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- The Trespasser, Volume 3. - 5/14 -
price for her friendship; and failing, had become as good a friend as such a man could be. She even visited his wife occasionally, and gave gifts to his children; and the mother trusted her and told her her trials. And so the thing went on, and the people talked.
As we said, she turned her eyes to Gaston's box. Instantly they became riveted, and then a deep flush swept slowly up her face and burned into her splendid hair. Meyerbeer was watching through his opera-glasses. He gave an exclamation of delight:
"By the holy smoke, here's something!" he said aloud.
For an instant Gaston and the girl looked at each other intently. He made a slight sign of recognition with his hand, and then she turned away, gone a little pale now. She stood looking at her lions, as if trying to recollect herself. The lion at her feet helped her. He had a change of temper, and, possibly fretting under inaction, growled. At once she summoned him to get into the chariot. He hesitated, but did so. She put the reins in his paws and took her place behind. Then a robe of purple and ermine was thrown over her shoulders by an attendant; she gave a sharp command, and the lions came round the ring, to wild applause. Even a Parisian audience had never seen anything like this. It was amusing too; for the coachman-lion was evidently disgusted with his task, and growled in a helpless kind of way.
As they passed Gaston's box, they were very near. The girl threw one swift glance; but her face was well controlled now. She heard, however, a whispered word come to her:
A few moments afterwards she retired, and the performance was in other and less remarkable hands. Presently the manager himself came, and said that Mademoiselle Victorine would be glad to see Monsieur Belward if he so wished. Gaston left Jacques, and went.
Meyerbeer noticed the move, and determined to see the meeting if possible. There was something in it, he was sure. He would invent an excuse, and make his way behind.
Gaston and the manager were in the latter's rooms waiting for Victorine. Presently a messenger came, saying that Monsieur Belward would find Mademoiselle in her dressing-room. Thither Gaston went, accompanied by the manager, who, however, left him at the door, nodding good-naturedly to Victorine, and inwardly praying that here was no danger to his business, for Victorine was a source of great profit. Yet he had failed himself, and all others had failed in winning her--why should this man succeed, if that was his purpose?
There was present an elderly, dark-featured Frenchwoman, who was always with Victorine, vigilant, protective, loving her as her own daughter.
"Monsieur!" said Andree, a warm colour in her cheek. Gaston shook her hand cordially, and laughed. "Mademoiselle--Andree?"
He looked inquiringly. "Yes, to you," she said.
"You have it all your own way now--isn't it so?" "With the lions, yes. Please sit down. This is my dear keeper," she said, touching the woman's shoulder. Then, to the woman: "Annette, you have heard me speak of this gentleman?"
The woman nodded, and modestly touched Gaston's outstretched hand.
"Monsieur was kind once to my dear Mademoiselle," she said.
Gaston cheerily smiled:
"Nothing, nothing, upon my word!" Presently he continued:
"Your father, what of him?" She sighed and shivered a little.
"He died in Auvergne three months after you saw him."
"And you?" He waved a hand towards the menagerie.
"It is a long story," she answered, not meeting his eyes. "I hated the Romany life. I became an artist's model; sickened of that,"--her voice went quickly here, "joined a travelling menagerie, and became what I am. That in brief."
"You have done well," he said admiringly, his face glowing.
"I am a successful dompteuse," she replied.
She then asked him who was his companion in the box. He told her. She insisted on sending for Jacques. Meanwhile they talked of her profession, of the animals. She grew eloquent. Jacques arrived, and suddenly remembered Andree--stammered, was put at his ease, and dropped into talk with Annette. Gaston fell into reminiscences of wild game, and talked intelligently, acutely of her work. He must wait, she said, until the performance closed, and then she would show him the animals as a happy family. Thus a half-hour went by.
Meanwhile, Meyerbeer had asked the manager to take him to Mademoiselle; but was told that Victorine never gave information to journalists, and would not be interviewed. Besides, she had a visitor. Yes, Meyerbeer knew it--Mr. Gaston Belward; but that did not matter. The manager thought it did matter. Then, with an idea of the future, Meyerbeer asked to be shown the menagerie thoroughly--he would write it up for England and America.
And so it happened that there were two sets of people inspecting the menagerie after the performance. Andree let a dozen of the animals out-- lions, leopards, a tiger, and a bear,--and they gambolled round her playfully, sometimes quarrelling with each other, but brought up smartly by her voice and a little whip, which she always carried--the only sign of professional life about her, though there was ever a dagger hid in her dress. For the rest, she looked a splendid gipsy.
Gaston suddenly asked if he might visit her. At the moment she was playing with the young tiger. She paused, was silent, preoccupied. The tiger, feeling neglected, caught her hand with its paw, tearing the skin. Gaston whipped out his handkerchief, and stanched the blood. She wrapped the handkerchief quickly round her hand, and then, recovering herself, ordered the animals back into their cages. They trotted away, and the attendant locked them up. Meanwhile Jacques had picked up and handed to Gaston a letter, dropped when he drew out his handkerchief. It was one received two days before from Delia Gasgoyne. He had a pang of confusion, and hastily put it into his pocket.
Up to this time there had been no confusion in his mind. He was going back to do his duty; to marry the girl, union with whom would be an honour; to take his place in his kingdom. He had had no minute's doubt of that. It was necessary, and it should be done. The girl? Did he not admire her, honour her, care for her? Why, then, this confusion?
Andree said to him that he might come the next morning for breakfast. She said it just as the manager and Meyerbeer passed her. Meyerbeer heard it, and saw the look in the faces of both: in hers, bewildered, warm, penetrating; in Gaston's, eager, glowing, bold, with a distant kind of trouble.
Here was a thickening plot for Paul Pry. He hugged himself. But who was Zoug-Zoug? If he could but get at that! He asked the manager, who said he did not know. He asked a dozen men that evening, but none knew. He would ask Ian Belward. What a fool not to have thought of him at first. He knew all the gossip of Paris, and was always communicative--but was he, after all? He remembered now that the painter had a way of talking at discretion: he had never got any really good material from him. But he would try him in this.
So, as Gaston and Jacques travelled down the Boulevard Montparnasse, Meyerbeer was not far behind. The journalist found Ian Belward at home, in a cynical indolent mood.
"Wherefore Meyerbeer?" he said, as he motioned the other to a chair, and pushed over vermouth and cigarettes.
"To ask a question."
"One question? Come, that's penance. Aren't you lying as usual?"
"No; one only. I've got the rest of it."
"Got the rest of it, eh? Nasty mess you've got, whatever it is, I'll be bound. What a nice mob you press fellows are--wholesale scavengers!"
"That's all right. This vermouth is good enough. Well, will you answer my question?"
"Possibly, if it's not personal. But Lord knows where your insolence may run! You may ask if I'll introduce you to a decent London club!"
Meyerbeer flushed at last.
"You're rubbing it in," he said angrily.
He did wish to be introduced to a good London club. "The question isn't personal, I guess. It's this: Who's Zoug-Zoug?"
Smoke had come trailing out of Belward's nose, his head thrown back, his eyes on the ceiling. It stopped, and came out of his mouth on one long, straight whiff. Then the painter brought his head to a natural position slowly, and looking with a furtive nonchalance at Meyerbeer, said:
"Who is what?"
"That is your one solitary question, is it?"
"Very well. Now, I'll be scavenger. What is the story? Who is the woman--for you've got a woman in it, that's certain?"
"Will you tell me, then, whether you know Zoug-Zoug?"
"The woman is Mademoiselle Victorine, the dompteuse."
"Ah, I've not seen her yet. She burst upon Paris while I was away. Now, straight: no lies: who are the others?"
Meyerbeer hesitated; for, of course, he did not wish to speak of Gaston at this stage in the game. But he said:
"Count Ploare--and Zoug-Zoug."
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