--crisp,
cool, exquisitely poignant. In all this labyrinth of lies and inventions
here had been the truth.

"It isn't--it couldn't be possible," he faltered.

"It is very possible indeed," his father answered tritely. "It is not a
certainty, of course, but I am not exactly a credulous person, and I
have ventured a hundred thousand dollars on it. A great many secrets,
Hamer, have gone down to the bottom of the sea this way. My visitor was
the draftsman to the naval architect who designed the _Bird of
Paradise_, and the paper he gave me was a plan showing exactly where the
secret hiding places were made. The boat will have to be practically
disembowelled. She will probably be useless afterwards, but that really
doesn't matter much. Now, you see, my boy, why I must have your boat."

Hamer made no reply. His father watched him with searching eyes. Dimly
he began to wonder whether it was possible that he had made a mistake in
confiding the secret of the _Bird of Paradise_ to his son. Hamer could
never feel the same hatred as had scarred his own life. France had been
a second home to him. He had probably grown to love the country. Even at
his father's bidding he might hesitate to aid in striking her this
mortal blow. Too late now. He had chosen his weapons and he must abide
by them.

"What you have told me, Hamer," he continued, "concerning these other
people who have been trying to buy the boat from you seems to me to be
strong confirmation of the story as it was handed over to me. At any
rate, as soon as the boat comes into my possession I shall pull her to
pieces, and I shall know exactly where to find these records."

"And when you have found them?"

"It may depend to some extent upon the names of the men implicated,"
Scott Wildburn admitted. "At any rate, I promise you that I shall know
how to use the document. I do not pretend that I shall not use it
ruthlessly, because I shall. France will receive thee greatest shock she
has ever known in her life--worse than the Revolution itself."

There was a light in his father's eyes which Hamer had only seen there
once before--something intensely and bitterly cruel. He felt a shiver of
something like fear.

"Father," he said, "we shall never be so close together again as we are
now. It is a time for naked words. Is this hatred of yours for France
political only or is it inspired as well by the memory of a woman--my
mother--who is dead?"

"I am glad you have asked that question," Scott Wildburn replied, "but
although you are my son and hers, Hamer, I shall not answer it. You know
for yourself that since the day she left me I have never set my toot on
French soil and you know for yourself that I never forgive. Most men in
their lives," he went on with marked deliberation, "have one great love
or one great hate, men I mean who have walked in the lofty places of
life. It may be so with me. I leave it to you to divine for yourself. I
only ask you, for your own sake, to remember this. Remember that you are
now a partner in the world's most dangerous secret. A word, the breath
of a word, and there is a whole army of assassins ready for us, a crowd
that would make the gangsters of Chicago seem like children playing on a
nursery floor. How you lived on that boat, Hamer, and escaped being
killed is more than I can imagine, especially after that little danseuse
had visited you. You had the luck of innocence, I suppose."

"Is the Marquis de Montelimar one of the people implicated?" Hamer
asked.

"How do I know?" his father answered. "I'll tell you when the records
come into my hands. I imagine that the first name we draw will give the
whole world a shock. Concerning the others I am not sure."

Hamer Wildburn was feeling dazed and utterly miserable, perhaps more
miserable than he had ever been before in his life. The blackest terror
of all was that overwhelming suspicion that Lucienne's father must
somehow be concerned in the records.

"Why do you deal with this horrible business yourself, father?" he
asked. "Of course, I know that newspapers nowadays practically govern
the world. They make war or peace. They unearth horrible conspiracies.
They deal in the honour of great men, they traffic with the national
conscience of countries. But it is not their office. They were never
meant to mete out justice. It is a foul way to balance the scales of
justice. This thing, if it must be brought to light, dad, should never
be done through the newspapers. There is at any rate one man in France
who can be trusted--General Perissol. He has control over all the police
and the internal secret service of France. Why not let him deal
with this matter?"

"General Perissol is an honourable man so far as I know," Wildburn Scott
admitted. "On the other hand, I am not sure that he would deal with this
affair as I intend it to be dealt with."

"You are taking a great responsibility, sir," Hamer insisted.

"I don t think that anyone ever took a greater," his father agreed.
"However, it has come, and I am ready for it...Shall I send for Ned? We
had better have some sort of deed of sale. Ned can take it down to
Antibes to-night. I have a 'plane waiting, and the crew are all ready to
go on board. You can have your cheque now."

"I don't want the cheque, dad," Hamer said. "I'm not thinking about
that. I'm thinking of the ruin which will surely come upon France if you
publish those names."

Scott Wildburn made no reply. He stretched out his hand towards the
bell. Hamer caught his wrist just in time.

"Don't bother, please." he begged. "I must think for a moment."

Scott Wildburn turned calmly around. "Think? What about?"

"About handing you over the boat," Hamer cried desperately "You know
what it will mean. You know the difficulty there has been in getting a
Government together whom the French people are willing to trust. Six
months ago the country was in peril. If these records contain any of the
great names of those who are in the present Government the Ministry will
fall, there will be no one else whom the people will trust and the
Communists will come into power. You could not avoid a revolution then
and all that is left of France that is worth having would go into the
melting-pot."

"Glad to see you have been studying these things," his father
acquiesced. "Yes, that is probably what would happen. Leaving out the
personal side, however, looking at the matter from the Frenchman's own
point of view, could anything be worse than for the country to be
governed by men who are sucking the blood out of her?"

"I do not know." Hamer groaned. "Tanya herself put ideas into my head,
but I have not had time to think them out. The only thing I am sure of
is that a newspaper exposure would mean utter and complete ruin. There
must be safer, less ghastly, and more diplomatic ways of dealing with
the situation. The men whose names appear in the records that you spoke
of, they could be approached secretly and forced to resign. They must be
punished, of course, but there is no need for them to drag down the
country's honour with their own. They will lose their careers, they will
be under a shadow for the rest of their lives, but you don't want to
turn the whole country into a seething inferno."

Scott Wildburn had drawn himself up to his full height, and a very fine
figure of a man he was except for the inhumanity of his features and
poise.

"There may be some small measure of doubt in my mind as to minor
details," he said, "but what I have decided to do is already settled,
and--forgive me, my son--advice from you would seem a little out of place,
would it not? I am going to send for Ned."

"I shouldn't." Hamer exclaimed with desperate courage.

His father, with his hand upon the bell, looked round at him.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"I mean that I have made up my mind not to part with the boat." Hamer
shouted. "I would sooner place a bomb in her and blow her to pieces!"

The atmosphere seemed to grow tenser every second because of the dead
silence which followed Hamer's words. His father stood for a moment
without moving, his hand poised over the bell. Then he resumed his place
in his chair, and sat without gesture or speech, his eyes fixed steadily
on his son. Hamer was desperately uncomfortable. He felt himself at a
hopeless disadvantage beside that immense self-control.

"I'm sorry," he blundered out. "You see, I can't feel about France like
you do. I love it. It is my home. And then there's Lucienne. That was a
promise--the first promise I ever made her."

"I have always looked upon you, Hamer, as being a person of average
intelligence," his father said quietly, without the slightest trace of
anger in his tone. "With average intelligence you should duly appreciate
the proportions of life. I am asking one of the smallest things in the
world of you considering our relative positions, which happens, owing to
circumstances, to be also one of the greatest. You talk to me of a girl
to whom you have become engaged during these lazy summer months--of
bathing and swimming together--and who suddenly seems to take the place
to you of your duty to your father, your race, and your honour. I must
ask you once more to be sure that there is no misunderstanding. Are you
willing to place the _Bird of Paradise_ immediately and without
reservations in my hands?"

"I must see Lucienne first." Hamer answered doggedly. "I must find out
whether her father is interested in these records before I tell her that
I cannot keep my promise."

"And in doing that," his father reminded him, "you disclose the whole
situation. The _Bird of Paradise_ will depart at once from the face of
the waters and the most disgraceful conspiracy the modern world has ever
known will remain undetected, and its authors go unpunished. All this
that you may keep your word to your sweetheart."

"You make it sound pretty rotten, dad," Hamer replied, "but I shall keep
my word to Lucienne. I would waive all the other considerations even
though I should feel that you were wrecking a great country to gratify
your personal vengeance. I should think it a horrible thing to do, but I
should not interfere. Your genius, the gargantuan success of your life
has given you the power. If you wanted to ruin the careers of these men,
one of whom at least I know to be a fine statesman, although I believe
he would be involved, you must do it if you think fit. I would not
interfere if you insisted, although I should loathe myself for giving
way, and if you will forgive my saying so--I should lose some of my
respect for you in the contemplation of such human sabotage. But I am
going to keep my word to Lucienne."

"In that case," his father replied, glancing at his watch, "you will
perhaps excuse me. Mine is only a flying visit to Paris--the first, as
you know, for many years, and I have various things to attend to. I am
sorry to have given you the trouble of this fruitless journey. You have
only to ask for it and a draft for your expenses will be attached to
your next quarter's allowance."

Something like tears stood in Hamer's eyes. "Look here, Dad," he
remonstrated, "aren't you hitting rather below the belt?"

His father had touched the bell. He stood with his back to the room
looking out of the window. Ned Foster, the young bespectacled secretary,
made swift appearance.

"Ned," his chief directed, looking for a moment over his shoulder, "my
son and I have failed to come to an understanding. Please take him from
the suite and see that he catches the next train back to the South of
France. I shall not be requiring to see him again."

CHAPTER XXVI

Monsieur and Madame Crestner of the Plage Restaurant at Garoupe were
excited, jubilant, but a trifle disturbed. Madame was genuinely uneasy.
She drew her husband on one side away from the little babel before the
bar.

"What is it then that arrives?" she demanded. "Mademoiselle Tanya, the
great artiste from Juan-les-Pins, she visits us. She says that she has
invited a great supper party here of friends. She bids me provide more
tables, more food, more wine. The money drops from her fingers like
water."

"All these things," Monsieur said, rubbing his hands gently together,
"are excellent. Mademoiselle is drawing a large salary. She will not
look at the bills."

"That is all very well," Madame declared, "but how can we feed a hundred
people? Our regular clients we have had to send away. Our cooking ranges
inside and out are heaped with food. We cook, and we cook, and we cook.
But a hundred people, and, _ma foi_, such people!"

"It is not our concern who they are," her husband pointed out. "As for
the wine, it is stored up behind the shed. We have enough, and more than
enough, for a hundred people. The food-well, they must have
consideration."

"But listen, Jean," she went on, clutching at his arm. "Who are these
people? I ask you. Look around. I know where they come from. They come
from Marseilles-nearly every one of them. Look at their faces. See how
they talk together in corners. All the time I fancy that there is
something on their minds. They look to me more like conspirators than
men out for a night picnic with a great actress."

Monsieur shrugged his shoulders.

"It is not our affair," he decided.

"Of course, it is our affair," she insisted, drawing him a little
further on one side. "They point, and they point, and they point--always
at the _Bird of Paradise_. Monsieur Wildburn--_si gentil_--he is away in
Paris. Do you note this? Auguste has not arrived for his aperitif nor
for the ice to-night. Never does he miss. There is the dinghy and the
small speedboat. Auguste has not left the _Bird of Paradise_."

"Is that of consequence?" Monsieur asked, after a brief visit to his
kitchen.

"I am uneasy. That is all." she said. "Always we know there has been
something; mysterious about Monsieur Wildburn's boat. So many people
visit it. They talk and they go away, and now the gunboat lying there.
It seems strange that Mademoiselle should have chosen to give her party
the one night that Monsieur Wildburn is away."

Monsieur rolled and lit a cigarette.

"Disturb yourself no longer, little one," he begged. "I am a restaurant
keeper and you are my wife. We have a great feast to prepare for one who
is well able to pay and has given us two _mille_ already to secure the
tables. To-night we are going to make money. Others can do as they
wish."

Another carload of guests was discharged--good-looking men in their way
but hard men, saturnine in appearance, few of them with the joie de
vivre of the French café lounger in his face. Men with a purpose they
seemed, and there was something too which Monsieur observed but of which
he said nothing to his wife. Here and there war a little bulge in those
queer-shaped side pockets that were very much the fashion in
Marseilles...

There was a murmur amongst the gathering crowd. Some with their
aperitifs still in their hands strolled down to the edge of the water. A
large speedboat had rounded the point and was making for the _plage_. A
whisper went about.

"It is Tanya--Tanya warned us that she would come by sea."

Monsieur of the restaurant shaded his eyes with his hand and looked
seawards.

"Perhaps," he murmured, "Mademoiselle was not wise."

A loiterer standing by him heard the words and noticed the little streak
of white which capped the waves in the distance.

"Something which arrives, eh Monsieur?" he demanded.

"Nothing of any account," Monsieur replied.

The speedboat anchored about twenty yards from the landing-stage. The
loiterers took little dinghies out, and the speedboat unloaded a couple.
She was crowded herself with the remainder of the guests of the evening,
and there was a shout of welcome when Mademoiselle stepped on shore.
Tanya was her old self. Her eyes seemed on fire. She needed no rouge
upon her cheeks. Her hair, already disarranged by the wind, blew wildly
about her face. She was dressed in black, but she wore a red shawl
draped loosely over her shoulders. As she stepped onto the _plage_ there
was a sudden forest of uplifted hands, the murmur of a song, and then
the song itself--the Red March, rolling, thunderous music--a march
prohibited in France and all over Europe where the forces of government
were strong enough to insist without indiscretion. They came to the
scattered group of tables under the shed, singing the words and swaying
their bodies to the music, and presently they forgot to sing while they
clapped.

"Monsieur Crestner," Tanya called out, shaking hands with his wife and
himself, "our feast is prepared--yes?"

"Everything is prepared, Mademoiselle," Madame assured her. "This is a
great honour that you have done us. If only we could have accommodated
more. They keep ringing up for tables, but I say that it is impossible.
I have six extra waiters. I hope that everything will be well
served--that Mademoiselle will excuse."

"We will excuse everything," Tanya declared gaily. "Let there be plenty
of food and wine and we will help ourselves. We are hungry, and, above
all, we are thirsty."

The man by her side, a man of gigantic frame, but of savage, unpleasant
expression, clapped his hands together.

"Mademoiselle Tanya speaks the truth," he said, "but there are other
things, too, in our blood."

She pulled him by the sleeve.

"Sit down," she enjoined. "The time is not yet."

An officer from the _Fidélité_ drove up in a taxicab and on his way to the
landing stage stared around him in amazement. A sudden silence fell upon
the crowd at the sight of his uniform. He had an uneasy feeling that he
was the cynosure of a hundred hostile gazes. He paused, however, and
addressed one of the waiters whom he knew.

"What on earth is this which goes on to-night?" he demanded.

"It is Mademoiselle Tanya, the great danseuse, who gives a party," the
man explained.

The officer smiled. He knew nothing of Mademoiselle, save as a danseuse.
He looked towards the table where she sat and saluted. She waved her
hand.

"Queer looking lot to-night," he muttered to the boatman who was
lounging at the end of the pier, looking earnestly out to sea.

"Shan't be sorry to see the back of 'em, sir," was the fervent reply.

A gendarme, who was on duty all day to regulate the traffic, crept round
to the back of the shed and mounted his bicycle. An inspiration had
arrived to him. He had overheard scraps of the conversation at the head
table where Tanya was seated with a little crowd of men whose appearance
was not altogether festive.

At their extemporised dining table on the fringe of the pine woods,
which reached almost to the villa itself, General Perissol and Louise
sat lingering over an unusually late dinner. From where they sat the bay
was almost hidden although faint sounds of revelry below mounted at
times to their hearing. Perissol, after many hours of hard and
continuous fighting, was realising, perhaps for the first time, the glow
of an undisturbed happiness. Louise, notwithstanding the new softness in
her eyes and her general air of regained youth, showed some faint signs
of anxiety as every now and then the strains of music and the faint
echoes of laughter floated up from the _plage_. Coffee had been served and
the servants had disappeared. She leaned forward and smoothed his hand.

"Tell me," she begged, "why you seem to worry no longer about the _Bird
of Paradise_? Is there something which you have not confided to me?"

He shook his head.

"Nothing in the world, my dear Louise," he assured her. "I have simply
tried to look at the matter philosophically. The situation, as it exists
down in the bay there, is a kind of stalemate. The young American is
obstinate, perhaps not over-intelligent, but he is honest. He will not
part with the boat or anything in her to a soul. She is his destined
wedding present to Lucienne de Montelimar. There remains Edouard
Mermillon, of course, and the Baron de Brett. I should find it hard to
believe that Mermillon was personally concerned or incriminated in any
records left by Tositi, but I can quite understand that for the sake of
the stability of the Government he would loathe their appearance. On the
other hand, what can he do about it? There lies the _Fidélité_ with her
guns trained upon the _Bird of Paradise_, and powerful enough to blow
her out of the water at any moment, and searchlights to prevent her
crawling out at any hour in the dark. What then can happen? You see the
situation is still within my reach."

"Exactly what do you mean by that?"

"It should be within my province," he explained, "to land a mixed force
of gendarmes and marines from the gunboat upon the _Bird of Paradise_,
and with all proper diplomatic excuses to young Wildburn seize her in
the name of the French Government."

"To tell you the truth," she said, "that is what I thought you would
have done before now."

"Supposing I did so," he went on. "Supposing, in the course of a search
by technical experts, I discovered these reports concealed in her by the
cunning of Tositi. Supposing they incriminated Chauvanne, Despard,
Montelimar indirectly perhaps, and more important than anyone,
Mermillon, would I dare to pass that evidence on to the Commission?
Would I dare to attack Mermillon in the Chamber, or even to hint a word
concerning the honour of the President? To do so would be to let loose
the dogs of war with a vengeance. From the Pyrenees to the Channel
France would be in the throes of an earthquake, and what that earthquake
might not spell for her heaven only knows."

The faint shadow of trouble in Louise's face deepened.

"You seem to have left out one possible contingency, Armand," she
reminded him. "There are men amongst the Communist party who are alive
to every move in the game. I have noticed strange-looking people
on the _plage_ the last few days, and there is this woman from
Marseilles--Tanya--who they say is a very firebrand amongst them. Think
what it would mean if these records, or whatever they are, fall into
their hands. They would have no scruple in publishing them. To plunge
France into a revolution is the only way they could ever come into
power. Sometimes I think that that is the greatest danger we have to
face. That man Clairemond, who writes for even some of the decent
papers, is brilliantly clever, and when he commits himself to print he
is almost convincing. They say his speeches are different, but amazingly
eloquent."

"You give me something to reflect upon, Louise," he admitted
thoughtfully. "You put your hand upon the weak point in the situation
without a doubt. Somehow or other Communism has failed so utterly
wherever it has been put to the trial--Italy and Germany are glaring
examples--that one thinks of it all the time as discredited. After all,
though, its fundamentals skilfully handled by a person of moderation
might be dangerous enough just now. The patriotic Frenchman has had a
great deal to forgive during the last twelve months. He will have a
great deal more to forgive before we are in smooth waters again."

"Supposing the Communists get hold of these records?" she persisted
bluntly.

"Under the guns of the _Fidélité_?" he asked incredulously.

"My dear Armand," she remonstrated, "there is one quality, at least, you
must remember that the Communists possess. They possess a desperate
fanatical courage. Listen!"

There floated up to them from the _plage_ below the strains of harsh but
vivid singing in unison.

"You hear that?" Louise exclaimed. "You know what it is. It is the
marching song of the Communists--their battle song. Armand! Only half a
mile away from them lies the _Bird of Paradise_. Supposing they know!"

He rose quickly to his feet. She held his wrist. They both listened.
Coming up the winding avenue they could hear the engine throbs of a
high-powered car, the scrunching of gravel thrown away at the curves,
then they saw the flashing of lights through the shrubs.

"Wait, Armand," she begged. "Here comes news of some sort."

The two men who hurried out on to the terrace, ushered there by Raymond
with an entire lack of ceremony, were easily recognisable. There was
Monsieur Vigon, the Mayor of Antibes, and by his side, a step or two
already in front of him--for Monsieur Vigon had eaten of many banquets
and was inclined to be obese--came Sarciron, the local head of police.

"We have disturbing news, sir, from below," Raymond said quickly.
"Monsieur Sarciron, please make your report."

Sarciron wasted no words.

"Mademoiselle Tanya, the danseuse," he announced, "who is perhaps the
most dangerous figure amongst the Communists of the south here, is
giving an extraordinary reception and dinner down on the _plage_. Fifty or
sixty leaders of the party have come over from Marseilles in an autobus
and all the leaders in this district from Cannes to Menton, and some few
even from Lyons, have arrived. There are a hundred of them feasting
there below and they seem to have some purpose. A report I have just
received, General, declares that everyone of them is armed."

"A dinner, eh? A feast?" the General exclaimed. "They sing--dance? They
seem jovial?"

"They do nothing but sing the Red March," Sarciron declared. "They mean
mischief if ever a hundred men did mean mischief. They have left the
scum behind. These are strong men we have to deal with."

"How many gendarmes can you send down to the _plage_?" the General asked
quickly.

"Not more than a dozen, sir," Sarciron answered, "and two of them are
under suspicion. They were discovered reading Communist literature."

"Writing materials, Raymond, quickly. No, write yourself. Bring me the
paper to sign. Write to Colonel Dupresson, or the Commanding Officer in
charge of the Chasseurs Alpins at Antibes. Ask him to despatch one
hundred to two hundred fully armed men, properly detailed on motor
bicycles or in cars, to the _plage_ here without a moment's delay. Write a
similar letter to General Fausson at Nice, but send the message to
Antibes first."

Raymond shot away into the darkness. Perissol lifted the telephone which
stood upon the table and spoke to the house. Presently a young man of
disturbed appearance hurried out.

"I am very sorry to report, sir," he announced, "that the private
telephone service which we had established between the _Fidélité_ and this
villa has been tampered with."

"Tampered with?" the General repeated.

"The wire is quite dead," the young man replied. "It has certainly been
cut."

"Go to the nearest point of the _plage_," Perissol ordered. "Swim or row
to the _Fidélité_ and report. I shall send another messenger in case of
accident. Ask them to fill their pinnace with as many fighting units as
the ship can afford--fully armed. Tell the commander, with my
compliments, that we are expecting an attack upon the _Bird of Paradise_
by a gang of Communists. Order the car as you go out."

The General took brusque leave of everybody.

"Louise," he directed, "you remain here. Monsieur le Maire, if there is
any sort of an aimed force you can muster at Antibes send them along,
otherwise there is nothing you can do. Sarciron, back like the wind and
bring all the gendarmes you can. Have your people telephone the alarm to
Juan. Let it be understood that this is no ordinary Communist
after-dinner riot. It is a serious affair with a serious object, and
every Frenchman who refuses to serve on behalf of the law is asking for
trouble. Spread that everywhere. What the mischief's that?"

From down below in the bay came the dull booming of a gun. Almost
immediately afterwards a strange sort of darkness seemed to hang over
the bay. Louise ran lightly to the end of the terrace and jumped on to
the parapet. She turned round--a shrouded, almost indistinguishable
figure.

"The searchlights on the _Fidélité_ have stopped!" she cried.

CHAPTER XXVII

Hamer Wildburn, with the great headlights of his coupe flaming, swung
round the last corner into the Garoupe lane which led to the _plage_ and
then jammed on his brakes furiously. Twenty or thirty yards in front of
him someone was standing in the dusk swinging a lantern or torch. A
shower of pebbles flew up. He skidded slightly but recovered. Finally he
brought the car to a standstill within a few feet of the man in the
road.

"What the devil--" he began.

Then he stopped. The man was well enough known, to him, one of the staff
of the bathing beach who waited on him day by day. Something in his
expression checked Hamer's outburst.

"What is it?" the latter demanded, leaning a little wearily over the
wheel. "What's wrong. Pierre?"

The man put a foot upon the step and held on to the dashboard.

"It is impossible to say what is wrong, Monsieur," he said, "but you
should keep away. If you must return to your boat to-night go to the
_château_ landing stage and borrow a dinghy from there."

"Why on earth should I put myself to all that trouble?" Hamer asked in
astonishment.

The man tightened his grip upon the car.

"Monsieur," he confided, "there's bad business on at the _plage_, that is
my belief, for all the gaiety and the popping of corks and the crowd of
people. They have shoved me off, the Crestners have. They do not wish me
around to-night. They will not have any of the regular staff. They have
driven us out without dinner or excuse."

Hamer was as tired as any man might be who had driven 500 kilometres
without stopping from a 'plane that lay smashed to pieces in a ditch,
and a pilot on his way to hospital with a broken leg. He leaned forward
to one of the pockets of the car, drew out a flask and took a drink of
whisky.

"Try and explain, Pierre," he begged. "I shall be better able to ask you
questions in a moment."

"It's that young dancing woman that's been creating such a furore at
Juan-les-Pins," Pierre explained. "She's giving a huge party to-night.
Crestners are not receiving any other guests and they've had to order 20
or 30 more tables. Nearly all the people have come from a distance and,
Monsieur, they're a wicked crowd or I never saw one. Forty came from
Marseilles in one autobus. They looked like cut-throats and the lot from
Nice were not much better."

"Well, I don't suppose they'll stop me getting on my boat," Hamer
observed.

"That I know they mean to do," was the emphatic warning. "There's four
of them standing in that little opening and no four criminals who ever
stood together looked worse than they do! They've just stopped one young
fellow in the darkness. I heard them ask his name and where he was
going. They thought it was you."

"So I am the unpopular person, am I?" Hamer exclaimed.

"I don't know what they want," Pierre answered; "but I do know the order
is that if you come you are to be stopped. What's to happen to you I
don't know, but you are not to be allowed on your boat."

"Have any of them gone on board?" Hamer asked.

"A boatload," the man replied; "and it seemed to me there was another
boatload getting ready when I left. This is not like the other night,
sir," he went on, "when you threw them young gents into the sea. That
was more or less of a lark, I expect. There's no lark about this. You
know what sort of people these are?"

"How the devil should I?" Hamer asked wearily.

"Well, I'll tell you. Communists--anarchists--the riff-raff of Marseilles
and Nice. They have been singing the Red Victory March all through
dinner-time. And that Mademoiselle Tanya, she's been making speeches to
them till they nearly roared the awning off. They're like a lot of
madmen. You turn round, sir, and get back to the hotel or somewhere
safe. That boat of yours isn't worth what they say they're going to do
to you if you interfere with them."

Hamer thought hard for several moments. Gradually the situation became
clearer to him.

"The gunboat is still lying there?" he inquired.

"There's something wrong about her, too," Pierre declared. "I don't know
anything about it, Monsieur Wildburn, and I don't want to say anything
that leads to trouble, but her communications with the shore are broken
and I could have sworn I heard firing on board a few minutes ago...Don't
you try to get back by the _plage_, Monsieur Wildburn. There's at least a
hundred and twenty men down there--picked men, I should say. They may
have had a bottle or two of wine and a drink of brandy; but that's made
them the more dangerous. They're not going to let you on board. You keep
out of it. Your boat isn't worth it."

"Perhaps you're right, Pierre," Hamer admitted. "I'll keep out of it.
What about you?"

"Oh, my room is just at the corner, sir. I'm like you--I'm going to keep
out of it. I don't understand what it's all about, but what I do know is
that if the marines from the gunboat interfere or the gendarmes come
down there's going to be a bloody fight. It's not my affair. I'm off to
the wife and children."

"You're a good fellow, Pierre. Were you up here looking for me?"

"I was, sir," the man acknowledged. "There's been a rumour going round
that you were on your way here. Then there was another rumour that you
had had a smash in an aeroplane. Then someone else thought that you had
got a car at Lyons. There's just one thing, sir, I must mention. That
wicked looking young woman who has got them all on fire, she gave her
orders, and they were not half orders, either! You were to be stopped
going on your boat, but if you came to any harm without her instructions
she was going to shoot the man who did it."

Hamer smiled faintly.

"She's a great person in the wrong place, Pierre," he said, slowly
commencing to back down the lane with Pierre standing on the step. "She's
the disciple of a dangerous faith--sublime for some, hell for others who
have no understanding."

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't understand, monsieur," he confessed.

Hamer only shook his head. They had reached the corner of the road, and
Pierre stepped off the car. Hamer turned round and threw in his clutch.

"You take my advice sir, and clear right away." Pierre begged. "If you
show yourself on the _plage_--Mademoiselle Tanya or no Mademoiselle
Tanya--they mean bloodshed."

"I'm making for shelter all right, Pierre," Hamer assured him, with a
farewell wave of a hand.

Cautiously, with lights extinguished, Hamer drove through the _château_
woods, past the _château_ itself, and down the steep way that led to the
private landing stage. Here he left the car in a sheltered spot, and
from behind a clump of trees looked out upon the bay. In a sense it was
an amazing sight. The restaurant seemed to be packed with dark figures.
Some of the tables were dragged out on to the sands. One heard voices
shouting for the waiters, demanding more wine. One man had fallen off
his chair and lay on the sands, but on the whole there were few signs of
drunkenness--more of ferocious waiting. Little companies of men were
walking arm-in-arm along the edge of the water. Many were standing
looking out seawards--arguing, talking with one another. Around the bar
they were standing three or four deep. Madame's plump, comely form could
be seen leaning over the counter where she was still opening wine, still
filling the glasses. Out in the bay there seemed to be a good deal of
movement upon the _Fidélité_, but very little illumination. The
searchlights which had been in full swing, were inactive. It was all
Hamer could do to make out the dim shape of the _Bird of Paradise_.
There were lights in her galley but some attempt seemed to have been
made to shade them. From the rigging there was a single lantern hanging
on the starboard side...

Hamer often wondered afterwards at the deliberation which marked his
actions for the next half-an-hour or so. There were several courses
which occurred to him. One was to swim out to the _Fidélité_ and consult
Commander Berard as to how to deal with the situation, taking into
account the possible invasion of his own boat. He discarded that because
it was perfectly obvious that there was something wrong on the _Fidélité_
herself. As to the _plage_--Pierre's warning had been quite justified.

Hamer seemed to be developing instincts altogether strange to him. He
listened for several moments before he moved and he resisted with an
effort an intense desire to light a cigarette. He covered over the
engine of his car with a rug, looked round it to be sure that all was in
order, although there was in his mind a grave doubt as to whether he
should ever use it again, stripped himself of everything but his
underclothes and shoes, and made his way carefully down the precipitous
slope to the rocky edge of the bay. He kept inside the enclosed part of
the wood until he was at the nearest point to the _Bird of Paradise_,
then he scaled the wall, waded out over the happy hunting-grounds of the
fishers for sea-urchins, kicked off his shoes and swam very softly and
slowly towards the yacht. It seemed lo him that the very fact of his
lazy strokes, his disappearance every now and then under water
altogether, incited an unnatural activity of his brain. He thought out
the possibilities. Tanya would have selected, perhaps, half a dozen of
the strongest and most dependable of her adherents to seize the boat.
She had probably received from somewhere or other an idea as to where to
search. The men were at work now, without a doubt, breaking open the
secret parts of the boat very likely endangering her seaworthy
qualities. Possibly they were working right down in the hull where
sounds would only come to them in a muffled undernote. They would keep a
look-out, though.

That must be reckoned with...

Slowly he came up to the surface. The easterly wind was sending in a
good many white-flecked waves now and he hoped that his head would be
quite invisible. There was a muffled glare of light in one place in the
galley and a subdued light aft. He could just make out the dinghy
rocking rather violently about ten yards from the stern. It was towards
this he directed his very cautious movements. His sense of distance was
accurate enough, for when again he came up he was within a few feet of
the dinghy. He turned on his back, listened intently and watched. There
was a man on deck seated by the companionway, obviously the man on
guard. He seemed almost formless but he was smoking a cigarette, the
thin end of which was a point in the gloom. Hamer swam on a few more
strokes until he could clutch the bows of the dinghy He rested there for
a moment to take breath, then very slowly he hoisted himself into the
boat He had made no sound and the man on deck had apparently heard
nothing. The point of light from his cigarette was still obliquely
turned away. Hamer leaned forward and scrutinised the lights on the
_plage_. They were all very vague and indistinct from this distance but
there was a gramophone going and plenty of people moving about. Nothing
was to be seen on the stretch of sea between him and the _plage_. There
was no sound of cars which might have indicated approaching danger.
Slowly he began to paddle with his hands, first with one, swinging the
dinghy round to the reverse side on which the lookout man was seated and
afterwards paddling very slowly, moving her only a foot or so at a time
until she came in touch with the _Bird of Paradise_ herself. He caught
hold of the chains and pulled himself stealthily, along. As soon as he
was exactly behind the man seated on the other side he pulled himself up
by the chains and, with absolute noiselessness, reached the deck.
Arrived there he crouched down for a moment behind the small water
reservoir. The man on the other side continued to smoke. From down in
the galley there came the sound of voices--eager, staccato voices which
might well have belonged to men engaged upon a desperate search. He
peeped in through one of the portholes. The door leading from the galley
into the little salon was closed and the salon in darkness. That in
itself was an immense relief. Once down the companionway he could enter
his bedroom and barricade himself in. He felt around until he found what
he sought--an iron spanner which was used to unscrew the orifices which
permitted the entrance of fresh water. He balanced it in his
hand--perhaps just heavy enough. He had instinctively a hatred of
bloodshed but he was nerved at that moment for a great enterprise and
nothing else intervened. He crawled a step backwards until he was
exactly behind the dozing man. He raised himself on his knees. He crept
inch by inch a little nearer, then with his left hand he gripped the
boom. With his right he raised and brought down the spanner he was
carrying with the whole of his strength on to the head of the dozing
man.

For the first time Hamer abandoned then those stealthy movements which
had been a continual strain upon him. His victim had slithered sideways
and the cry which burst through his lips in momentary agony died away in
a sort of gurgle, so that it was doubtful whether anyone below could
hear him. Hamer sprang down the companionway in one leap, slipped
through the entrance into his own cabin, locked and bolted the door.

Even then he was not sate, for a revolver through any of the portholes
would follow him wherever he went. He closed all these and screwed them
up there was still no noticeable sound. He tore out a jersey and a pair
of trousers, slipped one revolver into his hip pocket and rapidly loaded
the heavier one of army type which he kept in a drawer below his
wardrobe. Then he sat down on the edge of his bunk. It appeared to him
that the time had arrived for a little further reflection. Scarcely half
a dozen breathless seconds had passed, however, before he leaped to his
feet with a cold shiver--not perhaps of fear but born of some sense of
impending danger. Something on the bed had moved. On his first entrance
he had seen a little mound of clothes and forgotten it. He caught hold
of the counterpane with his left hand, holding his gun tightly in his
right. Again, what he saw nearly forced an interjection from his lips.
Auguste, bound hand and foot, with a gag in his mouth and a nasty cut
under his right eye, was lying there breathing faintly--unshaven and
dishevelled, J a ghastly sight on the blood stained bedclothes. There
was life enough in the man, however, for him to shake his head as though
in warning.

CHAPTER XXVIII

Hamer always afterwards believed that his actions in that brief hour or
two were governed by some automatic function as well as by the quick
working of his brain. He had made no sound at Auguste's touch, he
uttered no exclamation when he saw him. In half a dozen seconds his
clasp knife was working at the leather thongs which secured the gags. In
less than a minute Auguste was a free man. It was the latter then who
broke the spell. With the urge for silence instinctively forced upon
both of them, he permitted himself the slightest of groans as he tried
to swing himself on to his feet.

"How did Monsieur arrive here?" he asked. "Swam from the _château_ rocks,"
Hamer whispered. "I had to smash a fellow's head in who was on deck.
He's lying still enough. How many of the others are there?"

"Seven." Auguste answered. "They came in Crestner's old longboat. Seven
of them--bad men all. Knives as well as guns."

"What are they doing now?"

"Tinkering with the mast. They are looking for hidden records."

"Mademoiselle has not been round?" Hamer asked anxiously.

"Late this afternoon. She went away when she found you were not here."

"Where's Jean?"

"Went after the water two hours ago. I expect they knocked him on the
head."

Hamer paused for a moment. There was a sound forward as though of sawing
wood, a mumble of voices.

"Why aren't the searchlights playing from the _Fidélité_?" Hamer demanded.
"What's happened to them all?"

"Mutiny," was the brief response. "There's been fighting on deck for an
hour. Some of these men who are on board here brought pals from Toulon.
They got amongst the sailors."

"Any fight left in you?"

"I'm still giddy, sir, but I'll do my best," Auguste promised, sitting
up.

Hamer handed him the smaller gun.

"Don't use it unless we are hard pressed," he enjoined. "I don't
understand why the Crestners haven't sent somebody out to see what's
on."

Auguste snorted.

"The young woman who's giving the party there and brought all this gang
down is her old friend," he said. "She knew all of these stage women."

"So it is Mademoiselle Tanya, then?"

"That's her name," Auguste assented. "She ordered supper for a hundred
to-night and they're all here, too, and a few over. If we could have got
word to the General on the hill," he concluded wistfully, "there is the
man who would have swept this lot up."

Hamer suddenly stiffened.

"Be careful, Auguste," he warned him. "They've opened the galley door."

A babel of excited voices reached their ears. Hamer slipped back the
bolt. His gun was still clutched firmly in his right hand, but he swung
round towards Auguste.

"Look here Auguste," he said. "We can't fight in here; we should just be
like rats in a trap. I'm going to open the door. If these fellows have
found what they wanted perhaps they will go away quietly. If they
haven't, we may as well have it out with them face to face."

There was no time for consultation. Hamer threw open the door. He stood
in the small space with the open door of the salon in front of him, the
steps on to the deck on his left, the small toilet room on his right.
His right hand gripping his revolver was outstretched, but the barrel
pointed downwards. He had a lightning-like impression of four men seated
at the table, one on the threshold of the galley, another fidgeting
about behind. One of the men at the table was busy with a corkscrew and
a bottle of champagne.

"Help yourselves, gentlemen," Hamer invited. "Anything I have here on
board is at your service, but if your hands go down to your pockets
there's going to be trouble."

They all turned their faces towards him--an evil-looking crowd, most of
them of the sleek desperado type. One, the furthest from him, wearing a
pince-nez, might have been a clerk in some public office. The lapel of
his coat was torn as though some button had been removed for the
occasion. Still holding his hands above his head, he rose to his feet
and addressed a few rapid words to his companions. The man in the
galley, whose hand had been stealing downwards, paused. He kept his eyes
on Hamer, though, and very wicked eyes they were.

"How did you get here?" he demanded.

"This is my own boat, anyway," was the swift reply. "What I should like
to know is what you others are doing here."

The man with the pince-nez evidently had some authority. He swept aside
a chorus of blasphemous rejoinders.

"If you are Wildburn," he said, "I will answer your question. We came
here to find a message left for us upon this boat. We have the plan of
the place. You may have bought the boat, but you never bought the
message. We came to search for it, to take it--by force if necessary. The
message is gone. The hiding-places are empty."

"Nothing to do with me," Hamer disclaimed. "I know nothing of any hiding
places on this boat, nor anyone who has left messages for you or anyone
else. I bought the yacht from an agent in Marseilles."

"Listen," the man of the pince-nez went on, "You can almost see from
where you stand. Your foremast is in sections. There are seventeen of
them altogether, in number one, three, seven, nine, fourteen, and two
other numbers there were records concealed. In case of disaster to our
comrade they were to be used on his behalf. Our comrade was murdered. We
came to find those records and the places where they were are empty."

"Who are you?" Hamer asked.

"There is no necessity for me to answer your question," was the sneering
retort. "We are here. We hold the bay as we hold your ship. Those papers
have gone. It is you who must have removed them. You might have time to
shoot a couple of us before we got to work, but there are five more left
on board, and a hundred on the _plage_, besides a few comrades over there
on the gunboat. You have not one chance in a thousand of getting out of
this alive, unless you tell us where to find those records. Make up your
mind quick."

"Yes, you are quite light to tell me to hurry," Wildburn scoffed. "You
will see your hundred men on the _plage_ legging it for their holes in a
few minutes, and you will feel the handcuffs on your wrists in less if
you don't clear out of this. There's a gentlemen on the hill there who
knows something about you fellows. He will be here when he's ready."

Hamer's words carried conviction. Two of the men half-rose to their
feet.

"Get at it, Laporte," one of them shouted. "Cut your words short. The
records or a bullet."

"My comrades are impatient, you see," their spokesman went on, "have you
those records?"

"I have not. I know nothing about them. I have never seen them."

"Who are your crew?"

"One named Jean went for water two or three hours ago. He is still on
the _plage_."

"Right," the other replied. "He is locked up. Who else?"

"Auguste, my _matelot_, whom you seem to have disposed of pretty well."

"Is he the man who can neither read nor write?"

"You have been correctly informed," Wildburn answered. "He can neither
read nor write. He would not know what your records were if he saw them,
and he happens to be an honest fellow. If he found anything on this ship
which had been secreted, he would bring it to me."

"Whom have you allowed to search this ship?"

"I have allowed no one," Wildburn declared. "It seems to me that you
have been fooled. The agents must have known all about these hiding
places. They probably took care to empty them before they sold the
boat."

The man with the pince-nez bit his nails furiously. He looked over the
tops of his fingers at Hamer, and all the malice in the world was in
that look.

"We have reason to believe," he said, "that the records were here in
their places not a week ago. If they had been disturbed, all France
would have been disturbed. There are some secrets that could never be
kept, and the finding of these records would have been one of them."

Two of the fiercest-looking of the men at the table rose and shouted one
against the other.

"Thirty seconds," the one with the louder voice yelled. "Give him 30
seconds, Laporte. It is enough. We will tear the truth out of him. One
of us may get a bullet. Who cares? We will have his tongue out of his
head. There are seven of us and plenty more to come. It is for The
Cause, you others! He is lying to us, this man. Thirty seconds! No
more."

The man with the pince-nez looked deprecatingly across at Hamer. He
appeared, as he was, the perfect hypocrite.

"I regret, monsieur," he said. "Mine would have been the gentler way but
I am over-ruled. You may pay with your life if you cannot tell us
anything more about those records. I shall begin to count. One--"

Hamer held out his hand.

"One second," he begged. "On my word of honour I will make no movement.
I ask you--all of you or any one of you who likes. Get on your knees.
Look through those portholes. When you have seen what I can see perhaps
you may reflect. They would not think much of hanging seven men for one
murder so long as those men came from Marseilles."

Somehow or other they believed him. The sight they saw was alarming
enough. From the narrow point where the road curved to Antibes right
past the rival restaurant along the road to Crestner's there seemed to
be one tangle of flashing lights. Vehicles of some sort were streaming
down from the hill. Their lights flared through the closely-grown pine
woods. Everywhere was an orgy of illumination, and even while they
looked there was a clear sonorous voice from immediately below.

"_Bird of Paradise_ ahoy! Commander Berard from the _Fidélité_."

"Get any men?" Hamer shouted.

"Twenty--and thirty coming. We have had trouble but it is over. We are
coming on board."

"Put out to sea," the most desperate of the men demanded, watching the
others struggling into the galley. "Never mind whether you have time or
not. Gino, start the engine!"

Hamer laughed at him.

"Look out of the porthole, you fool," he said. "Can't you feel the sea
beneath your feet? If the anchors hold we are safe here, but it would
take you half an hour to get them up. We are on a corps mort. There is
no harbour on this coast you could get the _Bird of Paradise_ into when
you had them up."

There was the sound outside of the men jumping into the cutter in which
they had arrived. Only the man of the pince-nez remained in his place.
He sat at the table with folded arms.

"I am in charge of the political side of this visit," he declared. "I am
not armed. I have nothing to do with those threats. We were here merely
to recover our stolen property."

There was the sound of firing outside. Berard sprang over the side and
came crashing down the stairs. There were a dozen marines behind him.

"Thank Heaven you're safe, Wildburn!" he exclaimed. "Who is this?"

"I have not been presented," Hamer replied. "I found him on board the
ship. He was the leader of the boarding party who are just making for
the _plage_."

Berard signed to two of the marines behind him.

"I am Deputy Laporte." the little man said with stuttering dignity. No
true Frenchman will lay a hand upon me."

"We will see about that," the commander answered tersely. "There are
several true Frenchmen of the type you talk about already in irons, and
one or two of them shot."

The deputy shivered.

"I have not broken the law," he complained. "I am here to search for the
property of a comrade."

The commander smiled, rather a ferocious looking effort at mirth.

"You are one of the men," he said sternly, "who was distributing those
secret pamphlets, one of which I found on the _Fidélité_. It was you who
brought a handful of them to the marines I had placed on guard here. You
know the penalty for doing that, I suppose, to sailors or soldiers in
uniform?"

The little man was ghastly white, but he bluffed once more.

"When the day comes," he threatened, "officers of the French army or
navy with a black mark against their names will be the first to suffer.
In a few minutes my bodyguard will be here. We have a hundred men in the
_plage_."

"Take him on board and lock him up," Berard ordered, "then come back and
fetch me. Have a look at your hundred men if your eyes are good enough,"
he advised Laporte. "There are four hundred soldiers from the barracks
at Antibes on the _plage_, and more streaming in--and pretty well all the
gendarmes in the neighbourhood. They will have to open the old military
prison at Antibes to hold your lot to-night."

The little man shrunk back in his corner.

"You can't arrest me!" he expostulated. "I have already told you that I
am a deputy--Deputy Laporte of the Rhone Department."

"Well, if you are, so much the worse for you," Berard replied.
"Sergeant, my idea is changed," he went on, turning to his man. "Take
him ashore. Hand him over to the officer in command of the _chasseurs_.
Tell them who he is. I won't have him on my ship. He will be safer in
Antibes prison. Tell them he was in command of the expedition here, and
is taking the responsibility for it."

Laporte made a show of dignity.

"There will come a time," he prophesied, as he rose to his feet, "when
you will listen to another sort of command."

Berard laughed scornfully.

"I doubt whether you will be there to hear it, my little friend," he
said, waving the man away.

"Any casualties?" the commander asked, as he seated himself opposite to
Hamer Wildburn, a bottle of Scotch whisky and a syphon between them.

"Only my _matelot_ here a trifle knocked about," Hamer replied, pouring
some whisky into a tumbler and passing it to him. "Then there's a man I
hit on the head with a spanner lying on the deck. Auguste, just have a
look round behind and report. I'm afraid they've made a mess of your
galley."

"They have ruined the mizzen-mast," the man muttered. "Here's wishing
you good health, sir," he added, helping himself very sparsely to the
soda water. "I hope if ever I find myself again in a scrap like this that
I shall be next a gentleman who holds his gun as steady as you, Monsieur
Hamer. You had 'em scared for a minute or so, sir, the whole lot of
them."

Berard also helped himself to a long drink, for now that the excitement
was passed he was obviously depressed.

"It's the one thing, this, in the navy." he explained to Hamer, "that we
dread. Everything in the shape of mutiny reflects back on the officers.
I wouldn't have believed it with some of the men. There was one I shot
with my own hand. He was only married last week and going on leave
to-morrow. There's plenty of this sort of stuff at Toulon, of course,
but I never dreamt there was any of it here or I would have curtailed
leave."

"Don't you worry, old chap," Hamer said, patting him on the shoulder.
"You don't suppose I shall forget that you turned up here in the nick of
time. I think they meant business--that little deputy fellow especially.
They wouldn't believe that we had not got the papers or whatever it was
they were searching for."

"Well, I'm glad you made straight for the _Bird of Paradise_," Berard
declared. "There was something suspicious about the way she was lying so
quietly. They put my searchlights out of order, but I knew that was a
strange boat alongside. What the devil were they after?"

Hamer Wildburn shook his head. "I think I know," he said.

They mounted the companionway at the sound of oars. A junior officer
saluted and reported to Berard.

"The fighting is all over, sir. Ten of the _chasseurs_ were killed and two
gendarmes wounded, and one of our men got a bullet in his leg. Twenty of
that Communist rag-tag and bobtail are stretched out there, half a dozen
or so escaped, and the rest are for Antibes and Grasse prisons. It is
all quiet now, and the place locked up."

"What about Mademoiselle Tanya," Wildburn asked.

"Madame Crestner drove her off directly the shooting began. They will
arrest her when they want her."

"If there's nothing more I can do," Berard observed, holding out his
hand to Hamer, "I had better be looking after my own little troubles. We
have brought you back your second _matelot_--Jean. They simply locked him
up and refused to let him come back. Shall I leave you an escort?"

"Not in the least necessary," Hamer declared. "I think they're all
satisfied that what they want is not on the _Bird of Paradise_. Besides,
they're pretty well cleaned up for the night."

He strolled on deck and waved his hand to Berard as he stepped into the
pinnace. The sea had gone down, and the moon was beginning to shine
dimly through the misty bank of clouds. There were several stationary
vehicles still at La Garoupe, but the place itself was in darkness.
Neither did the _château_ show any sign of life. The lights along the
coast road had been extinguished. Only the lighthouse still flung its
long beam across the bay over the dark woods and out seawards. Hamer
descended the companionway and entered the saloon. Auguste was standing
there with a somewhat puzzled look upon his face.

"I ask myself, monsieur," he said, taking from under his arm a pair of
disreputable and ragged blue trousers. "It could not have been by any
chance this rubbish that all them people have been smelling around
after?"

He lifted the trousers up by the legs and shook them. Odd rolls of
paper, what seemed to be the stubs of many empty cheque books, a package
of letters, and a larger packet of more formal-looking documents stamped
with the seal of the French Republic, were shaken out on to the table.
Then, last of all, with a black seal upon the envelope, was a letter
addressed to three names:

"_A Monsieur Edouard Mermillon, Monsieur le Baron Albert de Brett, ou
Monsieur Eugene Chauvanne_."

Hamer stared at them in amazement. He had remained cool throughout a
somewhat disturbing night, but he suddenly felt the walls of the little
saloon spinning round him. Auguste scratched his head.

"I emptied this rubbish out of those places in the mast months ago, and
laid them away in this old pair of trousers," he explained. "Me not
being able to read, they seemed just like rubbish."

"Just rubbish." Hamer repeated.

Like a man in a dream he rose to his feet. He held the bottom of one of
the legs of the soiled, disreputable trousers in one hand and he passed
the other to Auguste, then one by one he picked up the alarming-looking
pile of documents and papers which lay upon the table, and dropped them
down into their crude hiding-place. In addition to the papers which had
first caught his eye, there were many others full of equally potent
significance. There was a batch of perfumed and coroneted letters. There
were at least a dozen independent cheque books--some not half-used. There
was one loose cheque, the figures of which seemed to reach from one end
of the blue oblong strip to the other. There were hastily scrawled
letters. There was a parchment-bound cipher with a marvellous key. And
there were deeds with great seals upon them--black and red and green. In
they all went, and still scarcely realising what he was doing, Wildburn
rolled up the trousers and secured them with a soiled white canvas belt.
He held the bundle under his arm and turned towards Auguste. His knees
were none too steady. Auguste looked at him anxiously.

"I have done wrong, monsieur?" he asked, in a tone of deep concern.

Hamer shook his head, but found speech difficult.

"I do not know, Auguste," he answered truthfully enough.

As the dawn was breaking Auguste, with a cup of tea on a tray, made his
way into his master's cabin. Still fully dressed, still with his hand
upon the butt of his revolver, Hamer was lying in a semi-recumbent
position upon the bed.

"Monsieur has not slept?" Auguste asked disconsolately.

Hamer waved the question away. It seemed unimportant.

"You have not spoke to Jean?" he asked. "Not I, monsieur," Auguste
declared.

Hamer swung himself into a sitting position. He looked at Auguste as no
other man had ever looked at him in his life.

"You have seen no one else this morning?"

"Not a soul, monsieur."

"Swear on the head of your mother and the souls of your children that
you will open your lips to no one."

"I swear," Auguste, who was a religious man, said solemnly.

Hamer Wildburn drank his tea and went back to bed.

"Sit on the steps outside, Auguste," he directed. "Call me in an hour.
If anyone approaches the boat wake me. You understand?"

"I understand, monsieur," Auguste promised.

CHAPTER XXIX

Monsieur Leon Crotieres, member of the Académie Francais, and perhaps
the most distinguished of modern European historians, paused in his
labours and looked downwards from the grounds of his villa into the Bay
of Garoupe. He pointed to a very graceful thirty-ton yacht below which
was flying the flags of France and the United States.

"My task," he said to his wife, who was also his secretary, "would be an
easier one if that boat, like the singing barge of Ulysses, could talk."

His wife laid down her pencil. The summer heat was making her indolent,
and she, too, was glad to pause.

"Explain, _mon cher_," she begged. "What is there that boat could tell you
that you do not know already?"

"Perhaps nothing," he admitted, "and perhaps a great deal. You knew that
she once belonged to a famous, or rather an infamous, financier who was
supposed to be responsible for that terrible period of speculation and
corruption on a gigantic scale which very nearly brought France to her
knees a year or so ago?"

"Yes I remember hearing that."

"There was a rumour that this financier had built on board a marvellous
hiding place where he kept letters and bank books, and all sorts of
evidence which would have destroyed the reputations of half the famous
men in France if they had been found."

"I remember that, too," she acknowledged. "It made the drama of his
murder so intensely interesting. The police broke in and shot him on the
morning of the investigation."

Her husband nodded absently.

"Supposing they had not," he meditated. "Think how differently the
history of France during those few years might have been written. If
ever there was a case of evil having been done that good might come of
it I should think that it was there."

"You have theories?" she asked He smiled and lit a cigarette.

"I have theories," he admitted. "My dear, to be a true historian you
must have imagination. You are permitted theories but you may not write
about them. I figure to myself that that marvellous secret hiding place
existed, inaccessible unless the _Bird of Paradise_ had been almost
disembowelled. I picture to myself that on the night of the Communist
riot down below, the time when Tanya was singing and stirring the blood
of all Frenchmen--her Communist songs in secret, her exquisite lyrics
before the world--well, I picture to myself that at that time, when there
is no doubt that the _Bird of Paradise_ was seized by Communists and was
almost broken to pieces there in the harbour, these secret documents
really were discovered."

"Are you going to write this," his wife asked eagerly, "because it
sounds as though it might become immensely interesting?"

He smiled again.

"My dear, I could not write it because it is only a theory, and if I
knew it for a fact, still I should have to follow the path that those
far greater men than I have trodden."

"You mean forget?"

"I mean destroy. Sometimes I see it almost in a mirage, and I have hard
work to convince myself that it was not the truth."

"Tell me at least, Leon, what you mean."

"I believe honestly," he declared, "that either one of the Communists
themselves, or someone amongst the defending party, who drove them away,
really did discover those secret records."

"Then what has become of them now?"

"How can one tell? I can sometimes imagine myself going through that
agony of thought and doubt--what to do with them?...There have been
whispers about so many great men. Supposing they had all been
implicated!"

"Supposing they had. Would it not have been well for the whole truth to
come out?"

"I will tell you what would have happened. Tanya knew--she who had
planned that Communist meeting here, planted Communists on the gunboat,
gave that great party down on the beach--she knew well what would have
happened. She knew well that there would not have been a man in France
who could have taken up the government, or even have served in a
Government. The people had suffered enough already. Their nerves were
stretched to breaking-point. They would have been up in arms in every
city in France. France would have gone Communist, and Communism, you
know, my dear, which is all very well in theory when poets talk of it,
and dreamers play the men of action, would really ruin body and soul of
any country which was governed according to its axioms."

"But she recovered even after the Revolution," his wife reminded him.

"This would have been worse. To begin with, she would have been overrun
at once by Germany. She would have become a vassal State. She would have
become the scorn of the world. I picture to myself that some man was
great enough to scatter that evidence to the four winds of heaven and
place their fates--the fates of the guilty--back in their own hands with
a pledge to work out their redemption."

Madame Crotieres moistened the tip of her pencil between her lips. She
was an extraordinarily pretty woman, and in her eyes at that moment
there was a light of longing.

"If only you could have written this," she murmured. "If only you could
have been the discoverer."

He shook his head.

"By chance, my dear," he said, "I know who was on the yacht with that
young American the day after the fighting, and he, I think, was the one
man great enough to have been the saviour of France. You yourself, my
dear, when our work is completed, should be able to divine the truth.
You will never know it any other way...This morning, you see, the sun is
hot and the wind is sweet, and one has fancies. Presently we must go
back to our work and write of the day when General Perissol became
President of France."

* * *

"Darling," Mrs. Hamer Wildburn pouted, "why were you in such a hurry to
get away from the _château_ this morning? I had heaps of things to do, and
I am not at all sure that I have not forgotten half the lunch." Hamer
looked up to the skies. One hand rested upon the wheel of the _Bird of
Paradise_, and one arm was around his wife's waist as she sat in the pit
by his side.

"My dear," he confided, "your father awoke this morning in a most
determined frame of mind. All this summer he has been praying me to
accept the _Hermoine_. This morning I fled to escape argument."

She nodded understandingly.

"It would give him so much pleasure, Hamer, if you would accept it. You
know what he thinks of you. There is nothing in the whole world good
enough."

He drew her a little closer. Auguste had just looked round. The anchor
was up. Jean was busy with the sail. The wind was fair for their cruise.
Watching the sails closely Hamer swung the _Bird of Paradise_ a few
points to leeward.

"Your father has already given me the most precious thing in the world,
Lucienne," he declared. "I don't want anything else. We have quite as
much money as is good for us, and since you won dad's heart so
completely we have to face the certainty of becoming multimillionaires
some day. I have heaps of work when I can find time for it, and we have
that marvellous youngster for a plaything. How could I be happier with a
two hundred ton yacht? If you want it--"

"I want the _Bird of Paradise_ and you," she whispered with her lips
perilously near to his ear. "I think I wanted them from the day I
thought I was going to drown and you pulled me on board."

More dignified in presence than ever, as upright as a year or so before,
the handsomest president Europe had ever known--Perissol--stood
arm-in-arm with his wife in the gardens of his lighthouse hill villa.
His face was more deeply lined because all the cares of a prosperous
nation at times rested upon his shoulders, but his mouth had softened
and the light in his eyes was the light of a lover's happiness.

"Louise," he exclaimed, "look!"

They saw the _Bird of Paradise_ heeling over a little on her way out to
sea. They saw Hamer Wildburn standing up at the wheel and Lucienne by
his side.

"The first day of our holiday, my dear. Isn't that a wonderful sight
Look at them. The happiest couple in the world, I should think, and
perhaps I am the one man in the world who knows how he deserves it."

His face became more thoughtful. Louise's arm tightened upon his.

"What lie did that day--the decision he came to--has made not only France,
but Europe, what it is," he said almost reverently. "His father would
have given him twenty millions, the wealth of empires, for the contents
of those old trousers. He could have become the most famous figure in
history. He could have had the crazy populace of France at his feet, and
all the time he could have satisfied what the Anglo-Saxons are too ready
to call their sense of honour. My dear, it was a miracle. He saw the
truth."

"Please go on, Armand," she begged. "It is almost the first time you
have ever talked like this."

"I have felt too much," he admitted. "I have felt that what came of his
action was too wonderful, that I might wake one morning and find it a
house of cards and the earth quaking again beneath our feet. What he did
will live as a great deed, as France will live. Look at everyone. There
is Montelimar. Nothing would drag him on the Bourse. Nothing would tempt
him back into politics. He remains, though, one of the greatest
philanthropists in France, always ready to do his duty to his country--a
true patriot. Look at Edouard Mermillon. He has brought France back
again into the front rank of the nations. He has made us famous
throughout Europe as a country whose policy is dignified and stable and
whose honour is unsullied. There is not an enemy who does not recognise
Mermillon as one of the greatest of modern statesmen, and he himself--you
do not know it, but I do--he is a poor man. Every penny that ever came
dragged up from that foul pit of corruption has gone back again--and
more. He lives on the pension of a Civil Servant, Half his salary even
goes towards the past. There is no yacht for Mermillon, none of the
great luxuries of life, but if there could be a man whose thoughts,
whose day by day life I might envy--which there could not be--it would be
his. Chauvanne--well, he went where he was headed for...Lavandou. Ah, he
was a hero, but nothing will bring him back again, and he was the first
who made the sacrifice. Look at the men of whom France can boast
to-day."

Her lips stole up to his.

"And their President," she murmured. "The real inspiration of all that
happened. If only that beautiful head of his would come down a little
oftener from the clouds."

He stooped and kissed her. The _Bird of Paradise_ rounded the point, the
west wind in her sails, the line of foam behind. The President and his
wife continued their morning walk along the path thick with pine
needles.



THE END


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