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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 4/13 -

Then he knocked loudly. No one came, and he knocked again and again. At last the door was opened by the Mother Superior, who was attended by two others. She started at seeing Doltaire.

"What do you wish, monsieur?" she asked.

"I come on business of the King, good Mother," he replied seriously, and stepped inside.

"It is a strange hour for business," she said severely.

"The King may come at all hours," he answered soothingly: "is it not so? By the law he may enter when he wills."

"You are not the King, monsieur," she objected, with her head held up sedately.

"Or the Governor may come, good Mother?"

"You are not the Governor, Monsieur Doltaire," she said, more sharply still.

"But a Governor may demand admittance to this convent, and by the order of his Most Christian Majesty he may not be refused: is it not so?"

"Must I answer the catechism of Monsieur Doltaire?"

"But is it not so?" he asked again urbanely.

"It is so, yet how does that concern you, monsieur?"

"In every way," and he smiled.

"This is unseemly, monsieur. What is your business?"

"The Governor's business, good Mother."

"Then let the Governor's messenger give his message and depart in peace," she answered, her hand upon the door.

"Not the Governor's messenger, but the Governor himself," he rejoined gravely.

He turned and was about to shut the door, but she stopped him. "This is no house for jesting, monsieur," she said. "I will arouse the town if you persist.--Sister," she added to one standing near, "the bell!"

"You fill your office with great dignity and merit, Mere St. George," he said, as he put out his hand and stayed the Sister. "I commend you for your discretion. Read this," he continued, handing her a paper.

A Sister held a light, and the Mother read it. As she did so Doltaire made a motion to Gabord, and he shut the door quickly on us. Mere St. George looked up from the paper, startled and frightened too.

"Your Excellency!" she exclaimed.

"You are the first to call me so," he replied. "I thought to leave untouched this good gift of the King, and to let the Marquis de Vaudreuil and the admirable Bigot untwist the coil they have made. But no. After some too generous misgivings, I now claim my own. I could not enter here, to speak with a certain lady, save as the Governor, but as the Governor I now ask speech with Mademoiselle Duvarney. Do you hesitate?" he added. "Do you doubt that signature of his Majesty? Then see this. Here is a line from the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the late Governor. It is not dignified, one might say it is craven, but it is genuine."

Again the distressed lady read, and again she said, "Your Excellency!" Then, "You wish to see her in my presence, your Excellency?"

"Alone, good Mother," he softly answered.

"Your Excellency, will you, the first officer in the land, defy our holy rules, and rob us of our privilege to protect and comfort and save?"

"I defy nothing," he replied. "The lady is here against her will, a prisoner. She desires not your governance and care. In any case, I must speak with her; and be assured, I honour you the more for your solicitude, and will ask your counsel when I have finished talk with her."

Was ever man so crafty? After a moment's thought she turned, dismissed the others, and led the way, and Gabord and I followed. We were bidden to wait outside a room, well lighted but bare, as I could see through the open door. Doltaire entered, smiling, and then bowed the nun on her way to summon Alixe. Gabord and I stood there, not speaking, for both were thinking of the dangerous game now playing. In a few minutes the Mother returned, bringing Alixe. The light from the open door shone upon her face. My heart leaped, for there was in her look such a deep sorrow. She was calm, save for those shining yet steady eyes; they were like furnaces, burning up the colour of her cheeks. She wore a soft black gown, with no sign of ornament, and her gold-brown hair was bound with a piece of black velvet ribbon. Her beauty was deeper than I had ever seen it; a peculiar gravity seemed to have added years to her life. As she passed me her sleeve brushed my arm, as it did that day I was arrested in her father's house. She started, as though I had touched her fingers, but only half turned toward me, for her mind was wholly occupied with the room where Doltaire was.

At that moment Gabord coughed slightly, and she turned quickly to him. Her eyes flashed intelligence, and presently, as she passed in, a sort of hope seemed to have come on her face to lighten its painful pensiveness. The Mother Superior entered with her, the door closed, and then, after a little, the Mother came out again. As she did so I saw a look of immediate purpose in her face, and her hurrying step persuaded me she was bent on some project of espial. So I made a sign to Gabord and followed her. As she turned the corner of the hallway just beyond, I stepped forward silently and watched her enter a room that would, I knew, be next to this we guarded.

Listening at the door for a moment, I suddenly and softly turned the handle and entered, to see the good Mother with a panel drawn in the wall before her, and her face set to it. She stepped back as I shut the door and turned the key in the lock. I put my finger to my lips, for she seemed about to cry out.

"Hush!" said I. "I watch for those who love her. I am here to serve her--and you."

"You are a servant of the Seigneur's?" she said, the alarm passing out of her face.

"I served the Seigneur, good Mother," I answered, "and I would lay down my life for ma'm'selle."

"You would hear?" she asked, pointing to the panel.

I nodded.

"You speak French not like a Breton or Norman," she added. "What is your province?"

"I am an Auvergnian."

She said no more, but motioned to me, enjoining silence also by a sign, and I stood with her beside the panel. Before it was a piece of tapestry which was mere gauze in one place, and I could see through and hear perfectly. The room we were in was at least four feet higher than the other, and we looked down on its occupants.

"Presently, holy Mother," said I, "all shall be told true to you, if you wish it. It is not your will to watch and hear; it is because you love the lady. But I love her, too, and I am to be trusted. It is not business for such as you."

She saw my implied rebuke, and said, as I thought a little abashed, "You will tell me all? And if he would take her forth, give me alarm in the room opposite yonder door, and stay them, and--"

"Stay them, holy Mother, at the price of my life. I have the honour of her family in my hands."

She looked at me gravely, and I assumed a peasant openness of look and honesty. She was deceived completely, and, without further speech, she stepped to the door like a ghost and was gone. I never saw a human being so noiseless, so uncanny. Our talk had been carried on silently, and I had closed the panel quietly, so that we could not be heard by Alixe or Doltaire. Now I was alone, to see and hear my wife in speech with my enemy, the man who had made a strong, and was yet to make a stronger fight to unseat me in her affections.

There was a moment's compunction, in which I hesitated to see this meeting; but there was Alixe's safety to be thought on, and what might he not here disclose of his intentions!--knowing which, I should act with judgment, and not in the dark. I trusted Alixe, though I knew well that this hour would see the great struggle in her between this scoundrel and myself. I knew that he had ever had a sort of power over her, even while she loathed his character; that he had a hundred graces I had not, place which I had not, an intellect that ever delighted me, and a will like iron when it was called into action. I thought for one moment longer ere I moved the panel. My lips closed tight, and I felt a pang at my heart.

Suppose, in this conflict, this singular man, acting on a nature already tried beyond reason, should bend it to his will, to which it was, in some radical ways, inclined? Well, if that should be, then I would go forth and never see her more. She must make her choice out of her own heart and spirit, and fight this fight alone, and having fought, and lost or won, the result should be final, should stand, though she was my wife, and I was bound in honour to protect her from all that might invade her loyalty, to cherish her through all temptation and distress. But our case was a strange one, and it must be dealt with according to its strangeness--our only guides our consciences. There were no precedents to meet our needs; our way had to be hewn out of a noisome, pathless wood. I made up my mind: I would hear and see all. So I slid the panel softly, and put my eyes to the tapestry. How many times did I see, in the next hour, my wife's eyes upraised to this very tapestry, as if appealing to

The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 4/13

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