few minutes later she was sitting, wrapped in cozy furs, near
Sir Percy Blakeney on the box-seat of his magnificent coach, and
the four splendid bays had thundered down the quiet street.
The night was warm in spite of the gentle breeze which fanned
Marguerite's burning cheeks. Soon London houses were left behind,
and rattling over old Hammersmith Bridge, Sir Percy was driving
his bays rapidly towards Richmond.
The river wound in and out in its pretty delicate curves, looking
like a silver serpent beneath the glittering rays of the moon.
Long shadows from overhanging trees spread occasional deep palls
right across the road. The bays were rushing along at breakneck
speed, held but slightly back by Sir Percy's strong, unerring
These nightly drives after balls and suppers in London were a
source of perpetual delight to Marguerite, and she appreciated
her husband's eccentricity keenly, which caused him to adopt this
mode of taking her home every night, to their beautiful home by
the river, instead of living in a stuffy London house. He loved
driving his spirited horses along the lonely, moonlit roads, and
she loved to sit on the box-seat, with the soft air of an English
late summer's night fanning her face after the hot atmosphere
of a ball or supper-party. The drive was not a long one--less
than an hour, sometimes, when the bays were very fresh, and Sir
Percy gave them full rein.
To-night he seemed to have a very devil in his fingers, and the
coach seemed to fly along the road, beside the river. As usual,
he did not speak to her, but stared straight in front of him,
the ribbons seeming to lie quite loosely in his slender, white
hands. Marguerite looked at him tentatively once or twice; she
could see his handsome profile, and one lazy eye, with its straight
fine brow and drooping heavy lid.
The face in the moonlight looked singularly earnest, and recalled
to Marguerite's aching heart those happy days of courtship, before
he had become the lazy nincompoop, the effete fop, whose life
seemed spent in card and supper rooms.
But now, in the moonlight, she could not catch the expression
of the lazy blue eyes; she could only see the outline of the firm
chin, the corner of the strong mouth, the well-cut massive shape
of the forehead; truly, nature had meant well by Sir Percy; his
faults must all be laid at the door of that poor, half-crazy mother,
and of the distracted heart-broken father, neither of whom had
cared for the young life which was sprouting up between them,
and which, perhaps, their very carelessness was already beginning
Marguerite suddenly felt intense sympathy for her husband. The
moral crisis she had just gone through made her feel indulgent
towards the faults, the delinquencies, of others.
How thoroughly a human being can be buffeted and overmastered
by Fate, had been borne in upon her with appalling force. Had
anyone told her a week ago that she would stoop to spy upon her
friends, that she would betray a brave and unsuspecting man into
the hands of a relentless enemy, she would have laughed the idea
Yet she had done these things; anon, perhaps the death of that
brave man would be at her door, just as two years ago the Marquis
de St. Cyr had perished through a thoughtless words of hers; but
in that case she was morally innocent--she had meant no serious
harm--fate merely had stepped in. But this time she had done a
thing that obviously was base, had done it deliberately, for a
motive which, perhaps, high moralists would not even appreciate.
As she felt her husband's strong arm beside her, she also felt
how much more he would dislike and despise her, if he knew of
this night's work. Thus human beings judge of one another, with
but little reason, and no charity. She despised her husband for
his inanities and vulgar, unintellectual occupations; and he,
she felt, would despise her still worse, because she had not been
strong enough to do right for right's sake, and to sacrifice her
brother to the dictates of her conscience.
Buried in her thoughts, Marguerite had found this hour in the
breezy summer night all too brief; and it was with a feeling of
keen disappointment, that she suddenly realised that the bays
had turned into the massive gates of her beautiful English home.
Sir Percy Blakeney's house on the river has become a historic
one: palatial in its dimensions, it stands in the midst of exquisitely
laid-out gardens, with a picturesque terrace and frontage to the
river. Built in Tudor days, the old red brick of the walls looks
eminently picturesque in the midst of a bower of green, the beautiful
lawn, with its old sun-dial, adding the true note of harmony to
its foregrounds, and now, on this warm early autumn night, the
leaves slightly turned to russets and gold, the old garden looked
singularly poetic and peaceful in the moonlight.
With unerring precision, Sir Percy had brought the four bays to
a standstill immediately in front of the fine Elizabethan entrance
hall; in spite of the late hour, an army of grooms seemed to have
emerged from the very ground, as the coach had thundered up, and
were standing respectfully round.
Sir Percy jumped down quickly, then helped Marguerite to alight.
She lingered outside a moment, whilst he gave a few orders to
one of his men. She skirted the house, and stepped on to the lawn,
looking out dreamily into the silvery landscape. Nature seemed
exquisitely at peace, in comparison with the tumultuous emotions
she had gone through: she could faintly hear the ripple of the
river and the occasional soft and ghostlike fall of a dead leaf
from a tree.
All else was quiet round her. She had heard the horses prancing
as they were being led away to their distant stables, the hurrying
of servant's feet as they had all gone within to rest: the house
also was quite still. In two separate suites of apartments, just
above the magnificent reception-rooms, lights were still burning,
they were her rooms, and his, well divided from each other by
the whole width of the house, as far apart as their own lives
had become. Involuntarily she sighed--at that moment she could
really not have told why.
She was suffering from unconquerable heartache. Deeply and achingly
she was sorry for herself. Never had she felt so pitiably lonely,
so bitterly in want of comfort and of sympathy. With another sigh
she turned away from the river towards the house, vaguely wondering
if, after such a night, she could ever find rest and sleep.
Suddenly, before she reached the terrace, she heard a firm step
upon the crisp gravel, and the next moment her husband's figure
emerged out of the shadow. He too, had skirted the house, and
was wandering along the lawn, towards the river. He still wore
his heavy driving coat with the numerous lapels and collars he
himself had set in fashion, but he had thrown it well back, burying
his hands as was his wont, in the deep pockets of his satin breeches:
the gorgeous white costume he had worn at Lord Grenville's ball,
with its jabot of priceless lace, looked strangely ghostly against
the dark background of the house.
He apparently did not notice her, for, after a few moments pause,
he presently turned back towards the house, and walked straight
up to the terrace.
He already had one foot on the lowest of the terrace steps, but
at her voice he started, and paused, then looked searchingly into
the shadows whence she had called to him.
She came forward quickly into the moonlight, and, as soon as he
saw her, he said, with that air of consummate gallantry he always
wore when speaking to her,--
"At your service, Madame!" But his foot was still on the step,
and in his whole attitude there was a remote suggestion, distinctly
visible to her, that he wished to go, and had no desire for a
"The air is deliciously cool," she said, "the moonlight peaceful
and poetic, and the garden inviting. Will you not stay in it awhile;
the hour is not yet late, or is my company so distasteful to you,
that you are in a hurry to rid yourself of it?"
"Nay, Madame," he rejoined placidly, "but `tis on the other foot
the shoe happens to be, and I'll warrant you'll find the midnight
air more poetic without my company: no doubt the sooner I remove
the obstruction the better your ladyship will like it."
He turned once more to go.
"I protest you mistake me, Sir Percy," she said hurriedly, and
drawing a little closer to him; "the estrangement, which alas!
has arisen between us, was none of my making, remember."
"Begad! you must pardon me there, Madame!" he protested coldly,
"my memory was always of the shortest."
He looked her straight in the eyes, with that lazy non-chalance
which had become second nature to him. She returned his gaze for
a moment, then her eyes softened, as she came up quite close to
him, to the foot of the terrace steps.
"Of the shortest, Sir Percy! Faith! how it must have altered!
Was it three years ago or four that you saw me for one hour in
Paris, on your way to the East? When you came back two years later
you had not forgotten me."
She looked divinely pretty as she stood there in the moonlight,
with the fur-cloak sliding off her beautiful shoulders, the gold
embroidery on her dress shimmering around her, her childlike blue
eyes turned up fully at him.
He stood for a moment, rigid and still, but for the clenching
of his hand against the stone balustrade of the terrace.
"You desired my presence, Madame," he said frigidly. "I take it
that it was not with the view to indulging in tender reminiscences."
His voice certainly was cold and uncompromising: his attitude
before her, stiff and unbending. Womanly decorum would have suggested
Marguerite should return coldness for coldness, and should sweep
past him without another word, only with a curt nod of her head:
but womanly instinct suggested that she should remain--that keen
instinct, which makes a beautiful woman conscious of her powers
long to bring to her knees the one man who pays her no homage.
She stretched out her hand to him.
"Nay, Sir Percy, why not? the present is not so glorious but that
I should not wish to dwell a little in the past."
He bent his tall figure, and taking hold of the extreme tip of
the fingers which she still held out to him, he kissed them ceremoniously.
"I' faith, Madame," he said, "then you will pardon me, if my dull
wits cannot accompany you there."
Once again he attempted to go, once more her voice, sweet, childlike,
almost tender, called him back.
"Your servant, Madame."
"Is it possible that love can die?" she said with sudden, unreasoning
vehemence. "Methought that the passion which you once felt for
me would outlast the span of human life. Is there nothing left
of that love, Percy. . .which might help you. . .to bridge over
that sad estrangement?"
His massive figure seemed, while she spoke thus to him, to stiffen
still more, the strong mouth hardened, a look of relentless obstinacy
crept into the habitually lazy blue eyes.
"With what object, I pray you, Madame?" he asked coldly.
"I do not understand you."
"Yet `tis simple enough," he said with sudden bitterness, which
seemed literally to surge through his words, though he was making
visible efforts to suppress it, "I humbly put the question to
you, for my slow wits are unable to grasp the cause of this, your
ladyship's sudden new mood. Is it that you have the taste to renew
the devilish sport which you played so successfully last year?
Do you wish to see me once more a love-sick suppliant at your
feet, so that you might again have the pleasure of kicking me
aside, like a troublesome lap-dog?"
She had succeeded in rousing him for the moment: and again she
looked straight at him, for it was thus she remembered him a year
"Percy! I entreat you!" she whispered, "can we not bury the past?"
"Pardon me, Madame, but I understood you to say that your desire
was to dwell in it."
"Nay! I spoke not of THAT past, Percy!" she said, while a tone
of tenderness crept into her voice. "Rather did I speak of a time
when you loved me still! and I. . .oh! I was vain and frivolous;
your wealth and position allured me: I married you, hoping in
my heart that your great love for me would beget in me a love
for you. . .but, alas!. . ."
The moon had sunk low down behind a bank of clouds. In the east
a soft grey light was beginning to chase away the heavy mantle
of the night. He could only see her graceful outline now, the
small queenly head, with its wealth of reddish golden curls, and
the glittering gems forming the small, star-shaped, red flower
which she wore as a diadem in her hair.
"Twenty-four hours after our marriage, Madame, the Marquis de
St. Cyr and all his family perished on the guillotine, and the
popular rumour reached me that it was the wife of Sir Percy Blakeney
who helped to send them there."
"Nay! I myself told you the truth of that odious tale."
"Not till after it had been recounted to me by strangers, with
all its horrible details."
"And you believed them then and there," she said with great vehemence,
"without a proof or question--you believed that I, whom you vowed
you loved more than life, whom you professed you worshipped, that
_I_ could do a thing so base as these STRANGERS chose to recount.
You thought I meant to deceive you about it all--that I ought
to have spoken before I married you: yet, had you listened, I
would have told you that up to the very morning on which St. Cyr
went to the guillotine, I was straining every nerve, using every
influence I possessed, to save him and his family. But my pride
sealed my lips, when your love seemed to perish, as if under the
knife of that same guillotine. Yet I would have told you how I
was duped! Aye! I, whom that same popular rumour had endowed with
the sharpest wits in France! I was tricked into doing this thing,
by men who knew how to play upon my love for an only brother,
and my desire for revenge. Was it unnatural?"
Her voice became choked with tears. She paused for a moment or
two, trying to regain some sort of composure. She looked appealingly
at him, almost as if he were her judge. He had allowed her to
speak on in her own vehement, impassioned way, offering no comment,
no word of sympathy: and now, while she paused, trying to swallow
down the hot tears that gushed to her eyes, he waited, impassive
and still. The dim, grey light of early dawn seemed to make his
tall form look taller and more rigid. The lazy, good-natured face
looked strangely altered. Marguerite, excited, as she was, could
see that the eyes were no longer languid, the mouth no longer
good-humoured and inane. A curious look of intense passion seemed
to glow from beneath his drooping lids, the mouth was tightly
closed, the lips compressed, as if the will alone held that surging
passion in check.
Marguerite Blakeney was, above all, a woman, with all a woman's
fascinating foibles, all a woman's most lovable sins. She knew
in a moment that for the past few months she had been mistaken:
that this man who stood here before her, cold as a statue, when
her musical voice struck upon his ear, loved her, as he had loved
her a year ago: that his passion might have been dormant, but
that it was there, as strong, as intense, as overwhelming, as
when first her lips met his in one long, maddening kiss. Pride
had kept him from her, and, woman-like, she meant to win back
that conquest which had been hers before. Suddenly it seemed to
her that the only happiness life could every hold for her again
would be in feeling that man's kiss once more upon her lips.
"Listen to the tale, Sir Percy," she said, and her voice was low,
sweet, infinitely tender. "Armand was all in all to me! We had
no parents, and brought one another up. He was my little father,
and I, his tiny mother; we loved one another so. Then one day--do
you mind me, Sir Percy? the Marquis de St. Cyr had my brother
Armand thrashed--thrashed by his lacqueys--that brother whom I
loved better than all the world! And his offence? That he, a plebeian,
had dared to love the daughter of the aristocrat; for that he
was waylaid and thrashed. . .thrashed like a dog within an inch
of his life! Oh, how I suffered! his humiliation had eaten into
my very soul! When the opportunity occurred, and I was able to
take my revenge, I took it. But I only thought to bring that proud
marquis to trouble and humiliation. He plotted with Austria against
his own country. Chance gave me knowledge of this; I spoke of
it, but I did not know--how could I guess?--they trapped and duped
me. When I realised what I had done, it was too late."
"It is perhaps a little difficult, Madame," said Sir Percy, after
a moment of silence between them, "to go back over the past. I
have confessed to you that my memory is short, but the thought
certainly lingered in my mind that, at the time of the Marquis'
death, I entreated you for an explanation of those same noisome
popular rumours. If that same memory does not, even now, play
me a trick, I fancy that you refused me ALL explanation then,
and demanded of my love a humiliating allegiance it was not prepared
"I wished to test your love for me, and it did not bear the test.
You used to tell me that you drew the very breath of life but
for me, and for love of me."
"And to probe that love, you demanded that I should forfeit mine
honour," he said, whilst gradually his impassiveness seemed to
leave him, his rigidity to relax; "that I should accept without
murmur or question, as a dumb and submissive slave, every action
of my mistress. My heart overflowing with love and passion, I
ASKED for no explanation--I WAITED for one, not doubting--only
hoping. Had you spoken but one word, from you I would have accepted
any explanation and believed it. But you left me without a word,
beyond a bald confession of the actual horrible facts; proudly
you returned to your brother's house, and left me alone. . .for
weeks. . .not knowing, now, in whom to believe, since the shrine,
which contained my one illusion, lay shattered to earth at my
She need not complain now that he was cold and impassive; his
very voice shook with an intensity of passion, which he was making
superhuman efforts to keep in check.
"Aye! the madness of my pride!" she said sadly. "Hardly had I
gone, already I had repented. But when I returned, I found you,
oh, so altered! wearing already that mask of somnolent indifference
which you have never laid aside until. . .until now."
She was so close to him that her soft, loose hair was wafted against
his cheek; her eyes, glowing with tears, maddened him, the music
in her voice sent fire through his veins. But he would not yield
to the magic charm of this woman whom he had so deeply loved,
and at whose hands his pride had suffered so bitterly. He closed
his eyes to shut out the dainty vision of that sweet face, of
that snow-white neck and graceful figure, round which the faint
rosy light of dawn was just beginning to hover playfully.
"Nay, Madame, it is no mask," he said icily; "I swore to you.
. .once, that my life was yours. For months now it has been your
plaything. . .it has served its purpose."
But now she knew that the very coldness was a mask. The trouble,
the sorrow she had gone through last night, suddenly came back
into her mind, but no longer with bitterness, rather with a feeling
that this man who loved her, would help her bear the burden.
"Sir Percy," she said impulsively, "Heaven knows you have been
at pains to make the task, which I had set to myself, difficult
to accomplish. You spoke of my mood just now; well! we will call
it that, if you will. I wished to speak to you. . .because. .
.because I was in trouble. . .and had need. . .of your sympathy."
"It is yours to command, Madame."
"How cold you are!" she sighed. "Faith! I can scarce believe that
but a few months ago one tear in my eye had set you well-nigh
crazy. Now I come to you. . .with a half-broken heart. . .and.
. . and. . ."
"I pray you, Madame," he said, whilst his voice shook almost as
much as hers, "in what way can I serve you?"
"Percy!--Armand is in deadly danger. A letter of his. . . rash,
impetuous, as were all his actions, and written to Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, has fallen into the hands of a fanatic. Armand is hopelessly
compromised. . .to-morrow, perhaps he will be arrested. . . after
that the guillotine. . .unless. . .oh! it is horrible!". . . she
said, with a sudden wail of anguish, as all the events of the
past night came rushing back to her mind, "horrible!. . .and you
do not understand. . .you cannot. . .and I have no one to whom
I can turn. . .for help. . .or even for sympathy. . ."
Tears now refused to be held back. All her trouble, her struggles,
the awful uncertainty of Armand's fate overwhelmed her. She tottered,
ready to fall, and leaning against the tone balustrade, she buried
her face in her hands and sobbed bitterly.
At first mention of Armand St. Just's name and of the peril in
which he stood, Sir Percy's face had become a shade more pale;
and the look of determination and obstinacy appeared more marked
than ever between his eyes. However, he said nothing for the moment,
but watched her, as her delicate frame was shaken with sobs, watched
her until unconsciously his face softened, and what looked almost
like tears seemed to glisten in his eyes.
"And so," he said with bitter sarcasm, "the murderous dog of the
revolution is turning upon the very hands that fed it?. . .Begad,
Madame," he added very gently, as Marguerite continued to sob
hysterically, "will you dry your tears?. . .I never could bear
to see a pretty woman cry, and I. . ."
Instinctively, with sudden overmastering passion at the sight
of her helplessness and of her grief, he stretched out his arms,
and the next, would have seized her and held her to him, protected
from every evil with his very life, his very heart's blood. .
. . But pride had the better of it in this struggle once again;
he restrained himself with a tremendous effort of will, and said
coldly, though still very gently,--
"Will you not turn to me, Madame, and tell me in what way I may
have the honour to serve you?"
She made a violent effort to control herself, and turning her
tear-stained face to him, she once more held out her hand, which
he kissed with the same punctilious gallantry; but Marguerite's
fingers, this time, lingered in his hand for a second or two longer
than was absolutely necessary, and this was because she had felt
that his hand trembled perceptibly and was burning hot, whilst
his lips felt as cold as marble.
"Can you do aught for Armand?" she said sweetly and simply. "You
have so much influence at court. . .so many friends. . ."
"Nay, Madame, should you not seek the influence of your French
friend, M. Chauvelin? His extends, if I mistake not, even as far
as the Republican Government of France."
"I cannot ask him, Percy. . . . Oh! I wish I dared to tell you.
. .but. . .but. . .he has put a price on my brother's head, which.
She would have given worlds if she had felt the courage then to
tell him everything. . .all she had done that night--how she had
suffered and how her hand had been forced. But she dared not give
way to that impulse. . .not now, when she was just beginning to
feel that he still loved her, when she hoped that she could win
him back. She dared not make another confession to him. After
all, he might not understand; he might not sympathise with her
struggles and temptation. His love still dormant might sleep the
sleep of death.
Perhaps he divined what was passing in her mind. His whole attitude
was one of intense longing--a veritable prayer for that confidence,
which her foolish pride withheld from him. When she remained silent
he sighed, and said with marked coldness--
"Faith, Madame, since it distresses you, we will not speak of
it. . . . As for Armand, I pray you have no fear. I pledge you
my word that he shall be safe. Now, have I your permission to
go? The hour is getting late, and. . ."
"You will at least accept my gratitude?" she said, as she drew
quite close to him, and speaking with real tenderness.
With a quick, almost involuntary effort he would have taken her
then in his arms, for her eyes were swimming in tears, which he
longed to kiss away; but she had lured him once, just like this,
then cast him aside like an ill-fitting glove. He thought this
was but a mood, a caprice, and he was too proud to lend himself
to it once again.
"It is too soon, Madame!" he said quietly; "I have done nothing
as yet. The hour is late, and you must be fatigued. Your women
will be waiting for you upstairs."
He stood aside to allow her to pass. She sighed, a quick sigh
of disappointment. His pride and her beauty had been in direct
conflict, and his pride had remained the conqueror. Perhaps, after
all, she had been deceived just now; what she took to be the light
of love in his eyes might only have been the passion of pride
or, who knows, of hatred instead of love. She stood looking at
him for a moment or two longer. He was again as rigid, as impassive,
as before. Pride had conquered, and he cared naught for her. The
grey light of dawn was gradually yielding to the rosy light of
the rising sun. Birds began to twitter; Nature awakened, smiling
in happy response to the warmth of this glorious October morning.
Only between these two hearts there lay a strong, impassable barrier,
built up of pride on both sides, which neither of them cared to
be the first to demolish.
He had bent his tall figure in a low ceremonious bow, as she finally,
with another bitter little sigh, began to mount the terrace steps.
The long train of her gold-embroidered gown swept the dead leaves
off the steps, making a faint harmonious sh--sh--sh as she glided
up, with one hand resting on the balustrade, the rosy light of
dawn making an aureole of gold round her hair, and causing the
rubies on her head and arms to sparkle. She reached the tall glass
doors which led into the house. Before entering, she paused once
again to look at him, hoping against hope to see his arms stretched
out to her, and to hear his voice calling her back. But he had
not moved; his massive figure looked the very personification
of unbending pride, of fierce obstinacy.
Hot tears again surged to her eyes, as she would not let him see
them, she turned quickly within, and ran as fast as she could
up to her own rooms.
Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on to the
rose-lit garden, she would have seen that which would have made
her own sufferings seem but light and easy to bear--a strong man,
overwhelmed with his own passion and his own despair. Pride had
given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless.
He was but a man madly, blindly, passionately in love, and as
soon as her light footsteps had died away within the house, he
knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in the very madness of
his love he kissed one by one the places where her small foot
had trodden, and the stone balustrade there, where her tiny hand
had rested last.
to Chapter 17 - FAREWELL
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