Read CHAPTER VII - A JEALOUS WOMAN of The Light That Lures, free online book, by Percy Brebner, on ReadCentral.com.

The archway archway into the inner room was behind Bruslart, but he did not turn as the curtains parted. He knew the woman was hidden in that room, she had gone there when Latour was announced; he knew that she must have overheard the conversation, that she would ask questions, but for the moment he was absorbed in Latour’s news. That Rouzet had failed to reach Beauvais was a disaster he had not reckoned upon.

“Lucien!”

“My direct and opinionated friend has gone, Pauline, you may come out of hiding.”

Still for a moment the woman stood there grasping the curtains, as though she would will the man to turn and look at her. She was angry, the flash in her eyes Was evidence of the fact, yet she was not unconscious of the picture she made at that moment. A woman is seldom angry enough to forget her beauty. Beautiful she certainly was, or Lucien Bruslart would have taken little interest in her. Beauty was as necessary to him as luxury, and in this case was even more dangerous. Here was another proof that he was no coward, or he would surely not have placed himself in the hands of Pauline Vaison. She was dark, her figure rather full, voluptuous yet perfect in contour. Her movements were quick, virile, full of life, seductive yet passionate. She was a beautiful young animal, her graces all unstudied, nature’s gifts, a dangerous animal if roused, love concealing sharp claws ready to tear in pieces if love were spurned. Her personality might have raised her to power in the dissolute Court of the fifteenth Louis, even in this Paris of revolution she might play a part.

Letting the curtains fall together she came and faced Lucien, who looked at her and smiled.

“I heard all he said. I listened.”

“Interesting, wasn’t it?” Lucien answered. “It is a marvel to me how fast news travels, and how important unimportant things become. I shouldn’t Wonder if he knows exactly what I have eaten to-day.”

“Paris knows something of Latour,” she answered. “He is not a man to waste his time over trifles.”

“It certainly appears that he considers me of some consequence since he troubled to visit me.”

“And you lied to him.”

“My dear Pauline, you are imaginative. Kiss me. You are a delightful creature. I never spend an hour in your company but I discover some new grace in you.”

Her kisses were not to be had when she was angry.

“You lied to him and you have deceived me,” she said, still standing before him, her body erect, her hands clinched.

“It is not always advisable to speak the exact truth, you know that well enough, Pauline; but I have not deceived you. Does a man deceive the woman he really loves?”

“The lie and the deceit are one,” she returned. “You sent for this other woman, this Mademoiselle St. Clair. It was not your servant’s plan. Latour was a fool to believe you.”

“Was he? My dear, wise Pauline, his point of view and yours are not the same. You are jealous, whereas he ”

“I stop at nothing when I am jealous,” she said. “The sooner you discover that phase in my character the better for you, Lucien.”

“I discovered that after I had known you ten minutes,” laughed Lucien, “and I am not afraid. Shall I tell you why? I have not deceived you, nor have I any intention of doing so. This Latour is too inquisitive, and inquisitiveness is always asking for a lie. Latour got it and is quite satisfied. Mademoiselle Pauline Vaison is a woman, a woman in love, and just because she is so, is suspicious. All women in love are. So I have not told her all my plans. To complete them it was necessary to get Mademoiselle St. Clair to Paris, so I sent for her.”

“You are in love with her. You ”

“She is rich,” Bruslart answered. “Her fortune is in her own hands. Wait, Pauline. Had I wanted to marry her, what was to prevent my crossing the frontier when so many of my friends and acquaintances did? But I am in love with her fortune. If I am to make myself felt in Paris, if I am to do what I have set my heart to accomplish, money I must have. True, I am not penniless like some of our ragged patriotic comrades, but, believe me, power will eventually rest with the man who can scatter the most gold to the people. That man I am scheming to be.”

“Therefore you would marry this woman,” said Pauline.

“Therefore I would obtain part of her fortune.”

“That is what I say; you would marry her.”

“No, I had not thought of that,” said Bruslart, carelessly.

“How, then, can you obtain it?”

“Once she is in Paris, there are many plans to choose from. I have not yet decided which one to take; but certainly it will not be marriage. She, too, is a woman in love, and such a woman will do much for a man. A few marks of a pen and I am rich, free to work towards my end, free to help Mademoiselle St. Clair to return to Beauvais. You say you heard all that Latour told me?”

“Everything.”

“Then you heard his advice concerning marriage. Find a woman in Paris, as beautiful, more beautiful than this emigre aristocrat, a woman who is a patriot, a true daughter of France, marry her, prove yourself and see how the shouting crowds will welcome you. Latour might have known this part of my scheme, so aptly did he describe it. I have found the woman,” and he stretched out his hand to her.

“Lucien!”

She let him draw her down beside him, his caress was returned with interest.

“Together, you and I are going to climb, Pauline. For me a high place in the government of France, not the short authority of a day; brains and money shall tell their tale. Citizen Bruslart shall be listened to and obeyed. Citizeness Bruslart shall become the rage of all Paris. Listen, Pauline. I have cast in my lot with the people, but I have something which the people have not, a line of ancestors who have ruled over those about them. Revolution always ends in a strong individual, who often proves a harder master than the one the revolution has torn from his place. I would be that man. Two things are necessary, money and you.”

“And your messenger has failed to reach mademoiselle,” she whispered.

“Another messenger may be found,” he said, quietly. “Besides, it is just possible that Latour was lying, too.”

“Perhaps you are right;” and then she jumped up excitedly, “I believe you are right. What then? Other men may be scheming for her wealth as well as you.”

“And others besides Latour have spies in the city,” Bruslart answered.

“You are wonderful, Lucien, wonderful, and I love you.”

She threw herself into his arms with an abandon which, like all her other actions, was natural to her; and while he held her, proud of his conquest, not all Lucien’s thoughts were of love. Could Pauline Vaison have looked into his soul, could she have seen the network of scheming which was in his mind, the chaotic character of many of these plans, crossing and contradicting one another, a caricature, as it were, of a man’s whole existence in which good and evil join issue and rage and struggle for the mastery, even then she would not have understood. She might have found that one end was aimed at more constantly than any other self, yet in the schemes of most men self plays the most prominent part, and is not always sordid and altogether despicable. She would not have understood her lover; he did not understand himself. He was a product of the Revolution, as were thousands of others walking the Paris streets, or busy with villainies in country places; character was complex by force of circumstances, which, under other conditions, might have been simple and straightforward. With some a certain straightforwardness remained, not always directed to wrong ends. It was so in Lucien Bruslart. It was not easy for him to be a scoundrel, and self was not always master. Even with Pauline Vaison in his arms he thought of Jeanne St. Clair, and shuddered at the way he had spoken of her to this woman. What would happen if Jeanne came to Paris? For a moment the horrible possibilities seemed to paralyze every nerve and thought. He spoke no word, he did not cease his caressing, yet the woman suddenly released herself as though his train of thought exerted a subtle influence over her, and stood before him again, not angrily, yet with a look in her eyes which was a warning. So an animal looks when danger may be at hand.

“If you were to deceive me,” she said, in a low voice, almost in a whisper, the sound of a hiss in it.

“Deceive you?”

It was not easily said, but a question only half comprehended, as when one is recalled from a reverie suddenly, or awakes from a dream at a touch.

“To deceive me would be hell for both of us, for all of us,” said the woman.

He tried to laugh at her, but he could not even bring a smile to his lips at that moment.

Pauline caught his hand and pulled him to the window, opened it, and pointed.

“There. You know what I mean,” she said.

The roar of Paris floated up to them, the daily toil, the noise of it, its bartering, its going and coming. Men and women must live, even in a revolution, and to live, work. Underneath it all there was something unnatural, a murmur, a growl, the sound of an undertone, secret, cruel, deadly; yet the woman’s pointing finger was all Lucien was conscious of just now.

“You know what I mean,” she repeated.

He shook his head slightly, dubiously, for he partly guessed. In that direction was the Place de la Revolution.

“If this other woman should take my place, if you lied to me, I would have my revenge. It would be easy. She is an aristocrat. One word from me, and do you think you could save her? Yonder stands the guillotine,” and she made a downward sweep of the arm. “It falls like that. You couldn’t save her.”

Lucien stood looking straight before him out of the window. Pauline still held his hand. She waited for him to speak, and when he did not, she shook his hand.

“Do you hear what I say?”

“Yes” and then?”

“Then, Lucien, I should have no rival. You would be mine. If not, if you turned from me for what I had done God! That would be awful, but I would never forgive, never. I would speak again. I would tell them many things. Nothing should stop me. You should die too. That is how I love. Lucien, Lucien, never make me jealous like that.”

She kissed his hand passionately, then held it close to her breast. He could feel her heart beat quickly with her excitement.

“That would put an end to all my scheming, wouldn’t it?” he said, drawing her back and closing the window. “Perhaps Latour would thank you.”

“I wasn’t thinking of Latour,” and she clung to him and kissed him on the lips.

Into Lucien’s complex thought Latour had come, not unnaturally, since this conversation. This exhibition of latent jealousy was the outcome of his visit. Without formulating any definite idea, he felt in a vague way that Latour’s career was in some way bound up with his own. There was something in common between them, each had an interest for the other and in his concerns. Lucien did not understand why, but Latour might have found an answer to the question as he went back to the Rue Valette.

He was not sure whether Bruslart had spoken the truth, he did not much care, yet he felt a twinge of conscience. It troubled him because he had not much difficulty in salving his conscience as a rule. It was generally easy to make the ends justify the means. He had taken no notice of the swaying curtains as he left Bruslart. He never guessed that a woman stood behind them. There might have been no prick of conscience had he known of Pauline Vaison.

He entered the baker’s shop in the Rue Valette. Behind the little counter, on which were a few loaves and pieces of bread, an old woman sat knitting.

“Will you give me the key of those rooms? I want to see that everything is prepared.”

The old woman fumbled in her pocket and gave him the key without a word.

“She comes to-morrow,” said Latour. “You will not fail to do as I have asked and look after her well.”

“Never fear; she shall be a pretty bird in a pretty cage.”

Latour paused as he reached the door. “She is a dear friend, no more nor less than that, and this is a nest, not a cage. Do you understand?”

The old woman nodded quickly, and when he had gone, chuckled. She had lived long in the world, knew men well, and the ways of them with women. There might be some things about Citizen Latour which set him apart from his fellows, but all men were the same concerning women.

Latour crossed the courtyard and went quickly up the stairs to the second floor. The rooms here corresponded with his own below, yet how different they were. Everything was fresh and dainty. Cheap, but pretty, curtains hung before the windows and about the alcove where the bed was. The furnishing was sufficient, not rich, yet showing taste in the choice; two or three inexpensive prints adorned the walls, and on the toilet table were candlesticks, a china tray, and some cut-glass bottles. The boards were polished, and here and there was a rug or strip of carpet; the paint was fresh and white white was the color note throughout. Here was the greatest luxury possible to a shallow pocket, very different from Bruslart’s room, yet with a character of its own. Latour had chosen everything in it with much thought and care. He had spent hours arranging and rearranging until his sense of the beautiful was satisfied. Now he altered the position of a rug, and touched a curtain by the bed to make it fall in more graceful folds. Then he sat down to survey his work as a whole.

Still there was the prick of conscience, not very sharp, indeed, and becoming less persistent as he argued with himself. The Raymond Latour of to-day was a different man from the old Raymond Latour, the poor student, the nobody. Was he not mounting the ladder rung by rung, higher and higher every day? He had been listened to in the Legislative Assembly, applauded; he was a man of mark in the Convention. He was still poor, and his ambition was not towards wealth. The road lay straight before him; it led to fame, he meant it also to lead to love. Give him love, and these little white rooms were all the kingdom he asked to reign in. Love, the only love that had ever touched him. He remembered its first coming. A restive horse, a young girl in a carriage and in danger. It was nothing to seize the horse, hold it, and quiet it; he had flushed and stammered when the girl had thanked him, all unconsciously casting the spell of her great beauty over him. Never again had he spoken to her. He was only a poor student, the child of simple folk in the country dead long ago; she was of noble birth, her home a palace, her beauty toasted at Versailles He saw her often, waiting to see her pass, and each day he thought of her, setting her on the high altar of his devotion. He knew that his must always be a silent worship, that she could never know it. Then suddenly had come the change, the tide of revolution. The people were the masters. He was of the people, of growing importance among them. The impossible became the possible. He had education, power he would have. Strong men have made their appeal to women, the world over, in every age. Why should not this woman love him? The very stars seemed to have fought for him. She would be here to-morrow, here in Paris, in danger; here, in these rooms, with no man so able to protect her as himself. He had spoken among his fellows and won applause, could he not speak to just one woman in the world and win love?

“This is a nest, not a cage,” he murmured. “To-morrow, I shall speak with her to-morrow.”

It must have been almost at this same moment that Pauline Vaison flung open the window and Lucien Bruslart looked in the direction of her pointing finger toward the Place de la Revolution.