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A MERRY MEETING
Monsieur Albert was not often surprised, and still less often did he show it. The party, however, who trooped cheerily into his little restaurant at something after midnight on this particular morning, succeeded in placing him at a disadvantage.
First there was the Vicomte de Bergillac, one of his most important and influential patrons for many reasons, whose presence alone was more than sufficient guarantee for whoever might follow. Then there was the Marquise de St. Ethol, one of the haute noblesse, to welcome whom was a surpassing honor.
And then Monsieur Guy Poynton, the young English gentleman, whose single appearance here a few weeks back had started all the undercurrents of political intrigue, and who for the justification of French journalism should at that moment have been slowly dying at the Morgue.
And with him the beautiful young English lady who had come in search of him, and who, as she had left the place in the small hours of the morning with Monsieur Louis, should certainly not now have reappeared as charming and as brilliant as ever, her eyes soft with happiness, and her laugh making music more wonderful than the violins of his little orchestra.
And following her the broad-shouldered young Englishman, Sir George Duncombe, who had once entertained a very dangerous little party in his private room upstairs, and against whom the dictum had gone forth.
And following him the Englishman with the heavy glasses, whom l'affaire Poynton had also brought before to his café, and with whom Mademoiselle from Austria had talked long and earnestly.
And lastly Monsieur Spencer, the English journalist, also with a black cross after his name, but seemingly altogether unconscious of it.
Monsieur Albert was not altogether at his best. Such a mixture of sheep and goats confused him. It was the Vicomte who, together with the head waiter, arranged a redistribution of tables so that the whole party could sit together. It was the Vicomte who constituted himself host. He summoned Monsieur Albert to him.
"Albert," he said, with a little wave of the hand, "these ladies and gentlemen are my friends. To quote the words of my charming young companion here, Monsieur Guy Poynton, whom you may possibly remember"--Monsieur Albert bowed--"we are on the bust! I do not know the precise significance of the phrase any more than I suppose you do, but it means amongst other things a desire for the best you have to eat and to drink. Bring Pomeroy '92, Albert, and send word to your chef that we desire to eat without being hungry!"
Monsieur Albert hurried away, glad of the opportunity to escape. Guy leaned back in his chair and looked around with interest.
"Same old place," he remarked, "and by Jove, there's the young lady from Austria."
The young lady from Austria paid her bill and departed somewhat hastily. The Vicomte smiled.
"I think we shall frighten a few of them away to-night!" he remarked. "The wine! Good! We shall need magnums to drown our regrets, if indeed our English friends desert us to-morrow. Monsieur Guy Poynton, unconscious maker of history and savior of your country, I congratulate you upon your whole skin, and I drink your health."
Guy drank, and, laughing, refilled his glass.
"And to you, the best of amateur conspirators and most charming of hosts," he said. "Come soon to England and bring your automobile, and we will conspire against you with a policeman and a stopwatch."
The Vicomte sighed and glanced towards Phyllis.
"In happier circumstances!" he murmured, and then catching the Marquise's eye, he was silent.
The band played English music, and the chef sent them up a wonderful omelette. Mademoiselle Ermine, from the Folies Bergères, danced in the small space between the tables, and the Vicomte, buying a cluster of pink roses from the flower-girl, sent them across to her with a diamond pin in the ribbon. The Marquise rebuked him half seriously, but he only laughed.
"To-night," he said, "is the end of a great adventure. We amateurs have justified our existence. To-night I give away all that I choose. Ah, Angèle!" he murmured, in her dainty little ear, "if I had but a heart to give!"
She flashed a quick smile into his face, but her forehead was wrinkled.
"You have lost it to the young English miss. She is beautiful, but so cold!"
"Do you think so?" he whispered. "Look!"
Phyllis was seated next Duncombe, and he too was whispering something in her ear. The look with which she answered him, told all that there was to know. The Marquise, who had intercepted it, shrugged her shoulders.
"It is not worth while, my friend, that you break your heart," she murmured, "for that one can see is an affair arranged."
"After all," he said, "the true Frenchman loves only in his own country."
"Or in any other where he may chance to be," she answered drily. "Never mind, Henri! I shall not let you wander very far. Your supper-party has been delightful--but you see the time!"
They trooped down the narrow stairs laughing and talking. Duncombe and Phyllis came last, and their hands met for an instant behind the burly commissionaire.
"Until to-morrow," she echoed softly, as he handed her into the electric coupé.
Andrew and he drove down the hill together. Duncombe was a little ill at ease.
"There is one thing, Andrew," he said, "which I should like to say to you. I want you to remember the night in your garden, when you asked me to come to Paris for you."
"I warned you, didn't I? I knew that it would come, and it has!"
Andrew smiled in gentle scorn.
"My dear Duncombe," he said, "why do you think it necessary to tell me a thing so glaringly apparent? I have nothing to blame you for. It was a foolish dream of mine, which I shall easily outlive. For, George, this has been a great day for me. I believe that my time for dreams has gone by."
Duncombe turned towards him with interest.
"What do you mean, Andrew?"
"I have been to see Foudroye, the great oculist. He has examined my eyes carefully, and he assures me positively that my eyesight is completely sound. In two months' time I shall see as well as any one!"
Duncombe's voice shook with emotion. He grasped his friend's hand.
"That is good--magnificent, Andrew!" he declared.
Their carriage rattled over the cobbled stones as they crossed the Square. The white mysterious dawn was breaking over Paris. Andrew threw his head back with a laugh.
"Back into the world, George, where dreams are only the cobwebs of time, and a man's work grows beneath his hands like a living statue to the immortals. I feel my hands upon it, and the great winds blowing. Thank God!"
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