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- I Will Repay - 10/43 -
wings for the first time, the wings with which to soar into that mad, merry, elusive and called Romance. Ay, her wings! but her power also! that sweet, subtle power of the woman: the yoke which men love, rail at, and love again, the yoke that enslaves them and gives them the joy of kings.
How happy the day had been! Yet it had been incomplete!
Pétronelle was somewhat dull, and Juliette was too young to enjoy long companionship with her own thoughts. Now suddenly the day seemed to have become perfect. There was someone there to appreciate the charm of the woods, the beauty of that blue sky peeping though the tangled foliage of the honeysuckle-covered trees. There was some one to talk to, someone to admire the fresh white frock Juliette had put on that morning.
"But how did you know where to find me?" she asked with a quaint touch of immature coquetry.
"I didn't know," he replied quietly. "They told me you had gone to Suresness, and meant to wander homewards through the woods. It frightened me, for you will have to go through the north-west barrier, and..."
He smiled, and looked earnestly for a moment at the dainty apparition before him.
"Well, you know!" he said gaily, "that tricolour scarf and the red cap are not quite sufficient as a disguise: you look anything but a staunch friend of the people. I guessed that your muslin frock would be clean, and that there would still be some tell-tale lace upon it."
She laughed again, and with delicate fingers lifted her pretty muslin frock, displaying a white frou-frou of flounces beneath the hem.
"How careless and childish!" he said, almost roughly.
"Would you have me coarse and grimy to be a fitting match for your partisans?" she retorted.
His tone of mentor nettled her, his attitude seemed to her priggish and dictatorial, and as the sun disappearing behind a sudden cloud, so her childish merriment quickly gave place to a feeling of unexplainable disappointment.
"I humbly beg your pardon," he said quietly, "And must crave your kind indulgence for my mood: but I have been so anxious..."
"Why should you be anxious about me?"
She had meant to say this indifferently, as if caring little what the reply might be: but in her effort to seem indifferent her voice became haughty, a reminiscence of the days when she still was the daughter of the Duc de Marny, the richest and most high-born heiress in France.
"Was that presumptuous?" he asked, with a slight touch of irony, in response to her own hauteur.
"It was merely unnecessary," she replied. "I have already laid too many burdens on your shoulders, without wishing to add that of anxiety."
"You have laid no burden on me," he said quietly, "save one of gratitude."
"Gratitude? What have I done?"
"You committed a foolish, thoughtless act outside my door, and gave me the chance of easing my conscience of a heavy load."
"In what way?"
"I had never hoped that the Fates would be so kind as to allow me to render a member of your family a slight service."
"I understand that you saved my life the other day, Monsieur Déroulède. I know that I am still in peril and that I owe my safety to you..."
"Do you also know that your brother owed his death to me?"
She closed her lips firmly, unable to reply, wrathful with him, for having suddenly and without any warning, placed a clumsy hand upon that hidden sore.
"I always meant to tell you," he continued somewhat hurriedly; "for it almost seemed to me that I have been cheating you, these last few days. I don't suppose that you can quite realise what it means to me to tell you this just now; but I owe it to you, I think. In later years you might find out, and then regret the days you spent under my roof. I called you childish a moment ago, you must forgive me; I know that you are a woman, and hope therefore that you will understand me. I killed your brother in fair fight. He provoked me as no man was ever provoked before..."
"Is it necessary, M. Déroulède, that you should tell me all this?" she interrupted him with some impatience.
"I thought you ought to know."
"You must know, on the other hand, that I have no means of hearing the history of the quarrel from my brother's point of view now."
The moment the words were out of her lips she had realised how cruelly she had spoken. He did not reply; he was too chivalrous, too gentle, to reproach her. Perhaps he understood for the first time how bitterly she had felt her brother's death, and how deeply she must be suffering, now that she knew herself to be face to face with his murderer.
She stole a quick glance at him, through her tears. She was deeply penitent for what she had said. It almost seemed to her as if a dual nature was at war within her.
The mention of her brother's name, the recollection of that awful night beside his dead body, of those four years whilst she watched her father's moribund reason slowly wandering towards the grave, seemed to rouse in her a spirit of rebellion, and of evil, which she felt was not entirely of herself.
The woods had become quite silent. It was late afternoon, and they had gradually wandered farther and farther away from pretty sylvan Suresness, towards great, anarchic, deathdealing Paris. In this part of the woods the birds had left their homes; the trees, shorn of their lower branches looked like gaunt spectres, raising melancholy heads towards the relentless, silent sky.
In the distance, from behind the barriers, a couple of miles away, the boom of a gun was heard.
"They are closing the barriers," he said quietly after a long pause. "I am glad I was fortunate enough to meet you."
"It was kind of you to seek for me," she said meekly. "I didn't mean what I said just now..."
"I pray you, say no more about it. I can so well understand. I only wish..."
"It would be best I should leave your house," she said gently; "I have so ill repaid your hospitality. Pétronelle and I can easily go back to our lodgings."
"You would break my mother's heart if you left her now," he said, almost roughly. "She has become very fond of you, and knows, just as well as I do, the dangers that would beset you outside my house. My coarse and grimy partisans," he added, with a bitter touch of sarcasm, "have that advantage, that they are loyal to me, and would not harm you while under my roof."
"But you..." she murmured.
She felt somehow that she had wounded him very deeply, and was half angry with herself for her seeming ingratitude, and yet childishly glad to have suppressed in him that attitude of mentorship, which he was beginning to assume over her.
"You need not fear that my presence will offend you much longer, mademoiselle," he said coldly. "I can quite understand how hateful it must be to you, though I would have wished that you could believe at least in my sincerity."
"Are you going away then?"
"Not out of Paris altogether. I have accepted the post of Governor of the Conciergerie."
"Ah!--where the poor Queen..."
She checked herself suddenly. Those words would have been called treasonable to the people of France.
Instinctively and furtively, as everyone did in these days, she cast a rapid glance behind her.
"You need not be afraid," he said; "there is no one here but Pétronelle."
"Oh! I echo your words. Poor Marie Antoinette!"
"You pity her?"
"How can I help it?"
"But your are that horrible National Convention, who will try her, condemn her, execute her as they did the King."
"I am of the National Convention. But I will not condemn her, nor be a party to another crime. I go as Governor of the Conciergerie, to help her, if I can."
"But your popularity--your life--if you befriend her?"
"As you say, mademoiselle, my life, if I befriend her," he said simply.
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