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Butterfly in the Death Chamber Çeneral "Besser/ey Is Entrusted With One JVomaris Secret and Another s Honor % E. Phillips Oppenheim The Face oj the Woman Wag Downcast. Her Handr Rose and Fell Josephine, Marquise de Vaucluse St. Pierre, the sweetest of women, but always something of a poseuse, flattered herself in those strange misty moments that her passing from this world into the nebulous future of eternity was a journey exquisitely in keeping with the aesthetic beauty of her own well-ordered life. She lay upon a rosewood couch of the seventeenth century drawn up before one of the high oriel windows of the château, her face turned towards the mysterious Estérels. There was a delicate fragrance about the lace at her throat, the lavender silk of her dressing gown, the ancient leather-bound missal which rested by her side. Her eyes, still blue, looked out upon a scene she knew well — a landscape of green pastures and olive trees, of flowering fruit orchards, and a darker line of pine trees which stretched in irregular fashion to that silver streak of the sun-bathed Mediterranean. She remembered the consoling words of the priest, but found it hard to believe the world to come could hold anything more beautiful. Something woke her from a long day dream. It may have been the appearance of a marvel ously colored butterfly fluttering aimlessly in and out of the window, resting now upon its grey stone sill and preening its wings with almost feminine vanity. She made the slight est movement with her head. A nurse bent over her. "The Marquis." she whispered. A moment later the husband of the dying woman was at his wife's side — a long grey man who moved with the help of a stick. 'Josephine?" "It is you, dear Edouard," she murmured. "There is a thing which I had forgotten. It was the butterfly which made me think of it." "Speak slowly, dear one." he begged "What can we do?" "There is a man," she said. "We knew him better in our younger days, but I asked Louise — they tell me that he still lives in Monaco. His name is Besserley." "I remember him well," the Marquis answered. "Last time we were at the palace you talked to him." She inclined her head slowly. "I should have sent for him before." she regretted, with a little sigh. "The doctors tell me, however, that the end will not come until night. There is still time. Send a message, dear, and see if he is to be found." It seemed to the Marquis a strange request, but he made no comment. He 9ent for his secretary and gave the necessary orders. "I shall sleep." the Marquise whispered to the nurse, "but do not be afraid — I shall wake again." "You would like to speak to the doctor or the Bishop?" the nurse enquired. "Only to the man for whom I have sent," she answered, closing her eyes. Besserley, in his grey tweed coat and white flannels, sun-burnt and muscular, seemed to supply a strange element of vitality in the stately apartment of death. The wan-faced Sisters, the gaunt figures of the Curé and the Bishop, the Marquis himself — old and infirm — all seemed rather like ghosts as he passed through their midst in the anteroom. The Bishop moved uneasily in his high-backed chair. It was like the introduction of a flavor of paganism into a sanctified corner of the world. It seemed to Besserley himself that the woman lying upon the couch, to whom he was presently conducted, was. notwithstanding her ebbing tlame of life, still nearer to humanity than the little group of watchers. They placed him in a chair by her side and left him. He lifted, with reverent fingers, the Bible from the arm of the seat to a place of safety, and the glimmer of a smile parted her lips. "The Bishop has been reading to me." she confided quietly. "I have confessed all my sins to the Church. One brief episode is a secret between God and myself I wish to speak of that to you.' Besserley was troubled His friendship with the household was a slight one He wondered whether in . her last moments the Marquise was wandering. Perhaps she guessed his thoughts. "1 have sent for you," she went on. speaking almost in a whisper, "because I had a great wish to seek the aid of a man of this world and not one of my friends outside. They would only say more prayers over me and it is not prayers I need. It is service." "Anything I can do." he assured her. "It is not a very terrible thing I have to confide to you. Fifty-five years ago I was dancing in opera at St. Petersburg. I had great success. I went to Vienna and Paris My lifeat that time was very different. I hadalover -all women had in those days- and a daughter. ' ' She paused. When she continued, the sad depths of her eyes filled with memories "They passed out of my life, when my family took me back and forgave me. I was married to the Marquis in St. Petersburg. The Tzar himself and many of the court were present. My brief period of wandering was forgotten. Money was plentiful and I took care that my daughter was provided for I have scarcely thought of her until these last few weeks, since I have been lying here looking back on many years of happiness. It is these butterflies which fly in aind out of my window, live in today's sunshine and die on the morrow, made me think There was a slight change in her voice and breathing. Besserley leaned forward, alarmed. With trembling fingers she placed a packet in his hand. "You live in a world where I suffered, though only for a few years," she whispered. "If you see another prisoner who is good at heart as I was set her free before — it is too late." She waved her hand towards the other room. "They are all good," she mur mured, "but they would not understand. I sent for you because everyone says you are a man with a great heart. The money that is there is for your disposal. . . . Dear friend ilease go — my husband his hand The Marquis was lingering upon the threshold and he came hobbling across the room, tears streaming down his withered cheeks. Besserley crept away. I it fore he had left the château grounds he heard the tolling of the bell in the private chapel. Seated upon the window sill of a rude barn Besserley by the caprice of a sensation-loving hostess, passed on one evening a few weeks later to the second scene of the little drama into which the dying legacy of the Marquise had directed him. There were oil lamps hang ing from the walls, some rude benches on which thirty or forty people were seated, a muffled whispering of curious voices. No one quite knew what it was all about. The house party with whom Besserley had come were themselves mystified "It is like a séance of some sort." their hostess murmured. From behind a shabby curtain of black velvet came the sound of softly struck chords upon an ancient but carefully tuned piano. The melody nad a strange fascination. The room was suddenly in darkness. With a creaking sound the curtain rose. At first it seemed as if there was nothing but empty space, then lights from some illusionary back ground. the figure of a living woman dressed in white, her hands upraised, her features al most indistinguishable. Whatever the strange music meant to the audience, it was readily ι interpreted by the single performer who ; slowly, in rhythmical effortless movements. .» her body turned now as though in pain when > the music sank to the minor, cruder chords, ι now in the smoother joy of content when a * wave of fuller melody filled the room. There ; was a harsh interlude. The girl swayed and r rocked upon her feet as though seeking passionately for guidance. A long suffering t cry in a strange tone broke from her lips. Her y body writhed as though in agony. The cry g which still ebbed and flowed from her lips seemed to turn from a prayer to a curse, then ; died away in sweet but inhuman notes. So a s priestess might have called from the altar on e which she was sacrificing her own child. So s she might have sobbed when the sacrifice was :t accepted. ... k When half an hour later the dance was η ended, the audience stole out like ghosts. :r Voices were hushed. Hidden footsteps fell ir softly upon the cobble stones. By degrees d they began to talk but not a single voice was k raised. ir "If only one knew what it meant." one it woman almost sobbed. at Everyone confessed to having become con- it scious of the same sense of mental disturbance. Besserley alone amongst the little party finding their places in the row of cars re- s. mained silent. Lady Grace touched Ins hand d as they stepped into the car and found it cold. "My dear," she murmured. "I had no idea you were so impressionable."