Read CHAPTER VI - GENDARMES AND ETHER of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

When the gendarmes came hurrying to sixty-four Boulevard Saint-Germain, Marjory was the only one in the house cool enough to meet them at the door. She quieted them with a smile.

“It is too bad, messieurs,” she apologized, because it did seem too bad to put them to so much trouble for nothing. “It was only a disagreeable incident between friends, and it is closed. Madame Courcy lost her head.”

“But we were told it was an assassination,” the lieutenant informed her. He was a very smart-looking lieutenant, and he noticed her eyes at once.

“To have an assassination it is necessary to have some one assassinated, is it not?” inquired Marjory.

“But yes, certainly.”

“Then truly it is a mistake, because the two gentlemen went off together in a cab.”

The lieutenant took out a memorandum-book.

“Is that necessary?” asked Marjory anxiously.

“A report must be made.”

“It was nothing, I assure you,” she insisted. “It was what in America is called a false alarm.”

“You are American?” inquired the lieutenant, twisting his mustache.

“It is a compliment to my French that you did not know,” smiled Marjory.

It was also a compliment to the lieutenant that she smiled. At least, it was so that he interpreted it.

“The report is only a matter of routine,” he informed her. “If mademoiselle will kindly give me her name.”

“But the newspapers!” she exclaimed. “They make so much of so little.”

“It will be a pleasure to see that the report is treated as confidential,” said the lieutenant, with a bow.

So, as a matter of fact, after a perfunctory interview with madame and Marie, who had so far recovered themselves as to be easily handled by Marjory, the lieutenant and his men bowed themselves out and the incident was closed.

Marjory escorted them to the door, and then, a little breathless with excitement, went into the reception room a moment to collect herself.

The scene was set exactly as it had been when from upstairs she heard that shot the shot that for a second had checked her breathing as if she herself had been hit. As clearly as if she had been in the room, she had seen Monte stretched out on the floor, with Hamilton bending over him. She had not thought of any other possibility. As she sprang down the stairs she had been sure of what she was about to see. But when she entered she had found Monte standing erect erect and smiling, with his light hair all awry like a schoolboy’s.

Then, sinking into the chair near the window, this very chair beside which she now stood, he had asked her to go out and attend to madame.

Come to think of it, it was odd that he had been smiling. It was not quite natural for one to smile over as serious a matter as that. After all, even if Teddy was melodramatic, even if his shot had missed its mark, it was not a matter to take lightly.

She seated herself in the chair he had occupied, and her hands dropped wearily to her side. Her fingers touched something sticky something on the side of the chair next to the wall something that the gendarmes had not noticed. She did not dare to move them. She was paralyzed, as if her fingers had met some cold, strange hand. For one second, two seconds, three seconds, she sat there transfixed, fearing, if she moved as much as a muscle, that something would spring at her from below some awful fact.

Then finally she did move. She moved slowly, with her eyes closed. Then, suddenly opening them wide, she saw her fingers stained carmine. She knew then why Monte had smiled. It was like him to do that. Running swiftly to her room, she called Marie as she ran.

“Marie my hat! Your hat! Hurry!”

“Oh, mon Dieu!” exclaimed Marie. “Has anything happened?”

“I have just learned what has already happened,” she answered. “But do not alarm madame.”

It was impossible not to alarm madame.

The mere fact that they were going out alarmed madame. Marjory stopped in the hall and quite coolly worked on her gloves.

“We are going for a little walk in the sunshine,” she said. “Will you not come with us?”

Decidedly madame would not. She was too weak and faint. She should send for a friend to stay with her while she rested on her bed.

“That is best for you,” nodded Marjory. “Au revoir.”

With Marie by her side, she took her little walk in the sunshine, without hurrying, as far as around the first corner. Then she signaled for a cab, and showed the driver a louis d’or.

“Hotel Normandie. This is for you if you make speed,” she said.

It was a wonder the driver was not arrested within a block; but it was nothing less than a miracle that he reached the hotel without loss of life. A louis d’or is a great deal of money, but these Americans are all mad. When Marie followed her mistress from the cab, she made a little prayer of thanks to the bon Dieu who had saved her life.

Mademoiselle inquired of the clerk for Monsieur Covington.

Yes, Monsieur Covington had reached the hotel some fifteen minutes before. But he was ill. He had met with an accident. Already a surgeon was with him.

“He he is not badly injured?” inquired Marjory.

“I do not know,” answered the clerk. “He was carried to his room in a faint. He was very white.”

“I will wait in the writing-room. When the surgeon comes down I wish to see him. At once do you understand?”

“Yes, mademoiselle.”

Marie suspected what had happened. Monsieur Covington, too, had presented the driver with a louis d’or, and miracles do not occur twice in one day.

Marjory seated herself by a desk, where she had a full view of the office of all who came in and all who went out. That she was here doing this and that Monte Covington was upstairs wounded by a pistol shot was confusing, considering the fact that as short a time ago as yesterday evening she had not been conscious of the existence in Paris of either this hotel or of Monsieur Covington. Of the man who, on the other hand, had been disturbing her a great deal this Teddy Hamilton she thought not at all. It was as if he had ceased to exist. She did not even associate him, at this moment, with her presence here. She was here solely because of Monte.

He had stood by the window in Madame Courcy’s dingy reception room, smiling his hair all awry. She recalled many other details now: how his arm had hung limp; how he had been to a good deal of awkward trouble to keep his left arm always toward her; how white he had been when he passed her on his way out; how he had seemed to stumble when he stepped into the cab.

She must have been a fool not to understand that something was wrong with him the more so because only a few minutes before that he had stood before her with his cheeks a deep red, his body firm, his eyes clear and bright.

That was when he had asked her to marry him. Monte Covington had asked her to marry him, and she had consented. With her chin in her hand, she thought that over. He had asked her in order that it might be his privilege to go downstairs and rid her of Teddy. It had been suggested in a moment, and she had consented in a moment. So, technically, she was at this moment engaged. The man upstairs was her fiance. That gave her the right to be here. It was as if this had all been arranged beforehand to this very end.

It was this feature of her strange position that interested her. She had been more startled, more excited, when Monte proposed, than she was at this moment. It had taken away her breath at first; but now she was able to look at it quite coolly. He did not love her, he said. Good old Monte honest and four-square. Of course he did not love her. Why should he? He was leading his life, with all the wide world to wander over, free to do this or to do that; utterly without care; utterly without responsibility.

It was this that had always appealed to her in him ever since she had first known him. It was this that had made her envious of him. It was exactly as she would have done in his circumstances. It was exactly as she tried to do when her own circumstances changed so that it had seemed possible. She had failed merely because she was a woman because men refused to leave her free.

His proposal was merely that she share his freedom. Good old Monte honest and four-square!

In return, there were little ways in which she might help him, even as he might help her; but they had come faster than either had expected.

Where was the surgeon? She rose and went to the clerk.

“Are you sure the surgeon has not gone?” she asked.

“Very sure,” answered the clerk. “He has just sent out for a nurse to remain with monsieur.”

“A nurse?” repeated Marjory.

“The doctor says Monsieur Covington must not be left alone.”

“It’s as bad as that?” questioned Marjory.

“I do not know.”

“I must see the doctor at once,” she said. “But, first, can you give me apartments on the same floor, for myself and maid? I am his fiancee,” she informed him.

“I can give mademoiselle apartments adjoining,” said the clerk eagerly.

“Then do so.”

She signed her name in the register, and beckoned for Marie.

“Marie,” she said, “you may return and finish packing my trunks. Please bring them here.”

“Here?” queried Marie.

“Here,” answered Marjory.

She turned to the clerk.

“Take me upstairs at once.”

There was a strong smell of ether in the hall outside the door of Monte Covington’s room. It made her gasp for a moment. It seemed to make concrete what, after all, had until this moment been more or less vague. It was like fiction suddenly made true. That pungent odor was a grim reality. So was that black-bearded Dr. Marcellin, who, leaving his patient in the hands of his assistant, came to the door wiping his hands upon a towel.

“I am Mr. Covington’s fiancee Miss Stockton,” she said at once. “You will tell me the truth?”

After one glance at her eyes Dr. Marcellin was willing to tell the truth.

“It is an ugly bullet wound in his shoulder,” he said.

“It is not serious?”

“Such things are always serious. Luckily, I was able to find the bullet and remove it. It was a narrow escape for him.”

“Of course,” she added, “I shall serve as his nurse.”

“Good,” he nodded.

But he added, having had some experience with fiancees as nurses:

“Of course I shall have for a week my own nurse also; but I shall be glad of your assistance. This er was an accident?”

She nodded.

“He was trying to save a foolish friend from killing himself.”

“I understand.”

“Nothing more need be said about it?”

“Nothing more,” Dr. Marcellin assured her. “If you will come in I will give you your instructions. Mademoiselle Duval will soon be here.”

“Is she necessary?” inquired Marjory. “I have engaged the next apartment for myself and maid.”

“That is very good, but Mademoiselle Duval is necessary for the present. Will you come in?”

She followed the doctor into Monsieur Covington’s room. There the odor of ether hung still heavier.

She heard him muttering a name. She listened to catch it.

“Edhart,” he called. “Oh, Edhart!”