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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 4. - 3/14 -
I know what you mean. But what care I what the world may think by-and-bye, or to-morrow, or to-day? My conscience is clear."
"Your father--" I persisted.
She nodded. "Yes, yes, you speak truth, alas! And yet you must be freed. And"--here she got to her feet, and with flashing eyes spoke out--"and you shall be set free. Let come what will, I owe my first duty to you, though all the world chatter; and I will not stir from that. As soon as I can make it possible, you shall escape."
"You shall have the right to set me free," said I, "if I must go to your father's house. And if I do not go there, but out to my own good country, you shall still have the right before all the world to follow, or to wait till I come to fetch you."
"I do not understand you, Robert," said she. "I do not--" Here she broke off, looking, looking at me, and trembling a little.
Then I stooped and whispered softly in her ear. She gave a little cry, and drew back from me; yet instantly her hand came out and caught my arm.
"Robert, Robert! I can not, I dare not!" she cried softly. "No, no, it may not be," she added in a whisper of fear.
I went to the alcove, drew back the curtain, and asked Mr. Wainfleet to step forth.
"Sir," said I, picking up my Prayer Book and putting it in his hands, "I beg you to marry this lady and myself."
He paused, dazed. "Marry you--here--now?" he asked shakingly.
"Before ten minutes go round, this lady must be my wife," said I.
"Mademoiselle Duvarney, you--" he began.
"Be pleased, dear sir, to open the book at 'Wilt thou have,'" said I. "The lady is a Catholic; she has not the consent of her people; but when she is my wife, made so by you, whose consent need we ask? Can you not tie us fast enough, a man and woman of sense sufficient, but you must pause here? Is the knot you tie safe against picking and stealing?"
I had touched his vanity and his ecclesiasticism. "Married by me," he replied, "once chaplain to the Bishop of London, you have a knot that no sword can cut. I am in full orders. My parish is in Boston itself."
"You will hand a certificate to my wife to-morrow, and you will uphold this marriage against all gossip?" asked I.
"Against all France and all England," he answered, roused now.
"Then come," I urged.
"But I must have a witness," he interposed, opening the book.
"You shall have one in due time," said I. "Go on. When the marriage is performed, and at the point where you shall proclaim us man and wife, I will have a witness."
I turned to Alixe, and found her pale and troubled. "Oh, Robert, Robert!" she cried, "it can not be. Now, now I am afraid, for the first time in my life, clear, the first time!"
"Dearest lass in the world," I said, "it must be. I shall not go to your father's. To-morrow night, I make my great stroke for freedom, and when I am free I shall return to fetch my wife."
"You will try to escape from here to-morrow?" she asked, her face flushing finely.
"I will escape or die," I answered; "but I shall not think of death. Come--come and say with me that we shall part no more--in spirit no more; that, whatever comes, you and I have fulfilled our great hope, though under the shadow of the sword."
At that she put her hand in mine with pride and sweetness, and said, "I am ready, Robert. I give my heart, my life, and my honour to you--forever."
Then, with great sweetness and solemnity she turned to the clergyman: "Sir, my honour is also in your hands. If you have mother or sister, or any care of souls upon you, I pray you, in the future act as becomes good men."
"Mademoiselle," he said earnestly, "I am risking my freedom, maybe my life, in this; do you think--"
Here she took his hand and pressed it. "Ah, I ask your pardon. I am of a different faith from you, and I have known how men forget when they should remember." She smiled at him so perfectly that he drew himself up with pride.
"Make haste, sir," said I. "Jailers are curious folk."
The room was not yet lighted, the evening shadows were creeping in, and up out of the town came the ringing of the vesper bell from the church of the Recollets. For a moment there was stillness in the room and all around us, and then the chaplain began in a low voice: "I require and charge you both--" and so on. In a few moments I had made the great vow, and had put on Alixe's finger a ring which the clergyman drew from his own hand. Then we knelt down, and I know we both prayed most fervently with the good man that we might "ever remain in perfect love and perfect peace together."
Rising, he paused, and I went to the door and knocked upon it. It was opened by Gabord. "Come in, Gabord," said I. "There is a thing that you must hear."
He stepped back and got a light, and then entered, holding it up, and shutting the door. A strange look came upon his face when he saw the chaplain, and a stranger when, stepping beside Alixe, I took her hand, and Mr. Wainfleet declared us man and wife. He stood like one dumfounded, and he did not stir as Alixe, turning to me, let me kiss her on the lips, and then went to the crucifix on the wall and embraced the feet of it, and stood for a moment, praying. Nor did he move or make a sign till she came back and stood beside me.
"A pretty scene!" he burst forth then with anger. "But, by God! no marriage is it!"
Alixe's hand tightened on my arm, and she drew close to me.
"A marriage that will stand at Judgment Day, Gabord," said I.
"But not in France or here. 'Tis mating wild, with end of doom."
"It is a marriage our great Archbishop at Lambeth Palace will uphold against a hundred popes and kings," said the chaplain with importance.
"You are no priest, but holy peddler!" cried Gabord roughly. "This is not mating as Christians, and fires of hell shall burn--aho! I will see you all go down, and hand of mine shall not be lifted for you!"
He puffed out his cheeks, and his great eyes rolled so like fire-wheels.
"You are a witness to this ceremony," said the chaplain. "And you shall answer to your God, but you must speak the truth for this man and wife."
"Man and wife?" laughed Gabord wildly. "May I die and be damned to--"
Like a flash Alixe was beside him, and put to his lips most swiftly the little wooden cross that Mathilde had given her.
"Gabord, Gabord," she said in a sweet, sad voice, "when you may come to die, a girl's prayers will be waiting at God's feet for you."
He stopped, and stared at her. Her hand lay on his arm, and she continued: "No night gives me sleep, Gabord, but I pray for the jailer who has been kind to an ill-treated gentleman."
"A juggling gentleman, that cheats Gabord before his eyes, and smuggles in a mongrel priest!" he blustered.
I waved my hand at the chaplain, or I think he would have put his Prayer Book to rougher use than was its wont, and I was about to answer, but Alixe spoke instead, and to greater purpose than I could have done. Her whole mood changed, her face grew still and proud, her eyes flashed bravely.
"Gabord," she said, "vanity speaks in you there, not honesty. No gentleman here is a juggler. No kindness you may have done warrants insolence. You have the power to bring great misery on us, and you may have the will, but, by God's help, both my husband and myself shall be delivered from cruel hands. At any moment I may stand alone in the world, friends, people, the Church, and all the land against me: if you desire to haste that time, to bring me to disaster, because you would injure my husband,"--how sweet the name sounded on her lips!--"then act, but do not insult us. But no, no," she broke off softly, "you spoke in temper, you meant it not, you were but vexed with us for the moment. Dear Gabord," she added, "did we not know that if we had asked you first, you would have refused us? You care so much for me, you would have feared my linking my life and fate with one--"
"With one the death-man has in hand, to pay price for wicked deed," he interrupted.
"With one innocent of all dishonour, a gentleman wronged every way. Gabord, you know it so, for you have guarded him and fought with him, and you are an honourable gentleman," she added gently.
"No gentleman I," he burst forth, "but jailer base, and soldier born upon a truss of hay. But honour is an apple any man may eat since Adam walked in garden.... 'Tis honest foe, here," he continued magnanimously, and nodded towards me.
"We would have told you all," she said, "but how dare we involve you, or how dare we tempt you, or how dare we risk your refusal? It was love and truth drove us to this; and God will bless this mating
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