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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 5/13 -
the Madonna upon it! How many times did her eyes look into mine without knowing it! And more than once Doltaire followed her glance, and a faint smile passed over his face, as if he saw and was interested in the struggle in her, apart from his own passion and desires.
When first I looked in, she was standing near a tall high-backed chair, in almost the same position as on the day when Doltaire told me of Braddock's death, accused me of being a spy, and arrested me. It gave me, too, a thrill to see her raise her handkerchief to her mouth as if to stop a cry, as she had done then, the black sleeve falling away from her perfect rounded arm, now looking almost like marble against the lace. She held her handkerchief to her lips for quite a minute; and indeed it covered more than a little of her face, so that the features most showing were her eyes, gazing at Doltaire with a look hard to interpret, for there seemed in it trouble, entreaty, wonder, resistance, and a great sorrow--no fear, trepidation, or indirectness.
His disturbing words were these: "To-night I am the Governor of this country. You once doubted my power--that was when you would save your lover from death. I proved it in that small thing--I saved him. Well, when you saw me carried off to the Bastile--it looked like that--my power seemed to vanish: is it not so? We have talked of this before, but now is a time to review all things again. And once more I say I am the Governor of New France. I have had the commission in my hands ever since I came back. But I have spoken of it to no one--except your lover."
"My husband!" she said steadily, crushing the handkerchief in her hand, which now rested upon the chair-arm.
"Well, well, your husband--after a fashion. I did not care to use this as an argument. I chose to win you by personal means alone, to have you give yourself to Tinoir Doltaire because you set him before any other man. I am vain, you see; but then vanity is no sin when one has fine aspirations, and I aspire to you!"
She made a motion with her hand. "Oh, can you not spare me this to-day of all days in my life--your Excellency?"
"Let it be plain 'monsieur,'" he answered. "I can not spare you, for this day decides all. As I said, I desired you. At first my wish was to possess you at any cost: I was your hunter only. I am still your hunter, but in a different way. I would rather have you in my arms than save New France; and with Montcalm I could save it. Vaudreuil is a blunderer and a fool; he has sold the country. But what ambition is that? New France may come and go, and be forgotten, and you and I be none the worse. There are other provinces to conquer. But for me there is only one province, and I will lift my standard there, and build a grand chateau of my happiness there. That is my hope, and that is why I come to conquer it, and not the English. Let the English go--all save one, and he must die. Already he is dead; he died to-day at the altar of the cathedral--"
"No, no, no!" broke in Alixe, her voice low and firm.
"But yes," he said; "but yes, he is dead to you forever. The Church has said so; the state says so; your people say so; race and all manner of good custom say so; and I, who love you better--yes, a hundred times better than he--say so."
She made a hasty, deprecating gesture with her hand. "Oh, carry this old song elsewhere," she said, "for I am sick of it." There were now both scorn and weariness in her tone.
He had a singular patience, and he resented nothing. "I understand," he went on, "what it was sent your heart his way. He came to you when you were yet a child, before you had learnt the first secret of life. He was a captive, a prisoner, he had a wound got in fair fighting, and I will do him the credit to say he was an honest man; he was no spy."
She looked up at him with a slight flush, almost of gratitude. "I know that well," she returned. "I knew there was other cause than spying at the base of all ill treatment of him. I know that you, you alone, kept him prisoner here five long years."
"Not I; the Grande Marquise--for weighty reasons. You should not fret at those five years, since it gave you what you have cherished so much, a husband--after a fashion. But yet we will do him justice: he is an honourable fighter, he has parts and graces of a rude order. But he will never go far in life; he has no instincts and habits common with you; it has been, so far, a compromise, founded upon the old-fashioned romance of ill-used captive and soft-hearted maid; the compassion, too, of the superior for the low, the free for the caged."
"Compassion such as your Excellency feels for me, no doubt," she said, with a slow pride.
"You are caged, but you may be free," he rejoined meaningly.
"Yes, in the same market open to him, and at the same price of honour," she replied, with dignity.
"Will you not sit down?" he now said, motioning her to a chair politely, and taking one himself, thus pausing before he answered her.
I was prepared to see him keep a decorous distance from her. I felt he was acting upon deliberation; that he was trusting to the power of his insinuating address, his sophistry, to break down barriers. It was as if he felt himself at greater advantage, making no emotional demonstrations, so allaying her fears, giving her time to think; for it was clear he hoped to master her intelligence, so strong a part of her.
She sat down in the high-backed chair, and I noted that our batteries began to play upon the town--an unusual thing at night. It gave me a strange feeling--the perfect stillness of the holy place, the quiet movement of this tragedy before me, on which broke, with no modifying noises or turmoil, the shouting cannonade. Nature, too, it would have seemed, had forged a mood in keeping with the time, for there was no air stirring when we came in, and a strange stillness had come upon the landscape. In the pause, too, I heard a long, soft shuffling of feet in the corridor--the evening procession from the chapel--and a slow chant:
"I am set down in a wilderness, O Lord, I am alone. If a strange voice call, O teach me what to say; if I languish, O give me Thy cup to drink; O strengthen Thou my soul. Lord, I am like a sparrow far from home; O bring me to Thine honourable house. Preserve my heart, encourage me, according to Thy truth."
The words came to us distinctly yet distantly, swelled softly, and died away, leaving Alixe and Doltaire seated and looking at each other. Alixe's hands were clasped in her lap.
"Your honour is above all price," he said at last in reply to her. "But what is honour in this case of yours, in which I throw the whole interest of my life, stake all? For I am convinced that, losing, the book of fate will close for me. Winning, I shall begin again, and play a part in France which men shall speak of when I am done with all. I never had ambition for myself; for you, Alixe Duvarney, a new spirit lives in me.... I will be honest with you. At first I swore to cool my hot face in your bosom; and I would have done that at any price, and yet I would have stood by that same dishonour honourably to the end. Never in my whole life did I put my whole heart in any--episode--of admiration: I own it, for you to think what you will. There never was a woman whom, loving to-day,"--he smiled--"I could not leave to-morrow with no more than a pleasing kind of regret. Names that I ought to have recalled I forgot; incidents were cloudy, like childish remembrances. I was not proud of it; the peasant in me spoke against it sometimes. I even have wished that I, half peasant, had been--"
"If only you had been all peasant, this war, this misery of mine, had never been," she interrupted.
He nodded with an almost boyish candour. "Yes, yes, but I was half prince also; I had been brought up, one foot in a cottage and another in a palace. But for your misery: is it, then, misery? Need it be so? But lift your finger and all will be well. Do you wish to save your country? Would that be compensation? Then I will show you the way. We have three times as many soldiers as the English, though of poorer stuff. We could hold this place, could defeat them, if we were united and had but two thousand men. We have fifteen thousand. As it is now, Vaudreuil balks Montcalm, and that will ruin us in the end unless you make it otherwise. You would be a patriot? Then shut out forever this English captain from your heart, and open its doors to me. To-morrow I will take Vaudreuil's place, put your father in Bigot's, your brother in Ramesay's--they are both perfect and capable; I will strengthen the excellent Montcalm's hands in every way, will inspire the people, and cause the English to raise this siege. You and I will do this: the Church will bless us, the State will thank us; your home and country will be safe and happy, your father and brother honoured. This, and far, far greater things I will do for your sake."
He paused. He had spoken with a deep power, such as I knew he could use, and I did not wonder that she paled a little, even trembled before it.
"Will you not do it for France?" she said.
"I will not do it for France," he answered. "I will do it for you alone. Will you not be your country's friend? It is no virtue in me to plead patriotism--it is a mere argument, a weapon that I use; but my heart is behind it, and it is a means to that which you will thank me for one day. I would not force you to anything, but I would persuade your reason, question your foolish loyalty to a girl's mistake. Can you think that you are right? You have no friend that commends your cause; the whole country has upbraided you, the Church has cut you off from the man. All is against reunion with him, and most of all your own honour. Come with me, and be commended and blessed here, while over in France homage shall be done you. For you I would take from his Majesty a dukedom which he has offered me more than once."
Suddenly, with a passionate tone, he continued: "Your own heart is speaking for me. Have I not seen you tremble when I come near you?"
He rose and came forward a step or two. "You thought it was fear of me. It was fear, but fear of that in you which was pleading for me, while you had sworn yourself away to him who knows not and can never know how to love you, who has nothing kin with you in mind or heart--an alien of poor fortune, and poorer birth and prospects."
He fixed his eyes upon her, and went on, speaking with forceful
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