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   Chapter 25 AT RAINCY-LA-TOUR

The Firefly of France By Marion Polk Angellotti Characters: 14612

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


When I opened my eyes it was with a peculiarly reluctant feeling, for my eyelids were so heavy that they seemed to weigh a ton. My head was unspeakably groggy, and I had quite lost my memory. I couldn't, if suddenly interrogated, have replied with one intelligent bit of information about myself, not even with my name.

Flat on my back I was lying, gazing up at what, surprisingly, seemed to be a ceiling festooned with garlands of roses and painted with ladies and cavaliers, idling about a stretch of greensward, decidedly in the Watteau style. Where was I? What had happened to make me feel so helpless? It reminded me of an episode of my childhood, a day when my pony had fallen and rolled upon me, and I had been carried home with two crushed ribs and a broken arm.

Coming out at that time from the influence of the ether, I had found Dunny at my bedside. If only he were here now! I looked round. Why, there he was, sitting in a brocaded chair by the window, his dear old silver head thrown back, dozing beyond a doubt.

To see him gave me a warm, comforted, homelike feeling. Nor did it surprise me, but my surroundings did. The room, a veritable Louis Quinze jewel in its paneling, carving, and gilding, might have come direct from Versailles by parcel post; my bed was garlanded and curtained in rose-color. Where I had gone to sleep last night I couldn't remember; but it hadn't, I was obstinately sure, been here.

What ailed me, anyhow? I began a series of cautious experiments, designed to discover the trouble. My arms were weak and of a strange, flabby limpness, but they moved. So did my left leg; but when I came to the right one I was baffled. It wouldn't stir; it was heavily encased in something. Good heavens! now I knew! It was in a plaster cast.

The shock of the discovery taught me something further, namely, that my head was liable to excruciating little throbs of pain. I raised a hand to it. My forehead was swathed in bandages, like a turbaned Turk's. Oh, to be sure, in the castle at Prezelay, as we were retreating up the staircase, Schwartzmann had fired at me; but, then, hadn't that been a pin prick, the merest scratch?

The name Prezelay served as a key to solve the puzzle. The whole fantastic, incredible chain of happenings came back to me in a rush; the gray car, the inn, the murder, the night in the castle, Jean-Herve-Marie-Olivier.

"Dunny!" I heard myself quavering in a voice utterly unlike my own.

The figure in the chair started up and hurried toward me, and then Dunny's hands were holding my hands, his eyes looking into mine.

"There, Dev, there! Take it easy," the familiar voice was soothing me. "Hold on to me, my boy, You are safe now. You're all right!"

My safety, however, seemed of small importance for the time being.

"Dunny," I implored, "listen! You have got to find out for me about a girl. How am I to tell you, though? If I start the story, you'll think I'm raving."

"I know all about it, Dev," my guardian reassured me. "I've seen Miss Falconer. She's absolutely safe."

If that were so, I could relax, and I did with fervent thankfulness. Not for long, however; my brain had begun to work.

"See here! I want to know who has been playing football with me," was my next demand, which Dunny answered obligingly, if with a slightly dubious face.

"That French doctor, nice young chap, said you weren't to talk," he muttered, "but if I were in your place I'd want to know a few things myself. It was this way, Dev. A fragment of a shell struck you-"

"A fragment!" I raised weak eyebrows. "I know better. Twenty shells at least, and whole!"

"-and didn't strike your Teuton friends," he charged on, suddenly purple of visage. "It was a true German shell, my boy, the devil looking after his own. The man in the seat with you was cut up a bit; the other two were thrown clear of the motor. If you hadn't already given the alarm, they would probably have got off scot-free. As it was, the French held a drumhead court martial a little later, and all three of the fellows-well, you can fill in the rest."

I was silent for a minute while a picture rose before me: a dank, gray dawn; a firing-squad, and Franz von Blenheim's dark, grim face. No doubt he had died bravely; but I could not pity him; I had too clear a recollection of the hall at Prezelay.

"As for you," Dunny was continuing, "you seem to have puzzled them finely. There you were in a French uniform, at your last gasp apparently, and with an American passport, that you seem to have clung to through thick and thin, inside your coat. They took a chance on you, though, because you had made them a present of the Franz von Blenheim; and by the next day, thanks to Miss Falconer and the Duke of Raincy-la-Tour, you were being looked for all over France.

"So that's how it stands. You're at Raincy-la-Tour now, at the duke's chateau. The place has been a hospital ever since the war began. Only you're not with the other wounded. You are-well-a rather special patient in the pavilion across the lake; and you're by way of being a hero. The day I landed, the first paper I saw shrieked at me how you had tracked the kaiser's star agent and outwitted him and handed him over to justice."

"The deuce it did!" I exclaimed. "You must have been puffed up with pride."

My guardian's jaw set itself rigidly. "I was too busy," was his grim answer. "You see, the end of the statement said there was no hope that you could survive. And when I got here I found you with fever, delirium, one leg shot up, four bits of shell in your head, a fine case of brain concussion. That was nearly three weeks ago, and it seems more like three years!"

An idea, at this point, made me fix a searching gaze on him.

"By the way," I asked accusingly, "how did you happen to arrive so opportunely on this side? It seemed as natural as possible to find you settled here waiting for my eyes to open; but on second thoughts I suppose you didn't fly?"

He looked extraordinarily embarrassed.

"Why," he growled at length, "I had business. I got a cablegram soon after you left New York. The thing was confoundedly inconvenient, but I had no choice about it."

"Dunny," I said weakly, but sternly, "you didn't bring me up to tell whoppers, not bare-faced ones like that, anyhow, that wouldn't deceive the veriest child. What earthly business could you have over here in war-time? Own up, now, and take your medicine like a man."

His guilty air was sufficient answer.

"Well, Dev," he acknowledged, "it was your cable. That Gibraltar mess was a nasty one, and I didn't like its looks. I'm getting old, and you're all I've got; so I took a passport and caught the Rochambeau. Not, of course, that I doubted your ability to take care of yourself, my boy-"

"Didn't you? You might have," I admitted with some ruefulness, "if you had known I was bucking both the Allied governments and the picked talent of the Central powers. It was too much. I was riding for a fall, and I got it. But I don't mind saying, Dunny, I'm infernally glad you came."

He wiped his eyes.

"Well, you go to sleep now," he counseled gruffly. "You've got to get well in a hurry; there's work for you to do! All sorts of things have been happening since that obus knocked yo

u out. Just a week ago, for instance, the President went before Congress and-"

"What's that you say? Not war?"

"Yes, war, young man! We're in it at last, up to our necks; in it with men and ships and munitions and foodstuffs and everything else we have to help with, praise the Lord! You'll fight beneath the Stars and Stripes, instead of under the Tricolor. I say, Dev, that's positively the last word I'll utter. You've got to rest!"

In a weak, quavering fashion, but with sincere enthusiasm, I tried to celebrate by singing a few bars of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and a little of the "Marseillaise." Dunny was right, however; the conversation had exhausted me. In the midst of my patriotic demonstration I fell asleep.

My convalescence was a marvel, I learned from young Dr. Raimbault, the surgeon from the chateau who came to see me every day. According to him, I was a patient in a hundred, in a thousand; he never wearied of admiring my constitution, which he described by the various French equivalents of "as hard as nails." Not a set-back attended the course of my recovery. First, I sat propped up in bed; then I attained the dignity of an arm-chair; later, slowly and painfully, I began to drag myself about the room. But the day on which my physician's rapture burst all bounds was the great one when I crawled from the pavilion, gained a bench beneath the trees, and sat enthroned, glaring at my crutches. They were detestable implements; I longed to smash them. And they would, the doctor airily informed me, be my portion for three months.

To feel grumpy in such surroundings was certainly black ingratitude. It was an idyllic place. My pavilion was a sort of Trianon, a Marie Antoinette bower, all flowers and gold. Fresh green woods grew about it; a lake stretched before it; swans dotted the water where trees were mirrored, and there were marble steps and balustrades. Across this glittering expanse rose Raincy-la-Tour, proud and stately, with its formal gardens and its fountains and its Versailles-like front. In the afternoons I could see the wounded soldiers walking there or being pushed to and fro in wheel-chairs; legless and armless, some of them; wreckage of the mighty battle-fields; timely reminders, poor heroic fellows, that there were people in the world a great deal worse off than I.

Yet, instead of being thankful, I was profoundly wretched. I moped and sulked; I fell each day into a deeper, more consistent gloom. I tried grimly to regain my strength, with a view to seeking other quarters. While I stayed here I was the guest of the Firefly of France; and though I admired him,-I should have been a cad, a quitter, a poor loser, everything I had ever held anathema in days gone by, not to do so,-still I couldn't feel toward him as a man should feel toward his host; not in the least!

On three separate occasions Dunny motored up to Paris, bringing back as the fruits of his first excursion my baggage from the Ritz. I was clothed again, in my right mind; except for my swathed head, I looked highly civilized. The day when I had raced hither and yon, and fought an unbelievable battle in a dark hall, and insanely masqueraded first in a leather coat, then in a pale-blue uniform, seemed dim and far-off indeed.

"It was a nice hashish dream," I told my mirrored image. "But it wasn't real, my lad, for a moment; such things don't happen to folks like you. You're not the romantic type; you don't look like some one in an old picture; you haven't brought down thirty German aeroplanes or thereabouts, and won every war medal the French can give and the name of Ace. No; you look like a-a correct bulldog; and winning an occasional polo cup is about your limit. Even if it hadn't been settled before you met her, you wouldn't have stood a chance."

There were times when I prayed never to see Esme Falconer again. There were other times when I knew I would drag myself round the world-yes, on my crutches!-if at the end of the journey I could see her for an instant, a long way off. I could see that my despondency was driving Dunny to distraction. He evolved the theory that I was going into a decline.

Then came the afternoon that made history. I was sitting at my window. The trees seemed specially green, the sky specially blue, the lake specially bright. I was feeling stronger and was glumly planning a move to Paris when I saw an automobile speed up the poplared walk toward Raincy-la-Tour.

Rip-snorting and chugging, the thing executed a curve before the chateau, and then, hugging the side of the lake, advanced, obviously toward my humble abode. My heart seemed to turn a somersault. I should have known that car if I had met it in Bagdad. It was a long blue motor, polished to the last notch, deeply cushioned, luxurious, poignantly familiar, the car, in short, that I had pursued to Bleau, and that later, in flat defiance of President Poincare or the Generalissimo of France, or whoever makes army rules and regulations, I had guided through the war zone to the castle of Prezelay.

As the chauffeur halted it near the pavilion, it disgorged three occupants, one of who, a young officer, slender of form and gracefully alert of movement, wore the dark-blue uniform of the French Flying Corps. I knew him only too well. It was Jean-Herve-Marie-Olivier. But the glance I gave him was most cursory; my attention was focused hungrily on the two ladies in the tonneau. They had risen and were divesting themselves in leisurely fashion of a most complicated arrangement of motor coats and veils.

From these swathing disguises there first emerged, as if from a chrysalis, a black-clad, distinguished-looking young woman whom I had never seen before. However, it was the second figure, the one in the rosy veils and the tan mantle, that was exciting me. Off came her wrappings, and I saw a girl in a white gown and a flowered hat-the loveliest girl on earth.

I did not stand on the order of my going. I rocked perilously, and my crutches made a furious clatter, but I was outside in a truly infinitesimal space of time. Yes; there they were, chatting with Dunny, who had hurried to meet them. And at sight of me the Firefly of France ran forward with hands extended, greeting me as if I were his oldest friend, his brother, his dearest comrade in arms.

I took his hands and I pressed them with what show of warmth I could summon. It was as peasant as a bit of torture, but it had to be gone through. Then I stared past him toward the ladies, who were coming up with Dunny; and except for that girl in white, I saw nothing in all the world.

"Monsieur," the duke was saying, "I pay you my first visit. Only my weakness has prevented me from sooner welcoming to Raincy-la-Tour so honored a guest."

He turned to the lady who stood beside Miss Falconer, a slender, dark-eyed, gracious young woman wearing a simple black gown and a black hat and a string of pearls.

"Here is another," said the Firefly, "who has come to welcome you. Oh, yes, Monsieur, you must know, and you must count henceforth as your friends in any need, even to the death, all those who bear the name of Raincy-la-Tour. Permit that I present you to my wife, who is of your country."

"Jean's wife is my sister, Mr. Bayne," Miss Falconer said.

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