Charles Norris Williamson.

The Powers and Maxine online

. (page 8 of 16)
Online LibraryCharles Norris WilliamsonThe Powers and Maxine → online text (page 8 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


my success, which she knew all about, of course; but she was not in the
least excited, because she had loyally expected me to succeed, and would
have thought the sky must be about to fall if I had failed. She was as
placid as she was on other, less important nights, far more placid than
she would have been if she had known that she was guarding not only my
jewellery, but a famous diamond necklace, worth at least five hundred
thousand francs.

There it was, under the lowest tray of my jewel box. I had felt
perfectly safe in leaving it there, for I knew that nothing on
earth - short of a bomb explosion - could tempt the good creature out of
my dressing-room in my absence, and that even if a bomb did explode, she
would try to be blown up with my jewel box clutched in her hands.

Saying nothing to Marianne, who was brushing a little stage dust off my
third act dress, with my back to her I took out tray after tray from the
box (which always came with us to the theatre and went away again in my
carriage) until the electric light over the dressing table set the
diamonds on fire.

Really, I said to myself, they were wonderful stones. I had no idea how
magnificent they were. Not that there were a great many of them. The
necklace was composed of a single row of diamonds, with six flat tassels
depending from it. But the smallest stones at the back, where the clasp
came, were as large as my little finger nail, and the largest were
almost the size of a filbert. All were of perfect colour and fire,
extraordinarily deep and faultlessly shaped, as well as flawless.
Besides, the necklace had a history which would have made it interesting
even if it hadn't been intrinsically of half its value.

With the first thrill of pleasure I had felt since I knew that the
treaty had disappeared I lifted the beautiful diamonds from the box, and
slipped them into a small embroidered bag of pink and silver brocade
which lay on the table. It was a foolish but pretty little bag, which a
friend had made and sent to me at the theatre a few nights ago, and was
intended to carry a purse and handkerchief. But I had never used it yet.
Now it seemed a convenient receptacle for the necklace, and I suddenly
planned out my way of giving it to Raoul.

At first, earlier in the evening, I had meant to put the diamonds in his
hands and say, "See what I have for you!" But now I had changed my mind,
because he must be induced to go away as quickly as possible - quite,
quite away from the theatre, so that there would be no danger of his
seeing Count Godensky at the stage door. I was not sorry that Raoul was
jealous, because, as he said, his jealousy was a compliment to me; and
it is possible only for a cold man never to be jealous of a woman in my
profession, who lives in the eyes of the world. But I did not want him
to be jealous of the Russian; and he would be horribly jealous, if he
thought that he had the least cause.

If I showed him the diamonds now, he would want to stop and talk. He
would ask me questions which I would rather not answer until I'd seen
Ivor Dundas again, and knew better what to say - whether truth or
fiction. Still, I wished Raoul to have the necklace to-night, because it
would mean all the difference to him between constant, gnawing anxiety,
and the joy of deliverance. Let him have a happy night, even though I
was sending him away, even though I did not know what to-morrow might
bring, either for him or for me.

I tied the gold cords of the bag in two hard knots, and went out with it
to Raoul in the next room.

"This holds something precious," I said, smiling at him, and making a
mystery. "You'll value the something, I know - partly for itself, partly
because I - because I've been at a lot of trouble to get it for you. When
you see it, you'll be more resigned not to see me - just for tonight. But
you're to write me a letter, please, and describe accurately every one
of your sensations on opening the bag. Also, you may say in your letter
a few kind things about me, if you like. And I want it to come to me
when I first wake up to-morrow morning. So go now, dearest, and have the
sensations, and write about them. I shall be thinking of you every
minute, asleep or awake."

"Why mayn't I look now?" asked Raoul, taking the soft mass of pink and
silver from me, in the nice, clumsy way a big man has of handling a
woman's things.

"Because - just _because_. But perhaps you'll guess why, by and by," I
said. Then I held up my face to be kissed, and he bundled the small bag
away in an inside pocket of his coat, as carelessly as if it held
nothing but a handkerchief and a pair of gloves.

"Be careful!" I couldn't help exclaiming. But I don't think he heard,
for he had me in his arms and was kissing me as if he knew the fear in
my heart - the fear that it might be for the last time.


CHAPTER X


MAXINE DRIVES WITH THE ENEMY

When Raoul was gone I made Marianne hurry me out of the cloth-of-gold
and filmy tissue in which the unfortunate Princess Hélène had died, and
into the black gown in which the almost equally unfortunate Maxine had
come to the theatre. I did not even stop to take off my make-up, for
though the play was an unusually short one, and all the actors and
actresses had followed my example of prompt readiness for all four acts,
it lacked twenty minutes of twelve when I was dressed. I had to see
Count Godensky, get rid of him somehow, and still be in time to keep my
appointment with Ivor Dundas, for which I knew he would strain every
nerve not to be late.

My electric carriage would be at the stage door, and my plan was to
speak to Godensky, if he were waiting, if possible learn in a moment or
two whether he had really found out the truth, and then act accordingly.
But if I could avoid it, I meant, in any case, to put off a long
conversation until later.

I had drawn my veil down before walking out of the theatre, yet Godensky
knew me at once, and came forward. Evidently he had been watching the
door.

"Good-evening," he said. "A hundred congratulations."

He put out his hand, and I had to give him mine, for my chauffeur and
the stage-door keeper (to say nothing of Marianne, who followed me
closely), and several stage-carpenters, with other employés of the
theatre, were within seeing and hearing distance. I wanted no gossip,
though that was exactly what might best please Count Godensky.

"I got your note," I answered, in Russian, though he had spoken in
French. "What is it you want to see me about?"

"Something that can't be told in a moment," he said. "Something of great
importance."

"I'm very tired," I sighed. "Can't it wait until to-morrow?"

I tried to "draw" him, and to a certain extent, I succeeded.

"You wouldn't ask that question, if you guessed what - I know," he
replied.

Was it a bluff, or did he know - not merely suspect - something?

"I don't understand you," I said quietly, though my lips were dry.

"Shall I mention the word - _document?_" he hinted. "Really, I'm sure you
won't regret it if you let me drive home with you, Mademoiselle."

"I can't do that," I answered. "And I can't take you into my carriage
here. But I'll stop for you, and wait at the corner Rue Eugène
Beauharnais. Then you can go with me until I think it best for you to
get out."

"Very well," he agreed. "But send your maid home in a cab; I can not
talk before her."

"Yes, you can. She knows no language except French - and a little
English. She always drives home with me."

This was true. But if I had been talking to Raoul, I would perhaps have
given the dear old woman her first experience of being sent off by
herself. In that case, she would not have minded, for she likes Raoul,
admires him as a "dream of a young man," and already suspected what I
hadn't yet told her - that we were engaged. But with Count Godensky
forced upon me as a companion, I would not for any consideration have
parted with Marianne.

Three or four minutes after starting I was giving instructions to my
chauffeur where to stop, and almost immediately afterwards Godensky
appeared. He got in and took the place at my left, Marianne, silent, but
doubtless astonished, facing us on the little front seat.

"Now," I exclaimed. "Please begin quickly."

"Don't force me to be too abrupt," he said. "I would spare you if I
could. You speak as if you grudged me every moment with you. Yet I am
here because I love you."

"Oh, please, Monsieur!" I broke in. "You know I've told you that is
useless."

"But everything is changed since then. Perhaps now, even your mind will
be changed. That happens with women sometimes. I want to warn you of a
great danger that threatens you, Maxine. Perhaps, late as it is, I could
save you from it if you'd let me."

"Save me from what?" I asked temporising. "You're very mysterious, Count
Godensky. And I'm Mademoiselle de Renzie except to my very intimate
friends."

"I am your friend, always. Maybe you will even permit me to speak of
myself as your 'intimate friend' when I have done what I hope to do for
you in - in the matter of a certain document which has disappeared."

I was quivering all over. But I had not lost hope yet; I think that some
women, feeling as I did, would have fainted. But it would have been
better for me to die and be out of my troubles for ever, than to let
myself faint and show Godensky that he had struck home.

"Be quiet. Be cool. Be brave now, if never again," I said to myself. And
my voice sounded perfectly natural as I exclaimed: "Oh, the 'document'
again. The one you spoke about when we first met to-night. You rouse my
curiosity. But I don't in the least know what you mean."

"The loss of it is known," he said.

"Ah, it's a lost document?"

"As you will be lost, Maxine, if you don't come to me for the help I'm
only too glad to give - on conditions. Let me tell you what they are."

"Wouldn't it be more to the point if you told me what the document is,
and how it concerns me?" I parried him, determined to bring him to bay.

"Aren't _you_ evading the point far more than I? The document - which you
and I can both see as plainly before our eyes at this instant as though
it were in - let us say your hands, or - du Laurier's, if he were
here - that document is far too important even to name within hearing of
other ears."

"Marianne's? But I told you she can't understand a word of Russian."

"One can't be sure. We can never tell, in these days, who may not be - a
spy."

There was a stab for me! But I would not give him the satisfaction of
showing that it hurt. He wanted to confuse me, to put me off my guard;
but he should not.

"They say one judges others by one's self," I laughed. "Count Godensky,
if you throw out such lurid hints about my poor, fat Marianne, I shall
begin to wonder if it's not _you_ who are the spy!"

"Since you trust your woman so implicitly, then," he went on, "I'll tell
you what you want to know. The document I speak of is the one you took
out of the Foreign Office the other day, when you called on
your - friend, Monsieur le Vicomte du Laurier."

"Dear me!" I exclaimed. "You say you want to be my friend, yet you seem
to think I am a kleptomaniac. I can't imagine what I should want with
any dry old document out of the Foreign Office, can you?"

"Yes, I can imagine," said Godensky drily.

"Pray tell me then. Also what document it was. For, joking apart, this
is rather a serious accusation."

"If I make any accusation, it's less against you than du Laurier."

"Oh, you make an accusation against him. Why do you make it to me?"

"As a warning."

"Or because you don't dare make it to anyone else."

"Dare! I haven't accused him thus far, because to do so would brand your
name with his."

"Ah!" I said. "You are very considerate."

"I don't pretend to be considerate - except of myself. I've waited, and
held my hand until now, because I wanted to see you before doing a thing
which would mean certain ruin for du Laurier. I love you as much as I
ever did; even more, because, in common with most men, I value what I
find hard to get. To-night I ask you again to marry me. Give me a
different answer from that you gave me before, and I'll be silent about
what I know."

"What you know of the document you mentioned?" I asked, my heart
drumming an echo of its beating in my ears.

"Yes."

"But - I thought you said that its loss was already discovered?" (Oh, I
was keeping myself well under control, though a mistake now would surely
cost me more than I dared count!)

For half a second he was taken aback, at a loss what answer to make.
Half a second - no more; yet that hardly perceptible hesitation told me
what I had been playing with him to find out.

"Discovered by me," he explained. "That is, by me and one person over
whom I have such an influence that he will use his knowledge, or - forget
it, according to my advice."

"There is no such person," I said to myself. But I didn't say it aloud.
Quickly I named over in my mind such men in the French Foreign Office as
were in a position to discover the disappearance of any document under
Raoul du Laurier's charge. There were several who might have done so,
some above Raoul in authority, some below; but I was certain that not
one of them was an intimate friend of Count Godensky's. If he had
suspected anything the day he met me coming out of the Foreign Office he
might, of course, have hinted his suspicions to one of those men (though
all along I'd believed him too shrewd to risk the consequences, the
ridicule and humiliation of a mistake): but if he had spoken, it would
be beyond his power to prevent matters from taking their own course,
independent of my decisions and his actions.

I believed now that what I had hoped was true. He was "bluffing." He
wanted me to flounder into some admission, and to make him a promise in
order to save the man I loved. I was only a woman, he'd argued, no
doubt - an emotional woman, already wrought up to a high pitch of nervous
excitement. Perhaps he had expected to have easy work with me. And I
don't think that my silence after his last words discouraged him. He
imagined me writhing at the alternative of giving up Raoul or seeing him
ruined, and he believed that he knew me well enough to be sure what I
would do in the end.

"Well?" he said at last, quite gently.

My eyes had been bent on my lap, but I glanced suddenly up at him, and
saw his face in the light of the street lamps as we passed. Count
Godensky is not more Mephistophelian in type than any other dark, thin
man with a hook nose, keen eyes, heavy browed; a prominent chin and a
sharply waxed, military moustache trained to point upward slightly at
the ends. But to my fancy he looked absolutely devilish at that moment.
Still, I was less afraid of him than I had been since the day I stole
the treaty.

"Well," I said slowly, "I think it's time that you left me now."

"That's your answer? You can't mean it."

"I do mean it, just as much as I meant to refuse you the three other
times that you did me the same honour. You asked me to hear what you had
to say to-night, and I have heard it; so there's no reason why I
shouldn't press the electric bell for my chauffeur to stop, and - "

"Do you know that you're pronouncing du Laurier's doom, to say nothing
of your own?"

"No. I don't know it."

"Then I haven't made myself clear enough."

"That's true. You haven't made yourself clear enough."

"In what detail have I failed? Because - ".

"In the detail of the document. I've told you I know nothing about it.
You've told me you know everything. Yet - "

"So I do."

"Prove that by saying what it is - to satisfy my curiosity."

"I've explained why I can't do that - here."

"Then why should you stay here longer, since that is the point, to my
mind. You understood before you came into my carriage that I had no
intention of letting you go all the way home with me."

Count Godensky suddenly laughed. And the laugh frightened me - frightened
me horribly, just as I had begun to have confidence in myself, and feel
that I had got the best of the game.


CHAPTER XI


MAXINE OPENS THE GATE FOR A MAN

"You are afraid that du Laurier may find out," he said. "But he knows
already."

"Knows what?"

"That I expected to have the privilege of going to your house with you."

All that I had gained seemed worthless. Those quiet, sneering words of
his almost crushed me. On the load I had struggled to bear without
falling they laid one feather too much.

My voice broke. "You - devil!" I cried at him. "You dared to tell Raoul
that?"

Opposite, on her narrow little seat, Marianne stirred uneasily. Till now
our tones had been quiet, and she could not understand one word we said.
She is the soul of discretion and a triumph of good training in her walk
of life; but she loves me more than she loves any other creature on
earth, and now she could see and hear that the man had driven me to the
brink of hysterics. She would have liked to tear his face with her
nails, or choke him, I think. If I had given her the word, I believe she
would have tried with all her strength - which is not small - and a very
good will, to kill him. I was dimly conscious of what her restlessness
meant, and vaguely comforted too, by the thought of her supreme loyalty.
But I forgot Marianne when Godensky answered my question.

"Yes, I told him. It was the truth. And I've always understood that you
made a great point of never doing anything which you considered in the
least risqué. So why should I suppose you would rather du Laurier didn't
know? You might already have mentioned it to him."

"He wouldn't believe you!" I exclaimed, desperately. And my only hope
was that I might be right.

"As a matter of fact, he didn't seem to at first, so I at once
understood that you hadn't spoken of our appointment. But it was too
late to atone for my carelessness, and I did the next best thing:
justified my veracity. I suggested that, if he didn't take my word for
it, he might stand where he could see us speaking together at the stage
door, and - "

"Ah, I am glad of that!" I cut in. "Then he saw that we didn't drive
away together."

"You jump at conclusions, just like less clever women. I hardly thought
you'd receive me into your carriage at the theatre, so I took the
precaution of warning du Laurier that he needn't expect to see that. You
would suggest a place for me to meet you, I said. When I knew it, I
would inform him if he chose to wait about somewhere for a few minutes."

"Raoul du Laurier would scorn to spy upon me!" I broke out.

"How hard you are on spies. And how little knowledge of human nature you
have, after all, if you don't understand that a man suddenly out of his
head with jealousy will do things of which he'd be incapable when he was
sane."

The argument silenced me. I knew - I had known for a long time - that
jealousy could rouse a demon in Raoul. And only to-night he had reminded
me that he was a "jealous brute." I remembered what answer he had made
when I asked him what he would do if I deceived him. He said that he
would kill me, and kill himself after. As he spoke, the blood had
streamed up to his forehead, and streamed back again, leaving him pale.
A flash like steel had shot out of his eyes - the dear eyes that are not
cold. It was true, as this cruel wretch reminded me, Raoul would do
things under the torture of jealousy that he would cut off his hand
sooner than do when his own, sweet, poet-nature was in ascendancy.

"As a proof of what I say," Godensky went on, "du Laurier did wait, did
hear from me the place where you were to stop and pick me up. And if it
wouldn't be the worst of form to bet, I'd bet that he found some way of
getting there in time to see that I had told the truth."

"You coward!" I stammered.

"On the contrary, a brave man. I've heard that du Laurier is a fine
shot, and that very few men in Paris can touch him with the foils. So
you see - "

"You want to frighten me!" I exclaimed.

"You misjudge me in every way."

My only answer was to tell Marianne to press the button which gives the
signal for my chauffeur to stop. Instantly the electric carriage slowed
down, then came to a standstill. My man opened the door and Count
Godensky submitted to my will. Nevertheless, he was far from being in a
submissive mood, as I did not need to be reminded by the tone of his
voice when he said "au revoir."

Nothing could have been more polite than the words or his way of
speaking them, as he stood in the street with his hat in his hand. But
to me they meant a threat, and as a threat they were intended.

My talk with Godensky at the stage door, my pause to pick him up, and my
second pause to set him down, had all taken time, of which I had had
little enough at the starting, if I were to meet Ivor Dundas when he
arrived. It was two or three minutes after midnight, or so my watch
said, when we drew up before the gate of my high-walled garden in the
quiet Rue d'Hollande.

A little while ago I had been ready to seize upon almost any expedient
for keeping Raoul away from my house to-night, but now, after what I had
just heard from Godensky, I prayed to see him waiting for me.

Nobody (except Ivor, concerning whom I'd given orders) would be let in
so late at night, during my absence, not even Raoul himself; so if he
had come to reproach me, or break with me, he would have to stand
outside the locked gate till I appeared. I looked for him longingly, but
he was not there. There was, to be sure, a motor brougham in the street,
for a wonder (usually the Rue d'Hollande is as empty as a desert, after
eleven o'clock), but a girl's face peered out at me from the window - an
impish, curiously abnormal little face it was - extinguishing the spark
of hope that sprang to life as I caught sight of the carriage.

It was standing before the closed gate of a house almost opposite mine,
and the girl seemed somewhat interested in me; but I was not at all
interested in her, and I hate being stared at as if I were something in
a museum.

The gate is always kept locked at night, when I'm at the theatre; but
Marianne has the key, and we let ourselves in when we come, for only old
Henri sits up, and he is growing a little deaf. A moment, and we were
inside, the chauffeur spinning away to the garage.

Usually I am newly delighted every night with my quaint old house and
its small, but pretty garden, to which it seems delightful to come home
after hours of hard work at the theatre. But to-night, though a cheerful
light shone out from between the drawn curtains of the salon, the place
looked inexpressibly dreary, even forbidding, to me. I felt that I hated
the house, though I had chosen it after a long search for peacefulness
and privacy. How gloomy, how dead, was the street beyond the high wall,
with all its windows closed like the eyes of corpses. There was a moist,
depressing smell of earth after long-continued rains, in the garden. No
wonder the place had been to let at a bargain, for a long term! There
had been a murder in it once, and it had stood empty for twelve or
thirteen of the fifteen years since the almost forgotten tragedy. I had
been the tenant for two years now - before I became a "star," with a
theatre of my own in Paris. I had had no fear of the ghost said to haunt
the house. Indeed, I remembered thinking, and saying, that the story
only made the place more interesting. But now I said to myself that I
wished I had never spoken so lightly. Perhaps the ghost had brought me
bad luck. I felt as if the murder must have happened on just such a
still, brooding, damp night as this. Maybe it was the anniversary, if I
only knew.

I went indoors, Marianne following. Henri, very thin, very precise,
withered like a winter apple, had fallen into a doze in the hall, where
he had sat, hoping to hear the stopping of my carriage. He rose up,
bowing and blinking, just as he had done often before, and would often
again - if life were to go on for me in the old way. He regretted not
having heard Mademoiselle. Would Mademoiselle take supper?

No, Mademoiselle would not take supper. She wanted nothing, and Henri
might go to bed.

"I thank Mademoiselle. When I have closed the house."

"But I don't want the house closed," I said. "I shall sit up for awhile.
It's hot - close and stuffy. I may like to have the windows open."

"The visitor Mademoiselle expected did not arrive. Perhaps - "

"If he comes, Marianne or I will let him in. But he may not come, now it
is so late."

When Henri had gone, I told Marianne that she might go, too. I did not
want her to wait. If the person I had expected should call, it was a


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryCharles Norris WilliamsonThe Powers and Maxine → online text (page 8 of 16)