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Bardelys the Magnificent by Rafael Sabatini

Part 4 out of 5

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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

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

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

"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

"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

"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.



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

"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

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

"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

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

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

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

"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.



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

"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

"Why, yes," I answered, wondering at this excitement.

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


"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."



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

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

"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

"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

"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

"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

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.



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

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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

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

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.

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