THEY left the ramparts

“WELL,” said Comyns, “I can’t see for the life of me what makes you want
to linger on in this benighted hole.”

“There are a great many things in this world we can’t see,” replied
Hellier.

They were standing on the pier at Boulogne, the Folkstone boat was just
departing, the east wind was blowing, and over the cold, early spring
day the clouds drifted, grey as the cygnet’s feather.

Without wishing to paraphrase or parody a famous author, one may say
that if one goes over to Boulogne and stands long enough on the pier,
one will meet, most possibly, someone one knows—probably one’s tailor.

Hellier had come over to Boulogne a fortnight ago to recruit from an
attack of influenza; he was a briefless barrister, with two hundred and
fifty pounds a year of his own; his chambers were in Clifford’s Inn, and
he had a taste for that side of life which lends itself to romantic
literature.

The novels of Gaboriau, absorbed as a boy, had given him his first
impetus towards the law.

There is no manner of doubt in the world that housebreaking is the most
romantic of the professions; after housebreaking, the profession that
helps the housebreaker to escape the law.

A great criminal lawyer, with his armful of briefs, was the pictured
objective towards which Richard Hellier had set his face; he had been
called to the Bar eighteen months now, and his only client up to this
had been a dog thief (_item_, convicted).

“I suppose there are,” replied Comyns, “but there’s one thing I can, the
gangway is going, so long—”

He dashed down the gangway, the hawsers were cast off, and the screw
churned the steel grey waters of the harbour.

Hellier stood with his hands in his overcoat pockets, watching the boat
as she passed from sight, and wishing that he was Comyns.

Comyns was handsome, Comyns was wealthy. His father made bicycle lamps
and motor horns in Wolverhampton, his grandfather had been a platelayer.
He belonged to one of those families that go up in the world. Hellier
belonged to one of the families that go down. When Comyns’ grandfather
had been laying plate, Hellier’s had been eating off it. But the plate
of the Helliers’ had vanished as utterly as their past, and of all the
story there remained a single punch ladle, a speechless, yet eloquent
witness, to tell of the good times gone.

Hellier was a middle-sized man, and plain. Dark, clean-shaved,
pre-eminently a gentleman. Just as a rose is a rose, or a pansy a pansy.

Let the handsome and superficial Comyns walk with him down the street,
and out of a hundred and one women a hundred would have looked with
appreciation on the motor horn merchant’s son, but the hundred and first
would have looked with interest at Hellier.

He turned from contemplation of the harbour and came back down the pier
slowly, breathing the keen east wind and wishing he was Comyns.

He was in love for the first time in his life, and he was taking it
badly. He was only thirty-three years of age, yet he was already summing
up his life, looking back at his past, telling himself that had he not
fooled away his time in the by-ways of literature and stuck to the hard
high road of life, he might now have been well-to-do, like Comyns.

It is only when a man is really in love that he sees the defects in
himself and his position, sees them with a preternatural and startling
vividness—if he is a man.

So Hellier wished he was Comyns, utterly ignorant of the fact that if
some magician had converted him into the object of his admiration, the
woman he loved would not have looked at him twice.

He had only known her ten days. Her name was Mademoiselle Cécile
Lefarge, he had met her accidently at the Hotel des Bains, and had
fallen in love with her on sight.

When a man falls in love with a woman on sight, it is through his
desires that love comes to him. Her body takes possession of his mind.
This kind of love may fade away or endure for ever; as a rule it is
unfortunate, and fades; sometimes it becomes converted into hatred, when
the lover, after marriage, has discovered how the flesh has betrayed
him, what a base soul beauty has palmed off on him, wrapped in an
attractive wrapper.

A bad bargain in love. Those five words contain in them the plot and
essence of most of the tragedies in life.

Cécile Lefarge was twenty-eight, and looked, perhaps, twenty-six. Pale,
of medium height, voluptuously formed, dark, with blindish-looking
violet grey eyes, serious-looking as a priestess of Aphrodite, yet with
a nun-like spirituality, she was a woman to drive a sensualist mad with
desire, a woman to inspire the dreams of a poet or a saint.

This was the woman who had captured Hellier, heart, soul and body; and
the poignant, the terrible thing in his case, was the fact that he knew
his passion was partly returned, that he had awakened in this being,
that chance had caused to stray across his life, that something, that
magnetic response, that deep, vague interest, which in a woman’s mind
marks the beginning of love. That he had done this, but yet that
something stood in the way.

The girl was staying at the Hotel des Bains with her aunt, Madame de
Warens, a pale-faced, mild and most practicable old lady.

They had a suite of rooms, and were evidently very well-to-do people in
a worldly way. They had lived at the hotel for three years, they had no
relations in the visible universe, and what friendships they made were
chance friendships.

Hellier had not done badly, for he had gained the confidence of old
Madame de Warens, as well as the attention of her niece, and it was
mainly from the old lady’s rambling conversations that he had gained his
knowledge of their habits and their past. Also the hint of some
mysterious cloud in that past, whose shadow still hung over them, some
barrier that fate had slidden between them and society, causing them to
lead this aimless hotel life, divorced from friends and relations.

————————————————————————

HE came through the town and up the Grand Rue.

When he reached the ramparts he took a seat, despite the nipping east
wind.

He looked at his watch.

Just about this hour every day it was the custom of Madame de Warens and
her niece to take a walk on the ramparts.

It seemed the only fixed thing, except meals, in their desolate lives,
this walk every day on the ramparts.

Hellier would meet them there. It was a sort of tacit appointment. No
person, unless they were curiously blind, could fail to see that it was
a rendezvous. The women came and the young man came and walked with them
up and down on this desolate place for half an hour or so, talked about
everything and nothing, returning to the hotel where he left them,
perhaps not to see them again till the following day.

This afternoon they were late. Hellier looked at his watch again, it was
ten minutes past the time of the usual meeting. He was rising to return,
with a desolate feeling at the heart, when, far off, coming towards him,
he saw the figure of a girl. It was Mademoiselle Lefarge, and she was
alone!

“My aunt was afraid of the east wind,” said the girl. “I came because I
thought you possibly might be here and waiting for us; we have got so
into the habit of meeting you that really it was like an
appointment—your society in this desolate place has become quite one of
our pleasures,” she said, “and it is bad to keep a friend who has given
one pleasure waiting in the cold east wind.”

This was plunging into the middle of things; she spoke with the
slightest foreign accent, and Hellier, an Englishman used to the
convention-bound female, could not find words, or thoughts, to reply to
her with for a moment.

It was not an awkward silence. They paused for a moment and looked over
the rampart wall at the peaceful country, just tinged by the early
spring, trees and fields, belfries and far-off hamlets, all under a sky
sad coloured and beautiful, like that sky which dwells for ever over the
“Avenue near Middleharnis.”

As they gazed, without speaking, the man was telling the woman that he
loved her, and the woman was telling the man that she cared for him.

It came quite naturally, when he took her hand and held it.

“I have wanted to tell you for a long time,” he said.

She sighed, but she let him hold her hand.

Then she said, as if in answer to some question.

“It can never be.”

“I love you,” he said, speaking in a plain, matter-of-fact tone, that
would have told little to a stander-by of the passion that was consuming
him. “You have come into my life suddenly, and if I lose you, if you
leave me, I will be for ever desolate—dear friend.”

Her eyes filled with tears.

“It can never be.”

There was a fatality, a hopelessness in her voice, that told him that
these words were no idle woman’s words. It could never be. Never could
he hold her in his arms as his own, never possess her. Paradise lay
before him, yet he could never enter in.

“Why?”

“Come,” said she, “and I will show you.”

THEY left the ramparts and returned to the hotel. She left him in the
hall for a moment, and then returned, and asked him to follow her.

He followed her to a door on the first floor landing; she opened it, and
led him into a sitting-room, where in an armchair beside a blazing wood
fire sat old Madame de Warens muffled up in a light shawl, with a novel
open upon her lap, asleep.

It was no ordinary hotel sitting-room, this daintily upholstered room.
It had, in fact, been entirely redecorated by a Parisian firm three
years before, when the two women had decided to take up their quarters
for good at the hotel.

The old lady by the fire awoke with a start when she heard them enter,
welcomed Hellier with a little old-fashioned bow, and relapsed into her
chair, whilst the girl, laying her gloves, which she had drawn off, upon
the table, went to a door leading into another room, opened it, and
motioned the young man to follow her.

He followed her into a bedroom. A woman’s bedroom. On the dressing-table
lay silver hair brushes and all the odds and ends of a woman’s toilet,
the little bed stood virginal-looking and white as snow, a row of tiny
boots and shoes stood by one wall.

On a table, in a corner near the bed, stood something dismal and dark.

Something veiled with _crêpe_. The girl went to this object and removed
the covering. She disclosed a bust.

The marble bust of a man. A marvellous piece of work.

A man of middle age with a pointed beard. A jolly-looking man, a
forceful face and a lovable face, roguish a bit, with that old Gallic
spirit that makes fun in public of the things that Englishmen laugh over
in private, yet benevolent.

The face of a man who begins life as a delightful companion, and ends it
as a delightful grandfather.

Looking at him one would say, “He might act foolishly, but he could do
no real wrong, I would trust him with my last shilling—”

“He was my father,” said the girl, as Hellier gazed upon the marble,
that, under the chisel of some masterhand, spoke, laughed and diffused
jollity around it.

“He was my father and he was a murderer—so the world says.”

Hellier turned slightly aside and placed his hand to the side of his
head; he could not speak.

The shocking statement was made in such a calm voice. A calmness that
spoke of what suffering endured, what shame, what ruin.

She arranged the dismal _crêpe_ around the joyous thing.

Then she turned to lead him back to the sitting-room, and as she turned,
unable to speak, unable even to think what to say, he took her hand and
pressed it.

“I know,” she replied.

He followed her into the sitting-room, and quite regardless of the old
lady by the fire, she led him to one of the windows.

Merridew’s library lay opposite, and as they stood and she talked to him
they watched the people entering the shop and the people walking on the
pavement.

“It was eight years ago,” she said. “I have not changed my name—you must
have heard of the case. It was the Lefarge case—ah no?” She paused for a
moment, “eight years ago. I cannot tell you the details, but it was in
the spring. An artist made that bust of my dear father. The artist’s
name was Müller; he had the face of a demon. I saw him twice, and his
face still haunts my dreams. I see it now before me as I talk to you. It
was a pale face, a weary face, the face of a man who has known all evil.

“He was a great artist, his name was Müller, a German, who lived in the
Quartier Latin. He was known as the madman. My dear father allowed him
to make that bust, gave him sittings, twice invited him to our house.

“When I saw this awful man,” went on the girl, her voice sinking lower,
“I felt as though I had seen evil itself. I implored my father to have
nothing to do with him. He laughed. He had no fear of evil. He was all
good.

“He called at Müller’s studio one day; listen to me, my friend, for this
is what the world says, he called at Müller’s studio one day and
murdered him.

“Listen to me, he murdered him, disappeared, and was never seen again.
He decapitated Müller, and the headless body was found in the studio.
That is what the world says. But he did not do it, I _know_, for I feel
it here where I place my hand.”

She placed her little hand, not to her side, but towards the centre of
the breast, where the heart really lies.

“It is terrible,” murmured Hellier.

“Terrible—oh, you cannot think!—and now you know why it can never be.”

“If his innocence were proved?” asked he.

“Ah, then—,” she replied.

Hellier took her hand and held it in both of his.

“Listen to me,” he said. “I have seen much of life and men, I do not say
it to please you or comfort you, but the face you have shown me is a
face incapable of—that. If I could stake my life, and if it were
possible for me to stake it upon your father’s innocence, I would do so.
I am a member of the English Bar; after what you have told me of the
barrier between us, a barrier which is no barrier to me, I will do all
that in me lies to remove it. Nothing may come of my efforts, everything
may. When a man works from love he goes doubly armed. Tell me, my
friend, where I can learn the details of your trouble, not from your
lips, for that would be too painful—have you no papers—”

“I have the _dossier_ of the case,” replied Mademoiselle Lefarge. “I
will place it in your hands; I have belief in you. When I first saw you,
something drew me towards you, perhaps it was the spirit of my
father—for I feel that he is no more—perhaps it was his spirit pointing
out to me his avenger, perhaps—” She paused.

“Yes,” said Hellier.

“Perhaps,” she said, “it was an instinct that told me that some day—”

“Yes.”

“Some day, I should love you.”

The next afternoon Hellier returned to London.

————————————————————————

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