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The Unspeakable Gentleman by John P. Marquand

Part 4 out of 4

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His eyes grew brighter as he spoke, and his features were suddenly mobile
and expressive.

"She said she believed it. She threw their lies in my face. She lashed me
with them, and my blood was hotter then than now. She would not listen,
and I forgot it was a woman's way. How was I to know it was only impulse?
I ask you--how was I to know? Was I a man to crawl back, and ask her
forgiveness, to offer some miserable excuse she would not credit? And
you, brought into manhood to believe I was a thief--was I to stand your
flinging back my denial? Was I to pose as the picture of injured
innocence, and beg you the favor of believing? I would not have expected
it of you, my son. By heaven, it would have stuck in my throat. I had
gone my way too long, and the draught still tasted bitter. It burned,
burned as I never thought it would again, when I first saw you standing
watching me. Indeed it is only now that its taste has wholly gone--only
now that I see what I have done, now when the lights are dim, and it is
too late to begin again."

He stopped and squared his shoulders and the harshness left his voice.

"You understand, I hope," he added "Give him the paper, Henry." And he
nodded towards Ives de Blanzy.

I drew it from my pocket, and handed it to him in silence.

"Now what is the meaning of this?" said Ives de Blanzy harshly. "This is
not the paper! The cursed thing is blank inside!"

My father snatched it from his hands.

"Blank!" he muttered. "Blank! Clean as the driven snow! Is it possible I
have failed in everything?"

Mademoiselle had moved forward, and touched his arm. He glanced at her
quickly, and slowly his frown vanished.

"Naturally it is blank, captain," said Mademoiselle. "I took the real one
from you this morning when you left it in your volume of Rabelais. I
thought that you might place it there. I am sorry, captain, sorry now
that you made me take you seriously."

The paper dropped from his fingers and fluttered to the floor, but
strangely enough he did not appear chagrined. His gallantry was back with
him again, and with it all his courtesy.

"Ah, Mademoiselle," he said, "I should have known you better. Will there
always be a woman where there is trouble?"

"And you have not made me hate you, Captain," Mademoiselle continued.

"But you, my son," said my father, "you understand?"

I felt his glance, but I could not meet it.

"Yes," I said, "I understand."

"Good," said my father. "Here comes Brutus. And now we shall have our

"I understand," I said, and my voice seemed unsteady, "that you are a
very brave and upright gentleman."

"The devil!" cried my father.

And then he started and whirled toward the door.

"Ned! Ives!" he called sharply. "What the devil is going on outside?" and
the three of them had darted into the hall.

Clear and distinct through the quiet night had come a shriek and the
report of a pistol.

I started to follow them, but Mademoiselle had laid a hand on my arm,
and was pointing to the table. I lifted first one and then the other
of the two pistols that were lying there. Neither was primed. Neither
was loaded.

"The third one," she said quietly, "Mr. Lawton took. No, no," she
added, as I started toward the door, "Stay here, Monsieur. It is not
your affair."


She still stood looking at the pistols on the table. Was she thinking,
as I was, of the irony, and the comedy and the tragedy that had been
so strangely blended in the last hour? Slowly she turned and faced me,
her slender fingers tugging aimlessly at her handkerchief. For a
moment her eyes met mine. Then she looked away, and the color had
deepened in her cheeks.

"So," said Mademoiselle, "It is almost over. Are you not glad, Monsieur,
that it is finished?"

The wick of a candle had dropped to the wax, and was spluttering
fitfully. Mechanically I moved to fix it.

"No," I said, "I am not glad."

"Not glad? Surely you are glad it has ended so. Surely you are glad
your father--"

"No," I said, and my voice was so much louder than I had intended that
the sound of it in the quiet room made me stop abruptly. She looked up at
me, a little startled.

"At least Monsieur is frank," she said. "Do you know--have you thought
that you are the only one of us who has been wholly so, who has not had
something to conceal? Pray go on, Monsieur. It is pleasant to hear
someone who is frank again. Continue! You must be glad for something.
Every cloud must have--do you not say--a silver lining? If it is not your
father--surely you are glad about me?"

She made a graceful little gesture of interrogation.

"Come, come," she went on, "You are not yourself tonight. Never have I
seen you look so black. Think, Monsieur! The men are on deck and the wind
is fair. Soon I shall be going. Soon you will forget."

"No," I said, "Mademoiselle is mistaken. I shall not forget."

"Nor I," she said gravely, "I wonder, Monsieur, if you understand--but
you cannot understand what it has meant to me. I have tried to tell you
once before, but you are cold, like your father. I have seen many men who
have said gallant things, but only you two of all I know have done them."

"I have done nothing," I said. "You know I have done nothing."

"But it has not been your fault," she answered. "And was it nothing to
protect a stranger from a strange land, when you had nothing to gain from
it and everything to lose?"

"Mademoiselle forgets," I said, "that I had nothing to lose. It was
lost already."

"Then surely," she replied lightly, "surely you must be glad I am going?"

"You know better than that," I answered. "Ah, Mademoiselle, do you not
see? I hoped I might show you that I did not always blunder. I hoped I
might show you--"

The words seemed to choke me.

"Ah, Mademoiselle," I cried, "if I had only been on the stairs at

"Blanzy!" she echoed, "Pray what has Blanzy to do with you and me?"

Even now I do not know what made me speak, save that she was going. The
very ticking of the clock was bringing the moment nearer, and there she
was, staring at me, wide-eyed, half puzzled and half frightened. It
seemed already as though she were further away.

"Do you not see?" I said. "It is not like you not to understand. Nor is
it very kind. How can I see you go and be glad? How can I be glad you
love my father?"

"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed suddenly startled, "Your father! I care for
your father!"

I bowed in quick contrition.

"Mademoiselle," I said, "I fear I have been very rude, and, as usual,
very gauche. I beg you to forgive me."

"But I tell you," she cried, "I do not love him!"

I bowed again in silence.

"You do not believe me?"

"Mademoiselle may rest assured," I replied gently, "that I

"You!" I started at her sudden vexation, started to find that her eyes
were filled with tears.

"You understand quite nothing! Never have I seen anyone so cruel,
so stupid!"

"Mademoiselle," I said, "I have been awkward, but forgive me--the cabin
of the _Sea Tern_, where you asked him to sail on, and when you bade him
recall what he said on the stairs at Blanzy.... Your pardon! I have been
very blunt."

And now she was regarding me with blank astonishment.

"Surely he told you," she murmured, "Surely he told you what the Marquis
had intended."

Then she stopped, confused and silent.

"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed suddenly, "But he has told you nothing!"

"No," I said dully, "He has been most discreet. But does it make any real
difference, Mademoiselle, except that I know now that the Marquis was a
man of very keen discrimination?"

"Are you mad?" cried Mademoiselle, "I tell you it is not your father. I
tell you I--"

Her face had grown scarlet. She bowed her head, and tugged more violently
than ever at the corner of her handkerchief.

"Mademoiselle," I said unsteadily, "Mademoiselle, what was it he told you
at Blanzy?"

"I cannot tell you if you do not know," she answered, "Indeed I cannot."

"But you will!" I cried. "You will, Mademoiselle! You must!

Her eyes had met mine again.

"They were breaking in the door," she began, "and he was going down to
meet them. I told him--I told him to go, to leave me, and take the paper.
He said--"

She paused again, watching me in vague embarrassment.

"He said he'd be damned if he would, Monsieur. He said he would do what
the Marquis had directed, if he had to swing for it. That he would take
the paper and me to America--that I ... Mon Dieu! Do you not know what he
said! Can you not guess?... He said that I was to marry his son."

A smile suddenly played about her lips.

"And I told him," she continued breathlessly, "I told him I'd be damned
if I would, Monsieur. That neither he nor the Marquis would make me marry
a man I did not know, much less a son of his!"

"And when you asked him to recall it--Mademoiselle, when you asked him to
recall it, did you mean--tell me, Mademoiselle!"

"Ah," she whispered, "but it is too soon, and you are too rough,
Monsieur! I beg of you--be careful! Besides--someone is coming."

And then I heard a soft footstep behind me.

"Huh!" said Brutus, "I go tell the captain. No. It is all right. I tell
the captain. He is happy. It will please him. Huh!" His long speech
seemed to have taken his breath, for he paused, grinning broadly.

"Huh!" he said finally. "Mr. Lawton shoot Mr. Jason. Shoot him with
pistol off the table. The captain is happy."

But before Brutus could turn to go, my father was in the doorway,
smoothing the bandage on his arm.

"Let us say relieved, Brutus," he answered smoothly. "It is dangerous
ever to use superlatives."

Then he glanced from Mademoiselle to me, and his smile broadened.

"Very much relieved," he said, "and yet--and yet I still feel thirsty.
The rum decanter, Brutus."

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