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  • 1906
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manner of proceeding was yours to go to Lavedan under a false name? How call you that? Was that, perhaps, not cheating?”

“No, monsieur, it was not,” I answered quietly. “It was in the terms of your challenge that I was free to go to Lavedan in what guise I listed, employing what wiles I pleased. But let that be,” I ended, and, creasing the paper, I poured the sand back into the box, and dusted the document. “The point is hardly worth discussing at this time of day. If not one way, why, then, in another, your wager is lost.”

“Is it?” He set his arms akimbo and eyed me derisively, his thick-set frame planted squarely before me. “You are satisfied that it is so? Quite satisfied, eh?” He leered in my face. “Why, then, Monsieur le Marquis, we will see whether a few inches of steel will win it back for me.” And once more his hand flew to his hilt.

Rising, I flung the document I had accomplished upon the table. “Glance first at that,” said I.

He stopped to look at me in inquiry, my manner sowing so great a curiosity in him that his passion was all scattered before it. Then he stepped up to the table and lifted the paper. As he read, his hand shook, amazement dilated his eyes and furrowed his brow.

“What – what does it signify?” he gasped.

“It signifies that, although fully conscious of having won, I prefer to acknowledge that I have lost. I make over to you thus my estates of Bardelys, because, monsieur, I have come to realize that that wager was an infamous one – one in which a gentleman should have had no part – and the only atonement I can make to myself, my honour, and the lady whom we insulted – is that.”

“I do not understand,” he complained.

“I apprehend your difficulty, Comte. The point is a nice one. But understand at least that my Picardy estates are yours. Only, monsieur, you will be well advised to make your will forthwith, for you are not destined, yourself, to enjoy them.”

He looked at me, his glance charged with inquiry.

“His Majesty,” I continued, in answer to his glance, “is ordering your arrest for betraying the trust he had reposed in you and for perverting the ends of justice to do your own private murdering.”

“Mon Dieu!” he cried, falling of a sudden unto a most pitiful affright. “The King knows?”

“Knows?” I laughed. “In the excitement of these other matters you have forgotten to ask how I come to be at liberty. I have been to the King, monsieur, and I have told him what has taken place here at Toulouse, and how I was to have gone to the block tomorrow!”

“Scelerat!” he cried. “You have ruined me!” Rage and grief were blent in his accents. He stood before me, livid of face and with hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.

“Did you expect me to keep such a matter silent? Even had I been so inclined it had not been easy, for His Majesty had questions to ask me. From what the King said, monsieur, you may count upon mounting the scaffold in my stead. So be advised, and make your will without delay, if you would have your heirs enjoy my Picardy chateau.”

I have seen terror and anger distort men’s countenances, but never have I seen aught to compare with the disorder of Chatellerault at that moment. He stamped and raved and fumed. He poured forth a thousand ordures of speech in his frenzy; he heaped insults upon me and imprecations upon the King, whose lapdog he pronounced me. His short, stout frame was quivering with passion and fear, his broad face distorted by his hideous grimaces of rage. And then, while yet his ravings were in full flow, the door opened, and in stepped the airy Chevalier de Saint-Eustache.

He stood still, amazed, beneath the lintel – marvelling to see all this anger, and abashed at beholding me. His sudden appearance reminded me that I had last seen him at Grenade in the Count’s company, on the day of my arrest. The surprise it had occasioned me now returned upon seeing him so obviously and intimately seeking Chatellerault.

The Count turned on him in his anger.

“Well, popinjay?” he roared. “What do you want with me?”

“Monsieur le Comte!” cried the other, in blent indignation and reproach.

“You will perceive that you are come inopportunely,” I put in. “Monsieur de Chatellerault is not quite himself.”

But my speech again drew his attention to my presence; and the wonder grew in his eyes at finding me there, for to him I was still Lesperon the rebel, and he marvelled naturally that I should be at large.

Then in the corridor there was a sound of steps and voices, and as I turned I beheld in the doorway, behind Saint-Eustache, the faces of Castelroux, Mironsac, and my old acquaintance, the babbling, irresponsible buffoon, La Fosse. From Mironsac he had heard of my presence in Toulouse, and, piloted by Castelroux, they were both come to seek me out. I’ll swear it was not thus they had looked to find me.

They pushed their way into the room, impelling Saint-Eustache forward, and there were greetings exchanged and felicitations, whilst Chatellerault, curbing his disorder, drew the Chevalier into a corner of the room, and stood there listening to him.

At length I heard the Count exclaim–

“Do as you please, Chevalier. If you have interests of your own to serve, serve them. As for myself – I am past being interested.”

“But why, monsieur?” the chevalier inquired.

“Why?” echoed Chatellerault, his ferocity welling up again. Then, swinging round, he came straight at me, as a bull makes a charge.

“Monsieur de Bardelys!” he blazed.

“Bardelys!” gasped Saint-Eustache in the background.

“What now?” I inquired coldly, turning from my friends.

“All that you said may be true, and I may be doomed, but I swear before God that you shall not go unpunished.”

“I think, monsieur, that you run a grave risk of perjuring yourself!” I laughed.

“You shall render me satisfaction ere we part!” he cried.

“If you do not deem that paper satisfaction enough, then, monsieur, forgive me, but your greed transcends all possibility of being ever satisfied.”

“The devil take your paper and your estates! What shall they profit me when I am dead?”

“They may profit your heirs,” I suggested.

“How shall that profit me?”

“That is a riddle that I cannot pretend to elucidate.”

“You laugh, you knave!” he snorted. Then, with an abrupt change of manner, “You do not lack for friends,” said he. “Beg one of these gentlemen to act for you, and if you are a man of honour let us step out into the yard and settle the matter.”

I shook my head.

“I am so much a man of honour as to be careful with whom I cross steel. I prefer to leave you to His Majesty’s vengeance; his headsman may be less particular than am I. No, monsieur, on the whole, I do not think that I can fight you.”

His face grew a shade paler. It became grey; the jaw was set, and the eyes were more out of symmetry than I had ever seen them. Their glance approached what is known in Italy as the mal’occhio, and to protect themselves against the baneful influences of which men carry charms. A moment he stood so, eyeing me. Then, coming a step nearer–

“You do not think that you can fight me, eh? You do not think it? Pardieu! How shall I make you change your mind? To the insult of words you appear impervious. You imagine your courage above dispute because by a lucky accident you killed La Vertoile some years ago and the fame of it has attached to you.” In the intensity of his anger he was breathing heavily, like a man overburdened. “You have been living ever since by the reputation which that accident gave you. Let us see if you can die by it, Monsieur de Bardelys.” And, leaning forward, he struck me on the breast, so suddenly and so powerfully – for he was a man of abnormal strength – that I must have fallen but that La Fosse caught me in his arms.

“Kill him!” lisped the classic-minded fool. “Play Theseus to this bull of Marathon.”

Chatellerault stood back, his hands on his hips, his head inclined towards his right shoulder, and an insolent leer of expectancy upon his face.

“Will that resolve you?” he sneered.

“I will meet you,” I answered, when I had recovered breath. “But I swear that I shall not help you to escape the headsman.”

He laughed harshly.

“Do I not know it?” he mocked. “How shall killing you help me to escape? Come, messieurs, sortons. At once!”

“Sor,” I answered shortly; and thereupon we crowded from the room, and went pele-mele down the passage to the courtyard at the back.

CHAPTER XVI

SWORDS!

La Fosse led the way with me, his arm through mine, swearing that he would be my second. He had such a stomach for a fight, had this irresponsible, irrepressible rhymester, that it mounted to the heights of passion with him, and when I mentioned, in answer to a hint dropped in connection with the edict, that I had the King’s sanction for this combat, he was nearly mad with joy.

“Blood of La Fosse!” was his oath. “The honour to stand by you shall be mine, my Bardelys! You owe it me, for am I not in part to blame for all this ado? Nay, you’ll not deny me. That gentleman yonder, with the wild-cat moustaches and a name like a Gascon oath –that cousin of Mironsac’s, I mean – has the flair of a fight in his nostrils, and a craving to be in it. But you’ll grant me the honour, will you not? Pardieu! It will earn me a place in history.”

“Or the graveyard,” quoth I, by way of cooling his ardour.

“Peste! What an augury!” Then, with a laugh: “But,” he added, indicating Saint-Eustache, “that long, lean saint – I forget of what he is patron – hardly wears a murderous air.”

To win peace from him, I promised that he should stand by me. But the favour lost much of its value in his eyes when presently I added that I did not wish the seconds to engage, since the matter was of so very personal a character.

Mironsac and Castelroux, assisted by Saint-Eustache, closed the heavy portecochere, and so shut us in from the observation of passers-by. The clanging of those gates brought the landlord and a couple of his knaves, and we were subjected to the prayers and intercessions, to the stormings and ravings that are ever the prelude of a stable-yard fight, but which invariably end, as these ended, in the landlord’s withdrawal to run for help to the nearest corps-de-garde.

“Now, my myrmillones,” cried La Fosse in bloodthirsty jubilation, “to work before the host returns.”

“Po’ Cap de Dieu!” growled Castelroux, “is this a time for jests, master joker?”

“Jests?” I heard him retorting, as he assisted me to doff my doublet. “Do I jest? Diable! you Gascons are a slow-witted folk! I have a taste for allegory, my friend, but that never yet was accounted so low a thing as jesting.”

At last we were ready, and I shifted the whole of my attention to the short, powerful figure of Chatellerault as he advanced upon me, stripped to the waist, his face set and his eyes full of stern resolve. Despite his low stature, and the breadth of frame which argue sluggish motion, there was something very formidable about the Count. His bared arms were great masses of muscular flesh, and if his wrist were but half as supple as it looked powerful, that alone should render him a dangerous antagonist.

Yet I had no qualm of fear, no doubt, even, touching the issue. Not that I was an habitual ferrailleur. As I have indicated, I had fought but one man in all my life. Nor yet am I of those who are said to know no fear under any circumstances. Such men are not truly brave; they are stupid and unimaginative, in proof of which I will advance the fact that you may incite a timid man to deeds of reckless valour by drugging him with wine. But this is by the way. It may be that the very regular fencing practice that in Paris I was wont to take may so have ordered my mind that the fact of meeting unbaited steel had little power to move me.

Be that as it may, I engaged the Count without a tremor either of the flesh or of the spirit. I was resolved to wait and let him open the play, that I might have an opportunity of measuring his power and seeing how best I might dispose of him. I was determined to do him no hurt, and to leave him, as I had sworn, to the headsman; and so, either by pressure or by seizure, it was my aim to disarm him.

But on his side also he entered upon the duel with all caution and wariness. From his rage I had hoped for a wild, angry rush that should afford me an easy opportunity of gaining my ends with him. Not so, however. Now that he came with steel to defend his life and to seek mine, he appeared to have realized the importance of having keen wits to guide his hand; and so he put his anger from him, and emerged calm and determined from his whilom disorder.

Some preliminary passes we made from the first engagement in the lines of tierce, each playing warily for an opening, yet neither of us giving ground or betraying haste or excitement. Now his blade slithered on mine with a ceaseless tremor; his eyes watched mine from under lowering brows, and with knees bent he crouched like a cat making ready for a spring. Then it came. Sudden as lightning was his disengage; he darted under my guard, then over it, then back and under it again, and stretching out in the lunge – his double-feint completed – he straightened his arm to drive home the botte.

But with a flying point I cleared his blade out of the line of my body. There had been two sharp tinkles of our meeting swords, and now Chatellerault stood at his fullest stretch, the half of his steel past and behind me, for just a fraction of time completely at my mercy. Yet I was content to stand, and never move my blade from his until he had recovered and we were back in our first position once again.

I heard the deep bass of Castelroux’s “Mordieux!” the sharp gasp of fear from Saint-Eustache, who already in imagination beheld his friend stretched lifeless on the ground, and the cry of mortification from La Fosse as the Count recovered. But I heeded these things little. As I have said, to kill the Count was not my object. It had been wise, perhaps, in Chatellerault to have appreciated that fact; but he did not. From the manner in which he now proceeded to press me, I was assured that he set his having recovered guard to slowness on my part, never thinking of the speed that had been necessary to win myself such an opening as I had obtained.

My failure to run him through in that moment of jeopardy inspired him with a contempt of my swordplay. This he now made plain by the recklessness with which he fenced, in his haste to have done ere we might chance to be interrupted. Of this recklessness I suddenly availed myself to make an attempt at disarming him. I turned aside a vicious thrust by a close – a dangerously close – parry, and whilst in the act of encircling his blade I sought by pressure to carry it out of his hand. I was within an ace of succeeding, yet he avoided me, and doubled back.

He realized then, perhaps, that I was not quite so contemptible an antagonist as he had been imagining, and he went back to his earlier and more cautious tactics. Then I changed my plans. I simulated an attack, and drove him hard for some moments. Strong he was, but there were advantages of reach and suppleness with me, and even these advantages apart, had I aimed at his life, I could have made short work of him. But the game I played was fraught with perils to myself, and once I was in deadly danger, and as near death from the sword as a man may go and live. My attack had lured him, as I desired that it should, into making a riposte. He did so, and as his blade twisted round mine and came slithering at me, I again carried it off by encircling it, and again I exerted pressure to deprive him of it. But this time I was farther from success than before. He laughed at the attempt, as with a suddenness that I had been far from expecting he disengaged again, and his point darted like a snake upwards at my throat.

I parried that thrust, but I only parried it when it was within some three inches of my neck, and even as I turned it aside it missed me as narrowly as it might without tearing my skin. The imminence of the peril had been such that, as we mutually recovered, I found a cold sweat bathing me.

After that, I resolved to abandon the attempt to disarm him by pressure, and I turned my attention to drawing him into a position that might lend itself to seizure. But even as I was making up my mind to this – we were engaged in sixte at the time – I saw a sudden chance. His point was held low while he watched me; so low that his arm was uncovered and my point was in line with it. To see the opening, to estimate it, and to take my resolve was all the work of a fraction of a second. The next instant I had straightened my elbow, my blade shot out in a lightning stroke and transfixed his sword-arm.

There was a yell of pain, followed by a deep growl of fury, as, wounded but not vanquished, the enraged Count caught his falling sword in his left hand, and whilst my own blade was held tight in the bone of his right arm, he sought to run me through. I leapt quickly aside, and then, before he could renew the attempt, my friends had fallen upon him and wrenched his sword from his hand and mine from his arm.

It would ill have become me to taunt a man in his sorry condition, else might I now have explained to him what I had meant when I had promised to leave him for the headsman even though I did consent to fight him.

Mironsac, Castelroux, and La Fosse stood babbling around me, but I paid no heed either to Castelroux’s patois or to La Fosse’s misquotations of classic authors. The combat had been protracted, and the methods I had pursued had been of a very exhausting nature. I leaned now against the porte-cochere, and mopped myself vigorously. Then Saint-Eustache, who was engaged in binding up his principal’s arm, called to La Fosse.

I followed my second with my eyes as he went across to Chatellerault. The Count stood white, his lips compressed, no doubt from the pain his arm was causing him. Then his voice floated across to me as he addressed La Fosse.

“You will do me the favour, monsieur, to inform your friend that this was no first blood combat, but one a outrance. I fence as well with my left arm as with my right, and if Monsieur de Bardelys will do me the honour to engage again, I shall esteem it.”

La Fosse bowed and came over with the message that already we had heard.

“I fought,” said I in answer, “in a spirit very different from that by which Monsieur de Chatellerault appears to have been actuated. He made it incumbent upon me to afford proof of my courage. That proof I have afforded; I decline to do more. Moreover, as Monsieur de Chatellerault himself must perceive, the light is failing us, and in a few minutes it will be too dark for sword-play.”

“In a few minutes there will be need for none, monsieur,” shouted Chatellerault, to save time. He was boastful to the end.

“Here, monsieur, in any case, come those who will resolve the question,” I answered, pointing to the door of the inn.

As I spoke, the landlord stepped into the yard, followed by an officer and a half-dozen soldiers. These were no ordinary keepers of the peace, but musketeers of the guard, and at sight of them I knew that their business was not to interrupt a duel, but to arrest my erstwhile opponent upon a much graver charge.

The officer advanced straight to Chatellerault.

“In the King’s name, Monsieur le Comte,” said he. “I demand your sword.”

It may be that at bottom I was still a man of soft heart, unfeeling cynic though they accounted me; for upon remarking the misery and gloom that spread upon Chatellerault’s face I was sorry for him, notwithstanding the much that he had schemed against me. Of what his fate would be he could have no shadow of doubt. He knew – none better – how truly the King loved me, and how he would punish such an attempt as had been made upon my life, to say nothing of the prostitution of justice of which he had been guilty, and for which alone he had earned the penalty of death.

He stood a moment with bent head, the pain of his arm possibly forgotten in the agony of his spirit. Then, straightening himself suddenly, with a proud, half scornful air, he looked the officer straight between the eyes.

“You desire my sword, monsieur?” he inquired.

The musketeer bowed respectfully.

“Saint-Eustache, will you do me the favour to give it to me?”

And while the Chevalier picked up the rapier from the ground where it had been flung, that man waited with an outward calm for which at the moment I admired him, as we must ever admire a tranquil bearing in one smitten by a great adversity. And than this I can conceive few greater. He had played for much, and he had lost everything. Ignominy, degradation, and the block were all that impended for him in this world, and they were very imminent.

He took the sword from the Chevalier. He held it for a second by the hilt, like one in thought, like one who is resolving upon something, whilst the musketeer awaited his good pleasure with that deference which all gentle minds must accord to the unfortunate.

Still holding his rapier, he raised his eyes for a second and let them rest on me with a grim malevolence. Then he uttered a short laugh, and, shrugging his shoulders, he transferred his grip to the blade, as if about to offer the hilt to the officer. Holding it so, halfway betwixt point and quillons, he stepped suddenly back, and before any there could put forth a hand to stay him, he had set the pummel on the ground and the point at his breast, and so dropped upon it and impaled himself.

A cry went up from every throat, and we sprang towards him. He rolled over on his side, and with a grin of exquisite pain, yet in words of unconquerable derision “You may have my sword now, Monsieur l’Officier,” he said, and sank back, swooning.

With an oath, the musketeer stepped forward. He obeyed Chatellerault to the letter, by kneeling beside him and carefully withdrawing the sword. Then he ordered a couple of his men to take up the body.

“Is he dead?” asked some one; and some one else replied, “Not yet, but he soon will be.”

Two of the musketeers bore him into the inn and laid him on the floor of the very room in which, an hour or so ago, he had driven a bargain with Roxalanne. A cloak rolled into a pillow was thrust under his head, and there we left him in charge of his captors, the landlord, Saint-Eustache, and La Fosse the latter inspired, I doubt not, by that morbidity which is so often a feature of the poetic mind, and which impelled him now to witness the death-agony of my Lord of Chatellerault.

Myself, having resumed my garments, I disposed myself to repair at once to the Hotel de l’Epee, there to seek Roxalanne, that I might set her fears and sorrows at rest, and that I might at last make my confession.

As we stepped out into the street, where the dusk was now thickening, I turned to Castelroux to inquire how Saint-Eustache came into Chatellerault’s company.

“He is of the family of the Iscariot, I should opine,” answered the Gascon. “As soon as he had news that Chatellerault was come to Languedoc as the King’s Commissioner, he repaired to him to offer his services in the work of bringing rebels to justice. He urged that his thorough acquaintance with the province should render him of value to the King, as also that he had had particular opportunities of becoming acquainted with many treasonable dealings on the part of men whom the State was far from suspecting.”

“Mort Dieu!” I cried, “I had suspected something of such a nature. You do well to call him of the family of the Iscariot. He is more so than you imagine: I have knowledge of this – ample knowledge. He was until lately a rebel himself, and himself a follower of Gaston d’Orleans – though of a lukewarm quality. What reasons have driven him to such work, do you know?”

“The same reason that impelled his forefather, Judas of old. The desire to enrich himself. For every hitherto unsuspected rebel that shall be brought to justice and whose treason shall be proven by his agency, he claims the half of that rebel’s confiscated estates.”

“Diable!” I exclaimed. “And does the Keeper of the Seals sanction this?”

“Sanction it? Saint-Eustache holds a commission, has a free hand and a company of horse to follow him in his rebel-hunting.”

“Has he done much so far?” was my next question.

“He has reduced half a dozen noblemen and their families. The wealth he must thereby have amassed should be very considerable, indeed.”

“To-morrow, Castelroux, I will see the King in connection with this pretty gentleman, and not only shall we find him a dungeon deep and dank, but we shall see that he disgorges his blood-money.”

“If you can prove his treason you will be doing blessed work,” returned Castelroux. “Until tomorrow, then, for here is the Hotel de l’Epee.”

From the broad doorway of an imposing building a warm glow of light issued out and spread itself fanwise across the ill-paved street. In this – like bats about a lamp – flitted the black figures of gaping urchins and other stragglers, and into this I now passed, having taken leave of my companions.

I mounted the steps and I was about to cross the threshold, when suddenly above a burst of laughter that greeted my ears I caught the sound of a singularly familiar voice. This seemed raised at present to address such company as might be within. One moment of doubt had I – for it was a month since last I had heard those soft, unctuous accents. Then I was assured that the voice I heard was, indeed, the voice of my steward Ganymede. Castelroux’s messenger had found him at last, it seemed, and had brought him to Toulouse.

I was moved to spring into the room and greet that old retainer for whom, despite the gross and sensuous ways that with advancing years were claiming him more and more, I had a deep attachment. But even as I was on the point of entering, not only his voice, but the very words that he was uttering floated out to my ears, and they were of a quality that held me there to play the hidden listener for the second time in my life in one and the same day.

CHAPTER XVII

THE BABBLING OF GANYMEDE

Never until that hour, as I stood in the porch of the Hotel de l’Epee, hearkening to my henchman’s narrative and to the bursts of laughter which ever and anon it provoked from his numerous listeners, had I dreamed of the raconteur talents which Rodenard might boast. Yet was I very far from being appreciative now that I discovered them, for the story that he told was of how one Marcel Saint-Pol, Marquis de Bardelys, had laid a wager with the Comte de Chatellerault that he would woo and win Mademoiselle de Lavedan to wife within three months. Nor did he stop there. Rodenard, it would seem, was well informed; he had drawn all knowledge of the state of things from Castelroux’s messenger, and later – I know not from whom – at Toulouse, since his arrival.

He regaled the company, therefore, with a recital of our finding the dying Lesperon, and of how I had gone off alone, and evidently assumed the name and role of that proscribed rebel, and thus conducted my wooing under sympathy inspiring circumstances at Lavedan. Then came, he announced, the very cream of the jest, when I was arrested as Lesperon and brought to Toulouse and to trial in Lesperon’s stead; he told them how I had been sentenced to death in the other man’s place, and he assured them that I would certainly have been beheaded upon the morrow but that news had been borne to him – Rodenard – of my plight, and he was come to deliver me.

My first impulse upon hearing him tell of the wager had been to stride into the room and silence him by my coming. That I did not obey that impulse was something that presently I was very bitterly to regret. How it came that I did not I scarcely know. I was tempted, perhaps, to see how far this henchman whom for years I had trusted was unworthy of that trust. And so, there in the porch, I stayed until he had ended by telling the company that he was on his way to inform the King – who by great good chance was that day arrived in Toulouse – of the mistake that had been made, and thus obtain my immediate enlargement and earn my undying gratitude.

Again I was on the point of entering to administer a very stern reproof to that talkative rogue, when of a sudden there was a commotion within. I caught a scraping of chairs, a dropping of voices, and then suddenly I found myself confronted by Roxalanne de Lavedan herself, issuing with a page and a woman in attendance.

For just a second her eyes rested on me, and the light coming through the doorway at her back boldly revealed my countenance. And a very startled countenance it must have been, for in that fraction of time I knew that she had heard all that Rodenard had been relating. Under that instant’s glance of her eyes I felt myself turn pale; a shiver ran through me, and the sweat started cold upon my brow. Then her gaze passed from me, and looked beyond into the street, as though she had not known me; whether in her turn she paled or reddened I cannot say, for the light was too uncertain. Next followed what seemed to me an interminable pause, although, indeed, it can have been no more than a matter of seconds – aye, and of but few. Then, her gown drawn well aside, she passed me in that same irrecognizing way, whilst I, abashed, shrank back into the shadows of the porch, burning with shame and rage and humiliation.

From under her brows her woman glanced at me inquisitively; her liveried page, his nose in the air, eyed me so pertly that I was hard put to it not to hasten with my foot his descent of the steps.

At last they were gone, and from the outside the shrill voice of her page was wafted to me. He was calling to the ostler for her carriage. Standing, in my deep mortification, where she had passed me, I conjectured from that demand that she was journeying to Lavedan.

She knew now how she had been cheated on every hand, first by me and later, that very afternoon, by Chatellerault, and her resolve to quit Toulouse could but signify that she was done with me for good. That it had surprised her to find me at large already, I fancied I had seen in her momentary glance, but her pride had been quick to conquer and stifle all signs of that surprise.

I remained where she had passed me until her coach had rumbled away into the night, and during the moments that elapsed I had stood arguing with myself and resolving upon my course of action. But despair was fastening upon me.

I had come to the Hotel de l’Epee, exulting, joyous, and confident of victory. I had come to confess everything to her, and by virtue of what I had done that confession was rendered easy. I could have said to her: “The woman whom I wagered to win was not you, Roxalanne, but a certain Mademoiselle de Lavedan. Your love I have won, but that you may foster no doubts of my intentions, I have paid my wager and acknowledge defeat. I have made over to Chatellerault and to his heirs for all time my estates of Bardelys.”

Oh, I had rehearsed it in my mind, and I was confident – I knew – that I should win her. And now – the disclosure of that shameful traffic coming from other lips than mine had ruined everything by forestalling my avowal.

Rodenard should pay for it – by God, he should! Once again did I become a prey to the passion of anger which I have ever held to be unworthy in a gentleman, but to which it would seem that I was growing accustomed to give way. The ostler was mounting the steps at the moment. He carried in his hand a stout horsewhip with a long knotted thong. Hastily muttering a “By your leave,” I snatched it from him and sprang into the room.

My intendant was still talking of me. The room was crowded, for Rodenard alone had brought with him my twenty followers. One of these looked up as I brushed past him, and uttered a cry of surprise upon recognizing me. But Rodenard talked on, engrossed in his theme to the exclusion of all else.

“Monsieur le Marquis,” he was saying, “is a gentleman whom it is, indeed, an honour to serve–“

A scream burst from him with the last word, for the lash of my whip had burnt a wheal upon his well-fed sides.

“It is an honour that shall be yours no more, you dog!” I cried.

He leapt high into the air as my whip cut him again. He swung round, his face twisted with pain, his flabby cheeks white with fear, and his eyes wild with anger, for as yet the full force of the situation had not been borne in upon him. Then, seeing me there, and catching something of the awful passion that must have been stamped upon my face, he dropped on his knees and cried out something that I did not understand for I was past understanding much just then.

The lash whistled through the air again and caught him about the shoulders. He writhed and roared in his anguish of both flesh and spirit. But I was pitiless. He had ruined my life for me with his talking, and, as God lived, he should pay the only price that it lay in his power to pay – the price of physical suffering. Again and again my whip hissed about his head and cut into his soft white flesh, whilst roaring for mercy he moved and rocked on his knees before me. Instinctively he approached me to hamper my movements, whilst I moved back to give my lash the better play. He held out his arms and joined his fat hands in supplication, but the lash caught them in its sinuous tormenting embrace, and started a red wheal across their whiteness. He tucked them into his armpits with a scream, and fell prone upon the ground.

Then I remember that some of my men essayed to restrain me, which to my passion was as the wind to a blaze. I cracked my whip about their heads, commanding them to keep their distance lest they were minded to share his castigation. And so fearful an air must I have worn, that, daunted, they hung back and watched their leader’s punishment in silence.

When I think of it now, I take no little shame at the memory of how I beat him. It is, indeed, with deep reluctance and yet deeper shame that I have brought myself to write of it. If I offend you with this account of that horsewhipping, let necessity be my apology; for the horsewhipping itself I have, unfortunately, no apology, save the blind fury that obsessed me – which is no apology at all.

Upon the morrow I repented me already with much bitterness. But in that hour I knew no reason. I was mad, and of my madness was born this harsh brutality.

“You would talk of me and my affairs in a tavern, you hound!” I cried, out of breath both by virtue of my passion and my exertions. “Let the memory of this act as a curb upon your poisonous tongue in future.”

“Monseigneur!” he screamed. “Misericorde, monseigneur!”

“Aye, you shall have mercy – just so much mercy as you deserve. Have I trusted you all these years, and did my father trust you before me, for this? Have you grown sleek and fat and smug in my service that you should requite me thus? Sangdieu, Rodenard! My father had hanged you for the half of the talking that you have done this night. You dog! You miserable knave!”

“Monseigneur,” he shrieked again, “forgive! For your sainted mother’s sake, forgive! Monseigneur, I did not know–“

“But you are learning, cur; you are learning by the pain of your fat carcase; is it not so, carrion?”

He sank down, his strength exhausted, a limp, moaning, bleeding mass of flesh, into which my whip still cut relentlessly.

I have a picture m my mind of that ill-lighted room, of the startled faces on which the flickering glimmer of the candles shed odd shadows; of the humming and cracking of my whip; of my own voice raised in oaths and epithets of contempt; of Rodenard’s screams; of the cries raised here and there in remonstrance or in entreaty, and of some more bold that called shame upon me. Then others took up that cry of “Shame!” so that at last I paused and stood there drawn up to my full height, as if in challenge. Towering above the heads of any in that room, I held my whip menacingly. I was unused to criticism, and their expressions of condemnation roused me.

“Who questions my right?” I demanded arrogantly, whereupon they one and all fell silent. “If any here be bold enough to step out, he shall have my answer.” Then, as none responded, I signified my contempt for them by a laugh.

“Monseigneur!” wailed Rodenard at my feet, his voice growing feeble.

By way of answer, I gave him a final cut, then I flung the whip – which had grown ragged in the fray – back to the ostler from whom I had borrowed it.

“Let that suffice you, Rodenard,” I said, touching him with my foot. “See that I never set eyes upon you again, if you cherish your miserable life!”

“Not that, monseigneur.” groaned the wretch. “Oh, not that! You have punished me; you have whipped me until I cannot stand; forgive me, monseigneur, forgive me now!”

“I have forgiven you, but I never wish to see you again, lest I should forget that I have forgiven you. Take him away, some of you,” I bade my men, and in swift, silent obedience two of them stepped forward and bore the groaning, sobbing fellow from the room. When that was done “Host,” I commanded, “prepare me a room. Attend me, a couple of you.”

I gave orders thereafter for the disposal of my baggage, some of which my lacqueys brought up to the chamber that the landlord had in haste made ready for me. In that chamber I sat until very late; a prey to the utmost misery and despair. My rage being spent, I might have taken some thought for poor Ganymede and his condition, but my own affairs crowded over-heavily upon my mind, and sat the undisputed rulers of my thoughts that night.

At one moment I considered journeying to Lavedan, only to dismiss the idea the next. What could it avail me now? Would Roxalanne believe the tale I had to tell? Would she not think, naturally enough, that I was but making the best of the situation, and that my avowal of the truth of a story which it was not in my power to deny was not spontaneous, but forced from me by circumstances? No, there was nothing more to be done. A score of amours had claimed my attention in the past and received it; yet there was not one of those affairs whose miscarriage would have afforded me the slightest concern or mortification. It seemed like an irony, like a Dies ire, that it should have been left to this first true passion of my life to have gone awry.

I slept ill when at last I sought my bed, and through the night I nursed my bitter grief, huddling to me the corpse of the love she had borne me as a mother may the corpse of her first-born.

On the morrow I resolved to leave Toulouse – to quit this province wherein so much had befallen me and repair to Beaugency, there to grow old in misanthropical seclusion. I had done with Courts, I had done with love and with women; I had done, it seemed to me, with life itself. Prodigal had it been in gifts that I had not sought of it. It had spread my table with the richest offerings, but they had been little to my palate, and I had nauseated quickly. And now, when here in this remote corner of France it had shown me the one prize I coveted, it had been swift to place it beyond my reach, thereby sowing everlasting discontent and misery in my hitherto pampered heart.

I saw Castelroux that day, but I said no word to him of my affliction. He brought me news of Chatellerault. The Count was lying in a dangerous condition at the Auberge Royale, and might not be moved. The physician attending him all but despaired of his life.

“He is asking to see you,” said Castelroux.

But I was not minded to respond. For all that he had deeply wronged me, for all that I despised him very cordially, the sight of him in his present condition might arouse my pity, and I was in no mood to waste upon such a one as Chatellerault even on his deathbed – a quality of which I had so dire a need just then for my own case.

“I will not go,” said I, after deliberation. “Tell him from me that I forgive him freely if it be that he seeks my forgiveness; tell him that I bear him no rancour, and – that he had better make his will, to save me trouble hereafter, if he should chance to die.”

I said this because I had no mind, if he should perish intestate, to go in quest of his next heirs and advise them that my late Picardy estates were now their property.

Castelroux sought yet to persuade me to visit the Count, but I held firmly to my resolve.

“I am leaving Toulouse to-day,” I announced.

“Whither do you go?”

“To hell, or to Beaugency – I scarce know which, nor does it matter.”

He looked at me in surprise, but, being a man of breeding, asked no questions upon matters that he accounted secret.

“But the King?” he ventured presently.

“His Majesty has already dispensed me from my duties by him.”

Nevertheless, I did not go that day. I maintained the intention until sunset; then, seeing that it was too late, I postponed my departure until the morrow. I can assign no reason for my dallying mood. Perhaps it sprang from the inertness that pervaded me, perhaps some mysterious hand detained me. Be that as it may, that I remained another night at the Hotel de l’Epee was one of those contingencies which, though slight and seemingly inconsequential in themselves, lead to great issues. Had I departed that day for Beaugency, it is likely that you had never heard of me – leastways, not from my own pen – for in what so far I have told you, without that which is to follow, there is haply little that was worth the labour of setting down.

In the morning, then, I set out; but having started late, we got no farther than Grenade, where we lay the night once more at the Hotel de la Couronne. And so, through having delayed my departure by a single day, did it come to pass that a message reached me before it might have been too late.

It was high noon of the morrow. Our horses stood saddled; indeed, some of my men were already mounted – for I was not minded to disband them until Beaugency was reached – and my two coaches were both ready for the journey. The habits of a lifetime are not so easy to abandon even when Necessity raises her compelling voice.

I was in the act of settling my score with the landlord when of a sudden there were quick steps in the passage, the clank of a rapier against the wall, and a voice – the voice of Castelroux – calling excitedly “Bardelys! Monsieur de Bardelys!”

“What brings you here?” I cried in greeting, as he stepped into the room.

“Are you still for Beaugency?” he asked sharply, throwing back his head.

“Why, yes,” I answered, wondering at this excitement.

“Then you have seen nothing of Saint-Eustache and his men?”

“Nothing.”

“Yet they must have passed this way not many hours ago.” Then tossing his hat on the table and speaking with sudden vehemence: “If you have any interest in the family of Lavedan, you will return upon the instant to Toulouse.”

The mention of Lavedan was enough to quicken my pulses. Yet in the past two days I had mastered resignation, and in doing that we school ourselves to much restraint. I turned slowly, and surveyed the little Captain attentively. His black eyes sparkled, and his moustaches bristled with excitement. Clearly he had news of import. I turned to the landlord.

“Leave us, Monsieur l’Hote,” said I shortly; and when he had departed, “What of the Lavedan family, Castelroux?” I inquired as calmly as I might.

“The Chevalier de Saint-Eustache left Toulouse at six o’clock this morning for Lavedan.”

Swift the suspicion of his errand broke upon my mind.

“He has betrayed the Vicomte?” I half inquired, half asserted.

Castelroux nodded. “He has obtained a warrant for his apprehension from the Keeper of the Seals, and is gone to execute it. In the course of a few days Lavedan will be in danger of being no more than a name. This Saint-Eustache is driving a brisk trade, by God, and some fine prizes have already fallen to his lot. But if you add them all together, they are not likely to yield as much as this his latest expedition. Unless you intervene, Bardelys, the Vicomte de Lavedan is doomed and his family houseless.”

“I will intervene,” I cried. “By God, I will! And as for Saint-Eustache – he was born under a propitious star, indeed, if he escapes the gallows. He little dreams that I am still to be reckoned with. There, Castelroux, I will start for Lavedan at once.”

Already I was striding to the door, when the Gascon called me back.

“What good will that do?” he asked. “Were it not better first to return to Toulouse and obtain a counter-warrant from the King?”

There was wisdom in his words – much wisdom. But my blood was afire, and I was in too hot a haste to reason.

“Return to Toulouse?” I echoed scornfully. “A waste of time, Captain. No, I will go straight to Lavedan. I need no counter-warrant. I know too much of this Chevalier’s affairs, and my very presence should be enough to stay his hand. He is as foul a traitor as you’ll find in France; but for the moment God bless him for a very opportune knave. Gilles!” I called, throwing wide the door. “Gilles!”

“Monseigneur,” he answered, hastening to me.

“Put back the carriages and saddle me a horse,” I commanded. “And bid your fellows mount at once and await me in the courtyard. We are not going to Beaugency, Gilles. We ride north – to Lavedan.”

CHAPTER XVIII

SAINT-EUSTACHE IS OBSTINATE

0n the occasion of my first visit to Lavedan I had disregarded – or, rather, Fate had contrived that I should disregard – Chatellerault’s suggestion that I should go with all the panoply of power – with my followers, my liveries, and my equipages to compose the magnificence all France had come to associate with my name, and thus dazzle by my brilliant lustre the lady I was come to win. As you may remember, I had crept into the chateau like a thief in the night, – wounded, bedraggled, and of miserable aspect, seeking to provoke compassion rather than admiration.

Not so now that I made my second visit. I availed myself of all the splendour to which I owed my title of “Magnificent,” and rode into the courtyard of the Chateau de Lavedan preceded by twenty well-mounted knaves wearing the gorgeous Saint-Pol liveries of scarlet and gold, with the Bardelys escutcheon broidered on the breasts of their doublets – on a field or a bar azure surcharged by three lilies of the field. They were armed with swords and musketoons, and had more the air of a royal bodyguard than of a company of attendant servants.

Our coming was in a way well timed. I doubt if we could have stayed the execution of Saint-Eustache’s warrant even had we arrived earlier. But for effect – to produce a striking coup de theatre – we could not have come more opportunely.

A coach stood in the quadrangle, at the foot of the chateau steps: down these the Vicomte was descending, with the Vicomtesse – grim and blasphemant as ever, on one side, and his daughter, white of face and with tightly compressed lips, on the other. Between these two women – his wife and his child – as different in body as they were different in soul, came Lavedan with a firm step, a good colour, and a look of well-bred, lofty indifference to his fate.

He disposed himself to enter the carriage which was to bear him to prison with much the same air he would have assumed had his destination been a royal levee.

Around the coach were grouped a score of men of Saint-Eustache’s company – half soldiers, half ploughboys – ill-garbed and indifferently accoutred in dull breastplates and steel caps, many of which were rusted. By the carriage door stood the long, lank figure of the Chevalier himself, dressed with his wonted care, and perfumed, curled, and beribboned beyond belief. His weak, boyish face sought by scowls and by the adoption of a grim smile to assume an air of martial ferocity.

Such was the grouping in the quadrangle when my men, with Gilles at their head, thundered across the drawbridge, giving pause to those within, and drawing upon themselves the eyes of all, as they rode, two by two, under the old-world arch of the keep into the courtyard. And Gilles, who knew our errand, and who was as ready-witted a rogue as ever rode with me, took in the situation at a glance. Knowing how much I desired to make a goodly show, he whispered an order. This resulted in the couples dividing at the gateway, one going to the left and one to the right, so that as they came they spread themselves in a crescent, and drawing rein, they faced forward, confronting and half surrounding the Chevalier’s company.

As each couple appeared, the curiosity – the uneasiness, probably –of Saint-Eustache and his men, had increased, and their expectancy was on tiptoe to see what lord it was went abroad with such regal pomp, when I appeared in the gateway and advanced at the trot into the middle of the quadrangle. There I drew rein and doffed my hat to them as they stood, open-mouthed and gaping one and all. If it was a theatrical display, a parade worthy of a tilt-ground, it was yet a noble and imposing advent, and their gaping told me that it was not without effect. The men looked uneasily at the Chevalier; the Chevalier looked uneasily at his men; mademoiselle, very pale, lowered her eyes and pressed her lips yet more tightly; the Vicomtesse uttered an oath of astonishment; whilst Lavedan, too dignified to manifest surprise, greeted me with a sober bow.

Behind them on the steps I caught sight of a group of domestics, old Anatole standing slightly in advance of his fellows, and wondering, no doubt, whether this were, indeed, the bedraggled Lesperon of a little while ago – for if I had thought of pomp in the display of my lacqueys, no less had I considered it in the decking of my own person. Without any of the ribbons and fopperies that mark the coxcomb, yet was I clad, plumed, and armed with a magnificence such as I’ll swear had not been seen within the grey walls of that old castle in the lifetime of any of those that were now present.

Gilles leapt from his horse as I drew rein, and hastened to hold my stirrup, with a murmured “Monsieur,” which title drew a fresh astonishment into the eyes of the beholders.

I advanced leisurely towards Saint-Eustache, and addressed him with such condescension as I might a groom, to impress and quell a man of this type your best weapon is the arrogance that a nobler spirit would resent.

“A world of odd meetings this, Saint-Eustache,” I smiled disdainfully. “A world of strange comings and goings, and of range transformations. The last time we were here we stood mutually as guests of Monsieur le Vicomte; at present you appear to be officiating as a – a tipstaff.”

“Monsieur!” He coloured, and he uttered the word in accents of awakening resentment. I looked into his eyes, coldly, impassively, as if waiting to hear what he might have to add, and so I stayed until his glance fell and his spirit was frozen in him. He knew me, and he knew how much I was to be feared. A word from me to the King might send him to the wheel. It was upon this I played. Presently, as his eye fell, “Is your business with me, Monsieur de Bardelys?” he asked, and at that utterance of my name there was a commotion on the steps, whilst the Vicomte started, and his eyes frowned upon me, and the Vicomtesse looked up suddenly to scan me with a fresh interest. She beheld at last in the flesh the gentleman who had played so notorious a part, ten years ago, in that scandal connected with the Duchesse de Bourgogne, of which she never tired of reciting the details. And think that she had sat at table with him day by day and been unconscious of that momentous fact! Such, I make no doubt, was what passed through her mind at the moment, and, to judge from her expression, I should say that the excitement of beholding the Magnificent Bardelys had for the nonce eclipsed beholding even her husband’s condition and the imminent sequestration of Lavedan.

“My business is with you, Chevalier,” said I. “It relates to your mission here.”

His jaw fell. “You wish–?”

“To desire you to withdraw your men and quit Lavedan at once, abandoning the execution of your warrant.”

He flashed me a look of impotent hate. “You know of the existence of my warrant, Monsieur de Bardelys, and you must therefore realize that a royal mandate alone can exempt me from delivering Monsieur de Lavedan to the Keeper of the Seals.”

“My only warrant,” I answered, somewhat baffled, but far from abandoning hope, “is my word. You shall say to the Garde des Sceaux that you have done this upon the authority of the Marquis de Bardelys, and you have my promise that His Majesty shall confirm my action.”

In saying that I said too much, as I was quickly to realize.

“His Majesty will confirm it, monsieur?” he said interrogatively, and he shook his head. “That is a risk I dare not run. My warrant sets me under imperative obligations which I must discharge – you will see the justice of what I state.”

His tone was all humility, all subservience, nevertheless it was firm to the point of being hard. But my last card, the card upon which I was depending, was yet to be played.

“Will you do me the honour to step aside with me, Chevalier?” I commanded rather than besought.

“At your service, sir,” said he; and I drew him out of earshot of those others.

“Now, Saint-Eustache, we can talk,” said I, with an abrupt change of manner from the coldly arrogant to the coldly menacing. “I marvel greatly at your temerity in pursuing this Iscariot business after learning who I am, at Toulouse two nights ago.”

He clenched his hands, and his weak face hardened.

“I would beg you to consider your expressions, monsieur, and to control them,” said he in a thick voice.

I vouchsafed him a stare of freezing amazement. “You will no doubt remember in what capacity I find you employed. Nay, keep your hands still, Saint-Eustache. I don’t fight catchpolls, and if you give me trouble my men are yonder.” And I jerked my thumb over my shoulder. “And now to business. I am not minded to talk all day. I was saying that I marvel at your temerity, and more particularly at your having laid information against Monsieur de Lavedan, and having come here to arrest him, knowing, as you must know, that I am interested in the Vicomte.”

“I have heard of that interest, monsieur,” said he, with a sneer for which I could have struck him.

“This act of yours,” I pursued, ignoring his interpolation, “savours very much of flying in the face of Destiny. It almost seems to me as if you were defying me.”

His lip trembled, and his eyes shunned my glance.

“Indeed – indeed, monsieur–” he was protesting, when I cut him short.

“You cannot be so great a fool but that you must realize that if I tell the King what I know of you, you will be stripped of your ill-gotten gains, and broken on the wheel for a double traitor – a betrayer of your fellow-rebels.”

“But you will not do that, monsieur?” he cried. “It would be unworthy in you.”

At that I laughed in his face. “Heart of God! Are you to be what you please, and do you still expect that men shall be nice in dealing with you? I would do this thing, and, by my faith, Monsieur de Eustache, I will do it, if you compel me!”

He reddened and moved his foot uneasily. Perhaps I did not take the best way with him, after all. I might have confined myself to sowing fear in his heart; that alone might have had the effect I desired; by visiting upon him at the same time the insults I could not repress, I may have aroused his resistance, and excited his desire above all else to thwart me.

“What do you want of me?” he demanded, with a sudden arrogance which almost cast mine into the shade.

“I want you,” said I, deeming the time ripe to make a plain tale of it, “to withdraw your men, and to ride back to Toulouse without Monsieur de Lavedan, there to confess to the Keeper of the Seals that your suspicions were unfounded, and that you have culled evidence that the Vicomte has had no relations with Monsieur the King’s brother.”

He looked at me in amazement – amusedly, almost.

“A likely story that to bear to the astute gentlemen in Toulouse,” said he.

“Aye, ma foi, a most likely story,” said I. “When they come to consider the profit that you are losing by not apprehending the Vicomte, and can think of none that you are making, they will have little difficulty in believing you.”

“But what of this evidence you refer to?”

“You have, I take it, discovered no incriminating evidence – no documents that will tell against the Vicomte?”

“No, monsieur, it is true that I have not–“

He stopped and bit his lip, my smile making him aware of his indiscretion.

“Very well, then, you must invent some evidence to prove that he was in no way, associated with the rebellion.”

“Monsieur de Bardelys,” said he very insolently, “we waste time in idle words. If you think that I will imperil my neck for the sake of serving you or the Vicomte, you are most prodigiously at fault.”

“I have never thought so. But I have thought that you might be induced to imperil your neck – as you have it – for its own sake, and to the end that you might save it.”

He moved away. “Monsieur, you talk in vain. You have no royal warrant to supersede mine. Do what you will when you come to Toulouse,” and he smiled darkly. “Meanwhile, the Vicomte goes with me.”

“You have no evidence against him!” I cried, scarce believing that he would dare to defy me and that I had failed.

“I have the evidence of my word. I am ready to swear to what I know –that, whilst I was here at Lavedan, some weeks ago, I discovered his connection with the rebels.”

“And what think you, miserable fool, shall your word weigh against mine?” I cried. “Never fear, Monsieur le Chevalier, I shall be in Toulouse to give you the lie by showing that your word is a word to which no man may attach faith, and by exposing to the King your past conduct. If you think that, after I have spoken, King Louis whom they name the just will suffer the trial of the Vicomte to go further on your instigation, or if you think that you will be able to slip your own neck from the noose I shall have set about it, you are an infinitely greater fool than I deem you.”

He stood and looked at me over his shoulder, his face crimson, and his brows black as a thundercloud.

“All this may betide when you come to Toulouse, Monsieur de Bardelys,” said he darkly, “but from here to Toulouse it is a matter of some twenty leagues.”

With that, he turned on his heel and left me, baffled and angry, to puzzle out the inner meaning of his parting words.

He gave his men the order to mount, and bade Monsieur de Lavedan enter the coach, whereupon Gilles shot me a glance of inquiry. For a second, as I stepped slowly after the Chevalier, I was minded to try armed resistance, and to convert that grey courtyard into a shambles. Then I saw betimes the futility of such a step, and I shrugged my shoulders in answer to my servant’s glance.

I would have spoken to the Vicomte ere he departed, but I was too deeply chagrined and humiliated by my defeat. So much so that I had no room in my thoughts even for the very natural conjecture of what Lavedan must be thinking of me. I repented me then of my rashness in coming to Lavedan without having seen the King – as Castelroux had counselled me. I had come indulging vain dreams of a splendid overthrow of Saint-Eustache. I had thought to shine heroically in Mademoiselle’s eyes, and thus I had hoped that both gratitude for having saved her father and admiration at the manner in which I had achieved it would predispose her to grant me a hearing in which I might plead my rehabilitation. Once that were accorded me, I did not doubt I should prevail.

Now my dream was all dispelled, and my pride had suffered just such a humiliating fall as the moralists tell us pride must ever suffer. There seemed little left me but to go hence with lambent tail, like a dog that has been whipped – my dazzling escort become a mockery but that it served the more loudly to advertise my true impotency.

As I approached the carriage, the Vicomtesse swept suddenly down the steps and came towards me with a friendly smile. “Monsieur de Bardelys,” said she, “we are grateful for your intervention in the cause of that rebel my husband.”

“Madame,” I besought her, under my breath, “if you would not totally destroy him, I beseech you to be cautious. By your leave, I will have my men refreshed, and thereafter I shall take the road to Toulouse again. I can only hope that my intervention with the King may bear better fruit.”

Although I spoke in a subdued key, Saint-Eustache, who stood near us, overheard me, as his face very clearly testified.

“Remain here, sir,” she replied, with some effusion, “and follow us when you are rested.”

“Follow you?” I inquired. “Do you then go with Monsieur de Lavedan?”

“No, Anne,” said the Vicomte politely from the carriage. “It will be tiring you unnecessarily. You were better advised to remain here until my return.”

I doubt not that the poor Vicomte was more concerned with how she would tire him than with how the journey might tire her. But the Vicomtesse was not to be gainsaid. The Chevalier had sneered when the Vicomte spoke of returning. Madame had caught that sneer, and she swung round upon him now with the vehement fury of a virago.

“He’ll not return, you think, you Judas!” she snarled at him, her lean, swarthy face growing very evil to see. “But he shall – by God, he shall! And look to your skin when he does, monsieur the catchpoll, for, on my honour, you shall have a foretaste of hell for your trouble in this matter.”

The Chevalier smiled with much restraint. “A woman’s tongue,” said he, “does no injury.”

“Will a woman’s arm, think you?” demanded that warlike matron. “You musk-stinking tipstaff, I’ll–“

“Anne, my love,” implored the Vicomte soothingly, “I beg that you will control yourself.”

“Shall I submit to the insolence of this misbegotten vassal? Shall I–“

“Remember rather that it does not become the dignity of your station to address the fellow. We avoid venomous reptiles, but we do not pause to reproach them with their venom. God made them so.”

Saint-Eustache coloured to the roots of his hair, then, turning hastily to the driver, he bade him start. He would have closed the door with that, but that madame thrust herself forward.

That was the Chevalier’s chance to be avenged. “You cannot go,” said he.

“Cannot?” Her cheeks reddened. “Why not, monsieur Lesperon?

“I have no reasons to afford you,” he answered brutally. “You cannot go.”

“Your pardon, Chevalier,” I interposed. “You go beyond your rights in seeking to prevent her. Monsieur le Vicomte is not yet convicted. Do not, I beseech you, transcend the already odious character of your work.”

And without more ado I shouldered him aside, and held the door that she might enter. She rewarded me with a smile–half vicious, half whimsical, and mounted the step. Saint-Eustache would have interfered. He came at me as if resenting that shoulder-thrust of mine, and for a second I almost thought he would have committed the madness of striking me.

“Take care, Saint-Eustache,” I said very quietly, my eyes fixed on his. And much as dead Caesar’s ghost may have threatened Brutus with Philippi “We meet at Toulouse, Chevalier,” said I, and closing the carriage door I stepped back.

There was a flutter of skirts behind me. It was mademoiselle. So brave and outwardly so calm until now, the moment of actual separation – and added thereunto perhaps her mother’s going and the loneliness that for herself she foresaw – proved more than she could endure. I stepped aside, and she swept past me and caught at the leather curtain of the coach.

“Father!” she sobbed.

There are some things that a man of breeding may not witness – some things to look upon which is near akin to eavesdropping or reading the letters of another. Such a scene did I now account the present one, and, turning, I moved away. But Saint-Eustache cut it short, for scarce had I taken three paces when his voice rang out the command to move. The driver hesitated, for the girl was still hanging at the window. But a second command, accompanied by a vigorous oath, overcame his hesitation. He gathered up his reins, cracked his whip, and the lumbering wheels began to move.

“Have a care, child!” I heard the Vicomte cry, “have a care! Adieu, mon enfant!”

She sprang back, sobbing, and assuredly she would have fallen, thrown out of balance by the movement of the coach, but that I put forth my hands and caught her.

I do not think she knew whose were the arms that held her for that brief space, so desolated was she by the grief so long repressed. At last she realized that it was this worthless Bardelys against whom she rested; this man who had wagered that he would win and wed her; this impostor who had come to her under an assumed name; this knave who had lied to her as no gentleman could have lied, swearing to love her, whilst, in reality, he did no more than seek to win a wager. When all this she realized, she shuddered a second, then moved abruptly from my grasp, and, without so much as a glance at me, she left me, and, ascending the steps of the chateau, she passed from my sight.

I gave the order to dismount as the last of Saint-Eustache’s followers vanished under the portcullis.

CHAPTER XIX

THE FLINT AND THE STEEL

Mademoiselle will see you, monsieur,” said Anatole at last.

Twice already had he carried unavailingly my request that Roxalanne should accord me an interview ere I departed. On this the third occasion I had bidden him say that I would not stir from Lavedan until she had done me the honour of hearing me. Seemingly that threat had prevailed where entreaties had been scorned.

I followed Anatole from the half-light of the hall in which I had been pacing into the salon overlooking the terraces and the river, where Roxalanne awaited me. She was standing at the farther end of the room by one of the long windows, which was open, for, although we were already in the first week of October, the air of Languedoc was as warm and balmy as that of Paris or Picardy is in summer.

I advanced to the centre of the chamber, and there I paused and waited until it should please her to acknowledge my presence and turn to face me. I was no fledgling. I had seen much, I had learnt much and been in many places, and my bearing was wont to convey it. Never in my life had I been gauche, for which I thank my parents, and if years ago – long years ago – a certain timidity had marked my first introductions to the Louvre and the Luxembourg, that timidity was something from which I had long since parted company. And yet it seemed to me, as I stood in that pretty, sunlit room awaiting the pleasure of that child, scarce out of her teens, that some of the awkwardness I had escaped in earlier years, some of the timidity of long ago, came to me then. I shifted the weight of my body from one leg to the other; I fingered the table by which I stood; I pulled at the hat I held; my colour came and went; I looked at her furtively from under bent brows, and I thanked God that her back being towards me she might not see the clown I must have seemed.

At length, unable longer to brook that discomposing silence–

“Mademoiselle!” I called softly. The sound of my own voice seemed to invigorate me, to strip me of my awkwardness and self-consciousness. It broke the spell that for a moment had been over me, and brought me back to myself – to the vain, self-confident, flamboyant Bardelys that perhaps you have pictured from my writings.

“I hope, monsieur,” she answered, without turning, “that what you may have to say may justify in some measure your very importunate insistence.”

On my life, this was not encouraging. But now that I was master of myself, I was not again so easily to be disconcerted. My eyes rested upon her as she stood almost framed in the opening of that long window. How straight and supple she was, yet how dainty and slight withal! She was far from being a tall woman, but her clean length of limb, her very slightness, and the high-bred poise of her shapely head, conveyed an illusion of height unless you stood beside her. The illusion did not sway me then. I saw only a child; but a child with a great spirit, with a great soul that seemed to accentuate her physical helplessness. That helplessness, which I felt rather than saw, wove into the warp of my love. She was in grief just then – in grief at the arrest of her father, and at the dark fate that threatened him; in grief at the unworthiness of a lover. Of the two which might be the more bitter it was not mine to judge, but I burned to gather her to me, to comfort and cherish her, to make her one with me, and thus, whilst giving her something of my man’s height and strength, cull from her something of that pure, noble spirit, and thus sanctify my own.

I had a moment’s weakness when she spoke. I was within an ace of advancing and casting myself upon my knees like any Lenten penitent, to sue forgiveness. But I set the inclination down betimes. Such expedients would not avail me here.

“What I have to say, mademoiselle,” I answered after a pause, “would justify a saint descending into, hell; or, rather, to make my metaphor more apt, would warrant a sinner’s intrusion into heaven.”

I spoke solemnly, yet not too solemnly; the least slur of a sardonic humour was in my tones.

She moved her head upon the white column of her neck, and with the gesture one of her brown curls became disordered. I could fancy the upward tilt of her delicate nose, the scornful curve of her lip as she answered shortly “Then say it quickly, monsieur.”

And, being thus bidden, I said quickly “I love you, Roxalanne.”

Her heel beat the shimmering parquet of the floor; she half turned towards me, her cheek flushed, her lip tremulous with anger.

“Will you say what you have to say, monsieur?” she demanded in a concentrated voice, “and having said it, will you go?”

“Mademoiselle, I have already said it,” I answered, with a wistful smile.

“Oh!” she gasped. Then suddenly facing round upon me, a world of anger in her blue eyes – eyes that I had known dreamy, but which were now very wide awake. “Was it to offer me this last insult you forced your presence upon me? Was it to mock me with those words, me – a woman, with no man about me to punish you? Shame, sir! Yet it is no more than I might look for in you.”

“Mademoiselle, you do me grievous wrong–” I began.

“I do you no wrong,” she answered hotly, then stopped, unwilling haply to be drawn into contention with me. “Enfin, since you have said what you came to say will you go?” And she pointed to the door.

“Mademoiselle, mademoiselle–” I began in a voice of earnest intercession.

“Go!” she interrupted angrily, and for a second the violence of her voice and gesture almost reminded me of the Vicomtesse. “I will hear no more from you.”

“Mademoiselle, you shall,” I answered no whit less firmly.

“I will not listen to you. Talk if you will. You shall have the walls for audience.” And she moved towards the door, but I barred her passage. I was courteous to the last degree; I bowed low before her as I put myself in her way.

“It is all that was wanting – that you should offer me violence!” she exclaimed.

“God forbid!” said I.

“Then let me pass.”

“Aye, when you have heard me.”

“I do not wish to hear you. Nothing that you may say can matter to me. Oh, monsieur, if you have any instincts of gentility, if you have any pretension to be accounted anything but a mauvais sujet, I beg of you to respect my grief. You witnessed, yourself, the arrest of my father. This is no season for such as scene as you are creating.”

“Pardon! It is in such a season as this that you need the comfort and support that the man you love alone can give you.”

“The man I love?” she echoed, and from flushed that they had been, her cheeks went very pale. Her eyes fell for an instant, then – they were raised again, and their blue depths were offered me. “I think, sir,” she said, through her teeth, “that your insolence transcends all belief.”

“Can you deny it?” I cried. “Can you deny that you love me? If you can – why, then, you lied to me three nights ago at Toulouse!”

That smote her hard – so hard that she forgot her assurance that she would not listen to me – her promise to herself that she would stoop to no contention with me.

“If, in a momentary weakness, in my nescience of you as you truly are, I did make some such admission, I did entertain such feelings for you, things have come to my knowledge since then, monsieur, that have revealed you to me as another man; I have learnt something that has utterly withered such love as I then confessed. Now, monsieur, are you satisfied, and will you let me pass?” She said the last words with a return of her imperiousness, already angry at having been drawn so far.

“I am satisfied, mademoiselle,” I answered brutally, “that you did not speak the truth three nights ago. You never loved me. It was pity that deluded you, shame that urged you – shame at the Delilah part you had played and at your betrayal of me. Now, mademoiselle, you may pass,” said I.

And I stood aside, assured that as she was a woman she would not pass me now. Nor did she. She recoiled a step instead. Her lip quivered. Then she recovered quickly. Her mother might have told her that she was a fool for engaging herself in such a duel with me – me, the veteran of a hundred amorous combats. Yet though I doubt not it was her first assault-at-arms of this description, she was more than a match for me, as her next words proved.

“Monsieur, I thank you for enlightening me. I cannot, indeed, have spoken the truth three nights ago. You are right, I do not doubt it now, and you lift from me a load of shame.”

Dieu! It was like a thrust in the high lines, and its hurtful violence staggered me. I was finished, it seemed. The victory was hers, and she but a child with no practice of Cupid’s art of fence!

“Now, monsieur,” she added, “now that you are satisfied that you did wrong to say I loved you, now that we have disposed of that question – adieu!”

“A moment yet!” I cried. “We have disposed of that, but there was another point, an earlier one, which for the moment we have disregarded. We have – you have disproved the love I was so presumptuous as to believe you fostered for me. We have yet to reckon with the love I bear you, mademoiselle, and of that we shall not be able to dispose so readily.”

With a gesture of weariness or of impatience, she turned aside. “What is it you want? What do you seek to gain by thus provoking me? To win your wager?” Her voice was cold. Who to have looked upon that childlike face, upon those meek, pondering eyes, could have believed her capable of so much cruelty?

“There can no longer be any question of my wager; I have lost and paid it,” said I.

She looked up suddenly. Her brows met in a frown of bewilderment. Clearly this interested her. Again was she drawn.

“How?” she asked. “You have lost and paid it?”

“Even so. That odious, cursed, infamous wager, was the something which I hinted at so often as standing between you and me. The confession that so often I was on the point of making – that so often you urged me to make – concerned that wager. Would to God, Roxalanne, that I had told you!” I cried, and it seemed to me that the sincerity ringing in my voice drove some of the harshness from her countenance, some of the coldness from her glance.

“Unfortunately,” I pursued, “it always seemed to me either not yet time, or already too late. Yet so soon as I regained my liberty, my first thought was of that. While the wager existed I might not ask you to become my wife, lest I should seem to be carrying out the original intention which embarked me upon the business of wooing you, and brought me here to Languedoc. And so my first step was to seek out Chatellerault and deliver him my note of hand for my Picardy possessions, the bulk – by far the greater bulk – of all my fortune. My second step was to repair to you at the Hotel de l’Epee.

“At last I could approach you with clean hands; I could confess what I had done; and since it seemed to me that I had made the utmost atonement, I was confident of success. Alas! I came too late. In the porch of the auberge I met you as you came forth. From my talkative intendant you had learnt already the story of that bargain into which Bardelys had entered. You had learnt who I was, and you thought that you had learnt why I wooed you. Accordingly you could but despise me.”

She had sunk into a chair. Her hands were folded in a listless manner in her lap, and her eyes were lowered, her cheeks pale. But the swift heave of her bosom told me that my words were not without effect.” Do you know nothing of the bargain that I made with Chatellerault?” she asked in a voice that held, I thought, some trace of misery.

“Chatellerault was a cheat!” I cried. “No man of honour in France would have accounted himself under obligation to pay that wager. I paid it, not because I thought the payment due, but that by its payment I might offer you a culminating proof of my sincerity.”

“Be that as it may,” said she, “I passed him my word to – to marry him, if he set you at liberty.”

“The promise does not hold, for when you made it I was at liberty already. Besides, Chatellerault is dead by now – or very near it.”

“Dead?” she echoed, looking up.

“Yes, dead. We fought–” The ghost of a smile, of sudden, of scornful understanding, passed like a ray of light across her face. “Pardieu!” I cried, “you do me a wrong there. It was not by my hands that he fell. It was not by me that the duel was instigated.”

And with that I gave her the whole details of the affair, including the information that Chatellerault had been no party to my release, and that for his attempted judicial murder of me the King would have dealt very hardly with him had he not saved the King the trouble by throwing himself upon his sword:

There was a silence when I had done. Roxalanne sat on, and seemed to ponder. To let all that I had said sink in and advocate my cause, as to me was very clear it must, I turned aside and moved to one of the windows.

“Why did you not tell me before?” she asked suddenly. “Why – oh, why – did you not confess to me the whole infamous affair as soon as you came to love me, as you say you did?”

“As I say I did?” I repeated after her. “Do you doubt it? Can you doubt it in the face of what I have done?”

“Oh, I don’t know what to believe!” she cried, a sob in her voice. “You have deceived me so far, so often. Why did you not tell me that night on the river? Or later, when I pressed you in this very house? Or again, the other night in the prison of Toulouse?”

“You ask me why. Can you not answer the question for yourself? Can you not conceive the fear that was in me that you should shrink away from me in loathing? The fear that if you cared a little, I might for all time stifle such affection as you bore me? The fear that I must ruin your trust in me? Oh, mademoiselle, can you not see how my only hope lay in first owning defeat to Chatellerault, in first paying the wager?”

“How could you have lent yourself to such a bargain?” was her next question.

“How, indeed?” I asked in my turn. “From your mother you have heard something of the reputation that attaches to Bardelys. I was a man of careless ways, satiated with all the splendours life could give me, nauseated by all its luxuries. Was it wonderful that I allowed myself to be lured into this affair? It promised some excitement, a certain novelty, difficulties in a path that I had – alas! – ever found all too smooth – for Chatellerault had made your reputed coldness the chief bolster of his opinion that I should not win.

“Again, I was not given to over-nice scruples. I make no secret of my infirmities, but do not blame me too much. If you could see the fine demoiselles we have in Paris, if you could listen to their tenets and take a deep look into their lives, you would not marvel at me. I had never known any but these. On the night of my coming to Lavedan, your sweetness, your pure innocence, your almost childish virtue, dazed me by their novelty. From that first moment I became your slave. Then I was in your garden day by day. And here, in this old Languedoc garden with you and your roses, during the languorous days of my convalescence, is it wonderful that some of the purity, some of the sweetness that was of you and of your roses, should have crept into my heart and cleansed it a little? Ah, mademoiselle!” I cried – and, coming close to her, I would have bent my knee in intercession but that she restrained me.

“Monsieur,” she interrupted, “we harass ourselves in vain. This can have but one ending.”

Her tones were cold, but the coldness I knew was forced – else had she not said “we harass ourselves.” Instead of quelling my ardour, it gave it fuel.

“True, mademoiselle,” I cried, almost exultantly. “It can end but one way!”

She caught my meaning, and her frown deepened. I went too fast, it seemed.

“It had better end now, monsieur. There is too much between us. You wagered to win me to wife.” She shuddered. “I could never forget it.”

“Mademoiselle,” I denied stoutly, “I did not.”

“How?” She caught her breath. “You did not?”

“No,” I pursued boldly. “I did not wager to win you. I wagered to win a certain Mademoiselle de Lavedan, who was unknown to me – but not you, not you.”

She smiled, with never so slight a touch of scorn.

“Your distinctions are very fine – too fine for me, monsieur.”

“I implore you to be reasonable. Think reasonably.”

“Am I not reasonable? Do I not think? But there is so much to think of!” she sighed. “You carried your deception so far. You came here, for instance, as Monsieur de Lesperon. Why that duplicity?”

“Again, mademoiselle, I did not,” said I.

She glanced at me with pathetic disdain.

“Indeed, indeed, monsieur, you deny things very bravely.”

“Did I tell you that my name was Lesperon?” Did I present myself to monsieur your father as Lesperon?”

“Surely – yes.”

“Surely no; a thousand times no. I was the victim of circumstances in that, and if I turned them to my own account after they had been forced upon me, shall I be blamed and accounted a cheat? Whilst I was unconscious, your father, seeking for a clue to my identity, made an inspection of my clothes.

“In the pocket of my doublet they found some papers addressed to Rene de Lesperon – some love letters, a communication from the Duc d’Orleans, and a woman’s portrait. From all of this it was assumed that I was that Lesperon. Upon my return to consciousness your father greeted me effusively, whereat I wondered; he passed on to discuss – nay, to tell me of – the state of the province and of his own connection with the rebels, until I lay gasping at his egregious temerity. Then, when he greeted me as Monsieur de Lesperon, I had the explanation of it, but too late. Could I deny the identity then? Could I tell him that I was Bardelys, the favourite of the King himself? What would have occurred? I ask you, mademoiselle. Would I not have been accounted a spy, and would they not have made short work of me here at your chateau?”

“No, no; they would have done no murder.”

“Perhaps not, but I could not be sure just then. Most men situated as your father was would have despatched me. Ah, mademoiselle, have you not proofs enough? Do you not believe me now?”

“Yes, monsieur,” she answered simply, “I believe you.”

“Will you not believe, then, in the sincerity of my love?”

She made no rely. Her face was averted, but from her silence I took heart. I drew close to her. I set my hand upon the tall back of her chair, and, leaning towards her, I spoke with passionate heat as must have melted, I thought, any woman who had not a loathing for me.

“Mademoiselle; I am a poor man now,” I ended. “I am no longer that magnificent gentleman whose wealth and splendour were a byword. Yet am I no needy adventurer. I have a little property at Beaugency – a very spot for happiness, mademoiselle. Paris shall know me no more. At Beaugency I shall live at peace, in seclusion, and, so that you come with me, in such joy as in all my life I have done nothing to deserve. I have no longer an army of retainers. A couple of men and a maid or two shall constitute our household. Yet I shall account my wealth well lost if for love’s sake you’ll share with me the peace of my obscurity. I am poor, mademoiselle yet no poorer even now than that Gascon gentleman, Rene de Lesperon, for whom you held me, and on whom you bestowed the priceless treasure of your heart.”

“Oh, might it have pleased God that you had remained that poor Gascon gentleman!” she cried.

“In what am I different, Roxalanne?”

“In that he had laid no wager,” she answered, rising suddenly.

My hopes were withering. She was not angry. She was pale, and her gentle face was troubled – dear God! how sorely troubled! To me it almost seemed that I had lost.

She flashed me a glance of her blue eyes, and I thought that tears impended.

“Roxalanne!” I supplicated.

But she recovered the control that for a moment she had appeared upon the verge of losing. She put forth her hand.

“Adieu, monsieur!” said she.

I glanced from her hand to her face. Her attitude began to anger me, for I saw that she was not only resisting me, but resisting herself. In her heart the insidious canker of doubt persisted. She knew – or should have known – that it no longer should have any place there, yet obstinately she refrained from plucking it out. There was that wager. But for that same obstinacy she must have realized the reason of my arguments, the irrefutable logic of my payment. She denied me, and in denying me she denied herself, for that she had loved me she had herself told me, and that she could love me again I was assured, if she would but see the thing in the light of reason and of justice.

“Roxalanne, I did not come to Lavedan to say ‘Good-bye’ to you. I seek from you a welcome, not a dismissal.”

“Yet my dismissal is all that I can give. Will you not take my hand? May we not part in friendly spirit?”

“No, we may not; for we do not part at all.”

It was as the steel of my determination striking upon the flint of hers. She looked up to my face for an instant; she raised her eyebrows in deprecation; she sighed, shrugged one shoulder, and, turning on her heel, moved towards the door.

“Anatole shall bring you refreshment ere you go,” she said in a very polite and formal voice.

Then I played my last card. Was it for nothing that I had flung away my wealth? If she would not give herself, by God, I would compel her to sell herself. And I took no shame in doing it, for by doing it I was saving her and saving myself from a life of unhappiness.

“Roxalanne!” I cried. The imperiousness of my voice arrested and compelled her perhaps against her very will.

“Monsieur?” said she, as demurely as you please.

“Do you know what you are doing?”.

“But yes – perfectly.”

“Pardieu, you do not. I will tell you. You are sending your father to the scaffold.”

She turned livid, her step faltered, and she leant against the frame of the doorway for support. Then she stared at me, wide-eyed in horror.

“That is not true,” she pleaded, yet without conviction. “He is not in danger of his life. They can prove nothing against him. Monsieur de Saint-Eustache could find no evidence here – nothing.”

“Yet there is Monsieur de Saint-Eustache’s word; there is the fact –the significant fact – that your father did not take up arms for the King, to afford the Chevalier’s accusation some measure of corroboration. At Toulouse in these times they are not particular. Remember how it had fared with me but for the King’s timely arrival.”

That smote home. The last shred of her strength fell from her. A great sob shook her, then covering her face with her hands “Mother in heaven, have pity on me!” she cried. “Oh, it cannot be, it cannot be!”

Her distress touched me sorely. I would have consoled her, I would have bidden her have no fear, assuring her that I would save her father. But for my own ends, I curbed the mood. I would use this as a cudgel to shatter her obstinacy, and I prayed that God might forgive me if I did aught that a gentleman should account unworthy. My need was urgent, my love all-engrossing; winning her meant winning life and happiness, and already I had sacrificed so much. Her cry rang still in my ears, “It cannot be, it cannot be!”

I trampled my nascent tenderness underfoot, and in its room I set a harshness that I did not feel – a harshness of defiance and menace.

“It can be, it will be, and, as God lives, it shall be, if you persist in your unreasonable attitude.”

“Monsieur, have mercy!”

“Yes, when you shall be pleased to show me the way to it by having mercy upon me. If I have sinned, I have atoned. But that is a closed question now; to reopen it were futile. Take heed of this, Roxalanne: there is one thing – one only in all France can save your father.”

“That is, monsieur?” she inquired breathlessly.

“My word against that of Saint-Eustache. My indication to His Majesty that your father’s treason is not to be accepted on the accusation of Saint-Eustache. My information to the King of what I know touching this gentleman.”

“You will go, monsieur?” she implored me. “Oh, you will save him! Mon Dieu, to think of the time that we have wasted here, you and I, whilst he is being carried to the scaffold! Oh, I did not dream it was so perilous with him! I was desolated by his arrest; I thought of some months’ imprisonment, perhaps. But that he should die – ! Monsieur de Bardelys, you will save him! Say that you will do this for me!”

She was on her knees to me now, her arms clasping my boots, her eyes raised in entreaty – God, what entreaty! – to my own.

“Rise, mademoiselle, I beseech you,” I said, with a quiet I was far from feeling. “There is no need for this. Let us be calm. The danger to your father is not so imminent. We may have some days yet –three or four, perhaps.”

I lifted her gently and led her to a chair. I was hard put to it not to hold her supported in my arms. But I might not cull that advantage from her distress. A singular niceness, you will say, perhaps, as in your scorn you laugh at me. Perhaps you are right to laugh – yet are you not altogether right.

“You will go to Toulouse, monsieur?” she begged.

I took a turn in the room, then halting before her “Yes,” I answered, “I will go.”

The gratitude that leapt to her eyes smote me hard, for my sentence was unfinished.

“I will go,” I continued quickly, “when you shall have promised to become my wife.”

The joy passed from her face. She glanced at me a moment as if without understanding.

“I came to Lavedan to win you, Roxalanne, and from Lavedan I shall not stir until I have accomplished my design,” I said very quietly. “You will therefore see that it rests with you how soon I may set out.”

She fell to weeping softly, but answered nothing. At last I turned from her and moved towards the door.

“Where are you going?” she cried.

“To take the air, mademoiselle. If upon deliberation you can bring yourself to marry me, send me word by Anatole or one of the others, and I shall set out at once for Toulouse.”

“Stop!” she cried. Obediently I stopped, my hand already upon the doorknob. “You are cruel, monsieur!” she complained.

“I love you,” said I, by way of explaining it. “To be cruel seems to be the way of love. You have been cruel to me.”

“Would you – would you take what is not freely given?”

“I have the hope that when you see that you must give, you will give freely.”

“If – if I make you this promise–“

“Yes?” I was growing white with eagerness.

“You will fulfil your part of the bargain?”

“It is a habit of mine, mademoiselle – as witnesses the case of Chatellerault.” She shivered at the mention of his name. It reminded her of precisely such another bargain that three nights ago she had made. Precisely, did I say? Well, not quite precisely.

“I – I promise to marry you, then,” said she in a choking voice, “whenever you choose, after my father shall have been set at liberty.”

I bowed. “I shall start at once,” said I.

And perhaps out of shame, perhaps out of – who shall say what sentiments? – I turned without another word and left her.