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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 6/13 -
quietness: "Had there been cut away that mistaken sense of duty to him, which I admire unspeakably--yes, though it is misplaced--you and I would have come to each other's arms long ago. Here in your atmosphere I feel myself possessed, endowed. I come close to you, and something new in me cries out simply, 'I love you, Alixe, I love you!' See, all the damnable part of me is burned up by the clear fire of your eyes; I stand upon the ashes, and swear that I can not live without you. Come--come--"
He stepped nearer still, and she rose like one who moves under some fascination, and I almost cried out, for in that moment she was his, his--I felt it; he possessed her like some spirit; and I understood it, for the devilish golden beauty of his voice was like music, and he had spoken with great skill.
"Come," he said, "and know where all along your love has lain. That other way is only darkness--the convent, which will keep you buried, while you will never have heart for the piteous seclusion, till your life is broken all to pieces; till you have no hope, no desire, no love, and at last, under a cowl, you look out upon the world, and, with a dead heart, see it as in a pale dream, and die at last: you, born to be a wife, without a husband; endowed to be the perfect mother, without a child; to be the admired of princes, a moving, powerful figure to influence great men, with no salon but the little bare cell where you pray. With me all that you should be you will be. You have had a bad, dark dream; wake, and come into the sun with me. Once I wished for you as the lover only; now, by every hope I ever might have had, I want you for my wife."
He held out his arms to her and smiled, and spoke one or two low words which I could not hear. I had stood waiting death against the citadel wall, with the chance of a reprieve hanging between uplifted muskets and my breast; but that suspense was less than this, for I saw him, not moving, but standing there waiting for her, the warmth of his devilish eloquence about him, and she moving toward him.
"My darling," I heard him say, "come, till death...us do part, and let no man put asunder."
She paused, and, waking from the dream, drew herself together, as though something at her breast hurt her, and she repeated his words like one dazed--"Let no man put asunder!"
With a look that told of her great struggle, she moved to a shrine of the Virgin in the corner, and, clasping her hands before her breast for a moment, said something I could not hear, before she turned to Doltaire, who had now taken another step towards her. By his look I knew that he felt his spell was broken; that his auspicious moment had passed; that now, if he won her, it must be by harsh means.
For she said: "Monsieur Doltaire, you have defeated yourself. 'Let no man put asunder' was my response to my husband's 'Whom God hath joined,' when last I met him face to face. Nothing can alter that while he lives, nor yet when he dies, for I have had such a sorrowful happiness in him that if I were sure he were dead I would never leave this holy place--never. But he lives, and I will keep my vow. Holy Church has parted us, but yet we are not parted. You say that to think of him now is wrong, reflects upon me. I tell you, monsieur, that if it were a wrong a thousand times greater I would do it. To me there can be no shame in following till I die the man who took me honourably for his wife."
He made an impatient gesture and smiled ironically.
"Oh, I care not what you say or think," she went on. "I know not of things canonical and legal; the way that I was married to him is valid in his country and for his people. Bad Catholic you call me, alas! But I am a true wife, who, if she sinned, sinned not knowingly, and deserves not this tyranny and shame."
"You are possessed with a sad infatuation," he replied persuasively. "You are not the first who has suffered so. It will pass, and leave you sane--leave you to me. For you are mine; what you felt a moment ago you will feel again, when this romantic martyrdom of yours has wearied you."
"Monsieur Doltaire," she said, with a successful effort at calmness, though I could see her trembling too, "it is you who are mistaken, and I will show you how. But first: You have said often that I have unusual intelligence. You have flattered me in that, I doubt not, but still here is a chance to prove yourself sincere. I shall pass by every wicked means that you took first to ruin me, to divert me to a dishonest love (though I knew not what you meant at the time), and, failing, to make me your wife. I shall not refer to this base means to reach me in this sacred place, using the King's commission for such a purpose."
"I would use it again and do more, for the same ends," he rejoined, with shameless candour.
She waved her hand impatiently. "I pass all that by. You shall listen to me as I have listened to you, remembering that what I say is honest, if it has not your grace and eloquence. You say that I will yet come to you, that I care for you and have cared for you always, and that--that this other--is a sad infatuation. Monsieur, in part you are right."
He came another step forward, for he thought he saw a foothold again; but she drew back to the chair, and said, lifting her hand against him, "No, no, wait till I have done. I say that you are right in part. I will not deny that, against my will, you have always influenced me; that, try as I would, your presence moved me, and I could never put you out of my mind, out of my life. At first I did not understand it, for I knew how bad you were. I was sure you did evil because you loved it; that to gratify yourself you would spare no one: a man without pity--"
"On the contrary," he interrupted, with a sour sort of smile, "pity is almost a foible with me."
"Not real pity," she answered. "Monsieur, I have lived long enough to know what pity moves you. It is the moment's careless whim; a pensive pleasure, a dramatic tenderness. Wholesome pity would make you hesitate to harm others. You have no principles--"
"Pardon me, many," he urged politely, as he eyed her with admiration.
"Ah no, monsieur; habits, not principles. Your life has been one long irresponsibility. In the very maturity of your powers, you use them to win to yourself, to your empty heart, a girl who has tried to live according to the teachings of her soul and conscience. Were there not women elsewhere to whom it didn't matter--your abandoned purposes? Why did you throw your shadow on my path? You are not, never were, worthy of a good woman's love."
He laughed with a sort of bitterness. "Your sinner stands between two fires--" he said. She looked at him inquiringly, and he added, "the punishment he deserves and the punishment he does not deserve. But it is interesting to be thus picked out upon the stone, however harsh the picture. You said I influenced you--well?"
"Monsieur," she went on, "there were times when, listening to you, I needed all my strength to resist. I have felt myself weak and shaking when you came into the room. There was something in you that appealed to me, I know not what; but I do know that it was not the best of me, that it was emotional, some strange power of your personality--ah yes, I can acknowledge all now. You had great cleverness, gifts that startled and delighted; but yet I felt always, and that feeling grew and grew, that there was nothing in you wholly honest, that by artifice you had frittered away what once may have been good in you. Now all goodness in you was an accident of sense and caprice, not true morality."
"What has true morality to do with love of you?" he said.
"You ask me hard questions," she replied. "This it has to do with it: We go from morality to higher things, not from higher things to morality. Pure love is a high thing; yours was not high. To have put my life in your hands--ah no, no! And so I fought you. There was no question of yourself and Robert Moray--none. Him I knew to possess fewer gifts, but I knew him also to be what you could never be. I never measured him against you. What was his was all of me worth the having, and was given always; there was no change. What was yours was given only when in your presence, and then with hatred of myself and you--given to some baleful fascination in you. For a time, the more I struggled against it the more it grew, for there was nothing that could influence a woman which you did not do. Monsieur, if you had had Robert Moray's character and your own gifts, I could--monsieur, I could have worshiped you!"
Doltaire was in a kind of dream. He was sitting now in the high-backed chair, his mouth and chin in his hand, his elbow resting on the chair-arm. His left hand grasped the other arm, and he leaned forward with brows bent and his eyes fixed on her intently. It was a figure singularly absorbed, lost in study of some deep theme. Once his sword clanged against the chair as it slipped a little from its position, and he started almost violently, though the dull booming of a cannon in no wise seemed to break the quietness of the scene. He was dressed, as in the morning, in plain black, but now the star of Louis shone on his breast. His face was pale, but his eyes, with their swift-shifting lights, lived upon Alixe, devoured her.
She paused for an instant.
"Thou shalt not commit--idolatry," he remarked in a low, cynical tone, which the repressed feeling in his face and the terrible new earnestness of his look belied.
She flushed a little, and continued: "Yet all the time I was true to him, and what I felt concerning you he knew--I told him enough."
Suddenly there came into Doltaire's looks and manner an astounding change. Both hands caught the chair-arm, his lips parted with a sort of snarl, and his white teeth showed maliciously. It seemed as if, all at once, the courtier, the flaneur, the man of breeding, had gone, and you had before you the peasant, in a moment's palsy from the intensity of his fury.
"A thousand hells for him!" he burst out in the rough patois of Poictiers, and got to his feet. "You told him all, you confessed your fluttering fears and desires to him, while you let me play upon those ardent strings of feelings, that you might save him! You used me, Tinoir Doltaire, son of a king, to further your amour with a bourgeois Englishman! And he laughed in his sleeve, and soothed away those dangerous influences of the magician. By the God of heaven,
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