The Seen and the Unseen/The Assassin
KENNARD passed the paper to Nash.
"Read that," he said
Nash did as he was told; he read the advertisement to which Kennard was pointing with his finger. We give that advertisement, rendered from the original French into English:—
"An individual wishes to be rid of the insupportable burden of existence. For particular reasons this individual wishes to leave behind a certain sum of money. In exchange, therefore, for a suitable amount the advertiser will undertake to perform any deed which shall inevitably result in death.—Address, Tired, 30 bis. Rue de Pekin."
"Candid almost to a fault," was Willie Nash's comment "Gerbert, what do you think of this?"
Having read it, M. Gerbert shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, what of it? It is nothing."
"You think it is nothing."
"It is either a hoax—in which case it is plainly nothing, or it is true—and what is it then? How many people are there, do you suppose, who are tired of their lives—look at me, for instance, look at me! You laugh!" As a matter of fact, they had exchanged glances—but the thing had not amounted to a laugh. "Very good! You English are of a different race to us French. The things which, with your coarseness, but prick you, with our delicacy cut us to the heart My God, yes! But that has nothing to do with the advertisement" M. Gerbert waved the paper in the air. "Here is a man who announces that he is tired of his life—that is but a commonplace. He announces that he will dispose of that of which he is tired in exchange for a certain sum. There, I grant you, is a touch of the original. So many people dispose of their lives in exchange for nothing at all! But, my friends, think of the number of persons who are willing to risk, and who do risk their lives for twopence-halfpenny—who will march to certain death for a five-franc piece. This creature"—M. Gerbert rapped his knuckle against the paper—"is possibly some bravo of a fellow who says to himself, 'I will have one good hour, and then, after that—what matters all the rest!' That is so!"
"Won't your police have something to say to such an advertisement?"
"Ah, M. Nash, our police! With our police it is altogether a matter of the digestion! Good fortune!"
M. Gerbert rose. He drained his absinthe to the dregs. With a wave of the hand he walked away. Mr. Kennard drew the paper towards him.
"I've a mind to see this through." Willie Nash looked at him askance. "The advertisement, I mean—and the advertiser too."
"Are you thinking of setting him to perform a deed which shall inevitably result in death?"
"It depends upon what he calls a suitable amount. I am not a rich man. I can't afford to be unduly extravagant—even for an occasional luxury."
"William! I have something in my mind's eye which I should be willing to pay any man a fair price for doing. When he had done it I don't think he'd want to do anything more. You bet."
"Your humour sometimes lies so deep that, on this occasion, you must excuse me if I ask if you are joking."
Mr. Kennard did not directly reply. He studied the advertisement again.
"I think, by way of a preliminary, that I should like to make this gentleman's acquaintance."
"So seriously that I propose to write to him at once, making an appointment for to-morrow. If you are at my place to-morrow morning at eleven you will be able to see if he keeps it."
"If you take my advice you won't be such a fool."
"No? Are you afraid of blackmailing—or what? Go to! No one wants you. Stop away."
"I'll come; but you'll find he won't As Gerbert suggested, I expect the thing's a hoax."
"Yes? Probably in exchange for my letter I shall receive some valuable information about a novelty in soap."
"Didn't I say he wouldn't come?"
"It is just upon eleven. Give even an assassin a minute's grace."
"Seriously, Hugh, if the fellow does come, I would strongly recommend you to be extremely careful what you say to him. You know the French have their own point of view; it's a very different point of view from ours. If you don't look out you may be in a mess before you know it. Your joke may turn out too much like earnest."
"As I told you, it will depend, in a measure, upon what he calls a suitable amount I can't afford to pay too much, even for murder."
"Hugh!" There was a knock at the door. "Who's that?"
"It's the assassin. Enter."
The door opened. There entered—a woman. They stared. They might not have been able to say what it was that they had expected, but they bad not expected this. The woman was slightly built, of medium height She was dressed in black. She wore a veil which was so thick that it obscured her features. But one guessed, from her carriage, that she was young. The two men stood up. She remained in the doorway with the handle of the open door still in her hand.
"Monsieur Hugh Kennard?"
Certainly, the voice was a young woman's. She spoke softly and with a little tremor, as if she caught her breath. Mr. Kennard bent his head "I am Monsieur Kennard."
"And—this gentleman?" The woman motioned with her hand towards Willie Nash.
"This gentleman is my friend; my very good friend."
The woman seemed to hesitate. The two men said nothing. They gave her not the least encouragement At last, apparently arriving at a resolution, coming right into the room, she shut the door.
"This, Monsieur Kennard, is your letter." She held out a letter which Mr. Kennard recognised as the one which he had written. "You said eleven. To me, the hour was a little awkward. But—I am come."
"To whom have I the pleasure of speaking?" asked Mr. Kennard, after a pause, during which he had looked at his friend, and his friend had looked at him.
"To an individual."
Stepping forward Willie Nash advanced a chair. "Permit me to offer mademoiselle a seat" He laid a stress upon the mademoiselle. She did not seem to notice it.
"Thank you. I had rather stand."
There was silence. She stood, seemingly at her ease, her hands at her side, eyeing Mr. Kennard through the thick folds of her veil.
"Mademoiselle"—he followed Mr. Nash's lead—"must forgive my observing that her description of herself as 'an individual' is a little vague."
"Monsieur understands sufficiently what that description conveys. I am the individual to whom life has become an insupportable burden."
"It is impossible!"
"It is impossible that to mademoiselle life can already have become an insupportable burden."
So far the woman's intonation had been curiously sweet, with something in it which suggested the voice of a child. Now it perceptibly changed. It became, as it were, a little caustic.
"Will monsieur have the goodness to confine himself to the matter which is in hand? I am here at monsieur's particular request. What is it monsieur would wish that I should do?"
"I cannot conceive that mademoiselle is in earnest."
She showed signs of impatience. "How shall I convince monsieur? Does he desire from me an oath? I am ready. If, in exchange for a particular amount, monsieur will tell me what is the task he requires from me, which shall inevitably result in death, by my actions I will quickly prove that I am in earnest, at least, so far as that."
"But surely mademoiselle must perceive that she has me at a disadvantage. She knows me by name, by sight, she would even know my private affairs, yet she will not even suffer me to see her face."
"I am but an instrument. What does it matter what an instrument looks like, so long as that which it does is done efficiently?"
"Suppose, on the other hand, that, so soon as I have shared with mademoiselle my confidences, she goes from here to the police."
The woman hesitated. "What is the amount which monsieur is prepared to offer in exchange for the task which he requires?"
"What is the sum which mademoiselle has in her mind?"
"Ten thousand francs."
She drew herself upright, throwing back her head with a little defiant gesture, as if the sum she named had been a superb one. The two men started. They stared at each other. Willy Nash distinctly smiled.
"Ten thousand francs!" cried Mr. Kennard. "Is it possible that mademoiselle is willing to give her life in exchange for ten thousand francs?"
"It's not my life I give. My life is nothing—to me, or to anyone. I ask ten thousand francs in exchange for the deed which you would set me to do. In other words, I desire that my death may be worth something, though my life is of no account. What is it that monsieur requires?"
"Suppose I were to require you to kill M. le President?"
For the first time she showed signs of emotion. She started—so unmistakably, that she had to lean for support on the back of the chair which Willie Nash had offered her.
"Kill M. le President! That—that would not be very pleasant."
"Does mademoiselle suppose that a deed, the doing of which would inevitably result in death, would be surrounded, as a matter of course, with all the elements of pleasantness?"
"Monsieur laughs at me. I desire that monsieur will not laugh. I am ready. If monsieur will give me his word that he will pay ten thousand francs in a certain quarter so soon as he learns that M. le President is—no more, I will do what he requires."
When he spoke again Mr. Kennard's tone was even unwontedly dry.
"Am I to take it that mademoiselle is in earnest?"
She hesitated. Then with both her hands she raised her veil.
"If monsieur will look at me he will see I am in earnest"
What the two men did see was that she was scarcely out of her girlhood—surely not out of her teens. She was fairer than the average French woman. Her face was broad across the cheekbones; lower down it narrowed almost to a point at the chin; her eyes were big and serious—the eyes of a child; her pretty, tempting, grave little mouth was well matched with her eyes. As she said, one had but to look at her to see that she was in earnest—with the earnestness of a child.
"Monsieur"—in her voice there came now and then a throb which was in odd consonance with the pathos of her whole appearance—"I entreat you to believe that I am in earnest; I entreat you to believe that to me life is less than nothing, that all that is left me is to die. But I would have you to understand that I am so placed that, in dying, I would wish my death to be worth more than my life to—to those who may be left behind."
Tears were in her eyes. Mr. Kennard dashed across the room to her.
"For goodness' sake, child, don't cry. Come, sit down and tell me all about it."
"Monsieur, do not touch me!"
"Touch you! Why, I'm old enough to be your father, child!"
"Monsieur, I desire you not to touch me!"
She withdrew her hand from the pocket of her dress; in it she was holding a revolver. Mr. Kennard stared at her, his whole face a vivid note of exclamation … "You—little firebrand!"
"I was aware that in my situation I was liable to be insulted. I can assure monsieur that I am prepared. May I again ask monsieur to confine himself to the business which is in hand."
"What do you call the business which is in hand? Do you suppose"—with sudden ferocity Mr. Kennard thrust his hands into his trousers pockets—"Is it possible that you suppose that I was seriously offering you ten thousand francs to kill the President?"
The contrast between the man's amazement and the girl's seriousness was, in its way, ludicrous.
"What, then, is the deed which you would have me do?"
"Deed I would have you do!" With both hands Mr. Kennard rumpled his hair. He turned to Willie Nash. "Nash, did you hear her? She asks me what is the deed I would have her do, as if I were the villain at the Vic and she my ruthless minion."
Although Mr. Kennard spoke to his friend in English, something in his manner seemed all at once to give the girl a glimpse at the sort of man he really was. With understanding the tears came again into her eyes.
"I perceive you have been having a jest with me. I wish you, monsieur, a good-day."
Before they could stop her she had gone. Willie Nash stared at the door which she had pulled to behind her. …
"Stark mad," he said.
Mr. Kennard looked from the door towards him—his face was still one vivid note of exclamation.
"There's a method in her madness. If you were to offer her ten thousand francs I believe she'd think as little of shooting me as if I were a spadger!"
Nash shrugged his shoulders; he took out his cigarette case.
"I told you that the French had their point of view and we had ours."
"Did you, indeed! William Nash, if you only had been someone else, what a clever man you might have been!" Mr. Kennard began pacing up and down, tousling his hair as he walked, first with one hand, then with the other. "The minx!—the chit!—with a voice and a face that you'd think she was an understudy for an angel, and yet to be burning with a desire to kill herself, and anybody else you like to mention—why? What for? My boy, for less than a monkey!"
Mr. Nash was lighting a cigarette.
"It is only," he observed, "after you have lived some time in France among the French that you begin to realise how much abroad you are." Mr. Kennard stood still to glare at him.
"Sententious jackdaw!" He recommenced his walking to and fro. "I say, William, how would you like to marry her?" There was the sound of someone at the door. "Hullo, is this her back again?" When the door opened, however, it was M. Gerbert who came in. Mr. Kennard went and laid his hands upon his shoulders. "Gerbert, I've been having an interview with the assassin."
Mr. Kennard was six foot four and M. Gerbert was about four foot six. The difference in their size was not only a question of height Mr. Kennard was clumsily made, big and brawny. M. Gerbert's build was almost feminine. His hands and feet were as small as a woman's. He had long red hair, the ends of which strayed from under the brim of his big slouch hat—the size of the hat emphasised the diminutive proportions of its wearer. His face was white and eager, a typical French face of a certain class, all vivacity and nerves. Just now there was a look on it of painful tension, of something strained, as if a fever burned within. But then, M. Gerbert was apparently, in general, such a mere bundle of nerves that one drifted in the habit of taking it for granted that all his moods were evanescent He looked up at the Englishman towering above him.
"I do not follow you."
"I say that I've been having an interview with the assassin, with the individual, you remember, who advertised that life had become an insupportable burden."
"Ah!" M. Gerbert slipped Mr. Kennard's hands from off his shoulders. "You wrote to him?"
"I wrote to him."
"Did he turn out to be the ordinary type of bravo, or merely an invertebrate animal with suicidal tendencies?"
"I don't quite know what you call the ordinary type of bravo."
"It is plain enough. I am myself an illustration. It is a fact that I am myself contemplating inserting a similar advertisement upon my own account."
"You find life an insupportable burden?"
"As for that, these many years! After one's childhood, one always wishes to make an end of it."
Mr. Kennard turned to Willie Nash to stare. Taking his cigarette from between his lips Mr. Nash addressed M. Gerbert, laughing as he spoke.
"So your glimpse of Paradise has vanished?"
"You mean Célestine—my wife? Bah! That is finished."
"It was merely an entr'acte then?"
"No, it was not an entr'acte. It was a complete tragedy of the little, sordid sort, which, at present, is the fashion."
Mr. Nash had resumed his cigarette. Mr. Kennard had poised himself against a corner of the table.
"Gerbert, the other day you were raving about your wife as if she were something higher than the angels. Do you mean to tell me, sir, that that's all over?"
"My ravings? Ah, no!" M. Gerbert had continued to wear his hat Now, taking it off, crushing it up with his right hand, he held it out in front of him. "I shall always have my ravings, though my wife has gone."
"Gone? What the devil do you mean?"
M. Gerbert shrugged his shoulders.
"What does it matter? Perhaps she has begun to love another, or, without loving another, she has simply grown tired of me, or she finds my poverty more than she can bear."
"I suppose, young man, you have been clearing the matrimonial atmosphere, and this is the serio-comic fashion in which it pleases you to look at it."
M. Gerbert placed himself in Mr. Kennard's largest armchair.
"What sort was this fellow who found it necessary to advertise the fact that he found his life an insupportable burden?"
"The fellow was a woman."
"I might have guessed it. The curses have come home to roost. She has, doubtless, made life an insupportable burden to so many men that now it is her own turn."
"Keep it up, Gerbert, you'll be a cynic yet before you're done."
"This woman, was she old or young?"
"A girl, sir, a mere child, not out of her teens—eh, Nash? A little slip of a thing you could blow away with a breath. With the face of a saint, sir, or an angel, eyes which were the eyes of innocence, if ever yet I saw them. And yet, by George, sir, she offered for ten thousand francs to kill the President—kill him, sir! And she spoke as calmly as if she were telling you her size in gloves. Upon my soul, I believe she'd do it too!"
"Ten thousand francs—was that the sum she asked?"
"Ten thousand francs, sir. I might have understood it if she had asked ten million, but for a pittance such as that!"
"I perceive. You have yourself your price then. It is strange this woman's price is mine. Guarantee me ten thousand francs, and I will myself kill the President with my own hands."
Mr. Kennard looked at M. Gerbert for some moments in silence. Then, going to the mantelpiece, he began to fill his pipe from a tobacco-jar which stood upon a bracket
"Gerbert," he said, "you promised to introduce me to Madame Gerbert. When are you going to keep your promise?"
"It is too late."
"Don't talk nonsense." The big man had filled his pipe. As he lighted it he puffed out clouds of smoke. "Gerbert, if you've nothing particularly on, ask me to spend this evening with you; and if you've no special objection to the fellow—such as most people seem to have—I'll bring Nash."
While M. Gerbert seemed hesitating Mr. Nash spoke.
"My dear Gerbert, Kennard is not only an Englishman, but, I assure you, he's an unusual specimen, even for an Englishman. I'll kick him if you like."
M. Gerbert raised himself out of the depths of Mr. Kennard's easy-chair.
"I see no reason why you should not come—I see no reason M. Kennard—M. Nash—I hope to see you in my little apartment this evening about eight. For my wife, I cannot promise; I see very little of her myself. I cannot undertake that you will see anything of her at all. But, for me—to me you will be very welcome." He moved to the door. "Until this evening, my friends, about eight."
For some minutes after the Frenchman had gone neither of the Englishmen said anything. Mr. Kennard, his head thrown back, his pipe between his teeth, puffed clouds of smoke towards the ceiling. He was the first to speak.
"Not a very genial invitation—eh, William?"
"My dear Hugh, what it is to be heavy-footed. Did you happen to observe that the fellow was half beside himself with trouble?"
"I did. Because you are as blind as a bat it doesn't follow that we all are." Pause; more smoke. "Should you say that the trouble is with his wife, or with his money?"
"My experience teaches me that when a man has trouble with his money he also, as a matter of course, has trouble with his wife."
M. and Mdme. Gerbert lived, it seemed, au cinquième. Mr. Kennard and Mr. Nash were conscious that, as they mounted higher, they seemed to be leaving even cleanliness behind them. The last staircase was in a state of almost dangerous dilapidation. The plaster was coming in great patches off the wall. Mr. Kennard hesitated before he knocked at the unpromising-looking door.
"If I had had any idea that things were so bad as this with him," he murmured, "hang me if I would have suggested coming. What a brute he must suppose I am."
Mr. Nash was, as he was too apt to be, sententious.
"You must never infer how a Frenchman lives, or where, from his appearance at his café."
They knocked three times, and still there was no answer. Mr. Kennard was about to propose a retreat when M. Gerbert himself opened the door.
"Enter, gentlemen!" They entered somewhat solemnly. When they were in M. Gerbert stood with his back to the door. "You see, gentlemen, this is my little apartment I told you it was a little apartment, did I not?" He had done so, but not how little, nor how bare it was of furniture. The room was a mere cock-loft. It was lighted by a tin lamp which stood upon an old wooden table. This table, a bed in a corner, and a chair or two was practically all the furniture the place contained. It was not only the abode of poverty, it seemed to be the abode of actual destitution. Still standing with his back to the door, M. Gerbert took an obviously wry-mouthed pleasure in openly avowing the fact. "I heard you knock, gentlemen, three times. Why did I not open? Because I was ashamed. I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance now two years. You have known me as a gentleman, as one of yourselves. You may well believe that I felt it difficult when the moment came to prove to you that, after all, I was only a beggar and lived in a loft."
"My dear Gerbert!" stammered Mr. Kennard.
His friend was readier. "My very dear fellow, you don't suppose that you are the only man who has known what it is to be hard up. Why, I myself have slept in a doss-house, and I've been glad to have the fourpence to do it with."
"I understand you; I thank you, M. Nash. I am now worse off than you were, as they say in the fairy tales, once upon a time."
"My dear Gerbert," blundered Mr. Kennard, "if you had only hinted—if you had only told me——"
He got no further. M. Gerbert continued—after a fashion of his own.
"If I had only told you what? You see I still have clothes—I have a decent coat—it is true I find my shoes begin to want a little careful touching—and I do not care to allow my shirt to become too prominent—but so long as I could bear myself with decency, what was there then I should have told you? You must forgive my saying that I should have told you nothing now, if you had not, in a measure, forced me to confession. But I seem to be lacking in hospitality. I have often been to your apartments. It is the first time you have come to mine. I beg of you to make yourselves entirely at your ease."
Mr. Kennard was already tousling his hair, as was his habit when disturbed.
"And—and Madame Gerbert?"
"My wife is gone."
"Gone, Gerbert! what do you mean?"
"She went from me this morning—that is what I mean."
"But have you no notion where she's gone to?"
"How should I have a notion? She was free to go where she chose—as free as air."
"Oughtn't you to make inquiries?"
"To serve what purpose? I know little, it is true, but what I know is more than enough. I know that she has become tired of me—of my poverty, of this." He stretched out his arms on either side of him. "She is but a young girl; a young girl soon becomes tired, it is only natural. But I am too much of an egotist. I weary you with trivialities. You must excuse me if I do not offer you to eat or to drink. I beg of you not to require from me too particular reasons for my seeming inhospitality."
Mr. Nash was seated as much at his ease as if he had been paying the most commonplace of calls. He watched M. Gerbert as though he found him unusually interesting, if only as a study. Mr. Kennard wandered about the room. Every now and then he ran his hand through his hair. He paused before a little shelf which was fixed against the wall. The only thing upon it was a photograph. He took this in his hand, and, half absent-mindedly, began to look at it. Suddenly his wits seemed to cease wool-gathering. His eyes flashed. The expression on his face betokened keen attention. He took the photograph to the table, bending over so that the lamp might show him more plainly what it was that he was looking at.
"Who's this?" He was staring as if he experienced a difficulty in crediting the evidence of his own senses. "Why—it's the assassin!"
M. Gerbert had momentarily turned away. At the sound of Mr. Kennard's voice he turned again.
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's the individual who found life an insupportable burden."
M. Gerbert went to the table. He saw what Mr. Kennard was holding.
"That is the portrait of Célestine—of my wife."
"Your wife! Your wife!" Mr. Kennard's voice rose almost to a roar. "This is the girl who came to me this morning, and who, in exchange for ten thousand francs, offered to kill the President."
M. Gerbert's eyes visibly dilated. He caught at the edge of the table as if to help him to stand.
"Are you sure?"
"Sure!" Taking his host by the shoulder, as he shouted each new insult, Mr. Kennard shook him as if he had been some naughty child. "You little mountebank! You tailor's dummy! You shell of a man!" In his excitement Mr. Kennard actually lifted his host right off his feet, and held him up before him in the air. "With your attitudinising, and the rest of your folly, you've driven that little girl, who loves you as only a woman can love a fool, to try to gain for you a wretched ten thousand francs in exchange, you little ass, for her own life."
Mr. Nash came and laid his hand upon his impulsive friend's arm.
Thus recalled to himself, and to the conventions of civilised society, Mr. Kennard replaced his host upon his feet upon the floor. Ml Gerbert seemed so taken aback by the treatment he had received as to be able, for the moment, to do nothing but pant and gape. In the sudden silence a pass key was heard being inserted in the door without. It was opened. A woman came in; it was the woman who, that morning, had visited Mr. Kennard.
"Alphonse!" she exclaimed. "What is it?" She caught sight of Mr. Kennard, and knew him.
"Monsieur Hugh Kennard! Mon Dieu!"
She crouched back against the wall, as if she would shrink right through it if she could. One could see that she was trembling in every limb. Her veil was up, so that one perceived that even the muscles of her face were trembling. In the uncertain light she looked more childish even than she had done in the morning. Mr. Kennard moved forward.
"My child! "he said
"No, no!" She put up her hands as if to ward him from her. "Alphonse! Alphonse! Do not let him touch me!"
It was pitiful to see her. It almost seemed as if it was these three men against this one little girl. In the face of her too obvious aversion Mr. Kennard all at once was tongue-tied. As usual, Mr. Nash was more self-possessed than his friend. He touched his host gently on the arm.
"Gerbert, may I beg from you the honour of an introduction to madame?"
M. Gerbert appeared to be struggling with a waking dream. As his faculties returned, with a slight gesture, he, as it were, brushed Mr. Nash aside.
"Permit me." He advanced till he stood quite close to the woman cowering against the wall. He looked at her for a moment in silence. "Ah—it is you." He turned to Mr. Kennard. "I believe, Mr. Kennard, that you are a larger man than I. On the other hand, and at the same time, it is true I am a beggar."
The big man was evidently in a state of mental confusion. He had eyes only for the girl quivering against the wall.
"My dear Gerbert, upon my soul, I beg your pardon. Won't—won't you introduce me to Madame Gerbert?"
"To Madame Gerbert?" Clasping his hands behind his back, M. Gerbert fell into a pose which, if we are to believe the painters, was a favourite one of the first Napoleon's. "It appears that you already are acquainted with Madame Gerbert."
"The acquaintance is of an informal kind."
"So I should imagine." The red-haired little man addressed himself to his girl wife. His words seemed to make her quiver as if they had been so many lashes from a whip. "So it is you. I thought that you had gone."
"Alphonse!" was all she said.
"I imagined when, this morning, you left me, that you observed that you never would set eyes on me again."
"You told me a few things, but was it because you forgot that you omitted to tell me that, so soon as you were outside my door, you were going to pay a visit to a strange man?"
The woman put up her hands to cover her face. Mr. Kennard grasped his friend*s arm with, perhaps, unconscious vigour.
"I shall murder this little brute in a minute," he murmured.
As he whispered a response Mr. Nash disengaged his arm from his friend's too vigorous grasp.
"Did I not tell you that the French have their own point of view, and that we have ours."
M. Gerbert had continued to gaze in silence at his wife. As if moved with the courage of desperation, taking her hands from before her face, she ventured to make an attempt to offer some sort of plea in self-defence.
"Alphonse, I did it for you.'
"For me?" M. Gerbert tapped his hand against his breast "It was for me that you paid a visit to a strange man?"
"It was a little plot which I had formed to gain for you the ten thousand francs of which, you know, you are in need. I had thought to gain them for you in exchange for my life—so that my death might be worth something to you, though my life had been worth nothing at all. And, Alphonse—husband! I have only returned to tell you that I think I have gained for you the sum which you require."
"The sum which I require—my wife, at what price?"
The strangest smile flitted across the girl's face as she held out her hands and answered—
"What does it matter?"
"To you—nothing at all To me—everything. I have my good name—I! I have my honour!" M. Gerbert crossed his arms upon his chest "Already, because of you, my honour has been dragged in the dust. Your English friend has used me as if I were a thing of the gutter, here, in my own apartment."
Mr. Kennard interposed.
"I do assure you, my dear Gerbert, that it was a misunderstanding."
Four foot six glowered up at six foot four. Before the pigmy the giant seemed to cower.
"It is a misunderstanding, M. Kennard, which can only be explained with your life or with mine."
The girl advanced. The man shrank back.
"Madame Gerbert, have the goodness not to defile me with your touch. To the other things which you have brought me it but remained to add dishonour. That, also, you have brought me, last of all. Since, therefore, you have lied to me, and have returned to crush me, unto eternity, with the last offering of your shame—which, unfortunately, because it is yours, a thousand times more is mine!—for me it but remains to go!"
M. Gerbert made a movement towards the door. Mr. Kennard caught him by the shoulder.
"Gerbert, don't be a fool!"
In an instant M. Gerbert was like a wild-cat in a frenzy. Leaping up at Mr. Kennard, he attacked him, literally, tooth and nail. He poured forth language which was not only unparliamentary, but also unprintable. The big man, in his turn, was so taken by surprise that he made not the slightest attempt even at defence. The first paroxysm of his fury exhausted, the little man stamped on the floor and shrieked with rage.
"If I had but a pistol!" he screamed.
His wife, who was standing a yard or two away from him, took something from the pocket of her dress.
"I have a revolver," she said.
She proved it by discovering that she had such a weapon in her hand. It was probably the same one with which, in the morning, she had kept Mr. Kennard at a distance.
Mr. Nash called out to his friend—
"Keep tight hold of him, Hugh, don't let him get near it for your life!"
Madame Gerbert turned to him with that air of simple seriousness which was so like the exaggerated seriousness of a little child.
"It is not for my husband. It is for me!"
Before they had a suspicion of her purpose she placed the barrel of the revolver against her brow and fired. It was done so quickly that, although Mr. Kennard rushed forward, while the words were still, as it were, upon her lips, he was only in time to put his arm about her body as it was falling—dead.