Terence O'Rourke/Part 2/Chapter 1
The Long Trail
THE CAFÉ DE LA PAIX
AT ten in the evening of a certain day in the early spring the stout m'sieur was sitting and sedately sipping his bock, at a sidewalk table on the Boulevard Capucines side of the Café de la Paix.
So he had been sitting—a gentleman of medium height, heavily built, with active, searching eyes, a rounded breadth of forehead and a closely clipped beard of the Van Dyck persuasion—for seven consecutive nights.
At one minute past ten of the clock, the stout m'sieur was on his feet, showing evidences of mental excitement, as he peered out into the boulevard parade, apparently endeavoring to satisfy himself as to the identity of a certain passing individual.
And François, the waiter who had attended the stout m'sieur for a full week, put his hand discreetly to his mouth, and observed to Jean, who stood near by:
"At last, m'sieur has discovered his friend!" Adding, to himself alone: "Now I shall have word for Monsieur le Prince!"
A second later, the stout m'sieur's voice was to be heard.
"O'Rourke!" he cried, and again: "O'Rourke, mon ami!"
Curious glances were turned upon him, not only by the moving throng upon the sidewalk, but also by the other patrons of the café. The stout m'sieur heeded them not. Rather, he gesticulated violently with his cane, and called again.
To his infinite satisfaction, his hail carried to the ears for which it was pitched. Out of the mob a man came shouldering his way and looking about him with uncertainty. A tall man he was, noticeable for a length of limb which seemed great yet was strictly proportioned to the remainder of his huge bulk, moving with the unstudied grace that appertains unto great strength and bodily vigor.
He caught sight of the stout m'sieur and a broad, glad grin overspread his countenance—a face clean-shaven and burned darkly by tropic suns, with a nose and a slightly lengthened upper lip that betokened Celtic parentage; a face in all attractive, broadly modeled, mobile, and made luminous by eyes of gray, steadfast yet alert.
"Chambret, be all that's lucky!" he cried joyously. "Faith, 'twas no more than the minute gone that I was wishing I might see ye!"
He came up to Chambret's table, and the two shook hands, gravely, after the English fashion, eying each the other to see what changes the years might have wrought in his personal appearance.
"I, too," said Chambret, "was wishing that I might see you. My friend, I give you my word that I have waited here, watching for one O'Rourke for a solid week.
"Is it so, indeed?" O'Rourke sat down, favoring the Frenchman with a sharply inquiring glance. "And for why did ye not come to me lodgings? Such as they are," he deprecated, with a transient thought of how little he should care to have another intrude upon the bare, mean room he called his home.
"Where was I to find you, mon ami? I knew not, and so waited here."
"A sure gamble," approved O'Rourke, looking out upon the ever-changing, kaleidoscopic pageant upon the sidewalks, where, it seemed, all Paris was promenading itself. "If one sits here long enough," explained the Irishman, "sure he'll see every one in the wide world that's worth the seeing—as a better man man I said long ago."
"It is so," agreed Chambret.
He summoned a waiter for O'Rourke's order; and that important duty attended to, turned to find the Irishman's eyes fixed upon him soberly, the while he caressed his clean, firm chin.
Chambret returned the other's regard, with interest; smilingly they considered one another. Knowing each other well, these two had little need for evasiveness of word or deed; there will be slight constraint between men who have, as had Chambret and O'Rourke, fought back to back, shoulder to shoulder, and—for the matter of that—face to face.
The Frenchman voiced the common conclusion. "Unchanged, I see," said he, with a light laugh.
"Unchanged—even as yourself, Chambret."
"The same wild Irishman?"
"Faith, yes!" returned O'Rourke. He continued to smile, but there was in his tone a note of bitterness—an echo of his thoughts, which were darksome enough.
"The same!" he told himself. "Ay—there's truth for ye, O'Rourke!—the same wild Irishman, the same improvident ne'er-do-well, good for naught in all the world but a fight—and growing rusty, like an old sword, for want of exercise!"
"And ye, mon ami?" he asked aloud. "How wags the world with ye?"
"As ever—indifferently well. I am fortunate in a way."
"Ye may well say that!"
Was there envy in the man's tone, or discontent? Chambret remarked the undernote, and was quick to divine what had evoked it. He had a comprehending eye that had not been slow to note the contrast between them. For it was great: Chambret, the sleek, faultlessly groomed gentleman of Paris, contented in his knowledge of an assured income from the rentes; O'Rourke, light of heart, but lean from a precarious living, at ease and courteous, but shabby, with a threadbare collar to his carefully brushed coat, and a roughly trimmed fringe, sawlike, edging his spotless cuff.
"You are—what do you say?—hard up?" queried Chambret bluntly.
O'Rourke caught his eye, with a glimmer of humorous deprecation. What need to ask? he seemed to say. Gravely he inspected the end of the commendable panetela, which he was enjoying by the grace of Chambret; and he puffed upon it furiously, twinkling upon his friend through a pillar of smoke.
"'Tis nothing new, at all, at all," he sighed.
Chambret frowned. "How long?" he demanded. "Why have you not called upon me, mon ami, if you were in need?"
"Sure, 'twas nothing as bad as that. I—I am worrying along. There'll be a war soon, I'm hoping, and then the world will remember O'Rourke."
"Who will give the world additional cause to remember him," said Chambret, in the accents of firm conviction. "But why?" he cried abruptly, changing to puzzled protest. "Mon ami, you are an incomprehensible. If you would, you might be living the life of ease, husband to one of the richest and most charming women in France; Beatrix, Princesse—"
"Sssh!" O'Rourke warned him. .
"Ah, monsieur, but I am desolated to have hurt you!" said Chambret contritely; for he had at once recognized the pain that sprang to new life in the Irishman's eyes.
"No matter at all, Chambret. Sure, 'tis always with me." O'Rourke laughed, but hollowly. "'Tis not in the O'Rourke to be forgetting her highness—nor do I wish to, to be frank wid ye. Faith …" He forgot to finish his thought and lapsed into a dreamy silence, staring into the smoke rings. His face was turned away for the moment, but one fancied that he saw again the eyes of Madame la Princesse.
"But why, then—" persisted Chambret.
"Have ye not stated it, yourself—the reason why the thing's impossible, me friend? The wealthiest woman in all France, since the death of that poor fool, her brother! Is she to be mating with a penniless Irish adventurer, a—a fortune-hunter? Faith, then, 'twill not be with the O'Rourke that she does it!"
"But I thought—" Chambret persisted.
"That I loved her? Faith, ye were right, there, old friend! 'Tis me life I'd be giving for her sweet sake, any time at all 'tis necessary—or convenient." He chuckled shortly, then shook his head with decision. "No more," he said: "'tis over and done with—me dream vanished. Please God, 'tis the O'Rourke here who will be going back to her some one of these fine mornings, with a pocketful of money and a heart that … If she'll wait so long, which I misdoubt. 'Tis not in woman's nature to live loveless, though Heaven forfend that I should breathe a whisper against her faith and constancy!"
He glared at Chambret wrathfully, as though he suspected that gentleman of having subtly aspersed those qualities in the woman he loved; then softened. "Have ye news of her?"
"No word," replied Chambret. "You know that she retired to the Principality of Grandlieu, after little Leopold's death? She was reported to have left for a tour of Europe, shortly afterwards, but I am certain that she did not come to Paris. Indeed, it is uncertain where she may be."
"She is her own mistress," said O'Rourke doggedly thoughtful.
"She is adorable, mon ami," sighed Chambret. "I have good cause to remember how charming she is." He grimaced and tapped O'Rourke on the shoulder nearest him. "Eh, monsieur?" he asked meaningly.
O'Rourke smiled. "Faith!" he declared. "I had almost forgotten that hole ye put in me, when we settled our little differences, ye fire-eater!"
"I have not forgotten, my friend," returned Chambret seriously. "Nor shall I ever forget your gallantry. To have fired in the air, as you did, after having been wounded by your antagonist—!"
"Hush! Not another word will I listen to! Would ye have me shoot down a man I love as a brother? What d'ye think—?"
"Ah, monsieur, but it was a gallant deed! … I'll say no more, if you insist, mon Colonel. But Madame la Princesse? You have heard from her yourself?"
"Not a line," said O'Rourke gloomily. "Not that I had any right to expect so much," he defended his beloved, instantly. "But 'twas in our agreement that, if she needed me, she was to send for me. I mind …"
He broke off abruptly and sat staring moodily into the up-curling spirals of cigar smoke. Chambret forbore to disturb him. Presently O'Rourke took up the thread of his thoughts aloud.
"I mind the night I left ye all," he said. "'Twas while the Eirene still lay at Marseilles,—the day afther ye had drilled this hole in me. … We were standing in the bows, madame and I, looking at the moonlight painting a path across the sea to Algiers. … Faith! she was that lovely I clean forgot meself. Before I knew what I was about, I had been speaking the matter of ten minutes, and she knew it all. … And there was no one at all to see, so she was in me arms. … Faith! I dunno why I am telling ye all this."
"Continue, my friend. If you had told her of your love, why, then, did you go—as I remember you went—that very night?"
"'Twas me pride—not alone for meself, but for her! Who was I to be making love to the sweetest woman in the wide world? … Anyway, 'twas then it was decided upon betwixt herself and me."
"That I was to go forth and seek me fortune and come back; to claim her when I could do so without hurting her in the eyes of the world. I had a gold sovereign in me pocket, and I took it out and broke it with me two hands and gave her the half of it. … She kissed the other half and I put it away to remember her by. … She was to sind it me when she needed me. … And then I was making so bold as to kiss her hand, but she would not let me. … And I left her there and dropped down over the side, with all the world reeling and no thought at all in me but of her white, sweet face in the moonlight, and the touch of her lips upon me own! … Two months later I was in India, seeking me fortune. And I'm still doing that."
He dismissed the subject abruptly, with a gesture of finality.
"Ye were saying," he asked, "that ye had been seeking me? For why? Can the O'Rourke be serving a friend in any way?"
"You are unemployed?"
"True for ye, Chambret. Ye have said it."
"Will you accept—"
"Mon ami," O'Rourke stated explicitly, "I'll do anything—anything in the whole world that's clean and honorable, saving it's handling a pen. That I will not do for any living man; upon me worrd, sor, niver!"
Chambret chuckled his appreciation of this declaration. "I suspected as much," he said. "But—this is no clerical work, I promise you."
"Then, I'm your man. Proceed."
"Let us presume a hypothetical case."
O'Rourke bent forward, the better to lose no word of the Frenchman's.
"Be all means," he encouraged him.
"But," Chambret paused to stipulate, "it is a thing understood between us, as friends, that should I make use of the actual name of a person or place, it will be considered as purely part of the hypothesis?"
"Good, monsieur. I proceed. Let us suppose, then, that there is, within one thousand miles of our Paris, a grand duchy called Lützelburg—"
"The name sounds familiar," interrupted O'Rourke, with suspicion.
"Purely a supposititious duchy," corrected Chambret gravely.
"Sure, yes,"—as solemnly.
"That being understood, let us imagine that the late Duke Henri, of Lützelburg, is survived by a widow, the dowager duchess, and a son, heir to the ducal throne—petit Duke Jehan, a child of seven years. You follow me? Also, by his younger brother, Prince Georges of Lützelburg, a—a most damnably conscienceless scoundrel!" Chambret exploded, bringing his fist down upon the table with force sufficient to cause the glasses to dance.
"Softly, mon ami!" cautioned O'Rourke. "I gather ye are not be way of liking Monsieur le Prince?"
"I—I do not like him, as you say. But, to get on: Lützelburg lies—you know where." Abandoning all pretense of imagining the duchy, Chambret waved his hand definitely to the northwest. O'Rourke nodded assent.
"The capital city, of course, centers about the Castle of Lützelburg. The duchy is an independent State maintaining its own army—one regiment—its customs house, sending its representatives to the Powers. You know all that? It is a rich little State; a comfortable berth for its ruler. Duke Henri preserved its integrity, added to its resources, leaving it a fat legacy to his little son. Had he died without issue, Georges would have succeeded to the ducal throne—and to the control of the treasury. Naturally the scoundrel covets what is not his, now. He goes further. He has gone—far, very far, mon ami."
O'Rourke moved his chair nearer, becoming interested. "Gone far, ye say? And what has the black-hearted divvle been up to, bad cess to him?" he asked with a chuckle.
"He has kidnaped little Duke Jehan, mon ami."
"Kidnaped!" The Irishman sat back gasping. "Faith, what does he think he is, now—a robber baron?" he demanded indignantly—this man of strong emotions, easily inflamed in the cause of a friend. "Tell me how he has gone about it, and what ye want me to do."
"There is but little to tell, O'Rourke. This is the most that we know for a certainty: that Duke Jehan has disappeared. Georges—the blackguard!—even dares offer a reward to the man who can furnish a clew to the child's whereabouts. In the nature of things, the reward will never be claimed by a Lützelburger; for Georges, now, is the head and forefront of the government, holding, practically, power of life and death over every soul in the duchy. It is this that we fear: that he will do a hurt to the child."
"Why," interposed O'Rourke, "has he not already done it—put him out of his way?"
"Because, my friend, he values him too highly, as an asset toward his purposes. Prince Georges wishes to marry Madame la Duchesse, the child's mother—a woman wealthy in her own right. He has suggested to her that, should she consent to marry him, his own interests would then be more involved, that he would perhaps take a greater interest in the pursuit of the malefactors. You see?"
"Faith, and I do." O'Rourke tipped back in his chair, grinning impartially at Chambret. "And he would marry the duchess? And ye hate the bold blackguard, is it?" he jeered softly.
Chambret flushed under his challenging gaze. He hesitated. "To be plain," he faltered, "to be frank with you, I—I love madame."
"And she?" persisted O'Rourke.
Chambret shrugged his shoulders. "Who can say?" he deprecated. "Madame will not. Yet would I serve her. Already have I made myself so obnoxious to the powers that be in Lützelburg that I have been requested to absent myself from the duchy. Wherefore I turn to you."
But O'Rourke pursued his fancy. "I've heard she is beautiful?" he insinuated.
Again Chambret hesitated; but the eyes of the man glowed warm at the mental picture O'Rourke's suggestion conjured within his brain. "She is—indeed beautiful!" he declared at length; and simultaneously took from his pocket a leather wallet, which, opening, he put upon the table between them.
O'Rourke bent over it curiously. A woman's photograph stared up at him: the portrait of a most wonderful woman, looking out from the picture fearlessly, even regally, under level brows; a woman young, full-lipped, with heavy-lidded eyes that were dark and large, brimming with the wine of life. Which is Love.
O'Rourke had seen that portrait frequently before, as published in the prints, but now he began to appreciate this great beauty with a more intimate interest.
"Faith!" he sighed, looking up. "I'm more than a little minded to envy ye, Chambret. She is beautiful, me word!" He paused; then, "Ye would have me go to get back the boy, if I can?" he asked.
"That is what little I ask," assented Chambret. "You will be amply rewarded—"
"I'll go, mon ami. Rest easy, there; I'll do what ye would call me 'possible,' monsieur, and a little more, and the divvle of a lot more atop of that. If a man can scale the insurmountable—I'll be himself!"
He offered his hand, and, Chambret accepting, put his five fingers around the Frenchman's with a grip that made the other wince.
"As to the reward—" Chambret ventured again.
"Faith, man, can I do naught for a friend without having gold showered over me? Damn the reward! Tell me your plans, give me the lay of the land, and I'm off be sunrise. But as for reward—"
He rose, taking Chambret's arm in his.
"Come," he suggested, "let us go and sup—at your expense. And then, maybe, I'll be asking ye for the loan av a franc or two to refurbish me wardrobe. 'Tis the divvle av a winter it has been, I'll niver deny. Come. 'Tis meself knows a quiet place."