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23: Wrecked


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« on: March 18, 2023, 07:44:23 am »

"Il ne faut confier son secret qu' à celui qui n'a pas cherché à le deviner."

"I do not care whether Paris is in the hands of the Communards or the other bunglers so long as the Bank of France holds good," said John Turner; and, indeed, I afterwards learnt that his whole fortune depended on this turn of the wheel.

We were travelling down to Hopton, and it was the last week of May. We bore to Madame de Clericy the news that at last the government troops had made their entry into Paris and were busy fighting in the streets there, hunting from pillar to post the remnant of the Communard rabble. The reign of terror which had lasted two and a half months was ended, and Paris lay like a ship that having passed through a great storm lies at last in calm water, battered and beaten. Priceless treasures had perished by the incendiarism of the wild mob---the Tuileries were burnt, the Louvre had barely escaped a like fate. The matchless Hôtel de Ville had vanished, and a thousand monuments and relics were lost for ever. Paris would never be the same again. Anarchy had swept across it, razing many buildings and crushing out not a few of those qualities of good taste and feeling which had raised Frenchmen to the summit of civilisation before the Empire fell.

John Turner was in good humour, for he had just learnt that, owing to the wit and nerve of one man, the Bank of France had stood untouched. With it was saved the house of Turner & Co., of Paris and London. The moment my friend's affairs were on a safe footing he placed himself at my service to help with the Vicomtesse de Clericy's more complicated difficulties. I was glad to avail myself of the assistance of one whose name was a by-word for rectitude and stability. Here, at all events, I had a colleague whose word could not be doubted by Isabella, of whose father John Turner had been a friend as well as of my own.

"Heard any more of Miste?" inquired Turner, while the train stood at Ipswich station; for he was much too easy-going to shout conversation during the progress of our journey.

"Sander writes that he has nearly caught him twice, and singularly enough has done better since you gave Mr. Devar his congé."

"Nothing singular about that. Devar was in the swindle and kept Miste advised of your movements. But there is some one else in it, too."

"A third person?"

"Yes," answered Turner. "A third person. I have been watching the thing, Dick, and am not such a fat old fool as you take me for. It was neither Miste nor Devar who cashed that draft. If you catch Miste you will probably catch some one else, too, some knight-errant of finance, or I am much mistaken."

At this moment the train moved on, and my friend composed his person for a sleep which lasted until we reached Saxmundham.

"I suppose," said my companion, waking up there, "that Mademoiselle of the beaux yeux is to marry Alphonse when the fortune is recovered?"

"I suppose so," answered I, and John Turner closed his eyes again with a queer look.

In the station enclosure at Lowestoft we found Alphonse Giraud enjoying himself immensely on the high seat of a dog-cart, controlling, with many French exclamations, and a partial success, the movements of a cob which had taken a fancy to progress backwards round and round the yard.

"It is," he explained, with a jerky salutation of the whip, "the Sunday-school treat departing for Yarmouth. They marched in here with a brass band---too much---Whoa! le petit, whoa!---too much for our feelings. There---bonjour, Monsieur Turner---how goes it? There---now we stand still."

"Not for long," said Turner, doubtfully; "and I never get in or out of anything when it is in motion."

With the assistance of sundry idle persons we held the horse still enough for my friend to take his seat beside Alphonse, while I and the luggage found place behind them. We dashed out of the gate at a speed and risk which gave obvious satisfaction to our driver, and our progress up the narrow High Street was a series of hairbreadth escapes.

"It is a pleasure," said Alphonse, airily, as we passed the lighthouse and the cob settled down into a steady trot, "to drive such a horse as this."

"No doubt," said Turner; "but next time I take a cab."

We arrived at the Manor House in time for luncheon, and were received by the ladies at the door. Lucille, I remember, looked grave, but it appeared that the Vicomtesse was in good spirits.

"Then the news is true," she cried, before we had descended from our high places.

"Yes, Madame, for a wonder good news is true," answered Turner, and he stood bareheaded, after the manner of his adopted country, while he shook hands.

On this occasion we all frankly spoke French, for to John Turner this language was second nature. We had plenty to talk of during luncheon, and learnt much from the Paris banker which had never appeared in the newspapers. He had, indeed, passed through a trying ordeal, and that with an imperturbable nerve and coolness of head. He made, however, little of his own difficulties, and gave all his attention to Madame's affairs. Whenever he made mention of my name I saw Lucille frown.

After luncheon we went to the garden, which extends from the grim old house to the cliff-edge, and is protected on either side by a double rank of Scotch firs, all twisted and gnarled by the winter winds---all turning westward, with a queer effect as of raised shoulders and shivering limbs.

Within the boundary we have always, however, succeeded in growing such simple flowers as are indigenous to British soil---making a gay appearance and filling the air with clean-smelling scents.

"Your garden," said Madame, touching my arm as we passed out of the dining-room window, "always suggests to me the English character---not much flower, but a quantity of tough wood."

Alphonse joined us, and embarked at once on the description of an easterly gale such as are too common on this coast, but new to him and grand enough in its onslaught. For the wind hurls itself unchecked against the cliff and house after its career across the North Sea.

Lucille and John Turner had walked slowly away together down the narrow path running from the house to the solid entrenchment of turf that stands on the cliff edge, covered with such sparse grass and herb as the sand and spray may nourish.

"It is pleasant," Lucille said, as they went from us, "to have some one to talk French with."

She was without her hat or gloves, and I saw the sunlight gleaming on her hair.

"You have Alphonse Giraud," said Turner, in his blunt way.

Lucille shrugged her shoulders.

"And Howard, from time to time," added the banker, who, having received permission to smoke a cigar, was endeavouring to extract a penknife from his waistcoat pocket.

"Who talks French with the understanding of an Englishman," said Lucille, quickly.

"You do not like Englishmen?"

"I like honest ones, Monsieur," said Lucille, looking across the sea.

"Ah!"

"Oh, yes---I know," cried Lucille, impatiently. "You are one of Mr. Howard's partisans. They are so numerous and so ready to speak for him---and he will never speak for himself."

"Then," said John Turner, smoking placidly, "let us agree to differ on that point."

But Lucille had no such intention.

"Does Mr. Howard ask you---you and mother, and sometimes Alphonse---to fight his battles for him and to sing his praises to me?"

Turner did not answer at once.

"Well?" she inquired, impatiently.

"I was just thinking how long it is since Dick Howard mentioned your name to me---about three months, I believe."

Lucille walked on with her head erect.

"What have you against him?" asked Turner, after a short silence.

"It was from your house that Mr. Howard came to us. He came to my father assuring him that he was poor, which he told me afterwards was only a subterfuge and false pretence. I then learnt from Mr. Gayerson that this was not the truth. I suppose Mr. Howard thought that a woman's affection is to be bought by gold."

"All that can be explained, Mademoiselle."

"Then explain it, Monsieur."

"Let Howard do it," said Turner, pausing to knock the ash from his cigar.

"I do not care for Mr. Howard's explanations," said Lucille, coldly. "One never knows what to believe. Is he rich or poor?"

"He is which he likes."

Lucille gave a scornful laugh.

"He could be rich to-morrow if he would do as I advise him," grunted Turner.

"What is that, Monsieur?"

"Marry money and a woman he does not love."

They walked on for some moments in silence, and came to the turf entrenchment raised against the wind, as against an assaulting army. They passed through a gangway, cut in the embankment, to one of the seats built against the outer side of it. Below them lay the clean sands, stretching away on either side in unbroken smoothness---the sands of Corton.

"And why will he not take your advice?" asked Lucille.

"Because he is a pig-headed fool---as his father was before him. It is all his father's fault, for placing him in such an impossible position."

"I do not understand," said Lucille.

John Turner crossed his legs with a grunt of obesity.

"It is nevertheless simple, Mademoiselle," he said; "father and son quarrelled because old Howard, who was as obstinate as his son, made up his mind that Dick should marry Isabella Gayerson. Plenty of money, adjoining estates, the old story of misery with many servants. Dick, being his father's son, at once determined that he would do no such thing, and there was a row royal. Dick went off to Paris, in debt and heedless of the old man's threat to cut him off with a shilling. He had never cared for Isabella, and was not going to sell his liberty for the sake of a ring fence. His own words, Mademoiselle. At Paris sundry things happened to him, of which you probably know more than I."

He glanced up at Lucille, who was picking blades of grass from the embankment against which he leant. Her eyelids flickered, but she made no reply.

"Then," went on John Turner, "his father died suddenly, and it transpired that the hot-headed old fool had made one of those wills which hot-headed old fools make for the special delectation of novelists and lawyers. He had left Dick penniless, unless he consented to marry Isabella. When Dick told your father he was poor, he was well within the limits of the truth, although he did it, as I understand, to gain his own ends. When he told you a different story, he merely assumed that this quarrel, like others, would end in a reconciliation. He felt remorseful that he had practised a mild deception on your father, and wished to clear his conscience. Death intervened at this moment, and placed our young friend in the uncomfortable position of having told untruths all round. You probably know better than I do, Mademoiselle, why he got himself into this hobble."

But Lucille would make no such admission.

"But you ignore Isabella," she cried, impatiently, "you and Mr. Howard."

"She will not allow us to do that, my dear young lady."

"Is she to wait with folded hands until Mr. Howard decides whether he is inclined to marry her or not?"

"There is no waiting in the question," said John Turner. "Dick made up his mind long ago, in the lifetime of his father, and Isabella must be aware of his decision. Besides, Mademoiselle, you can judge for yourself. Is there any love lost between them, think you?"

"No."

"Is there any reason why they should be miserable if they do not want to be?"

"Isabella could not be more miserable than she is now, though she hides it well."

"Ah," said John Turner, thoughtfully. "Is that so? I wonder why."

Lucille shrugged her shoulders. She either could not or would not answer.

"Too much money," suggested Turner.

"When women have plenty of money they usually want something that cannot be bought."

Lucille frowned.

"And now you are angry, Mademoiselle," said John Turner, placidly, "and I am not afraid. I will make you still more angry."

He rose heavily, and stood, cigar in hand, looking out to sea---his round face puckered with thought.

"Mademoiselle Lucille," he said, slowly, "I have known some men and quite a number of women who have sacrificed their happiness to their pride. I have known them late in life, when the result had to be lived through. They were not good company. If pride or love must go overboard, Mademoiselle, throw pride."

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