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   Chapter 27 A THUNDERBOLT OF WAR

The Firefly of France By Marion Polk Angellotti Characters: 7762

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The great moment had arrived. General Le Cazeau and his staff were on their way back to Paris. The duke and duchess were at the chateau talking with the blesses; for the second time Dunny had tactfully disappeared. The approach of evening had spurred my faltering courage. As the first rosiness of sunset touched the skies beyond Raincy-la-Tour and lay across the water, I sat at the side of the only girl in the world and poured out my plea.

"It isn't fair, you know," I mourned. "I've only a few minutes. I shouldn't wonder if we heard your car honking for you in half an hour. To make a girl like you look at a man like me would take days of eloquence, and, besides, who would think of marrying any one with his head bound up Turkish fashion as mine is now?"

She laughed, and at the silvery sound of it I plucked up a hint of courage; for surely, I thought, she wasn't cruel enough to make game of me as she turned me down. Still, I couldn't really hope. She was too wonderful, and my courtship had been too inadequate. Despondent, arms on my knees, I harped upon the same string.

"I've never had a chance to show you," I lamented, "that I am civilized; that I know how to take care of you and put cushions behind you and slide footstools under your feet, and-er-all that. We've been too busy eluding Germans and racing through forbidden zones and rescuing papers from behind secret panels, for me to wait on you. Good heavens! To think how I've done my duty by a hundred girls I shouldn't know from Eve if they happened along this moment! And I've never even sent you a box of marrons glaces or flowers."

She shot a fleeting glance at me.

"No," she agreed, "you haven't! If you don't mind my saying so, I think they would have been out of place. At Bleau, for instance, and at Prezelay I hadn't much time for eating bonbons; but after all you did me one or two more practical services, Mr. Bayne."

"Nothing," I maintained, my gloom unabated, "that amounted to a row of pins. Though I might have shone, I'll admit; I can see that, looking back. The opportunity was there, but the man was lacking. I might have been a real movie hero, cool, resourceful, dependable, clear-sighted, a tower of strength; and what I did was to muddle things up hopelessly and waste time in suspecting you and seize every opportunity of trusting people who positively spread their guilt before my eyes."

"I don't know." She was looking at the lake, not at me, and she was smiling. "There were one or two little matters that have slipped your mind, perhaps. Take the very first night we met, when you tracked your thief to my room and wouldn't let the hotel people come in to search it. Don't you think, on the whole, that you were rather kind?"

"I couldn't have driven them in," I declared stubbornly, "with a pitchfork. I couldn't have persuaded them to make a search if I had prayed them on my bended knees. Their one idea was to help the fellow in what the best criminal circles call a getaway; and when I think how I must have been wool-gathering, not to guess-"

"Well, even so,"-Miss Falconer was still smiling-"weren't you very nice on the steamer? About the extra, I mean. And at Gibraltar, too, when they asked you what you had thrown overboard-do you remember how you kept silent and never even glanced my way?"

"No," I groaned, "I don't; but I remember our trip to Paris. I remember marching you into the wagon-restaurant like a hand-cuffed criminal, and sitting you down at a table, and bullying you like a Russian czar. I gave you three days to leave France. Have you forgotten? I haven't. The one thing I omitted-and I don't see how I missed it-was to call the gendarmes there at Modane and denounce you to them. It's more than kind of you to glide over my imbecilities; I appreciate it. But when I think of that evening I want a nice, deep, dark dungeon, s

omewhere underground, to hide."

"I think," she murmured consolingly, "that you made amends to me later." Her face was averted, but I could see a distracting dimple in her cheek. "You mustn't forget that I haven't been perfect, either. When you followed me to Bleau, and I came down the stairs and saw you, I misunderstood the situation entirely and was as unpleasant as I could be."

"Naturally," I acquiesced with dark meaning. "How could you have understood it? How could any human being have fathomed the mental processes that sent me there? I only wonder that instead of giving me what-for, you didn't murder me. Any United States jury would have acquitted you with the highest praise."

She turned upon me, flushed and spirited.

"Mr. Bayne, you are incorrigible! Why will you insist on belittling everything that you have done? I suppose you will claim next that you didn't risk imprisonment or death every minute of a whole day, just to help me, and that at Prezelay you didn't fight like a-a-yes, like a paladin!-to save me from being tortured by Herr von Blenheim and his men!"

I started up and then sank back.

"As a special favor," I begged her, "would you mind not mentioning that last phase of the affair? When you do, I go berserker; I'm a crazy man, seeing red; I'm honestly not responsible. It was when our friend Blenheim developed those plans of his that I swore in my soul I'd get him; and I thank the Lord that I did and that he'll never trouble you or any other woman again.

"Still, Miss Falconer, what does all that amount to? Any man would have helped you, wouldn't he? A nice sort of fellow I should have been to do any less! Whereas for a girl like you I ought to have accomplished miracles. I ought to have made the sun stop moving, or got you the stars to play with, or whisked the moon out of the skies."

She was laughing again.

"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "What fervor! Can this be my Mr. Bayne, the Mr. Bayne of our adventure, who never turned a hair no matter what mad things happened, and who was always so correct and conventional and so immaculately dressed, and so-"

"Stodgy! Say it!" I cried with utter recklessness. "I know I was; Dunny told me so that evening at the St. Ives. Have as many cracks at me as you like. I was getting fat; I was beginning to think that the most important thing in the universe was dinner. Well, I'm not stodgy any longer, Esme Falconer; you've reformed me. But of all the men in all the ages who were ever desperately, consumedly, imbecilely in love-"

In the distance two figures were strolling toward the blue car, the duke and the duchess. When they reached it, the Firefly cast a glance in our direction and sounded a warning, most unwelcome honk upon the horn. They were going, stony-hearted creatures that they were! They were taking Esme back to Paris. At the thought I abandoned my last pretense at self-command.

"Esme, dearest," I implored, "do you think you could put up with me? Could you marry me when I've done my part over here-or even sooner-right away? A dozen better men may love you, but mine is a special brand of love-unique, incomparable! Are you going to have me-or shall I jump into the lake?"

The sunset light was in her hair and in the gray, starry eyes she turned to me-those eyes that, because their lashes were so long and crinkled so maddeningly, were only half revealed. Her lips curved in a fleeting smile.

"Oh, you dear, blind, silly man! Do you think any girl could help loving you-after all that has happened to you and me?" she whispered.

Then I caught her to me; and despite my crutches and my bandaged head and that atrocious horn in the distance honking the signal for our parting, I was the happiest being in France-or in the world.

"I knew all along it was a dream, and it is! Such things don't really happen. No such luck!" I cried.

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