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During the whole of the time people had been coming and going from the restaurant, not, perhaps, in a continual stream, but still at fairly regular intervals. It seemed to me, who had watched them all with interest, that scarcely a person had entered who was not worthy of observation. I saw faces, it is true, which I had seen before at the fashionable haunts of Paris, upon the polo ground, at Longchamps, or in the Bois, yet somehow it seemed to me that they came to this place as different beings. There was a tense look in their faces, a look almost of apprehension, as they entered and passed out,--as of people who have found their way a little further into life than their associates. Louis was right. There was something different about the place, something at which I could only dimly guess, which at that time I did not understand. Only I realized that I watched always with a little thrill of interest whenever the hurrying forward of Monsieur Carvin indicated the arrival of a new visitor.
We had already risen to go, and the vestiaire was on his way towards us, bearing my hat and coat, when Monsieur Carvin, who had hurried out a moment before, reappeared, ushering in a new arrival. The events that followed have always seemed a little confused to me. My first thought was that this was indeed a nightmare into which I had wandered. The slight unreality which had hung like a cloud over the whole of the evening, the strangeness of my being there with such a companion, the curious atmosphere of the place, which so far had completely puzzled me,--these things may all have served to heighten the illusion. Yet it seemed to me then that, dreaming or waking, this thing with which I was confronted was the last impossibility. I suppose that I must have stared at him like some wild creature, for the conversation around us suddenly stopped. Standing upon the threshold, looking around him with the happy air of an habitue, I saw this man to whom I owed my presence in Paris, this man concerning whom I had sworn that if ever I should meet him face to face my hand should be upon his throat. I remember nothing of my progress, but I know that I stood before him before he was conscious even of my presence. I addressed him by name. I believe that even my voice was not upraised.
"Tapilow!" I said.
He turned sharply towards me. I saw him suddenly stiffen, and I saw his right hand dart as though by instinct to his trousers pocket. But I was too quick for him. The blood was surging into my ears. Nothing in the whole room was visible to me but that pale, handsome face with the thin lips and dark, full eyes. I saw those eyes contract as though my hand upon his throat were indeed the touch of Death. I shook him until his collar broke away and his shirt-front flew open, shook him until from his limp body there seemed no longer any shadow of resistance. Then I flung him a little away from me, watching all the time, though, to see that his hand did not move towards that pocket.
"Tapilow," I cried, "defend yourself, you coward! Do you want me to strangle you where you stand?"
He came for me then with the frenzy of a man who is in a desperate strait. He was as strong as I, and he had the advantage in height. For a moment I was borne back. He struck me heavily upon the face, and I made no attempt to defend myself. I waited my time. When it came, I dealt him such a blow that he reeled away, and before he could recover I took him by the back of his neck and flung him from me across the table which our struggle had already half upset. He lay there, a shapeless mass, surrounded by broken glass, streaming wine, a little heap of flowers from the overturned vase. Then the hubbub of the room was suddenly stilled. A dozen hands were laid upon me.
"For God's sake, monsieur!" I heard Louis cry.
Monsieur Carvin led me away. I looked back once more at the prostrate figure and then followed him.
"This is not my fault," I said calmly. "He knew quite well that it was bound to happen. I told him that wherever we next met, whether it was in a street or a drawing-room, or any place whatsoever upon the face of the earth, I would deal out his punishment with my own hands, even though it should spell death. Perhaps," I continued, "you would like to send for the police. You can have my card, if you like."
"We do not send for the police here," Monsieur Carvin said hoarsely. "Louis will take you away at once. Where do you stay?"
"At the Ritz," I answered.
"Keep quiet to-morrow!" he exclaimed. "Louis will come to you. This way."
I shrugged my shoulders. At that moment it mattered little to me whether I paid the penalty for what had happened or not. I even looked back for a last time into the restaurant. I saw the strained, eager faces of the people bent forward to watch me. Some of the men had left their seats and come out into the body of the hall to get a better view. The man Delora was among them. The girl was leaning forward in her place, with her fingers upon the table, and her dark eyes riveted with horrible intensity upon the fallen figure. I saw mademoiselle--the turquoise-covered friend of Bartot. She, too, was leaning forward, but her eyes ignored the man upon the floor, and were seeking to meet mine. There was something unreal about the whole scene, something which I was never able afterwards to focus absolutely in my mind as a whole, although disjointed parts of it were always present in my thoughts. But I know that as I looked back she rose a little to her feet and leaned over the table, and heedless of Bartot, who was now by her side, she waved her hand almost as though in approbation. I was within a few feet of her, upon the threshold of the door, and I heard her words, spoken, perhaps, to her companion,--
"It is so that men should deal with their enemies!"
A moment later, Louis and I were driving through the streets toward my hotel. It was already light, and we passed a great train of market wagons coming in from the country. Along the Boulevard, into which we turned, was sprinkled a curious medley of wastrels of the night, and men and women on their way to work. It had been raining a little time before, but as we turned to descend the hill a weak sunshine flickered out from behind the clouds.
"It is later than I thought," I remarked calmly.
"It is half-past five o'clock," answered Louis.
He accompanied me all the way to the hotel. He asked for no explanation, nor did I volunteer any. As we drove into the Place Vendome, however, he leaned towards me.
"Monsieur is aware," he said, "that he has run a great risk to-night?"
"Very likely," I answered, "but, Louis, there are some things which one is forced to do, whatever the risk may be. This was one of them."
"You have courage," Louis whispered. "Let me tell you this. There were men there to-night, men on every side of you, to whom courage is as the breath of life. They have seen a man whom nobody loved treated as he probably deserved. Let me tell you that there is no place in the world where you could have struck so safely as to-night. Remain in the hotel to-morrow until you hear from some of us. I may not promise too much, but I think--I believe--that we can save you."
At that moment Louis' words meant little to me. I was still under the spell of those few wonderful moments, still mad with the joy of having taken the vengeance for which every nerve in my body had craved. It was not until afterwards that their practical import came home to me.
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