"Oh! there's no time for that," said Raynal. And as the baronesslooked horrified and amazed, Picard explained: "The state marriesits citizens now, with reason: since marriage is a civil contract.""Marriage a civil contract!" repeated the baronesethereum management apis. "What, is itthen no longer one of the holy sacraments? What horrible impietyshall we come to next? Unhappy France! Such a contract would neverbe a marriage in my eyes: and what would become of an union theChurch had not blessed?""Madame," said Picard, "the Church can bless it still; but it isonly the mayor here that can DO it."All this time Josephine was blushing scarlet, and looking this wayand that, with a sort of instinctive desire to fly and hide, nomatter where, for a week or so.
The baroness loshow to buy usdt tethert her temper at this last stroke of opposition."Now the truth comes out, Rose; this is selfishness. Do not deceiveYOURself--selfishness!""Mamma!""You are only waiting to leave me yourself. Yet your eldest sister,forsooth, must be kept here for you,--till then." She added moregently, "Let me advise you to retire to your own room, and examineyour heart fairly. You will find there is a strong dash of egoismin all this.""If I do"--"You will retract your opposition.""My heart won't let me; but I will despise myself, and be silent."And the young lady, who had dried her eyes the moment she wasaccused of selfishness, walked, head erect, from the room.
Josephine cast a deprecating glance at her mother. "Yes, my angel!"said the latter, "I was harsh. But we are no longer of one mind,and I suppose never shall be again.""Oh, yes, we shall. Be patient! Mother--you shall not leaveBeaurepaire."The baroness colored faintly at these four last words of herdaughter, and hung her head.Josephine saw that, and darted to her and covered her with kisses.That day the doctor scolded them both. "You have put your motherinto a high fever," said he; "here's a pulse; I do wish you would bemore considerate."The commandant did not come to dinner as usual. The evening passedheavily; their hearts were full of uncertainty."We miss our merry, spirited companion," said the baroness with agrim look at Rose. Both young ladies assented with ludicrouseagerness.That night Rose came and slept with Josephine, and more than onceshe awoke with a start and seized Josephine convulsively and heldher tight.
Accused of egoism! at first her whole nature rose in arms againstthe charge: but, after a while, coming as it did from so revered aperson, it forced her to serious self-examination. The poor girlsaid to herself, "Mamma is a shrewd woman. Am I after all deceivingmyself? Would she be happy, and am I standing in the way?" In themorning she begged her sister to walk with her in the park, so thatthey might be safe from interruption.There, she said sadly, she could not understand her own sister.Billson was employed in the business. He acted as porter he worked the lift, he was the routine executioner of the dogs and cats, and any other domestic creatures who had tired the patience of their owners by illness or age, or making it difficult to close their owners' houses.
Snacklit had told him that a young woman had called of whose honesty he was not sure, and that he was not to allow her to leave the premises unless she should be shown out in a regular manner. That had been both a precaution against Irene getting away through the front entrance and a means of keeping Billson in that part of the premises while other things were happening elsewhere of which it was desirable that he should not know.Had Snacklit foreseen that he would have that telephone-call which he could not ignore, he would have made different arrangements. Now he looked round in a well-founded doubt of what might have been said while he was away.His anxiety and the sense of urgency under which he acted were increased by the fact that he did not return only from receiving and refusing Professor Blinkwell's telephone instructions. He had also interviewed the detective-sergeant whom Superintendent Allenby had sent to the house. He thought he had been successful in turning that enquiry aside; but it had been a plain warning of the activity of the police - of an enquiry which might be concentrating upon him. Suppose they had come with a search-warrant, and had discovered her there - had listened to what she certainly would have said - had looked into the furnace while the taxi-driver's bones were still recognizable? There was no time for further hesitation now. He asked, "What's been happening here?"Kate would have answered, but Billson was quicker than she. He said: "Kate just called me in, sir. I don't know why."
Kate explained: "The young lady said she wanted to go, so I called Billson. You told me to, if she did."Irene saw that, though they might not be prepared to give her further support, they did not betray what she had said, and she got some small comfort from that.
Snacklit said, "Well, you can both go now."Irene became aware that she was desperately afraid of what might happen if she should be left alone with Snacklit again. She said, "They're not going without me.""I suppose," Snacklit retorted, "I can give orders in my own house.""You can't give orders to me. I say, if they go out of the room I go too. . . . If I'm kept here, I mean to be able to tell the police who's in it, and who's not."
The two servants had stood hesitating, evidently interested in what they heard. Snacklit looked at them angrily. Billson said, "Come alone, Kate." He put his hand on her arm and drew her out of the room.Irene would have followed, but Snacklit was too quick for her. He was first at the door, turned the key, and dropped it into his pocket. He faced her, scowling. Here was a fresh reason for doubt. If she were traced to the house (but was that likely?) how much would those two say, if they should be questioned? How safely could they be bribed? Neither of them was of high character. But their degree of loyalty to him might not be great. It was an added risk, but still - if she could be done away with completely without their knowledge, was it not still the one path on which a prospect of safety lay?"Now," he said, "if you value your skin, you'll sit down quietly and tell me what you really know, or think you know, and what made you follow me in the way you did.""And if you value your skin you'll unlock the door. I shan't tell you anything till the key's back where it belongs,"
"You'll wait a long time, if you wait for that," he said "but I've no time to lose. If you won't talk sensibly to me, f shall have to send for someone who'll treat you differently than I was meaning to do."As he said this, his eyes were on the bell. Irene, having declined his suggestion that she should sit down, was standing near the fireplace. He would have to come close to her to reach the bell-push.
Her own eyes had settled for a moment upon a heavy metal ornament on the mantelpiece. She judged its weight, and the distance between them. She had attended a college where baseball was not unknown. She thought she could manage that."I'll give you one last chance," she said. "If you don't open the door - - "
He laughed, and advanced towards her, with a purpose she did not understand, but to which she saw only one sufficient reply. She seized the heavy ornament, and threw with all the force of her desperation, and of a young and vigorous arm. Snacklit ducked, or he would have been worse hurt than he was. But the attack had been so sudden and unexpected that he was not quick enough to avoid it entirely.It did not come full in his face, as had been intended, but it struck him a glancing blow, and he fell forward.She knew the pocket in which he had put the key. She had it out as he tried dizzily to rise. Seeing what she had done, he snatched at her catching an arm. He was still half-dazed by the blow, but he tried to drag her toward the grate. She misunderstood his intention, and, instead of trying to keep him away, she struggled to be first there. She succeeded in her own aim, which she had supposed to have been his. She caught the poker in her free hand, but as she did so he rose sufficiently to press the lower of the two bell-pushes beside the grate.The next moment the poker came down hard on the hand that held her, and she was free.She had dropped the key in the struggle, and must come near him to look for it in the thick rug. He was still only raised on one hand, but he made a sudden grab at her foot, pulling her down.At that, in a passion of mingled anger and fear, she struck hard and blindly with the poker across his face. He screamed at the blow, and fell back. "Burfoot!" he called. "Burfoot!" and then tried again to rise and pursue her, as he saw that she was taking no further notice of him, but had already got the key into the door.
"You hell-cat!" he said. "You don't know how you're going to pay for this." He stood swaying, wiping the blood from his face. He thought his cheekbone was broken. He spat out blood and a broken tooth.Irene stood at the open door, where Burfoot blocked her way. She knew him both as the man who had driven the grey car and, more certainly, as one of those who had wheeled the handcart across the garden.
Even with the short poker in her hand, she did not feel that she would be equal to a struggle with him, nor was she used to settling her differences in such a manner.She took a step back, letting him enter the room. Conventional standards of conduct became dominant again as she said in explanation, and in a voice that was almost apologetic: "I couldn't help it. He wouldn't let me get out of the room."
The man looked stolidly at his injured master, and then at her. She was uncertain how he would take it, until he said brutally, "You'll get your neck wrung if you try any games with me." His eyes were evil, but his lips grinned, as though the idea of her resisting him were an enjoyable joke.Snacklit said: "You'll know what's got to be done with her after this. You can call Wilkes, if you need help. . . . Better keep the others out of it, if you can."
Irene said boldly: "You won't call anyone, if you're a wise man. I'm going to give a hundred pounds to whoever gets me out of here, and you may as well have the lot." She added, seeing no sign of change in his expression, "The police may be here any minute, and you'd rather I say you're one of those who were helping me to get out.""Tom, she's lying," Snacklit interposed. "But if it's true, you can't be too quick. She saw you and Wilkes crossing the lawn."The man appeared to take no notice. He said slowly: "You'd give me a hundred pounds? You'd do that if I let you go quiet by the side door?""You can come with me, if you like, and you shall have it as soon as I get home."
Snacklit said angrily: "Don't take any notice of what she says. She'll be your death, if you do."Burfoot made no answer to that. He turned back to the door. "If you'll come with me, miss," he said, in a more civil voice than he had used before, "I'll show you the way out. But I'd put that poker back. You won't want to carry it through the streets."
He had winked at his master as he turned round, and Snacklit said no more. He gave his attention again to his bleeding face, which was now darkened by a long bruise, lividly blue.But an ugly smile came painfully to his face as Irene followed the man through the door. He thought that full payment would soon be made.
Chapter 37 The Home Secretary Wants To KnowTHE HOME SECRETARY had to wait. He was told that Superintendent Allenby was on the Paris telephone, and could not be interrupted, even for him. Impatient though he might be, he had to wait for some time. When he got connected at last, he said: "I want to know just what the position is, and what's being done. I can't think how you could allow matters to get into such a position."
"You mean about Miss Thurlow?""Yes, and His Excellency. Where are they now? I hope you're not going to tell me that you don't know.""We don't know for certain where Miss Thurlow is yet. Her father's out looking for her, with a gun in his hip pocket.""You mean you've - - "
"We've done all we could, of course. And there's still some reason to think it may turn out all right."But there's fresh information just come in from Paris, and the question is really for you, sir. What you think it will be best for us to do. They've got a waiter detained there who's made a statement that Professor Blinkwell murdered Reynard, because he was on the point of revealing to Mr. Thurlow that Blinkwell had got some device for smuggling drugs through with the ambassador's luggage without his knowledge."
"You mean Blinkwell, the director of Vantons? It sounds incredible.""I should say it's true, more likely than not. Blinkwell was certainly at the hotel. And someone finally did get the drugs through in that way, though it was by a different trick from the one that Gustav - that's the waiter - says they were first going to use.
"But to say it's probably true isn't to say it can be proved. There's only Gustav's word, and he gave another version before, which we know was all lies."Anyway, the S?ret? seem to have their tails in the air. They say they're sending through the extradition papers at once, and they want us to fetch Blinkwell in before he can get word of what's going on."