Paris lay sparkling under a cold, clear sky. The brilliant streets lay coiled along the Seine and stretched glittering from bank to bank, from boulevard to boulevard; cafés, brasseries, concert halls and theaters in the yellow blaze of gas and the white and violet of electricity.
It was not late, but people who entered the lobby of the Theater Fauvette turned away before the placard "Standing room only.''
Somewhere in the city a bell sounded the hour, and with the last stroke the drop curtain fell on the first act of "La Belle Hélène.''
It fell amidst a whirlwind of applause, in which the orchestra led.
The old leader of the violins shook his head, however. He had been there twenty years, and he had never before heard of such singing in comic opera.
"No, no,'' he said, "she can't stay here. Dame! she sings!''
Madame Bordier was pale and happy; her good husband was weak with joy. The members of the troupe had not yet had time to be jealous and they, too, applauded.
As for the house, it was not only conquered, it was wild with enthusiasm. The lobbies were thronged.
Braith ran up against Rowden and Elliott.
"By Jove!'' they cried, with one voice, "who'd have thought the little girl had all that in her? I say, Braith, does Rex know about her? When is he coming?''
"Rex doesn't know and doesn't care. Rex is cured,'' said Braith. "And he's coming next week. Where's Clifford?'' he added, to make a diversion.
"Clifford promised to meet us here. He'll be along soon.''
The pair went out for refreshments and Braith returned to his seat.
The wait between the acts proved longer than was agreeable, and people grumbled. The machinery would not work, and two heavy scenes had to be shifted by hand. Good Monsieur Bordier flew about the stage in a delirium of excitement. No one would have recognized him for the eminently reasonable being he appeared in private life. He called the stage hands "Prussian pigs!'' and "Spanish cattle!'' and expressed his intention to dismiss the whole force tomorrow.
Yvonne, already dressed, stood at the door of her room, looking along the alley of dusty scenery to where a warm glow revealed the close proximity of the footlights. There was considerable unprofessional confusion, and not a little skylarking going on among the company, who took advantage of the temporary interruption.
Yvonne stood in the door of her dressing room and dreamed, seeing nothing.
Her pretty figure was draped in a Grecian tunic of creamy white, bordered with gold; her soft, dark hair was gathered in a simple knot.
Presently she turned and entered her dressing room, closing the door. Then she sat down before the mirror, her chin resting on her hands, her eyes fixed on her reflected eyes, a faint smile curving her lips.
"Oh! you happy girl!'' she thought. "You happy, happy girl! And just a little frightened, for tomorrow he will come. And when he says -- for he will say it -- 'Yvonne must we wait?' I shall tell him, No! take me now if you will!''
Without a knock the door burst open. A rush of music from the orchestra came in. Yvonne thought "So they have begun at last!'' The same moment she rose with a faint, heartsick cry. Her sister closed the door and fastened it, shutting out all sound but that of her terrible voice. Yvonne blanched as she looked on that malignant face. With a sudden faintness she leaned back, pressing one hand to her heart.
"You received my letter?'' said the woman.
Yvonne did not answer. Her sister stamped and came nearer. "Speak!'' she cried.
Yvonne shrank and trembled, but kept her resolute eyes on the cruel eyes approaching hers.
"Shall I tear an answer from you?'' said the woman, always coming nearer. "Do you think I will wait your pleasure, now?''
"He is here -- Mr. Emanuel Pick; he is waiting for you. You dare not refuse him again! You will come with us now, after the opera. Do you hear? You will come. There is no more time. It must be now. I told you there would be time, but there is none -- none!''
Yvonne's maid knocked at the door and called:
"Mademoiselle, c'est l'heuer!''
"Answer!'' hissed the woman.
Yvonne, speechless, holding both hands to her heart, kept her eyes on her sister's face. That face grew ashen; the eyes had the blank glare of a tiger's; she sprang up to Yvonne and grasped her by the wrists.
"Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle! c'est l'heure!'' called the maid, shaking the door.
"Fool!'' hissed her sister, "you think you will marry the American!''
"Mademoiselle Descartes! mais Mademoiselle Descartes!'' cried Monsieur's voice.
"Let me go!'' panted Yvonne, struggling wildly.
"Go!'' screamed the woman, "go, and sing! You cannot marry him! He is dead!'' and she struck the girl with her clenched fist.
The door, torn open, crashed behind her and immediately swung back again to admit Madame.
"My child! my child! What is it? What ails you? Quick, or it will be too late! Ah! try, try, my child!''
She was in tears of despair.
Taking her beseeching hand, Yvonne moved toward the stage.
"Oui, chère Madame!'' she said.
The chorus swelled around her.
"Oh! reine en ce jour!"
rose, fell, ebbed away, and left her standing alone.
She heard a voice -- "Tell me, Venus -- '' but she hardly knew it for her own. It was all dark before her eyes -- while the mad chorus of Kings went on, ``For us, what joy!'' -- thundering away along the wings.
"Let Calchas fear!''
And then she began to sing -- to sing as she had never sung before. Sweet, thrilling, her voice poured forth into the crowded auditorium. The people sat spellbound. There was a moment of silence; no one offered to applaud. And then she began again.
Oui c'est un réve,
Un réve doux d'amour --
She faltered --
La nuit lui préte son
Il doit finir avec le jour --
the voice broke. Men were standing up in the audience. One cried out:
"Il -- doit -- finir -- ''
The music clashed in one great discord.
Why did the stage reel under her? What was the shouting?
Her heavy, dark hair fell down about her little white face as she sank on her knees, and covered her as she lay her slender length along the stage.
The orchestra and the audience sprang to their feet. The great blank curtain rattled to the ground. A whirlwind swept over the house. Monsieur Bordier stepped before the curtain.
"My friends!'' he began, but his voice failed, and he only added, "C'est fini!''
With hardly a word the audience moved to the exits. But Braith, turning to the right, made his way through a long, low passage and strode toward a little stage door. It was flung open and a man hurried past him.
``Monsieur!'' called Braith. ``Monsieur!''
But Monsieur Bordier was crying like a child, and kept on his way, without answering.
The narrow corridor was now filled with hurrying, excited figures in gauze and tinsel, sham armor and painted faces. They pressed Braith back, but he struggled and fought his way to the door.
A Sergeant de Ville shouldered through the crowd. He was dragging a woman along by the arm. Another policeman came behind, urging her forward. Somehow she slipped from them and sank, cowering against the wall. Braith's eyes met hers. She cowered still lower.
A slender, sallow man had been quietly slipping through the throng. A red-faced fellow touched him on the shoulder.
``Pardon! I think this is Mr. Emanuel Pick.''
``No!'' stammered the man, and started to run.
Braith blocked his way. The red-faced detective was at his side.
``So, you are Mr. Emanuel Pick!''
``No!'' gasped the other.
``He lies! He lies!'' yelled the woman, from the floor.
The hustler reeled back and, with a piercing scream, tore at his handcuffed wrists. Braith whispered to the detective:
``What has the woman done? What is the charge?''
``Charge? There are a dozen. The last is murder.''
The woman had fainted and they carried her away. The light fell a moment on the hustler's livid face, the next Braith stood under the dark porch of the empty theater. The confusion was all at the stage entrance. Here, in front, the deserted street was white and black and silent under the electric lamps. All the lonelier for two wretched gamins, counting their dirty sous and draggled newspapers.
When they saw Braith they started for him; one was ahead in the race, but the other gained on him, reached him, dealt him a merciless blow, and panted up to Braith.
The defeated one, crying bitterly, gathered up his scattered papers from the gutter.
``Curse you, Rigaud! you hound!'' he cried, in a passion of tears. ``Curse you, son of a murderer!''
The first gamin whipped out a paper and thrust it toward Braith.
``Buy it, Monsieur!'' he whined, ``the last edition, full account of the Boulangist riot this morning; burning of the Prussian flags; explosion on a warship; murder in Germany, discovered by an English Milord -- ''
Braith was walking fast; the gamin ran by his side for a moment, but soon gave it up. Braith walked faster and faster; he was almost running when he reached his own door. There was a light in his window. He rushed up the stairs and into his room.
Clifford was sitting there, his head in his hands. Braith touched him, trying to speak lightly.
``Are you asleep, old man?''
Clifford raised a colorless face to his.
``What is it? Can't you speak?''
But Clifford only pointed to a crumpled telegram lying on the table, and hid his face again as Braith raised the paper to the light.
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