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to contribute to your daughter s comfort."

" We trust," added Sonia, with unexpected
gentleness, " that your prayers for her may be

The mother crossed herself. " May God so will !
My thanks ! " she added, with a return of her
frigid politeness, and with another slight bow
she left them.

" What a very aristocratic old blackbird," re
marked Shorty, after a pause, piqued that her
blonde prettiness had attracted no acknowledg
ment of her existence from the gaunt countess.

" Yes," Sonia gravely assented, " she has
blue blood, as you say."

" I don t say anything of the sort," Miss Bently



sharply objected. " I should, from her appear
ance, suggest Caw s Jet Black Ink, or stove pol

Though early, the dining-room was already
crowded, which necessitated an irritating wait,
but the four were at last settled at a small table,
and the conversation returned to the countess.

"Did you see the lace she wore? Antique
Venetian, and a gem of a piece!" Victoria
spoke with a sort of detached envy.

Sonia nodded. " Yes ; but what made me want
to break the what number Commandment is
it, about envy ? was her pin. Did you notice

" Rather ! " and Victoria s face glowed with ap
preciation. "What was it? I never saw anything
like it."

" Nor I," continued Sonia, " though I ve
seen Here she checked herself, and added,
lamely, " a great deal. It was sixteenth century,
I m certain. Those pendants were unmistakable ;
and I think I never saw such an emerald the
size, the color! "

" It had a big flaw, though," and Victoria took


up the description. " It was the marvellous deli
cacy of the setting and the design that struck me.
I don t believe its intrinsic value is so great, even
with the emerald, but the art of it, the art of it!
It makes the modern work seem absolutely pot-
boiling; there were old masters in jewelry as
well as in paint and stone."

" I think," Sonia continued, " the two gold
dolphins that surround the centre stone must
have been heraldic. I believe it was a sort of
acrostic of a coat-of-arms. I ve seen such pieces
in Russia, and I know they were used in Spain."

" Oh, stop talking like a pair of antiquaries,"
Shorty interrupted. " You don t know anything
about it, and you re missing the circus just
look at the freaks in this salle a manger."

The great bare room did, in fact, present an
extraordinary assortment of humanity. At the
upper end, a long table accommodated fifteen or
twenty priests, whose black garments made a
dark spot in the otherwise bright hall. Next
to them, a gaily dressed, chattering party of
women and men, just arrived in their automobiles
from the estates of Kerkonti and Merone. The



main body consisted of wealthy Breton peasants,
dressed in all the gorgeousness of their feast-day
clothes, and obviously uncomfortable. Here and
there the inevitable, fat, greasy, commercial trav
eller serenely bulked, and the equally fat and oily
bourgeoise-women shopkeepers of Lorient, and
the other adjoining commercial cities, wielded
ready knives. A few elegant but soberly dressed
families attested that the aristocracy of France
is by no means devoid of the faith that animated
its distant forbears. An eminent journalist from
Paris took notes obviously from his position by
the fireplace, a well-known painter, accompanied
by his equally well-known model, sat in the corner.
A lonesome looking English boy, who was " do
ing " Brittany on his wheel, yawned by the win
dow, and a party of very old gentlemen, who
seemed to have no particular reason for attending
the festival, unless, as Victoria suggested, they
hoped for a Faust-like renewal of youth, com
pleted the company.

" I don t see my Englishman," Miss Bently

" Evidently his headache has come on again,

and he s having 1 his supper in his room. The
chambermaid said he hadn t been well," Sonia

The meal dragged on indefinitely, the frantic
serving-wenches vainly trying to cope with the
number of their charges. Every dish was cold
or poor. Soup arrived after the meat, and vege
tables with the pudding. But there was little
objection. Every one was either too devout or
too interested to trouble about food for the time
being. The four dissimilar girls were probably as
much of an incongruity as the other guests or the
distorted meal. Theirs was one of those oddly
combined friendships, evolved in studios, with
which all dw r ellers in France have become familiar.
At bottom there is always the stratum of common
ambitions, appreciation, and Bohemianism, in
spite of unbridgeable divergencies of character
and traditions.

Just now the four were equally delighted. Miss
Bently and Sonia with the paintable qualities of
the pilgrimage; Shorty, with the photographic
possibilities, and Victoria with the human passion
of excitement and faith that ran riot in and about



her. Although her training had been in the field
of applied art, she was slowly but certainly turn
ing toward the alluring fields of literature, her
short experience with newspaper work having
bred ambitions. Now, unconsciously, she groped
for words into which to translate the pictures and
the emotions of the hour, and went about with
sentences speaking themselves in her head so
good sometimes that she longed to jot them down,
yet never quite dared because of a curious self-
consciousness that made her hate to explain
her occupation to her companions. " Hysteria,
the most instantly contagious of diseases," she
caught herself murmuring, as, supper finished,
they again sought the square and its picturesque
gatherings. " I wonder, if it is possible for any
one in his senses to remain unmoved by such an
immense and intensely human cry of faith the
faith of the children, and catered to as to
children." What marvellous charm was in the
lights, the incense, the fountain of healing,
the fairy-tale statue discovered, though buried,
because of the great radiance that shone over
the spot! What mattered it that antiquarians


had pronounced it a Venus, relic of the Roman
occupation? Converted into St. Anne and re-
carved, no saint in Christendom is more efficacious
to cure " as bread pills cure a child," she con
cluded, aloud. Surprised to hear her own voice,
she looked up. She had become separated from
her friends, and had somehow drifted to the
church door. Impulsively, she entered and knelt
for a moment, the better to take in the mystery
of the great building, whose mighty pillars sprang
upwards like giant spouts of water, and spread
across the arched ceiling in a spray of lacy stone.
The lights were dim, but below, by the great
white altar, by the side chapels and at each pillar
foot, thousands upon thousands of candles sent
up a radiance mellowed and softened in the im
mensity of the nave.

The darkness of confessionals and recessed
chapels was gemmed with colored lamps, that
vaguely showed the lines of waiting penitents.
The place reeked with incense, the odor of melted
wax and the vague heaviness of crowded human

The subdued shuffling of feet, the audible



heart-throb of prayer shook the air. Victoria
was glad to be here, to throw herself into the im
mensity of this sea of faith herself unbelieving.
Only by an effort could she free herself from
the mocking of her judgment, and she longed,
yearned, to experience the exaltation of the
least of these sun-tanned, ignorant tillers of the
soil, or the still more romantic faith of those
who plough the sea, and sow the wave-furrows
with their lives and hopes. The votive ships
that hung dimly overhead filled her with visions
of the shipwrecks they commemorated, the
hairbreadth escapes to which they attested by
their presence in the sanctuary. St. Anne s shrine
glowed in its concentrated mass of candles, a
very saint s glory. The legended statue stood
all golden, on the lower table of the altar, where
kissing lips might reach the daintiness of the
embroidered cloth. The church shook with the
dim resonance of chimes, swung far overhead in
the bell-tower. The throng, she observed, was
lighting tapers at the shrine, and she became aware
that each of the pilgrims crowding at her side
carried a candle protected by a folded, funnel-


shaped paper, stamped with the images of St.
Anne and the Virgin. As the lights shone
through the mellow translucence of the parch
ment, they seemed a sudden florescence of myriad
calla lilies of miraculous radiance. Through the
door of the chapel, into the open starlit night,
the pilgrims poured, the procession carrying her
along with it. She disengaged herself for a mo
ment, and rather shamefacedly purchased a can
dle, and begged a light from her neighbor, a
tottering old woman, the white bands of whose
coif were hardly less pale than the face they

The waiting seemed endless in the crowded
night, filled with snatches of hymns and songs.
All was swaying life and excited unrest except
the quiet, unmoved stars overhead. Then the
vast illuminated procession heaved under way.
Once more the chant that had brought the pil
grims to their journey s end in the afternoon
burst forth, both from the candle-bearers and the
dense black human hedge that lined the route.

Gradually the exaltation of Victoria s mood
faded. In its place the artist and the journalist


awoke. How could it be described ? What words
could ever bring the look of it before other eyes ?
What color, what inspiration of the brush, could
reproduce one atom of it? Unconscious of her
actions, she quenched the flame of her taper,
stepped from the ranks of the procession, and,
absorbed into the onlooking multitude, watched
with the interest of her whole complex sensitive
ness, the multitude that streamed by in the glow
of the tapers.

Wonderful! Compelling! the expressions on
those peasant faces, thrown into sharp relief by the
lights that burned beneath and around them. The
intense realism of a Holbein, the shadowed depths
of Rembrandt, the unearthly, grotesque force of
Diirer, and more, more, even the rapt, enthralled
enthusiasm of Fra Angelico, would be necessary
to render their power. And yet, it was not to
be done ! Oh, the centuries bridged by those faces
under the mediaeval head-dresses ! This was no
nineteenth century. That ecstatic woman s head,
in its halo of illuminated linen convolutions, must
be fresh risen from some carven tomb, where its
marble counterpart lies staring blankly at the


Gothic arches overhead. These men and women
around her were they not ghosts of those serfs
of ancient days, unchanged in manner, dress, or
speech ? It was all old, unspeakably old, a mirage
of what had disappeared over the horizon of

The procession turned. Victoria, still in her
dream, followed slowly. Where was she being
led, she wondered vaguely; back to the tombs
into which the ghostly multitude must descend
and disappear until evoked again by the feast
of souls or the intercession of St. Anne?

Into the vast reverberating depths of the church
they poured once more, through its echoing aisles,
past its blinding altar out again through the
connecting porches into the great cloisters of the
monastery. In the centre of the lantern-lighted
court a gigantic crucifix lifted its head, from
w r hich, with horrible realism, a life-size figure
of Christ leaned, bleeding. Choir-boys in red and
white swung censers to and fro.

The high, nasal tenor of a priest s voice intoned
alone for a moment; then the responses broke
from the multitude with the roar of breaking



surf. Again the tenor of the priest, again the
deep, growling bass of the crowd. The mass con
tinued, and the memory of it remained with
Victoria all her life. The smell of incense, the
thin, penetrating voice, the wave thunder of the
litanies. A vision of weird, illuminated faces and
dimly revealed arches, of a pale, far-off, star-
sprinkled sky, against which the martyred Christ
silhouetted, grimly rigid. The chimes rang out,
paused, and the single bourdon throbbed the
hour. Victoria, to her amazement, counted
twelve. Where had the time gone? It seemed
hardly an hour since she slipped into the church.
There was no apparent diminution of the crowd,
and the enthusiasm continued at white heat. She
became suddenly conscious that she was weary
and footsore. Her excited nerves relaxed almost
to the crying point. It was as if the stroke of
midnight had destroyed the enchantment.

Too tired to take any further interest in her
surroundings, her feet and thoughts turned grate
fully hotelwards. The narrow cot at her jour
ney s end suddenly absorbed all her ambitions and
hopes. With lagging steps she made her way


out of the cloisters, and wearily crossed the square,
still vaguely filled with rumor a ghostly remi
niscence of the day s tumult. When she reached
the hotel office it was deserted ; every one was out-
of-doors, apparently. She found a candle and
dragged herself up the long winding stairs and
through the dark passages, guided by instinct and
the smell of hay, to the little corridor connecting
the main building with the lofts. Her room door
gave as she touched it, but no light shone from
within, and suddenly Sonia, her hair falling about
her ears, her eyes wide with excitement, stood
before her. Only an instant the vision lasted, her
candle was extinguished, and Sonia s voice gave
warning in a whisper :

" Be quiet ! Somebody is coming over the

In the darkness the two girls stood listening.
The noise of bells in the square came vaguely
to them. But distinct, though muffled, rasped the
sound of some one walking cautiously over the
tiles. Softly the girls crept to the window, and
standing well back, could make out the top of
the fire-escape leading to the courtyard.



The cautious tread ceased, and was followed
by a slight scraping and shuffling as of some one
crawling. Victoria, with sudden inspiration, re
called a clothes-press in the wall near which
she crouched. She felt for Sonia s hand in the
darkness, secured the extinguished candle, cau
tiously opened the closet door, and entered, closing
it behind her. Hurriedly she struck a light, then
putting down the candle, as quickly slipped into
the room once more.

" It s ready when we want it. I closed the
door so he couldn t see the light or hear the

A soft pressure of Sonia s hand answered her.

The scuffling noise continued, so slight, that
had they not been on their guard it must have
passed unnoticed.

Another telegraphic squeeze passed between
them as the dark bulk of a man s body and head
loomed just above the iron ladder.

A pause, in which the girls held their breath
and listened to the beating of their hearts. The
man looked down, listened, swung his legs clear,
and placed his feet on the fire-escape.


" Now ! " cried Sonia, careless of noise, only
anxious for swiftness. Opening the closet, she
snatched up the light, and leaned out as she raised
it high above her head. " Who s there? " Her
voice rang sharp and loud.

The light fell full on the startled face of the
man. A handsome face, whose yellow hair and
contrasting black eyes were unmistakable.

The Englishman ! " whispered Victoria.

For an instant only, fear shone in his eyes
almost at once his face cleared to a charming

" Don t be frightened," he said, softly, in very
bad French, " it is nothing. My friend amused
himself by locking me in my room for a joke,
so I crawled out on the balcony and over the roofs
to get even with him. Don t wake up the house.
I m awfully sorry I frightened you." He nodded
pleasantly, and disappeared over the gutter s edge
into the darkness below.

They heard him reach the courtyard; they
heard his footsteps cross the court, and the lift
of the latch as he let himself into the street by



the stable gate. The girls stared at each other
in silence; then Sonia laughed.

" That s a joke on us, as you say, but it has
frightened sleep from me for the rest of the

Victoria crossed to the table, took up one of
her Russian friend s cigarettes, lighted it, and
began to walk the floor.

Pausing abruptly before her companion, she
inquired, sharply, " What did he want with a
camera at night ? "

" I don t know, I m sure. Did he have one? "

" Yes, I saw it a five by eight, I should say
in its black leather case, slung over his shoul

" Flashlight," suggested Sonia.

Victoria shook her head. " Aren t the odd
numbers on this side of the hall ? "

Sonia nodded in bewilderment.

" Then why did he say he climbed out on the
balcony? The balcony is on the front, and the
chambermaid said fifty-seven."

" She may have made a mistake."

" He s not an Englishman."


" He never said he was."

" I know ; but he s dressing the part and has
overdone it."


Victoria frowned and threw the cigarette out
of the open window with unnecessary energy.
" Sonia," she said, gravely, " you know I am
going back to America in November. My passage
is taken. The estate must be settled, I can t put
it off. Now if I take this thing up it may mean
endless trouble for me and legal complications.
Sonia, you have to do it. Go down-stairs and
find out if that man s story is true. Arouse some
body everybody but find out ! Leave me out
of it when you tell your story. Go on; there
is no time to lose. I ll meet you down-stairs as
if I had just come in. Go! "

Sonia sprang to her feet and disappeared down
the hallway. Victoria followed a moment later,
and joined her friend in the deserted office. With
some difficulty they aroused a weary chamber

" The Englishman ! why, the young ladies were
dreaming. The gentleman had gone away that



afternoon, just before dinner, saying he felt so
badly he thought it best to go to his home."

The girls caught at each other with a common
impulse. " The landlord wake him up. Where
is he?"

The chambermaid demurred. " It had been a
busy day. They were all worn out. Was it
permitted that people with nightmare should be
waking honest folk out of their sleep "

Victoria sprang at her and shook her by the
shoulders. " Wake the landlord, do you hear ?
There is something wrong. It must be looked

Further parleying was made unnecessary
by the appearance of the host, his suspenders
hanging, his face swollen with drowsiness, and
an expression anything but good-humored.

Sonia stated the case to him with hurried clear
ness, but his brain, being sleep-clouded and
French, failed to take in its import.

" The Englishman in fifty-seven? He had paid
his bill and gone. Was it permitted to wake
people at midnight, name of a name, with such
stories ? "


Victoria s anger mounted with opposition.
" Very well, then. Mademoiselle Palintzka had
given him warning. If a crime had been com
mitted and the culprit escaped, his was the respon
sibility. Mademoiselle had done all she could.
Where was the commissaire of police ? He should
be notified, then mademoiselle would wash her
hands of the whole affair."

At the mention of police the fat little man
shook his lethargy from him and announced him
self willing to investigate but what, and

" Take the pass-keys and a light, and rouse
every one in the front of the house," Sonia com
manded. "Undoubtedly the man came from there.
If the occupants were out of the place, look about
and see if anything has been disturbed."

The garQon-de-peine appeared inopportunely,
and the party was once more delayed while
voluminous explanations were made to him.

" A half-hour at least since we got here, and
nothing done," Victoria fretted, as at last the
cortege, composed of the garQon, chambermaid,
and landlord, armed with lights, pass-keys, and


the sabre which adorned the hall wall (a witness
to the prowess of the proprietor in the Franco-
Prussian War), got under way.

An examination of the lower floor was quickly
made. On the first landing the rooms opened
showed only the confusion of occupancy, and the
contents were of such scanty nature as to offer
no allurement to thieves. Few of the patrons
were in, but to these the landlord poured forth
apologies and explanations that rapidly brought
the excited inmates in scanty apparel to swell the
throng of investigators. Room after room offered
no solution of the mystery. The second floor was
reached. Here the procession paused, the host
addressing himself uncertainly to Sonia.

" These were the apartments of the countess.
Should they rouse her? The child was ill; there
was also the maid. If any attack had been made
on them they were sufficient in number to have
made some outcry."

" Knock ! " commanded Sonia.

A light tap on the door received no answer.

" They sleep," murmured the chambermaid,


with a scornful glance at the disturbers of her
own rest

" Louder ! " said the Russian, shortly.

Still no answer.

" Madame la Comtesse ! " called the gargon-de-
peine, in discreet tones.

"Madame!" "Madame!" in various keys
from the bystanders.

" Try the maid s door," the bonne suggested.

A deputation attacked the two doors further
down the hall. No answer.

The party looked at each other.

" They certainly did not go out this evening,"
the garQon ventured. " The little girl was worse;
they had dinner in their rooms. The child was
in bed then, for I brought up the tray."

" The keys ! " Victoria impatiently demanded.
" You are losing time. Go in ! "

The keys were produced and fitted to the lock,
but not until the whole party had once more
invoked the countess to answer. The door was
opened slowly, and they entered, preceded by the
landlord, vaguely muttering apologies.

The candles lit up a scene of the wildest con-



fusion. The drawers of the bureau were emptied
upon the floor, a trunk stood open, from which
the tilted trays had spilled their contents.

On the bed lay the countess, breathing heavily,
a handkerchief over her head. The air was full
of the smell of chloroform.

Sonia snatched the saturated linen from the
woman s face, while Victoria hurried to the ad
joining room. The same confusion reigned, but
to a less degree. The thief had evidently known
where to look for his booty.

The sick child was stretched stiffly on her
side, a little ball of cotton at her nostrils. Across
the foot of the bed the maid lay huddled, a gag
in her mouth and a cloth securely tied above it.
Evidently she had been overpowered before the
anaesthetic had been applied.

Victoria snatched the cotton from the child s
face and untied gag and bandages. The others
crowded into the room, wet towels were brought,
brandy applied, and windows opened wide. The
atmosphere grew lighter. The countess stirred
uneasily, and muttered.

" The doctor send for him at once ! " called


Victoria. " The child quick, quick ! don t
stand there staring; don t you see that in her
weak condition this may be fatal? "

The garQon hurriedly blundered off, and while
willing hands ministered to the other victims,
Victoria worked with agonized suspense over the
limp little body. The heavy, gasping breath, the
persistent coma, and the pinched, waxen face, were
terrifying. Would the doctor never come? The
maid was regaining consciousness, and from the
other room the incoherent ramblings of the count
ess announced returning life. But the child
made no sound, only that horrible, rasping breath
that rattled in her throat.

Sonia came to the bedside and leaned over. " I
wish I knew what to do," she murmured, " but
we ve done all we can. I have sent half a dozen
of those jabbering idiots to fetch the police, so
I suppose that some time in the next week they
will start on that man s track."

" Oh, why oh, why didn t we give the alarm !
We had him caught red-handed," Victoria
moaned, as she bathed the unconscious face on
the pillow. " The coolness of the villain," she



went on, " to invent that plausible excuse on the
spur of the moment, for we must have frightened
him, but not out of his wits, unfortunately."

" If he gets away I ll never forgive myself,"
Sonia hotly exclaimed.

" Then you never will, for he has everything
in his favor. The pilgrimage it s the easiest
thing in the world to get away with a change of
clothes, or even without, for that matter, in this
press of the visitors. To-morrow s jam will be

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Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 2 of 13)