few words which Marguerite Blakeney had managed to read on the
half-scorched piece of paper, seemed literally to be the words
of Fate. "Start myself tomorrow. . . ." This she had read quite
distinctly; then came a blur caused by the smoke of the candle,
which obliterated the next few words; but, right at the bottom,
there was another sentence, like letters of fire, before her mental
vision, "If you wish to speak to me again I shall be in the supper-room
at one o'clock precisely." The whole was signed with the hastily-scrawled
little device--a tiny star-shaped flower, which had become so
familiar to her.
One o'clock precisely! It was now close upon eleven, the last
minuet was being danced, with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and beautiful
Lady Blakeney leading the couples, through its delicate and intricate
Close upon eleven! the hands of the handsome Louis XV. clock upon
its ormolu bracket seemed to move along with maddening rapidity.
Two hours more, and her fate and that of Armand would be sealed.
In two hours she must make up her mind whether she will keep the
knowledge so cunningly gained to herself, and leave her brother
to his fate, or whether she will wilfully betray a brave man,
whose life was devoted to his fellow-men, who was noble, generous,
and above all, unsuspecting. It seemed a horrible thing to do.
But then, there was Armand! Armand, too, was noble and brave,
Armand, too, was unsuspecting. And Armand loved her, would have
willingly trusted his life in her hands, and now, when she could
save him from death, she hesitated. Oh! it was monstrous; her
brother's kind, gentle face, so full of love for her, seemed to
be looking reproachfully at her. "You might have saved me, Margot!"
he seemed to say to her, "and you chose the life of a stranger,
a man you do not know, whom you have never seen, and preferred
that he should be safe, whilst you sent me to the guillotine!"
All these conflicting thoughts raged through Marguerite's brain,
while, with a smile upon her lips, she glided through the graceful
mazes of the minuet. She noted--with that acute sense of hers--that
she had succeeded in completely allaying Sir Andrew's fears. Her
self-control had been absolutely perfect--she was a finer actress
at this moment, and throughout the whole of this minuet, than
she had ever been upon the boards of the Comedie Francaise; but
then, a beloved brother's life had not depended upon her histrionic
She was too clever to overdo her part, and made no further allusions
to the supposed BILLET DOUX, which had caused Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
such an agonising five minutes. She watched his anxiety melting
away under her sunny smile, and soon perceived that, whatever
doubt may have crossed his mind at the moment, she had, by the
time the last bars of the minuet had been played, succeeded in
completely dispelling it; he never realised in what a fever of
excitement she was, what effort it cost her to keep up a constant
ripple of BANAL conversation.
When the minuet was over, she asked Sir Andrew to take her into
the next room.
"I have promised to go down to supper with His Royal Highness,"
she said, "but before we part, tell me. . .am I forgiven?"
"Yes! Confess, I gave you a fright just now. . . . But remember,
I am not an English woman, and I do not look upon the exchanging
of BILLET DOUX as a crime, and I vow I'll not tell my little Suzanne.
But now, tell me, shall I welcome you at my water-party on Wednesday?"
"I am not sure, Lady Blakeney," he replied evasively. "I may have
to leave London to-morrow."
"I would not do that, if I were you," she said earnestly; then
seeing the anxious look reappearing in his eyes, she added gaily;
"No one can throw a ball better than you can, Sir Andrew, we should
so miss you on the bowling-green."
He had led her across the room, to one beyond, where already His
Royal Highness was waiting for the beautiful Lady Blakeney.
"Madame, supper awaits us," said the Prince, offering his arm
to Marguerite, "and I am full of hope. The goddess Fortune has
frowned so persistently on me at hazard, that I look with confidence
for the smiles of the goddess of Beauty."
"Your Highness has been unfortunate at the card tables?" asked
Marguerite, as she took the Prince's arm.
"Aye! most unfortunate. Blakeney, not content with being the richest
among my father's subjects, has also the most outrageous luck.
By the way, where is that inimitable wit? I vow, Madam, that this
life would be but a dreary desert without your smiles and his
to Chapter 14 - ONE O'CLOCK PRECISELY!
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