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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 2. - 15/15 -
boast, is it? H'm! you touch great things with light fingers.' I nodded. 'Yes,' said I, 'when I have no great faith.' 'You have marvellous coldness for a girl that promised warmth in her youth,' he answered. 'Even I, who am old in these matters, can not think of this Moray's death without a twinge, for it is not like an affair of battle; but you seem to think of it in its relation to my "little boast," as you call it. Is it not so?'
"'No, no,' said I, with apparent indignation, 'you must not make me out so cruel. I am not so hard-hearted as you think. My brother is well--I have no feeling against Captain Moray on his account; and as for spying--well, it is only a painful epithet for what is done here and everywhere all the time.' 'Dear me, dear me,' he remarked lightly, 'what a mind you have for argument!--a born casuist; and yet, like all women, you would let your sympathy rule you in matters of state. But come,' he added, 'where do you think I have been?' It was hard to answer him gaily, and yet it must be done, and so I said, 'You have probably put yourself in prison, that you should not keep your tiny boast.' 'I have been in prison,' he answered, 'and I was on the wrong side, with no key--even locked in a chest-room of the Intendance,' he explained, 'but as yet I do not know by whom, nor am I sure why. After two days without food or drink, I managed to get out through the barred window. I spent three days in my room, ill, and here I am. You must not speak of this--you will not?' he asked me. 'To no one,' I answered gaily, 'but my other self.' 'Where is your other self?' he asked. 'In here,' said I, touching my bosom. I did not mean to turn my head away when I said it, but indeed I felt I could not look him in the eyes at the moment, for I was thinking of you.
"He mistook me; he thought I was coquetting with him, and he leaned forward to speak in my ear, so that I could feel his breath on my cheek. I turned faint, for I saw how terrible was this game I was playing; but oh, Robert, Robert,"--her hands fluttered towards me, then drew back--"it was for your sake, for your sake, that I let his hand rest on mine an instant, as he said: 'I shall go hunting THERE to find your other self. Shall I know the face if I see it?' I drew my hand away, for it was torture to me, and I hated him, but I only said a little scornfully, 'You do not stand by your words. You said'--here I laughed a little disdainfully--'that you would meet the first test to prove your right to follow the second boast.'
"He got to his feet, and said in a low, firm voice: 'Your memory is excellent, your aplomb perfect. You are young to know it all so well. But you bring your own punishment,' he added, with a wicked smile, 'and you shall pay hereafter. I am going to the Governor. Bigot has arrived, and is with Madame Cournal yonder. You shall have proof in half an hour.'
"Then he left me. An idea occurred to me. If he succeeded in staying your execution, you would in all likelihood be placed in the common jail. I would try to get an order from the Governor to visit the jail to distribute gifts to the prisoners, as my mother and I had done before on the day before Christmas. So, while Monsieur Doltaire was passing with Bigot and the Chevalier de la Darante into another room, I asked the Governor; and that very moment, at my wish, he had his secretary write the order, which he countersigned and handed me, with a gift of gold for the prisoners. As he left my mother and myself, Monsieur Doltaire came back with Bigot, and, approaching the Governor, they led him away, engaging at once in serious talk. One thing I noticed: as monsieur and Bigot came up, I could see monsieur eying the Intendant askance, as though he would read treachery; for I feel sure that it was Bigot who contrived to have monsieur shut up in the chest-room. I can not quite guess the reason, unless it be true what gossips say, that Bigot is jealous of the notice Madame Cournal has given Doltaire, who visits much at her house.
"Well, they asked me to sing, and so I did; and can you guess what it was? Even the voyageurs' song,--
'Brothers, we go to the Scarlet Hills, (Little gold sun, come out of the dawn!)'
I know not how I sang it, for my heart, my thoughts, were far away in a whirl of clouds and mist, as you may see a flock of wild ducks in the haze upon a river, flying they know not whither, save that they follow the sound of the stream. I was just ending the song when Monsieur Doltaire leaned over me, and said in my ear, 'To-morrow I shall invite Captain Moray from the scaffold to my breakfast-table--or, better still, invite myself to his own.' His hand caught mine, as I gave a little cry; for when I felt sure of your reprieve, I could not, Robert, I could not keep it back. He thought I was startled at his hand-pressure, and did not guess the real cause.
"'I have met one challenge, and I shall meet the other,' he said quickly. 'It is not so much a matter of power, either; it is that engine opportunity. You and I should go far in this wicked world,' he added. 'We think together, we see through ladders. I admire you, mademoiselle. Some men will say they love you; and they should, or they have no taste; and the more they love you, the better pleased am I--if you are best pleased with me. But it is possible for men to love and not to admire. It is a foolish thing to say that reverence must go with love. I know men who have lost their heads and their souls for women whom they knew infamous. But when one admires where one loves, then in the ebb and flow of passion the heart is safe, for admiration holds when the sense is cold.'
"You know well, Robert, how clever he is; how, listening to him, you must admit his talent and his power. But oh, believe that, though I am full of wonder at his cleverness, I can not bear him very near me."
She paused. I looked most gravely at her, as well one might who saw so sweet a maid employing her heart thus, and the danger that faced her. She misread my look a little, maybe, for she said at once:
"I must be honest with you, and so I tell you all--all, else the part I play were not possible to me. To you I can speak plainly, pour out my soul. Do not fear for me. I see a battle coming between that man and me, but I shall fight it stoutly, worthily, so that in this, at least, I shall never have to blush for you that you loved me. Be patient, Robert, and never doubt me; for that would make me close the doors of my heart, though I should never cease to aid you, never weary in labor for your well-being. If these things, and fighting all these wicked men, to make Doltaire help me to save you, have schooled to action some worse parts of me, there is yet in me that which shall never be brought low, never be dragged to the level of Versailles or the Chateau Bigot--never!"
She looked at me with such dignity and pride that my eyes filled with tears, and, not to be stayed, I reached out and took her hands, and would have clasped her to my breast, but she held back from me.
"You believe in me, Robert?" she said most earnestly. "You will never doubt me? You know that I am true and loyal."
"I believe in God, and you," I answered reverently, and I took her in my arms and kissed her. I did not care at all whether or no Gabord saw; but indeed he did not, as Alixe told me afterwards, for, womanlike, even in this sweet crisis she had an eye for such details.
"What more did he say?" I asked, my heart beating hard in the joy of that embrace.
"No more, or little more, for my mother came that instant and brought me to talk with the Chevalier de la Darante, who wished to ask me for next summer to Kamaraska or Isle aux Coudres, where he has manorhouses. Before I left Monsieur Doltaire, he said, 'I never made a promise but I wished to break it. This one shall balance all I've broken, for I'll never unwish it.'
"My mother heard this, and so I summoned all my will, and said gaily, 'Poor broken crockery! You stand a tower among the ruins.' This pleased him, and he answered, 'On the tower base is written, This crockery outserves all others.' My mother looked sharply at me, but said nothing, for she has come to think that I am heartless and cold to men and to the world, selfish in many things."
At this moment Gabord turned round, saying, "'Tis time to be done. Madame comes."
"It is my mother," said Alixe, standing up, and hastily placing her hands in mine. "I must be gone. Good-bye, good-bye."
There was no chance for further adieu, and I saw her pass out with Gabord; but she turned at the last, and said in English, for she spoke it fairly now, "Believe, and remember."
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