The Saint-Germain Chronicles
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
When at last the stone walls came into view, James was puzzled to hear the sound of a violin, played expertly but fragmentally, as if the music were wholly personal. James stopped and listened, his cognac-colored eyes warming for the first time in three days. Until that moment, the only sound he had remembered was the grind and pound of guns. His bleary thoughts sharpened minimally and he reached up to push his hair from his brow. Vaguely he wondered who was playing, and why, for Montalia had an oddly deserted look to it: the grounds were overgrown and only two of the windows showed lights. This was more than war-time precaution, James realized, and shambled toward the side door he had used so many times in the past, the first twinges of real fear giving him a chill that the weather had not been able to exert.
The stables smelled more of motor oil than horses, but James recognized the shape of the building, and limped into its shadow with relief. Two lights, he realized, might mean nothing more than most of the servants had retired for the night, or that shortages of fuel and other supplies forced the household to stringent economies. He leaned against the wall of the stable and gathered his courage to try the door. At least, he told himself, it did not appear that the chateau was full of Germans. He waited until the violin was pouring out long cascades of sound before he reached for the latch, praying that if the hinges squeaked, the music would cover it.
In the small sitting room, Saint-Germain heard the distant whine of an opening door, and his bow hesitated on the strings. He listened, his expanded senses acute, then sat back and continued the Capriccio he had been playing, letting the sound guide the solitary intruder. He gave a small part of his attention to the unsteady footfalls in the corridor, but for the most part, he concentrated on the long pattern of descending thirds of the cadenza. Some few minutes later, when he had begun one of the Beethoven Romanzas, a ragged figure clutching a kitchen knife appeared in the doorway and emerged uncertainly from the darkness into the warmth of the hearthlight and the single kerosene lantern. Saint-Germain lowered his violin and gave the newcomer an appraising stare. His dark eyes narrowed briefly, then his brows raised a fraction as he recognized the man. "You will not need that knife, Mister Tree."
He had expected many things, but not this lone, elegant man. James shook his head, his expression becoming more dazed than ever. "I..." He brought a grimy, bruised hand to his eyes and made a shaky attempt at laughter which did not come off. He coughed once, to clear his voice. "When I got here, and heard music... I thought that... I don't know what." As he spoke he reached out to steady himself against the back of one of the three overstuffed chairs in the fine stone room, which was chilly in spite of the fire. "Excuse me... I'm not... myself."
"Yes, I can see that," Saint-Germain said with gentleness, knowing more surely than James how unlike himself he was. He stood to put his violin into its velvet-lined case, then tucked the loosened bow into its holder before closing the top. This done, he set the case on the occasional table beside his chair and turned to James. "Sit down, Mister Tree. Please." It was definitely a command but one so kindly given that the other man complied at once, dropping gratefully into the chair which had been supporting him. The knife clattered to the floor, but neither paid any attention to it.
"It's been... a while," James said distantly, looking up at the painting over the fireplace. Then his gaze fell on Saint-Germain, and he saw the man properly for the first time.
Le Comte was casually dressed by his own exacting standards: a black hacking jacket, a white shirt and black sweater under it, and black trousers. There were black, ankle-high jodhpur boots on his small feet, the heels and soles unusually thick. Aside from a silver signet ring, he wore no jewelry. "Since you have been here? More than a decade, I would suppose."
"Yes. "James shifted in the chair, his movements those of utter exhaustion. "This place... I don't know why." Only now that he had actually arrived at his goal did he wonder what had driven him to seek it out. Indistinct images filtered through his mind, most of them senseless, one or two of them frightening.
"On Madelaine's behalf, I'm pleased to welcome you back. I hope you will stay as long as you wish to." He said this sincerely, and watched James for his response.
"Thanks. I don't know what... thanks." In this light, and with the abuses of the last few days, it was not possible to see how much the last ten years had favored James Emmerson Tree. His hair had turned from glossy chestnut to silver without loss of abundance; the lines of his face had deepened but had not become lost in fretwork or pouches, so that his character was cleanly incised, delineated in strong, sharp lines. Now, with smudges of dirt and dried blood on him, it was not apparent that while at thirty he had been good looking, at fifty he was superbly handsome. He fingered the tear on his collar where his press tag had been. "I thought... Madelaine might have been..."
"Been here?" Saint-Germain suggested as he drew one of the other chairs closer to where James sat. "I am sorry, Mister Tree. Madelaine is currently in South America."
"Another expedition?" James asked, more forlorn than he knew.
"Of course. It's more circumspect to stay there than go to Greece or Africa just now, or wouldn't you agree?" He spoke slowly, deliberately, and in English for the first time. "I would rather be assured of her safety than her nearness, Mister Tree."
James nodded absently, then seemed at last to understand what Saint-Germain had said, for he looked up sharply and said in a different voice, "God, yes. Oh, God, yes."
"I had a letter from her not long ago. Perhaps you would care to read it later this evening?" He did not, in fact, want to share the contents of Madelaine's letter with James; it was too privately loving for any eyes but his, yet he knew that this man loved her with an intensity that was only exceeded by his own.
"No," James said after a brief hesitation. "So long as she's okay, that's all that matters. If anything happened to her, after this, I think I'd walk into the path of a German tank." His mouth turned up at the corners, quivered, and fell again into the harsh downward curve that had become characteristic in the last month. He looked down at his ruined jacket and plucked at one of the frayed tears.
Saint-Germain watched this closely, then asked, "Has the fighting been very bad?"
"What's very bad? Some days we kill more than they do, and some days they kill more. It sickens me." He turned toward the fire and for a little time said nothing; Saint-Germain respected his silence. Finally James sighed. "Is there anyone else here at Montalia?"
"My manservant Roger, but no one other than he." Again Saint-Germain waited, then inquired, "Is there something you require, Mister Tree? I would recommend a bath and rest to begin with."
This time James faltered noticeably. "It's funny; I really don't know what I want." He gave Saint-Germain a quick, baffled look. "I wanted to be here. But now that I am, I'm too tired to care." His eyes met Saint-Germain's once, then fell away. "It doesn't make much sense."
"It makes admirable sense," Saint-Germain told him, shaking his head as he studied James.
"I'm probably hungry and sore, too, but, I don't know..." He leaned back in the chair, and after a few minutes while Saint-Germain built up the fire, he began to talk in a quiet, remote ramble. "I went home in thirty-one; Madelaine might have mentioned it."
"Yes," Saint-Germain said as he poked at the pine log; it crackled and its sap ran and popped on the dry bark.
"It was supposed to be earlier, but what with the Crash, they weren't in any hurry to bring one more hungry reporter back to St. Louis. So Crandell-he was my boss then-extended my assignment and when he died, Sonderson, who replaced him, gave me another eighteen months before asking me to come back. It was strange, being back in the States after more than thirteen years in Europe. You think you know how you'll feel, but you don't. You think it will be familiar and cozy, but it isn't. I felt damn-all odd, I can tell you. People on the street looked so-out of place. Of course the Depression was wrecking everything in the cities, but it was not only that. What worried me was hearing the same old platitudes everyone had been using in 1916. I couldn't believe it. With everything that had happened there was no comprehension that the world had changed. It was so different, in a way that was so complete that there was nothing the change did not touch. People kept talking about getting back to the old ways without understanding that they could not do that ever again..."
"They never can," Saint-Germain interjected softly. He was seated once again in the high-backed overstuffed chair.
"... no matter what." He broke off. "Maybe you're right," he concluded lamely, and stared at the fire. "I've been cold."
"In time you will be warm again, Mister Tree," Saint-Germain said, and rose to pick up a silver bell lying on the table beside his violin case. "Would you like to lie down? You could use rest, Mister Tree." His manner was impeccably polite but James sensed that he, would do well to cooperate with the suggestion.
"Sure," was James' quiet response. "Sure, why not."
"Excellent, Mister Tree." He rang the bell, and within two minutes a sandy-haired man of middle height, middle build, and middle age came into the room. "Roger, this is Madelaine's great good friend, James Emmerson Tree. He has gone through an... ordeal." One of Saint-Germain's brows rose sharply and Roger recognized it for the signal it was.
"How difficult for him," Roger said in a neutral voice. "Mister Tree, if you will let me attend to you..."
James shook his head. "I can manage for myself," he said, not at all sure that he could.
"Nonetheless, you will permit Roger to assist you. And when you have somewhat recovered, we will attend to the rest of it."
"The rest of it?" James echoed as he got out of the chair, feeling horribly grateful for Roger's proffered arm.
"Yes, Mister Tree, the rest of it." He smiled his encouragement but there was little amusement in his countenance.
"Yeah, I guess," James responded vaguely, and allowed himself to be guided into the dark hallway.
The bathroom was as he remembered it-large, white tiled and old fashioned. The tub stood on gilt crocodile feet and featured elaborate fixtures of the sort that had been in vogue eighty years before. James regarded it affectionately while Roger helped to take off his damaged clothing. "I've always liked that tub," he said when he was almost naked. "It is something of a museum piece," Roger said, and James was free to assume he agreed.
The water billowed out of the taps steaming, but James looked at it with an unexpected disquiet. He was filthy, his muscles were stiff and sore, and there were other hurts on his body which he thought would welcome the water, but at the last moment he hesitated, suppressing a kind of vertigo. With care, he steadied himself with one hand and said to Roger, who was leaving the room, "I'm worn out, that's what it is."
"Very likely," the manservant said in a neutral tone before closing the door.
As he stretched out in the tub, the anticipated relaxation did not quite happen. James felt his stiff back relax, but not to the point of letting him doze. He dismissed this as part of the aches and hurts that racked him. When he had washed away the worst of the grime, he looked over the damage he had sustained when he was thrown from the jeep. There was a deep weal down the inside of his arm. "Christ!" James muttered when he saw it, thinking he must have bled more than he had thought. Another deep cut on his thigh was red but healing, and other lacerations showed no sign of infection. "Which is lucky," James remarked to the ceiling, knowing that he could never have come the long miles to Montalia if he had been more badly hurt. The other two reporters had not been so fortunate: one had been shot in the crossfire that wrecked the jeep and the other had been crushed as the jeep overturned.
This was the first time James had been able to remember the incident clearly, and it chilled him. How easy it would have been to have died with them. One random factor different and he would have been the one who was shot or crushed. With an oath he got out of the tub, and stood shaking on the cold tiles as the water drained away.
"I have brought you a robe," Roger said a few minutes later as he returned. "Your other garments are not much use any longer. I believe that there is a change of clothes in the armoire of the room you used to occupy."
"Hope I can still get into them," James said lightly in an attempt to control the fright that had got hold of him.
"You will discover that later, Mister Tree." He helped the American into the bathrobe he held, saying in a steady manner, "It's very late, Mister Tree. The sun will be up soon, in fact. Why don't you rest for now, and my master will see you when you have risen."
"Sounds good," James answered as he tied the sash. He wanted to sleep more than he could admit, more than he ever remembered wanting to. "I... I'll probably not get up until, oh, five or six o'clock."
"No matter, Mister Tree," Roger said, and went to hold the door for James.
James woke from fidgety sleep not long after sunset. He looked blankly around the room Madelaine had given him so many years before, and for several minutes could not recall how he had got there, or where he was. Slowly, as if emerging from a drugged stupor he brought back the events of the previous night There at the foot of the bed was the robe, its soft heavy wool familiar to his touch. Memories returned in a torrent as he sat up in bed: how many times he had held Madelaine beside him through the night and loved her with all his body and all his soul. He felt her absence keenly. At that, he remembered that Saint-Germain was at Montalia, and for the first time, James felt awkward about it. It was not simply that he was jealous, although that was a factor, but that he had never properly understood the man's importance in Madelaine's life.
He got out of bed and began to pace restlessly, feeling very hungry now, but oddly repulsed at the thought of food. "Rations," he said to the walls in a half-joking tone, "that's what's done it." Telling himself that he was becoming morbid, he threw off the robe, letting it lie in a heap in the nearest chair, and dressed in the slightly old-fashioned suit he had left here before returning to America. The trousers, he noticed, were a little loose on him now, and he hitched them up uneasily. He had neither belt nor suspenders for it, and might have to ask for one or the other. The jacket hung on him, and he reflected that he had not gone in for much exercise in the last few years until he had come back to Europe four months ago. He looked in vain for a tie and recollected that he had disdained them for a time. He would have to find something else.
At last he found a roll-top pull-over at the bottom of one of the drawers, and he gratefully stripped off jacket and shirt to put it on. It was of soft tan wool, with one or two small holes on the right sleeve where moths had reached it, and it felt lovely next to his skin. With shirt and jacket once more donned, James felt that he presented a good enough appearance to venture down into the main rooms of the chateau.
He found his way easily enough, although the halls were dark. His eyes adjusted readily to this, and he told himself that after all the nights when he and Madelaine had sought each other in the dim rooms and corridors, he should be able to find his way blindfolded. For the first time in several days, he chuckled.
"Something amuses you, Mister Tree?" said Saint-Germain from behind him, his tone lightly remote as he approached. "I heard you come down the stairs a few minutes ago. I'm pleased you're up. I thought you might be... hungry."
"I was. I am," James said, turning to face the other man. "But there's..." He could not continue and was not certain why.
"For whatever consolation it may be to you, I do sympathise, Mister Tree," le Comte said slowly, looking up at the tall American. "It may surprise you to learn that it will be a while before you become used to your... transition." As he said this, his dark eyes met James' uncompromisingly. "Transition?" James repeated with a bewildered smile. "I don't understand."
"Don't you?" Le Comte de Saint-Germain gave James another steady look and said cautiously, "Mister Tree, are you aware of what has happened to you?"
James laughed uneasily. "I think I've been hurt. I know I have. There are cuts on my arms and legs, a couple pretty serious." He cleared his throat nervously. "There were three of us in the jeep, and there was an ambush. No one bothered to find out if we were press, but I don't blame them for that. I don't know which side did it, really." He shook himself self-consciously. "Someone must have walked over my grave."
"Very astute, Mister Tree," Saint-Germain said compassionately.
"I don't remember much more than that. It does sound lame, doesn't it? But I don't."
"You recall being injured." He motioned toward the tall, studded doors that led to the small sitting room where James had found him the night before. "That is a start."
James fell into step beside the smaller man and was mildly startled to find that he had to walk briskly to keep up with Saint-Germain. "Actually, it's all muddled. I remember the crossfire, and the jeep turning over, and being tossed into the air, but the rest is all... jumbled. I must have passed out, and didn't come to until after dark. I can't tell you what made me come here. I guess when you're hurt, you look for a safe place, and I've been here before, so..." He heard Saint-Germain close the door behind them and stopped to look about the sitting room.
"It seems eminently reasonable, Mister Tree," Saint-Germain told him as he indicated the chair James had occupied before.
"Good," James responded uneasily.
Saint-Germain drew up his chair; the firelight played on his face, casting sudden shadows along his brow, the line of his straight, aslant nose, the wry, sad curve of his mouth. Though his expression remained attentive, his eyes now had a sad light in them. "Mister Tree, how badly were you hurt?"
James was more disquieted now than ever and he tugged at the cuffs of his jacket before he answered. "It must have been pretty bad. But I walked here, and I figure it's more than forty, maybe fifty miles from... where it happened." He ran one large hand through his silver hair. "Those cuts, though. Jesus! And I felt so... detached. Bleeding does that, when it's bad, or so the medics told me. But I got up..."
"Yes," Saint-Germain agreed. "You got up."
"And I made it here..." With a sudden shudder, which embarrassed him, he turned away.
Saint-Germain waited until James was more composed, then said, "Mister Tree, you've had a shock, a very great shock, and you are not yet recovered from it. It will take more than a few minutes and well-chosen words of explanation to make you realize precisely what has occurred, and what it will require of you."
"That sounds ominous," James said, forcing himself to look at Saint-Germain again.
"Not ominous," Saint-Germain corrected him kindly. "Demanding, perhaps, but not ominous." He stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles. "Mister Tree, Madelaine led me to understand that you were told about her true nature. Is this so?" Privately, he knew it was, for Madelaine had confided all her difficulties with James over the years, and Saint-Germain was aware of the American's stubborn disbelief in what he had been told.
"A little. I heard about the aristocratic family, and looked them up." His square chin went up a degree or two. "She made some pretty wild claims..."
Saint-Germain cut him short "Did you bother to investigate her claims?"
"Yes," James admitted, sighing. "I had to. When she told me... those things, I had to find out if she had been making it up out of whole cloth." He rubbed his hands together, his nervousness returning.
"And what did you discover?" Saint-Germain's inquiry was polite, almost disinterested, but there was something in his dark eyes that held James' attention as he answered.
"Well, there was a Madelaine de Montalia born here in the eighteenth century. That was true. And she did... die in Paris in 1744. She was only twenty, and I read that she was considered pretty." He paused. "The way Madelaine is pretty, in fact."
"Does that surprise you?" Saint-Germain asked.
"Well, the same family..." James began weakly, then broke off. "The portrait looked just like her, and she kept saying it was her." These words were spoken quickly and in an undervoice, as if James feared to let them have too much importance.
"But you did not believe her," Saint-Germain prompted him when he could not go on. "Why was that?"
"Well, you should have heard what she said!" James burst out, rising from the chair and starting to pace in front of the fireplace. "She told me... Look, I know that you were her lover once. She didn't kid me about that. And you might not know the kinds of things she said about herself..."He stopped and stared down at the fire, thinking that he was becoming more famished by the minute. If he could eat, then he would not have to speak. Unbidden, the memories of the long evenings with Madelaine returned with full force to his thoughts. He pictured her dining room with its tall, bright windows, Madelaine sitting across from him, or at the corner, watching him with delighted eyes as he ate. She never took a meal with him, and he had not been able to accept her explanation for this. As he tried to recall the taste of the sauce Claude had served with the fish, he nearly gagged.
"I know what she told you," Saint-Germain said calmly, as if from a distance. "She told you almost twenty years ago that she is a vampire. You did not accept this, although you continued to love her. She warned you what would happen when you died, and you did not choose to believe her. Yet she told you the truth, Mister Tree."
James turned around so abruptly that for a moment he swayed on his feet. "Oh, sure! Fangs and capes and graveyards and all the rest of it. Madelaine isn't any of those things."
"Of course not."
"And," James continued rather breathlessly now that he was started, "she said that you were... and that you were the one who changed her!" He had expected some reaction to this announcement, but had not anticipated that it would be a nod and a stern smile. "She said..." he began again, as if to explain more to Saint-Germain.
"I'm aware of that. She had my permission, but that was merely a formality." He sat a bit straighter in his chair as the significance of his words began to penetrate James' indignation. "She and I are alike in that way, now. It is correct: I did bring about her change, as she brought about yours." His steady dark eyes were unfaltering as they held James'.
"Come on," James persisted, his voice growing higher with tension. "You can't want her to say that about you. You can't."
"Well, in a general way I prefer to keep that aspect of myself private, yes," Saint-Germain agreed urbanely, "but it is the truth, nonetheless."
James wanted to yell so that he would not have to listen to those sensible words, so that he could shut out the quiet, contained man who spoke so reasonably about such completely irrational things. "Don't joke," he growled, his jaw tightening.
"Mister Tree," Saint-Germain said, and something in the tone of his voice insisted that James hear him out: the American journalist reluctantly fell silent. "Mister Tree, self-deception is not a luxury that we can afford. I realize that you have been ill-prepared for... recent events, and so I have restrained my sense of urgency in the hope that you would ask the questions for yourself. But you have not, and it isn't wise or desirable for you to continue in this way. No," he went on, not permitting James to interrupt, "you must listen to me for the time being. When I have done, I will answer any questions you have, as forth-rightly as possible; until then, be good enough to remain attentive and resist your understandable inclination to argue."
James was oddly daunted by the air of command that had come over le Comte, but he had many years' experience in concealing any awe he might feel, and so he clasped his hands behind his back and took a few steps away from the fire as if to compensate for the strength he sensed in Saint-Germain. "Okay; okay. Go on."
Saint-Germain's smile was so swift that it might not have occurred at all-there was a lift at the corners of his mouth and his expression was once again somber. "Madelaine took you as her lover sometime around 1920, as I recall, and it was in 1925 that she tried to explain to you what would become of you after you died." He saw James flinch at the last few words, but did not soften them. "Like Madelaine, you would rise from death and walk again, vampiric. As long as your nervous system is intact, you will have a kind of life in you, one that exerts a few unusual demands. You have some experience of them already. You are hungry, are you not? And yet you cannot bring yourself to eat. The notion of food is repulsive. We're very... specific in our nourishment, Mister Tree, and you must become accustomed to the new requirements..."
"You're as bad as she is," James muttered, looking once toward the door as if he wanted to bolt from the room. He wanted to convince himself that the other man was a dangerous lunatic, or a charlatan enjoying himself at James' expense, but there was undoubted sincerity in Saint-Germain's manner, and a pragmatic attitude that was terribly convincing.
"Oh, I am much worse than Madelaine, Mister Tree. It was I who made her a vampire, back in the autumn of 1743." He frowned as James turned swiftly, violently away. "Your change was assured possibly as early as 1922, but Madelaine was so fearful of your hatred that it took her over two years to gather her courage to explain the hazard to you. You see, she loves you, and the thought of your detestation was agony for her. She could not leave you unprepared, however, and eventually revealed..."
"This is crazy," James insisted to the ceiling; he could not bring himself to look at Saint-Germain. "Crazy."
"Do you appreciate the depth of her love?" Saint-Germain went on as if he had not heard James' outburst. "Your protection was more important to her than your good opinion. She risked being loathed so that you would not have to face your change in ignorance." He folded his arms. "And you make a paltry thing of her gift by refusing to admit that the change has happened."
James threw up his hands and strode away from the fireplace toward the farthest corner of the room. "This doesn't make any sense. Not any of it. You're talking like a madman." He could hear the unsteadiness of his voice and with an effort of will lowered and calmed it. "I remember what she told me about being a vampire. I didn't believe it then, you're right. I don't believe it now. And you keep talking as if something has happened to me. True enough. My jeep was shot out from under me, I've lost a lot of blood and I've been wandering without food for over three days. No wonder I feel so... peculiar."
Slowly Saint-Germain got out of the chair and crossed the room toward James. His compelling eyes never left James' face, and the quiet command of his well-modulated voice was the more authoritative for its lack of emotion. "Mister Tree, stop deluding yourself. When that jeep turned over, when you were thrown through the air, you suffered fatal injuries. You lay on the ground and bled to death. But death is a disease to which we are, in part, immune. When the sun set, you woke into... Madelaine's life, if you will." He stopped less than two strides from James. "Whether you wish to believe it or not, you are a vampire, Mister Tree."
"Hey, no..." James began, taking an awkward step back from Saint-Germain.
"And you must learn to... survive."
"NO!" He flung himself away from le Comte, bringing his arms up to shield his face as if from blows.
"It's crazy!" With an inarticulate cry, he rushed toward the door.
Before he could reach it, Saint-Germain had moved with remarkable speed and blocked James' path. "Sit down, Mister Tree."
"I..." James said, raising one hand to threaten the smaller man.
"I would advise against it, Mister Tree," Saint-Germain warned him gently, with a trace of humor in his expression that baffled James anew. "Sit down."
The impetus which had driven James to action left him as quickly as it had possessed him, and he permitted himself to be pointed in the direction of the chair he had just vacated. He told himself that he was in the presence of a lunatic, and that he ought to go along with him; but deeper in his mind was the gnawing fear that against all reason, Saint-Germain might be right. He moved stiffly, and as he sat down, he drew back into the chair, as if to protect himself. "You're..."
"I'm not going to hurt you, if that is what concerns you," Saint-Germain sighed. When James did not deny his fear, Saint-Germain crossed the room away from him, and regarded him for two intolerably long minutes. "Madelaine loves you, Mister Tree, and for that alone, I would offer you my assistance."
"You were her lover once, if you're who I think you are." He had summoned a little defiance into his accusation.
"I have told you so. Yes, she and I were lovers, as you and she were." There was an eighteenth century lowboy against the wall, and Saint-Germain braced himself against it, studying James as he did.
"And you're not jealous?" James fairly pounced on the words.
"In time, we learn to bow to the inevitable. My love for Madelaine has not diminished, Mister Tree, but for those of our nature, such contact is... shall we say nonproductive?" His tone was sardonic; his face was sad. "No, I am not jealous."
James heard this out in disbelief. "You want me to believe that?"
"I would prefer that you did," Saint-Germain said, then shrugged. "You will discover it for yourself, in time."
"Because I'm a vampire, like you two, right?" The sarcasm James had intended to convey was not entirely successful.
"Christ." James scowled, then looked up. "I said Christ. If I'm a vampire, how come I can do that? I thought all vampires were supposed to blanch and cringe at holy words and symbols." He was not enjoying himself, but asking this question made him feel more comfortable, as if the world were sane again.
"You will find that there are a great many misconceptions about us, Mister Tree. One of them is that we are diabolic. Would you be reassured if I could not say God, or Jesus, or Holy Mary, Mother of God? Give me a crucifix and I will kiss it, or a rosary and I will recite the prayers. I will read from the Torah, the Koran, the Vedas, or any other sacred literature you prefer. There is a Bible in the library-shall I fetch it, so that you may put your mind at rest?" He did not conceal his exasperation, but he mitigated his outburst with a brief crack of laughter.
"This is absurd," James said uncertainly.
Saint-Germain came a few steps closer. "Mister Tree, when you accepted Madelaine as your mistress, you knew that she was not entirely like other women. At the time, I would imagine that lent a thrill to what you did. No, don't bristle at me. I'm not implying that your passion was not genuine: if it was not, you would not have been given her love as you have." He fingered the lapel of his jacket. "This is rather awkward for me."
"I can see why," James said, feeling a greater degree of confidence. "If you keep telling me about..."
"It's awkward because I know how you love Madelaine, and she you. And how I love her, and she me." He read the puzzled look that James banished swiftly. "Ycu will not want to relinquish what you have had, but..."
"Because you're back, is that it?" James challenged, sitting straight in the overstuffed chair.
"No. After all, Madelaine is on a dig, so her choice, if one were possible, is a moot point at best. I am afraid that it is more far-reaching than that." He came back to his chair, but though he rested one arm across the back, he did not sit. "For the sake of argument, Mister Tree, accept for the moment that you have been killed and are now a vampire."
James chuckled. "All right: I'm a vampire. But according to you, so is Madelaine, as well as you."
"Among vampires," Saint-Germain went on, not responding to James' provocation, "there is a most abiding love. Think of how the change was accomplished, and you will perceive why this is so. But once we come into our life, the expression of that love... changes, as well. We hunger for life, Mister Tree. And that is the one thing we cannot offer one another."
"Oh, shit," James burst out. "I don't know how much of this I can listen to."
Saint-Germain's manner became more steely. "You will listen to it all, Mister Tree, or you will come to regret it." He waited until James settled back into the chair once again. "As I have told you," he resumed in the same even tone, "you will have to learn to seek out those who will respond to... what you can offer. For we do offer a great deal to those we love, Mister Tree. You know how profoundly intimate your love is for Madelaine. That is what you will have to learn to give to others if you are to survive."
"Life through sex?" James scoffed feebly. "Freud would love it."
Though Saint-Germain's fine brows flicked together in annoyance, he went on with hardly a pause. "Yes, through, if you take that to mean a route. Sex is not what you must strive for, but true intimacy. Sex is often a means to avoid intimacy-hardly more than the scratching of an itch. But when the act is truly intimate, there is no more intense experience, and that, Mister Tree, is what you must achieve." He cocked his head to the side. "Tell me: when you were with Madelaine, how did you feel?"
The skepticism went out of James' eyes and his face softened. "I wish I could tell you. I can't begin to express it. No one else ever..."
"Yes," Saint-Germain agreed rather sadly. "You will do well to remember it, in future."
On the hearth one of the logs crackled and burst, filling the room with the heavy scent of pine resin. A cascade of sparks flew onto the stone flooring and died as they landed.
James swallowed and turned away from Saint-Germain. He wanted to find a rational, logical objection to throw back at the black-clad man, to dispel the dread that was filling him, the gnawing certainty that he was being told the truth. "I don't believe it," he whispered.
Saint-Germain had seen this shock so many times that he was no longer distressed by it, but merely saddened. He approached James and looked down at him. "You will have to accept it, Mister Tree, or you will have to die the true death. Madelaine would mourn for you terribly, if you did that."
" 'Die the true death.' " James bit his lower lip. "How..."
"Anything that destroys the nervous system destroys us: fire, crushing, beheading, or the traditional stake through the heart, for that matter, which breaks the spine. If you choose to die, there are many ways to do it." He said it matter-of-factly enough, but there was something at the back of his eyes that made James wonder how many times Saint-Germain had found himself regretting losses of those who had not learned to live as he claimed they must.
"And drowning? Isn't water supposed to..." James was amazed to hear this question. He had tried to keep from giving the man any credence, and now he was reacting as if everything he heard was sensible.
"You will learn to line the heels and soles of your shoes with your native earth, and will cross water, walk in sunlight, in fact live fairly normal lives. We are creatures of the earth, Mister Tree. That which interrupts our contact with it is debilitating. Water is the worst, of course, but flying in an airplane is... unnerving." He had traveled by air several times, but had not been able to forget the huge distance between him and the treasured earth. "It will be more and more the way we travel-Madelaine says that she had got used to it but does not enjoy it-but I must be old-fashioned; I don't like it. Although it is preferable to sailing, for brevity if nothing else."
"You make it sound so mundane," James said in the silence that fell. That 'alone was persuading him, and for that reason, he tried to mock it.
"Most of life is mundane, even our life." He smiled, and for the first time there was warmth in it. "We are not excused from the obligations of living, unless we live as total outcasts. Some of us have, but such tactics are... unrewarding."
"Maybe not death, but taxes?" James suggested with an unhappy chuckle.
Saint-Germain gave James a sharp look. "If you wish to think of it in that way, it will answer fairly well," he said after a second or two. "If you live in the world, there are accommodations that must be made."
"This is bizarre," James said, convincing himself that he was amused while the unsettling apprehension grew in him steadily.
"When you came here," Saint-Germain continued, taking another line of argument, "when did you travel?"
"What?" James made an abrupt gesture with his hand, as if to push something away. "I didn't look about for public transportation, so I can't tell you what time..."
"Day or night will do," Saint-Germain said.
"Why, it was da..." His face paled. "No. I... passed out during the day. I decided it was safer at night, in any case. There are fewer patrols, and..."
"When did you decide this? Before or after you had walked the better part of one night?" He let James have all the time he wanted to answer the question.
"I walked at night," James said in a strange tone. "The first night it was... easier. And I was so exhausted that I wasn't able to move until sundown. That night, with the moon so full, and seeing so well, I figured I might as well take advantage of it..."
"Mister Tree, the moon is not full, nor was it two nights ago. It is in its first quarter." He was prepared to defend this, but he read James' troubled face, and did not press his argument. "Those who have changed see very well at night. You may, in fact, want to avoid bright sunlight, for our eyes are sensitive. We also gain strength and stamina. How else do you suppose you covered the distance you did with the sorts of wounds you sustained to slow you down?"
"I... I didn't think about it," he answered softly. "It was... natural."
"... who have changed, don't tell me!" James burst out, and lurched out of the chair. "If you keep this up, you'll have me believing it, and then I'll start looking for a padded cell and the latest thing in straight jackets." He paced the length of the room once, coming back to stand near Saint-Germain. "You're a smooth-tongued bastard, I'll give you that, Saint-Germain. You are Saint-Germain, aren't you?"
"Of course. I thought you remembered me from that banquet in Paris," came the unperturbed answer. "I did. But I thought you'd look..."
"Older?" Saint-Germain suggested. "When has Madelaine looked older than twenty? True, you have not seen her for more than six years, but when she came to America, did she strike you as being older than the day you met her?"
"No," James admitted.
"And she looks very little older now than she did the day I met her in 1743. You are fortunate that age has been kind to you, Mister Tree. That is one of the few things the change cannot alter." Abruptly he crossed the room and opened the door. "I trust you will give me an hour of your time later this evening. Roger should be back by then, and then you will have a chance to..."
"Has he gone for food?" James demanded, not wanting to admit he was famished.
"Something like that," le Comte answered, then stepped into the hall and pulled the door closed behind him.
The Bugatti pulled into the court behind the stables and in a moment, Roger had turned off the foglights and the ignition. He motioned to the woman beside him, saying, "I will get your bag, Madame, and then assist you."
"Thank you," the woman answered distantly. She was not French, though she spoke the language well. Her clothes, which were excellent quality, hung on her shapelessly, and the heavy circles under her eyes and the hollows at her throat showed that she had recently suffered more than the usual privations of war. Automatically she put her hand to her forehead, as if to still an ache there.
"Are you all right, Madame?" Roger asked as he opened the passenger door for her. In his left hand he held a single worn leather valise.
"I will be in a short time," she responded, unable to smile, but knowing that good manners required something of the sort from her.
Roger offered her his arm. "You need not fee! compelled, Madame. If, on reflection, the matter we discussed is distasteful to you, tell me at once, and I..." He turned in relief as he saw Saint-Germain approaching through the night.
"You're back sooner than I expected," Saint-Germain said, with an inquiring lift to his brows.
"I had an unexpected opportunity," was the answer. "Just as well, too, because there are Resistance fighters gathering further down the mountain, and they do not take kindly to travelers."
"I see," Saint-Germain responded.
"A number of them wished to... detain Madame Kunst, hearing her speak... and..." Roger chose his words carefully.
"I am Austrian," the woman announced, a bit too loudly. "I am. I fled." Without warning, she started to cry with the hopelessness of an abandoned child. "They took my mother and my father and shot them," she said through her tears. "And then they killed my uncle and his three children. They wanted me, but I was shopping. A neighbor warned me. It wasn't enough that Gunther died for defending his friends, oh, no."
Saint-Germain motioned Roger aside, then held out his small, beautiful hand to Madame Kunst. "Come inside, Madame Kunst. There is a fire and food."
She sat passively while her tears stopped, then obediently took his hand, and for the first time looked into Saint-Germain's penetrating eyes. "Danke, Mein Herr."
"It would be wiser to say 'merci,' here," Saint-Germain reminded her kindly. "My experience with the Resistance in this area says they are not very forgiving."
"Yes. I was stupid," she said as she got out of the Bugatti and allowed Saint-Germain to close the door. In an effort to recapture her poise, she said, "Your manservant made a request of me as he brought me here."
Roger and Saint-Germain exchanged quick glances, and Saint-Germain hesitated before saying, "You must understand, this is not precisely the situation I had anticipated. Did my manservant explain the situation to you clearly? I do not want to ask you to do anything you think you would not wish to do."
She shrugged, shaking her head once or twice. "It doesn't matter to me. Or it does, but it makes no sense."
"How do you mean?" Saint-Germain had seen this lethargic shock many times in the past, but long familiarity did not make it easier to bear. He would have to make other arrangements for James, he thought: this woman clearly needed quiet and time to restore herself. She had had more than enough impositions on her.
"It's all so..." She sighed as Saint-Germain opened the side door for her and indicated the way into the chateau. "No man has touched me since Gunther, and I was content to be in my father's house, where the worst seemed so far away. When I thought those men might force me, I screamed, but there was no reason for it any more."
"You have nothing to fear from anyone at Montalia," Saint-Germain told her quietly.
She nodded and let Roger escort her into the breakfast room off the kitchen. There was a low fire in the grate and though the striped wallpaper was faded, in the flickering light it was pleasant and cozy. As Saint-Germain closed the door, she sat in the chair Roger held for her and folded her hands in her lap. Her age was no more than thirty, but the gesture was that of a much younger person. "Gunther died six months ago. I didn't find out about it at first. They don't tell you what's happened. The SS comes and people go out with them and don't come home again, and no one dares ask where they have gone, or when they will return, for then the SS might return. It was the local judge who told me, and he was drunk when he did."
Roger bowed and excused himself to prepare a simple meal for Madame Kunst.
"When did you leave Austria, Madame?" Saint-Germain asked her as he added another log to the fire.
"Not many days ago. Eight or nine, I think. It could be ten." She yawned and apologized.
"There is no need," Saint-Germain assured her. "The fare here is adequate but not luxurious. If you are able to wait half an hour, there will be soup and cheese and sausage. Perhaps you would like to nap in the meantime?"
She thought about this, then shook her head. "I would sleep like the dead. I must stay awake. There are too many dead already." She fiddled with the fold of her skirt across her lap, but her mind was most certainly drifting. "I ate yesterday."
Saint-Germain said nothing but he could not repress an ironic smile, and was relieved that he had attended to his own hunger a few days before. The matter of nourishment, he thought, was becoming ridiculously complex.
"You did what?" James exclaimed, outraged. He had come back to the sitting room some ten minutes before and had tried to listen in reserved silence to what Saint-Germain was telling him.
"I saw that she was fed and given a room. I'm sorry that this adds so many complications. Had Roger been able to reach Mirelle, the problem would not have arisen." He was unruffled by James' outburst.
"First, you send your valet out to get a cooperative widow for me, and when that doesn't work because he can't get through to the village, he brings a half-starved Austrian refugee here as a weird kind of substitute, never mind what the poor woman thinks, being half kidnapped. Second, you think I'll go along with this impossible scheme. Third, you're telling me that you bring women here the way some cooks rustle up a half a dozen eggs, and I'm supposed to be grateful?" His voice had risen to a shout, as much to conceal the guilty pleasure he felt at the prospect of so tantalizing a meeting.
"Mister Tree, if there were not a war going on, all this would be handled differently. It may surprise you to know that I am not in the habit of 'rustling up,' as you say, cooperative widows or anyone else, for that matter. However, your situation will be critical soon, if something is not done, and I had hoped to find as undisruptive a solution as possible."
"Well, you sure as hell botched it," James said, taking secret pleasure in seeing this elegant stranger at a loss.
"Lamentably, I must concur." He thrust his hands into his pockets and started toward the door.
James could not resist a parting shot. "You mean you were going to lay out a woman for me, like a smorgasbord, so I could..."
Saint-Germain's mobile lips turned down in disgust "What do you take me for, Mister Tree? Mirelle knows what I am and finds it most satisfying. She would enjoy the... variety you would offer her. Good God, you don't believe that I would expose a woman like Madame Kunst to what we are, do you? She understands there is a man here suffering from battle fatigue, and is prepared to make allowances. It is dangerous and unwise to spend time with those who are repelled by us. If you are to survive in this life, you must learn to be circumspect." He reached for the door, then added, "Roger found the two boxes of earth from Denver, and that will afford you some relief, but not, I fear, a great deal."
"Earth from Denver?" James echoed.
"Of course. When Madelaine knew that you would walk after death, she arranged to have two cartons of your native earth shipped here, in case it was needed." It was said lightly, but the significance did not escape James. "She had stored it in the stables, and Roger did not find it until late afternoon."
"Earth from Denver. I can't believe it." There would have been comfort and denial in laughter, but James could not summon any.
"She cares what happens to you, Mister Tree. It was not whim but concern for your welfare that made her get those two boxes." He opened the door wide and stepped into the hall. His face was clouded with thought and he made his way slowly to the kitchen.
Roger looked up as Saint-Germain came quietly through the door. "She's bathed and gone to bed."
"Good. Did you learn anything more?" He was frowning slightly; there was an indefinable restlessness about him.
"Nothing significant. She's twenty-nine, comes from Salzburg. She used to teach school, her husband..."
"Yes. He was an attorney, I gather." He finished tidying the clutter in the kitchen and turned to bank the coals in the huge, wood-burning stove.
"Do you believe her?" Saint-Germain asked quietly.
"That she was a teacher and her husband an attorney, yes. The rest, I don't know." Roger closed the fuelbox and wiped his hands on a rag, leaving blackened smudges on the worn cloth.
"Nor do I," Saint-Germain admitted. "It may only be shock, but. But."
Roger blew out one of the kerosene lanterns. "Is she what she seems?"
"Superficially, no doubt," Saint-Germain said measuredly. "And everything she has told us may be true. If that's the case, she might be blackmailed. If she has children, and they are held by the SS, she might undertake almost anything to save them. Because if she is what she claims to be, and wants to be out of Austria and away from the war, why didn't she stop in Switzerland? That's a neutral country."
"She might not feel safe there," Roger suggested.
"And instead she feels safe in France?" Saint-Germain countered in disbelief. "You know what the French want to do to the Germans these days. Why should she leave the comparative haven Switzerland offers for this?"
"It is espionage?" Roger asked, taking the other lantern and starting toward the door.
"We will doubtless soon find out. But we must be very cautious. All the Resistance would need is an excuse to come here hunting German spies and matters might suddenly become unpleasant for us." He accompanied Roger out of the kitchen and toward the tower, the oldest part of the chateau. "I'm afraid I've scandalized Mister Tree again," Saint-Germain remarked as the reverberations of their footsteps clattered away into the eerie darkness. "He's accused me of pimping."
Roger gave a snort of amusement. "How charming. Did he say it directly?"
"Not quite. That would mean he would have to see too clearly what has become of him. It is unfortunate that you did not reach Mirelle. She would have put an end to all this nonsense, and the worst of his anxiety would be over by now. He's badly frightened; the thing that could not possibly happen to him has happened. Mirelle would tease him out of it. It's a pity she does not want to be one of my blood in the end. She would do well." They reached a narrow, uneven stairway that led into the upper rooms of the tower, and Saint-Germain stood aside for Roger so that he could light his way. The lantern was unnecessary for Saint-Germain, but his manservant required more illumination.
"It's best that she should know her mind now," Roger said, picking his way up the hazardous stairs. "Later, it might be inconvenient."
"True enough," Saint-Germain murmured. "Which room are the boxes in?"
"The second, where the trunks are stored. I stumbled on them by chance." They were halfway up the stairs now, and Roger paid particular attention to this stretch, for he knew that the one short trip stair was located here.
"To hide a box, put it with other boxes," Saint-Germain said, paraphrasing the maxim. "I have always applauded Madelaine's cleverness."
Roger got past the trip stair and moved faster. "Both boxes are unmarked, but there is the stencil design of an oak on both of them, which was what alerted me."
"How very like her," le Comte chuckled. They were almost at the landing, and he smiled his anticipation. "He'll be more at ease with this."
"Perhaps, perhaps not," Roger responded with a shrug. On the landing, he pointed to the door. "That one. There's a stack of boxes in the north corner. They're on the top of it."
As he opened the door and stepped into the room, Saint-Germain said over his shoulder, "You know, it is inconvenient that our scars can't be altered. Plastic surgery might change any number of things. Mister Tree is going to have some distinctive marks on his arms and thighs which will make identification simple. If there were a way to remove them, it might be easier to go from alias to alias. Well, that time may come." He looked around for the stack Roger had described. "Ah. There. If you'll give me a hand getting them down, I will take them to Mister Tree's room."
James woke at sunset feeling more restored than he had since his accident. He stretched slowly, oddly pleased that there were no aches to hamper his movements. He was healing, he insisted to himself. When he rose from the bed, there was the first hint of an energetic spring in his step. He dressed carefully, noticing that his clothes had been pressed some time during the day. The only things that he could not find were his shoes. After a brief hunt for them, he shrugged and settled for a pair of heavy boots he had worn years before when he and Madelaine had gone tramping over the rough hillsides together. As he laced them up, he thought how comfortable they were, and hoped that le Comte would not be too offended by them.
When at last he ventured down to the sitting room, he found Madame Kunst finishing the last of her tea, a few crumbs left on the Limoges plate beside her cup and saucer. He hesitated, then came into the room. "Good afternoon."
She looked up suddenly, guiltily, then smiled as best she could. "Good afternoon, though it is more evening, I think. You are..."
"The American suffering from battle fatigue, yes," he said with the same directness he had used to disarm politicians and industrialists for more than two decades. "You needn't worry, Madame. I am not precisely out of control, as you can see." To demonstrate this, he took a chair and arranged himself casually in it.
"I'm glad you're feeling... better?" This last change of inflection caught his attention and he leaned forward to speak to her.
"Yes. I'm much revived, thanks." He had deliberately chosen a chair that was far enough away from her that she would not be too much disturbed by his presence.
"You're an officer?" she asked when she had poured herself another cup of tea. She pointed to the pot in mute invitation, saying, "If you like, I could ring for another cup."
"That would be..." He broke off, finding the thought of tea distasteful. "Very good of you, but it would be wasted on me," he finished, frowning a bit.
"Is anything the matter?" she inquired apprehensively.
"No, not really." He decided to answer her question. "I'm not an officer, or a soldier, I'm afraid. I'm a journalist. I've been covering the action toward Lyon, but it hasn't been what I expected."
Madame Kunst smiled politely. "I'd think not." She sipped her tea. "What is your impression? Or would you rather not discuss it?"
"You must know the answer to that better than I," James suggested blandly, the habits of caution exerting themselves.
"Only what we are told," she said with a degree of sadness.
"But there must be raids and..." he said, hoping she would take up his drift.
"We hear about them, naturally, but Salzburg is not as important as other places. It is not important to shipping or the offensive, so we do not know how the rest of the country is going on." She finished the tea and reluctantly set the cup aside. "They have real butter here, and the milk is fresh."
The mention of food made James queasy, but he was able to nod. "Yes. There are shortages everywhere. Back home, there are ration cards used for meat and other necessary items. The government encourages everyone to grow their own vegetables." He knew it was safe to mention this, because it was common knowledge and there were articles in the newspapers which any enemy spy who wished to could read.
"There isn't much opportunity to grow vegetables in a city flat," she said.
"True enough. I have a cousin who always sends me canned goods at Christmas. She has quite a garden and thinks I need her food." He wanted to get off the subject, but did not quite know how.
Madame Kunst spared him the trouble. "How long have you been in France, Herr... I believe I was not told your name."
This time he could not avoid giving his name. "Tree, Madame Kunst. You see, I have been told who you are. I'm James Emmerson Tree. I've been in France a little more than a year."
"So long, with the war and all." She waited patiently for him to answer.
"Reporters go where the story is, and this is the biggest story around," he said with a shrug that did not completely conceal his disillusion with his work. "I'd been in France before, in the Twenties, and it made me the logical candidate to come back to cover this." He ran his hand through his hair. "You'll have to forgive me, Madame Kunst. I must be disconcerting company. These clothes aren't the latest, I haven't done anything much about my hair or shaving, but don't be alarmed." He touched his chin tentatively and felt a slight roughness, as if he had shaved the evening before.
"We do what we can in these times," she said, trying to appear at her best. "I have two dresses, and the other is worse than this one."
There was a tap at the door, and then Roger entered. "Excuse me, Madame Kunst, but if you are finished with your tea, I will remove the tray for you."
"Yes, I am, thank you," she replied, a trifle more grandly than she had addressed James. "It was very good."
"There will be a supper in two or three hours. Served in the breakfast room, as it is easiest to heat." He picked up the tray and started toward the door. "Mister Tree, le Comte would appreciate it if you could spare him a moment of your time."
James scowled. "When?"
"At your convenience. In the next two hours, perhaps?" He gave a little bow and left the room.
"My aunt had a butler like that, years ago," Madame Kunst said wistfully when Roger had gone.
"He's very efficient," James admitted grudgingly, deciding that Roger was a bit too efficient.
"Servants aren't like that any more." She smoothed the skirt of her dress and looked over at James. "How did you find the situation in France? When you arrived?"
"Chaotic," James answered. "It's apparent that this war has taken a dreadful toll on the country."
"On all Europe," Madame Kunst corrected him.
"Sure. But I've been covering France, and this is where I've had to look for the damage, the ruin and the destruction. I've heard about conditions in Russia, and I'm appalled. Italy is supposed to be having very bad troubles, and the Netherlands and Scandinavia are suffering, too, but France, in many ways, is taking the brunt of it. When I was in London, I was shocked, but when I came to France, I was horrified." He sensed that he was talking too much, but was no longer able to stop himself. "The First World War was ruinous, but this is something a lot worse. And the rumors we keep hearing make it all sound more awful than we think it is. There's nothing as bad as trench warfare going on, and no mounted cavalry against tanks, as there was before, but the cities are burning, and the country is laid waste, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. What can anyone think? It can't go on endlessly, but there is no way to end it."
"At home, we all pray that it will end," she said softly, her large brown eyes turned appealingly toward him. "Don't you think the Americans could do something? If your President would insist that we stop, all of us, at once, then it could not go on. Without the Americans, the British and the French could not continue this insanity."
"The Americans don't see it that way, Madame Kunst," James said rather stiffly, feeling disturbed by her afresh.
"But what are we to do, if it goes on and on? Everyone in my family is dead but myself, and no one cares that this is the case. Down the street from where my family lived, there is a widow who has lost four sons, all of them flyers, killed in air battles. She is like a ghost in her house. And there are hundreds, thousands like her."
"As there are in France and Italy and England and Holland, Madame Kunst. As there are in Chicago and Montreal and Honolulu." He got up. "Excuse me, but it might be best if I talk to le Comte now, rather than later."
Her face changed. "Have I offended you? Please, don't think me heartless, or uncaring of the sufferings of others. That is why I spoke to you about a resolution to this terrible war, so that there need not be such women ever again."
"I'm not offended," James said, knowing that he was and was uncertain why. As he left the room, he passed near her chair, and for one moment, he was caught and held by the sound of her pulse.
"She gave me a lecture on pacifism," James said at last when Saint-Germain had asked him for a third time what he and Madame Kunst had found to talk about. "She wants me to end the war so no more widows will lose sons. God knows, I don't want to see any more deaths, but what's the alternative?"
"Capitulation?" Saint-Germain suggested.
"Oh, no. You've seen the way the Germans have treated every foot of land they've taken. And they say there's worse things going on. One of the Dutch reporters said that there were cattle cars full of people being taken away. If they're doing that in Germany to Germans, what would they do to the rest of us?" He gestured once. "That could be propaganda about the cattle cars, but if it isn't..."
"I do see your point, Mister Tree. I am not convinced that you see mine. Montalia is isolated and splendidly defensible. A person here, or in one of the houses in, shall we say, a ten-kilometer radius, with a radio receiver and a reasonable amount of prudence, might provide the Germans with extremely useful information." He watched James as he said this, expecting an argument.
"But what good would it be?" James objected, taking his favorite role of Devil's advocate. "You said yourself that the chateau is isolated, and God knows, this part of Provence is damned remote. What could anyone find out here? There's nothing very strategic in your ten-kilometer radius unless you think that they're going to start last-ditch battles for the smaller passes."
"We're very close to Switzerland. As many secrets as gold are brokered through Geneva and Zurich. With a listening post here, a great deal could be learned." Saint-Germain raised one shoulder. "I may be feinting at shadows, but it worries me."
"If they want a listening post for Switzerland, why not in Switzerland?" James asked.
"The Swiss take a dim view of the abuse of their neutrality. Certainly there are monitoring posts in Bavaria and Austria, but it is not as easy to watch Geneva and Lausanne. The Resistance have found men and women doing espionage work in these mountains before. Last year, it was a gentleman claiming to be a naturalist hoping to preserve a particular bird; he climbed all over the mountains, and stayed in the old monastery on the next ridge. He might have accomplished his task, whatever it was, if one of the Resistance men did not become suspicious when he saw the supposed naturalist walk by a nest of the bird in question without a second look. It may be that Madame Kunst is nothing more than an Austrian refugee in a panic, but I am not going to assume anything until she has shown me I have no reason to be concerned."
James chuckled. "And where do you fit into this?"
"I don't want to fit into it at all," was Saint-Germain's short rejoinder. "War ceased to amuse me millen... years ago." He shook his head. "Apparently you haven't considered our position. We are both foreigners in a country at war. If we are imprisoned, which could happen-it has happened before-our particular needs would make a prolonged stay... difficult." He recalled several of the times he had been confined, and each brought its own burden of revulsion. "You would not like prison, Mister Tree."
"I wouldn't like it in any case," James said at once. "I knew a reporter who was shot by the Spanish for trying to file an uncensored story. He'd done it before, and they caught him trying the same thing again."
Saint-Germain lifted his head, and listened. "Ah. That will be Mirelle. We will continue this at a later time, Mister Tree."
"What?" James cried, remembering the woman's name all too clearly. Now he, too, could hear an approaching automobile.
"You do have need of her, Mister Tree," Saint-Germain said quietly. "More than you know now."
James came off the sofa to round on le Comte. "It's monstrous. I've gone along with some of what you've told me, but I draw the line at this!"
"Perhaps you should wait until you have a better idea of what 'this' is," Saint-Germain said, a touch of his wry humor returning. "She is looking forward to this evening. It would be sad if you were to disappoint her."
"Come on," James protested.
This time, when Saint-Germain spoke, his voice was low and his eyes compassionate. "Mister Tree, you will have to learn sometime, and we haven't the luxury of leisure. Mirelle wants to have the pleasure of taking your vampiric virginity, and you would do well to agree. We are rarely so fortunate in our first... experiences. You will spare yourself a great deal of unpleasantness if you will set aside your worry and pride long enough to lie with her. Believe this."
"But..." James began, then stopped. He could feel his hunger coiled within him, and he knew without doubt that it was hearing the beat of Madame Kunst's heart that had sharpened it. "Okay, I'll try. If nothing else," he went on with a poor attempt at jauntiness, "I'll get a good lay."
Saint-Germain's brows rose. "It is essential that she have the... good lay. Otherwise you will have nothing, Mister Tree. Males of our blood are like this." He was about to go on when there was a quick, emphatic step in the hall and the door was flung open.
Mirelle Bec was thirty-four, firm-bodied and comfortably voluptuous. She did not so much enter the room as burst into it with profligate vitality. Drab clothes and lack of cosmetics could not disguise her sensuality. Her hair was a dark cloud around a pert face that was more exciting than pretty, and when she spoke, it was in rapid, enthusiastic bursts. "Comte!" she called out and hastened across the room to fling her arms around him. "You've kept away so long, I ought to be annoyed with you, but I could never do that."
Saint-Germain kissed her cheek affectionately. "I have missed seeing you too, Mirelle."
As she disengaged herself from his embrace, she pointed dramatically at James. "Is this the baby? Comte, you are a bad, bad man: you did not tell me he was so beautiful." To James' embarrassment, Mirelle gave him a thorough and very appraising looking-over. "Oh, this is very promising," she declared as she approached him. "I do like the white hair. It is distinguished, is it not?" As James tried not to squirm, she laughed aloud and reached for his hand. "You are shy? But how delightful." Over her shoulder she added to Saint-Germain, "How good of you to offer him to me. I am going to enjoy myself tremendously."
"But, Madame, we..." James said in confusion, trying to find some way to deal with her.
"Have not been introduced, is that what concerns you? I am Mirelle, and you, I have been told, are James. So. We are introduced now. It remains only for you to show me which room is yours."
James had had experience with many women, but this one took him wholly aback. Yet even as he tried to separate himself from her, he felt the draw of her, and his much-denied hunger responded to her. "Madame...'
"No, no, no. Mirelle. You are James. I am Mirelle. It is more friendly that way, is it not?" She drew his arm through hers. "You will tell me how you come to be here as we walk to your room."
"I am not sure that..." James began with a look of mute appeal to Saint-Germain which he studiously avoided.
"But I am. Let us go, James." She waved to le Comte and went quickly to the door, taking the ambivalent James with her.
"Christ, I'm sorry," James muttered some time later. They were in a glorious tangle on his bed with the covers in complete disarray. "If you give me a little time, Mirelle. I must be more worn out than I knew."
Mirelle gave a sympathetic laugh. "It is not fatigue, James, it is what you are." She trailed her fingers over his chest. "Weren't you told?"
"I've been told all kinds of things the last couple days," he sighed in disgust.
"But this, this is different," Mirelle said generously. "For a man, this is more important, is it not?" She snuggled closer to him, pressing her body to his. "It is not the same when one changes. But there are compensations."
"For this? I've never been impotent before," James said, a note of distress creeping into his voice.
"It is not impotent," Mirelle assured him. "You are more than ready to make love to me, yes? And you are not repelled by me. So this is another matter."
"You don't know what it is that I... almost did." He felt suddenly miserable; he wanted to shut out the drumming of her heart that was loud as heavy machinery in his ears.
Mirelle laughed deeply. "But of course I know what you almost did. You are the same as le Comte. You wanted to put your lips to my neck and taste..."
"For God's sake!" James interrupted her, trying to move away from her but not succeeding.
"Well," Mirelle said reasonably, "it is what I expected of you. But you have not entirely got the way of it. You are judging yourself by your earlier standards, and they do not apply, my cabbage."
James rolled onto his side and rested his hand on the rise of Mirelle's hip. "Look, you're being very nice about this, and I appreciate it, but..." He wanted to shrug the incident off, to promise her another hour when he was feeling a bit better, but he could not find a gracious way to do so. He loved the feel of her skin under his hand and her nearness was oddly intoxicating, so that he could not bring himself to leave the bed or ask her to leave it.
"You are discouraged, but you need not be, James. You have not got used to your new ways. You don't have to worry. Let me show you. I love showing." Her hazel eyes took on a greenish shine of mischief. "You must learn how to satisfy me. It is not too difficult, ami, and when it is done, you will do well enough for yourself." She wriggled expertly. "Now, your hand there, if you please. That is a good beginning."
Dazed, James did as he was told, letting her instruct him as if he were a boy of fourteen. At first he could not get the memory of the long nights with Madelaine out of his thoughts, but then, as his passion grew in answer to Mirelle's, he responded to her, and only to her, and this time, though he did not love her as he had supposed he would, he had no reason to apologize.
Roger escorted Madame Kunst to her room, and listened quietly to her protestations that she was reluctant to remain at Montalia. "I have those I wish to meet. It isn't wise for me to remain here."
"But there is fighting, Madame, and you would not be safe, should you venture out into the world as it is now." Roger had received Saint-Germain's instructions several hours before to be solicitous of the Austrian woman.
"They said that there would be a boat at Nice that would take me to Scotland. I must reach that boat. I must."
"My master will make inquiries on your behalf, Madame. It would not be pleasant for you to suffer any more mishaps." Roger was unfailingly polite and slightly deferent, but gave no indication that he would accommodate her.
"He has some influence, this Comte? Could he help me?" Her voice pleaded but her wary eyes were hard.
"That is for him to decide, Madame Kunst. I will mention what you have told me." The hallway was dark where the glow of the lantern did not shine. "You have enough candles in your room?"
"There are plenty, thank you," she answered abruptly. Again she grasped the handle. "I must leave. I must go to Scotland. Can you explain that?"
"I will tell my master what you have said."
Her hands came up to her chin in fists. "Oh, you stupid man!" she shouted in her frustration, and then was at once quiet and restrained. "Forgive me. I must be more... tired than I realize."
"Of course, Madame Kunst." He lifted the lantern higher. "You can see your way?"
She did not entirely take the hint. "That woman," she said as she paused on the threshold. "I suppose she is necessary?"
Roger gave her no response whatever and there was a subtle sternness about his mouth that indicated he would not indulge in speculation about his master or Mirelle Bec.
"Well, such things happen, I suppose." She gave a polite shrug to show it made no difference to her if those in the house wanted to be immoral. "The highborn live by their own rules, do they not?"
"Good night, Madame Kunst," Roger said, and stepped back from her doorway. When he was satisfied that the door was firmly closed, he turned away from it and made his way back toward the sitting room where he knew that Saint-Germain waited for him. His sandy head was bent in thought and his face was not readable.
Shortly before sunrise, Saint-Germain found James walking in the overgrown garden. He came up to the American silently and fell into step beside him, letting James choose the path they were to take.
"She showed me," James said after a long while.
Their feet as they Walked crunched on the unraked gravel that led between the abandoned flower beds. James reached out and pulled a cluster of dried, faded blossoms off a trailing branch as it brushed his shoulder. "It wasn't what I expected." The paper-crisp husks of the flowers ran between his fingers and fell.
"But tolerable?" Saint-Germain inquired as if they were discussing nothing more important than the temperature of bath water.
"Oh, yeah. Tolerable." He laughed once, self-consciously. "Tolerable."
Saint-Germain continued his unhurried stroll, but pointed out that the sun would be up in half an hour. "You are not used to the sun yet, Mister Tree. Until you are, it might be wisest to spend the day indoors, if not asleep."
"Unhuh." He turned back toward the chateau, saying with some awkwardness, "Mirelle told me she'd be back in three or four days. But she didn't... Oh, Christ! this is difficult."
"She will be here for you, Mister Tree. My need is not great just now." He answered the unasked question easily, and sensed James' relief.
"That's what she hinted." James looked sharply at the shorter man. "Why? Is it because you're after that Austrian woman?"
"What an appalling notion! No, of course I'm not." He expressed his indignation lightly, but decided that he had better explain. "Oh, if I were determined to... use her, I could wait until she was asleep and visit her then, and she would remember little more than a very pleasant dream. It is something we all learn to do in time, and it has its advantages upon occasion. But Madame Kunst is a bit of a puzzle. Her purpose for being here is not known to me, and it would not be sensible or wise to... be close to her. If she learned or guessed what I am, and wished me ill, she would have me at a distinct disadvantage. The Resistance might not mind taking off time from hunting Nazis and Nazi sympathizers to hunt a more old-fashioned menace. You must not forget that is how most of the world sees us-as menaces. I would not like to have to leave Montalia precipitately just now." There had been many times in the past when he had had to take sudden flight in order to save himself: it was not a thing he wished to do again. "We must be circumspect, James."
This was the first time Saint-Germain had addressed him by his Christian name, and it startled him. "Why do you call me James? Is it because of Mirelle?"
"Don't be absurd." Saint-Germain's wry smile was clear in the advancing light.
"You've been calling me Mister Tree since I arrived here." The tone of his statement was stubborn and James was plainly waiting for an answer.
"And you have not been calling me anything at all," was Saint-Germain's mild reply.
James faltered. "It's that... I don't know what to call you."
"Is it." Saint-Germain gestured toward the side door that led into the pantry. "This is the quickest way."
As James was about to go in, there came the drone of planes overhead. He looked up, searching the sky, and at last, off to the north, saw a formation of shapes headed west. "I can't tell whose they are," he said quietly.
"American or British bombers back from their nighttime raids. They keep to the south of Paris for reasons of caution." He held the door for James.
"This far south?" James wondered aloud, already stepping into the shadow of the doorway.
"It is possible, James. They have done it before. You have been here very little time and until last night, you were not paying much attention to the world around you." There was no rebuke in what he said, and he felt none.
"True enough," James allowed, and waited while Saint-Germain closed the door behind them and latched it. "Why bother?"
"The crofters around here are very insular, careful folk, like all French peasants. They respect and admire Madelaine because she is the Seigneur. Don't look so surprised, Mister Tree. Surely you can understand this. The peasants are proud of their estate and they are protective of Montalia. Most of them think it is a great misfortune that the lines have passed through females for so long, but that makes them all the more determined to guard Madelaine. They know what she does-or part of it. They would beat their daughters senseless for taking lovers, but the Seigneurs are different, and her adventures provide them endless entertainment."
They had come into the kitchen where Roger was cutting up a freshly-killed chicken. He looked up from his task and regarded the two men quizzically. "I didn't know you were outside."
"James was taking the air, and I was coming back from checking the gatehouse," Saint-Germain said. "You might want to purchase some eggs from the Widow Saejean. Her boy told Mirelle that times are hard for them just now."
Roger nodded. "This afternoon." He bent and sniffed the chicken. "They're not able to feed them as well as they did."
"We could purchase a few of our own, if that would help," Saint-Germain suggested, but Roger shook his head.
"Better to buy them. If we bring chickens here, we won't be able to feed them much better than the rest do, and they would resent it. We are still the foreigners, and it would not take much to have them remember it." He began to cut up the bird with a long chef's knife, letting the weight of the blade do much of the work.
"About Madame Kunst..." Saint-Germain prompted.
"Nothing more, my master. I have not been able to touch her valise, which is locked in any case. But I do know that it is heavy, heavier than it ought to be, considering her story." Roger looked down at the chicken parts and smiled.
"Very good." Saint-Germain motioned to the American. "Come, James. Let's permit Roger to enjoy his breakfast in peace." He indicated the passage toward the main hall and waited for James to accompany him.
Once they were out of the kitchen, James said, "I don't mean to sound stupid, but I thought Roger was..."
"A vampire?" Saint-Germain finished for him. "No."
Apparently needing to explain himself, James went on. "It's only that you seem to be so... used to each other."
Saint-Germain turned toward the front reception room where tall windows gave a view of the rising mountains behind the promontory where Montalia sat. "I did not say that he is... unchanged, simply that he is not a vampire. Do sit down, if you wish, and be at ease. No," Saint-Germain said, resuming his topic, "Roger is not like us, but he has died and recovered from it. You were right; we are old friends. We met some time ago in Rome."
"If he's died and... what is he?" James knew that he ought to be bothered by these revelations, or to admit he was in the company of madmen, but after his night with Mirelle, he could not bring himself to accuse Saint-Germain of anything.
"He is a ghoul," Saint-Germain responded matter-of-factly. He saw James blink. "Don't imagine him back there tearing that poor fowl's carcass to bits with his teeth. There is no reason for it. He eats neatly because it is easier and more pleasant. The only restriction his state imposes on him is that the meat-for he only eats meat-be fresh-killed and raw."
James shuddered and looked away. "I see."
"I'm not certain of that," Saint-Germain said quietly.
Eager to change the subject, James asked, "Why was he trying to look at Madame Kunst's valise?"
"Because she guards it so zealously," he answered at once. "I am curious about a woman who says that she avoided arrest by being out shopping when the rest of her family were taken, and yet carries a large valise. Did she take it shopping with her? Then for what was she shopping? If she picked it up later, why that bag, rather than another? She says that she has three changes of clothes. Good. But where did they come from? Did she buy a dress while shopping, and take it with her when she fled? Did she buy it later? If Roger says that the valise is heavy, then you may believe him. In that case, what is in it?"
"Maybe she went back to her house and grabbed the only valise she could find, stuffed clothes into it, and something of value, say, silver candlesticks, so that she could pay for her passage. She wants to go to Scotland, and I don't know if it would be safe to pay for her trip in marks." James turned the questions over in his mind as he answered, enjoying the process. "What if she got as far as Zurich, had to buy some clothes, but could only afford to buy a cheap valise? If she'd gone to the train..."
"And where did she get her travel permit?" Saint-Germain inquired evenly. "Whether she is going to Scotland or Poland, she would have to have the proper papers, or she would not be able to get a ticket, let alone come this far."
"But if she didn't come by train? If she had a car..." He thought this over. "She would require proper documents to get over the border, that's true, and if her family was arrested, her name would probably be on a detain list."
"Yes. And where does that leave Madame Kunst?" With a shake of his head, Saint-Germain drew up a chair. "You are a journalist, James, and you are used to examining persons and facts. If the occasion should arise, and you are able to draw out Madame Kunst, I would appreciate your evaluation. Don't force the issue, of course, because I don't want her alarmed. If she is truly nothing more than a refugee determined, for reasons best known to herself, to get to Scotland, it would be a shame to cause her any more anguish. If she is not that, it would be foolish to put her on her guard."
"Are you always such a suspicious bastard?" James asked with increased respect.
"I am not suspicious at all. If I were, I should not have allowed her to come here. But I have seen enough treachery in my... life to wish to avoid it." He studied the tall American. "You would do well to develop a similar attitude, James. It spares us much inconvenience."
James gave this a reserved acceptance, then inquired, "What if she is an agent? What will you do then?"
"Inform the Resistance leaders. Yes, there are ways I can do this, and I will if it is necessary. I hope that it is not; I do not want to live under constant surveillance, as I have told you before." He got up. "I have a few tasks to attend to. If you will excuse me?"
As he started toward the door, James called after him. "What tasks?"
Saint-Germain paused. "I like to spend some time in my laboratory each day. It's a bit makeshift, but better than nothing."
"Laboratory? What do you do there?" James was somewhat intrigued, for although he had no great interest in scientific experimentation, he was curious about how Saint-Germain occupied his time.
"I make gold, of course." With James' indulgent laughter ringing in his ears, Saint-Germain left the reception room.
That afternoon James discovered Madame Kunst to be a fairly good, if impatient, card player. They had begun with cribbage and had graduated to whist. As Madame Kunst put down her cards, she said, "After I have my supper, let us play another rubber. You have some skill, it seems."
James, who was used to thinking of himself as a very good card player, was piqued by her comment. "Perhaps, after you have your meal, I will have forgotten my good manners, Madame."
She smiled widely and insincerely. "I do not believe that you have been deliberately allowing me to win-you aren't that shrewd in your bidding, for one thing." She looked around the room. "It is getting dark. How unfortunate that there are no electric lights here."
"But there are," James said impulsively, remembering Madelaine's pride at having them. "There is not enough gas to run the generator to power them. If the cars are going to be driven, it must be kerosene and candles here."
"But there is a generator? Curious." She smiled at James. "Have you seen this chateau when it is alight?"
"Yes," James said, not entirely sure now that he should have told her about the generator. But where was the harm, he asked himself, when a quick inspection of the old stables would reveal the generator, and the allotted fuel for Montalia?
"It must be quite impressive," Madame Kunst said quietly. She was wearing one of her two dresses, an elegantly-knitted creation of salmon pink with a scalloped hem and long full sleeves. There were travel stains on the skirt and it would have been the better for cleaning and blocking. Madame Kunst fidgeted with the belt, putting her fingers through the two loops at either side of the waist. It was much more a nervous than a provocative gesture, but James could comprehend that in a lanky, high-strung way she might be attractive.
"It is," he said, taking the deck and shuffling it methodically. "After your meal, we can try again."
"Are you not going to join me?" she asked him.
"No, thank you." Then he recalled what Madelaine had said to him the first time he had dined at Montalia, and he paraphrased her words. "I have a condition which severely restricts my diet. It's simpler for me to make private arrangements for my meals."
"This is the oddest household. Roger tells me that le Comte dines privately in his rooms; you have a... condition. If it were fitting, I would suggest to Roger that we both eat in the kitchen, but he won't hear of it." She gave a tittery laugh, then left the room.
James shuffled the cards two more times, taking time and care, then put them back in their ivory box. That done, he rose and sauntered out into the hallway, pleased to see that no one was about. Five careful minutes later, he was in Madame Kunst's room, tugging the valise from under her bed. He knelt on the floor, holding the leather case between his knees while he inspected the lock that held it closed. The valise was not unlike a large briefcase, with accordion sides and a metal reenforced opening. The lock most certainly required a special key, but James thought he might be able to make some progress against it with a bent hairpin, if he could find one. He was so preoccupied that he did not hear the door open.
"You arrant fool," Saint-Germain said quietly but with intense feeling.
James started up, and the valise fell heavily onto its side. "You said..."
"I said that you might try to draw her out when talking with her: I did not recommend you do this." He shook his head. "I might as well scribble all over the walls that we have our doubts about her. Good God, if I had wanted the lock picked, I could do that myself. Use a little sense, James."
James' indignation was all the greater for the disquieting suspicion that Saint-Germain was right. "I thought I was taking your hint."
"After all I told vou about prudence? Truly?" He bent down and very carefully put the valise back under the bed. "If it reassures you. James, I have examined the lock already, but under less questionable circumstances. It is not as simple as it looks. Not only is there the lock you see, there is a second lock under it, and it is a good deal more complex."
"How complex?" James inquired acidly.
"It takes two keys. I am not sure why, but it does give me pause." He was already crossing the room. "We should leave. Madame Kunst sat down to her supper not long ago, but there is no reason for her to linger over the food. She may come back here shortly, and I doubt either of us could adequately explain what we are doing here."
Grudgingly, James permitted Saint-Germain to take him from the room, but as they started down the long stairs, he made one protest. "Why don't you just break into the valise and tell her that you were required to do it?"
"James, for an intelligent man, you suffer from curious lapses. Why would I do that? What excuse would she believe? And where would be the benefit?" His brows arched and he let James take whatever time he needed to answer the questions.
"Well," James said lamely as they reached the main floor again, "you would know what is in the valise."
"True enough. But do you know, I would rather find out some less compromising way." He frowned, then the frown faded. "I don't fault you for wanting the question resolved: so do I."
James accepted this with ill grace. "You aren't willing to do the obvious, so..."
"Do the obvious? It is not quite my style," he said sardonically. "James, play cards with the woman, listen to her, and make note of what she asks you. Tomorrow morning, I will tell her I have arranged for her transportation down the mountain so that she can reach Nice and the boat she says she wishes to take to Scotland. That should precipitate matters."
"And what if that is what she wants, and all she wants?" James asked.
"Then Roger will do it. He has arranged with the authorities in Saint-Jacques-sur-Crete to have a travel pass when it is necessary. In these matters the local officials are strangely flexible." He put one hand on James' arm. "Try to restrain your impulses until then, if you will. Should it turn out that we come through this with nothing more than a touch of war-time paranoia, we may count ourselves fortunate."
James had nothing to say in response, and knew that he was not very much looking forward to another round of losing at whist, but he offered no protest as he went back into the room to wait for Madame Kunst.
"Oh, thank you, Herr Comte," Madame Kunst said listlessly over a cup of weak tea the following morning.
"It was nothing, Madame. You told me that this was your wish. I only regret that it took so long to arrange the details. But surely you understand."
"Yes, of course I do." She paused to cough delicately. "I am surprised that you were able to accomplish this so quickly. After what I have been through, I expected I would have to intrude on your hospitality"-again a quiet, emphatic cough-"for a much longer time."
"It is best to act quickly in cases such as yours," Saint-Germain said ambiguously.
"How kind," she murmured, and achieved another cough.
"Is something the matter, Madame Kunst?" le Comte inquired politely, giving in.
"A slight indisposition, nothing more, I am sure." She smiled apologetically.
"Good. I would not like to think that you were ill." He rose from the chair he had taken across from her.
"Oh, I don't believe I'm that. My throat, you know. And it has been chilly." She said this last in a tone a bit more hoarse than when she had begun.
"It is often the case in the mountains," Saint-Germain said by way of courteous commiseration. "I believe there is aspirin in the chateau, but little else. If you like, I will ask Roger to bring you some."
Her hand fluttered up to her throat, lingered there artistically, then dropped once more. "I don't think it will be necessary. If I am troubled by it still this afternoon, then I might ask for one or two tablets."
"Very good. You may want to rest an hour or so. The drive to the coast is long and fatiguing." He left the room to the dry sound of her cough.
"She claims to be feeling poorly," Roger explained to Saint-Germain later that morning. "I brought her the tea she asked for and said that I was looking forward to taking her down to Nice. She claimed to be enthusiastic, but said she did not think she was entirely well, and did not know how easily she would travel."
"She coughed for me," Saint-Germain said. "Apparently she is not as eager as she claimed to be."
"Give her a break," James protested, watching the other two. "Maybe she's got a cold. She's been through enough."
"No matter what she has done, it's possible, of course, that she has caught a cold," Saint-Germain allowed. "But if you were as anxious as she has claimed to be to be out of this country and on your way to Scotland, would you permit a cold to keep you from completing your journey?"
"She might be worn out," James said, determined to discount anything Saint-Germain suggested. "If she's tired enough, she might not be able to fight off a cold or any other bug that happens to be around."
Saint-Germain's dark eyes were wryly amused. "Is that what you thought when you tried to search her valise? Never mind, James. We'll find out shortly what the case truly is."
"How're you planning to do that?" He was a little belligerent, and huffy.
"Why, I want to find out if she is really ill. I will offer her a remedy. If she takes it, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. If she doesn't, then I will be extremely careful with her. As you should be." He turned away toward the old wing where he had set up his laboratory. "And James, if you would not mind, I would like to begin this myself. You may talk to her later, if you choose, but just at first, let me."
"You sound like you think I'd warn her..." James shot back. "I didn't get to be good at my job by shooting off my mouth."
"I am aware of that," Saint-Germain said. "But you have gallantry, my American friend, and there are those who have a way of turning that virtue to their advantage. All I ask is that you remember that."
Roger intervened before James could say anything more. "Should I get the Bugatti ready?"
"Yes. Whether Madame Kunst uses it, or one of us, it doesn't matter: the car should be fueled, and ready."
"You're anticipating some difficulty other than this?" James asked, looking about him involuntarily.
"Nothing specific, but in as unsettled a situation as we are in, it might be best." Saint-Germain gave James a penetrating, amused glance. "Do you wish to visit our patient in half an hour or so, to wish her godspeed?"
"Do you want me to?" James sounded irritable, but it was more from frustration at his own inactivity than genuine anger.
"Let us see how she responds to Roger." He motioned toward his manservant. "And to me."
James accepted this with a shrug, and went off to the old library to pass the better part of the morning in trying to decipher the Medieval French of the oldest volumes there. He found it intriguing and it kept him from pacing the halls like a stalking tiger.
"How are you doing, Madame Kunst?" Saint-Germain inquired of his guest as he went into her room twenty minutes after his conversation with Roger and James.
"Very well," she said listlessly.
"I trust so; the travel permit I have been able to secure for you is dated only for the next twenty-four hours. It would not be easy to get another one." He came to stand at the foot of her bed. "I can arrange for you to stop at the physician's, perhaps, but you might not wish to be subjected to the questions he is required to ask."
Madame Kunst turned blush rather than pale. "I want to keep away from officials."
"And so you shall. It is better for me, as well, to come as little to their attention as possible. Then, if it is satisfactory to you, I will make sure you have aspirin and brandy and plenty of lap rugs in the Bugatti. It will not make you entirely comfortable, but you probably will not be so until you are in Scotland." He gave her a sympathetic half-smile, and watched her face.
"Yes," Madame Kunst said, her brows twitching into an expression of impatience and dissatisfaction.
Saint-Germain assumed an expression of diffidence. "My manservant has reminded me that there is another medication in the chateau. It is... an herbal remedy, and very efficacious, or so I have been told. I would be pleased to bring some to you." He had made that particular elixir for more than three thousand years: it was a clear distillate that began with a solution prepared from mouldy bread. The recent discovery of penicillin had amused him.
Madame Kunst looked flustered. "A peasant remedy? I don't know... peasants are so superstitious and some of their practices are... well, unpleasant."
Very gently, Saint-Germain said, "In your position, Madame Kunst, I would think you would take that chance, if only to make your ship. Brandy is a help, but you will not be clearheaded. With the herbal remedy, you need not be fuddled."
She slapped her hands down on the comforter. "But what if the remedy is worse? Some of those remedies the monks made were mostly pure spirits with a little herbal additive. This is probably more of the same thing."
"I assure you, it is not," Saint-Germain said.
"Oh, I don't know. I will have to think about it." She remembered to cough. "I have to have time to recruit my strength, Herr Comte. I will tell you in an hour or so what
I have decided." With a degree of quiet malice, she added, "It was so good of you to offer this to me." Saint-Germain bowed and left the room.
Slightly less than an hour after this, James came bursting out of Madame Kunst's room, running down the corridor, calling for Saint-Germain.
The response was almost immediate. Saint-Germain hastened from his laboratory as he tugged his lab coat off, wishing there were a way he could curb some of James' impetuosity. "A moment!" he cried as he reached the foot of the main staircase.
"We don't have a moment!" James shouted as he came into view on the upper floor. "It's urgent."
"So I gather," Saint-Germain said as he flung his wadded-up lab coat away from him. "But if it is, it might be best not to announce it to the world."
"Jesus! I forgot." He paused at the top of the stairs, then raced down them. "I don't know why it didn't occur to me. It should have."
"We will discuss it later," Saint-Germain said. "Now, what has you so up in arms?"
"Madame Kunst." He opened up his hands. "She's not in her room and her valise is gone."
"Indeed." Saint-Germain's brows rose and he nodded grimly.
"I went to her room, as you instructed, and it was empty. The bed was still a bit warm, so she can't have gone far, or have left too long ago. If we hurry, we can find her." Now that he had forced himself to be calm, all his old journalistic habits came back. "If she's carrying that thing, she'll have to stay on the road, and that means someone will see her, if only a farmer or a shepherd."
"You're assuming she's left Montalia," Saint-Germain said. "I doubt that she has."
"Why?" James demanded.
"Because Roger is down at the gatehouse and he has not signaled me that he has seen her. Not that that makes it simpler," he added dryly. "This place is a rabbit warren and it is not easily searched."
"Especially since we don't know what we're looking for, right?" James said, running one hand through his silver hair.
"That is a factor." Saint-Germain looked up toward the ceiling. "But we also know what we are not looking for, which is a minor advantage." He turned away from James, his eyes on the heavy, metal-banded door to the old wing of the chateau. "I think she may be armed, James. Be cautious with her. Bullet wounds are painful, and if they damage the spine or skull, they are as fatal to us as anyone else. No heroics, if you please. Madelaine would never forgive me."
James did not quite know how to take this, but he shrugged. "If that's how you want it, that's how I'll do it."
"Very good," Saint-Germain said crisply. "And we might as well begin now. First the kitchens and pantry, and then the old wing. With this precaution." He went and dropped the heavy bolt into place on the iron-banded door, effectively locking that part of the chateau.
"Why the kitchens first?" James asked.
"Because of the weapons it offers," Saint-Germain answered. "Knives, cleavers, forks, skewers, pokers. A kitchen is an armory on a smaller scale. If she has gone there, it will be touchy for us."
They completed their search in fifteen minutes and were satisfied that wherever Madame Kunst was, she had not been there.
"This might not bode well. If she has panicked-which isn't likely-it is merely a matter of finding her. But if she is acting with deliberation, it means she is already prepared and we must keep that in mind."
"Does she know we're looking for her, do you think?"
"Quite possibly. That is something else to keep in mind." He was walking back toward the main hall and the barred door. "This may be somewhat more difficult. We can close off the wing, but it provides endless places to hide, to ambush."
"Great," James said with hearty sarcasm.
"Although some of the same advantages apply to us. I wish I knew what it was she is trying to do. If I did, then I could counteract it more effectively." His hand was resting on the heavy bolt.
"And you won't call the authorities," James said.
"We've had this discussion already. You know the answer. We must settle this for ourselves. And for Madelaine, since she is the one who will have to live here when this is over." He let James consider this. "You and I are transient. This is her native earth."
"Okay, okay," James said, then waved a hand at the door. "What do we do, once we get in there?"
"To begin with, we move very quietly. And we make every effort not to frighten her. Frightened people do foolish and dangerous things." He lifted the bolt and drew back the door. "For the moment, keep behind me, James. If you see or hear anything, tap my shoulder. Don't speak."
"Right," James said, feeling a bit silly. He had seen war and knew how great the risks were for those caught up in the deadly game, but skulking around the halls of an old chateau after a woman with a worn leather valise seemed like acting out a Grade B movie from Universal. When the door was pulled closed behind him, he was disturbed by it. The hall was very dark, with five narrow shafts of light coming from the high notched windows. James watched Saint-Germain start toward the muniment room, and for the first time noticed the power and grace of his movements-he was controlled and feral at once, beautiful and awesome.
At the entrance to the muniment room, Saint-Germain held up his hand to motion James to stillness. He slipped through the narrow opening, then returned several long moments later. "She is not here, but has been here," Saint-Germain told James in a whisper that was so quiet it was almost wholly inaudible. "One of the old plans of Montalia is missing."
The two rooms below the muniment room were empty and apparently untouched. James was becoming strangely nervous, as if unknown wings had brushed the back of his neck. He found it difficult to be self-contained and was all for hurrying up the search so that he could bring his restlessness back under control. "She's in the upper rooms if she's anywhere in this part of the chateau," James murmured, wanting to speak at a more normal level.
"Patience, James. You and I have much more time than she does." He made a last check around the small salon, then gestured to James to follow him. "We'll try the tower rooms next. Be careful of the steps."
The narrow, circular stairwell was dark at all times, but Saint-Germain carried no light. James was growing accustomed to his improved dark vision, but was still not entirely confident of this to climb without watching his feet. For once, he was the one who lagged.
The first storeroom proved empty, but Saint-Germain indicated that he wanted to make a warning trap. "Nothing complicated; a few things that will make noise if knocked over. Should she be behind us, we will have a little time," he whispered, and set about his work.
James stood on the landing, experiencing the same unpleasant sensation he had had in the lower room. On impulse, he decided to investigate the next room himself, thereby saving them time as well as giving himself the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile. He moved close to the door, as he had seen Saint-Germain do, and then opened the door just wide enough to be able to slip inside. He was dumbfounded at the sight of the valise sitting on the floor amid the other trunks and broken chairs that were stored there, and was about to call out when he sensed more than felt another presence in the room.
"Not a sound, Herr Tree," Madame Kunst said softly as she brought up a Smith & Wesson .38 pistol. Her hands were expertly steady as she took aim at his head. "I will use this if I must."
Saint-Germain's warning flashed through James' mind-if his nervous system were damaged, if his spine or skull were broken, he would die the true death, and his resurrection would have lasted merely a week-and he stood without moving. He began to dread what might happen if Saint-Germain should come into the room.
"You have been curious about the valise, haven't you? You have all been curious." She no longer looked high-strung and helpless; that part of her had been peeled away, leaving a determined woman of well-honed ruthlessness. "I have promised to see that it is left in working order, and you will not interfere." She nodded toward the valise, her aim never wavering. "Open the valise, Herr Tree."
Slowly, James did as she ordered. He dropped to his knees and pulled open the top of the old leather bag. He stared down at the contraption in it.
"It is a beacon, Herr Tree. Take it out, very, very gently, and put it on that brass trunk by the wall, the one under the window. If you trip or jolt the beacon, I will shoot you. Do you understand?"
With more care than he had ever known he possessed, James lifted the beacon. As he carried it toward the trunk she had indicated, he thought to himself that she had told him. Neither of those things was possible, he guessed from put the beacon in place and hoped it was well-balanced.
"Turn around, Herr Tree," she said, softly, venomously.
James obeyed, hoping that she would not shoot in this little narrow room. "I'm not alone."
"Herr Comte?" she asked quickly.
She walked up to him, just far enough to be out of reach. "And the servant?"
"I don't know," James lied, praying she would believe him. "He... he was told to get the car ready." He forced himself to speak in an undervoice though he wanted to shout.
"How helpful," she muttered. She glared at him, apparently wanting to make up her mind, and finally, she cocked her head toward the door. "You will have to come with me, I think. You and I."
James all but ground his teeth. He wanted to rush at her, to yell so loudly that she would drop the .38 and flee from him. Neither of those things was possible, he guessed from the hint of a smile she wore. "Where are we going?" he forced himself to ask.
"Out. After that, we'll see." She was wearing her salmon-colored knit dress which in the muted light of the room looked more the shade of diseased roses. "Walk past me, Herr Tree. Hands joined behind your head." She came nearer to him. "What you feel at the base of your skull is the barrel of my pistol. If you move suddenly or try to grapple with me in any way, I will shoot. If you move your hands, I will shoot. Do I make myself clear?"
"You will reach with your left hand, slowly and deliberately, for the door. You will open it as wide as possible and you will release it."
James did as she ordered, and when she told him to walk out onto the landing, he did that, too, as the muzzle of the .38 lay like a cold kiss on the nape of his neck.
"Now, down the stairs. One at a time. Carefully." She was speaking softly still, but the sound of her voice rang down the stones, mocking her.
On the fourth step down, James heard a sound behind him that did not come from Madame Kunst's steps. Apparently she was unaware of it, for she never faltered nor turned. He wondered if she were so confident of her mastery of the situation that she paid no attention to such things. He moved a little faster, trying to remember where the trip stair was.
"Not so fast," Madame Kunst insisted. "It's dark in here."
Obediently, James slowed. He heard the whisper-light tread behind her, and wished he dared to turn. The trip stair was only a few treads below him. He made his way carefully.
Then, just as he passed the trip stair, something tremendously strong swept by him on the narrow curving stair, knocking him to the side and catching Madame Kunst on the most unstable footing in the tower.
She screamed, twisted. She fired once, twice, and the bullets ricocheted off the stone walls, singing and striking sparks where they touched. One of the bullets struck her in the shoulder and she fell, slid and slid, screaming at first and then whimpering. Her descent stopped only when Saint-Germain reached her.
"You may get up, James," he said as he lifted Madame Kunst into his arms.
Moving as if he were tenanted in a body that was unfamiliar to him, James rose, testing his legs like an invalid. When he was shakily on his feet again, he looked down at the other man. "Thank you."
"Thank you, James. Your methods were reckless but your motive laudable." He looked down at Madame Kunst, who was half conscious and moaning. "I should bandage her and get her to a physician. There must be a plausible story we can tell him."
James had not the strength to laugh at this as he came down the stairs.
"But it will arrange itself," Mirelle said confidently with a nonchalant French shrug. "A refugee woman, she says, came to my farmhouse, and I, what could I do but take her in? I did not know that she was carrying valuables, and when there was a commotion, I investigated." Her minx's eyes danced as she looked up at James. "It was very nice of you to give me the pistol, Mister Tree. I would not have been able to defend her if you had not been so generous." She held out her hand for the pistol.
"How do you explain the rest? The beacon and her wound?" Saint-Germain asked, not quite smiling, but with the corners of his mouth starting to lift.
Mirelle gave this her consideration. "I don't think I will explain the beacon. I think I will present it to a few of my friends in the Resistance and they will see what kind of game it attracts. For the rest, the thief was holding Madame... Kunst, isn't it? so tightly that I was not in a position to get a clean shot." She sat back in the high-backed chair that was the best in her parlor. "The physician in Saint-Jacques-sur-Crete will not ask me too many questions, because he likes me and he hates the Germans and the war. Beyond that-who knows? The Germans may take her back, the Resistance may kill her. It does not matter so much, does it?" She folded her hands.
"Mirelle," Saint-Germain said, with more sadness than she had ever heard in his voice, "you cannot simply abandon her like so much refuse."
"You say that, after she tried to kill James and would have killed you?" Mirelle shot back at him. "You defend her?"
"Yes," was the quiet answer.
Mirelle got out of her chair and turned her helpless eyes on James, then looked away from them both. "Perhaps you can afford to feel this way, you who live so long and so closely with others. But I am not going to live long, and I have very few years to do all that I must. Extend her your charity, if you must, but do not expect it of me. My time is too brief for that." She folded her arms and stared defiantly at Saint-Germain.
"You have chosen it," Saint-Germain reminded her compassionately; he took her hand and kissed it.
"So I have," she agreed with her impish smile returning. "For the time, I have the best of both, and when that is done, well, we shall see." She turned toward James. "Would you like to remain here for the evening, James?"
"Thank you, Mirelle, but no." He glanced out the window to the parked Bugatti.
"Another time then. I will be at Montalia tomorrow night?" Her eyes went flirtatiously from Saint-Germain's to James' face. "You would like that, yes?"
"Of course," Saint-Germain said, answering for James.
"Then, good afternoon, gentlemen, and I will see you later. I have a few old friends who will want to hear from me, and the physician to mollify." Without any lack of courtesy, she escorted them to the door, and stood waving as the Bugatti pulled away.
James returned the wave, then looked at Saint-Germain. "What will happen to Madame Kunst?"
"I don't know," he said quietly.
"Does it concern you at all?" James was beginning to feel a twinge of guilt.
"Yes. But it is out of my hands now." He drove in silence.
"Just that easy, is it?" James demanded some minutes later when he had been alone with his thoughts.
Saint-Germain's small hands tightened on the steering wheel. "No, James-and it never becomes easy."
Text of a letter from the Count of Saint-Germain to his manservant Roger.
7 Grovesnor Mews
22 April, 1950
Your report arrived this morning and I am most grateful for it. The succinct compilation is admirable, as always, and tells me a great deal.
It will probably be best to remove the athanor; its design is somewhat outmoded in any case. You may dispose of it in the usual manner, but take care to sell the components in more than one city or one country. I am not eager to sustain another investigation. Doubtless I need not remind you of this precaution, but in such times as these-and when have there been other times?-we must be circumspect.
When you return, we will make arrangements to expand my laboratories here and in Italy. It might also be wise to continue work with that young American on his ceramic experiments. What would he think, I wonder, if he knew that those "revolutionary techniques" he and I discussed were as old as the Great Art itself? Or, for that matter, that he was not dealing with a chemical physicist but an alchemist? Do proceed with the licensing of the process, but let me review the terms of the agreements before the contracts are signed.
Be safe, old friend, and accept my sincere thanks.
Text of a letter from le Comte de Saint-Germain to Henry McMillian of Columbia University.
43 Corso Solitudine
15 May, 1952
Professor Henry McMillian
Department of Chemistry
New York City, New York, U. S. A.
Dear Doctor McMillian:
I am somewhat baffled by your letter, but I will do what I can to answer your questions. Yes, it is true that I have conducted some of the experiments you inquire about, but I am not now associated with the activities of any government, anywhere in the world. Those of us whose countries are lost through the predations of politics and war are often reluctant to engage in such projects.
It may be that in the future I will visit your country, but at the moment I have no such plans. My business interests there are being handled with great ability by American attorneys and there is no reason I can determine why I should change so worthwhile an arrangement.
As to the equipment you have purchased through the agency of my company in Switzerland, I assure you I have no objection whatsoever to your proposed adaptation of it to your uses. My own experiments have been concluded and I have no specific interest in the metallic shell you mention. However, I should warn you that I made no provision to shield it for radiation, and you may wish to take precautions if you still intend to pursue atomic research with it. In candor, I must add that I am not sure that it is possible to make an adequate shield with the shell you have. Let me urge caution in that respect.
With cordial good wishes to you and your colleagues, I am