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   Chapter 22 FELIX.

The Son of Clemenceau, A Novel of Modern Love and Life By Alexandre Dumas Characters: 10151

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was Antonino.

"Is this the keeper?" thought Césarine, laughing scornfully within herself. "A pretty boy for the austere Clemenceau to trust! Do not excuse yourself," she called out. "Close the door-it causes a draft! So, you told my husband that you loved me?"

Far from expecting this address, the Italian let several seconds pass before he faltered:

"Who told you so?"

"He did! he never lacks frankness, I will say that for him. Well, you have destroyed my chances of securing a peaceful life. And yet I never did you any harm, did I?"

"I destroy you?" repeated he, as she began to weep after a vain attempt to hide her eyes in her tresses.

"How is that?"

"Because I lost control of myself under his anger and his threats, and I confessed to him also that I was fond of you. We have a fellow feeling and selected the same confidant!"

"You love me?"

"For what else did I come back to this gloomy house? What else would have induced me to stay? He drove me away before, and I never suspected that it was to clear the scene for Rebecca, fool-child that I was! And now he picked the quarrel with me about you in order to go off with the heathen! You men are so monopolizing! He wants to be let love the inky-eyed Jewess, but I must not say a kind word to you! Oh, what am I to do now?" and in pretending to repair the disarray of her hair, down came a luxuriant tress. "What does it matter which way I turn? All roads lead to the river or the railroad-a step into the cold water or repose on the track of the iron horse, and no one will then torment poor Césarine!"

"You have some sinister plan," said Antonino, frightened by her manner. "I will not let you go away alone."

"Is it thus you guard your master's house?"

"Then wait till he returns and decide upon something."

"He will decide on separating us, that is sure. Do you think if he takes me, that you could go with us?"

"No! but if you meant to kill yourself, I should die after you."

"Why not die together?"

"I do not care."

"Then you love me thoroughly?" she exclaimed in delight.

"Death would be repose, and this struggle is driving me frantic," said he, in a deep voice.

"Well, we will die some day," she said with pretended fervor, "but we are young and have time before us. Lovers do not willingly die! If you love me as I love you, you would, like me, find life all of a sudden wondrously bright! What a blessing that I have money for our enjoyment!" clapping her hands like a child.

"In your fair Italy, we-"

"Money," repeated he, raised by her magic into a region above such sordid ideas and falling quickly.

"Of course! my bank orders! stay, they are in your box. Let us hasten away before he returns. Quick, take!"

"No;" said Antonino. "When he left the house in my charge he bade me touch nothing, and let nothing be touched until his return."

"He forsaw!" muttered the faithless wife, gnawing one of the tresses furiously as she studied the Italian's emotion. "Get me my money!"

"Wait until-"

"And with it those papers that describe your discoveries."

"What do you mean?" he cried, coming to a halt, half-way toward the chest while she was undoing one of the windows of which she had drawn back the curtains. "The papers-they are not mine, or yours."

"They will make the man I love rich and famous!" she replied, with eyes that seemed to light up the room far more than the starlight entering. "You know all about the work. With those plans in the language you also read, you can rise higher than he! He restricts his genius to his country-you-we will sell to the highest bidder!"

"Mercenary fiend! I comprehend all now!" said the Italian.

"So much the better!" she replied, coolly, having opened the window and descried a shadow standing guard in a narrow alley. "We shall lose no time in explaining."

"You mean to betray your country?"

"Neither mine nor yours! our country is wherever love and gold are rulers."

"Wretch!" cried he, taking a step toward her so threateningly that she retreated from the window to which his back was turned as he continued to face her.

"Which is the meaner?" she responded. "I deceive a man who loaths me, scorns me and threatens me with the love of another! You deceive the man who shelters you and to whom you owe everything. I betray him who does me harm-you, him who did you good. We are on a level, unless you have surpassed me. This is love! Did you imagine that you can withdraw the foot that takes one step in this path? An error, for one must tread it to the end. The steps are passion, the fault, the vice and the crime. But I have need of you to save me. I am yours and your soul is mine! Take the spoil and follow me!"

In his surprise, Antonino did not remark a footstep, sounding harsh with gravel grinding the wood of the verandah, or a grim face at the open window.

"You are right," he said. "I am a scoundrel, but I am not going to be a villain. It is I who should commit suicide. Farewell! my death be on your head!"

"You have spoken your doom!

" said she quickly, as she made a sign to Von Sendlingen in whose hand she saw naked steel abruptly gleam.

"Who's there?" began the Italian, but, before he could turn, the long stiletto, drawn out of a sword-cane, was passed through his slender body.

He fell without a groan and his staring eyes, sublimely unconscious of his assassin and of the instigator of the crime, were riveted, on the ceiling.

"Confound it!" said the colonel, "this is not your husband!"

"No, another conscientious fool!" she said brutally. "Waste no time on that boy. Before the man returns, let us seize our prise. Keep your hands off. This is no common chest. It opens with a combination lock and the word is 'R-e-b-e-c-c-a!'"

She quickly fingered the studs which opened the lock when properly played upon, and to the joy of Colonel Von Sendlingen, she could lift up the loosened lid. But for a temporary vexation, they saw in the dim light that a kind of steel grating still closed the discovered space.

"That will not detain me long," said the colonel, contemptuously, and relying upon his great strength as he forced his fingers between these bars, he secured a firm hold and began to draw the frame up toward him. "You have done your part, madame, well, and I-"

At the same instant, the chest became a mass of the whitest flame which expanded monstrously and the whole house shook in a dreadful explosion.

It was supernaturally that Clemenceau had been warned to stand aside and let the justice of heaven deal its stroke. No longer fear that Césarine will work evil alone or directed by Von Sendlingen. At the last moment, all was put in order again by the execution by the soulless mechanism of the burglar defying-safe. The law of heaven shone forth in triumph and what was repentant in the errant soul was recalled to where goodness is omnipotent.

The flame leaped over the three dead bodies and seized upon the furniture, spreading in all sides. The timbers of the villa were old and kiln-dried. The proprietor, returning from the station, had a dreadful beacon to guide him.

All Montmorency turned out of doors to assist in extinguishing the conflagration. Not often does the quiet suburb treat itself to such spectacles, and when, to that sensation, was added that of three dead bodies dragged from the shattered drawing-room where every thing else was consumed, it may be believed that the night was memorable.

The Daniels were telegraphed to at Paris, and they returned before midnight. They alone knew that the grief of Clemenceau was given to Antonino and not to his wife, but the lookers-on were deceived, and many a man, returning to his slippers and the evening journal, scolded his wife for having repeated baseless scandals about the proprietor of the Reine-Claude Villa living on cool terms with his unfortunate wife.

The coroner of Montmorency did not display any broad perception of the tragedy, although the superfluity of eight inches of Sendlingen's steel in the side of a young man pronounced dead by asphyxia would have struck one of the laity. But the reporters of the Paris press were more perspicacious. They related that an envoy of a foreign union of unscrupulous capitalists had attempted to rob M. Clemenceau's residence of his inventions and France of a glory, but had been met by his dauntless wife and an assistant who had punished the brigand, although losing their own lives in defence of the patriotic trust. It was formed convenient to suppress all mention of the fact of the lady being Russian and the man Italian.

But in his death, Von Sendlingen gained some revenge. The loss of Antonino the detailed plans delayed Clemenceau in his project. The War farther threw them back and it was only recently that his perfected cannon was formally accepted. In all his tribulations and disappointments, Daniels supported him, for he, too, was an idealist, and so truly his friend as to defer his own scheme until he should be at ease.

After the fortuitous meeting of those men had come irresistible attraction and communion, moral, intellectual and scientific-friendship to the full meaning of the word.

Poetic justice, as we call the fate least like what man deals out, decreed that the chateau of the Marchioness de Latour-lagneau should be dilapidated during the Prussian occupation of Montmorency. On its ruins rises the manufactury of he new rifle. On the side of the heart, too, the same justice rewarded Clemenceau, for he married Rebecca, and they were happy in having sons to bear his name worthily. Césarine was forgotten, since, however great a conflagration may be-however far the flare may be cast on the sky-whatever the extent of damage-it must die out in time. Such is Passion, and the brighter its blaze the blacker the ruins it leaves after it-the deeper the misery-the wider the loneliness. It devours itself, with no revival like the Phoenix; but Love occupies the whole of life, however extended, and still has the strength and volumn to transport its worshipers to the realm of the happy.

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